Breaking The Silence

Failure to Deliver: The Journey of the Oromo
Liberation Front in the Last Two Decades.


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<u>Jawar Siraj Mohammed.</em>

By writing this article, I understand that I am
touching on one of the most closely guarded
taboos, the untouchability of the OLF. I also
understand that, because so many precious
lives were sacrificed under the banner of this
organization, emotions run very high at the
mention of criticism. But I have the right
and the duty to share my views and ideas
regarding our movement. I have no intention
to inflict any discomfort on any particular
individual or group, I have tried to be as
impartial as possible but if anyone is
personally offended, I hope you will grant
me forgiveness. The article touches on some
of the most controversial topics in our
politics; therefore, I plead with my readers
to patiently and soberly look through the
entire essay in order to get the overall
message: Note: This is not a research or
scholarly paper, it is purely based on my
understanding of the issue from informal
discussion I had with former and current
members of the leadership, active and
retired members, ex-soldiers in Oromia and
abroad, discussion forums, public gatherings
and what I observed in Oromia over the past
years. In this article OLF refers to all the
three faction that are using the name, and
the general criticism is fully applicable to all
Diaspora based political organizations.
Introduction
THINK BIG! Wrote one of my heroes, a man
who suffered years of incarceration in the
notorious Ethiopian prison for the just cause
of the Oromo people. That man is honorable
Ibsaa Guutamaa, whose book, “The Prisoner
of Conscience” details the moral,
psychological and physical degradation
inflicted upon Oromo nationalists in
Mengistu’s prison, is one of the most moving
books I ever read. He recently, published an
article appealing to all OLF factions to
overcome their division and forge a united
front. Although I totally respect his genuine
call for unity, I must disagree with this hero
of mine by saying that the OLF has been
damaged beyond repair. The beloved
organization of our people has outlived its
purposefulness and continuing to cover up
the wounds would cause more harm to the
movement than benefit.
It has been years since OLF has ceased to be
the pride of the Oromo people and has
transformed itself to a source of shame and
disappointment by facilitating disintegration,
growth of regionalist sentiment and
retardation of the movement in general. This
essay is not a response to Obbo Ibsaa’s latest
article; rather it is an attempt to present a
case against wasting time, energy and
resources to resuscitate an organization that
will not likely benefit the Oromo anymore. I
will argue that because of weak,
undisciplined and incompetent leadership,
through exile politics and a cult-like outdated
organizational tradition, the OLF could not
produce any result over the past decade,
therefore brought its own demise.
Furthermore, the destructive internal conflict
has intoxicated the organization beyond any
repair that plastering it together will further
spread the poison into the Oromo public.
This essay is organized in four parts; the first
part identifies the primary cause of the
problem, which is lack of action, and the
second part deals with factors that
exacerbated the inefficiency of the front. The
third part will make case why reforming the
organization may not be possible and the last
part contains suggestions for the way
forward.
PART I : Misdiagnosing the Root Cause and
Dealing with the Symptoms
Lack of Action: Broken Promises, Fabricated
Accomplishments and Its Consequence
It’s common to hear words such as “Oromo
people and OLF are one in the same”, “OLF
is the vanguard of Oromo people” and “the
Oromo struggle is unthinkable without OLF”.
These loaded words have been deeply
engraved in our psyche that we do not even
see how erroneous and misleading they are
both to the leaders and supporters of the
organization. If we just take away our
emotional attachment to the organization
and assess its accomplishment vis-a-vis its
stated goal, we can see how wrong these
words are. An organization, be it a business
or political, must be evaluated based on it’s
merit and practical accomplishment not
based on how articulate its mission
statement is, or whether it has taken up the
right cause.
There is no question that OLF’s political
program effectively reflects the just demand
of Oromo people. However, over the past
two decades, OLF has been in a downward
spiral, despite the unparalleled financial and
moral support it received from the Oromo
public both at home and abroad, the
organization cannot show a single
achievement under its belt during this period
of time. It has not freed an inch of land in
Oromia, or had a single victory against the
enemy. But by repeatedly and falsely
convincing ourselves about the greatness of
the organization, we supporters, failed to
demand results from the leadership. Leaders,
using slogans and excuses, instead of showing
results avoid fulfilling their responsibility
and taking accountability for their failures.
The insignificant achievement of the
organization year after year has produced
low expectations. A nation that settles for
mediocre gains ends up with no gain at all.
It’s a simple common sense that victory is
instrumental in forging unity while lose and
underachievement brings shame and
disunity. When a company reports gain,
stockholders are happy, and the CEO is
rewarded a bonus. More investors will be
attracted and the company grows. If the
company does not make profit, investors
withdraw their share which weakens the
company and eventually goes bankrupt. The
Oromo people heavily invested their property
and the lives of their children into OLF, but
they have seen no dividend from the
organization over the past two decades.
Failing to satisfy the public, instead of
assessing their problem and coming out with
solutions, the leadership of the organization
continued to fabricate excuses about the
geopolitical hardships, the changing of the
international geopolitical dynamic and the
uniqueness of the enemy. Such excuses
gradually became unacceptable to the new
generation of students who joined the
organization in mass in the last decade but to
find out that the organization they once
revered has been taken hostage by cunning
authoritarian state, Eritrea.
