“Wal-malee maal qabnaa?”
Ilfinesh Qannoo fi Zarihuun Wadaajoo
Nothing that is said here is said arrogantly, and it is my sincerest hope that the reader reads and interprets in good faith.
Sayings are often relegated to a place of conventional citation and rare pragmatism, a question of generations enduring progress and regress, all of which carry monumental connotations to us, the living. The Oromo question is an entangled web that defies simplicity, for those standing within and from afar, but I have chosen to offer my reflections on one of such tenets that continues to provoke hope, fatigue, and wrath. And that tenet, as we all know, is tokkummaan Oromoo or tokkummaa. This piece will commence with an illustration of the dilemma before offering what I consider to be potential ways of relief.
Tokkummaa is considered, and rightfully so, a holy grail in how the Oromo recounts the past, grips with the present, and wrestles with the future. One of the fundamentals that define us as one collective is the fact that we are exactly that: one people with a converging history, language, culture [expressed in complementary diversity], and more importantly a wedded future. I have always indulged in the meditation that Oromos are indivisible and inseparable, granted it hasn’t been without its difficulties. We were taught this integrity by our forebearers and anticipate to pass it forward to our forthcomers; but tokkummaa, as we know, is deeply intricate a doing, more so for the Oromo, a nation which bore the brunt of antiquity that professed to them an innate lack of humanity and kinsfolk bondship. This is why, for us, history is even less kind.
The seizing of a people’s freedom is built upon many efforts, chief of which is a solidified attempt to re-historize how the oppressed see themselves— the subjugated must submit to his alleged savagery and subsequently become acquainted with bondage which might possibly grant salvation.
The aftermath of this has been a repulsive curse that has found its way into our minds and hearts, haunting us to this very day. You find it in mundane conversations, on social media, everywhere we go; it is sometimes apparent, other times subliminal but always virulent. I have always found it preposterous owing mainly to my Finfinnee roots where a struggle to be ourselves and redefining our identity is founded on the belief that we are Oromo, the lost sons and daughters trying to make our way back home, a home we regard as one. Anything less is an injustice to common sense. This is why I and many of us fail to accept this, often at the risk of naive Oromo utopianism. There can and should be no audacity to yearn for betterment when we fail to free ourselves from the primitive semantics and politics that is gandummaa.
Successive Ethiopian regimes fan intellectual travesty as state policy and continue to do so in their dealings with the Oromo and our unity, but the fallacy is more debilitating when it is committed [consciously and unconsciously] by Oromos ourselves. The fervor with which this is being said must not be accounted for as a rejection of our diversity, but rather as a critical call for its inspection. Diversity is a matrimony of divergence and convergence, it is a reaffirmation that is a call of duty to one another. When we dare to call ourselves Oromos, it is because we are in the historical reckoning of remaking ourselves, we are trying to remind ourselves that we are wide and cross rivers beyond the village we call our own, we are what we are because we have brothers and sisters calling themselves the same across rivers and valleys. For when we wail from the deepest of our kernels, in our pursuit of humanity, we are endowed to vow a marriage to the ideal of tokkummaa. For a nation to see itself cross the bridge of adversity, it must first acknowledge and more importantly internalize that it is but of one. And appropriately, this is the genesis and culmination of nationalism.
At this junction, we arrive at what we can do about this predicament and I admit that it leaves us with more questions than answers. Nevertheless, I would dare suggest how I personally gauge with and against such thoughts and where I find areas of alleviation.
A radical revision of how we bargain with self-identification, a profound subversion to the idea that communion of fraternity and sorority is but less of a proposal but a requisite for survival. When one calls himself/herself an Oromo, it must be accompanied by the greater concept of what that nomenclature refers to and how wide our roots run across villages, towns, cities, and even national boundaries.
A persistent need to do a historical reflection on where we came from and how that holds a particular attachment to where we are and we are going. The need to reiterate this comes from an observation that we sometimes dispossess the immense significance this holds for us. A potent rejoinder to the Oromo by Bekele Gerba during the 2015 OSA Annual conference is a perfect example of this; he spoke and we should listen well:
” …we have to come back to our much-revered value of tokkummaa. Before we’re Christians or Muslims, we were Oromoo, before we were Shawa, Arsi or Wallagaa, we were Oromo. Before we were OPDO, OLF, OFC, or ODF members, we were Oromo.” (paraphrased)
The need to forge into the ashes of our failures, our so redundant toxic character of associating our triumphs and mistakes to one particular individual, region, or religion. Whatever has happened or will happen, we must glorify, appraise or repent as a people, anything less of that is treason to our Oromummaa.
A realistic application of our tokkummaa is everything we say, think or we do and sing, tokkummaa should bridge from the lyrics of the song into our hearts, genuinely, mean it and live it without compromise.
I conclude on a positive note of separation that the road ahead is not without its trials but we shall and we will overcome.
And I end where I began, I ask of you again:
Wal-malee maal qabnaa? Yaa saba koo, maal qabnaa?