MUST-READ | Looking Back – Oromo Liberation Front’s (OLF’s) Statement from 1978 (From Archives)
The following excerpt from a 1978 statement of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is published herein to seek comparative analysis between the affairs of the Oromo people and Oromia under the Dergue Abyssinian military occupation of the changed over the last four decades, after reading the below statement, one can observe the affairs of Oromia in 1978 have fundamentally remained almost the same, if not worse, in 2015 (except some token appeasements – “temporary outlets” – here and there from the occupying Abyssinian military forces), and the current dismal State of the Oromo Nation will also remain the same in the future as far as Oromia remains under the Abyssinian military occupation. Historically, this statement was released when many, if not all, of the founding leaders of the Oromo Liberation Front were still alive (see photo here). At the time, this statement was widely distributed all over the world, including being published in a U.S. academic journal for the Horn of African region. The revisit of this statement is also for those reactionary forces which are naively convinced that “national self-determination” and “nations and nationalities” (in some instances, the “OLF” itself) were invented by the TPLF takeover of state power in Ethiopia in 1991. In the letter/statement, OLF argues that the support the Cubans were giving to the anti-people Dergue were shortsighted; true to this analysis, a few years after this letter, the Dergue falsely believed its ‘win in the East’ was a testament for the popular support for its regime and mobilized its forces to ‘crash’ the Eritrean national movement in the North, and with that campaign, the Dergue itself died, though it took almost a decade for Dergue’s slow death to be realized in 1991. – The Editor
Oromo Liberation Front (1978)
A LETTER TO CUBANS IN HARAR
… We would like to briefly describe the current Ethiopian situation and circumstances that led to it in order to bring to your attention the realities of this Empire state and the role you and your government are playing, purportedly under the illusion of aiding a progressive government. The facts below are not complete, but are intended only to inspire you to arrive at the whole truth.
First, today’s Ethiopia came into being ninety years ago during the European colonial powers’ Scramble for Africa. Before that, Abyssinia or Ethiopia proper formed only one-fifteenth of the present Empire state of Ethiopia. It comprised of Tigray and Begemdir provinces and the three high land Awrajas of Eritrea (the then Bahr Negash) and one Awraja of Shoa (Menz plus Gishen). Although the northern provinces of Gojam and northwestern Walla were virtually under Abyssinian (Ethiopian) occupation for some years prior to the colonization of the rest of the present-day Ethiopia, the peoples of these provinces never gave up their struggle against alien domination.
The dozens of peoples inhabiting the central, eastern and southern parts of Ethiopia today, viz, the Oromo, Afar, Wallaita, Kambata, etc. were then living under their respective governments enjoying freedom. However, in the latter half of the 19th century, the age-old desire of the Amharas to occupy and colonize the Oromo and other peoples’ lands coincided with that of the European colonial powers. This historical coincidence provided Menelik II, the then head of the Abyssinian Kingdom, what he needed in order to fulfill his ambition. The European powers had the objective of controlling Abyssinia and the adjacent countries. The inevitable clash of interests between the powers and intense rivalry to outmaneuver one another saved Abyssinia from direct colonization. Accordingly, in order to accomplish their colonial ambitions, they resorted to indirect means of colonization by aiding Menelik II to expand and control the adjacent regimes under their auspices, thereby fulfilling their objectives through him. They competed ardently in providing Menelik with arms, military and intelligence advisers, etc. From the European colonial powers, Menelik found all that he was lacking to colonize the Oromo and other peoples of Ethiopia, thereby bringing under his rule peoples of diverse ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. The Oromo, which constitutes over 60% of the entire population of the country, and others were thus brought under Amhara rule and reduced to the status of colonized peoples. The present situation of Ethiopia can only be correctly understood when viewed in this historical perspective.
Second, the colonization was not attained easily. Our people made ferocious resistance on every inch of their land sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives. However, lack of modern weaponry – and expert advisers, which the enemy had in abundance, made the war of unequals to end in favor of Menelik and his European overlords. The colonization of our people resulted in the reduction of our predominantly agrarian society to tenancy, exclusion from political affairs and the ruthless suppression of their culture and language.
