Professor Ezekeil Gebissa Kettering University
Mr. Jawar Mohammed Executive Director of OMN
15 October 2016
Statement of purpose
We write to express our concern about your recent announcement regarding the “Oromo Leadership Summit” due to take place in Atlanta, Georgia on the occasion of the First Anniversary of the Oromo Protests. We appreciate and value your endeavors to convene this Summit. We share your view that this Summit will set out a vision for the future of the Oromo nation.
This is an ambitious and far-reaching national project and we believe that we need to ‘get it right’. In that regard, we are particularly concerned about the procedural issues in planning to convene the Atlanta Convention. The signatories to this letter have come to learn that enough consultation has not taken place in initiating and planning to convene such a vital Summit.
The ways in which a Summit of this significance is convened, the integrity of its process and its potential to be adequately representative are of critical importance to the Oromo struggle and the future of Oromo people. In what follows, we will set out our concerns in detail and suggest possible steps that can be taken to address them.
Concerns about the process
When dealing with a vital national agenda such as this, the integrity of the process matters as much as the outcome. A representative, consultative, and inclusive process that allows key stakeholders to participate in defining and developing the agenda can bolster the outcome whereas a process that is not adequately consultative, representative, and accountable would certainly undermine it.
To our knowledge, many stakeholders and the wider Oromo Community around the world have not been consulted as stakeholders in the planning of this enormous national undertaking. This raises questions regarding the extent to which the process followed in preparing the ‘concept note’ is democratic and transparent. We believe a democratic and transparent approach is befitting of a major national project.
We are in highly unusual and uncharted terrains and we understand the temptations for expediency and to dispense with what would surely be a painfully frustrating and complex democratic exercise. However, there cannot be a short-cut when it comes to major political decisions that will influence, even determine, the form and content of norms, institutions and values that will govern our future.
This is an enormous undertaking. It needs to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. We recognize the desire to keep up with fast-changing events on the ground. But we must ensure that at least key stakeholders have enough time to weigh in on the proposed documents and that there are sufficient consultations at the grassroots level.
Expediency at the expense of procedural integrity will undercut the legitimacy of the project; when it seems foreseeably effective, it carries the germs of new, perhaps even more ominous threats to the collective interests of our people.
We are concerned that a project that is so contested at this early stage in the process will likely do more harm than good. We are worried that it will cause tremendous damage to the unity and cohesion of our communities and will further erode public trust and confidence in its leaders.
We also note with great concern that another group of Oromos are already planning to organize their own independent summit. Staging two competing summits to consider, discuss and settle the same problem sends the wrong signal to our friends and foes about the Oromo people’s ability to lead the current struggle and the post-EPRDF Ethiopia. Indeed, this will represent a mortal threat to the process and the outcome. There are no reasonable grounds to believe that you — as the sponsors of the Summit— have done all you can to exhaust every available opportunity to reach an amicable settlement with the latter group.
Concerns about the substance of the document:
We recognize that there are diverse views within the Oromo people as far as the substance of the document is concerned. We believe that this is an issue that needs to be decided by a representative convention. However, we feel that some of the language in the document should be reformulated to avoid alienating key allies and endangering the uncommon expressions of solidarity with the various nations and nationalities.
It goes without saying that many Ethiopians and Ethiopia’s foreign backers are looking closely at what Oromos do. It is important that we are always mindful of our audience and anticipate the potential for misunderstanding. We are concerned that four weeks are not enough to craft potentially consequential documents such as the charter envisaged in your release with the seriousness and thoughtfulness it so deserves.
For all the above reasons, we find the proposed project morally and politically indefensible. We find it very difficult to get behind this project in its current form.
Our suggestion for the way forward
There are compelling reasons to rethink and reframe the Georgia convention. To begin with, the broad issues raised and outcomes listed in the ‘concept note’ are unlikely to be addressed in just one gathering. For this reason, we propose two separate conventions: The Georgia Convention and “the Grand Oromo Convention.”
a) The Georgia convention: as planned but confined to the urgent needs of the hour and the Grand Oromo Convention:
§ Resource mobilization, humanitarian response and commemoration. There are pressing humanitarian and medical needs. Hence, it is extremely important to anchor the motivation for the convention on the necessity to tackle the challenges of NOW and on ways to build capacity to keep pace with the fast changing events in Oromia. It’s befitting of an event held on the first year anniversary of a once in a generation protest movement to be devoted to honoring the memories and sacrifices of our martyrs. A focus on resource mobilization and humanitarian response will help identify available resources — material and otherwise — and allow the diaspora communities to reach out to our people at a time of their greatest need.
§ Forge a genuine alliance among Oromo political organizations. Harmony and unity among Oromo Political organizations is desperately needed. It will provide a tremendous morale boost to the movement in Oromia. We believe this matter should be treated with a sense of urgency. The Georgia convention provides a great opportunity to apply maximum pressure on all Oromo political organizations.
§ Set the goals, date, venue and the agenda for a follow-up Grand Oromo Convention. A great deal of background work and deliberation is needed. Ideas need to be formulated, circulated, and thoroughly discussed in a consultative, transparent, representative, and accountable process. Toward this end, the Georgia convention will elect steering committees responsible for overseeing the overall delivery of the Grand Oromo Convention and set priorities and sequence activities necessary to achieve the objective. It will consider the need for the proposed Gumii Council and all other competing proposals. It will identify individuals who will draft the necessary documents and set their terms of reference.
We believe this will ensure public ownership of the process and a broad-based support both within the Oromo communities and our allies. We believe this will help democratize the process, avoid the risk of competing events, and confer legitimacy on the outcome.
• In summary, the Georgia Convention, if managed well, will have a transformative impact on the struggle of the Oromo People. It will create opportunities for Oromo leaders, academics and activists to come together and set out guiding principles and an organizational infrastructure through which resources – material, expertise, financial, personnel, and etc. – are mobilized and channeled to specific targets in a coordinated manner.
b) The Grand Oromo Convention: This will tackle the broader issues outlined in the concept note, specifically the two foundational documents envisaged in your “concept note” and other activities mandated by the Georgia Convention.
This will allow us and other stakeholders an opportunity to weigh in on these foundational documents and forge an all-inclusive Oromo vision for post-EPRDF Ethiopia. We would appreciate the opportunity to help rethink and reframe the approach and possible outcomes of this convention.
Once again we would like to express our appreciation for your conception of this timely “Oromo Leadership Convention” and your endeavor to organize the event. We sincerely hope that you take our concerns and suggestions seriously and make appropriate modifications to the contents of the Concept Note, as well as the structure of the convention and the process of its organization. We believe a democratic and transparent process based on consultations of stakeholders will withstand the test of time.
We do not sign this letter lightly but we feel we are in an extraordinary situation.
1.Awol Kassim Allo
2.Dr. Ayala Gelan