We, members of the Founding Congress of the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF), announce the launching of a new Oromo political movement that advocates justice for the Oromo and all other nations in Ethiopia. The founding of ODF ushers in a new phase in the Oromo nationalist struggle with the objective of working for the transformation of the Ethiopian state into a truly democratic multinational federation equitably owned by all the nations.
We are launching this new movement cognizant of the fact that Ethiopia has been, and remains, the prison of nations and nationalities, with the Oromo being one of the prisoners. Today in Ethiopia, domination, repression, discrimination, eviction, denial of religious freedom, humiliation and exploitation of the Oromo and other nations and nationalities have attained new heights. And this needs to come to an end. It is to contribute to this end that we are launching a movement that advocates freedom and justice for all individuals and nations.
Our advocacy of justice for all individuals and nationals is motivated by the universal principle that struggling for justice for oneself alone without advocating justice for all could ultimately prove futile because “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We also believe that the economic and security interests of the Oromo people are intertwined with that of other peoples in Ethiopia. In addition, their geographic location, demography, democratic heritage and bond forged with all peoples over the years make it incumbent upon the Oromo to play a uniting and democratizing role.
By taking this proactive and inclusive stand we are heralding the re-articulation of the Oromo struggle for self-determination as the advocacy of justice for all Ethiopians. This measure does not imply the repudiation of the struggle waged to date by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) but rather to build on its achievements and to open a bold new forward looking chapter.
We remain convinced that the struggle for self-determination by the Oromo and other oppressed nations is still legitimate due to the persisting imperial character of the Ethiopian state, which has been stubbornly lingering even after the exercise of political power has passed from one ruling elite to the other.
Ethiopia’s enduring imperial legacy can be put to rest, once and for all, by transforming the present Ethiopian state into a genuinely democratic multinational federation. To this effect, we are struggling for the implementation of those principles and processes that would transform all the subject peoples of the Ethiopian state into the empowered citizens of a common federal state that fairly serve their interests, guarantee their collective security, and reflect their diverse identities.
This stand of our movement contrasts with the policies of the ruling party as well as those yearning for a return to the previous political order. It also contrasts with the stand of those seeking to implement self-determination in an exclusivist and statist sense.
We are convinced that the TPLF/EPRDF’s policy of aspiring to indefinitely remain in power as a vanguard party, which serves as the sole guarantor of “revolutionary democratic unity” while practically subverting the exercise of democracy and federalism is unjust and unsustainable. In fact, this course could culminate in the type of horrendous bloodshed that took place in the aftermath of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
We are similarly convinced that the aspiration to revive the pre-1991 policy of working to achieve upward homogenization by forging Ethiopia’s diverse communities into a single Amharic-speaking nation through coercive cultural and linguistic assimilation is unlikely to be realized even with major bloodshed. This approach, rather than instituting democracy, would further exacerbates inter communal conflicts and thereby becoming antithetical to harmonious coexistence.
Contrary to their lofty pronouncements, the elites that succeeded in ruling Ethiopia to date are fundamentally the same in treating all the inhabitants of the country, including the people, from which they originate, as mere subjects rather than citizens and stakeholders in state affairs. The refusal to recognize in principle and uphold in administrative practice the citizenship rights of all Ethiopians, foremost among which is the right to freely participate in determining how the state is structured and governed, sits at the center of the political contention in Ethiopia.
The elite groups that have ruled Ethiopia to date, despite being locked in a fierce rivalry and antagonism, are also united in presuming that they have the right to set the conditions that members of other societies have to fulfill in order to participate in the country’s political life.
One of the conditions set by the previous dominant elite is the disavowal of the language and cultural rights of non-Amharic speakers in exchange for their individual rights and liberties while the current ruling elite is violating the individual rights and freedoms of these societies while pretending to uphold their cultural and linguistic rights. Taking all of the above into consideration we here under propose and struggle for the following principles and process that would usher in a new era Ethiopia’s history.
On Structuring Ethiopia as a Federation
We start from the simple premise that the post-1991 policy of structuring Ethiopia as a federation of its diverse nations is a move in the right direction. The adoption of this policy is attributable neither to the ill-intensions nor generosity of the TPLF but became mandatory as a response to the mounting pressures of the struggles for self-determination by the Oromo and other oppressed nations.
The OLF played an active role in proposing the restructuring of Ethiopia into a multinational federation as a means to end the injustices stemming from the imperial character of the Ethiopian state. Unfortunately, implementing a genuine federal order completely contradicted the present ruling elite’s aspiration of emerging and permanently remaining as a new dominant group by simply stepping into the shoes of those that it replaced. We now stand for correcting the aberrations resulting from the abuse of the federation as a policy of domination by the present ruling elite.
Federations serve the purpose of facilitating the simultaneous exercise of self-rule and shared-rule and become necessary in order to reconcile unity with diversity. In the present political dispensation, however, communities exercise neither self-rule nor shared-rule but have been enduring the TPLF/EPRDF’s tyrannical rule for more than two decades. The ruling party directly and centrally micro-manages all communities by pre-selecting its surrogates that the people are then coerced to “elect” at elections that are neither free nor fair. Ending this charade by enabling all communities to elect their representatives in fair and free elections is the only way of finally putting Ethiopia on a path to democracy, stability, peace, justice, and sustainable development.
