The Role of National Identity in Nation Re-building

Barii Ayano | March 17, 2012

The aim of raising the protection of shared Oromo ancestral values and culture is not to court controversy but to advance an honest discussion, be it a debate, based on honest desire to see our nation re-emerging solidly united on shared values of our ancestors-the very center of being an Oromo itself. Equally, Oromos political culture of “see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil” has not even saved the OLF. Burying their heads in the sand, like the proverbial ostrich, until things went out of control did not change or weaken the brewing problems in the OLF. Honest national discussions do not create unnecessary divisions. Problems do not also blow away to the thin air by merely denying their very existence. Solving problems need acting against them when the problems are manageable. Moreover, in open forums like ONA the playing field is open (equal) for all sides to articulate issues as they see fit.

National pride, national identity and national resolve are tightly intertwined issues. It’s nationalists pride in their true national identity that creates lasting nationalist resolve to defend one’s nation. This is even truer for nations like Oromo nation, which are on the brink of destruction due to enduring political, economic, social, and cultural wars waged on by internal (Oromos) and external enemies against the survival of the Oromo nation.

We ought to ask: What determines a nation as a nation? Is it its color, boundaries, attire, level of civilization, norms, culture, or shared values? There are many different nations in the world, some more developed and others less developed economically, but all nations have their unique distinguishing features or characteristics, the same applies to our very own Oromo nation.

In order to understand who we are as Oromo people, we must understand the characteristics that make up our nation-with the shared Gadaa values being at the central stage. We must understand the role of identity in creating one’s self esteem and sense of collective national pride built on shared national values. One can be able to articulate his or her national identity if there is an understanding of one’s national identity itself, in the first place. In order for one to be able to defend one’s national identity, nationhood and nation’s survival, one has to fully understand that national identity, the building blocks of one’s national identity, and the pieces to that puzzle generally known as the nation.

Even for the seasoned religious people, it’s sound to assume that all nations before the eyes of God and humans should be viewed as equal, and hence national identities deserve to be preserved and protected, and accorded with same treatment and status as that of religion exporting countries. Of course, the inhabitants or the members of each nation or society have sole responsibilities of preserving the identities of their nations. No one else can do that for them, at times self-sacrifice is needed to preserve and protect one’s national identity. Many Oromo heroes and heroines have done that.

It is a fact. There are too many competing factors in the world that may sway certain national identities and effectively render them non-existent such as imported values that theme to destroy the very core of national identity of weak nations like Oromo. But I most vehemently uphold the fact that something is terribly wrong with individuals who hate (despise) their national identity (culture) by professing to defend imported values hidden under religions.

In order to understand our national identity and on how it shapes and contributes in nation building and rebuilding, we need to identify the important factors that distinguish us from other nations, and also understand those features that make us similar to other nations. To start with, we can look at just a few of those factors and try to critically explore them, particularly cardinal issues embodied in the Gadaa system. As Professor Asafa Jalata once stated merely acknowledging and talking about Oromos’ national heritage and values is not enough. It’s more imperative to practice the values, defend the values and live the values we are meant to build national pride.

More importantly, as an individual, I most sincerely believe that Oromos’traditional values embodied in the Gadaa system, if we own them and practice them, are the most powerful values that can stabilize the whole of Horn of Africa, not just Oromia. Moreover, I believe that they’re more appropriate values that can pacify the Horn region than the Abyssinian, Arab and other values embodied in imported religions that have the core theme of destroying the Oromo traditional values once and for all.

The central component of imported values is their hierarchical and divisive nature, which does not lay ground for peaceful co-existence of diverse people of the region. The core fundamental of Oromos’ traditional values is PEACE. Oromos peace mantra is far-reaching compared to others, and the peaceful co-existence mission does not even stop at ushering peace among people alone. Oromos peace mantra embodies peace we need to accord to people, animals, plants, and the environment in general. Of course, since we are not much proud of our ancestral values, we tend to brush it aside as something of low value. Just as a reminder, please listen to the peace-centered prayers at the beginning of music linked below.

As you well know, let alone pacifying the whole of the Horn region for peace co-existence of the diverse nations, nationalities and people, we have even lost the capacity to create peaceful co-existence among Oromos political entities. Oromo politicians unrelenting internal feud marks how far we have departed from our ancestral values, which has peace as the center of everything. We are not at peace with each other. We don’t even have internal peace since our daily prayer no longer centers on peace. We have lost more than we can imagine. The saddest part, we don’t want to acknowledge what we have lost and still losing our national values.

Why do we have to know our national identity?

The national identity is a powerful tool in perpetuating the survival of a nation, in the world which is quickly becoming a global village, if one doesn’t know his or her identity one is sure to get lost and quickly chase after the wind instead of sticking to one’s culture and national identity. The following are some of the benefits that can emanate from the knowledge of one’s national identity:

  • national pride,
  • national unity,
  • the desire to preserve the national identity,
  • the desire and enthusiasm in reviving, rejuvenating and restoring Oromo nationhood,
  • the desire and belief in defending Oromos’ national identity,
  • helps to build solid foundations of national development,
  • gives the ability to assert Oromos’ national identity, and
  • the national identity becomes the guiding principle for the national values, customs, traditions, laws and regulations.

–Barii Ayano

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