The main objective of this paper is to identify
and critically examine the main cultural and political prerequisites
that the Oromo nation needs to achieve its objectives of political
sovereignty and egalitarian democracy and to protect its national
interest. First, the paper briefly provides background information on
the Oromo cultural and institutional foundations. Second, it identifies
and explains the major challenges that Oromo nationalists need to
overcome to fulfill the objectives of the Oromo national movement.
Third, the piece deals with the current cultural and political strengths
and challenges and the main ideological and political roadmaps, which
are necessary to fully achieve the political objectives of the Oromo
nation and to protect the Oromo national interest.


Oromo National Interest, (Oromummaa) Oromo
Nationalism, Gadaa/Siiqqee (Oromo Democracy), Oromia (Oromo Nation),
Qeerroo/Qarree (Oromo Youth)

1. Introduction

A nation that is prevented from freely developing its political and
cultural institutions by colonialism, and forced to serve the interest
of another society, suffers from political domination, exploitation,
underdevelopment, and poverty (Rodney, 1972; Jalata, 2001) .
Similarly, the Oromo nation has been denied the right to develop its
independent cultural, political, and economic institutions since its
colonization and incorporation into the Ethiopian Empire. As explained
elsewhere (Jalata, 2005 [1993],
2010) , there have been several internal and external problems that
have contributed to the destruction of Oromo cultural and political
institutions and the subordination of the Oromo national interest to
that of the Ethiopian colonial state and its regional and global
supporters. Ethiopian colonialism has partioned the Oromo society
mentally and geographically in order to divide and conquer and to
undermine the Oromo identity and national unity.

Specifically, successive Ethiopian colonial elites have effectively
destroyed/ suppressed Oromo cultural foundations and political
institutions, created subservient Oromo leaders, replaced Oromummaa
(Oromo national culture, identity and ideology) by Ethiopianism,
partitioned and renamed Oromian territories, looted Oromo economic
resources, and dehumanized the Oromo society (Jalata, 2010) .
The Oromo national movement emerged in the 1960s and 1970s to solve
these complex problems and to protect the Oromo national interest (Jalata, 2007) .
The paper briefly provides background information on the Oromo cultural
and institutional foundations; identifies and explains the major
challenges of the Oromo national movement; and explores the current
Oromo cultural and political strengths and challenges and the main
ideological and political roadmaps of the Oromo national struggle in
relation to Oromia’s national interest.

2. Looking Back at Oromo Cultural Foundations and Institutions

A clear understanding of the relationship between culture and
politics is very important because of the influence of cultural capital
on the development of democracy1. The histories of Oromia and
Ethiopia demonstrate that ignoring the cultural capital of the
indigenous democracy such as that of the Oromo called the gadaa/siiqqee2
system and imposing an authoritarian/ethnocratic state on various
national groups produce continuous economic and political crises.
Without critically and thoroughly addressing and solving these complex
problems, the Oromo national movement cannot adequately achieve its
political objectives and protect the Oromo national interest. Before its
colonization, Biyya Oromo or Oromia (the Oromo country) was sovereign
under the gadaa republic (Baissa, 2004, 1971, 1993; Lepisa, 1975) . The Oromo people started to practice their democratic system more than 4000 years ago (Jaarraa & Saaddoo, 2011: p. 61) .
The Oromo oral tradition indicates that the original center of Abbaa
Gadaa, the president of the Oromo assembly known as caffee, and the
center of Abbaa Muda, the leader of Oromo indigenous religion known as
Waaqeefannaa, was Abbaya or Mormor (ancient name for the Blue Nile)
until it moved to Odaa Nabee in the 5th century A. D. (Oromia Cultural Tourism Bureau (OCTB), 2006: p. 74) .
A few Oromo branches such as Galan and Yaya settled for many centuries
on both sides of the Blue Nile, the northern part of the Shawa Plateau,
before the Christian immigrants began to arrive between the 11th and 13th centuries (Bulcha, 2016; Hassen, 2015) .

The gadaa system evolved through the processes known as cinna
(decentralization based on extended clan families) and haroomisa
(renewal and reorganization of gadaa at national level) (OCTB, 2006) .
The center of gadaa gradually moved to Odaa Nabee. Currently, there is
not enough information on the renewal of gadaa at Odaa Mormor and its
movement to Odaa Nabee, near Finfinnee (central Oromo country).
According to the Oromo oral tradition, the central gadaa system, caffee
(Oromo assembly) was practiced at Odaa Nabee from 5 century A. D. to 756
A. D. (OCTB, 2006) . The 8th
century A. D. was characterized as the year of cinna gadaa
(decentralization) and the 1116 A. D. was called the year of haroomsa
gadaa (renewal, centralization and consolidation) (OCTB, 2006: p. 52) .
The Oromo were facing both the Muslim and Christian empire builders who
were competing with each other on the issues of religion, land and
other economic resources. The Muslim empire builders, which started in
the late 10th century, and the Christian empire builders, which consolidated after 13th century, engaged in religious and political wars and destabilized the Oromo society for many centuries in the Horn of Africa (OCTB, 2006: pp. 94-95) . Between the 13th and 14th centuries, the Oromo people were attacked by Abyssinian Christians from the North and by Muslim Somalis from the South East (Jaarraa & Saaddo, 2011) .
Both groups wanted to dismantle the Oromo identity, culture, religion,
and the gadaa system, and to take over the Oromo country. These external
pressures created instability that negatively affected the efficient
functioning of the gadaa system in the Tulama Oromo (Northern Shawa) and
instigated the movement of the Oromo towards the south, and the
decentralization of the gadaa system into clan-based autonomous
administrations. These factors facilitated the transfer of the center of
the gadaa system from Odaa Nabee (near Finfinnee) to Odaa Roba and then
to Madda Walaabuu (the stream of liberty), located in Bale (Jaarraa & Saaddo, 2011) .

