Oromia and Oromo
Country: Oromia (also phonetically spelled as Oromiyaa)
Area: 600,000 sq.km approx.
Capital: Finfinnee (also called Addis Ababa)
Population: 30 million (1995 estimate)
Language: Oromo, also called Afan Oromo or Oromiffa
Economy: Mainly agriculture (coffee, several crops, spices, vegetables) and animal husbandry; mining industry; tourism trade; medium and small-scale industries (textiles, refineries, meat packaging, etc)
Religions: Waaqqefata (the traditional belief in Waaqa or God), Islam, and Christian (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant)
The Oromo make up a significant portion of the population occupying the Horn of Africa. In the Ethiopian Empire alone, Oromo constitute about ~50% inhabitants of the Ethiopian Empire. In fact, the Oromo nation, as one of the most numerous nations in Africa, enjoys homogeneous culture and shares a common language, history and descent, and once shared common political, religious and legal institutions. During their long history, the Oromo developed their own cultural, social and political system known as the Gadaa system. It was a uniquely democratic political and social institution that governed the life of every individual in the society from birth to death.
Ecologically and agriculturally, Oromia (Oromo country) is the richest region in the Horn of Africa. Livestock products, coffee, oil seeds, spices, mineral resources and wild life are all diverse and abundant. In spite of all these advantages, a century of colonization by Abyssinia (Ethiopia), a backward nation itself, has meant that the Oromo people have endured a stagnant existence where ignorance and famine have been coupled with ruthless oppression, subjugation, exploitation and above all, extermination. Thus, for the last one hundred years under the Ethiopian rule, the Oromo have gained very little, if anything, in the way of political, social and economic progress.
The Oromo were colonized during the last quarter of the nineteenth century by a black African nation – Abyssinia – with the help of the European colonial powers of the day. During the same period, of course, the Somalis, Kenyans, Sudanese and others were colonized by European powers. The fact that the Oromo were colonized by another black African nation makes their case quite special.
During the process of colonization, between 1870 and 1900, the Oromo population was reduced from ten to five millions. This period coincides with the occupation of Oromo land by the Abyssinian emperors Yohannes and Menilek. After colonization, these emperors and their successors continued to treat Oromo with utmost cruelty. Many Oromo were killed by the colonial army and settlers, others died of famine and epidemics of various diseases or were sold off as slaves. Those who remained on the land were reduced to the status of gabbar (a peasant from whom labor and produce were exacted, and the gabbar system is a crude form of serfdom).
Haile Selassie consolidated Yohannes and Menilek’s gains, and with the use of violence, Haile Selassie obstructed the process of natural and historical development of the Oromo society – political, economic and social. In all spheres of life, discrimination, subjugation, repression and exploitation of all forms were applied. Everything possible was done to destroy Oromo identity – culture, language, custom, tradition, name and origin. In short, Haile Selassie maintained the general policy of genocide against the Oromo.
The 1974 revolution was brought about by the relentless struggle over several years by, among others, the Oromo peasants. The military junta, headed by Mengistu Haile-Mariam, usurped power and took over the revolution. This regime continued on the path of emperors Yohannes, Menilek and Haile Selassie in the oppression, subjugation and exploitation of Oromo, the settlement of Abyssinians on Oromo land and the policy of genocide.
Forced to fight against Eritreans, the Somalis and others, many Oromo have fallen in battles. Many others died on the streets of cities and towns during the so-called “Red Terror” period, and in a similar program that expanded in the countryside thereafter. Massacres in towns and villages coupled with bombing and search-and-destroy programs have caused the destruction of human lives, crops, animals and property, have driven Oromo from their land, and have forced them to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Not surprisingly, this ruthless oppression and persecution of peoples has resulted in the largest flight of refugees in Africa. A very large proportion of the refugees in the Horn of Africa are Oromo.
In its attempt to oppress and eliminate the essential elements of Oromo culture, the present regime has used cover-up words such as ‘development, relief, settlement, villagization and literacy campaign’ to mislead the world. In fact, most of these programs and projects have been aimed at displacing Oromo people and denying them freedom, justice, human dignity and peace, thereby hastening the process of de-Oromization.
The struggle of the Oromo people, then, is nothing more than an attempt to affirm their own place in history. It seeks equality, human dignity, democracy, freedom and peace. It is not directed against the masses of a particular nation or nationality, nor against individuals, but rather against Ethiopian colonialism led by the Abyssinian ruling class. Thus, it is the Ethiopian colonial system, and not the Amhara/Tigrean masses or individuals, which is under critical consideration.
Today when nearly all of the African peoples have won independence, the Oromo continue to suffer under the most backward and savage Ethiopian settler colonialism. All genuinely democratic and progressive individuals and groups, believing in peace, human dignity and liberty should support the Oromo struggle for liberation.
Although the Oromo nation is one of the largest in Africa, it is forgotten by or still unknown to the majority of the world today. Unfortunately, even the name Oromo is unknown to many, and this should not be allowed to continue.
The main purpose of this summary is to introduce readers briefly to the Oromo people, their land, and culture. For detailed treatment of the experiences of Oromo under Ethiopian colonial rule as well as their struggle for freedom, democracy and economic and social justice, please refer to the book from which this summary is extracted. Please do note the author’s introductory message in this book: “… it is not the intention of this book to write a definitive Oromo history. This task is left to the historians, a work they have unjustly treated or unjustifiably ignored in the past. In fact, the little that has been written about Oromo has almost always been from Abyssinians and Europeans point of view”.