Understanding Gadaa and Orommummaa

Oromo Nationalists frequently discuss the underlining premises of Orommumaa within the aspirations for promoting the commonly shared spirit of the unique Oromo Nationhood. But, not all the resourceful Nationalists approach this fundamental issue from the same angle. Disagreement in concepts and theories at times could be blown out of proportions intentionally or unintentionally. When differing ideas and approaches emerge either under the Odaa tree in Oromia, or discussing at round-tables in Finfinee, Adama, Berlin, Washington DC, Melbourne, or Minneapolis, it should have been viewed as positive, and taken as “teachable moments” or ” learning moments” from these diverse views. But often, when differing outlooks and strategies relating to the Oromo Nation’s issues are debated, it is regularly perceived by different people as a destructive opposition, or totally negative. Discussion habitually leads to total or partial agreements, and disagreements as well. That is the nature of having the interested parties exchange their views on the matter under discussion. On the issues that we all agree, there will be no need to have a broad-based civilized discussion. But, few, who happen to have natural deficiencies to tolerating conceptual diversities, automatically assume the acceptance for their hypothesis by others without any question. It becomes apparent for such Oromos, that the “Yes Sir/Madam” syndrome should take over, and any persuasive ideas or better alternative strategies needlessly has to be discarded as destructive and negative inputs. This is an alien impression to the Gadaa cultural persuasions. Yet, another alien and partisan thinking is “All or Nothing.” This is an old concept which gave birth to religious dogmas, and social doctrines/canons, such as Communism, Nazism and Fascism, and should not be the current urgent focal point for the Nation of Oromia’s frame of reference. This theory could be a very costly hypothesis to be undertaken by the Nation of Oromia at this particular juncture as it could end up being an easily manipulated divisive agent for those who are opposed to the causes of the Oromo Nation. Yet, it could be the solution for the stagnated journey of Oromia’s quest for independence provided that we could turn it around by updating and tuning it by utilizing eclectic approach to appraise its viability and practicality with modern social advances, engulfing its scarcities with the cutting-age technological supports.

To be more cohesive and comprehensive, and achieve all–inclusive discourse, we need to reflect back to the suitability of these concepts within the practical affiliations of the Oromo Nation by resorting back to the original practices of Gadaa. Therefore, it is quite conventional to have the inquiring minds, and ask, “how does these theoretical passions apply to the everyday lives of the broad mass of the Oromo Nation, and the sciences of leadership in the context of Oromo Nation?”

The Basics Model for Leadership in Oromo Society in the Eras of Pre-occupation
According to the basics model of Gadaa, the paradigm of leadership is acquired through broad-based knowledge of diversities of circumstances, and ability to position one’s own natural or acquired potentials to master the foreseeable predicaments. The ability to envisage those inexorable fates are part and parcels of the leadership prerequisites. This skill of proficiency to foresee the quandaries is not through possessing the magical power, but often developed through applied analysis of systems and trends that will most likely materialize when particular circumstances do prevail. Gadaa is the frame of reference for the Nation of Oromia. Had Oromia remained un-colonized, it should have been preserved and cherished since it overwhelmingly encompasses nearly all holistic meanings of life for the entire Oromo citizens and all the human races, starting from birth with unique lifelong expectations. What is absolutely treasured in the Age-Grades and Family Values of the Gadaa system is the Safuu (the Moral Codes) for the ethically exceptional democratic form of government. The appropriate comprehension of these practical fundamentals, which were interpreted by the precolonial Oromo society, had granted the Gadaa cultural model its uniqueness in surviving the internal as well as external nemeses.

The Gadaa cultural heritage promotes purposes in one’s life, without exempting each person’s ethical, legal and age-grade enshrined responsibilities. As a philosophical and theoretical standard, it is an exceptional driving force to motivate citizens towards serving their families, communities, and the human race at large. The joys of productivity with all its meanings, respecting and protecting the elders, are non-separable bonds which all Oromo citizens praise their creator Waaqayyoo for enabling them with the capacity to facilitate. After enduring even the long negative effects of colonialism, the commonly shared innocence, nonviolence personalities of the present-day people of Oromo does originate from the innocuous social chromosomes inherited from our ancestors, who were the Gadaa cohorts to its fullest conceptual filtering and orientations. Gadaa manners, and ways of life, emerge in the Oromos’ daily interactions with their everyday environment categorically without even the absolute consciousness of that Oromo individual because, it is part of the Oromo people’s DNA.