From around 1316 to 1378, Odaa Roba started to function as the center
of an Oromo politico-religious system by replacing Odaa Nabee, and then
the center was transferred to Madda Walaabuu in 1450 (Jaarraa & Saaddo, 2011) .
In the same year, the Abbaa Muda, the main Oromo religious figure,
moved to Madda Walaabuu (OCTB, 2011). When the Abyssinian Christian
kingdom attacked the Tulama Oromo, the Muslim Somali empire builders
also attacked the Oromo branches who were living in the area that is
currently called Somalia (OCTB, 2011). After the decentralization of the
gadaa system at Odaa Nabee because of the external pressure from the
Christian kingdom, “the total gadaa revival was successfully completed
at the Odaa Roba ‘caffee’ center in 1316. It should be noted here that …
the movement of gadaa revival took place at Odaa Mormor, Odaa Nabee,
Odaa Roba and Madda Walaabuu shows that two different institutions were
working for a common goal. When gadaa revival was taking place at Odaa
Nabee, it served as the center of both politics and religion for the
Oromo clans living in the area” (OCTB, 2011: p. 56). The renewal
movement of the gadaa system occurred at Odaa Roba in Bale by replacing
“Odaa Nabee, which had been a politico-religious center for several
hundred years before the 14th century,” and “Odaa Roba had
become a new holy politico-religious center of the Oromo people at large
that had been periodically visited by the various representatives of
Oromo groups from all directions for such celebrations like Jilaa Gada
and Mudaa [pilgrim]” (OCTB, 2011: pp. 90-91).

Gradually the politico-religious center of Odaa Roba moved to Madda
Walaabuu for reasons that are not clear at present. The Bale Oromo
living around Madda Walaabu also started to reorganize and reconsolidate
their power starting from 11th century (Jaarraa & Saaddo, 2011: p. 104) .
The general assembly of the Oromo nation was held between 1518 and 1519
for six months at Madda Walaabuu to discuss and deliberate how to
liberate the Oromo country from the Christian and Muslim invaders;
delegates from different parts of the Oromo country participated on this
assembly (Jaarraa & Saaddo, 2011) . Particularly, the Oromo from Tulama sent delegates of twelve people led by Dachaasa to Odaa or Madda Walaabuu (Jaarraa & Saaddo, 2011) .
The main question Walaabuu Jiloo, Abbaa Gadaa of Madda Walaabuu, asked
at the general assembly was “Maal Taana?” (“What are we going to be?”)
After thorough discussions and deliberations for six months, the general
assembly defined the enemies of the Oromo people as those Christian and
Muslim empire builders who were attacking the Oromo people in their own
country to kill them, take their land and other resources, and to force
them to abandon their culture, religion and identity. The assembly also
passed major resolutions to mobilize the entire nation to liberate
their country (Jaarraa & Saaddoo, 2011) .
The Oromo people still have in their memory pool the name Madda
Walaabuu because they started the defensive and liberation wars there in
the early 16th century.

The history of Madda Walaabuu demonstrates that the most significant
revival and reorganization of the gadaa institution occurred at the
beginning of 16th century (Jaarraa & Saaddoo, 2011: p. 96) . Since the 16th
century, the renewal and reorganization of the gadaa system involved
fundamental changes; these changes included rules, regulations and
objectives. There were two main objectives: “Firstly, it was aimed [at]
defending the gadaa system and the Oromo people from the pressure of
Islam. Secondly, the change was sought to reinforce the military power
of the people and enable them to regain their old area of settlement
lost as the result of the incessant wars of the Christian and Muslim
states … The changes in … the formulation of new rules and regulations
were, therefore actions of paramount importance in order to realize
those objectives” (OCTB, 2011: p. 96). Consequently, the Oromo decided
“at least one Butta military campaign to be launched every eight years
in all directions in order to regain the old settlement areas of the
Oromo people who were forced to desert and unite them with their kinsmen
that remained behind. [It] was [also] decided to strengthen Muda
religious pilgrimage made to the seat of the Qaallu every eight years”
(OCTB, 2011: pp. 96-97). In 1522, the Oromo started their resistance
struggle to recover their lost homeland. This was before the Muslims
seriously confronted Christian Abyssinia/Ethiopia in 1527.

The Muslims destroyed Christian rule and established their own under
the leadership of one Ahmed Gragn for more than a decade in the Horn of
Africa. The Oromo were caught in the wars of the Christian and Muslim
empire-builders, and according to Darrel Bates (1979: p. 7), “The
[Oromo] … had suffered in their time from both parties, and were waiting
in the wings for opportunities … to recover lands which had been taken
from them.” The wars between Christians and Muslims endangered the
Oromo’s survival as a people. With the renewal and reorganization of
gadaa, the Oromo carried out butta wars every eight years, when power
transferred from one gadaa grade to the next. In the beginning of the
16th century, when they began to intensify their territorial recovery
through the butta wars, all Oromo were under one gadaa government. This
factor and the ability of the gadaa system to reconsolidate the people
both militarily and organizationally enabled them to recover their lost
territories and accommodate their increased population and stock (Legesse, 1973) . Their movement and recovery signaled their survivability (Ta’a, 1986) .
The Oromo fought twelve butta wars between 1522 and 1618, recovering
and reestablishing the Oromo country that is called Oromia today (Ta’a, 1986) .
In the course of their continued movements and their liberation
struggle, different Oromo groups gradually established autonomous gadaa
governments. At the same time, various Oromo groups kept their relations
through the office of Abbaa Muuda (the father of anointment) (Ta’a, 1986) and formed alliances or confederations during times of difficulty (Etefa, 2012) .

