Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Keynote talk for the Oromo Studies Association, Oslo

Been an amazing few days in Oslo. I was there to deliver my keynote speech at the Oromo Studies Association mid-year conference. When I was invited for this event, I have to admit that my knowledge of the Oromo movement was rather basic. Since then, I immersed myself in the decades of research and news that has emerged regarding the Oromo people. Of course, I didn't pretend to be an expert but rather, gave the talk from an outsider point of view, putting into perspective the role of social media in social movements, comparing the Oromo movement to other struggles across the world and how they use the internet to further their cause.

It shocks me that human rights violations of about 40 million people in Ethiopia are relatively invisible in the mainstream media. Generations of Oromo people have struggled to claim their identity, their culture and their right to self-proclamation and yet, have been unable to gain that right in spite of their ongoing protest and lobby work among the Oromo diaspora around the world.

I was impressed by the fact that the audience came from diverse professional fields, few linked to the social sciences and yet they were able to engage deeply and passionately. I met surgeons, biochemists, travel agents, chefs and others who came from across Europe and even the US to be part of this event. Clearly, you can see this is not just a theoretical exercise but a forum to reconnect and further their pledge to the cause.

What was more impressive was the online presence of the Oromo people, as they viewed and commented on the talks including mine on the Oromia Media Network. In just the weekend, there were about 30,000 views, 400 comments and about 1200 shares of the keynote talk. This is a humbling reminder that sometimes we academics are not just pontificating but shaping real narratives that can affect the lives of people around the world.

Click here for the full video of the talk