By Daniel Teferra (PhD)*

The TPLF rulers have recently declared that Addis Ababa is “Oromia’s” capital. This has no historical basis, of course. The declaration actually seems to be an attempt by the regime to divert attention from the land question.

First of all, the whole idea of Oromia cannot stand a careful scrutiny.  Addis Ababa was established in Shawa by Emperor Menelik in the 1880s. From the start, Addis Ababa was a melting pot of various groups including foreign residents.

It was Emperor Menelik himself who made the main distribution of land for Addis Ababa and the surrounding areas. The establishment of Addis Ababa and the various innovations that followed attracted many foreign entrepreneurs and artisans to come to Ethiopia.

A number of Indian and Arab craftsmen were engaged in building activities.  There were Armenian small business owners and Italians who took to work as masons. There were Greek-owned shops, flour mills, brick and liquor factories, oil presses and bakeries.  Peasants from the central provinces migrated to the City because of its employment opportunities.

For instance, the enterprising Gurage made up the largest portion of the labor force during the establishment of Addis Ababa, working in construction of roads and housing as well as in various types of service activities. The Gurage supplied Addis Ababa with agricultural produce by tending vegetable and fruit gardens on the outskirts of the City. They ran retail businesses in foodstuffs and other products. Most of the small tailors and Artisans of Addis Ababa were the Soddo Gurage.

Addis Ababa was modernized during the Italian occupation (1936-41), and subsequently by Emperor Haile Selassie after WWII. Addis Ababa has always been the capital of Shawa and the official seat of the central government of Ethiopia. That had not been lost even by the Italian colonialists. Addis Ababa remained the capital of Shawa during the occupation and the seat of their Italian East Africa.

Shawa is a mix of mainly Amhara, Oromo and Gurage groups. Most of Menelik’s naftanyas (riflemen) during the Shawan expansion came from these groups. There is no historical evidence to suggest that Shawans had come across a country or people called Oromia during their expansion.

They encountered, instead, mostly prosperous Sidama/Oromo kingdoms. Thus the former provinces of Arsi, Bale, Illubabor, Wellaga, Kaffa, Gamu-Gofa and Sidamo rightly depict the Sidama/Oromo social formations that had existed in the south before the Shawan expansion.

The Sidama/Oromo regions occupy the most fertile lands of Ethiopia. Yet, they had been subjected to onerous conditions of absentee landlordism unlike the Tigre/Amhara regions in the north. Although absentee landlordism has ended in Ethiopia since 1975, the influence of feudalism still remains. For example, land is controlled by the government; and peasants still work the land they don’t own like serfs, lacking the security and dignity of an owner.

Therefore, the real question facing the current rulers is not about Addis Ababa.  The history of Addis Ababa cannot be refuted. The real question is the land question that has eluded the country for so long. Ethiopia needs to implement a genuine land reform program that will end the government land monopoly and give private ownership of land to the peasantry.

*Emeritus Professor of Economics.