From the day they lost their independence, the Oromo people have never paused from struggling for national liberation. At different times and in various places, our people have waged political and armed struggles. They rose up in arms against the Amhara colonizers several times. In 1928 the struggle of the Oromo people in Raya reached such a stage as to compel the colonial regime to call in the aid of foreign forces from Aden to subdue the rebellion. Similarly, the heroic struggle of the Bale Oromo that lasted from 1962 to 1970 required the aid of many foreign counter-insurgents and engineering experts to bring a halt to it. Of a special significance is the armed struggle conducted in this province under the leadership of the OLF in 1973-1974 – mobilizing the entire peasantry against the landlords and settlers; this made a tremendous contribution to the overthrow of the Haile Selassie regime. Our force has grown several fold since then. These are but only three major instances of several armed struggles our people waged for liberation.
Third, the struggle of the Oromo people, other oppressed peoples and genuine democrats from oppressed nations underwent tremendous ideological transformations as years passed by and the cumulative effect of their struggles brought about the 1974 February Revolution. The fact that the uprising of 1974 was limited to areas of oppressed peoples attests to the hard reality that the movement was more inspired by the aspirations of the oppressed peoples for liberation.
Today, the Dergue attempts to pose as the vanguard of the revolution to the outside world. The truth, however, is to the contrary. The revolution, which was brought about by the arduous struggles of the Oromo and other oppressed peoples, had the following popular slogans in the late 1973 and early 1974 (the greater part of which the Dergue is still suppressing in spite of popular unrest and resentment): land to the tiller; the recognition of the sovereignty of nations and their rights of self-determination up to and including secession; release of political prisoners; equality of religion; granting of basic democratic rights, and formation of a democratic provisional government that is capable of realizing the aforementioned demands as the OLF and other political organizations that rallied the masses around the foregoing demands were then too weak to lead the people to consummate the national democratic revolution. The military, which was until the last minute defending the Haile Selassie regime, usurped the leadership from the people by massacring thousands of students, workers, democrats and nationalists, thereby ascending to the apex of political power undeservedly. Then, after its accession to power, it struggled hard to halt the popular movement. However, the peasantry of the colonized peoples defied the Dergue’s orders and persisted in their struggle by defeating landlords. The Dergue found the trend irresistible, fearing that, unless certain reforms were effected, the revolution would go far beyond the land question, it legalized the action of the peasantry by issuing the March 1975 land proclamation. Although this measure gave a temporary outlet for the masses upsurge, it was not long before the chauvinistic Dergue exposed its true nature by siding with the settler landlords and the anti-people colonial bureaucracy in the showdown for power between the peasantry and bureaucracy. There is no need to explain to you the fact that any thorough going democratic revolution is a farce under the leadership of an anti-people bureaucracy.
Colonized peoples struggling for national liberation are not to be quenched by land reform alone. National self-determination pertaining to political independence and freeing the suppressed cultures and languages are yet to be attained. Hence, the Oromo and other oppressed peoples vowed to take the revolution to the final conclusion until the total liberation and equality of all peoples are attained.
Fourth, this hard fact confused the social chauvinistic Dergue. As most of its members came from the oppressor nation, the principle of self-determination is anathema to it. This chauvinistic attitude of the Dergue is reinforced by the training its members had regarding the sanctity of territories under the overthrown regime. Hence, its sole reaction to genuine national movements was wholesale condemnation and massive military build-up to counter the insurgents. After two years of confusion, under public pressure and through persuasion of the former provisional office for mass organizational affairs, it accepted and issued the [April 1976] National Democratic Revolution (NDR), which contains a perverted clause on nationalities. Clause 5 of the NDR program falls far short of the principle of self-determination. It curbs the right of nations to self-determination up to and including secession by limiting the exercise of right to regional autonomy. It is clear to any observer that the extent of the right of nations can only be meaningful and satisfactory to oppressed peoples if discussed in a democratic atmosphere. The NDR was prepared by the oppressor nation without the participation of the oppressed people and, hence, it is arbitrary and represents one viewpoint only. That is why it is not accepted. The drafters of the program were, at least, academically capable of seeing this shortcoming. They urged the declaration of democratic rights even though vaguely in its definition and application. Now two years have lapsed since the declaration of the program, but the prerequisite for Clause 5 to become operational is not forthcoming. The Junta in power, in a usual military fashion, continues giving orders to national liberation movements to lay down arms and surrender to it without taking into account the interests of the oppressed. Its first public and specific call was made to the EPLF. At the initial secret contacts between the Dergue and the EPLF, the Front made it clear that any meaningful negotiation leading to lasting peace could only take place between legitimate representatives of the peoples concerned, and this required the prior proclamation of democratic rights and the constitution of a people’s government. The Dergue could not swallow this demand. Accordingly, it rejected it and went around denouncing the Front as a collaborator of imperialism and Arab reaction to counter the Ethiopian revolution. As you very well know this Front from your past contact, it is a progressive organization.
