Op-Ed: “Denialism as a strategy of epistemological violence meted out against Oromo identity in Ethiopia: Making sense of the pervasive propaganda against Oromummaa”

Elders of the Karrayyuu Oromo (Photo: Visit Oromia/Facebook)

By Mirgissa Kaba & Girma Gutema


Denialism is a cognitive and emotional process by which a person avoids facing reality as it exists when that reality is not in line with one’s own perspective of reality. In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth. To put it in a nutshell, “ Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality.”

Nothing is static in this world we live in. Let alone thoughts, landscapes change. What we assume was right yesterday could be wrong today and the vice versa. As the age-old cliché also has it, change is the only constant in any society. The pace at which human beings catch up with the steady changes and adjust to life courses is one critical success factor in societal progresses and civilizations.

This piece of writing is the continuation of our engagement with a few but organized and hostile propagandists against Oromummaa, our peoples’ identity. Readers are advised to consult our earlier articles (1-Critiquing the anti-Oromo nascent narrative of disgruntled Amhara elite in the diaspora: A rejoinder to the wrong manifesto, and 2-Pervasive propaganda of disgruntled Amhara elites in diaspora weaponize lies and distortions: lambasting rejoinder to a lame reply) to get the gist of our points of view in this argument.

In this article, therefore, we continue  to unpack the reasons why those few propagandists are still pushing on the path of denying reality as it vividly exists on the ground, and what it would mean anyway. 

Oromummaa as cherished identity of Oromo nation and peoplehood

Oromo academic Asaffa Jalata, who is a Professor of Sociology and Global and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, apparently theorized Oromummaa, applying the tools in the scientific discipline. He wrote and published books and scientific articles on peer reviewed international journals in the thematic area. Some of his influential publications (books, articles published or presented on conferences) on this theme include: 1) Oromumma, 2) Theorizing Oromumma, 3) Oromo Peoplehood: Historical and cultural overview, 4) The struggle of the Oromo to preserve an indigenous democracy and, 5) What is next for the Oromo people?, among others.

For anyone who understands Ethiopia and its socio-political realities, there is no doubt that most of these writings of Professor Jalata often time gravitate towards what another influential Oromo scholar Gemetchu Megersa (PhD) calls “liberating knowledge structure” (as opposed to “colonizing knowledge structure”) in his recent book titled Sacred knowledge traditions of the Oromo of the Horn of Africa.

Among the Amhara mushrooming and viscerally anti-Oromummaa propagandists including their cheerleader Yonas Biru (PhD), no one made any attempt to make valid scientific arguments, on scientific forums, to debunk these writings of these Oromo scholars. Instead, Dr Yonas, the cheerleader of the anti-Oromummaa propagandists on YouTube and blog posts, a former World Bank employee who still affiliates himself as he writes his propaganda pieces, recently called religious communities to campaign against the World Bank and also against the University of Tennessee for posting the scientific writings of Professor Jalata on the University’s online archives. How pathetic could doing this be in this modern times anyway? 

It is not of much relevance to get back to the argument any more justifying Oromummaa as the sole identity of the Oromo society. The Oromo has its own world view on self, group and nation as these are understood within the wider framework of Oromummaa. Human creature—visible and touchable— is not a hollow structure or a mere biological organism but has a spirit which is not visible but maintains the integrity of the structure; mediate the structure with self and also with all externalities. This is exhibited with what the creature does, how the creature behaves and interacts with others. While these are internal, there are external moral foundations of what is right and wrong on how to deal with all that. That is why among the Oromo—as repeatedly argued by scholars— uumaa (divine), ayyaana (spirit) and safu (value) are intertwined to manage and guide how an individual, group and society behaves, acts and interacts.

These are staunchly advocated and maintained within the fabric of the Oromo Gada democracy. In his latest book (2019) titled “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment”, Professor Francis Fukuyama, as the de facto “scientific pope” of the global  liberal political ideology, not to say theology, who also authored an influential book titled “The End of History and The Last Man” to make this very point, argued that identity is now a key factor in politics everywhere—be it in America, Africa, Europe or Asia.  

Despite uninterrupted endeavors to belittle all these facts and see the demise of the Oromo Gada system as a whole, it has marvelously made to survive to date. The struggle for years is also against such uninterrupted campaigns to dehumanize the Oromo to abandon their  identity. One should be appreciative of the distance that the Oromo has come to reassert itself and try to defend its identity. 

The implications of such Oromo values for building strong Ethiopian state have never been counterproductive. The Oromo has soft heart for humans and even animals of any kind because of its safu. Relations between elders and young ones, men and women, one’s kin and others, with nature, animals and all human beings are all mediated through safu. So, the Oromo finds it difficult to cross the boundary of others whatsoever. If at all there are few isolated cases of violation of these principles of safu, these might possibly be based on lessons drawn from those others who do not have such a worldview. The whole concepts of Gudifachaa, Moggaasaa, Hirphaa etc are all the outcomes of how the Oromo defines and understands relations, problems and supports supposed to be extended to one another and beyond.

