Comparing the African American and Oromo Movements in the Global Context

By Jalata, Asafa | Social Justice, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Comparing the African American and Oromo Movements in the Global Context


Jalata, Asafa, Social Justice


THE AFRICAN AMERICAN AND OROMO MOVEMENTS HAVE BEEN ANTICOLONIAL struggles, and they have aimed to dismantle racial/ethnonational hierarchies legitimated by the ideology of racism in the hegemonic state of the United States and the peripheral and imperial state of Ethiopia. The African American and Oromo ethnonational minority groups are similar in numerical size, and different in political strength. Each population numbers about 30 million. However, African Americans constitute only 13% of the U.S. population of 270 million, while Oromos make up about 50% of the Ethiopian population of 60 million. As the African American movement developed in opposition to American slavery, racial segregation, and underdevelopment, the Oromo movement emerged to fight Ethiopian settler colonialism and its institutions, and underdevelopment. The two movements emerged in opposition to colonial domination, a racial/ ethnonational hierarchy, economic and labor exploitation, cultural destruction and repression, and the denial of individual and national rights. The capitalist world-system that produced modern slavery, colonization, genocide or ethnocide, cultural destruction and repression, and continued subjugation also facilitated the emergence and development of the African American and Oromo movements.

Initially, African Americans and Oromos resisted slavery and colonization without systematically organizing themselves. Their cultural and political resistance continued after their enslavement and colonization because in Ethiopia and the United States, these two peoples were assigned the status of slaves and colonial subjects and second-class citizens. Moreover, since the early 1950s the United States has sided with the Ethiopian state to suppress Oromo society (Jalata, 1998; 1999). Although the national struggles of these two peoples represent a continuation of previous resistance, they emerged from certain social-structural, historical, and sociological factors. This comparative essay historically situates the emergence and development of these two movements and elaborates on the gradual transformation of resistance to slavery, racial segregation, colonial domination, and underdevelopment into the African American and Oromo movements--their phases and objectives, similarities and differences, and successes and failures. By using a comparative-historical approach, we critically and comparatively examine the causes, processes, and outcomes of the African American and Oromo movements.

The African American Movement

The African American movement developed as a mass movement during the mid-20th century. A cultural, intellectual, ideological, and political movement, its purpose was to achieve civil equality, human dignity, and development by overthrowing white racial and colonial dictatorship. This development was facilitated by the cumulative struggles of the previous generations and social changes and conjunctures. Various forms of individual and group resistance struggles and proto-nationalism existed in African American society before the 20th century. The ancestors of African Americans, individually and in groups, resisted enslavement in Africa and fought against slavery on slave ships and later on American plantations. They fought culturally and some ran away, while others engaged in mutinies and armed resistance. Clarke (1976: 41) notes that African culture "sustained the Africans during the holocaust of the slave trade and the colonial system that followed it.... African culture, reborn on alien soil, became the cohesive force and the communication system that helped to set in motion some of the most successful slave revolts in history." There were about 250 slave rebellions in America between the 17th and 19th centuries (Colston, 1979: 234). About 50 maroon communities were formed by thousands of runaway slaves and their descendants between 1672 and 1864 in the forests and mountains of Southern states (see Aptheker, 1947; 1979).

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