Shack (1966), cited in Asafa (1996), notes that the lack of critical scholarship inadvertently distorts the human achievements in the transformations of their social, cultural and political institutions. First and foremost, although a long time has elapsed, Oromo studies have been missionaries and Diaspora based in nature beginning from its commencement in the early 19th century in foreign lands.
Historically, Oromo studies were started in Europe in the 1840s. According to Pankhurst (1976:172) the early nineteenth century was characterized by an extensive slave trade from many parts of Ethiopia. A significant proportion of the slaves came from the Oromo areas of the country where they were taken eastwards to the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden coast and thence to Arabia, or westwards to the Sudan, and then to Egypt. The presence of those slaves in Europe initiated the beginning of Oromo studies in Europe through collecting linguistic, folkloric and geographic data from these slaves. It played a significant role from the point of Oromo studies and since it provided Jomard, a French geographer in Paris, with considerable body of geographical, linguistic and other cultural materials in relations to the Oromo. This was followed by Karl Tutchek, a German linguist, who published a dictionary and other linguistic studies. These inspired John Ludwig Krapf to come to Oromo land to do research during this century; based on the data they collected, they had published pioneering resources on the geography, grammar and dictionary of the Oromo in Germany. Despite its long time, Oromo studies have been fragmented and scattered all over Europe since its commencement of early nineteen century in Europe. These studies are accessible in London, Rome and Paris national library and almost inaccessible to scholars and intellectuals in the country to conduct further researches, to refute or approve and develop Oromo scholarship in the country.
Second, even though the two Oromo departments of Jimma University have been doing their level best, they currently deal with Oromo studies separately and stealthily in fragmented situations. They also underscored that research profile in Oromo is not as strong or visible as it should be as Oromo studies scattered across many units, divisions, departments, colleges and universities in Ethiopia for academic deliberation and discussion. They surmised that this is due to the lack of cohesion to coordinate studies on all the diverse needs of the Oromo society. To date, there is no centralized “meeting space” that works to foster intra-and inter-institutional collaboration, provide research outputs or make publications available for the decision makers and intellectual community in Ethiopia. Hence, the products of original research generated by scholars working within Ethiopia remain largely unknown to the scholars in the country and Diaspora. This lack of organized and well-planned Institute so far poses a singular challenge, evidently slowing down scientific research, for all of those who share responsibility for the growth and enhancement of Oromo studies in more coordinated and multidisciplinary approaches.
Third, the Oromo performance and visual and fine arts are not as effective and catalytic as they could be. Oromo artists and Oromo youths have no centre where they get short term training on Oromo language, literature, performing arts, culture and folklore. Fourth, no think tank group give literary criticism of Oromo creative arts before and after they have been released to the community and give supportive training in language and literature to promote their Oromo youth talent and intellect. Fifth, there are no website, software and strong audio-visual documentation systems for Oromo studies. Hence, many aspects of Oromo life and culture are unstudied. There are great gaps in knowledge that must be filled as soon as possible; otherwise, they will remain obscured and underrepresented and be vulnerable to eventual extinction. For example, Oromo local cultures, dialects, folklore and folklore genres, indigenous knowledge systems and histories are scantly studied and worse of all, still have few scientific publications as there are no scientific journals that publish them.
Therefore, Oromo studies’ contribution to the betterment of the lives of contemporary Oromo society is negligible as a consequence. This can be realized from the fact that most Oromo studies were not well documented and preserved in Ethiopia for references for current Oromo scholars in the country to develop easily accessible Oromo scholarship among the Oromo society. Besides, most of publications on the Oromo studies are not well arranged for further and detailed Oromo studies in Ethiopia to develop Oromo scholarship. In short, the potentials and opportunities of Jimma University are not being realized in tapping and nurturing the skills of arts and literature in Oromo to help the region in developing its culture and language.
Accordingly, this proposal is initiated by the critical problem Afaan Oromo and Literature, and Oromo folklore and literature lecturers, students and researchers at Jimma University at large faced when they intend to conduct studies on Oromo. It has been realized that scholars of various universities have been discussing both formally and informally about the challenges they have been encountering vis à vis scholarly Oromo researches. A broad consultation was, therefore, initiated during the 2012-2014 academic years across the University involving department heads, Oromo scholars, dean of Social Sciences and Law regarding developing proposal to establish IOS. Informal consultations were also held with interested faculty and students from across the university’s four campuses. The present proposal to establish institute that would serve as the institutional home for Oromo studies, drawing together and mobilizing the wealth of Oromo expertise is an outgrowth of these consultations.