How far damaging could the colonization of the Oromo Nation by the Abyssinians be for the younger generations, or their birth at very distant communities – might have affected their familiarity with theirGadaa heritage and frame of references; however, their basic innocence, love for peace and the well-being of others, does always vividly transpire and exceptionally display itself unreservedly. This remains at all times the unflinching truth and the backbone for the Oromo people’s unconditional love for their children no matter where they are. The Oromo Young Generation remains the unshakable fundamental sustenance for the genuine cause of their Nation as they have proved with their precious lives so far. I have discussed this in my previous message titled: “The Qubee Generation – the Endangered Oromo Generation.”

Today, it has apparently become well-known and unavoidable truth – to the adversaries of the Oromo people – that the Oromo National Question is out of their reach for repression when they are powerlessly witnessing this Young Oromo Generation verbalizing quite loudly and clearly “I AM AN OROMO FIRST”from every corner of the globe collectively and unanimously.

Just before I will channel back to the main topic, I would like to express my gratitude, pride, and joy in the commitments of the Young Oromo Generation for its authenticity in pursuing and continuing the flames of the causes of its Nation!

It had been a long journey, but now I can smell the Oromo Nation’s freedom at the end of the tunnel. Nevertheless, it is now that we need to straighten our path for the final journey for freedom.  Furthermore, it was/is enshrined within Gadaa that the elders need to formulate the proper and the obligatory transition of power and responsibilities to the younger generation so as to assume the advisory roles, preserving their own dignities and protecting the Gadaa value codes. Observing from the artificial daily shenanigans taking place in the communities of the Oromo Nation, one may doubt the possibility of such a transition. Additionally, it may appear awkward expecting to transfer the administrative/authorized power which is not in existence. The undeniable fact remains that the synthetic official power of the colonial Ethiopian regimes did not replaced all the authentic power of the elders within the Oromo society – even if it had been under attacks for decades. Therefore, yes, the Rebellious Oromo Generation against the Ethiopian Colonialism can transfer the genuine power and errands to the Freedom Young Oromo Generation of Oromia. We can do it, and we will. But, first, we need to know where we had been as a Nation so as to know exactly where we are unequivocally determined to go. Here are the fundamentals of Oromomummaa.


The Oromo people grouped themselves into five parties. These parties are: RoobaleeDuulooBirmajii,Michillee and Horata. They are named after a phenomenon or whatever occurred during the governance of one particular party. For example, Roobalee was named after rain. The fact that it rained heavily is indicated by the phrase “the Roobalee and its bountiful rain” (Yaa Roobalee ya roobashii)Duuloo was named after preparation for war. The fact that the Oromos prepared a big war is indicated by the phrase “Duuloo and the preparation of war” (Duuloo qophessa duulaa)Birmajii was named after happy festival and dance. The Oromos had happy time and phrased this as “Birmajii and its happy dances” (Ya Birmajii ya sirbashii)Michillee was named after war victory. Oromos had great victory over their enemy and showed this by the phrase “Michillee the best friend of war” (Ya Michillee nichuu duulaa)Horata is remembered and was named after years of excellent cattle breeding. These good years were phrased as “Horata and the feeling” (Ya Horata maal godhataa). The names of the five Gadaa parties are indicated in the below figure as supplementary to the above description.