When fabrication and exaggeration was not
enough to quell the anger and frustration of
the members and soldiers the leaders turned
into labeling them as regionalists in order to
isolate the dissenters and destroy the
reformist push. In turn the sidelined and
frustrated officers also began grouping those
from their own region as others shunned
them under the propaganda of the
establishment. Primordial (preexisting)
regional and clan affinities provide fertile
ground for this kind of clique formation.
Outsiders (Oromos who do not know the
inner working of OLF), often make wrong
generalization by looking at such clique
formation by confusing the symptom,
regional grouping, with the cause, lack of
action. They fail to understand that to cover
his own failure to deliver result, the top
leader resorts to surrounding himself with
“yes-men”, who often happens to be from
his own area but whose view by no means
can represent the general sentiment of that
particular region. The dissenters, who are
the underdogs of the game, play in the hand
of such leaders by creating their own
regional power base. The establishment
leader often wins the battle of propaganda
because not only does he have the first
strike advantage but also because he uses the
entire backing of the institution, particularly
the media. The end is obvious; the
opposition leaves and forms its own faction.
For instance, it was quite common few years
back to hear people complaining about
Wallagaa’s sabotaging the struggle. Such
sentiment, in addition to misidentifying the
cause of the failure, misses one critical issue.
Those leaders who failed the struggle might
happen to be from that region, but they do
not represent the people of Wallagaa who
never voted to elect them in the first place.
In the organization, they represent
themselves, but they form cliques to relieve
themselves of taking responsibility for their
action and inaction. Even if they were true
representatives of that region, individuals
not the people who voted bears
responsibility for failing to fulfill their duty.
The following diagram is an attempt to
summarize the life cycle of the crisis within
OLF, especially over the past two decades
The diagram shows the wave of problems
that develop within an inefficient
organization that lacks action. Leaders of
such organization often have to fabricate
excuses or achievements in order to stay in
power. But some members who reject the
fabrication begin demanding tangible action
from the leaders who respond by
suppressing the dissent. As openly airing of
dissatisfaction is no longer an option, secret
cliques of dissent form. So far, the problem
brews only within active members. However
the dissenters, overpowered by
institutionally backed establishment, leak the
information in order to expose the leaders.
They do so to gain support and sympathy for
their side. The establishment also leaks
information aimed at defaming the
dissenters. The public, who usually do not
have the full picture of the problem, begin
to contemplate conspiracy theories about the
problem. Such often unsubstantiated rumors
are always taken advantage of by the
competing factions to strengthen regional/
clan power base bringing the organization
into turmoil.
Eventually, the organization splits into
factions, followed by intensified competition
to dominate the outcome. Although one
dominant group finally will emerge, the
chaos paves a way for raise of an
illegitimate, unelected and polarizing
leadership. Pushed out by the leadership,
worn out by infighting and being fed up of
nasty politics, supporters and members
abandon the organization. This, coupled with
wasted resources and destroyed lives,
weaken the organization making it even more
inefficient which brings the beginning of a
new cycle.
As the two-way arrow shows in the diagram,
lack of action and each state of the crisis are
mutually interdependent. For instance, as
lack of action leads to dissension, presence
of dissension also prolongs inaction because
of the time and resources wasted to quell
such revolt and because the division weakens
performance. Thus, if the leadership brings
action, for example, a successful attack on
enemy, not only will they satisfy the
dissenters; they can also make formation of
cliques unattractive and unnecessary. That is
why I believe lack of action is the primary
cause of the OLF’s perpetual internal turmoil,
because action at any stage could prevent
the problem from exacerbating. Once the
cycle is completed, it is irreversible because
the factional climate is so intense and
personalized, plus members and supporters
so polarized that rational, logical and
conciliatory efforts do not have any space.
The best that can be done at that stage is,
for either of the faction to realize the root
cause, lack of action, and produce real,
visible and tangible result to prevent another
cycle.
However, when this cycle is repeated, the
damage to the organization grows
exponentially. The OLF has gone through
such cycles at least three times (IFLO crisis,
the Transitional Authority split, the Change
coup), and therefore one has to imagine how
much damage and destruction it has
suffered. After these three cycles, I do not
see any of the factions understanding and
addressing the root cause. Even if they do, it
is too late to revive the front, because the
organization is so weak, its reputation highly
tarnished and its credibility heavily damaged,
that it will be impossible to engage in any
meaningful action.
Therefore, before we move to cure a disease
we must identify the cause, which in the case
of OLF’s deterioration is lack of tangible
result. Dealing with the symptom could lead
us to subscribing the wrong medicine that
can worsen the situation. Inaction is the
primary cause of OLF’s demise, while
regionalism, disintegration and factions are
symptoms.
