What is Democracy?

It is doubtful if all those that exalt democracy understand it in the same way. For this reason, let us see if we can find a common ground for Oromo activists. As the son of the last Gadaa practiced in his birth place no one, this writer believes, will contest his Gadaa democratic heritage. But so what? What matter is only if he practices and defends it. The word democracy (demockratia) they say came from two Greek word “demos, people and “kratia” government. The words of Abraham Lincoln in modern times, expresses better western concept of democracy, which is “government of the people by the people for the people…” This is notwithstanding the framework in which it is practiced in different countries. From what we observe genuine democracy is a difficult dream to be realized. Even Gadaa or Oromo democracy, which was more inclusive, was not perfect. Evaluating democracy has to start from structure and function of an organization. An organization is its setup, its kaayyoo and its members that pledged to struggle for a common cause respecting its laws and regulations; any democratic member or leader is judged by ones integrity, ones commitment to the organization, priority one gives for comrades’ concerns and respect for organizational laws and procedure and how much one understands national and international human and technological developments.

For this writer democracy is a way of life where all people are seen as equals irrespective of social position, education, skill, race, ethnicity etc. All genuine democrats accept the rule of law, encourages participation of members in decision making and do not try to silence dissenting voices. That distinguishes them from autocrats, oligarchs and totalitarians. Leadership in democracy is based on election with time limit. In certain cases elected leaders could turn autocratic or oligarchic abandoning organizational rules and objectives that demands all-inclusive team work. Autocracy is individual rule. Oligarchy on the other hand is a rule by an elite group or clique. In both systems there are some that initially come through election but ignoring rules and regulation that brought them to power they start to rule by whim. Such usurpation of power cannot be enduring but devastation it could cause may be realized later. That is how Hitler came to power and we know what happened to Germany and the world; Wayyaanee is on the same course and is on its way out. Therefore there is a lot to worry when someone starts to stray from lawful practices. He or she may get away with it once but that does no good for the struggle and future member relations unless corrected.

The first schism in OLF was between young brothers who claim of being more Oromo than the other instead of showing patriotism commensurate with their kaayyoo. The unexpected is, all that came later in senior years that wanted to prove who faster find out a way to win aliens favor irrespective of own political lose. That is how diaspora Ethiopianists became vocal and daring in never seen way. The struggle against oppression is not advancing; individual activist leading it are not materially benefiting yet are not searching for a way out. If errors are pointed out every one is fast to take position for self-defense and viewing comrades as adversary. What is going on is difficult for quick analysis. At present one can smell prolusion in the activist ranks. All the agitation for liberation, all the condemnations of treachery are now forgotten with temptations from colonial masters to great surprise even of former pariahs.

All the spilt blood of sisters, brothers and comrades are erased from memory. Some of them are suffering from struggle fatigue; there seems no stamina or honor left in them. It reminds one the two Wayyaanee men and musicians that surrendered and started to give out secrets they held to the Darg during its waning days in return for protection and some comfort. But the fanfare did not last long the defectors and Darg had to run for their lives. Numbed Oromo politicians are also hurrying to the same end. They will surrender to leaders of the empire and their running dogs to flee again soon, now with there hosts. No one can stay mentally healthy and in peace betraying Oromo legitimate cause.

Elections usually created bodies that are individually and collectively responsible to the electorate. For that purpose there is division of labor and accountability governed by rules and regulations among them. But leaders that have autocratic tendencies break those rules of procedure deceptively and take the law to their hands. In most cases organizations have executives and a policy making council or Parliament, which has a supreme power. All power that is not clearly mandated belongs to this council. For autocrats this mandate is time wasting and unnecessary. Such autocrats are prone to third party influence. Third parties pursuing their own interests prefer partners whose hands are not tied by democratic procedures and accountabilities. That is how the objective principles of democratic organizations are derailed and distorted by self-seeking individuals in cahoots with sinister interests. For example, that is how Wayyaanee ended up serving individual leaders and foreign interests instead of peoples that elected it.

