Interpreting contemporary Oromo politics in Ethiopia: an ethnographic approach

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Decades of both non-violent and armed struggle did not bring much result to the Oromo quest for political power over the Ethiopian state, and contemporary Oromo politics often appear recondite and discordant. When Abiy Ahmed came to power as the new Prime Minister in April 2018 as the first Oromo politician entering the former imperial palace, many believed it was the Oromo’s turn to rule. Developments since then have, however, revealed a far more complex picture, where previous internal divisions have resurfaced, and where the inherently fragmented nature of Oromo politics seems to have prevailed. Drawing on recent interviews, in this article, we argue that the current divisions and positions in Oromo politics may be made explicable by applying a multilayered ethnographic approach to identify their provenance and grassroots anchoring. With the three main positions found within Oromo politics–the unitarist, secessionist, and federalist–as our point of departure, we unveil the deeper connections between the current political positioning and their historical trajectories and ethnographic anchoring, and we capture overlooked and competing power discourses informing Oromo politics.




Østebø, T., & Tronvoll, K. (2020). Interpreting contemporary Oromo politics in Ethiopia: an ethnographic approach. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 613–632.

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