I understand that these are emotionally challenging times for Oromos and other concerned Ethiopians worldwide. For the most part we are in pain, and it’s not the kind of pain that we can find a cure for readily. I myself have resorted to an unhealthy amount of social media intake. I read everything, I mean everything, on #OromoProtests.
Recently, during my excessive browsing on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., I have come across tweets, Facebook statuses, and various posts, sharing concern about the diaspora global solidarity rallies and the excess of what they call the “OLF flag”. At first I didn’t think much of it. People have opinions, that’s fine. Then, I started seeing it more frequently from people whom I feel should know better. The arguments are flawed for so many reasons, but it is dangerous when it is coming from individuals that have far-reaching influences.
First of all, OLF is part and parcel of the Oromo struggle. It is an organization that has contributed more to the Oromo struggle, Oromo consciousness, and resistance to oppression than any other Oromo organization save the Macha Tulama Self-Help Association. Every conscious Oromo the world over owes our consciousness to one or both of these two organizations. The younger generation, such as myself and the young students dying for their rights on their own soil, are beneficiaries and products of the sacrifices made by those who came before us, who resisted before us, who stood up before us, who sacrificed before us, who said NO before us, and who paved an unprecedented path through remarkable bravery, courage, resilience, and ultimately their lives. Yes, through the years the organization has had its failings, but its contributions to the Oromo people’s struggle far outweigh its failings. I and every Oromo who is able to speak their language proudly, know our history, name our children proudly, learn qubee, and walk down the street with our heads held high and proud, owe gratitude to this organization and the awareness that their struggle birthed.
Now, when an Oromo who is a direct beneficiary of this same organization orders me to “leave my OLF flag at home”, I am appalled, and here is why:
First, this assertion criminalizes OLF. Contrary to popular belief within the broader Ethiopian community, OLF is NOT a criminal organization. It is NOT a terrorist group just because TPLF and their allies choose to classify it as such, nor is it Ethiopia’s enemy. With that logic, these same people we are showing support and solidarity for are also “terrorists” and we are ALL terrorists. OLF is not and was never any ethnic group’s enemy. Its resistance is to successive oppressive, repressive, and murderous regimes, who annex Oromo land, displace Oromo people, degrade Oromo lives, and murder Oromo people with impunity. To tell us we are not helping our cause by flaunting a flag that is a living symbol of Oromo resistance in order to accommodate others who may feel offended by it, while not voicing a single aversion to others flaunting a flag that is a symbol of 100+ years of oppression to me and my people, is blatantly disrespectful. You all should know better.
Now, I have many dear friends, that I love as much as my own family, from various other ethnic groups in Ethiopia. They identify with the Ethiopian flag and despite my personal aversion to it, I respect that. It’s part of their identity, just like the OLF flag is a significant part of my identity. They accept me, I accept them. I still love them the same. I also welcome anybody to bring any flag that they feel represents them to any solidarity rally anywhere in the world, because this is about humanity. It’s about innocent people losing their lives for simply airing grievances. If my carrying the OLF flag deters anybody from standing with #OromoProtests protestors, I and the broader Oromo community are better off without their support because they are part of the problem.
Also, TPLF is NOT murdering our people because we are holding our flag, it is murdering people because it is the only way they know how to govern. They know none of these children and elderly are associated with OLF or any diaspora politics. They kill us because they are incapable of governing, because it’s the only way they have governed, and because they are an illegitimate government that can’t allow any room for dissent. DO NOT lay blame where it doesn’t exist. With or without the OLF flag’s presence, TPLF will continue murdering our people. We are not the cause of our own misery. We are all victims of a brutal regime that needs to go for the good of EVERY Ethiopian citizen.
Those who are committed to social justice and human rights are not and should not be worried by what flags I am holding. Our common goal is to amplify the voices of the brave souls who are brutally being silenced, to amplify their voices to a world that chooses to not listen, and do our very best to assist the broader Ethiopian populace in building a better future for themselves and their children. That should be our common goal. Solidarity should not come at the expense of my identity, my history, or my values. This flag represents everything I hold dear. Too many have paid the ultimate price for us wielding this same flag. Too many have been maimed, raped, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered over it. It is not a symbol owned by a single political organization, but it is in every way a symbol of Oromo people’s resistance to oppression – oppression of any kind!
We are not going to put down OUR flag, we are not going to be apologetic about our views, and we are not going to appease anybody. We will wield this flag, we will flaunt this flag, we will raise this flag, we will stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are being murdered and we invite anybody who wants to stand up for human rights and justice to join us. Wield whatever flag you choose, you are ALL welcome.
Instead of laying blame where it doesn’t exist, we should all do our best to amplify the voices of the deliberately silenced. The #OromoProtests have already accomplished inter-ethnic solidarity all over the world. It is definitely remarkable and I am ever more inspired by and proud of all those involved. It shows me what we can accomplish when we put humanity first and value human lives, and it’s wonderful that none of it has to be at the expense of my beliefs and values!! Let’s all do what we can individually and lay off the lectures. If you do lecture, create a meaningful dialogue in which people can educate one another.
Qaanqee Gaara Kaakkaa is a student of Political Science and an aspiring human rights attorney residing in the Twin Cities, MN. She has immense appreciation for the Oromo Gadaa system because it grants value to all living things.