Legal procedures are laid down so that each division of an entity plays as check and balance on each other. The executive is mandated to implement policies based on guidelines policy makers lay down for it. Chairperson’s duty is to coordinate the work of members of the executive and act as public face for the organization and do other duties clearly mandated to it by the higher body. That does not mean he cannot suggest new ideas but needs approval of his comrades. Members and other functionaries can be asked for their opinion or be informed on state of their organization but cannot vote on policy issues outside their competence. Such practice existed only in direct democracy not representative one.

In representative democracies leaders may take to the mass members or to those the issue on hand concerns to put pressure on the policy makers though it has no legal significance and does not justify circumventing legally stablished procedure. However noble reason for circumventing might be it cannot outweigh abiding by the law in the long run. For instance, in OLF a body that represents the National Kora as the supreme policy maker is the National Council. If the executive take action on matters that are under council’s jurisdiction without its authorization that does not worth a penny and is not binding on any one but only holds the perpetrator accountable. All deliberations require quorum to be valid. The chairman is member of the executive committee. Relevant decisions are made through the committee. Such is how decisions are supposed to be made by this organization that has sacrificed so much for democratic rights.

By their oath of office elected members have committed themselves to be answerable to their constituency individually and severally. And they cannot remain neutral when organizational laws and regulations are transgressed. They ought to struggle for rectification and a redress mechanism when wrongs are done. Disloyalty to the organization and its instruments shows contempt for principles it is based on and the goals it aimed at. By doing so they are making the force behind the organization’s creation irrelevant. That would seem as if they have found a new function and a new loyalty for it. Procedures are laid down to curb authoritarian tendencies which are common to human nature and protect the organization from turning against itself. But that could remain a wish when members are not politically conscious enough and mobs are turned against to harass them. In Gadaa tradition elected leaders can be recalled for slight deviation. Not now. The enemy and its agents want Oromo activists to get engaged in internal bickering and schisms, as to make them not bother with the status quo in the empire. This has to be avoided and focus must be on implementation of organizational program in any way possible. The imperial status quo has to crumble whether they like it or not.

If not lead by those committed to the cause, it will be naiveté to expect strong and democratic organization. Without strong organization it will be difficult to win a war or to deliver what one promises. The major causes for weakness and dissentions in OLF so far, despite the great potential it could mobilize, are leaders not adhering to organizational objectives, rules and procedures and lacking dedication for the cause. Weak leaders of organizations sometimes seek for strength from external source rather than internally. That is sure to adulterate all aspects of the organization and its struggle. OLF has a declared anti-colonial agenda. All its relations must be based on this agenda not on refurbishing the empire state. To remain OLF, understanding current world situation, current Oromo youth demands and maintain independence of the organization is needed.

Unfortunately devotion to the cause or original kaayyoo, consistency of outlook, unwavering commitment to Oromummaa, determination to sacrifice and valor are becoming rare commodities for many. When OLF shows some hopeful trends there were those that stampede each other for favors; and when things are not favorable there are those highly flexible whose conscience doesn’t scratch them a little bit but hide under faith and region and try to throw stone at it. On the other hand Oromiyaa has produced some leaders that are allergic to criticism; who give ears for alien propaganda but deaf to members’ comments contrary to their Gadaa heritage. They generally fail to realize that dodging the truth will have always far reaching consequence for the struggle. For this no one has more experienced than the OLF. As a remedy those engaged in the struggle must believe that OLF is greater than any one of its members and no individual whim can replace it; no one has the right to silence member‘s voice from expressing ones opinion and no one should be hindered from exercising ones rights and duties. If this is done there could be internal harmony and there is no reason for the organization not to be strong. Strong organization can approach the world in unison and in one voice and form alliances in accordance with its political program. But who wants strong OLF?

A weak organization becomes only an embarrassment for the nation. As a nation with Gadaa heritage Oromo takes democracy as a way of life where dialog is practiced rather than dictation. Inequality, discrimination, favoritism marginalization, deceit and partiality have no place in democracy. It is a system where the law is supreme over individual’s idiosyncrasies. Leaders and members must reflect democratic Gadaa values at all times in private and official lives. They have to show commitment and dedication for fulfilment of the national Kaayyoo. For a national organization the moto should always be “Nation’s Interest First”.