PART II: SOURCES OF INEFFICIENCY
In the first part, I have discussed how lack of
action perpetuated the crisis within OLF and
damaged it beyond repair. I have suggested
that growth of regionalism and incompetent
leadership are mitigating factors that are the
by-product of the chaotic life cycle of an
organization that lack action. Now I must
answer the legitimate question. Why did the
organization lack such necessary action to
avoid the problem in the first place? In this
part, I present three major factors that
hindered the organization from delivering
the much needed action. The first factor,
forces us to look back into the history of the
organization and understand that the front
inherited deep and complicated political
tradition that prevented the leadership from
dealing the root cause. The second and third
factors are new phenomenons that the
organization faced during the last decade or
so.
a) Inherited Destructive Organizational
Traditions
OLF is a foster child of the student
movement that brought the revolution; as
such it shares some common organizational
behaviors and characteristics with all other
organizations that came out that era, such as
the EPRP, TPLF and EPLF. Some of these
characteristics are lack of political civility,
sense of entitlement and the desire to
control everything and everyone within the
society they claim to represent. These
behaviors are the result of the situation they
came out of, therefore we must look at the
social and political climate under which the
student movement was created, formed and
developed into political parties.
After the 1960’s coup attempt blew off the
lid of “untouchability” from Harresillassie,
students began debating and discussing
politics, breaking the taboo of ” zim bala af
zimb aygebam”- a mouth that remains shut
has no worry for flies. However, the absence
of any culture of political dialogue prior to
that era means the young students had to
deal with the highly charged communist
theory without any prior knowledge about
political civility that is essential for
constructive debates to take place. Thus, it
was common for discussions and debates to
heat-up and name calling and fighting to
ensue. Policy and ideological debates were
assumed to be ways of differentiating the
winner from the looser which usually led to
jubilation and humiliation. Arguments were
taken so personally that it usually resulted in
the formation of cliques. Character
assassination politics that have been too
common among Ethiopian politicians has its
origin to that era.
The situation got worse when the regime
moved to suppress the student movement. To
overcome the persecution of the security
forces, the discussions and debates went
underground, through formation of small
cells, where secrecy was crucial. Those
underground cells were the breeding ground
for the already rife Abyssinian debtera
culture of suspicion and conspiracy. The
debtera tradition is one that is full of
secrecy, conspiracy and backstabbing. In that
world, there are clear winners and losers.
Concepts such agreeing to disagree and
power sharing are unknown. If a group
member disagrees with a view held by the
majority, he was excluded from the cell and
begins his own defamation campaign against
his former friends often by creating new
cliques. The underground world made it
difficult to differentiate credible information
from fabricated vengeful accusations. This
created a favorable condition for individuals
to falsely accuse those who disagree with
them.
Thus, the two political parties that came out
of the student movement, MEISON and EPRP,
and the later ones such as OLF, were built by
individuals who had their first political
training on the chaotic campus and the
underground world. The revolutionaries were
known for fighting over nothing and
suspecting everything. It is now clear
MEISON and EPRP, although lead by some of
the brightest individuals, destroyed each
other practically over insignificant
differences.
Founders of OLF brought good share of that
political tradition with them, that one should
not be surprised to find out that the leaders
spend most of their time chasing rumors
than developing fact based strategy. When
the first power struggle broke out, Jaarraa
was accused of conspiring with Somalia to
spread Islam, and his team in return hit back
by labeling OLF as a Protestant organization.
If a leader disagrees with a person from
Shawa, the accepted tactic was to tie him
with the dead Gobana – a sellout, regardless
of that person’s merits and records. This has
contributed to insignificant participation and
representation of Shawa in OLF – despite its
numerical and strategic importance.
How people like Lencho Leta were dealt with
is another example. Although he was one of
the founding members of the organization
who played critical role, mostly good but
some unforgettable mistakes, after 1993, so
many rumors, conspiracy theories and
accusations were orchestrated about him.
Some called him a sleeper agent, other
accused of selling the cause to TPLF, and
some swore that he is not even an Oromo.
Here is what is interesting, those ridiculous
rumors were mostly fabricated by individuals
who know the man from childhood, and
never raised such issues while working with
him for decades. There is no doubt that
Lencho’s mistakes have played critical role in
the disastrous encampment of the OLA, but
he was not solely responsible. The remaining
leadership embarked on the defamation
campaign in order to paint Lencho as a
sellout and enemy infiltrator, then blame
him for everything that went wrong–so that
they can be relieved of accountability. This
tradition is so widespread within the
organization that it has become the most
preferred method of covering up issues and
discrediting one another. It has also
contributed to the infamous extreme
negative reaction against critics and the
common practice of outsourcing cause of
failure by fabricating excuses. Never
admitting mistakes and blame-game is a
shared characteristic of all those
organizations and individuals that came out
of the student movement.
Before falling under subjugation, the Oromo
had no hierarchical social structure, that all
men regardless of their wealth or political
role were considered equal. The poor and
rich dined together, even the Abba Gada
never received a bow from a layman. The
Abyssinians were different; strict hierarchical
division based on wealth, family and power
were enforced. Sense of entitlement was so
strong amongst those rich and powerful. The
youth who established our movement was by
large trained under such system that,
although they rose against it, they could not
completely free themselves from this culture
of entitlement. This was clear from the very
beginning as the educated were so elitist that
they staged a coup against Jaarra Abbagadaa
simply because they felt that he was not
good enough since he had no “modern”
education.