However, the development of class differentiation within the Oromo
society in northern, central and western Oromia, external factors―such
as Turko-Egyptian colonialism in eastern Oromia between 1875 and 1885
and European and Ethiopian colonialism―the emergence of an Oromo
collaborator class, and the spread of Islam and Christianity undermined
the political, military, and ritual/spiritual roles of the gadaa system.
Both internal socio-economic transformations and external interactions
with neighboring peoples slowly facilitated the emergence of class and
the moottii system (kingdom) in some Oromo areas. As some Oromo clans
moved to far-flung regions and interacted with Abyssinian and Omotic
kingdoms and Nilo-Saharan societies and as they settled and engaged in
farming and trade, they developed class differentiation that gradually
led to the transformation of the gadaa system into the moottii system in
northern, central and western Oromia. With the development of class
differentiation, the egalitarian democratic system was challenged and
replaced by the moottii system in some areas. Constant wars led to the
evolution of the abba dulas (military leaders) to hereditary moottiis
(leaders). In the 18th century, the Wallo Oromo had replaced
the gadaa administration with that of kingdom. In the Gibe region, the
moottii system developed through confiscation of land, collection of
booty, tribute and market dues, and through the establishment of
hereditary rights to ownership of property and political office in the
19th century. The emergence of powerful autocratic leaders
and their private armies led to the control of marketplaces, trade
routes and land, and the development of an agricultural economy that led
to further class differentiation and the formation of the mootti system
(Hassen, 1990) .

The egalitarian democratic gadaa system was incompatible with the new
moottii system due to the fundamental changes in the landholding
system. In other words, the emergence of class differentiation and the
rise of the Oromo kingdoms suppressed the gadaa system in some parts of

For example, in the Gibe region, five Oromo states―Limmu-Ennarya, Guma, Jimma, Gera and Goma―emerged between the 17th and 19th centuries (Lewis, 2001) . Here in the 17th
century, the differentiation of wealth went beyond the wealth of cattle
when the sorressa (the wealthy merchant and landlord class) emerged.
With the emergence of this wealthy class, the principle of adopting the
conquered populations as “equal” through the mogassa process ended; the
institutions of slavery and qubisisa (tenancy) emerged. The emergence of
a hierarchical structure reduced the egalitarian aspects of the gadaa
to religious rituals. The moottii (king) continuously accumulated wealth
with incomes he extracted from tribute on the land and its products,
and from commerce. This produce extraction enabled the moottii to create
and maintain regulatory institutions like a military, bodyguards, and
courts. Also, the emergence of moottii systems in Leqa-Naqamte and
Leqa-Qellem, western Oromia, was actually based on the initiation of
warfare and appropriation of rights to land and labor, control of trade
and market places. Externally, the gadaa system was attacked and
weakened in eastern Oromia by the Turko-Egyptian and Harari conspiracy.
The interethnic alliance and interdependence between the Harari,
residents of the walled city of Harar and the eastern Oromo was
shattered when a faction of the former invited the Turko-Egyptian power
to colonize the Hararge region in 1875. Between 1875 and 1885, the
Harari retained their position and accumulated wealth at the cost of the
majority Oromo under the Turko-Egyptian rule (Jalata, 2005[1993]) .

Similarly, in the regions presently called Sidamo, Arssi, Bale,
Illubabor, and Gamu Gofa and in some parts of Shawa, the gadaa system
was suppressed by the alliance of global imperialism and Ethiopian
colonialism. The capitalist penetration of the last decades of 19th
century laid the economic foundation of the modern Horn states,
followed by the occupation of strategic positions by European powers
along the Red Sea littoral. Generally speaking, the partition of the
Horn of Africa in the last decades of the 19th century, the
alliance between European imperialists―namely France, England, and
Italy―and Ethiopian warlords, and the colonization of Oromia ended Oromo
statehood and sovereignty, which the Oromo national movement is
currently struggling to restore. As an egalitarian system, gadaa did not
compete well with hierarchical social systems that engaged in the
extraction of economic surplus and political oppression by building a
permanent professional bureaucracy, expanding formal education, and
developing limited technological capabilities. The intervention of the
Ethiopian and European powers through military, mercantile, colonial and
neo-colonial forces in Oromo society demonstrated the challenge the
Oromo political leadership was facing because of an externally imposed
exploitative and oppressive social system. Because of the external
influence and the internal weakness of the gadaa system after its
decentralization, autocratic and hereditary chiefs emerged by
overthrowing the democratically elected leadership in some parts of

The historical legacy of Oromo political leadership is the
sovereignty the Oromo experienced under the gadaa government and its
egalitarian framework. Consequently, under the gadaa system, the Oromo
society enjoyed relative peace, stability, sustainable development and
political sovereignty although technologically and bureaucratically not
well developed. The imposition of the Ethiopian colonial system and the
emergence of the Oromo collaborator class had denied the Oromo the
opportunity of rebuilding their national institutions and organizations.
Consequently, the Oromo have been facing monumental external and
internal challenges in rebuilding their national organizational capacity
that could have helped them in reestablishing the rules of the game,
and in building strong national organizations that could have
effectively mobilized them to successfully carry out the national
projects of liberation, egalitarian democracy, and development. The
Ethiopian colonial state had partitioned the Oromo society physically
and mentally, and the Oromo national movement did not yet destroy the
foundations of these divisions. These divisions have undermined safuu
(Oromo moral and ethical order) and the rules of the game that they used
to have. Consequently, some Oromo individuals and groups have become
the agents of the colonial system to benefit themselves and their
colonial masters. The Ethiopian colonial state has used brute force and
developed elaborated ideological mechanisms such as Ethiopianism to
prevent the Oromo people from rebuilding their independent national
institutions, organizations and leadership.