Each party takes power from one another after every eight years. Nevertheless, the Gadaa parties overlap with each other for four years before transfer of power. Hence, new comers are in office alone only for the last four years of their term. The outgoing party stays with the incoming party for the first four years, as an advisor. However, the advisors have no power of decision-making whatsoever. The same tempo cycle repeats itself whenever a new party takes over after every eight years. From the above statements, it is understandable that one party stays in office for a total of twelve years. This is to say that a party stays in office for eight years with power, and for additional four years without power as an advisor. (Anga’a Dhugumaa)

Like different ministers and cabinets in modern systems of governments, there are different authorities in a given political party in the Gadaa system. For example:

Gadaa.comAbbaa Biyyaa – The Administrator of the country.
Gadaa.comAbbaa Duula – War Leader
Gadaa.comAbbaa Caffee – Speaker/Chief of the council.
Gadaa.comAbbaa Gadaa – Leader of the party, etc. (Teshome Lemu)

The most important organ of the Gadaa system is the federal assembly known as Gumii Gayoo in Borana and Caffee in other places. These assemblies were (still is in the case of Borana) very large and attended by councilors called hayyuu, drawn from different sections of the society. These assemblies make laws – which define the essence of Oromo democracy. In short, the specificity and similarity of the myriads of norms, rituals and political practices around which it was organized throughout the Oromo country make Gadaa a unique pan-Oromo institution of great historical depth. (Bulcha, 2012; Legesse, 2000)

The standing committee, the supreme council or the “politburo” members are nine. This group that is named after Borana is the final decision-maker for the Oromo democratic government. Unless the congress that assembles once every eight years changes the decision of the Salgan Yaa’i Boorana, no other body can challenge the decision and power of this group. The Salgan Yaa’i Boorana will be released only after a new Gadaa party takes over power at the end of one Buttaa. This group of nine is elected among the already elected Hayyuu’s. Complaints against this group have never been heard in Oromo oral history. The Oromo people show great love for even the name “Salgan Yaa’i Boorana.” This group is mandated to amend the Law (Seeraa), if necessary. Salgan Yaa’i Boorana is the only authorized supreme body to give the final interpretation of the Oromo Constitution. Therefore, the Oromo people place this elected group next to God (Waaqa). This group is highly regarded, and a prayer at formal meetings starts with the name “Salgan Yaa’i Boorana.” The assembly of the Salgan Yaa’i Boorana is conducted at the Odaa center only, which is believed to be Odaa Nabee, located in the center of Oromiyaa.

Odaa is a highly respected place where the Oromo basic laws (Seeraa) are passed. All locally amended laws go to the Odaa for final approval and distribution. The Odaa is somewhat similar to the American Senate, the upper branch of Congress. However, when Gadaa was revised some five hundred years ago, the Oromos did not enjoy the modern buildings of today. The congress of the Oromos during those years took place under a big oak tree in the open-air. The species of this oak tree is called Odaa. Oromos enjoy coming together in the open-air even today. The absence of bad weather makes it so pleasant to hold meetings in the open-air under the shade of the Odaa tree. The Bokku’s are very similar to the Odaa’s. The main difference is that Odaa is used at the national level while the Bokku is used at the regional level. The participants of the Odaa assembly are representatives of all Oromo regions, while that of the Bokku are from one region only.

Bokku has two meanings. As stated above, it is the assembly place for the decentralized constituency for local parliamentarians composed of several Abbaa Gadaa’s. Second, it signifies and symbolizes governance and power. This symbol (Bokku) is made out of an olive tree. Its use is mostly symbolic, and it is carried by the defense minister (Abbaa Duula) at war fronts. It is also widely used by the Administrator (Abbaa Bokku) as a symbol of power. Sometimes, the Bokku and Kalachaa could be used together. Kalachaa serves the same way as the Christian cross. It is carried by the Qaalluu’s. The societal high quality of Gadaa also governs each Oromo citizen’s adherences to SAFUU cultural heritage. It is a high moral principle that enhances the implementation of the law (Seeraa),

– Maintains coexistence and harmony among all people;
– Maintains coexistence and harmony between humans and animals;
– Maintains a good relationship between God and humans;
– Maintains a good relationship between the old and the young;
– Maintains a proper relationship between the poor and the rich;
– Is a sign of love and peace among the Oromos;
– It is a sign of peaceful life;
– It insures that an approach by a stranger is safe.

Safuu is implanted into the brain of Oromos from childhood. During the steps of the “age-grades,” all Oromos are given the chance to learn to live the right way. Therefore, Oromos refrain from killing, stealing, lying and are not violent. Their names tell it all. Typical Oromo names indicate prosperity, growth, love and peace, i.e. Hortuu, Gabbattaa, Jaalataa and Nagaasee, respectively. This culture is near fading away today owing to the influence of the Abyssinia’s culture that was forced upon the Oromos for the last 120 years.