As the organization moved on, education as a
source of entitlement was replaced by the
years one has spent with organization.
Although hundreds of highly skilled soldiers
and well qualified intellectuals joined the
organization, they were denied the
opportunity to utilize their skills and
knowledge to benefit the front. This has
immensely contributed to the lack of
effective leaders the movement desperately
needed.
One of the main characteristics of the leftist
organizations was their obsession to control
every aspect of their society. They are so
obsessed with controlling the mind. Such
organization, who always claim to be the
“vanguard” of the cause regardless of their
popularity and strength, work so hard to
make sure that their constituency falls under
their absolute monopoly. The youth, the
women, the elders, the religious institution
and business are expected to be organized
under the vanguard party. Information flows
through tightly controlled, top-to-bottom
structure.
The political forces that emerged from the
student movement were led by individuals
who worshiped Mao Zedong and Stalin , so
they embraced such undemocratic, rigid and
control freak organizational model. The TPLF
today controls the youth, women and
farmers associations, the church, the
mosque, the media, businesses and almost
every aspect of the Ethiopian people. OLF,
which claims to oppose such totalitarianism,
wastes so much time and resource to control
the Oromo community association, the
scholarly organization, Maccaa Tuulamaa,
Waaqeffannaa, churches, mosques, and the
media including the Internet if they can.
Unfortunately for OLF, the time when people
accepted such control in the name of
satisfying the vanguard, has passed as
citizens are sick and tired of any kind of
dictatorships, be it individual, party or a
state. Unlike Woyane and Shyabia, it had no
state power to enforce its desire, therefore
every attempt it makes to control civic
associations has backfired.
In general, as the product of the 1970’s
student movement, OLF has done so much
for the Oromo people by challenging and
destroying the Abyssinian cultural and
political colonialism. Unfortunately it has
also inherited all the evils of the Abyssinian
hierarchical culture and the totalitarian
leftist organizational tradition. As time
changed, these inherited organizational and
structural norms have contributed to the
slow death of the front.
b) Exile Politics: The Reality Gap and Sucking
the Energy Out of the Grassroots
When they left the charter in 1992, the OLF
leaders abandoned their soldiers and
supporters without any notice or guidance.
The chaos and confusion that followed
caused general breakdown of the command
structure where rules and discipline were
ignored, and some rogue soldiers committed
unspeakable crimes against their own people,
especially in Hararge. The disorganized and
leaderless soldiers fell pray for the well
financed and effectively commanded
Shabiya-Woyane coalition that, despite the
heroic defense by the field commanders,
effectively removed OLA from its liberated
zones. The organization that was believed to
have some forty thousand soldiers was left
with a small fraction of that, as many
perished and the majority were rounded up
and thrown to jail or just gave up. The
blame-game that flared up amongst the
leadership, soon after, further disabled the
front from regrouping and hitting back.
Although OLF claims to be led by a National
Assembly comprised of some forty or so
people, since late 1990s, there is no single
individual who resides within the Oromian
soil. The vast majority of the leadership
reside in the Western countries where they
wage cyber politics while the remaining few
have taken comfortable refuge under the
wing of the Eritrean dictator.
An organization that has its leadership in
exile cannot lead a struggle because of two
simple realities. First, presence of a leader
amongst his supporters and soldiers has
significant symbolic role both in
strengthening party cohesion as well as
boosting moral. It is morally indefensible for
a leader of any movement, let alone, an
armed front, to sit in a safe and comfortable
place and urge oppressed and poor people to
die. Soldiers and followers need a leader who
can command them by example, by starving
and surviving with them. The presence of a
leader amongst fighters boosts their
confidence, loyalty and commitment. OLF
leaders betrayed their members and the
Oromo people by running away when the
time got tougher, as a result not only did
they lose respect but also numerous
conspiracy theories were developed about
the true desire of the leadership. Second, an
exiled leader faces serious reality gap.
Policies and strategies that are developed
based on second-hand and heresy
information are sure to fail. The political,
social, environmental and economic realities
of today’s Oromia are dramatically different
than they were when OLF leaders left Oromia
over a decade ago.
Departure of the leadership moved the
center of the struggle from Oromia to the
Diaspora. The more the leadership stayed
away from the homeland, the more
dependent they became on the Diaspora for
support, which forced them to cater to their
views and demands. Leaders prioritized the
satisfaction of the Diaspora base so the
dollar would continue to flow that, they
ignored the burning plight of the peasants in
Oromia. An interesting evidence of this can
be observed from the annual display of
pictures of soldiers to arouse emotions and
convince supporters about victories it had
never accomplished.
A rebels’ success depends on how well its
structures are intertwined with the people
and land it fights to liberate. A rebel that is
dependent on its mass has to continue to
improve its performance both in expanding
its control, and defend the peasant from
enemy attack. Thus, the necessity of gaining
material and tactical support from the
peasants necessitates an insurgent movement
to continue delivering tangible results. Since
OLF leadership, in the past decade or so, did
not really rely on the Oromo peasants, they
did not have to fulfill their duty in order to
survive. The Diaspora, who do not deal with
daily abuse by the oppressive system, do not
truly see the fierce urgency someone in
Oromia feels. That is why, leaders and
supporters of OLF who live outside Oromia
rather derail the struggle forever than see
their perspective views and faction lose this
endless war of words. It is also important to
note that even if all Oromo political factions
in the Diaspora reconcile and united by some
miracle, they cannot produce any result as
long as the leadership remains in exile
Oromos must learn from the experience of
the Tibetan people, that despite being the
most internationally supported independence
movement and led by one of the most
famous individuals on earth ( Dalai Lama) ,
today they are not any closer to
independence than they were fifty years ago.
