By Tullu Liban [EAJN]
The political side of religion
There has been a lot of dismay regarding the outrageous sacrilege on Oromo religion-Waqeffannaa by a certain self-acclaimed pastor. This Sidama guy, who was condemning the “spirit” of Atete and Irrechaa, was not heard reproving his own folks’ (Sidama’s) traditional ancestral veneration institution, the Aabbo shrine.
The Sidamas honor Aabbo, the grave site of clan founders, Holloo and Garbiccho in Wonsho district of Sidama Zone and the site is believed to be sacred. Members of the clan visit the site to pray and perform sacrifices. The pastor who claims to be a prophet didn’t condemn Magano, traditional God of the Sidama or Danchaayana, (the spirit of a good omen according to Sidama belief) either.
To be fair with this young man, he is not the only person to show the “power of his prophecy” and dedication to God by despising, condemning and demonizing Oromo religion, values, costumes, customs and venerations. As a person who subscribes to one of the protestant denominations, I have been to several churches, particularly to Full Gospel in Addis Ababa, (Ketana Hulet) and I would I hear such blatant and disoriented demonization from the pastors (even I know some of them are Oromos by blood). They would shout from the pulpit and request the crowd to “drive away” the spirit of Atete and Irrechaa. They would comfortably declare that they drove away evil spirits from the earth. Such slogans sicken me to the extent that I would hate church and Christianity itself if to be a Christian means to abandon all my African values and deny myself.
I am not writing this piece to condemn the young Sidama guy about his outrageous acts. Other people have already expressed their disappointments, and that is enough, I think. Some points have to be clear though. I can say, Oromo activists and nationalists don’t have any aim to attack, ostracize and demonize the Sidama fellowman because he is a non-Oromo. I remember a year ago when Dr. Tolessa Gudina was on fire because of similar outrage about Oromo identity, (while he declared he doesn’t know Oromo except Ethiopia). The fact is not that one is right because one is from my own kin and the other is wrong because he is from another. I personally recognize the late Woldeamanuel Dubale, a good friend of the Orom struggle, Dr. Walasa Lawwiso Komo, and Ato Desalegn Gerssamo, among many brilliant Sidamas who are aware that we share not only similar culture and identity but also the same fate in that empire.
Oromo nationalists and activists have more than enough reason to fight back any scandal that undermines Oromo identity and cultural values because the restoration of these values is a very vital subject to the Oromo people in the face of a throat cutting struggle with the enemy that ripped the Oromo of the right to self-respect and exposed them to cultural genocide. We have enough lessons of the church role in ruining Oromo self-esteem and identity when church as an institution didn’t limit itself to spiritual services. It transcended the boundary of religion and meddled in politics becoming a sword for the rulers. That is what we are still witnessing in some church activities in Oromia and elsewhere.
When a church minster videotapes and uploads his outrageous venom on social media (contempt, condemnation and blasphemy) which utterly targets others’ beliefs, we believe he is not preaching Jesus. One can assume such minsters are politically motivated and maneuvered. If not, one may conclude they are mean, inconsiderate, unaware of cultural sensitivity, pluralism and civility. Worse enough, they must be naive opportunists and ignorant who lack theological knowledge. The campaign of demonizing Oromo values, I believe, is part and parcel of the organized war against the Oromo people. It is systemic and coordinated warfare, manifested in physical war (the case of Abdi Ally of Somali Region is clear evidence), psychological (the type of church attack we are observing), pedagogical (the Qubee fiasco), eviction and many such yet unveiled ills in the TPLF agendas.
A critical point about the blasphemy on Waqeffanaa is that many the priest are all alike in demonizing Oromo values. As mentioned earlier many the self-acclaimed pastors are surrounded with a lot of mythical stores: that they can cure diseases like HIV and AIDS, cancer and that they straighten the crippled, prophecy the future, drive away demons etc. That is fine so long it is a spiritual service. However, we question when they openly condemn Irrechaa and Attte, Ayyana, Boranticha, what not, anything that belongs to Oromo values declaring that these are wicked practices and stannic acts that bring curse and calamity to the earth. Are these people really ware of the liability, their words, acts and attitudes incur? Are they aware that they are accountable not only in broader social context but also by the law of the country?
Article 816 of the Ethiopian criminal law criminalizes blasphemous or scandalous utterances or attitudes as follows.
“Whoever, apart from the cases punishable under the Criminal Code (Arts 492 and 493), in a public place or in a place open to the public or that can be viewed by the public, by gestures or words scoffs at religion or expresses himself in a manner which is blasphemous, scandalous or grossly offensive to the feelings or convictions of others, or towards the Divine Being or the religious symbols, rites or religious personages, is punishable with fine or arrest not exceeding one month.
Article 817 of the same code also specifies the following regarding observance of official holidays
“Whoever contravenes the laws, regulations or directives concerning compulsory holidays, is punishable with fine or arrest not exceeding eight days”.
Article 482, criminalizes an outrage on religious peace and feeling as follows
a) prevents the solemnization of, or disturbs or scoffs at, an authorized religious ceremony or office; or
b) profanes a place; image object used for religious ceremony or office used for religious ceremonies,
is punishable with fine not exceeding one thousand birr or with simple imprisonment not exceeding two years”