The first known democratic system of the world which gave the concept for government of the people was for equals or free men. Women, slaves and foreigners were not included. It had stayed so for centuries. Voting right for women did not yet become universal. There is also no perfect model for democracy where people live in harmony with each other and natural environment, enjoying fruits of liberty. Unless the attitudes towards women are changed, it will be like working with one hand amputated. Women are the most important members of human society and no less productive and resourceful than men. Denying them equal rights with men is probably the most absurd thing that humans have done.

Gadaa system may have no rival concerning the paying attention to the marginalized including woman in relative terms. That this truth is not mentioned by historians of the world makes history of democracy incomplete. The Oromo do not fit into their classification of society as savage or barbarian. They are shy to call them not civilized like some ignoramus, because in their hearts they know that Oromo civilization precedes theirs. Gadaa is a democratic system ala Oromo that existed from time immemorial.

Oromo society is divided into five Gadaa parties and periods. Each citizen belonged to a Gadaa to which his father belonged. They are those five Gadaa that take responsibility of ruling the nation in turns. Each Gadaa stays in power only for eight years. A Gadaa grade prepares itself from childhood until the stage of Raabaa-Doorii where it will be ready to take power from the ruling Gadaa or gogeessa Luba before it. Therefore there is no chance for a Gadaa to stay in power a day over eight years without jeopardizing the working of the system. Electing their leaders is the duty and responsibility of each Gadaa.

All male members of Oromo society are divided into age groups or hiriyaa (peer) separated by eight years. Each hiriyaa group has a social, economic, and political role to play for eight years in a Gadaa tier. Grooming for leadership starts at early age and goes own until the time of taking over political responsibility. Thus all male members are involved in all affairs of their society from birth to death. That is what we call Gadaa democracy. Hiriyaa above 8 years of age are given the roles in aiding adults, serving as scouts, military training and fighting, and ruler ship and administration of justice. Relevant formal and informal education is given at every tear. Thus an Oromo adult was a well versed person in all aspect of societal knowledge and duties. Now since collective formal and informal education has ceased one has to use those that got chance to go to modern educational institutions; just like the ancients used the highly enlightened Raagaa.

Women had legal and ritual roles to play in their own right though governing is men’s duty. The Siiqqee institution depicts these roles of woman in Gadaa democracy. There are political and social rituals which cannot be completed without their involvement. The Siiqqee is a sacred stick, symbol of woman power through which they find their ways through social webs and get their human rights respected. Let alone in the ancients even in modern Western world women got voting rights relatively very recently. The UN adopted, “Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of discrimination Against Women” in 1979. Even today these rights are not recognized by all or are recognized with restrictions. Compared to those ancient Oromo women were in a better position than them with their Siiqqee prerogatives.

For governance there were elected legislative and executive bodies. Their functions include also the administration of justice under Gaaddisa (Shade). Though the administration of justice is not separately organized like in modern western systems it is said to be the most impartial and well thought. Qaalluu which was hereditary institution had also significant role in society. The first two are elected and filled with Luba hiriyaa group. Justice, in most cases is said not to be left to one Gadaa generation but mostly entrusted to the hayyuu or jaarsa, wise men of society. Every member of society is bound by law, rules and regulations of finnaa, or state. Oromo had also ethical and moral rules known as safuu. Breaking rules of safuu amounts to renouncing Oromummaa. There are few that tarnish the good Oromo tradition and defame even outstanding Oromo patriots in the name of supporting a group or an outlook. Such groups or individuals in whose name the law of safuu is broken by social scums have the moral obligation to officially distance themselves from such acts if they themselves believe in decency. In Gadaa no individual or group is above the law. Breaking the law, in particular by high level leaders could lead to uprooting. That was the way of Oromo forefathers. Thus, adherence to democracy and respecting and causing rules of safuu to be respected is a mark of Oromummaa.