The rebuilding of Oromo national organizations and institutions
started with the emergence of the Macha Tulama Association and the Oromo
Liberation Front (OLF) and currently consolidated by the
Qeerro/Qarree-led Oromo national movement3. Currently the
commercialization and fragmentation of Oromo ideologies and politics by
different Oromo political organizations and the absence of strong
national organizational capacity are the two major pitfalls of the Oromo
national interest. At the same time, the availability of political
opportunities such as politicized collective grievances; the existence
of the OLF and other Oromo political organizations; the increase of
politically consciousness among students and others; the activities of
legal Oromo political organizations; the cultural renaissance initiated
by the MTA and students; the further development of national Oromummaa;
and the introduction of technological innovations such as social media
including mobile phones, internet and tweets, satellite TVs, and radios
have galvanized the Oromo people in general and the youth in particular
to engage in the clandestinely organized and systematically networked
peaceful protest movement that mobilized almost all sectors of the Oromo

As we shall see below, this movement has produced far-reaching
consequences for the Oromo national struggle and politics. It has
already demonstrated that the foundation of the Ethiopian colonial state
has been built on a shaky foundation that cannot survive the determined
and organized Oromo revolutionary force. For the first time, since
their colonization the Oromo people under the leadership of
qeerroo/qarree have demonstrated that they are capable of dismantling
Ethiopian colonialism and its political structures. Particularly, the
Oromo youth have changed the potential of the Oromo nation into
collective action by uniting most sectors of the Oromo society. As a
consequence of the recent Oromo protests, politically conscious Oromo
and others have realized that it is only the matter of time before the
Oromo nation achieves its political objective of national
self-determination and democracy. Farsighted political activists and
serious nationalists have realized that without building strong national
institutions and organizations protests or revolts alone may not
necessarily lead to a regime change in the Ethiopian empire. Developing
new political strategies, building broad-based alliances, and working on
building strong national institutions and political organizations are
absolutely necessary to bring the Oromo national struggle to fruition.
The Oromo youth protest movement has created conducive conditions for
these factors. The political agenda of combining the principles national
self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy has resulted
in creating consensus among the Oromo and Amhara youths and others to
remove the Tigrayan-led authoritarian-terrorist regime (Jalata, 2016) .

At the same time, the series of protests created a serious crisis in
the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and led to the
stepping down of the president of the Regional State of Oromia, Muktar
Kedir (2014-2016), and his replacement by Lemma Megersa in October 2016.
The election of Lemma Megersa was a special event because for the first
time the OPDO elected its popular leader without asking for permission
from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated the
Ethiopia government. So, we can say that the qeerroo/qarree movement has
initiated the process of the liberation of OPDO from the yoke of their
masters although the organization is still a member of the Ethiopian
Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which was dominated and
led by the TPLF almost for twenty-seven years. As the qeerroo/qarree
peaceful movement consolidated its political base in Oromia and extended
its solidarity to other regional states, such as the Amhara youth
movement4 known as Fanoo and the Gurage movement known as
Zurba. As economic boycotts intensified in Oromia between June 2016 and
February 20185, to suppress the peaceful protests the
TPLF/EPRDF regime declared another State of Emergence on February 16,
2018: “This is Ethiopia’s second state of emergency in two years and it
came a day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned. The
election of a new prime minister is expected early next week6.”

The Oromo peaceful movement assisted the OPDO to empower itself and
to negotiate with the EPRDF to appoint its member, Abyi Ahmed, to become
the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on April 2, 2018. Abyi Ahmed served in
the Ethiopian military and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and
directed the Information Network and Security Agency, which is
responsible for cyber-security and control of the Internet. He is also
the Chairman of the OPDO/EPRDF, and it is not yet clear whether he has
total control on the apparatuses of the Security and the Military, which
are still dominated by the TPLF military leaders. Our doubt of his
power is increased by the displacement of 1.2 million Oromo and the
killings of hundreds of them in the Ethiopian Somali Regional State and
on the borders between Oromia and the Ethiopian-Somali. Currently, the
Gumuz people from Benishangul has killed many people and expelled more
than eighty thousand Oromo and Amhara. From their region. Whether Lemma
Megersa and Abyi Amhed, as the inheritors of gadaa, are going to repeat
the golden history of Solon and Cleisthenes of ancient Athens7
in helping democracy to emerge and flourish in Oromia and Ethiopia, or
whether they are going to repeat the histories of criminal dictators,
namely Menelik, Haile Selassie, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Meles Zenawi,
will be known soon. Whatever political position they take, the struggle
for national self-determination and egalitarian multicultural democracy
is constructed on strong cultural foundations such as the gadaa/siqqee
system and other progressive cultural capital of the oppressed,
exploited, terrorized, and dehumanized peoples.

