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Saturday, October 21, 2006

My Response to The Alligations of trio


Chair, OSA Board of Directors

On October 10, 2006, my colleagues, Drs. Caaltu Dheressa and Bahiru Gametchu and Mr. Abraham Mosisa, disseminated a thirteen single-spaced page letter entitled “OSA must continue to function as an independent scholarly Oromo voice,” alleging that Dr. Asafw Beyene and I engaged in “destructive, unscholarly, and anti-democratic [activities] since August 2005 [Asfaw’s year as OSA President] and particularly in relation to the events during the 2006 OSA conference.” These authors claim that we undermined OSA’s “neutrality, scholarly autonomy, organizational mission, and the interest of its members” by making this organization a wing of the Oromo Liberation Front. In their letter they articulate four concerns: (1) the issue of neutrality and scholarly autonomy, (2) the process by which one of the OSA Awards was given to Mr. Leenco Lata, (3) the 2005-2006 membership drive, and (4) the process by which the 2006 election was conducted. I will deal with these issues in order, allowing that the analysis to answer the question of whether or not Asfaw and I engaged in “destructive, unscholarly, and anti-democratic” activities.

Academic Neutrality
Caaltu, Bahiru, and Abraham rightly argue that “OSA must maintain its neutrality, scholarly autonomy, organizational mission, and the interest of its members.” Few OSA members would argue with that statement. They then go on to assert that “some of the elected officers in both the Board and Executive Committee have shirked their responsibilities and compromised the political neutrality and thereby also jeopardized the status of OSA as a scholarly organization.” As a result, they believe “the behaviors and actions of the officers also showed a serious lack of respect for democracy.” The existence of neutrality is often in the eye of the beholder. For many, neutrality is an acceptance of the status quo, with any action that challenges the status quo being seen as partisan and any writing that makes those in authority uncomfortable being labeled as polemic. From that perspective OSA is NOT neutral when, as Caaltu, Bahiru, and Abraham (the trio) assert “its scholarship actively promotes the interests of the Oromo people by fighting against violations of their human and political rights and by promoting social justice and democracy.” When viewed from the perspective of those who seek to maintain the status quo in Oromia and Ethiopia, that is most decidedly not a neutral stance. When it comes to the assertion of the full human rights of the Oromo people and Oromo individuals, OSA’s stance is that of mutual solidarity and not neutrality.
What then do we mean by neutrality? From my perspective neutrality is inextricably tied to Gada and the concept of an Oromo democracy in which all persons have the full right to participate in the life and political discussions of the community. This kind of neutrality cannot be achieved if some voices are excluded from the discussion. The trio argues that “the allocation of disproportionate prime-time to pro-Ethiopian speakers” provides an illustrative example of the undemocratic nature of the leadership at the 2006 OSA meeting. From my perspective it provides evidence of exactly the opposite. At this meeting the OSA president deliberately made sure that a broad array of voices was included on the program including those who belong to or are supportive of the OLF and those who belong to or support other liberation organizations. Likewise, we may not like to hear from those we consider Ethiopianists, but how can we challenge their ideas if we do not engage them in discussions? Besides that, the term Ethiopianist is often thrown around loosely to describe anyone the speaker disagrees with.
Neutrality and academic objectivity are important goals for OSA to aspire to. That however, does not mean that each and every member or presenter is neutral with regard to the issues that confront the Oromo community both in Oromia and the diaspora. Some believe that one approach is the best way to achieve the liberation of the Oromo people from the present tyrannical rule while others believe that another approach is the correct one. OSA need not decide which way is best. Rather, the neutrality and objectivity of OSA comes into play when it provides an open forum for discussion and debate by individuals who may not be neutral and objective. It is in this forum that we can begin to live out the principles of Gada. In some sense the OSA meeting is an annual expression of the Gumii Gayoo for all Oromo. Consequently, OSA has been the union of the Oromo community in the diaspora, an academic society, and the forum of political discussion.
