Ethnic to Cultural and Linguistic Genocide:
Political Repression to Environmental Genocide:
Professor Hamdessa Tusso)
I wish to make a few comments about the current violence against nature
in the southern part of the Ethiopian Empire and the current movements
on the part of Oromos to protest against such heinous crimes.
In particular, I would like to link this crisis to the other
forms of genocide, that have been going on for a century.
I wish to establish a theoretical foundation from which to
view such violent political behavior by the successive Abyssinian
regimes. I believe it
is critical for us to understand that the current massive violence
against nature is not an isolated political act. Neither is it unique to the current Tigrean rulers in Addis
Ababa. Rather, such radical
political acts by the regime of Meles Zenawi fits into the categories
of political strategies dominant groups usually employ to control
the subordinate populations.
Power, and Political Behavior
Dominance is a social phenomenon that evolves when two or more human groups
relate to each other or are bound together on unequal relationship
relative to power (economically, politically, culturally, and linguistically)
. Dominance can
occur on the basis of gender, class, and ethnic origin.
Dominance that is based on ethnic group interrelations has
nothing to do with color or population number.
The most significant factor in dominance is power . Power is the ability to influence events in one’s favor, thus
depriving the other party (ies) the ability to compete .
The form of dominance that is based on ethnic interrelations becomes very
critical in terms of human costs and the damage to the resources
due to the fact that dominant groups mobilize state resources as
well as the populace sentiments against the subordinate populations. In contemporary global order, there is an emerging pattern
where the dominant groups are able to mobilize the sentiments of
the international community .
The case of the Ethiopian Empire fits into this category.
In many cases, the fear that an established state may collapse
as the result of an ongoing social conflict has compelled some within
the international system to uncritically support the tyrants of
dominant ethnic groups. In
my view, Meles Zenawi is a beneficiary of such callus political
calculations by the masters of the contemporary global order.
political behavior of dominant groups towards subordinate populations
How do the dominant groups treat the subordinate populations?
Scholars have studied this social phenomenon for sometime.
Two prominent sociologists, Simpson and Yinger have developed
the following six distinct typologies relative to the treatments
of the subordinate populations. They are (1) assimilation; (2) population
transfer; (3) extermination; (4) continued subjugation; (5) legal
protection; and (6) pluralism. In many cases dominant groups use a combination of these .
For example, in the United States each of these approaches
have been employed against subordinate groups at different points
in the history of the American state formation.
case of the Ethiopian empire
For the Oromo nation and other subordinate nationalities in the Horn of
Africa, the 20th century commenced with a holocaust.
Only Oromos lost about 5 million people (about half their
population) during their conquest. A British historian, Margery Perham, observed that Emperor
Menelik II had one dominant policy toward Oromos--for Menelik, there
were two categories of Oromos: those whom he could recruit to use
them against the majority Oromo population, and those whom he conceived
to be fit for massacre .
Indeed, to this end, he recruited prominent Oromos such as
General Gobana Docci and Fituarari Habte Giorgis.
Then, by massacring as many Oromos as it would take, was
able to conquer and subjugate.
Emperor Haile Sellasssie pursued similar policy.
On the one hand he elevated few Oromos to his cabinet and
even arranged marriages with his family members.
To the Oromo masses however, his policies were to conduct
cultural and linguistic genocide. His regime introduced evictions of the peasants from their
ancestral land. In
my view, it was during this period that a new designation relative
to the Oromo emerged in the Abyssinian colonial legacy.
This designation relates to their treatments of the educated
Oromos. Those who supported
the system were referred to as “degg Galla” (the good Oromo).
Those who challenged the system were referred to as kiffu
Galla (the bad or evil Oromo) .
The Dergue repeated the same policies in different forms.
Mengistu Haile Mariam surrounded himself with a few he referred
to as comrades while he reintroduced resettlements and forced villagization
programs. The purpose
of the resettlements was to control Oromo and other colonized nationalities
. The purpose of
villagization was to effect the ultimate dispossession of Oromo
access to their land and cultural heritage .