3. Major External and Internal Challenges

The Oromo national struggle still faces serious challenges from its
external and internal enemies, despite the fact that it is progressing
toward determining the political destiny of the Oromo nation. Although
national Oromummaa is blossoming and the Qerroo/Qaree-led Oromia-wide
movement is defeating the ideology of Ethiopianism or Amhara-Tigrayan
supremacy and intensifying the crisis of the empire, the tottering
Ethiopian regime is still in power claiming to reform itself under the
leadership of Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, because of the
absence of Oromo national organizational capacity. At this historical
moment, the commercialization and fragmentation Oromo ideologies and
politics by Oromo political elites have undermined the development of an
Oromo national organizational capacity. Oromo nationalists are divided
and formed political organizations that are not yet capable of
mobilizing all Oromo human, economic and intellectual resources for
building the Oromo national organizational capacity, despite the fact
that the Qerroo/Qarree led Oromo movement has laid the ground for the
ideological unity of the Oromo national struggle. When most Oromo elites
and others believe that the Lemma-Abyi team should be supported in
their efforts of facilitating the process of democratic transition, the
reactionary forces are clandestinely organizing and attempting to abort
the transition by assassinating Abyi. Although they failed, these forces
tried to murder the popular Oromo prime minister twice.

In order to prevent the abortion of the transition to democracy, all
progressive forces in general and the Oromo movement in particular
should support the efforts of democratic transition led by the
Lemma-Abyi team. Since the Oromo movement is the backbone of this
transition, all Oromo political forces including the progressive
elements in the OPDO need to stop the commercialization and
fragmentation of Oromo politics and combine their human, material and
ideological resources to build the Oromo national organizational
capacity, which is absolutely necessary to protect the Oromo national
interest at this historical period. Protecting the Oromo national
interest requires a clear understanding of the essence Oromo national
institutions and organizations and their differences and roles and
interactions. Institutions, according to Dogulass North (1995: p. 15) ,
are “the rules of the game,” and organizations are the players or the
agents in a society. In other words, social “institutions are the
constraints that human beings impose on human interaction. They consist
of formal rules (constitutions, statute law, common law, and
regulations) and informal constraints (conventions, norms, and
self-enforced codes of conduct) and their enforcement characteristics.
These constraints define (together with the standard constraints of
economics) the opportunity set in the economy” and politics.
Institutions produce and maintain “some regularity in collective
behavior” in a given society in order to influence individuals to behave
similarly in the same social condition.

Institutions enable a society to solve their collective problems by
establishing collectivity and solidarity among groups of individuals:
“Social institutions provide groups of individuals with the means of
resolving collective action problems and provide benefits for collective
activity. On these accounts, institutional maintenance and stability
are primarily explained by the capacity of institutions to produce
collective goods or benefits for social groups.” Without any questions,
institutions play a central role in the processes of socioeconomic
reproduction, socialization, preservation or change of social order,
transmission of culture, and personality development. In satisfying
human needs, institutions create and maintain social solidary and
cohesion among members of a society to facilitate collective action. All
institutions produce and preserve social norms by transmitting them to
members of a given society. Every society establishes its norm as a
property of its social system at micro and macro levels to differentiate
proper or correct behaviors and actions from improper or incorrect
behaviors and actions by rewarding the former ones and punishing the
latter ones. Social norms and state institutions assist to maintain a
social order or a social system.

As the case of the Oromo demonstrates, colonial institutions have
negatively changed the people by imposing violence such as terrorism and
genocide to exploit their economic and labor resources. Whether
collective behaviors or norms are produced spontaneously or designed
consciously or by both, all societies need their independent
institutions to collectively solve their problems. It is necessary to
clearly comprehend the differences between the institutions of the
colonizers and the colonized. In the capitalist world system, the elites
and their supporters “have … perceived the game as one where the
highest rewards accrued to military conquest, exploitation (such as
enslavement [and colonization]), formation of monopolies, and so forth;
in consequence, the kinds of skills and knowledge invested in have been
aimed at furthering such policies” (North, 1995: p. 19) .
The impact of Ethiopian colonialism, the erosion of Oromo national
norms, political commercialization and fragmentation, the disconnection
between local interests and national interests, and uneven development
of Oromo nationalism (national Oromummaa) are the major challenges for
building a unified Oromo national institution or organization. Without
rebuilding strong national institutions, the Oromo cannot transform
their numerical strength, abundant economic resources, and the
determination of nationalists to national organizational power that can
empower the nation.

The immediate challenge the Oromo face as a nation is accepting that
they do not have strong national institutions and organizations that can
empower the Oromo people at this moment. Another challenge that the
Oromo nationalists face today is reshaping Oromo norms and behaviors
toward building formidable national institutions and civic and political
organizations. The Oromo do not have another model, except critically
and thoroughly learning about the Oromo democratic traditions and
rebuilding national consensus through honest, open and democratic
deliberations. The Oromo choice is either to reshape their current
political norms and behaviors and the way they deliberate their politics
in order to rebuild their democratic national institutions and
organizations in order to build egalitarian multinational democracy or
to perpetuate the existing status quo of fragmentation and
disempowerment and suffer under the authoritarian-terrorist state of
Ethiopia. The fragmented Oromo political organizations and national
leadership should be stopped by the Oromo people by forcing Oromo
organizations and their leadership to negotiate and collaborate with one
another on the Oromo liberation project and to protect the Oromo
national interest. The various Oromo leadership must also be challenged
to move from an initial reliance on a narrow political circle and
borrowed political ideologies and practices, and to embrace
Oromo-centric democratic values to organize different forms of
leadership in the Oromo society by establishing dynamic connections with
the Oromo people.