By establishing an exiled government, the
Dalai Lama effectively took life out of the
movement, because running away, not
fighting at homeland became the norm. In
our case the exile- centered movement also
made Oromians to wait for the Diaspora to
bring freedom, which negatively prevents
strong grassroots movements from emerging
which could nurture potential future leaders.
I strongly believe that he who is truly
prepared to sacrifice for the cause must
move to Oromian soil before promising any
change. The Diaspora plays important role as
supporters of the struggle, but must not be
allowed to become center of the movement
and suck out the energy.
c) Eritrea: A Safe Haven for Incompetent
Leadership and The Movement that Became
Hostage
It is a public secret that Shabia played
critical role in forcing the OLF out of the
transitional government in 1992. After
coercing the organization to encamp its
soldiers, Shabia joined hand with TPLF to
wipe out OLF. The egomaniac Eritrean leader
miscalculated the prospect of using Meles
Zenawi as a puppet to build his war wretched
state by exploiting Oromian resources. He
mistakenly thought that eliminating OLF from
the scene would allow him unconstrained
access to the resources of the South. His
ambitions began to fade away in front of his
eyes, because his supposed puppets in
Finfinnee turned against him after they
consolidated their grip on the empire. Facing
a certain defeat at the hand of the supposed
puppet, which was using the entire human
and material resources of the empire, Eritrea
began to look for proxies, and at the same
time OLF leaders happen to be in deep
disillusionment that they welcomed the
invitation to settle in Asmara.
Eritrea’s role in destroying OLA withstanding,
there was no strategic benefit gained by
moving to Eritrea, as there was no landmass
or water body that connect Oromia and
Eritrea. It is common for an insurgent
movement to establish a base in a
neighboring country across the border but
moving to Eritrea is like moving to Uganda.
It’s unthinkable to provide supply and
reinforcement for the fighters across the
unfriendly state of Sudan as it was proved to
be when SPLA and Khartoum sabotaged
almost all efforts. Therefore, I argue that
there was only one factor that determined
the decision to move to Eritrea, the safety of
the leaders.
In addition to the strategic difficulty, moving
to Eritrea created three major problems to
the movement. First, it created disconnect
between the leadership and the soldiers at
the front. One has to be under constant
eminent danger in order to fiercely fight and
such quest for survival forces him to develop
effective tactics and strategies not only to
defend himself but also to expand his strong
hold and move to the offensive. When a
rebel leader is on the field thus he is
permanently alert and has to be engaged in
commanding and coordinating his force using
strategies and tactics that were developed
based on real time situations. The OLF
leaders who reside in Asmara were not under
such threat, and hence their survival did not
depend on the success of their army but
rather on the Eritrean government. The
strategies and policies they devise were
based on outdated information that it was
often difficult to implement by the
commanders in the field. This greatly
contributed to the failure of few attempts to
engage the enemy, that resulted unnecessary
loss of life and deterioration of morale
amongst commanders and soldiers who
finally abandoned the field.
The second obstacle OLF faced by being in
Eritrea was the fact that it provided the
corrupted leaders institutions to suppress
their dissenters. It is no secret that several
Oromo students, journalists and soldiers who
were critical of the leadership were thrown
to the Eritrean jail or prevented from leaving
the country for years. This was done to
prevent such critics from exposing the
corruption and inaction of the leadership.
The third yet most crucial effect of locating
in Eritrea is that, it made OLF and the Oromo
movement hostage to Shabia-Woyane
conflict. The Eritrean regime’s wants to use
the OLF as a proxy, therefore it had to
effectively control the organization in order
to manipulate any outcome of OLF-TPLF
engagement as it was evidenced when it
vetoed almost all of the negotiations, even
those where OLF apparently accepted. A
strong, effective and active OLF that has its
leaders outside Eritrea would have not
allowed Shabia to undermine the
organizations interest. However, OLF’s
chairman who needed Shabia’s protection
even from his own dissatisfied soldiers was
too happy to serve the former in order to
survive and remain at the head of the
organization.
Therefore, I strongly believe that relocating
the headquarters of OLF to Eritrea was the
worst strategic blunder committed by OLF
leadership, and being in Eritrea heavily
contributed towards weakening the front. I
do not believe Eritrea will ever allow OLF to
leave, and as long as it remains there, it will
not serve the interest of the Oromo people.
PART III: THE WAY AHEAD, Is Reform
Possible? Can the Damage be Undone?
Several Oromos I have spoken to believe that
there is still hope for reforming the OLF. But
as I will show next, one needs to assess why
past efforts aimed at reforming and changing
the organization failed. By using the last two
breakups as examples of impossibility of
reforming the OLF , I will demonstrate that
the organization has been damaged beyond
repair.
