Yared Terfassa: Oh Finfinnee! May Reason & Justice Prevail!
The Oromo claim over Finfinnee has nothing to do with “social engineering,” or “special rights or preferences,” or “eviction of non-Oromo residents” as the radical and irresponsible groups would have us believe. Rather, the Oromo claim on Addis Ababa in essence is the recognition of the dynamic and necessary link between Addis Ababa and the Oromia Regional State in promoting democracy, justice and peace for the City and the Region. The Oromo people have an immediate and unwavering interest in the peace, development, and democratic governance of the City of Addis Ababa. The converse is also true for Addis Ababa.
This invites the question why there seems to be a dispute involving the “ownership” of Finfinnee at this time. The Oromo use the term “ownership rights” to emphasize the importance of coordinating administration of Finfinnee with Oromia for regional peace, development, and respect for citizenship rights. The Oromo never employ the term to demand exclusive residency or benefit from Finfinnee. Others deliberately distort the Oromo’s rights and interest on Finfinnee. They present the “ownership” issue as a dispute over the identity of residents of Addis Ababa and the Oromo people. They want to erect a divide, imaginary and actual, between the citizens of the City and Oromia. They manufacture stories and myths to radicalize a segment of the population. At the same time, they evoke “unity,” “one Ethiopia,” “post-tribalism,” “modernity,” and “politics based on citizenship” to confuse the gullible and to mask their true identity. A rose by any other name still has horns.
The so-called ‘unity forces’ have come up with a new phrase for an outdated phase in the political game. Their new catchword is ‘politics based on citizenship.’ It is an old dodgy idea that “cultural assimilation” is a perquisite for Ethiopian citizenship. It is a euphemism for cultural superiority, a disguise for contempt for other cultures, and a cover for denying peoples existence as people.
The primary agenda of these reactionary group is the Oromo civilization: what needs to be smashed, eradicated, obliterated is not injustice or indignity, but the revival of the Oromo culture. They accept the underpinnings of Classical Marxism: a belief in the superiority of modern societies over traditional ones – claiming their culture is more modern than the others’. History teaches us that such irrational prejudice is the incubator of fascism, racism, and war.
Citizenship is a political, legal status created and determined by a State and enforced by law. Participation in the political process is a manifestation of citizenship. The State transforms its subjects to citizenship status by recognizing their rights and obligations to participate in the legislation and execution of the rules governing them. Those without a citizenship status cannot formally participate in politics.
Citizenship is not a neutral concept; it is a contested one. Part of the contest involves the primacy or preference to be given to the basis of the citizenship status itself. Some countries accord citizenship status exclusively based on the individual whereas other countries bestow republican citizenship on the peoples that make up the State.
The choice between the varieties of citizenship statuses is or should be a function of the history of the country. Yet, the whims of political leaders and prevailing political sentiment of the times have influenced the choices countries have made. For example, citizenship status in the United States is based on the individual. This reflects the history of the country; the constituent peoples of the country have either been exterminated or reduced to a point of political insignificance; others have been subjected to racism and oppression for so long they have lost the will to assert themselves as a people. Even the victors themselves have come to recognize the evil committed and express the national and personal shame they feel about what has been done to the other peoples. The cost of standardizing identity is not just the generational pain and suffering it inflicts on the victims, but also the shame on the benefactors as well as the constant tension and uncertainty about the viability of the political union thus formed.
The situation in Ethiopia is a little different. Of course, there has been attempts to create a standardized “Ethiopian” by any means necessary. Violence, institutional racism, and shaming have been employed to standardize of the disparate peoples in the country into “one people.” Yet, due to the resiliency of the peoples, Ethiopia remains a multicultural country. Visit the history of Qimant; visit the history of Sidama; visit the history of Oromo; visit the history of Agaw; visit the history of all peoples in Ethiopia. Witness the human spirit for freedom and dignity first hand.
Today, Ethiopia recognizes its peoples. Republican Citizenship is the law of the land. Individual Rights is an indispensable part and parcel of Republican Citizenship. It is the law of the land. This does not mean that Ethiopia is out of the shadows of yester years’ prejudice and violence against its own peoples. There are radical groups who would like to make standardized Ethiopian individuals. They have the audacity and project to manufacture “new Ethiopians” in the next few months or years. But, remember, they do not have the magic wand to do it peacefully and immediately without pain. Oh no! They don’t! They would have to do the old way.
This is an unacceptable proposition for the Oromo in the 21st century. The Oromo cannot be reduced to an arbitrary identity standard concocted by irrational and prejudiced political entrepreneurs. Oromo is sacred. Tens of millions Oromos live it, identify with it, find meaning and purpose in it. The Oromo civilization has existed since time immemorial and generations of Oromo have and will always defend its existence and ensure it revival.
The deliberately manufactured crisis about Finfinnee is proxy for challenging the federal arrangement and the Constitution. Finfinnee should be a factor of cooperation and not a bone of contention. Radical, opportunist political groups should not be allowed to cause unnecessary and unwarranted conflict both among citizens of Finfinnee and between citizens of Finfinnee and Oromia. The radical groups are testing the waters; they are testing the resolve and wisdom of the current government. Arrogant and ignorant as they are, it is wise for Dr. Abiy not to gamble on their weakness. Neither is it wise to discount the harm they would cause to the social cohesion in the city of Finfinnee and beyond.
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