Language in the first place must be seen as a resource and a wealth of any nation, not as a liability. I am a proud Oromo to my bone. But I bless my parents and my teachers who taught me Amharic language. I am proud to speak Amharic as good as I speak my mother tongue – Afaan Oromoo. If we really want to see strong and united Ethiopia, we have to create a new generation of Ethiopians that will view language not as a line of division or a boundary but as a common heritage. So, let’s not limit ourselves to Amharic and Afaan Oromoo and imagine a future generation of Ethiopians that can speak Amharic, Afaan Oromoo, Tigrigna, Guragigna and hopefully other Ethiopian languages fluently and interchangeably. At that time the lines that currently divide us will be blurred and who knows, in time, these lines may disappear although that is not a necessary condition to have a strong and united Ethiopia.
I am old enough to remember the Ethiopia of the Derg times, at least the later years of the Derg, very well. People sang, fought and died for a red flag, and three figurines of Marx, Engels and Lenin. These symbols had nothing to do with our country’s history, culture or language. But we were emotional enough to shed our blood to fight for these symbols. But, the Odaa Tree that we see on the Oromo freedom flag is part of our heritage and our culture. I mean not only of the Oromo but also the other nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. By the way, many Oromo Ethiopians are not also oblivious of the fact that Oromo patriots died defending the tricolored Ethiopian flag and fighting colonizers. Moreover, many Oromo Ethiopians also know that the green, yellow and red color of the Ethiopian flag has also through time came to be a Pan-African color. However, the successive Ethiopian regimes have used this very flag to symbolize their dynasty and subjugation of other Ethiopians like the Oromos. Let me be a bit provocative here. To take the current regime as an example, TPLF has added a patch of color and a star with rays at the center of the Ethiopian flag. Which one is closer and meaningful to our tradition and culture: the Odaa Tree or a blue star that does not conjure any true meaning in the minds of Ethiopians?
Let me take this opportunity to honestly say something that most politicians may not want to publicly say, may be for the sake of political corretness. As we are today, if one of the readers of this piece of writing may get a chance to travel to any town in Oromia (for example to my hometown Ambo, a now historical town of Oromia where the popular Oromo revolution has started – Ginchi, Gedo, Nekemte, Gimbi, Bushoftu, Adama, Chiro, Badessa, Asella, Robe, Jimma, Gore, Mettu, etc.) and ask any young Oromo (an Oromo between the ages of 20 & 30), about the Ethiopian flag and the Amharic language he/she will get a very shocking answer. Whether we may believe it or not, no young Oromo generation gives priority to the Ethiopian flag and the Amharic language as compared to the Oromo freedom flag and Afaan Oromoo. That is why we have never seen a single Ethiopian flag in any of the demonstrations that took place in different towns of Oromia. In most cases the slogans chanted were also in Afaan Oromoo. This is not due to hatred either of the flag or of the Amharic language as some people in the “Unity Camp” may try to conclude.
The main reason, I do believe, is Oromos couldn’t see themselves in the realities that this flag as well as the Amharic language represent, especially under the TPLF blind rule of the last twenty-five years. For that matter, almost all young Oromos in the above stated age range cannot speak, read Amharic texts and write in Amharic. I have learned by talking to many young Oromo College/University graduates of very recent time that young Oromo students enrolled at different colleges/universities that the TPLF government has opened in different parts of the country cannot communicate with other Ethiopian students in Amharic. This is due to people’s use of their own languages as medium of instruction at schools and as official language in public offices after the downfall of the Derg regime. This was not a gift of TPLF to the Ethiopian people. It was the result of the sacrifices of very large number of Ethiopian democrats/revolutionaries that also include the Oromo nationalists that were fighting the Derg regime under the leadership of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
I have very recently heard a comment made by a lady who was trying to criticize what happened at a meeting that was held in Washington, DC Metropolitan area to announce the formation of the Ethiopian National Movement. She said that “the Oromo language was spoken first at the meeting whereas the national language of Ethiopia is Amharic and the OLF flag was displayed next to the Ethiopian national flag – protocol wise it was wrong”. Having the above mentioned reality about the Oromo youth’s inability of understanding Amharic and how they see the issue of the tricolor Ethiopian flag in mind, I would like to ask the following questions:
whom do Ethiopians in the so called “Unity Camp” are trying to address or refer to when they are saying Amharic is first and Afaan Oromoo should come after what they consider a “National Language”? How did these people take for granted that the Ethiopian national flag in which successive Ethiopian regimes have placed their own preferred symbols represents the interests, aspirations and beliefs of the Oromo people as compared to the Oromo freedom struggle flag?
True, Amharic was and still is the official language of the successive Ethiopian regimes, including the current TPLF led minority regime. The fact of the matter is the time when Amharic alone was taken as a unifying language, especially for the new generation of Oromos, has passed twenty-five years ago. One may easily prove this by talking to any young Oromo that recently came to Europe or USA from the Oromia parts of Ethiopia. I personally have tried it repeatedly and couldn’t get that many young Oromos that came from Oromia and speak/understand Amharic. Whether we accept it or not, for the large majority of the Oromo people in general and for the Oromo youth in particular, Afaan Oromoo is their national language. So, if we may ask the question of protocol as to which language should be spoken first at any public events where Oromos may take part, Oromos will definitely say Afaan Oromoo should be spoken first. The same is true about the national flag that our forefathers have sacrificed for. It is undeniable fact that the new Oromo generation has lived and is still living in a country where all regions of the country have their own flags. Don’t forget, the tricolor flag that we in the old generation take as the symbol of freedom, unity, development, hope, sacrifice, etc., was described as a “piece of rag” by the late leader of TPLF. Whether the purpose was to make it unique or to relate it to TPLF’s oppressive rule, Melese’s government, just like its predecessors, did put its own unique symbol in the center of the tricolor Ethiopian national flag. Due to the oppressive and inhuman nature of the TPLF led regime, the Oromo people relate the current Ethiopian flag with the sufferings they have been through for the last twenty-five years. My point, therefore, is it will not be easy to expect Oromos to unanimously line only under the tricolor flag. Thus, if we may want to see a strong and united Federal Democratic Ethiopia, we should be able to accommodate the beliefs and interests of all the peoples of the country and work towards the formation of a common country in which all its peoples may see themselves as equal partners. Arriving at that destination will not be possible by forcing the large majority of the population of our country; the Oromos, not to use their language and not to display their freedom flag at different public events. (Continue on page 3)