1) Endless Transition: The Ideological
Difference that Never Was
About eight years ago OLF split into two
factions that became known as Transitional
Authority ( TA) and Central Committee
( Shanee Gumii) -which kept the existing
organizational structure. Although ideological
differences were cited as the cause for the
split, we now know that was not the case. As
mentioned above, the organization suffered
devastating defeat at the hand of the enemy
during the prior decade because of absent,
disorganized and sometimes abortive
leadership, who wanting to clear their name
from wrong doing began blaming each other.
It was this attempt to avoid responsibility by
painting the other that developed into
factions.
In attempt to defend their record and
maintain dominance within the organization,
the top two leaders began surrounding
themselves with loyal cadres. Therefore,
ideological difference, independent Oromia
vis-a-vis Democratizing Ethiopia” was never
really big enough to split the organization, it
was simply manufactured to give the conflict
an ideological face. By their own admission
the TA faction know that from the very
beginning Lencho Leta believed in
democratizing Ethiopia and hence this issue
could not have become a reason for split
decades later. They even followed him into
the transitional government without any
hesitation. The TA group took ideology as a
major issue not because they truly believed
in it but rather because they assumed that
the OLA and the public at large supports the
idea of independent Oromia, therefore they
wanted to use it to consolidate support.
The fact that, although independent Oromia
was a more popular position, the TA lost the
battle to the other faction, confirms my
believe that the internal conflict was a result
of lack of success rather than ideology.
Frustrated by a decade of defeat and
humiliation, the burning demand of the
soldiers and the public, who blamed the old
leaders for all the mess, there was a change
in leadership. Dawud Ibsa, although a
veteran within the organization was a new
face, so the members and the public chose
to take a chance with him rather than the TA
that was dominated by the old guard.
Therefore, the TA , despite its populist
ideology and highly respected and recognized
individuals, failed to gain significant support
and eventually died out. Therefore, there is
no doubt that the cause of the 2001 split
was neither ideological nor regional but
rather a failure of the organization to deliver
any results.
2) The Last Chance: The Leader that took life
out of the Front
The victorious Dawud group clearly did not
understand neither the cause of the split nor
reason why, despite their unpopular
ideology, they won the public support over
their formidable foes. Hence they kept
repeating the same mistake as their
predecessors. Thus OLF under Dawud Ibssa’s
leadership continued to fade away without
any notable accomplishment. As leaders and
cadres channeled their energy into
destroying the TA, the true mission of the
organization was ignored. However, the
group came under pressure from the influx
of young students who were eager to fight
the enemy that forced them out of schools,
but they were dismayed to find out that the
front had neither the structural capability,
nor a willing leadership that can channel the
energy of the youth towards constructive
role. Once they were shipped to Eritrea and
completed training their fate was to engage
in hard labor at Mr Afeworki’s farm. This was
unacceptable to the restless youth who
dreamed of joining the vanguard in order to
liberate their people. Those who demanded
action were systematically silenced by
labeling them as enemy infiltrators and then
making them disappear by throwing them to
jail.
Nevertheless, the pressure on the leadership
dramatically increased when hundreds of
Oromo soldiers defected from the Ethiopian
military and joined them. This had two major
effects on the leadership. First, it increased
expectation of better performance because,
members and supporters hoped that,
addition of such skilled and decorated
officers would reinforce and re-energize the
organization. Second, the soldiers who came
in hundreds have a deeply held personal
grudge against the regime in Finfinnee that
they came to immediately engage in a
struggle of payback. Contrary to their
statement, about their sympathy for the
Oromo mass, and the accusations labeling
them as Woyane agents, the primary cause of
defect for those soldiers and other OPDO
members were the deep and personal
humiliation they suffered under Tigrean
domination. Therefore, for them the need
for immediate re-engagement was not
negotiable.
This fierce urgency of the soldiers
strengthened those who were demanding
more action. Unfortunately once again, the
leadership took this as an offense to their
authority. Here I would like to stress that, it
is not that the leadership does not want to
fight but rather they did not appreciate the
fact that “outsiders and newcomers” who do
not have years of “jungle credit” within the
organization could dare to tell them what to
do. The result as we know is that, a new split
occurred slicing the already deteriorating
organization.
Although this last split was framed and did
happen across regional basis, it is wrong to
assume that regionalism was the cause of the
split. As that of 2001, the 2008 breakup was
caused due to lack of any concrete action
since the then cabinet took power. The entire
leadership was responsible for the failure as
each of them were engaged in vilifying the
TA group day and night instead of doing the
job they were entrusted with. When blaming
the TA leadership for all misdeeds was no
longer an option, they had to turn against
each other and resorted to the good old OLF
tradition of using regional affiliation to
strengthen factional power-base and accuse
the opposite.
3) Show me the Change! A Timely Slogan,
Business As Usual
Last year this time, a grouping calling itself,
Change! emerged and promised to bring
tangible result within short period of time.