I am proud of Dr. Asfaw Beyene who raised the bar of serving OSA as its president in 2005 and 2006. He should be recognized and celebrated for his outstanding work rather than criticized. Dr. Asfaw demonstrated quality leadership that future OSA leaders must emulate. He made the 2006 OSA conference a forum on which contradictory views were raised, contested, compared and contrasted. I have been accused by some Ethiopianists and their supporters, other racists, and parochialists or localists or religious fanatics because I vigorously defend the cause of the Oromo and other oppressed peoples in my scholarship. In my scholarship and profession I openly defend justice, popular democracy, self-determination and equality of all peoples regardless of their race/ethnicity, gender, region, class, religion and other categories. In my politics, my position is clear, too. As a public intellectual, I only provide critical support for the OLF since it has been the initiator and the pillar of the Oromo national movement. This is very clear to the friends and the enemies of the Oromo people. I have never attacked or undermined other independent Oromo organizations. I believe that they can play an important role in democratizing the Oromo national movement provided that they contribute to the Oromo national struggle rather than focus on attacking the OLF. That is why I support the principles of ULFO. Further, I practically promote the principle of intellectual freedom and the independence of OSA.
The trio asserted in their letter that

During the past 19 years, with a few exceptions, OSA membership was limited to academicians, scholars, researchers, and professionals in different fields of research and publications. Although OSA membership was open to all Oromo and non-Oromo individuals in line with all other scholarly societies, those who joined OSA not only understood the fundamental Oromo national question, but they were also qualified and contributing members to Oromo scholarship. The 2005-2006 membership drive was much different. Most OSA members are keenly aware of the fact that some Oromo in the Diaspora who served under the current and previous Ethiopian regimes, show divided loyalty, and some are responsible for labeling their own people as “narrow” nationalists. The 2006 OSA conference membership drive included such personalities and, unprecedented in any society, OSA membership swelled and doubled from July 29 to July 30-- barely in 2 days. These newly minted OSA recruits joined for no other purpose other than to deliver the numbers necessary to control OSA leadership and to give the fa├žade of democratic elections.
Many of the new members neither meet the basic qualification nor have the knowledge of the ethical standards of learned societies to resist being used as tools by those who wanted to control OSA. This had negative consequences on the election of new officers at the 2006 OSA business meeting.
Before answering their charges, let us take a moment and look at what the Bylaws of the Oromo Studies Association say about membership:
3.1. The Oromo Studies Association shall have an open membership to Oromos as well as non-Oromos.
3.2. A Member shall be a person who accepts the Constitution of the Oromo Studies Association and pays a membership fee.
3.3. In its activities OSA members shall adhere to The OSA Constitution and the universally-accepted rules of professional ethics.
3.4. All OSA members shall have the right to vote on organizational matters, to elect OSA officers and be elected and/or appointed to positions within The Oromo Studies Association.
3.5. All OSA members, in good standing, shall receive the official OSA journal and The OSA Newsletter.
Nowhere do the bylaws take the elitist position that “OSA membership [is] limited to academicians, scholars, researchers, and professionals in different fields of research and publications.” Instead, in the bylaws we find that membership is open; members must accept the OSA constitution and pay the membership fee, members must adhere to rules of professional conduct, and all members have the right to vote and hold office. It would be hard to argue that the new members that the trio is so concerned about do not meet these requirements unless we want to institute a board of inquiry to examine each applicant for membership before they are admitted and once they are admitted to require them to swear to a loyalty oath. I for one would find such a process abhorrent and counter to all Gada principles or openness and inclusiveness.
Dr. Asfaw made a serious effort by establishing a committee to recruit many members to OSA. It is obvious that this effort disappointed these three individuals. They openly express their opposition to this effort by rationalizing that “Many of the new members neither meet the basic qualification nor have the knowledge of the ethical standards of learned societies to resist being used as tools by those who wanted to control OSA. This had negative consequences on the election of new officers at the 2006 OSA business meeting.” In their letter the trio does not provide the names, numbers, and qualifications of those new members. We do not know what qualifications or ethical standards they are talking about since they do not explain. Therefore, we are forced to assume that they are arguing that one cannot be an OSA member if she or he does not have a degree, such as bachelor, MA/MS or doctorate and some ethical standards of elitist groups. According to the assumed qualifications of these three individuals, indigenous philosophers like Dabassa Guyyo cannot be OSA members since they were not trained in Habasha or Western schools. This kind of elitist position contradicts the cardinal mission of OSA that attempts to build liberation knowledge to enable the Oromo masses to liberate themselves from racial/national, class, gender and other forms of oppression.
These three individuals complain that less qualified members who have no knowledge of the ethical standards of learned societies elected unqualified or corrupt OSA officials in 2006. How can individuals with such mentality talk about democracy and the rule of law? They express that they are disappointed because many unqualified ordinary people from different backgrounds and sectors of Oromia were recruited by the OLF in order to control OSA leadership. But the trio does not provide evidence for this allegation. Had the OLF actually done this, I would congratulate the OLF since one of the cardinal principles of democracy is mobilizing people for action. From my perspective, the current and future presidents as well as leaders of other Oromo organizations should attempt to increase the membership and significance of OSA. I do not see this action as a violation of democracy. In fact this invigorates OSA by expanding its membership and democracy. I have no doubt that most members of this organization agree with me. The trio also thinks that if Oromo individuals who served in the Ethiopian government joined our camp, they should not join the leadership of Oromo organizations, such as OSA. The main goal of the Oromo movement is to liberate all Oromo from the enemy camp and to entice them to join the struggle of their people. OSA plays a central role in liberating the minds of such individuals and attracting them to the camp of the Oromo national movement. If OSA members are convinced that such individuals are capable of leading their organization and voted for such individuals, to trash the vote of these members would be undemocratic and unethical.
Election of Officers
Caaltu, Bahiru, and Abraham contend that

The business meeting was fraught with preplanned schemes to justify the end, i.e. designed for the take-over of OSA by a faction whose aims will only bring damage on the organization. First, the President did not make adequate allowance of time for properly conducting the business of OSA. Second, while important agenda items such as the controversial 2006 OSA Award decision and election of officers are pending, time wasting tactics were employed resulting in the forced evacuation of the participating members from the building, and the improper conduct of the 2006 business meeting and the election run by Dr. Baisa Lemu.
By a deliberate intellectual dishonesty exhibited before and during the “election” and the chaotic street election process, new recruits who have no history of any scholarly contributions in OSA or other associations, and some individuals known for their disgraceful records in Oromo struggle were able to usurp OSA’s Executive Committee (EC) and the Board of Directors (BD) positions.
I would not argue that the election process that OSA uses could not be improved upon. It can. Neither would I argue with those who would assert that the election process lacks the stiff formality and scripting that characterizes many academic societies. For better or worse, OSA elections reflect the vibrant discussion and contentiousness of a people who take participatory democracy seriously. Would it have been better if the election had been completed before we had to leave the Coleman Union? Of course! But that would have meant either cutting off the discussion after all the panels or terminating the discussion of the last panel early.
What I would argue is that none of this was a part of some “pre-planned scheme to justify the…take-over of OSA” by any faction, let alone a faction whose “aims will only bring damage on the organization.” The meeting ran long because the participants in attendance were fully engaged in the presentations of the speakers and the subsequent discussion. I, for one, took pleasure in the intensity with which the younger generation engaged the speakers in discussion of issues of liberation, justice, and strategies to achieve those goals. The extended time that Asfaw allowed for the extra discussion was well worth the time spent. If I remember correctly, it was Asfaw who wanted to move the sessions along and it was the gathered body that sought to stretch out the discussions. There is no basis for any theory of a grand conspiracy. If there were any grand conspiracies afoot, Asfaw certainly was not a part of them. One might complain that Asfaw could have done more to cut off discussions; but conspire to extend the meeting? The charge is ludicrous.
The other question about the election process involved the qualifications a person must have to hold office. During the meeting it was argued that some candidates for office did not have the right academic institutional affiliation to be elected. The bylaws, however, hold otherwise: “All OSA members shall have the right to vote on organizational matters, to elect officers and be elected to and/or appointed to positions within The Oromo Studies Association” (emphasis added). Let us look at what happened in 2006. Bahiru Gametchu nominated Professor Bichaka Fayissa for the position of president-elect. Another person nominated Dr. Bahiru Dhuguma for the same position. But the professor and the Dr. did not get enough votes. When the votes were counted the opponent, Dr. Beyan, received 66 votes, Bichaka and Bahiru Dhuguma only received 23 and 6 Votes respectively. I could not believe that Bahiru Gametchu and his circle wanted Professor Bichaka to be the president of this organization again since he was the president of OSA from 1996 to 2000, and had been editor of Journal of Oromo Studies for several years. Dr. Mekuria Bulcha tried to clear the way for the professor by attacking Dr. Beyan Assoba who was competing with them for the same position. In his argument, Dr. Mekuria used the rational that Dr. Beyan did not qualify to be elected as the president-elect since he was not linked to a higher academic institution. However, nobody opposed Abraham Mosisa when he was elected to the same position without having any linkage to an academic institution. Caaltu who was nominated to a position in OSA leadership left the general assembly meeting before it finalized its business. Consequently, she did not run for office. Now the same person attacks us with her friends claiming that we are undemocratic, destructive and partisan. It is amazing that these individuals and their circle try to use different criteria for different individuals in determining qualifications. I believe that had Professor Bichaka and others who were qualified according to the criteria of these individuals been elected to the leadership of OSA, Caaltu, Bahiru and Abraham would have not engaged in attacking us for undermining the independence of OSA.
The integrity of Dr. Baisa Lemu, a respected senior scholar who initiated the study of the Gada system in the early 1970s and emerged as a model scholar for young Oromo scholars in Oromo studies, has also been attacked. While Dr. Baisa, a refined political scientist, was studying the importance of Gada in building a democratic nation, most Oromo scholars were not aware of this Oromo democratic tradition. Dr. Baisa chose to sacrifice his professional advancement for the cause of his people by raising the issue of Gada. He is a founding OSA member, and was also a long-time OSA Board Chair. With other prominent scholars, Dr. Baisa has also provided his knowledge and expertise to build OSA as an intellectual powerhouse of the Oromo nation openly and behind the scenes. Few know this more than Abraham Mosisa. OSA should be proud to have intellectuals like Drs. Baisa and Asfaw who have high intellectual caliber, commitment and moral integrity. By attacking such scholars these individuals are undermining the Oromo scholarship that they claim to protect.
OSA Award
With regard to the presentation of the OSA award to Mr. Leenco Lata, three allegations were made by the trio: (1) the work of Leenco does not exhibit meritorious scholarship; (2) the vote by the Board of Directors was illegitimate; and (2) he is politically visible. Let us look at these items one at a time.
Leenco Lata is not only a politician, and he is also a prolific writer. He has published one journal article, four book chapters, and two scholarly books. His article, “The Ethiopian-Eritrean War,” was published in The Review of African Political Economy, (September 2003). Three of his book chapters were published in Oromo Nationalism and the Ethiopian Discourse: The Search for Freedom and Democracy (1998) and State Crises, Globalisation and National Movements in Northeast Africa (2004). He is the sole author of The Ethiopian State at the Crossroads: Decolonization and Democratization or Disintegration?, (The Red Sea Press, 1999), and The Horn of Africa as Common Homeland (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2004). From an academic perspective, Leenco Lata deserves an OSA award like other Oromia scholars because of his contribution to Oromo studies, not for his political visibility. Nobody complained when Mr. Ibssa Gutama, who is a politician like Mr. Leenco Lata, was presented with the OSA award for his scholarly contributions during the presidency of Dr. Mekuria Bulcha. I do not understand why the trio and their supporters did not oppose Mr. Ibssa Gutama’s award since he is a visible politician, too. This year is not the first year that OSA presented its award to successful writers who also happen to be politicians. So what makes this year award different?
Second, the foundation of the challenge for giving the award to Leenco Lata is dependent upon the qualifications of the vote of two people: 2005-2006 OSA President Asfaw Beyene and Dr. Beyan Asoba, a Board member. With regard to Asfaw’s vote the trio argues that “According to OSA bylaws as amended in 2002, the President is an ex-officio member of the Board without voting rights. Therefore, Dr. Asfaw Beyene’s vote for Leenco Lata doesn’t count.” However, the bylaws that are still posted on the OSA website state “The President of The OSA shall be an X-officio member of the Board of Directors.” The bylaws do not prohibit the ex-officio member from voting. The amendment the trio mentions is only known to them since it is not posted on the OSA website. The precedent was also that the presidents of OSA as x-officio members had voices and votes. This was also in practice before Asfaw became president in 2005, and OSA presidents had both voice and vote making a seven member Board of Directors. That was the way the Board of Directors operated during the presidencies of Abraham Mosisa and Mekuria Bulcha. Further, the accepted standard operation of organizations is well explained in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th Edition http://www.robertsrules.com/faq.html#2:

Ex-officio is a Latin term meaning ‘by virtue of office or position.’ Ex-officio members of boards and committees, therefore, are persons who are members by virtue of some other office or position that they hold. For example, if the bylaws of an organization provide for Committee on Finance consisting of the treasurer and three other members appointed by the president, the treasurer is said to be an ex-officio member of the finance committee, since he or she is automatically a member of that committee by virtue of the fact that he or she holds of treasurer. Without exception, ex-officio members of boards and committees have exactly the same rights and privileges as do all other members, including, of course, the right to vote.” [RONR (10th ed.), p.466-67; p. 480, 1. 18-27)

Since one of the members of the Board of Directors, Bahiru Gametchu, who opposed Leenco Lata’s nomination for an OSA award, is one of the signatories of the letter, there is no doubt that he was the one who provided the communication and minutes of the Board of Directors for his friends and circle. This demonstrates that the claim of neutrality by Bahiru and his two colleagues is baseless. So Caaltu, Bahiru and Abraham have an agenda that they do not want to reveal. Having an agenda is not a problem, but to hide the agenda and act as neutral is unethical. The trio should have the moral and intellectual courage to express the political position that influences their views on OSA and its leadership. It is not lack of neutrality and academic objectivity in OSA and its leadership that they oppose, but they are worried that their nominees were totally defeated in elections. Dr. Asfaw and I have no any control on the process of the election. Hence we cannot be blamed for it.
The election of Dr. Beyan Assoba to the Board last year and to the position of president-elect this year made these three individuals and their political circle very angry and uncomfortable. If it was the general assembly that elected Dr. Beyan last year and this year to these positions, why does the trio hate to see him in the OSA leadership position? Is it because of his politics, educational background or because of something else? For me it is a great pleasure to see different faces with different backgrounds in the position of OSA leadership rather than seeing the same individuals again and again in OSA leadership. Furthermore, the election of Dr. Gudeta Hinka, an accomplished surgeon, to the Board increases the diversity of OSA leadership. Similarly, the election of Ms. Tsehai Silga as the treasurer of OSA indicates the commitment of OSA to professional expertise and gender equality. Others also bring diverse experiences and backgrounds to the leadership of OSA. I trust the judgments of OSA members who cast their ballots for these individuals. Had they cast their vote for professor Bichaka and others I would have trusted their judgments, too. It is their democratic right to vote for anybody they choose. I do not understand how those who lost the elections and the trio blame us for the democratic actions of the majority of OSA members. If Caaltu, Bahiru, and Abraham have problems with the behavior of the members, they need to appeal to the members since Asfaw and I can do nothing about it.
I believe that OSA serves as an open, democratic, and a neutral academic forum for its members although it is not neutral in fighting for Oromo liberation and democracy. However, the assertion of the trio that “The total lack of professional ethic displayed by Drs. Asafa Jalata and Asfaw Beyene is appalling” is an unwarranted personal attack and does not lead to open, respectful, democratic dialogue. OSA members who followed this year’s OSA activities and attended this year’s conference were able to observe Dr. Asfaw’s performance as President and can make their own judgments. As for me, I believe that he did a great job and moved OSA in a positive direction. Both of us have a personal stake in OSA as a result of our investment of time and energy in this scholarly organization.
I was a founding member of this association, serving as its president from August 1992 to July 1994, and as the editor of The Journal of Oromo Studies from 1996 to 2000. Furthermore, I have served as the chair of its Board of Directors since 2003. Abraham Mosisa and Mekuria Bulcha never complained about any lack of professional ethic and undemocratic behavior when they were presidents and I was the chair of Board of Directors. Why does the trio depict me differently this year when Asfaw was president? Why have OSA members trusted me all these years? How is it that I betrayed OSA only in the 2005-2006 program-year? Caaltu, Bahiru, and Abraham have the right to express their views and I will defend that right, but at the same time I have the right to refute the false allegations that have been made against Asfaw and me. In light of the forgoing explanation, I believe that the accusations aimed at Dr. Asfaw and I, and other OSA leaders are false, baseless and not supported by evidence. However, since I believe in an open, honest and democratic dialogue, I am responding to the allegations of the trio so that the members of OSA can have all of the facts and come to their own conclusions.
Caaltu, Bahiru, and Abraham have served OSA in different leadership capacities and should not oppose the election of new leaders, such as Dr. Beyan Asoba, Dr. Gudeta Hinka and Ms. Tsehai Silga, who received an overwhelming majority vote from OSA members, by claiming that their election was illegal because they were elected by unqualified members who do not understand the professional ethics of learned societies. When these members elected them, they were qualified and knew the professional ethnics of learned societies. How did they lose their qualifications and professional ethics this time? OSA should be proud of its record of increasing the diversity of its members and leadership, of serving as the Gumii Gayoo of the Oromo diaspora, and of being an academic society and a political discussion forum for all Oromos regardless of their region, gender, class, status, or political affiliation. OSA members cherish these principles and make efforts to build on them. We also encourage people like Caaltu, Bahiru and Abraham to recognize these principles and engage in an honest, open, and democratic dialogue with OSA members and leadership while respecting the decision of the majority.
OSA was indicted and challenged by a few individuals who tried to undermine OSA’s role as the Gumii Gayoo seeking to reduce it to an exclusive club of a small number of like-minded scholars by excluding the bulk of the Oromo diaspora from OSA. In noting that “for us personally [under the present leadership], membership in OSA no longer an option” the trio called for the removal of its current leadership not simply by OSA members, “but [by] all concerned Oromo including leaders and members of genuine Oromo political organizations.” This approach has been tried and has failed several times because the Oromo diaspora has not fallen for such tactics. It is amazing that Caaltu, Bahiru and Abraham, who claim that they are dedicated to democracy and the independence of this association, turn around and invite non-members to overthrow a leadership legitimately elected by its members after complaining about the membership qualifications of the members we already have. If the people the trio is appealing to want to join OSA, they are welcome and can participate in future elections. As a means of mobilizing non-OSA members and those who have grudge against this association, the trio has used various internet outlets. The trio is irresponsible for disseminating their letter via non-OSA outlets and for engaging in a cyber guerrilla war to introduce conflict and suspicion among OSA members while inviting non-OSA members to intervene in the internal affairs of our organization. OSA issues are better handled through its elected officials and its outlets such as the listserv. These are more productive ways to handle our conflicts. Therefore, I recommend that the Executive Committee of OSA establish a committee of three scholars who can investigate the issues raised by all sides and present its findings to the 2007 annual OSA assembly. As the supreme authority, let the general assembly give its final verdict based on the findings of the committee. This is what Oromo democracy is all about.

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