Ethiopia’s Oromo Problem: The Ministry of Culture is Just One Face of Many

(Dr. Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni)

According to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which is responsible for developing and promoting tourism in Ethiopia, Afaan Oromo, the third largest most widely spoken African language, and the single most widely spoken language in Ethiopia, is just one of the local indigenous languages one may find in rural Ethiopia among some eighty-three others indigenous languages with some 200 dialects.

The website of the Ministry states the Ethiopian languages as follows:

“Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, although English, Italian, French, and Arabic are fairly spoken. In areas outside of the larger cities and towns, indigenous languages are likely to be spoken – of which there are eighty-three, with some 200 dialects. The most common of these are Oromifa and Tigrigna.”

See the attached screenshot and chart on the size of Afaan Oromo and Amharic speakers in Africa and Ethiopia.

Chart - Top ten African languages
Chart – Top ten African languages

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism information is totally false. The Ministry that is mandated to inform tourists and visitors about Ethiopia and Ethiopians are totally misinforming and deceiving tourists and visitors to Ethiopia.

First, the statement violates the federal constitution of the country. Amharic is not an official language of Ethiopia. Ethiopia does not have official languages. Amharic is just one of the working languages, out of many, except for the federal government.

Second, other than English; Italian, French and Arabic have barely been spoken anywhere in Ethiopia. This is a total misrepresentation of the Ethiopian language and cultural map.

Third, Afaan Oromoo, the language of the Oromo people, is the single most widely spoken in Ethiopia. It is the third most widely spoken African language. The Ministry is lying about all these facts.

Then, why is the Ministry doing this? The answer lies in Ethiopia’s Oromo problem. Ethiopia is built on the policy of either annihilating or assimilating the Oromo which now evolved into total exclusion and marginalization.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s exclusion and marginalization of everything Oromo from the tourism sector is just one manifestation of these policies.

The total absence of Afaan Oromo speakers in the Ethiopian federal institutions as a result of lack of political power and representation are severely undermining and impoverishing the Oromo people in Ethiopia. It is having a devastating impact on the economic, political and social standing of the Oromo people in Ethiopia and in the world.

According to Ethiopia’s own Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTP II) which covers the period 2015 to 2020, the tourism sector, one of the leading component of the service sector, led by this discriminatory Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is projected to increase at an annual average rate of 10.1 percent. This sector accounts for 43.4 percent of the GDP in 2014/2015 according to GTP II document while other sources put the Service Sector’s GDP contribution at over 50%.

According to GTP II, “the growth of the service sector is expected to be driven by the acceleration of the growth and development of the tourism industry, transport and logistics services that triggers local and international trade, financial institutions, etc.”

The Oromos are not simply excluded from this huge Sector.  They are total shutout together with their culture and language. The Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s total exclusion of the Oromo from Ethiopia’s tourism sector is just one exhibit of many other exclusionary and discriminatory policies against the Oromo people.

According to ACP-EC Partnership Agreement Ethiopia signed with the European Commission on June 24, 2014, EU will provide 745.2 Million EUR to fund Ethiopia’s GTP II. The United States, IMF, World Bank, UNDP and many others are giving billions to Ethiopia billions of dollars to help attain sustainable development goal objectives.

For the Oromo people to gain anything from these massive financial inflows to Ethiopia in the name of sustainable development goal objectives, the following policy measures must be immediately taken:

First and foremost, Ethiopia must immediately make Afaan Oromoo federal working language so that the Oromo people get access to the Ethiopian federal government services and employment opportunities created by these massive cash inflows. It is important to note here that making Afaan Oromo federal working language on equal footing with Amharic is one of the main demands of the ongoing #OromoProtests.

Second, Ethiopia must immediately respect and recognize Oromo people’s ownership of their ancestral land; and end its development by dispossession policy that transfers the land and natural resources of the Oromo people to others. Land ownership and stopping evictions and land grab are one of the main demands of the ongoing #OromoProtests.

Third, Ethiopia must formally and immediately abolish its racist and discriminatory policies and practices embedded in the country’s employment, urbanization, investment and service sector policies; and replaced those policies with policies that will favor Oromo Economic Empowerment (OEE).

Fourth, the Ethiopian Government must create and encourage Afaan Oromo print and broadcast media outlets and think tank organizations that will inform and educate the people on its development and policy goals and encourage entrepreneurship to make up for the century-old marginalization and exclusion of the Oromo people.

Fifth, Ethiopian government data banks and web pages, one of the main taxpayer funded sources of information, must immediately get translated into Afaan Oromo and start providing information and vital services to the Oromo people. I hope the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism will be the first to undertake this reform without further ado.

Sixth, Ethiopia’s development and security partners like the EU, USA, UK, World Bank, IMF, and UNDP must follow up on the regional disbursement of the fund they provide to Ethiopia to end discrimination against the Oromo people and ensure equitable distribution of development opportunities among all Ethiopian regions.

Seventh, democracy, for that matter any society, works only with the active and interest based mobilization, organization, and participation of the people in every sector of the society. The Oromo people must get organized and mobilized, just like other nations and nationalities in Ethiopia, to help each other and fend off freeloaders and free riders that survive on Oromo people’s land and natural resources, and become the masters of their own economy, and owners of their land and resources.

[Note: The chart is used only for illustrative purposes. The number of Afaan Oromo speakers are bigger than the numbers indicated.]


Birhanemeskel Abebe Segni

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