So far they have showed absolutely nothing
that resembles change. In fact they continue
the same old OLF tradition of fabricating
victories, exaggerating reforms and most
importantly engaging in a nasty war of words
against their former colleagues. Their cadres
who spend twenty-four hour on pal talk have
been spreading the poison of regionalism
just like the group they broke away accusing
of domination.
From the outset their overtly hateful
campaign against the great people of
Wallagaa, whom they do not even know, has
undermined their rather appealing call for
change. Through their narrow and childish
behaviors such ill-mannered cadres have
shamed the glorious people of Arsi, whose
unforgettable battle against colonizers at
Aanolee is a source of pride for all Oromos.
Those cadres understand nothing about the
“waadaa and hoodaa” of Sikkoo Mandoo. If
they do, they would have known that the Arsi
are waiting, praying and crying for that day
when they would join their brothers to
celebrate the end of subjugation and the
return of Kaawoo Oromo. Their counterparts
are no better as they shamelessly speak of
Arsi without knowing that that generous and
respectful people, who would never allow
even a stranger drink water but milk in their
house, let alone engage in a nasty low blow.
Therefore, the Change group has failed to
bring the much needed shift in political
culture and continue to make the same
mistake as their foes.
The vast majority, if not all, of the
leadership of the Change group, just like the
other two faction, still live in exile. Hence,
their faction is as dependent on the Diaspora
as before. Therefore, their best
accomplishment so far is having larger
public meetings and a one-time flow of hard
earned dollars. They clearly did not learn
any lesson because the large crowd was there
as spectator to see the new faces of the old
organization, and it was the momentary hope
and anger at the old guard that helped them
generate such large sum of money. Neither
the crowed nor the money will continue as
the faction will not be able to deliver what
they promised.
As mentioned above Eritrea plays critical role
in sabotaging OLF and the Oromo struggle at
large. OLF will not be able to effectively
engage in fighting the enemy as long as it
remains in Eritrea. If the change group was
serious about transforming the dormant
organization into an active insurgent
movement, the first thing to do would have
been to leave Eritrea for the jungle of
Oromia. Now their faction is as a prisoner as
the faction they broke away from. Their
actions, policies and strategies will be
subjected to the approval of Eritrea, and
from the experience of OLF under Mr Dawud
Ibsa, we know what a leadership that is
controlled by Issaias can produce. Therefore,
I conclude that the change group can bring
neither political nor practical change to the
Oromo cause. They are as destructive and
useless as their opponents if not worse.
4) Unity as a Slogan? Is Reconciliation
Possible?
Unity is the most abused and deeply
misunderstood word by Oromo politicians
such that it has developed a negative
connotation. I am always amazed when
people who spend so much time spreading
false allegations, conspiracy theories and
prejudicial assumptions preach about unity.
It is wrongly assumed that unity of the
larger Oromo people is dependent up on the
unity of political factions. Such believe
comes from the deeply held dogma about
the indivisibility of the front from the
people. While consolidations of Oromo
forces help strengthen the movement, their
fractionalization does not necessarily
dismantle the Oromo.
I have no doubt that the internal conflict
within the front has traumatized our people
especially those who reside abroad. I have
heard of numerous stories about families,
relatives and lifelong friends, who withstood
together the suffering of Sudanese and
Somalia refugee camps, whom the 2001 split
had broken apart. Our women who once
consoled and gave each other the strength of
caring for their family while their spouse
were in the field have abandoned each other
due to such highly charged, deeply personal
and painful split. It’s such a traumatizing
experience for children to be told , all of the
sudden, that they could not visit childhood
friends. It is shameful that disagreement
over politics could destroy the bonding that
was formed by blood and sweat and stood
firm through thick and thin. The sad thing is
that OLF leaders either never understood the
magnitude of the damage they caused to the
Oromo community, or they just did not care
as long as their selfish and narrow interest
were fulfilled. Hence, it was no surprised
they repeated the same crime again in 2008.
I have noticed that those families and
relationships that were destroyed in 2001
have gradually healed, often because
individuals understood how unnecessary it
was to choose factional politics over precious
relationships. Many people just gave up
politics in favor of family and friends, while
others completely stopped discussing
political issues. Thus, I am optimistic that
relationships that were ruined in 2008 will
be eventually repaired as people realize how
wrong it is to shun a dear friend in favor of
some useless factional politics.
But, one crucial issue that must be raised
here is that it was the incompetence of the
leadership to deliver victory that led to the
formation of factions, who spread their
organizational poison to the larger public.
Therefore, there is no doubt that OLF as an
organization has been the biggest source of
regionalism and other societal poisons. Any
attempt to resurrect OLF will further worsen
the damage as these leaders will have
another chance to split again and fracture
our people.
I do not understand why individuals who
know very well how the effort of the
“shanacha Jaarsummaa” and formation of
ULFO could not solve the OLF crisis now call
for another round of phony and even
distractive reconciliation effort. I am
opposed to the idea of wasting time trying to
reconcile OLF because 1) It will be
impossible to bring genuine reconciliation
due to the deeply held organizational culture,
lack of a single concrete issue of
disagreement and because Eritrea will never
allow a move that makes the organization
less reliant on it. 2) What will bring Oromos
together, heal the wound and strengthen our
unity is action and victory, and this cannot
be expected from the very people who made
it impossible. Therefore, anyone who truly
wants to unite the Oromo, must make the
crucial decision and move to Oromia; be it
through Bole or Bale. Fight the enemy either
in the jungle or streets of Oromia, and I will
bet my life that it will take no conference
before all Oromos rally behind such
movement.
