The “dialogue” forum
I may have misunderstood what is meant by the word Dialogue in “Oromo Dialogue Forum”. To my knowledge, a dialogue is a two-way communication between persons who hold differing views on a subject(s), with the purpose of learning more about the subject from the other to try and come to a consensus. The notion is that neither side has a total grasp of the relevant issues, or a monopoly on the truth, pertaining to the subject under discussion. Through dialogue, a two-way communication, each side listens to the views of the other side in search of the truth.
The format of the “dialogue” forum was no different - in form or in content - from gatherings usually organized and conducted by political organizations such as the OLF, ULFO and others. Not that there is anything wrong with the way OLF and ULFO run their meetings. Unlike a proper dialogue forum where the purpose is to increase mutual understanding and build a more constructive and collaborative relationship by encouraging the airing of differing views, such gatherings are “convert-making” lectures by the “truth-holders”. They do not lend themselves to entertaining various differing views and therefore cannot be called “dialogue” forums in the true sense of the word. On such meetings, all presenters would have the same views that they present to the audience, one after another, in an effort to garner support for their views from attendees. No retention is made to present the gathering as anything other than a partisan political proselytizing meeting. No differing views from, or contrary to, that of the organizers are presented from the podium or from the floor. If ever a contrarian view is expressed from the floor, it would be in a form of question which the organizers would attempt to answer in an effort to convert the person who posed the question. But, for organizations like the OLF and ULFO, this is by design and they don’t misrepresent their meetings as “dialogue” forums.
Unlike facilitators and/or participants in a dialogue forum, the ODF leaders appeared to me as being quite convinced that they have all the truth on the subject of the Oromo struggle and its challenges. The audience was there to receive the ODF “truth”. There was no solicitation of others’ views on the root causes of the challenges of the Oromo struggle or possible solutions which a true dialogue forum is expected to do. All presenters were the “truth-holders” on the subject and the way forward. This was not a dialogue at all, not a two-way communication, but a one-way lecturing which obviously is not meant by the term dialogue. I could not help but wonder if the leaders of ODF have a basic misunderstanding of the term dialogue or deliberately engaged in an opportunistic manipulation of the term and misleading the Oromo public.
On whether the ODF is a political organization or not
When the formation of ODF was announced, Oromo’s worst fear was realized. Regardless of the leaders’ claim that ODF is not another Oromo political organization but a dialogue forum, there is no mistaking that it is one. If the Washington DC “dialogue” was any indication and with its manifesto of democratizing Ethiopia, it is, in fact, one itching to join the fray of Oromo little fiefdoms a.k.a political organizations. This was particularly evident from the speech made by the last speaker via a video conference in which he bitterly complained about being dismissed from the OLF and that they will not take it lying down any more.
The ODF manifesto presented at the meeting consisted of seven points. The points range from struggling for citizenship rights in the Ethiopian empire to accepting federalism and re-interpreting the Oromo right to self-determination. The current Ethiopian federalism, according to ODF, is one without democracy. In order to realize true federalism, the ODF will struggle for democratic changes in Ethiopia. The way to do that, says ODF, is by re-interpreting the Oromo question of self-determination as a question for citizenship rights thereby closely mirroring the questions of other nations and nationalities in the empire, including that of the Habasha. By so interpreting the Oromo question, ODF hopes to gain sympathy and support for the Oromo struggle from Habasha and other groups. In other words, for ODF, there is no difference between the demand or question of the Oromo nation and, say, that of the Habasha groups.
But this is exactly what Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) (now merged into Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) have been advocating for many years to no avail. Even, OPC, a proponent of “one-man-one-vote” for close to two decades has gained no sympathy or support from these groups that ODF wants to solicit support from. Having failed to learn from history and current affairs, the General Kemal Gelchu Group – former comrades of the ODF - has been promoting the same ideal since January 2012.
So what is ODF’s new vision? Nothing new, I should say – for someone who has been following OFDM, OPC and the Kemal Gelchu group and leaders of the ODF. If there is no new vision, then what is the purpose of forming another organization to advance the same ideal? Why not join, or merge with, the Kemal Gelchu group or the OFC?
Seeking a second chance at leadership
It is very well known that failure defines ones character as a leader. When leaders refuse to take responsibility for their organization’s failure under their watch, it shows their lack of character. As Norman Schwarzkopf once said “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy." Not without character! Leaders deserve a second chance when they admit failure and have learned during the process of failing. Leaders who hold someone else accountable for their failures and blame the circumstances to deflect criticism for a failed outcome deserve no more chance at leading.
Sitting through over two hours of speeches by leaders of the ODF, I heard not a single admission of mistake on their part much less their role in getting the Oromo struggle to this pitiful point that it finds itself in today.
If they would like to be taken seriously, then they would admit their personal failures, stop scapegoating and blaming others and circumstances, take responsibility as longtime leaders and learn from their mistakes and failures before asking the Oromo public for a second chance.
Failure can be turned into an opportunity to learn and grow. I say it can because it requires a particular mindset to benefit from your failure. Without that mindset, all your failures will go to waste. This is true in politics as it is in personal life for a leader as well as a follower. So what is that mindset?
It is a mindset that is willing and able to reflect on past experience – past actions and their outcomes. It is only through such reflections that one learns one’s strengths, weaknesses and the environment and conditions in which actions were undertaken and what could have been done differently that could have resulted in a positive outcome. It is not enough to admit collective failure. One needs to evaluate one’s role in the failure. This is even more so if one is a leader under whose watch an organization – business or political – failed. Denying (to one self and others) failures and personal accountability and scapegoating or blaming on “globalization, end of cold war, etc.” will not do. Leaders without such a mindset cannot learn from past failures and therefore deserve no second chance.
Dialogue among Oromo political actors and organizations is long overdue. The purpose and objective of such a dialogue should not be partisan political proselytizing which the ODF Washington DC “dialogue” forum was, but one that is open to entertaining competing views.
Your (ODF) manifesto contains no new vision. Recognize others who presented that vision before you; join and strengthen them. Don’t create another fiefdom. The Oromo struggle for liberation will not benefit from another group of a few individuals claiming to speak on its behalf. Unity is strength.