All Oromo nationalists should participate in revitalizing the Oromo
national movement through the application of elements of gadaa/siiqqee
principles by aiming at the consolidation of a democratic Oromia state
and/or shared sovereignty with others by implementing internal peace
within the Oromo national movement and the Oromo society and by
promoting peace (nagaa Oromoo) with Oromo neighbors. The refining and
adaptation of the best elements of the gadaa/siqqee system are necessary
to strengthen and consolidate the Oromo national struggle in order to
protect the Oromo national interest. The Oromo national movement needs
to retrieve, refine, adapt, and practice the principles of gadaa/siqqee (Kelly, 1992; Kumsa, 1997) .
The idea of building a national Gumii Oromiyaa must be given top
priority by all Oromo and their political and civic organizations in
order to revitalize, centralize, and coordinate the Oromo national
movement and protect the Oromo national interest. Oromo nationalist
leaders need to start to search for ways of enabling all Oromo to
participate in the Oromo national movement by providing ideas,
resources, expertise, and their labor. Although the fire of Oromo
nationalism was lit by a few, determined revolutionary elements, the
Oromo national struggle has now reached the level where it requires mass
mobilization and participation. In this mobilization, the Oromo
national movement should use the ideology and principles of gadaa
democracy, which must be enshrined in national Oromummaa in order to
mobilize the entire nation spiritually, financially, militarily, and
organizationally to take coordinated political and military action.

In order to obtain political legitimacy from the Oromo society even
the enemy of the Oromo people uses the discourse of gadaa without
believing in it and practicing its principles. Despite the fact that the
contemporary organizations of the Oromo national movement use gadaa
names or concepts, they rarely apply the principles of the system to
regulate their own political behavior and practices. According to Oromo
political traditions, rules and laws are made through serious debates,
and once decisions have been made by the general assembly both leaders
and citizens are obligated to implement them. Nobody is above the rule
of law. Although it is challenging and difficult to implement all
relevant gadaa principles while engaging in the liberation struggle,
Oromo organizations must agree on certain principles and initiate
pragmatic policies that embody Oromo democracy if they are struggling to
restore Oromo statehood, sovereignty, and democracy. Certain gadaa
principles that Oromo political and civic organizations need to
immediately adapt include the rule of democratic laws, periodic
succession of leadership, moral and ethical integrity, honesty,
democratic public deliberations, the sovereignty of the people and
defeating the collaborator of the enemy, and building national political
consensus. By mobilizing gadaa/siiqqee experts and Oromo intellectuals
who are familiar with the Oromo democratic traditions, the Oromo
national movement should start to formulate procedures, strategies, and
tactics for the building of the supreme authority of a national assembly
may be called Gumii Oromiyaa. At this national Gumii, all Oromo
liberation fronts and organizations that can carry out their national
obligations, all representatives of Oromo civil and religious
organizations, and representatives of all Oromo sectors must be

This national Gumii can be modeled after the Gumii Gayyo (Huqqa, 1998) .
The Gumii Gayyo is an expression of the exemplar model of the unwritten
Oromo constitution. Reframing the unwritten Oromo constitution and
transforming into a new national constitution based on Oromo democratic
principles require absolute commitment from Oromo nationalists and their
organizations rather than giving lip service to this idea. By
establishing the National Assembly of Gumii Oromiyaa, Oromo nationalists
and organizations of the Oromo national movement can initiate the
process of framing a written Oromo constitution by adapting the received
tradition to new circumstances while learning from other democratic
traditions. If Oromo nationalists and organizations are truly concerned
about their people and if they want to win their national struggle, they
need to show respect for their democratic traditions and practice
civility in their political and ideological deliberations. Such
responsible and courageous actions require taking accountability
seriously and using a single standard for evaluating behavior and
measuring performance in relation to the Oromo national struggle. To
build Gumii Oromiyaa, the Oromo national movement needs to address five
major issues. The first issue is to develop national Oromummaa to its
full capacity by overcoming its unevenness and deficiencies in order to
strengthen the Oromo national organizational capacity. After Oromo were
colonized and until Oromo nationalism emerged, Oromoness primarily
remained on the personal and the interpersonal levels because Oromo were
denied the opportunities to form national institutions and
organizations8. Consequently, today the Oromo elites who have
internalized these externally imposed regional or religious identities
because of their low level of political consciousness or political
opportunism, and the lack of clear understanding of national Oromummaa.

Without critically retrieving and restoring Oromo cultural and
historical resources and using them in developing Oromo nationalism, it
is difficult to build a national political agenda. Oromo who did not yet
develop national political consciousness may confuse clan or regional
or religious politics with the Oromo national politics because of the
lack of the comprehension of the consequences of their political
behaviors and actions. As one can learn from history, the Oromo
political weakness mainly emerged as Oromo moved away from one gadaa
republic and started to form autonomous gadaa governments in different
parts of Oromia. Hence, the building of the Oromo national
organizational capacity is only possible when national Oromummaa is
fully developed and can be packaged into a generally accepted vision
that energizes the entire Oromo nation to undertake a well-organized and
coordinated collective action at the personal, interpersonal and
national levels. As an element of culture, nationalism or national
Oromummaa has the power to serve as a manifestation of the collective
identity of the Oromo national movement. The basis of national Oromummaa
must be built on overarching principles that are embedded within Oromo
democratic traditions and culture and, at the same time, have universal
relevance for all oppressed peoples. The main foundations of national
Oromummaa are individual and collective freedom, justice, popular
democracy, and human liberation, which are built on the concept of safuu
(Oromo moral and ethical order) and are enshrined in gadaa/siiqqee
principles. As the ideology of the Oromo national movement, national
Oromummaa enables Oromo to retrieve their cultural memories, assess the
consequences of Ethiopian colonialism, and give voice to their
collective grievances.