PART IV: The So What Question: My Ten-Cent
Recommendations
In this essay I believe I have shown the cause
and extent of the OLF’s deterioration, and
how futile any attempt to resurrect it would
be. I am sure that even those who agree with
me will ask what I might suggest for a
solution. There is no simple and right answer
that can be detailed in this piece. However,
for a starter, I would like to suggest few.
For those who live abroad, the first step is to
understand that their role in the movement
is limited to the crucial role of supporting
the struggle back home. This could be either
in the form of material contribution or by
being the voice for their suppressed
brethren. But they must refrain from
overstepping their duty and sucking out the
energy from the home front.
The politics and resources of the Diaspora
have been effectively monopolized by the
OLF over the past two decades. Despite its
failure to deliver any meaningful result, the
OLF has used the emotions and aspirations of
the people to collect millions of dollars. It’s
quite common to see a taxi driver or a
janitor give a thousand dollar without any
hesitation. Oromos have to stop investing
their hard earned dollar to organizations that
bring them no return. Such investment must
be conditional on results, excellence,
progress and accountability.
Furthermore, the Diaspora, by funding
competing faction, has been fueling forces of
disintegration. If the Diaspora is serious
about helping the Oromo movement, they
must channel their support towards
organizations and individuals who are
operating at the homeland. In addition to
systematic problem, the two Oromo parties
in Oromia, remain weak because they have
no access to the Diaspora resources that
their counterparts heavily benefit from. By
monopolizing the Diaspora, the OLF has
systematically prevented those parties from
tapping into the resources abroad. Who
should be supported, one that actually is
facing the hardship with the people, and
doing something no matter how small it
might be , or those who have shown nothing
positive but destruction? If one does not
agree with the politics and methods of those
organizations, why not finance the education
of one Oromo student rather than throw his
money into the fire that is destroying the
fabrics of his people?
Similarly, those at home must realize that,
there is nothing coming from outside to save
them from the jaws of the oppressive
regime. No country or people have ever won
their freedom by an exiled organization and
leadership. The youth have to realize that
they must write their own destiny. No
organization holds the key to the future.
Organizations come, organizations die, and it
is a matter of fact. They must face this
reality head-on, and mobilize the public
through grassroots movements to defeat the
exploitive and ethno-racist regime.
The OLF has sucked in and destroyed the
best and the brightest of Oromo student
leaders in the past decade, this got to stop.
Each young Oromo, both at home and
abroad, needs to build him or herself
economically and intellectually. This will help
avoid the dependency trap many Oromos
within OPDO fallen into. Economic security is
essential for free thinkers and independent
organizations, to this end entrepreneurship
must be nurtured to facilitate the emergence
of the Oromo middle class that is lacking
today. We must get over the one-formula-
fits-all thinking as our struggle requires
multifaceted approach.
Conclusion
“Man has no property in man; neither has
any generation a property in the generations
which are to follow.” Said the forgotten
founding father of the United States. Our
elders, the generation that drew the program
of the OLF, the generation that produced
Qubee, the glorious youth of the 70’s who
paid the ultimate price to free us from
mental and physical bondage deserves our
utmost respect. They will forever be
remembered as the generation that saved the
beautiful Oromo nation from complete
destruction. We are their product, we are
proud of being their successors. But it is a
serious mistake for our elders to expect us to
adhere to the same old ways of doing
business, to not challenge and disregard
what is inapplicable and unacceptable to the
world of our time. The OLF is clearly an
organization of the past, its model,
organizational structure and dogma is
outdated. The front has outlived its
purposefulness and it has been allowed to
derail and distract the movement for too
long.
My generation must write its own destiny.
We can learn from our elders’ wisdom and
experience, but this generation shall not be
held hostage to the old days. This generation
must free our people from dependency on
exiled politics, a hostage organization, and
incompetent leadership. Our enemy is weak,
morally bankrupt, uses the most fractured
military and bureaucratic structures. It’s life
is dependent on the cooperation of our
people. We must make such cooperation
impossible, one way or the other. Most
importantly, our people today expects
nothing less than excellence from their
organizations, in this fast moving world, we
must make our movement compatible,
flexible and efficient as to utilize all
opportunities to satisfy the expectations of
the mass. Our people’s pride has been
deeply injured by the incompetency of
leaders who exposed the nation to laughs
and ridicules. We will and we can change
that, because today, Oromos from all angles
of the land have been fully alert and ready to
retake their rights back. Today, Oromos are
sending their kids to school in millions and
are leaving none behind. We, Oromos, have
the culture, resources and determination not
only to solve our problem, but also we can
and we shall play the leading role in
democratizing, stabilizing and developing the
entire East Africa. We must believe in
ourselves, be true to our conscious and loyal
to our people nothing and no one else!
Jawar Siraj Mohammed
Stanford University
July 27, 2009

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