This being the case and the case being told from emic points of view, few others— and in fact few viscerally hostile and hateful others to be precise—continued to argue so differently. The unfortunate element of the argument is associating Oromummaa—the organic Oromo identity— with the ruling political party in Ethiopia today. The question of why they insist on pushing such a counterproductive and propaganda based  narrative is critical to unpack.  

Unlike the mainstream wisdom in the country’s political history, Ethiopia as we know it today has never gone through the normal process of nation building. Scholars convincingly argued Ethiopia to be an anomalous invention of the European colonial powers in north east Africa which came into being due to the necessary compromises they made in solving their own colonial conflicts in these parts of Africa. With Minilik’s initial expansion to the south, east and west during the fourth quarter of the 20th century, some of the bloody fighting could have culminated with negotiations on how to set up institutions. Unfortunately, that historical opportunity was dashed due to the needless infatuation of success by the Neftegna or armed settlers. Rather, much tougher measures were taken to retaliate resistance by demeaning the locals and their culture. 

Oftentimes, grabbing lands and pillaging properties of the indigenous Oromo people are argued to be greater losses. The major blow, however, was in fact the roller coaster styled pressure put on the local identity (Oromummaa) and the harshly hostile measures taken to facilitate abandonment of such identity to accept the ‘new culture and new order’ of the armed settlers. There are vivid and lived experiences of how the Oromo abandoned their indigenous religion, Waaqeffannaa, and were humiliated for observing its Gada events. The positive note however is the level of resilience of the material culture and ideations that survived against all odds including the brutal measures and actions of the armed settlers. In our view, the armed settlers of the yesteryear are not the only enemies of Oromummaa. Those who continued to irrationally bent on defaming this Oromo identity to date on various internet-based media platforms are even more so.

Why did Minilikans utterly fail to complete the Ethiopian nation building project? 

This is a key question that should be answered by the great grandchildren and staunch supporters of that Menelikan project. In our extensive readings of history and sociology, the project utterly failed because they thought no one else except them could govern what’s today the Ethiopian state. As great beneficiaries and bureaucratic inheritors of the bloody Ethiopian empire, they got all the resources which they did not want to lose grip of. They still think that by continuing to humiliate the identity of their former subjects (Oromummaa), by writing propaganda pieces on the internet, the children of the ‘subjects’ could give up. More research may generate concrete evidence on this in the future. 

They claimed and continue to claim to have “created Ethiopia”. They shamelessly said “ኢትዮጵያን የፈጠረው አማራ ነው። ኢትዮጵያ ፈጣሪዋን አማራን ማመስገን አለባት”. Translation of this offending vernacular moto: “Amhara created Ethiopia. Ethiopia should therefore be grateful to Amhara, its creator”. Clear indication of this is the continued swagger claim of one country, one flag, one language and even one christian orthodoxy religion called “Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church”. This is nothing more than a call for gross catastrophe on the part of the children of the armed settlers’ today to remain stuck in the 1870’s mentality in this 21st century. This is a rudimentary denial of recognizing the dynamism of the world order. And in no way could Ethiopia be out of that boat. 

Certainly, the continued campaign against Oromummaa is expected when few propaganda personas find it difficult to accommodate the reality as it exists which, unfortunately, is not in line with the perspective held for so long.  

The yet worse element of this is that there is nothing that changes, for Oromummaa is the reality of the Oromo identity and has never been at odds with anything in Ethiopia. Oromo political culture cherishes multiparty democracy rooted in the Gada civilization. The argument about political alignment of the government of the day with Oromummaa doesn’t have any factual foundation whatsoever. The Oromo has probably suffered much more under this government than under previous governments in Ethiopia and the continued propaganda to attack the Oromo identity by associating it with the edifice of the regime in power, regardless, is a manifestation of gutter denialism. The phenomena exhibits the creation of the mythical Ethiopia as a nation and the different narratives that remained to haunt those who couldn’t accept reality as it prevails on the ground. For Oromummaa, as the lineage of life-spirit that has proven to have survived against all odds, it will continue to shine and regain its true and much humane colors.

In conclusion, we urge those few ones who are trying to write another fake history as usual to stop fabricating narratives. Instead, recognize identities, values and perspectives as those exist to be recognized and valued. The Oromo did not encroach into any group’s physical or socio-cultural space and do not deny the truth as it exists. People in Ethiopia could peacefully live together when and if socio-political and cultural differences are understood, recognized and respected. This is not a big demand for peace to prevail in Ethiopia. Is it?

Editor’s Note: Mirgissa Kaba (PhD) is an Associate Professor at Addis Ababa University. A sociocultural epidemiologist in specialization, Mirgissa is also an ardent advocate of social and cultural justice. He tweets @MirgissaK

Girma Gutema (B.Pharm., MSc.) is an independent researcher and human rights defender based in Oromia, Ethiopia. He is member of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). He tweets @Abbaacabsa

The views expressed in the article are strictly that of the writers and do not necessarily reflect AS’ editorial stands.

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