As such, national Oromummaa can mobilize diverse cultural resources,
interlink Oromo personal, interpersonal and collective (national)
relationships, and assists in the development of Oromo-centric political
strategies and tactics that can mobilize the nation for collective
action and empower the people for liberation. As the shared ideology of
the Oromo national movement, national Oromummaa requires that the
movement be inclusive of all persons operating in a democratic fashion.
National Oromummaa enables the Oromo people to form alliances with all
political forces and social movements that accept the principles of
national self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy in
the promotion of a global humanity that is free of all forms of
oppression and exploitation. The Oromo are struggling for national
self-determination and an egalitarian multinational democracy because
there are other peoples in Oromia and beyond with which they can share
statehood and sovereignty based on Oromo democratic traditions. The
Oromo movement respects the rights and political aspiration of other
peoples beyond Oromia and invites them to create solidarity and form
alliance with the Oromo nation. The second issue deals with the
necessity of building strong national capacity. Oromo organizations must
develop commitment to refine and apply some elements of gadaa/siiqqee
principles and to rebuild a new national Gumii Oromiyaa. The starting
point to initiate the formation of the new national Gumii Oromiyaa can
be the rebuilding of Oromo national capacity by Oromo political
organizations and nationalists to work together while maintaining their
autonomous existence and fashioning a new approach to build this
national assembly.

Furthermore, Oromo civic, cultural, and religious associations and
other Oromo sectors should be partners in building this Oromo national
assembly. Oromo nationalists do not need to wait to form the national
Gumii Oromiyaa until liberation. Gumii Oromiyaa as a political and
cultural platform can provide a mechanism for establishing a common
understanding and consensus among the fragmented Oromo political forces
provided that it will be wisely and carefully handled. Oromo
nationalists should be clear that the Oromo national movement is not
struggling to reinvent the moottii system or Oromo chiefdoms based on
clans or regions. In some parts of the Oromo society, the emergence of
the moottii system undermined the gadaa system and later facilitated the
formation of those Oromo forces that collaborated with the Ethiopian
colonial system. As other nationalisms, Oromo nationalism has two edges,
the one edge cutting backward, and the other forward. The Oromo
national movement should reconsider Oromo culture and history, and
recognize the negative ones and avoid them. As the formation of
different autonomous gadaa governments and the emergence of the moottii
system contributed to the defeat of the Oromo people in the second half
of the 19th century, the political fragmentation of the Oromo society will perpetuate the defeat of the Oromo nation in the 21st
century. Without the coordination and the consolidation of the Oromo
national movement, Oromo cannot effectively confront and defeat the
Ethiopian colonial system and its Oromo collaborator class.

Oromo liberation organizations have a historic responsibility to
cooperate with one another and participate in the Oromo national
movement in order to reach larger audiences, share resources as well as
experiences, and gain political legitimacy. It is essential that they
end their internecine squabbles and negative political propaganda
against one another. This does not mean that Oromo organizations should
not be scrutinized and evaluated in relations to their objectives,
ideologies, and performance. Thirdly, while consolidating the Oromo
national movement, it is necessary to build political alliances with
peoples who are interested in the principles of national
self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy. Although the
priority of the Oromo national movement is to liberate the Oromo
people, the movement has moral and political obligations to promote
social justice and democracy for the peoples who have suffered under the
successive authoritarian-terrorist governments of the Ethiopian Empire.
Therefore, the Oromo movement needs to build a political alliance with
national groups that endorse the principles of national
self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy. A democratic
sovereign Oromia should play a central role in a multinational
democratic state because of its democratic tradition, the size of its
population, geopolitics, and abundant economic resources. By framing a
democratic constitution based on Oromo democratic principles and other
democratic traditions, the national assembly of Gumii Oromiyaa should
demonstrate to the Oromo society and their neighbors that the Oromo
nation is serious about statehood, sovereignty, and egalitarian
multinational democracy for the Oromo and others.

This brings us to the fourth issue: This is the obligation of every
Oromo for restoring Oromian sovereignty and statehood as a state within a
multinational context. The Oromo national struggle manifests the
aspiration of all Oromo. Therefore, every Oromo has moral, political and
national obligations to actively participate in the Oromo national
struggle to enable the Oromo nation to achieve its political, social,
and economic objectives. Particularly, Oromo intellectuals have great
responsibility to mobilize all Oromo and others on the principles of
self-determination, social justice, and egalitarian multinational
democracy, and to expand the leadership capacity of the Oromo movement.
Therefore, the expansion of the national leadership capacity is the
final issue. The responsibilities of Oromo intellectuals also include
developing pragmatic policies that will lay the foundation of both an
Oromian democratic state and an egalitarian multinational state,
establishing special relationship with the colonized nations in the
Ethiopian Empire, expanding public diplomacy by consolidating the
support of the Oromo diaspora, and influencing world powers by using the
principles of global Oromummaa to support the just cause of the Oromo
for social justice, liberation, and democracy. The final issue is
expanding the national leadership capacity of this movement by
mobilizing the active participation of Oromo women and youth that can be
more than the two-third of the Oromo population. These two important
sectors of the Oromo society must actively participate in the Oromo
national movement and in the formation of the national assembly of Gumii

4. Conclusions

The protection of the Oromo national interest requires restoring the
best elements of the gadaa/siqqee principles, reinventing an Oromia
democratic state in a multinational context, and building an Oromia
formidable defense force, which incorporates the Oromo Liberation Army
of the Oromo Liberation Front. These are important political steps that
are required to stop the systematic attack and terrorism on the Oromo
people in Oromia and in different regional Ethiopian states, such as the
Somali, Afar, Amhara, the Southern Nations and Nationalities and
Peoples Regional State, and Benishangul, as well as in Finfinnee (Addis
Ababa) and its surroundings. The first subset of the Oromo national
interest is the protection of what the Oromo struggle has achieved up to
now. These achievements include the development of Oromo national
identity and nationalism; the development of qubee (the Oromo alphabet)
and the restoration of the Oromo language; the geopolitical demarcation
of Oromia and the creation of the Oromia Regional State through
federalism; the revival of Oromo culture and national unity through
restoring certain elements of gadaa/siqqee; the efforts of protecting
Oromo lands and other resources; and the efforts of liberating Oromo
collaborators from the yoke of the enemy by empowering them through
developing the psychology of liberation and victorious consciousness to
overcome their inferiority complex. The second subset of the Oromo
national interest is to maintain the commitment of the Oromo people,
which is demonstrated under the leadership of qeerroo/qarree to achieve
popular sovereignty, statehood, and egalitarian multinational democracy.
The protection of these achievements is absolutely necessary to move
toward protecting the Oromo national interest.

