10 Reasons why Afaan Oromo should be a federal working language

(Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni)

Nowhere in the world has the government of the country refused to speak the language of the majority of its people. It is weird, unthinkable, unjust, undemocratic, immoral, and absolutely unacceptable. Ethiopia is all of these. The Ethiopian federal government and two of its largest cities do not speak the language of the majority of the people, Afaan Oromo. This is a preliminary outline to say the obvious. Make Afaan Oromo legally and unconditionally the working language of the federal government of Ethiopia and the two largest cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.

Here are the top ten reasons why:

1. Demographic Reasons: Afaan Oromo, the language of the Oromo people, is the single most widely spoken language in Ethiopia and the fourth largest African language in terms of the number and size of speakers. It is spoken in at least three countries outside Ethiopia. Although statistical data’s may vary, about 50% of the Ethiopian population are estimated to speak Afaan Oromo. In comparison, only about 29.1% of the entire population of Ethiopia speaks Amharic, the legally imposed official language of the Federal government and the two largest cities of Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa. Given this demographic weight; it is unjust, undemocratic, and discriminatory to say the least not to use the language of the majority of the people as working language of this multinational and multilingual country.

2. Geographic Reasons: All of the segregationist entities including the federal government, the Addis Ababa City Administration, and the Dire Dawa city administrations are based in and hosted in the Afaan Oromo speaking Oromia National Regional State. Yet, due to the discriminatory and exclusionary Amharic only language policy, the federal government institutions and these two large cities do not speak the language of the host people and the host state. These entities which feels like an occupying force rather than a governing force cannot continue as Amharic speaking island in the middle of the sea of Afaan Oromo speaking population while fully relying on the resources of the Oromo people for their existence including food, water, electricity, ports, waste disposals and roads at a very high human, financial and environmental cost to the Oromo people and the Oromia state.

Photo - Irreecha, Thanksgiving holiday of the Oromo people
Photo – Irreecha, Thanksgiving holiday of the Oromo people

3. Unity of the country as a Reason: The exclusionary Amharic only language policy is antithesis of the multilingual and multicultural nature of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian federal government and the two segregationist cities under its administration have an urgent national duty, if they care, to abolish this divisive and dangerous policy that undermines the equality, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence of the Ethiopian people. Ethiopia cannot continue as united whole with its current segregationist policy which benefits one segment of the population while fully excluding the other segment of the population.

4. Economic and job opportunities: This segregationist and exclusionary Amharic only language policy of the federal government and the two largest cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa have fully and completely excluded Afaan Oromo speakers from all federal, municipal, corporate, and private jobs as well as all economic and business opportunities including the right to do business and live in these jurisdictions unless one speaks Amharic. All employees of the federal government and these two largest cities are 100% Amharic speakers. Less than 10% of ethnic Oromos who were assimilated into Amharic speaking are presently employed both in the federal government institutions and by these two segregationist cities. Even worse, none of the federal government offices and offices of these two cities including hospitals, businesses and all other service providers provide translation services for Afaan Oromo speaking customers and users. Yet, Afaan Oromo speakers and their state, Oromia, is the economic backbone and major sources of export and tax revenue for the federal government and these two segregationist cities.

5. Representational Reasons: The Ethiopian federal government institutions and its bureaucracies; and the two major cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa legally excluded Afaan Oromo speakers by adopting Amharic as their only working language. Under this condition, it is very hard to either say Afaan Oromo speakers are represented in the Federal Government and these two cities or the federal government and these two cities represent the Afaan Oromo speakers. The rootless Amharic speaking ethnic Oromo political appointees the government and these two cities flag as representatives of the Afaan Oromo spearkers are outlaws who don’t even represent themselves. Even the percentage of assimilated, culturally and linguistically disconnected ethnic Oromos employees in Ethiopian federal institutions and the institutions in these two major cities as a whole are less than 10%. This is in a country where the Oromo people constitute more than 40% of the total population.

6. Legitimacy Reasons: The government that does not speak the language of the people it claim to govern neither do speak for that people nor do legitimately represent the interests of that people. For the Ethiopian government to be considered legitimate representative of the Afaan Oromo speaking population, it must speak Afaan Oromo and be the representatives of the interests of the Afaan Oromo speakers at all levels of its institutions not just in nominal political appointee positions and portfolios.

7. Justice, Equality, Equity and Fairness Reasons: Justice, equality, equity and fairness demands equal opportunity and equal treatment of Afaan Oromo speakers on equal basis as the Amharic speaking segment of the population. The Amharic only language policy of the federal government and the two segregationist cities have completely left the Afaan Oromo speaking population outside all economic, social, religious and educational institutional framework creating a country where close to half of its population lives in subhuman situation without any single institution of their own. The Ethiopian federal government and these two largest cities must not only immediately abolition this unjust, discriminatory and apartheid language policy but also invest financial and human resources to create Afaan Oromo economic, religious, cultural and educational institutions; and adopt economic empowerment policies that will remedy and address the historical injustice Afaan Oromo speakers passed through and are passing through right now.

8. Multilingualism to Create Bond among various nations and nationalities: The Amharic only policy that was intended to assimilate over 80% of the Ethiopian population into the Amharic speaking few or exclude them from the political, economic, religious, and social structure and institutional fabrics of the Ethiopian state has created a very racist and hate groups who don’t accept and respect the equality of various nations, nationalities, languages and various ethnic identities. This dangerous policy has now lent legitimacy to the development of racist and hate groups who claim to struggle for the ‘unity of Ethiopia in the name of this Amharic only langue policy’ to openly discriminate, propagate hatred towards non-Amharic speakers, and even issue racist political manifestos in a way that will destroy the social bond among various nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. The main targets of these hate and racist groups incubated and developed through this Amharic only racist policy and bigotry are the Afaan Oromo speaking population of Ethiopia.

9. One language and one ethnic hegemony policies will kill Ethiopia: Diverse and pluralistic Ethiopia can only stand on the acceptance of the policy of unity through diversity. The two most important challenges that works against this most important policy presumption to keep diverse and united Ethiopia are the effort to create one ethnic hegemonic state and the Amharic only language policies. These are two equally cancerous and terminal policies that will kill Ethiopia. Ethiopia will only continue to exist on multinational and multilingual federal structure where mutual respect and peaceful coexistence of its multiple nations and nationalities are protected and respected by institutionalizing constitutional system of governance where fair economic power and political power sharing mechanism are legally established. Making Afaan Oromo the working language of the federal government and the two largest cities will open the door to save this sick and disabled country that now operates with less one third of its potentials.

10. Language as Core factor in Human Development: The only means and avenue through which any human society could produce, develop, exchange and disseminate knowledge and information for self-actualization, economic and social development is language. The Ethiopian federal government and the two segregationist cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa denied the Afaan Oromo speaking population of Ethiopia this fundamental, inalienable and basic rights through its Amharic only policies. No wonder Ethiopia is the tail of the world and at the very bottom in human development index.

As a conscientious member of the Afaan Oromo speaking society and because of the above listed reasons and so many others, I call upon the Ethiopian government to immediately and unconditionally abolish the Amharic only language policy and make Afaan Oromo the working language of the federal government and the two largest cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.

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Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni

Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni