The Question of Finfinnee: Beyond the Language of Favor or Appeasement -- Tsegaye R. Ararssa



By: Tsegaye R. Ararssa (18 June 2017)

With the re-emergence of the talk about the so called Oromia’s “special” interest law, the debate is raging in various corners on the identity, name, administration, language(s), etc of the city. In some circles, this debate is rife with the anxiety about the relationship between the Oromo and the city in the light of the anticipated relatively weightier presence of the Oromo in the city. The anxiety also betrays a particular kind of fear informed by the history of othering ideologies, discourses, and practises that effectively distanced the Oromo from the city while they are still there.

The othering practice was materially effected through military, political, legal, and administrative measures to dispossess, dislocate, and displace the Oromo.

In 130 years since the city’s incorporation into the Ethiopian empire of the late 19th c, the Oromo became a minority in their own city currently constituting only 19 % of the city’s total population.

The name of the city was changed into Addis Ababa. The names of the villages and suburbs that constitute what has today become the ‘Greater Finfinnee area’ have also been replaced by Amharic names or some distorted versions of the original Oromo names. The sites of public religious/spiritual, legal/adjudication, and political/legislative et al proceedings were transferred to sites of the garrison forces and the various service giving institutions that followed them. This and the near total destruction of the forest and natural environment has disfigured the city beyond recognition.

With the settlement of the new forces of conquest and their accompaniments and with legal and lawless eviction of the Oromo, the demography quickly started to change. With the city becoming the capital city of the empire, more and more settlers started to dwell in the city thereby diversifying its ethnic set up and configuration. Along with the change of demography came the change of culture, language, and identity.

The official privileging of a particular culture, language, and identity and acts of variously erasing the Oromo culture, language (Afaan Oromoo), and the repositories of identity (such as history, narratives, and memory) removed the latter from the city. Soon, these aspects of Oromummaa were exiled, physically, into the peripheries of the city and, temporally, into the past of the Ethiopian modernity, alias known as “Zemenawinet.” With the renaming of places and designating sites, squares, streets, buildings, bridges, and schools almost exclusively serving to memorialize and monumentalize the settlers, the displacement of the Oromo was nigh complete.

Having thus pushed out the Oromo, the city styled itself ‘modern’ and thus different and distant from Oromos and the wider Oromia. The current legal excision that made it outside the politico- administrative jurisdiction of Oromia (since 1991) is a continuation of the tradition of alienating the city from Oromia only signifying and dramatizing the more violent practice of othering the Oromo from the polity (thereby excluding them from the city’s and the wider country’s political space).

The recent practices of aggressive land grabbing and massive evictions that penetrated territories beyond the confines of the city (typified by the Master Plan) provoked a massive popular anger densely saturated with deeper historic (political) grievances caused by the trauma of dispossession, dislocation, and exile (in one’s own home).

When the resistance to the Master Plan morphed into the #OromoRevolution that shook the regime to its core, the TPLF/EPRDF regime started to talk about the need to legislate on the "Special interest’ of Oromia, if only to appease the resisting youth and to calm them down as it also strives to remain in power.

To anyone who pays attention, the discourse on the special interest sounds more like a favour, a preferential treatment, the regime is according to Oromia and Oromos. To speak of a list of special interest to be granted to Oromia in what is its own land by the settlers already speaks volumes about how the guest (the settlers) has turned itself into the host and made a guest out of the host (the Oromos).

Some Modest Proposals

It has to be stated clearly to all that the “special interest” is not a favor granted to Oromia. If anything, it implicitly ‘validates’ the settlers as having the authority to decide what Oromia deserves to get from them (who in actual fact have nothing to give as ‘usurpers’ of what is actually Oromia’s).

Similarly, it is imperative to state explicitly that it is not favor that Oromia is demanding when it asserts its natural and constitutional rights over the city. It is seeking restoration into what is its own.

Seen in this light, it seems to me, anything done on Oromia’s right over Addis Ababa should clearly spell out, at least, the following:

  1. Finfinnee is an Oromo city. It belongs to Oromia. The Oromo ownership of the city shall be recognized in official words of acknowledgement of the original owners of the land in all public proceedings.

  2. Oromia is the beneficiary of the “special interest” clause of the constitution. Any “special interests” to be stipulated are primarily the interests of the State of Oromia.

  3. Finfinnee is the capital city of Oromia. As such, it shall have the right to build offices as necessary for its services and construct buildings for schools, cultural centers, and community centers. It shall also build places of residence for staff. It shall have free access to land as appropriate.

  4. Finfinnee shall continue to serve as the seat of the Federal Government until such time as new capital city is designated or established through negotiation among the members of the Federation.

  5. The city’s indigenous name, Finfinnee, shall be the official name of the city alongside “Addis Ababa,” an appellation imposed on it by the Empire in 1886.

  6. Afaan Oromoo shall be the working language of the city as it is in the wider Oromia. In addition to Afaan Oromoo, Amharic (being the language that is currently widely spoken in the city) shall also be a working language of the metropolitan city government.

  7. The Finfinnee metropolitan area shall have its own democratically elected government. The city’s government shall be constituted and in accordance with the country’s constitution, the electoral laws, the city’s charter, and other relevant laws. The operation of the government shall also be guided by the principles of the country’s higher laws, Oromia’s constitution, its own City Charter, Oromia’s Urban Governance Laws, and other laws of urban regulation.

  8. The city government shall have the duty to inform, consult, and seek advice from the Government of the State of Oromia on all matters of common concern.

  9. The Government shall be accountable to the State of Oromia. On issues extending to the wider Oromia, the city government and the government of Oromia shall exercise power of co-administration. There shall also be schemes of inter-city legal cooperation on matters of crime, forest and natural eco-management.

  10. The constitutional human rights of all residents of the city shall be fully respected. In particular, they shall have full measure of self-government at the municipal level.

  11. The rights of non-Oromo residents to mother tongue education shall be respected. Details shall be regulated by the directives of the Education Bureau. The culture, language, and heritage of Oromos in the city shall be promoted and properly memorialized through designating buildings, squares, places, streets, Halls, statues that monumentalize important Oomo suburbs, historical events, personalities, etc.

  12. The government of Oromia shall have a reasonable share of the revenues raised in the city.