[lg policy] Ethiopia:Gezahegn Lemma Fituma:- Oromo Language (Afan Oromo) and the Ethiopian Government’s Discouragement

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri May 29 15:01:59 UTC 2015

Gezahegn Lemma Fituma:- Oromo Language (Afan Oromo) and the Ethiopian
Government’s Discouragement
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Posted: Caamsaa/May 28, 2015 · Finfinne Tribune | Gadaa.com | *Comments

*By Gezahegn Lemma Fituma**

There have been times in history when a few languages had been considered
culturally superior; and some other languages had been banned or
discouraged. This is happening everywhere today as well; take Ethiopia as
an example. The Oromo people constitute the single largest ethno-national
group in Ethiopia, where the Oromia Region contains a half of Ethiopia’s
land area and population. The Oromo language, also known as *Afan Oromo*,
is spoken by some 40 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and it is
the 3rd most spoken African language (about 40 million in Ethiopia; and
another half a million in Kenya and Somalia combined). Many others (as yet
not quantified) speak *Afan Oromo* as a second language. It is the most
spoken language in the Cushitic family, which also includes Somali, Sidama
and Afar languages. Cushitic peoples were present on the central Ethiopian
plateau of today as early as 5000 B.C.

In recent history, between 1974 and 1991, under the Mengistu regime (also
called the *Derg*), the writing of *Afan Oromo* in any script was
forbidden. Upon the fall of the *Derg* regime in 1991, the Latin alphabet
based *Qubee* was adopted as the script for *Afan Oromo*. However, the TPLF
regime (the regime which took power in Ethiopia in 1991) has continued to
advocate for the superiority of one language over the other languages in
Ethiopia. Today, under the TPLF regime, the uses of *Afan Oromo* and *Qubee*
are completely banned in federal offices. For instance, Finfinne, which is
the capital of Oromia, uses the government-sponsored single language as an
official language.

The choice of only one language to dominate the most spoken language in
Ethiopia, i.e. *Afan Oromo*, has brought about direct impacts on the
socio-linguistic, psycho-linguistic, econo-linguistic aspects of the Oromo
people, especially Oromo students who attend higher-education institutions
and Oromo workers who work at federal institutions, where a language, that
is a second-language of the majority, is spoken as a primary language; in
short, the government’s language policy promotes institutional
marginalization of Oromo students and workers. It is strongly argued that
using the native language of students as a medium of instruction is a
decisive factor for effective learning. However, in this situation, failing
to give the primary role to the native language, and largely depending on a
secondary language as the official working language in Ethiopia, bring
about various difficulties to Oromo students and workers. The students and
workers are expected to disentangle, not only the subject matters and work
projects, but also the working-language itself. It also creates difficulty
to students and workers in expressing themselves, and as a result, it
limits their classroom and work participation as there is fear of making
mistakes and shortages of vocabulary of the secondary language. In
addition, it is a barrier to smooth classroom and workplace communication.
It is also argued that use of a secondary language in education and
workplace negatively affects the ability and the ease with which knowledge
is acquired by students, and projects are completed by workers. It also
affects the performance of students and workers, and creates difficulties
in developing their cognitive skills and careers, respectively. Moreover,
giving low status to native languages of students in educational and
workplace settings leads to the marginalization of the majority of citizens
from active engagements in the development arena.

Nowadays, there are many voices advocating for the government to adopt
bilingualism so as to add *Afan Oromo* as the federal working language.
Such voices should be encouraged to relentlessly continue their advocacy
for bilingualism to get rid of the institutional marginalization of the
majority in Ethiopia.

** Gezahegn Lemma Fituma
can be reached at gfituma12a at yahoo.com <gfituma12a at yahoo.com>*


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