- The Making of Oromo Diaspora: A Historical Sociology of Forced Migration
The Making of Oromo Diaspora is an account of forced migration from Oromoland. The book originates in the author's research on forced migration and explores some of the social and political factors that led to the uprooting and scattering of thousands of Oromos in different directions and at different times (13). As someone who has personally experienced the history he describes in his book, Professor Mekuria Bulcha demonstrates both the passion of an interested insider and the objective reflection of an unbiased scholar.
The book starts with the sociology of forced migration, followed by an illustration of the Red Sea slave trade. In chapter 2, the author notes that "slavery and slave trade were practices with ancient roots in northeast [End Page 209] Africa. Slavery has been an important feature of Abyssinia's social and economic life" (33). Moreover, the slave trade and the import of firearms have played an important role in the "establishment and maintenance of Abyssinian domination at the end of the nineteenth century" (51).
In subsequent chapters the author describes in detail the fate of slaves in the host societies (chapter 4). Here the personal stories of men and women who were captured and sold into slavery, yet who eventually made significant contributions to Oromo studies, are brought into light (chapter 5). Amongst them, the author discusses the lives of four personalities: Malik Ambar, Bilile (Mehbuba), Onesimos Nasib, and Aster Ganno. The brief story of Nasib and Ganno is most interesting, not just because the author describes Onesimos Nasib as the father of Oromo literature, but because both migrated back to their homeland after a long period in exile to have a meaningful impact on their people. The challenges these individuals faced on returning to their society reveals much about the old Ethiopian state system, which is not quite different from the oppressive one that exists today. In their trail, these people (what the author refers to as the bygone Oromo Diaspora) laid the basis for Oromo literature, and extended literacy and education to their homeland.
The focus of chapter 7 is the forced migration of Oromos from 1900 to 2001. The account of Abyssinia's conquest of Oromoland, the formation of the Ethiopian empire-state, the paralysis of its founder (Menelik, from 1909 to 1913), and the story of Lij Iyasu, the prince who became de facto ruler at the age of 15, but soon became "a refugee in his own country" (163), all paint a remarkable picture of Ethiopia's social and political system. It is interesting to note that Iyasu put into place grand policies of religious and ethnic tolerance and social justice. One would desire to ask whether the policies were envisioned by a teenager who was the product of arranged marriage or crafted by his supporters and advisors. In any case, the prince antagonized Menelik's powerful nobility, referring to them, perhaps accurately, as "my grandfather's fattened sheep" (162). Youth and inexperience cost the prince his throne and the country the opportunity to implement the policies.
Bulcha then turns his attention to developments in the 1960s, the suppression of Macha and Tulama Association, and related social movements, which resulted in an increased flow of refugees to Sudan and Somalia. [End Page 210] Internally, what Rene Lemont calls "mechanised feudalism" caused the large-scale forced eviction and displacement of gabbars or serfs. The situation got worse with the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974. The seizure of power by the Derg precipitated political and religious persecution, war, forced labor and military conscription, and "economic policies [that] created the largest number of refugees in the country's history" (167). What is more telling of this period is the acting out of political violence by the state system and its opponents. In 1977 the Ethiopian state unleashed a policy of state terrorism known as the "Red Terror." In its wake, the Red Terror left not only a new Oromo Diaspora, but also one of...