The struggle of the Oromo people did not have international publicity as that of the Eritrean peoples. However, in its social base and the width and length of the territory it operates in, it is the strongest national movement in the Empire state of Ethiopia. The Dergue is afraid of publicly condemning and/or inviting it for negotiation out of fear that the military, which has an overwhelming majority of Oromos, may defect en masse to the Front, thereby wreaking the despotic rule of Mengistu. That is why, in its meeting of December 1977, it decided to label our force in the east and south as that of Somalia, and those in the west and central provinces as that of the EDU. Since we have sufficiently demonstrated our stand regarding Somalia’s occupation of Oromo land through repeated and effective military actions in both Harar and Bale, we need not waste your time by explaining to you what you already know. Regarding our relation with the EDU, let it be known that it was the force of the OLF that hit back EDU’s thrust from the Sudan into Wollega three times last year. The OLF is a progressive national liberation organization that has the ultimate objective of freeing the Oromo land from alien occupation by organizing and mobilizing the Oromo people against feudalism, occupation and all sorts of reaction. Hence, its choice is not between Amhara aristocracy and Amhara military dictatorship – which are represented by the EDU and the Dergue, respectively. Therefore, the Dergue’susual misrepresentation of facts to confuse the general public and foreigners will not have the adverse effect it intends. We hope that you will not be misled to being used against our struggle lest you regret the consequences.
The EPLF and the OLF are not the only national organizations in this country. There are also the TPLF in Tigray, the ALF in Afarland, the WLF in Sidama, and the KLF in southern Shoa. While some of these are already waging armed struggles, others are making intensive preparations to start, and one can witness that each is fast growing every day so they enjoy increasing support from their respective peoples. It is quite natural that those oppressed peoples, who have not yet started struggle, will soon do so, and this empire state, with the exception of one fifteenth part, will be brought under the fire of national liberation forces. In the light of these developments, it is proper that progressive forces reconsider their stand, i.e. whether to stand with the people or perish with the anti-oppressed peoples’ military dictatorship.
Fifth, despite all these obvious developments, Mengistu and his colleagues seem to relax because of the massive military support from the Soviet Union and Cuba to suppress the peoples’ liberation movements. Mengistu believes that because of the strategic importance of Ethiopia, the socialist countries will concern themselves with the situation in the Horn of Africa to the extent of fighting his anti-people war. So if America offers more materials and human support in order to displace the Soviet Union, which no doubt it will do, he will opt to go over to the American side and send the Soviets and your personnel home. Pseudo-progressives, such as Mengistu and Siad Barre, have no ideology. Their ideology is hypocrisy and power — they pretend to be with any power that is ready to support their tottering anti-people regimes.
Sixth, before ending this letter, we would like to briefly quote from the OLF political program in order to sufficiently clarify our objectives for you:
The fundamental objective of the struggle is the realization of national self-determination for Oromo people and their liberation from oppression and exploitation in all their forms. This can only be realized through the successful consummation of the new democratic revolution by waging anti-feudal, anti-colonial, and anti-imperialist struggle, and by the establishment of the People’s Democratic Republic of Oromia.
Regarding relations with other nations and nationalities, the Front’s program reads as follows:
It will work to bring about, where possible, political union with other nations on the basis of equality, respects for mutual interests, and the principle of voluntary association.
Working on this current policy on the national question, the OLF has already contacted and established fraternal relations with several national organizations, including those of Eritrea. We believe it is on the basis of this policy alone that unity between peoples can be achieved. The Dergue’s chauvinistic approach to the national question is reactionary and has failed to satisfy the aspirations of the oppressed peoples. In view of this, it is quite evident that the policy is bound to meet further resistance, eventually ending up in disaster.
Dear friends, this letter is written with three objectives, viz’, (a) To inform you about our objectives, the Dergue’s true nature and its prospects so that you are furnished with correct information in order to be able to decide where your support should go in the struggle between the people and the anti-people Dergue; (b) to open a channel of communication for future dialogue, through you, with your government to solicit material and political support for our just cause; and (c) to show you the reality so that your government ceases supporting the anti-people military dictatorship headed by Mengistu and immediately renounce all relations with it lest our fraternal forces clash in the battlefield …