The immediate task for the Oromo political and civic institutions and
organizations should be to agree upon creating the democratic rules of
the game based on acceptable national norms and behaviors and values
that reflect safuu and Oromo democracy (Legesse, 1987, 2006 [2000])
in order to protect the Oromo national interest. The next task is to
build formidable national institutions and organizations that will
empower the Oromo nation to determine its national destiny. All
concerned Oromo are agents who can contribute something to change the
deplorable condition of their people. It is wrong to be neutral and
silent when the Oromo people are facing terrorism and genocidal
massacres by Tigrayan colonial elites and their collaborators.
Particularly, the diaspora Oromo have moral and ethical responsibilities
to maintain safuu and to get organized to support the struggle of their
people; they must also stop those who engage in divisive activities
that facilitate the perpetual suffering of their people. History aptly
demonstrates that people can revolt and overthrow regimes, but they
cannot form their own democratic government without having their strong
national institutions and organizations. All Oromo nationalists and
organizations are required to be united for building an Oromo national
organizational capacity, which insures the survival of the Oromo nation
and protects its national interest.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.

Cite this paper

Jalata, A. (2019). Politico-Cultural Prerequisites for Protecting
the Oromo National Interest. Sociology Mind, 9, 95-113.


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1As Pierre Bourdieu notes: “as economic capital, which is …
directly convertible into money and may be institutionalized in the
forms of private property rights; as cultural capital, which is
convertible … into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the
forms of [position of power] and educational qualifications; and as
social capital, made of social obligations (“connections”), which is
convertible … into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the
form of a title of nobility.” His theories of cultural capital should
not be limited to formal education, and it must also include informal
education, which plays a significant role in maintaining status quo in
class, gender and ethno-national hierarchies. See,, accessed on 11/09/17.

2Gadaa was a form of constitutional government of the
Oromo. It was practiced through the election of political leaders by
adult male suffrage every eight years; corrupt leaders would be removed
from power through buqisu (recall) before their official tenure. See
Asmarom Legesse, Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political
System, (Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 2006). Siqqee is a
sub-set of gadaa, and I use the terms gadaa/siqqee to designate the
concept of Oromo democracy.

3The accumulated grievances, the recent intensification of
land grabbing policies, massive poverty, gross human rights violations,
and the broadening of the political consciousness of the Oromo in
general and the youth, in particular, have resulted in the Oromia-wide
peaceful youth protest movement. The Qeerroo/Qarree protest movement
erupted in Ginchi, near Ambo, not far from Finfinnee (Addis Ababa―the
capital city), on November 12, 2015, and shortly covered all of Oromia
like wild fire. The Oromo elementary and secondary students of this
small town ignited the peaceful protests because of the privatization
and confiscation of a small soccer field and selling of the nearby
Chilimoo forest to be cleared and deforested. Supporting the peaceful
protests of these students and opposing the so-called Addis Ababa master
plan, the entire Oromo population from all walks of life joined the
peaceful protests.

4, accessed on 7/16/2018.

5, accessed on 7/16/2018.

6, accessed on 7/16/2018.

7The development of Athenian democracy should be
considered within broader contexts such as revolutionary social
conditions, volatile mass and elite relations, Solon’s and Cleisthenes’
reforms, and democratic political consciousness. The oppression and
exploitation of ordinary people by aristocrats and landlords gradually
resulted in social upheavals and ruptures that facilitated political
reforms and later the emergency of democracy in Athenian society. In 594
B.C., to deal with the danger of the survival of the state, the council
of Areopagus elected Solon as an “archon and reconciler.” Solon was
empowered by the existing socio-political conditions to introduce
far-reaching reforms, which included the cancellation of rural debts,
the creation of a council of 400, a law court in which the poor could
serve as jurors, new laws, and constitutional reforms. He opened the
political system for different classes; as a result, the laborers
(thetes) were admitted to the assembly and the law courts. Returning
from exile, Cleisthenes introduced some changes to the constitutional
order that were passed by the citizen assembly. As Ober (2007: p. 89)
notes, “The revolution was … a necessary condition for the emergence of
democracy … The energy released by the revolution was a key factor in
Athens’ subsequent political evolution: in short term in the
‘Cleisthenic’ innovations affecting citizenship, local authority, the
advisory council, the army, and control over leaders.” He also reformed
the Athenian administration by redistricting it into a ten diluted
local/tribal boundaries to reduce stiff rivalry among tribes and prevent
domination (Ladha, 2003) .

8Oromoness was targeted for destruction and colonial
administrative regions that were established to suppress the Oromo
people and exploit their resources were glorified and institutionalized.
As a result, Oromo relational identities have been localized, and not
strongly connected to the collective identity of national Oromummaa.
Oromo have been separated from one another and prevented from exchanging
goods and information for more than a century. They were exposed to
different cultures (i.e., languages, customs, values, etc.) and
religions and adopted some elements of these cultures and religions.

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