Oromo lost such marvelous political culture and forced to live under mercy of alien colonial rule for more than a century. Those who were mentally liberated organized themselves into a movement defying alien domination and rejecting its laws. But the model under which they were brought up is still haunting some of them. Instead of reverting to Gadaa democratic principles those found it easy to imitate their masters and mentors. For this reason consensus on the national kaayyoo is affected. As a result they are wavering between the independence courses and reducing the struggle to individual rights. That means accepting people’s rights not being more than group rights such as of clubs, associations, etc in tune with the enemy. The enemy propagates this to oppose decolonization and the right to freedom of Oromiyaa, Southern and Nilotic peoples.

Oromo are being harassed not as individuals alone but more so as a group for mere reason of being Oromo. That is why they see at both rights in their right perspective. Both individual rights and peoples’ rights are inseparable human rights. No one of them can be fulfilled if the other is denied. The right of Oromo as a nation is denied as not to accept their separate identity from Ethiopia. That the Oromo have different culture, language and history is difficult to be denied by any one. Therefore it must be understood that just having more fire power does not give any one the right to erase identity of the other to stick one’s own in its place. Oromo identity has survived for more than a century under dire situation and it will survive for many more.

Peoples right, individual right, democracy and self-determination are all universally recognized (UN charter of 26 June 1945) article 1.2.) Not only a plea of the colonized. See the following:

1. The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.

2. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. (UN Resolution 1514 (XV) 14 December 1960, (Article 1.1, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966))

The General Assembly, … Affirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples under colonial and alien domination recognized as being entitled to the right of self-determination to restore to themselves that right by any means at their disposal; (UN Resolution 2649, 30 November 1970)

The general Assembly reaffirms that the universal realization of the right of all peoples, including those under colonial, foreign and alien domination, to self-determination is a fundamental condition for the effective guarantee and observance of human rights and for the preservation and promotion of such rights; (UN Resolution 43/105 December 8, 1988)

It has taken the Habashaa over half a century to recognize rights of the oppressed colonial peoples by article 39 of their constitution. They did that not because they believed in it, but to cool down Oromo furry in demanding for independence after a century of dependence. Otherwise they had never practiced freedom and democracy even for their own people. Tigray Tigriny and Amaaraa elites still maintain that. But they better focus on their own affairs if they want to avoid what their kin and kith say “Stretching to take down what is on the raft, she dropped what was in her armpit.” Habasha elites are divided in opinion on how to govern the empire. The two schools are that of the Wayyaanee and that of those the Wayyaanee defeated in battle fields. The Wayyaanee chose to declare Ethiopians and non-Ethiopian subjects of the empire as separate entities that deserve the rights to national self-determination contrary to remnants of the fallen Nafxanyaa and the Eritrean leader. They do not understand that the myth of their colonial empire is ending. Henceforth, they may reorganize Habasha Ethiopia, and start negotiating for good neighborliness with Oromiyaa and other colonies. Waaq willing, that will be the last stage of Habashaa Colonialism before the master distorters are all gone.

Gadaa system is among the advanced democracies of the world. Genuine democracy is a difficult dream to be realized. Even Oromo democracy which was more inclusive was not perfect. Human beings are all born equal. Differences after birth, concerning character, class, education, position, skill and other capabilities should not allow anyone to justify being more equality than the other. Thus democracy is a way of life where all people are seen as equals. Accepting the rule of law distinguishes democrats from autocrats, oligarchs and totalitarians. True Oromo liberation movement is not breeding ground for undemocratic elements. But Sometimes there could be a glitch due to human frailty; if that happens it should be nipped in the bud. It is only unity of the people and strong independent organization that can lead the struggle to victory and make it reliable ally for anyone. Over and above their ritual role it remains for Oromo women to claim full democratic rights. Together Oromo women and men shall throw away shackles of colonialism and finish modernizing the Gadaa democratic process disrupted by the enemy long ago by establishing democratic People’s Republic Oromiyaa. Oromo youth will not abandon Oromo revolution started by their elders. Independent Oromiyaa shall be realized! Gadaa democracy shall revive! Down with reactionary elements in Oromo struggle!

Ibsaa Guutama
November, 2015

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