by Teshome M Borago
The recent two part interview of Professor Haile Larebo on ESAT has become controversial and widely discussed among Ethiopians worldwide. Unfortunately, both the honorable professor and the ESAT media are being harassed online by ethno-nationalist “activists,” who are acting just like the political correct (PC police) mafia that has paralyzed democratic discourse in American politics. These people are not only criticizing Prof. Larebo’s statements, but they are also working viciously to destroy his personal character and public reputation.
Soon after Prof. Larebo spoke on TV, many ethnic-nationalists began a campaign of disinformation and defamation. For example, some Oromo “activists” on Facebook said Prof. Larebo is a traitor and “sell out” because his ethnic ancestry is from KAMBATA. Other activists created an online petition to expel Prof. Larebo from his job at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the petition to the college president, Prof. Larebo is accused of having “breached the Morehouse College’s code of conduct,” just because he repeated real historical accounts used by Ethiopian scholars and international historians for centuries.
The shaming and bullying of Prof. Larebo and ESAT did not stop there. A writer on Ayyaantuu.com, an Oromo extremist website, accused ESAT media of using the professor for “propaganda campaigns against the great and most civilized nation” of Oromia. Ironically, this same website displayed Oromos (of the supposedly “most civilized nation”) using shameful racist words like “monkey” and “baboon” to describe the honorable Professor Larebo.
In my opinion, these online Oromo “activists” are actually an embarrassment to their own culture and their own ancestors who practiced the traditional Gadaa system, a social institution that respected elders. Unlike these self-proclaimed “activists” who censor and insult people, tolerance was the hallmark of the ancient Gadaa Oromo tradition. For example, It was thru progressive Gadaa Oromo customs of Gudifecha and Mogasa that many southern-Ethiopian tribes were peacefully assimilated (Oromized), even after being conquered by the powerful Oromo many centuries ago.
So today, if the online “activists” are real Oromos, they would champion diversity of identity & thought; instead of practicing hate & intolerance.
Sadly, days after ESAT broadcasted the Prof. Larebo interview, some Oromo organizations joined the onslaught. For example, leaders of the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) condemned ESAT media and requested an apology. In addition, the popular OPRIDE.com media attacked Prof. Larebo for using the exonym “G*lla” term previously used to label Oromos in historical context. But Prof. Larebo did not used the “G” label in a derogatory manner or have any intent to do so. And it is normal for historians and educators (even “enlightened” westerners) to use controversial terms as mere historical reference. So he has no reason to apologize.
Nonetheless, Opride.com continued with its wrong characterization and criticism of Ethiopian nationalists. For example, the Opride.com editor Mohammed Ademo (who also works for Al Jazeera agency) labeled Prof. Larebo as “the darling of right-wing Ethiopianists, who to this day, refuse to acknowledge the existence of a multi-ethnic” Ethiopia.
This is intellectual dishonesty, First of all, Ethiopianists never deny “the existence of multi-ethnic Ethiopia.” Not only do we agree that Ethiopia is a multiethnic country, we go a step further in arguing that individual Ethiopians are themselves multiethnic, (meaning the majority of Ethiopians today are genetically and ethnically mixed.) Due to the millennia old migrations, assimilations, conquests, mixtures and intermarriages, it is nearly impossible to find a “pure” GOSA today. So We believe the majority of Ethiopians have mixed or multiethnic ancestors. This concept is also shared by historians like Prof. Larebo who reject the narrow and identity based federalism institutionalized by revisionists like Negasso Gidada and Meles Zenawi. On the one hand, Meles Zenawi’s doctrine is shared by some Oromo and other ethnic-nationalists who reject pre-1880 Ethiopian history, effectively labeling Amharic speakers as colonizers, and the rest, as victims. This dark version of Ethiopian history or “alternative facts” are manufactured by tribal nationalists to divide, brainwash and mobilize the new generation.
Meanwhile, Ethiopian nationalists follow the original history of Ethiopia, which does not focus only on the Menelik era, but also embraces other pivotal historical events that shaped our identities; including the brutal occupation of the Orthodox north by Ahmed Gragn of the Muslim East; and the gradual Oromization of the southwest during the Oromo migration. These are major turning points in our long history that impacted our current politics and identity. Such holistic picture of our historical cross-ethnic relations might be an inconvenient truth for the various tribal-based “liberation fronts” and a hard pill to swallow for those politicians who seek to romanticize the idea of a pure ethnic nation-state. But the harsh reality is that our history is much more complex and our identities are much more diverse and fluid than we can ever imagine. This was the reason why Professor Larebo previously said that the current Ethiopian Census is unrealistic; citing, for example, that those with pure Oromo-only ancestry might be less than 7 million today ( not 35 million as some estimate.)
Whether or not Oromo “activists” want to embrace the “Zenawi doctrine” or the “Larebo doctrine,” to interpret our history and our identity, the role of independent media like ESAT should always be to remain impartial. For a politically unstable country like Ethiopia, the only promising institution that we have left is our diverse global media outlets. We should not silence them.
In this article, I am not defending every sentence and every word that Prof. Larebo has uttered. But I am defending his freedom of speech and expression. He might have given some accounts that seem controversial to some politicians or he might have unintentionally used terms that have overtime become offensive words. Nonetheless, all in all, the professor provided mainstream historical Ethiopian accounts that are backed by firsthand and secondhand indigenous references documented centuries ago, some almost a millennia ago. Unfortunately, in recent decades, ethnic-nationalist politicians have changed and rewritten our history selectively with “alternative facts” to suit their tribal separatist manifestos. And with the help of the TPLF and OPDO politicians who have occupied the Ministry of Education since 1991, these “alternative facts” have gradually brainwashed our youth and have become indisputable “mainstream facts” among a portion of the new generation in Ethiopia & diaspora. But, this does not mean that our complex and original history should be silenced or censored.