The founder and former leader of OLF and the chairman of the new Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) Mr Lencho Letta has been actively involved in uniting his Oromo movement with various Ethiopian opposition groups. His recent speech at the Ethiopian National Movement (ENM) conference in Oslo, Norway was filled with brutal honesty about our differences and the high stakes of ignoring the ongoing political crisis in Ethiopia. His steadfast efforts to bring diverse Ethiopians together and to create consensus among us should be applauded by all peace loving Ethiopians.
For many decades, one of the problems with the mentality of his group and similar tribal movements has been their tendency to ignore the elephant in the room: the Ethiopian people. Even the most well-meaning and progressive members of the OLF/ODF group always divide our people by tribe. Therefore, today, they seek to find consensus among Oromos with Amharas, Tigres, Afars etc but they always forget the majority of Ethiopians: who are mixed or multiethnic.
So it was refreshing to hear, albeit briefly, that Lencho finally acknowledged the concerns of mixed-Ethiopians in his speech.
Accordingly, Lencho said:
“There are those who are not in the position to identify themselves as Oromos, Amharas, Gurages, etc. We should not impose on these types of individuals some other identity than calling themselves Ethiopian.”
This quote by Lencho has to be praised and encouraged. This paragraph alone has to be a groundbreaking moment in the recent history of the Oromo or ethnic politics. If his comments were sincere or in good faith, it could bring a political shift, and open the eyes of tribal groups in how they view Ethiopian nationalists.
For many years, tribal groups defamed mixed-Ethiopians and bundled us into Amhara or as “Abyssinians.” Everytime they spoke about mixed Ethiopian nationalists, they falsely combined us into the Amara umbrella.
But finally, it is good to hear an influential Oromo leader acknowledge the identity and the rights of millions of mixed-Ethiopians to be just “Ethiopian” (with no tribal attachment or hyphenated identity.) If more and more Oromo and other tribal elites begin to recognize this basic concept, it will become easier to create consensus for a better and inclusive Ethiopia.
We know it is not easy for tribal elites to understand the world view of mixed-Ethiopians. We are Ethiopian nationalists who embrace multiculturalism and multilingualism. However, Mixed-Ethiopians are a complex group because we often speak Amharic or any common language of the day, of the era. Whether we are mixed-Oromo/Gurage born in Adama, or mixed-Gumuz/Amara born in Asosa or mixed-Sidama/Welaita born in Awassa; we tend to favor speaking the official Amharic working language. So tribal politicians confuse our identity using the label “Amhara.” Ironically, most of us mixed-Ethiopians are actually registered as non-Amara ethnicity on TPLF’s official 2007 Census because most of our father side ancestors are diverse. Nonetheless, we all see ourselves as “Ethiopian” first because we are a product of the evolution of the Ethiopian state.
This dilemma is a foundation for the problems in Ethiopian politics since the early days of Walalegn Mekonnen and other Marxists activists. It has affected how ethnic-nationalists interpreted modern Ethiopian history because most emperors and influential statesmen were mixed-Ethiopians who were wrongly labeled “Amara.”
Since TPLF introduced ethnic-federalism, tribal elites have continued to wrongly associate all mixed Ethiopian nationalists with “Amara.” However, When we overwhelmingly voted for Kinijit/CUD in 2005, we were not voting for Amhara nationalism. When the diaspora Ethiopians protest and wave the Ethiopian flag, it is not to promote Amharanet. When we went out in millions to protest in Addis Ababa, we did not do it for Amhara supremacy. We did all that for Ethiopiawinet and for our Ethiopian identity; to reject tribalism and division of our families.
So, it is important that more Oromo nationalists follow the footsteps of Mr. Lencho and accept the rights of mixed-Ethiopians, because in some parts of the country, we are the silent majority. Though Ethiopia as a whole is still a special country because it is a nation of minorities. So it can never be peacefully governed by a coalition of one or two “big” tribes. It can only be governed by a constitution that recognizes the rights of each and every individual and group, including mixed “ethnic Ethiopians.”
At the of the day, our identities, just like our artificial “borders,” overlap. Therefore, respecting the Democratic individual rights of every single Ethiopian citizen is the only path forward. When the state respects the right to life & liberty of the individual; it will automatically also respect the rights of whatever grouping that individual belongs to. Therefore, whether you want to call it “identity politics,” or “ethnic or Gosa politics,” Ethiopia can never be peacefully governed via ethnic-federalism or ethnic-apartheid.
At the end of Mr. Lencho speech, he said the reason why our country’s mainland has not collapsed into violent crime or civil war is because the people are “noble” and “God fearing.” Yes, Mr. Lencho is correct. But another major reason why our country has not collapsed is because of mixed-Ethiopians, who are the glue holding together the country, despite 26 years of provocation & instigation by the TPLF.
The G.E.M. is a worldwide advocacy group for millions of mixed ‘ethnic Ethiopians,’ who are marginalized under the current regime in Addis Ababa. Ethnic Ethiopians are the largest ethnic group in the country.