The age-grades and family values include (but not limited to):

Birth to 8yrs, Child, loved and cared for well. (Da’imua or Hijoolee)
8yrs to 16yrs, Young Boy, helps on farm and learns about life. (Dabballee)
16yrs to 24yrs, Grown-up, trainee, mostly defense. (Ittimukkoo)
24yrs to 32yrs, Adult, militia, completes military service. (FoolleeLoltuu)
32yrs to 40yrs, Candidate, respected family person. (RaahuButtaa)
40yrs to 48yrs, Leader, at different levels. (LubaAbbaa GadaaHayyuu)
48yrs to 56yrs, Adviser to active party for four years. (Lubaa)
56yrs to 64yrs, Retired, blessing and peace making everywhere. (Gadaamojjii(Anga’a Dhugumaa)

The apprentices for the head office of Abbaa Biyyaa/Bokku often undergo a detailed, rigorous and highly demanding training by the senior elders, who are often the retired previous Abbaa Bokku’s, after resuming the position of Advisory. Furthermore, these Senior Elders often indirectly influence the Oromo public’s approval or disapproval of the decision made by the office of Abbaa Biyyaa/Bokku, paving the political dilemmas for the Salgan Yaa’i Boorana’s (The Standing Committee’s) eventual actions – even if this may give rise to a question, “who is the real leader – is it Abbaa Biyyaa/Gadaa with Bokku in hand, or the senior advisers?” On the other side, the advantage lies in rendering the well-balanced decisions and the safety network of the upper echelon. Furthermore, it directly eliminates the power struggle within the upper ruling personals – which has the negative and measurable devastating disadvantage/effects on the governance and development in most of the developing Nations as we are precisely witnessing all around the world nowadays.

What is Missing, and What is Taking Place Instead, and at What Cost to the Nation of Oromia?
N.B. answering this question might shed light for those who still have ambiguity of why the Nation of Oromia fights for independence!

After the invasion of the Nation of Oromia by Abyssinians war lords, the Oromo people lost the power to exercise their cherished Gadaa democratic governance system, ownership to our own vicinity, including other human belongings, the basic and fundamental rights to all social domains – implementing our language in our own schools, offices; exercising our culture … (the list goes on). The proud Oromo citizens were forced and reduced to be tenants on their own lands.  Oromo children were snatched and abridged/obliged to be servants for the colonizers, including but not limited to becoming the target for colonizers’ indiscriminate abuses and tortures with all of its ranges and severity. The Abyssinian colonizers used many of the Oromo sellouts to promote their agendas of defeating, eradicating and controlling the reaming Oromo people under their tight grip. The most noticeable being the Abyssinian emperor Menelik II, who used Gobana Daccee to colonize all Oromo lands – while committing on the Oromo people the worst criminal acts of genocide at Aanolee and Calanqoo in 1886 and 1887, respectively.  More than five million Oromos perished (were killed) while resisting the invading army of Menelik in the 1880′s. These alien army’s brutality and their inhuman criminal acts perpetrated against the Oromo people included (but not limited to): cutting Oromo women’s breasts and burning the children alive. The Haile-Selassie’s regime used modernization as a code word for the consolidation of Menelik’s empire. The Dergue regime used the agenda under Marxism-Leninism socialist governing domain to continue the maintenance of the Abyssinian domination of the people of Oromia. The current Abyssinian colonial regime of TPLF found democratization to have a useful currency as a code word for its agenda of domination. The TPLF regime, by signing the July 1991 Charter, recognized the fact that “nations, nationalities, and peoples” in Ethiopia have the right to self-determination, including independence (July Charter, Art. 2). The preamble of the charter mentioned “the end of an era of subjugation and oppression.” But, time had proved that it was actually the beginning of subjugation and oppression under the ethnic Tigrayan hegemony. The TPLF, operating under the covert surrogate OPDO party, quickly consolidated its exclusive control over the transitional government at all levels.

