Post Nationalism and Oromo Political Discourse
By Geresu Tufa
Oromo nationalism is a political force that has emerged in the context of severe political oppression, cultural subjugation and economic exploitation, in order to pursue national liberation and social justice for Oromo people. Despite this fact there are tendencies among some, who contend that Oromo national struggle for self determination should be evolved to postnational politics. According to these folks, nationalism in general and Oromo nationalism in particular are no more a political vehicle that can be mobilized as force of change due to rampant globalization, development of communication technology and supranational integration. I am writing this short commentary in order to challenge this notion and show that nationalism in general and Oromo nationalism in particular is still a powerful socio-political force to be perused.
The notion that, as a result of intensified globalization, nationalism and national identity have become passé, is not matched by facts on the ground. Post nationalism theorists such as Jürgen Habermas argued that there is a shift from nationalism to post nationalism. According to Habermas and other post national theorist the shift is mainly caused by the development of new technology and communication. Supranational integration such as the one being experimented with in the context of the European Union (EU) is also given as an additional reason for the “alleged” shift. For Habermas, European integration was to be more than simply an administrative affair. It is true that due to development of modern communication, transportation and economic integration in a post modern world, people are much more connected to each other than they did in previous times.
However, the perception held by deniers of identity politics that this new phenomenon have made nationalism and national identity an archaic fact is a totally exaggerated inference, if not a wishful thinking. In reality, after the end of the Cold-War, the focal point of world history shifted from the struggle between statist communism and capitalism to a new arena of nationalism. In this regard, there are scholars who have compellingly argued that nationalism is not only outlived against the odds of globalization, but also remained as indispensable ingredient for establishment and sustenance of democratic society. Georgian scholar Ghia Nodia is worth to be noted in this regard. Nodia asserts that democracy never exist without nationalism by providing reason to substantiate his claims. To Nodia, the core of democracy is based on popular sovereignty which is directly linked to nationalism. Democracy is always situated within communities and hence does not arise from asocial condition. Nodia commented that:
there is no record anywhere of free, unconnected, and calculating individuals coming together spontaneously to form a democratic social contract ex nihilo…. Whether we like it or not nationalism is a historical force that has provided the political unit for democratic government.
Thus, nationalism is and will remain to be a vital force that would play a pivotal role in contemporary globalized world.
There are different scholars who have provided empirical and theoretical sets of evidence that attest to the above assertion of continued salience of nationalism in the contemporary world. In his 2012 award winning essay titled “Much Ado about Nothing : The Case of Nationalism in Globalized World ” , Joel Roy has also outlined some empirical and theoretical arguments that show nationalism has been reinforced by the prevailing globalization trend than otherwise.
In this essay, it is argued that the perceived threat of uniformization by global cultural dominance and identity-dilute has actually reinvigorated nationalism. He argued that the perceived threat to nationalism and the predicted demise of nations a few decades ago motivated reactive type of nationalism and intensified consciousness of people about their attachment and identification. The propensity of people to embark on protective measures to preserve their national identity, become stronger when they felt that their core identity and cultural uniqueness appear to be jeopardized.
Manuel Castells also pointed out that nations without states have in fact been a lot more militant regarding their desire for independence and/or increased autonomy in the last few decades. Attendant to this affair, Ernest Gellner also forwarded a plausible argument that education is one of the main transmission belt through which nationalist (awakeners) orientate the national feeling of the whole population. Hence, the proliferation of new technology and communication, which is given as a factor to weaken nationalism and national identity, actually helped it, since education and information can be wide spread through these same new technology and communication. The expansion of Oromo cultural costumes and musical clips in the last decade is only an example of how technology and communication may be deployed to boost nationalism and to serve its causes.
In a similar vein, Manuel Castells argued that “the threat of cultural homogenization” is actually one of the factors that contributed to minority culture struggling to find a fitting niche in global net.
Furthermore, evidence presented in the same essay that a supranational integration such as the EU has in fact reinvigorated nationalism in member states lest they would lose their cultural specificity. Despite Habermas’s thesis that supranational integration such as EU has shifted to post nationalism, the extensive resurgence of nationalist parties in the EU contradict the “alleged shift”.
Liberal and pro-globalization thinker and renowned journalist Fareed Zakaria has also argued that nationalism is rising in non-western countries as result of economic growth. In his book titled “Post American World”, Fareed said, “as economic fortunes rise, so does nationalism” by citing example from China. He said
Imagine that you lived in a country that had been poor and unstable for centuries. And then, finally things turn and your nation is on the rise. You would be proud and anxious to be seen. This desire for recognition and respect is surging throughout the world. It may seem paradoxical that globalization and economic modernization are being breeding political nationalism, but that is so only if we view nationalism as a backward ideology, certain to be erased by the onward march of progress.
In conclusion, in situation like ours (i.e., that of the Oromo) where our people have been marginalized for century and exposed to severe oppression, economic exploitation and cultural subjugation, the argument that globalization would make Oromo nationalism superseded is simply a self deception. Even if we give the benefit of doubt for those who argue that globalization would undermine nationalism, this cannot be the case in our circumstance. The reason is very clear. Those who have the opportunity to benefit from globalized economic activity (this is a contested notion for developing countries) are those who have control over their own political and economic infrastructure. This means the dominant group who has got control over their own and others’ political and economic infrastructure are those who benefit from globalized economy and therefore become powerful and prosperous. As a result, it will give them an additional leverage to strengthen their repressive power and provide them with enhanced means to exploit.
Consequently, such phenomenon would further marginalize the already marginalized nations like Oromo. The already enormous and infuriating disparity would intensify the competition between dominant and oppressed nationalisms which in effect entails further repression. Hence, as long as the structural violence and systemic problem intrinsic to the Ethiopian hegemonic state endures, national self determination would remain a legitimate demand for the oppressed peoples in general and Oromo nation in particular. Nationalism continues to be a powerful motivation behind these demands. And from the look of things, it is bound to stay.
Geresu Tufa is a graduate student in International Business Management and and Oromo activist residing in the Netherlands.