Activist and Political Analyst Jawar Mohammed On VOA Amharic interview of Assistant Professor Ayele Bekerie (Ph.D) from Mekele University on the necessity of making Afaan Oromo the federal working language

October 15, 2015 | Source;Face Book Page of Jawar Mohammed

I have listened to Dr Ayele Bekere's interview regarding the campaign to make Afaan Oromo the working language of the federal government. 

His point that why choosing Afaan Oromo among tens of other languages is something he brought up just for the sake of argument. He knows very well the political, economic and social factors that drive and necessitate choosing the most widely spoken ones for working language. Dr. Ayele himself testified in this very interview in regards to why Amharic was chosen. The same factors apply for picking Afaan Oromo in Ethiopia or French in Canada. What's really striking is his argument why Afaan Oromo should be written in Sabean alphabet. I am surprised to hear those purely presumptuous argument that is not really expected from a scholar of his stature.

First of all, he has never studied Afaan Oromo grammar rules and language structure to recommend ( or demand as he did) a particular alphabet. From his rather disappointingly shallow analysis, one could easily suspect that he never really read subject area research and numerous experiment that led to choosing the Latin Alphabet. Plus he studied Geez for his postgraduate studies and he obviously wants to see Sabean script flourish regardless of its drawbacks; and this raises question of neutrality to the issue. I am not even sure even speak Afaan Oromo. For his information, the choice of Latin is not just a political decision. It has involved thorough investigative trials of over 50 years of research and experiment by Oromo linguists. In 1940s and 50s, a renowned linguist Sheik Bekri Saphalo experimented both with Sabean and Arabic alphabets and ruled them out because he found both unsuitable, hence he tried to invent a new alphabet. Mind you this was done before the raise of Oromo nationalism in 1960s. Later, his student Dr Mohammed Rashad Abdulle who studied linguistic history of Somali, Afar and Oromo agreed with him on unsuitability of Sabean and Arabic scripts but also did not believe Saphalo's invention was a sustainable alternative. Hence, he began developing Latin as a writing system for Afaan Oromo. In the same decade of 1960s, Haile Fida ruled out Sabean and developed Latin as preferred alphabet for Afaan Oromo. He wrote extensively the grammatical and phoenetic justification for the choice. Remember, Haile Fida was not a hardcore Oromo nationalist, but an Ethiopianianist and Internationalist Socialist. He had no hatred for Amharic. In contrast he was extensively writing in Amharic at the very time he was developing Latin for Afan Oromo.

In 1970s Oromo activists combined the writing systems of Shek Mohammedrashad and Haile Fida to bring about the Qubee system we use today. Its also important to note that Latin was not introduced in 1991 as the Dr. Ayele claims. It was widely used underground and in refugee camps in the 1980s.Most educated Oromos were already using it. What happened in 1991 was officializing it. Over 1000 Oromo scholars, political leaders and elders came together, extensively deliberated and unanimously decided to officially adopt Latin for Afaan Oromo. 

So a guy who doesn't speak the language and who has never studied it, want to claim to know better than those who spent their life studying it, thousands of stakeholders who unanimously officialized it and millions of students who happily study in it? Also its not only Afaan Oromo that uses Latin. So does Somali and Afar. Why obsess with Afan Oromo then?

I also failed to understand why Dr Ayele wanted to connect the issue of making Afaan Oromo a federal working language with the type of alphabet it uses. If using Sabean is a requirement, would he support Harari or Tigrigna to serve as working language?

If VOA Amharic is really wanted to enlighten their audience about Afaan Oromo and the choice of its alphabet, I suggest they interview people who know what they are talking about. To understand the grammatical and phonologicl factors that made Latin preferable to other alternatives, they should interview people like Dr Abdulsemed Mohammed, who is a leading grammarian both on Afaan Oromo and Amharic. For understanding the political process that led to the official decision to adopt Latin, they should speak to Ibsa Gutama who presided over the process as minister of education.

Finally unless its for purpose just intellectual curiosity, the choice of alphabet for Afan Oromo is a settled matter that cannot be resuscitated as contemporary policy debate. As to making Afaan Oromo the working language of federal government, I believe it is an issue that non Oromos should champion as they stand to be the most beneficial. As Oromia is the breadbasket of the country's economy, speaking the language is going to exponential increase employment opportunities. And Afan Oromo as federal working language expands the opportunity people would have to learn it and subsequently rip the benefit.

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