Dr. Asafa Jalata wrote in his recent article:

“… Gadaa is the central source of Oromo politics, philosophy, wisdom, worldview, moral values, ethics, laws, and customs from which Oromummaa emerges and develops as the intellectual, ideological, and theoretical powerhouse of the Oromo nation. Since Oromo nationalism is not yet fully grounded in Gadaa, it is corrupted by alien ideologies and theories that contradict the Oromo fundamental values and democratic principles. Because of such corruption and the lack of a clear ideological and theoretical approach, the Oromo national movement is currently stifled and misused by misguided Oromo and other forces that are against the Oromo national interest. Therefore, I am more convinced that Oromo nationalists, who are determined to advance the Oromo liberation and emancipation, must return to the source of the Gadaa civilization that still survives in the minds and hearts of the ordinary Oromo. As Amilcar Cabral notes, ‘the question of a ‘return to the source’ or of a ‘cultural renaissance’ does not arise and could not arise for the masses of these people, for it they who are the repository of the culture and at the same time the only social sector who can preserve and build it up and make history.‘ …

… Almost all the Oromo love Gadaa because it empowered the Oromo nation to have political freedom and their country. In the early 1990s, most Oromo believed that the OLF would repeat this reality because it restored some Gadaa symbols and declared about democracy, the sacred principle of the Oromo nation. After bringing hope to the Oromo people between 1991 and 1992, the OLF was attacked and weakened by the TPLF, Eritrean and Western powers because it could not build an organizational capacity – both politically and militarily. Furthermore, because of the ideological and political immaturity of the Oromo political elites and the absence of the national leadership that could build the OLF through dialogue and national consensus, the organization, that the Oromo people thought as the rebirth of Gadaa, was partitioned and owned by self-proclaimed leaders who started to see themselves as organizations. In addition, several elites started to create their mini-organizations to seek political power rather than empowering the Oromo people.

All of these political factions have brought disgrace to themselves and to the Oromo nation. When thousands of Oromo openly joined the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) of the TPLF without any fear and shame, most of the Oromo have become passive and demobilized. Consequently, the TPLF has engaged in terrorism, genocide, and expropriation of Oromo lands and other resources. One would expect that Oromo nationalists would recognize these dangers, and work in collective to overcome their conflicts and divisions through national dialogue and consensus based on the Oromo democratic traditions and revolutionary commitment. So what should the Oromo nationalists do now to overcome public passivism and institutional and organizational ineffectiveness in the Oromo society? ….”(Jalata)

Dr. Asafa Jalata remains one of the most recognized Oromo Nation’s advocates. Even if most of the points he beautifully expressed above are indisputable facts, there are few conceptual and empirical facts that Dr. Jalata overlooked and failed to appreciate:

1) There always should be a separation between politics from both religious, and/or cultural affiliations/persuasions.

2) Absolutism/dogmatically oriented philosophical concepts/hypotheses need to be analysed comparatively with other viable concepts, such as ‘Eclectic approaches’ so as to validate our choices.

3) The presented criticism against the founders of OLF does not hold up to the threshold for violating the Safuu codes of ethics, and can stage standard for more absolute self-contradictions, and anarchy hindering the basic comprehension and appreciations for theGadaa cultural heritage within its appropriate context.

4) There always are the authentic Gadaa dictated manners and presuppositions without violating Safuu, the basic Gadaa code of ethics.

It is true that OLF started the fight for Oromo people’s freedom in the early 1970s. No one in their right mind can disagree that the OLF did copy the liberation agendas, which had appeared to be applicable to the Oromo Nation’s Colonial questions at that time. In those days, yes, there was a choice for each concerned Oromo citizen: either to fight for the Oromo freedom, or to just pursue personal agendas and be a friend with the colonial power of the time at the expenses of the Oromo Nation and continue enjoying individualistic life styles. As a matter of facts, the original OLF founding fathers were highly principled and genuinely committed pioneers – who surrendered the rest of their lives selflessly to fight for the just cause of the Oromo Nation, languishing for several years in Ethiopian prisons as prisoners of conscience, and in the foreign countries as political refugees. My respect for them goes beyond the expressive power of human languages for those still living, and honor and glory for those who sacrificed their precious lives for the just causes of the Oromo Nation. This is a nonnegotiable chapter in my life.