The process of forced villagization caused incalculable damage
to the environment. Thus,
I argue that the current violence against the forests in Oromia
as well as other countries of the colonized nations should be viewed
in this theoretical and historical context.
The theoretical frame of reference that I have attempted to explain dominant—subordinate
ethnic interrelations has profound implications for the Oromo nation
and other subordinate nations in the Ethiopian Empire.
As long as these nations do not garner sufficient power to
alter the unequal relationships, abuses will continue in various
forms--today, it is the genocide against the environment, tomorrow
it will take a different form.
The purpose of struggle for national self-determination is
to alter those power relations.
In 1991, upon returning from the "London Peace Conference",
I gave a speech entitled, “The Utubba has fallen: Will the Oromo
Construct Their Own or Remain A Galtu?” in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
At the time, I knew something about the aspirations of the
TPLF leadership; however, l did not know then how exactly the Tigreans
were planning to rule the post Dergue Ethiopia, although I had some
sense. Still, I was
sure of the issue of power--that unless Oromos develop sufficient
power to protect their basic interests, they would remain vulnerable
and subject to all forms of abuses.
Well, Now we know that Meles Zenawi excelled all my expectations
in this sphere!
march against environmental genocide: to break the international
conspiracy of silence
Professor Ted Vestal of Oklahoma State University, in his recent book entitled,
“Ethiopia: A Post Cold War State," argued that there
is international conspiracy of silence relative to the policy contradictions
in the post Cold War Ethiopia.
He indicated that he wrote the book with the purpose of breaking
that silence . I
will also argue that the goal of the proposed March at the UN is
to break that international conspiracy of silence relative to the
crimes against nature and humans perpetrated by the current rulers
in Addis Ababa. The
Oromo students who decided to forgo their university education to
confront the devouring fire in their beloved country, Oromia, have
paved the way. The
magnificent demonstrations in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Ottawa,
and Oregon and in Seattle have pursued the same path.
I believe the planned demonstration at the UN in New York
will elevate the cause of justice to the highest world body.
In my view, all Oromos as well as other oppressed nationalities,
and indeed, all other freedom loving communities around the world
should support and contribute to this genuine and noble cause.
In my view, we are entering a new phase in Oromo colonial experience.
This march is coming some twenty years late.
During the 1980’s, the Dergue was the most hated regime in
the eyes of the West. Oromos
did not have sufficient preparation to take advantage of the mindset
in the West at the time. Simply
stated, we did not have enough Oromo professionals to contribute
with us. I must also
state that the Oromo political leadership neither paved the way
nor paid sufficient attention to this critical issue. Needless to say, those who managed to organize their professional
segments as well as the grassroots succeeded in selling their points
of views (i.e. Eriterans, Tigreans) to the world and in the end,
achieved their fundamental goal of liberating their respective peoples
from Amhara dominance. Nevertheless,
as the saying goes, better late than never!
Let me also add that the march at the UN will not end the
Tigrean dominance and the accompanying human misery.
However, I do hope the new impetus which has been created
by the raging fire in Oromia will provide the Oromo a fresh opportunity
to rethink, reorganize, and to reformulate relevant strategies so
that we can confront the new century with better preparation.
In the Oromo world-view, humans, nature and the divine are interconnected.
Thus, the devouring fire against the wondrous forest of Oromia
as well as in other areas is a direct attack on these eternal values.
Dr. Bahiru Gemetchu and those who organized the UN demonstration
deserve great credit for the noble efforts they have put forth on
this matter. I also
wish to pay a profound respect for those brave students in Ambo
who paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives.
I also want to extend my genuine admiration to the courageous
Oromo university students who are sacrificing everything for this
cause. Those who conducted
commendable demonstrations in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C. Oregon,
Ottawa, and in Seattle equally deserve our genuine gratitude and
I wish to conclude this brief essay with the words of Rev. Jesse Jackson:
“Never Surrender! Keep Hope Alive!”
Editor's Note: Dr. Hamdesa Tuso's complete footnotes are omitted
from publication for space reasons.
Those interested to receive these footnotes should contact