On the Struggle for Self-Determination
The official title of Ethiopia has gone from the Empire of Ethiopia to the People’s Democratic Republic and to the current one of Federal Democratic Republic. Despite some of the changes that accompanied these name-changes, the custodians of the state behave as if the country is their imperial inheritance. Consequently, the struggle for self-determination by the Oromo and other oppressed nations remains legitimate.
On the Exercise of Self-Determination
We aspire to build on the positive aspects of Ethiopia’s current federal set-up. However, to make the simultaneous exercise of self-rule and shared-rule possible it is necessary to remove the procedural and substantive shortcomings that stand in the way of democracy and federalism.
This can be accomplished by exercising self-determination in a multidimensional fashion whereby subject nations, in due course, freely elect delegates to their respective state and central constitutional assemblies. When this process is completed, the present “holding together” type of bogus federalism will be transformed into a genuine “coming together” variety.
On the Issue of Unity
There are those who perceive themselves as the sole defenders and definers of Ethiopian unity. We reject such a stand since the essential precondition for unity is the emergence of a community of empowered citizens. As we have witnessed for more than a century, invoking a common history, culture or language has not guaranteed unity.
We similarly reject the present ruling party’s presumption that it serves as the sole embodiment and defender of the so-called “revolutionary democratic unity.” Such a system has ended in disaster elsewhere. We also disagree with the ruling party’s illusory expectation that the promotion of economic development would serve as an alternative source of unity in the absence of democratic participation.
Consequently, we propose and struggle for the alternative of deliberately forging constitutional patriotism by inaugurating and entrenching societal commitment to their shared and separate political institutions as the more promising and enduring uniting factor. We believe that it will be this commitment that will bind the diverse nations into a united political community willing to protect these institutions from internal and external enemies.
On Citizenship Rights
In order for the present subjects of the Ethiopian state to be transformed into empowered citizens, all their citizenship rights must be recognized and respected. In situations where the simultaneous exercise of self-rule and shared-rule needs to be upheld, citizenship also needs to be entrenched at both the national homeland and federal levels. The bundle of rights that make such a layered enjoyment of citizenship is as follows:
- Civic rights; that is, the freedom and inviolability of the person, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equality before the law and prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, origins, nationality, ethnicity, religion, etc.
- Political rights; that is, the right to vote and stand for public office, as well as freedom of assembly, association, and information.
- Social rights; that is, the right to work, equality of opportunity, entitlement to health services, provision of free education of a high standard to the extent that the resources of the country allow.
- Cultural and language rights; the right to take pride in the redemptive aspects of one’s culture, the right to publicize one’s particular history and the right to use one’s language for education, administration, commerce, and the provision of judicial services.
On Disentangling the Private Sphere from the Public
The elite that have dominated Ethiopia to date have fused public and private institutions in order to advance and serve their partisan and sectarian interests. This shall come to an end by turning all state institutions into the common servants of all regardless of their political allegiance and national identity:
- The civil service shall be overhauled in order to end its subordination to the ruling party.
- The military shall be transformed into a neutral defender of all by enacting a concordance model of civil-military relations.
- The intelligence services shall not be used for monitoring the political and private activities of citizens.
- Public media shall come under the supervision of a neutral public authority that oversees their work of providing education, entertainment, and information.
On Economic and Social Policy
The regime’s economic and social policies leave much to be desired. Its economic policies have exacerbated inequality, eviction from ancestral lands of indigenous populations, and environmental degradation. Its social policies have created deterioration in educational standards, health disparities and massive youth unemployment. In addition, its interference in the exercise of religious freedom has created unwarranted social tension.
The ODF stands to correct these lopsided policies and upholds inclusive, balanced and sustainable development aimed at curbing growing inequality, protecting the environment, and advancing the rights of indigenous peoples, and promoting employment. It would promote a mass education policy coupled with the development of technical knowhow and scientific progress. The ODF would also promote a health policy integrating health education, prevention, cure and care measures. Furthermore, it respects and upholds religious freedoms and equality.
On Mobilizing Stakeholders
We believe that a country-wide movement sharing the preceding vision, principles and policies is indispensable for propelling Ethiopia forward and ending the current political paralysis. To this effect, we will exert all efforts in order to pull together as many advocates and promoters of the interests of diverse social sectors as possible in order to popularize and refine the principles and processes that would transform Ethiopia into a genuinely democratic multinational federation.
A call to all Oromo Organizations and Groups
We believe that ending more than a century old subjugation of our people should be of a paramount interest than dwelling on trivial political wrangling. The prevailing condition of our people demands the Oromo political organizations and groups pulling together our efforts to strengthen and consolidate our struggle to achieve our people’s national aspiration. Thus, we call upon all of you to join hands with us in strengthening our camp to intensify our legitimate struggle and put an end to sufferings of our people.
A Call on TPLF/EPRDF
We call up on the ruling regime to reconsider its ultimately counterproductive policy of aspiring to indefinitely stay in power by fanning inter communal and interreligious suspicion and tension. We call on the regime to join us in articulating and implanting policies that create sustainable stability.
A call to International Community
The ODF calls on the international community and all other friends concerned with the suffering of the Ethiopian people, to stand with us in implementing our vision and proposal of transforming the Ethiopian state to bring peace and sustainable stability in Ethiopia and Horn of Africa.
Freedom and Justice for all!!
Founding Congress of the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF)
March 27, 2013