Since April 1974, when the first unit of the OLF guerrilla fighters led by Elemo Qilixxu launched an armed struggle in the highlands of Charchar, Eastern Oromia, up to now, there are measurable scores of progress and achievements which we cannot ignore. Yet, at the same time, there are numerous setbacks, and stagnation which many respected Oromo Nationalists are genuinely attempting to address in every corner of the globe. That is why I am not really ready, and even remotely to allude for discounting, or burden the original founders of OLF with the guilt trip. I do have the moral obligation not to jump to visualize some alien persuasion-driven concepts of dogmatism – which often corners citizens to force down their throats cultural hypotheses that appear on surface a Nationalistic inducements, so as to score some points at the expenses of the original founding fathers of the OLF. It is unethical for any genuine Oromo citizen. On the other hand, it does not mean that one has to accept the status quo of the current OLF’s predicaments. We always do make choice. We often choose our battles, and analyze manners and means we would like to carry on the battles, or not to. If one is really serious about the trueOrommumaa, first, he/she needs to comprehend the totality of the Gadaa cultural model accordingly, and emulate and digest in parallels with the fundamentals of the OLF original political program.

Practically, there were/are huge advances in so many human domains since the formation of OLF.  As it was the moral/ethical responsibility for the original founding fathers of OLF to choose to fight for the independence of their Nation, it could be fair to project that it is mine and yours responsibility today to reposition this National journey for the final victory by suggesting the most applicable theoretical path with the support of up-to-date technological gadgets. But, we need to be reminded that it is notOrommummaa to dishonor our elders even if we may come up with the better advanced and most harmonious theoretical arguments. This is a thin and fine line of ethics for Oromummaa to walk on.

Dimensional Approach to the Oromo National Struggle
INDIVIDUALISM in the Oromo society prevailed as the backbone for the colonial regimes of Ethiopia. But, yes, it had penetrated into the depth soul of the Oromo society with all its harms. As a result:

– The Oromo Liberation Organizations turned the fight inward among each other with no realm solution insight.

– The subjugation, torture, and exterminations of thousands of innocent Oromo people continued without any due process, or any accountability from the colonial regime.

– The Oromo people became disillusioned, and disenfranchised.

Therefore, it is time to pen our minds and eyes and start appreciating Oromumma dimensionally. We need to know each other better. We need to empower each other, starting at the individual, familial, communal, societal and National levels. We have to understand how we do affect one another, and recognize our potentials if we stood by each other. Every Oromo professional, nonprofessional – and every citizen’s effort – need to be channeled cohesively to make our endeavors inclusive of Oromo citizens. Lots of our homeworks are already done by our brothers and sisters who had paid the heaviest prices with their precious lives.  We have to promote our trust, awareness, tolerances, patriotism, compassion and goodwill for each other. Yet, we shall take all the inhuman brutalities perpetrated against our people as the fuel for pushing us further and further. I will stop here for now, and will address more the Dimensional Approach to the Oromo National Struggle under its own merit.

By no means, my responses to Dr. Asafa Jalata’s article should be interpreted as though I am discounting the hard works of Dr. Jalata in fields of research and pedagogy and that which he has rendered so far for his Nation, Oromia.  Of course, right is right; and wrong is wrong. At this juncture, please allow me to assure you that Dr. Asafa Jalata did cross the line that he should have thought not to. But, he remains an extremely valuable educator and coach for our Nation’s journey for freedom. No human is perfect, neither me, nor Dr. Jalata.

The Gadaa’s potentials, as presented by Dr. Jalata, should be pursued as the central theme for all aspects of the Oromo people’s aspirations in life. But, the essential point I would like to see incorporated will be – planning/working on its suitability with all the modern human advancements in various fields, so as to address today’s issues accordingly. In this area, I do favor the “Eclectic approach.” This theory does not prescribe strictly to a single prototype or set of postulations, but make the most applicable conclusions from diverse sources of influences, varieties of concepts, or thoughts to increase balancing intuitions into a topic, or utilizes different theoretical positions in specific issues.

Ulfina wojjin,


About robiayansa

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/n/nelson_mandela.html
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