Jimma University organized the first international conference on Oromo studies under the grand theme ‘Oromo Knowledge Systems and Practices.’ The conference was held from 21st – 22nd May, 2016 at Jimma University College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine Conference Hall. It was attended by dignitaries, representatives from several government institutions, university presidents, scholars extensively engaged in Oromo studies and Aba Gedas’ from different parts of Oromia National Regional State.
The conference is aimed at bringing together scholars from various disciplines and institutions that are engaged in Oromo studies and also creating the opportunity to identify core thematic research areas, generating scholarly views to identify core activities to be undertaken in the future and indicating directions to policy makers. It is also aimed to serve as an initiative for collaboration among universities in the country and other governmental and non-governmental organizations.
The conference was started by the blessing of all Aba Gedas present at the conference who colorfully expressed their good wishes and blessings as per the Oromo culture. Professor Fikre Lemessa, President of Jimma University, while welcoming all the guest and participants of the conference underscored that initiating a scientific discourse on Oromo studies was pretty well unimaginable a century back while the Oromo people had unfathomable oral traditions and were also farsighted and endowed with hospitality.
He also underlined that the knowledge systems and practices exercised by the Oromo people has not been recognized at national and international level, despite the language is spoken by many other ethnic groups in Ethiopia and the Oromo people practiced a democratic system of governance during the time when democracy was a luxury for significant portion of the world population and western ideals of democracy has not be as ubiquitous as today. It is in line with recognizing these historical facts that JU launched the Institute of Oromo Studies. The community is in the ambit of JU’s philosophy and it fully affirms the very important benefit of taking indigenous knowledge of the community in to account as an engine of scientific exploration. Therefore, according to him, the institute will serve as an interdisciplinary, extra- departmental and interuniversity collaborative institute with the primarily focus on research and outreach making the community as orbit of attention. He has also firmly stated that, the conference will be a landmark in Oromo Studies to open the doors for well-organized and high quality research in the area.
Present on the occasion and guest of honor of the event was Dr. Kaba Urgessa, Minister of the F.D.R.E ministry of Education. He stated that the Ethiopian government has been relentlessly endeavoring and investing huge sum of capital on building facilities and building human resource capacity to ensure access to quality education. Education is the key for the aspired for national development and the government is investing to its highest possible capacity to improve access and quality of education in the country. He further underlined that, Universities are fully mandated in their three major functional areas of teaching, research and community services and as a result should give sufficient attention to reflect the culture, values and practices of their surrounding community. He further stated that, the existing constitution and federal state arrangement has created a fertile political ground and a level field for the representation, refection and practice of the values and cultures of the diverse ethnic groups in the country.
In this regard, according to him, JU has been on the right path and can be exemplary to all other higher education institutions in the country, as it took the initiative to open the department of Afan Oromo in 2002 and yet again pioneered the launching of the Institute of Oromo Studies currently. The institute will definitely play a crucial role in promoting the culture of the Oromo people on the basis of scientific evidences and will also contribute in initiating network of scholars and institutions to expand the efforts with hands joined from all relevant stakeholders. He finally affirmed that the Ministry will fully support JU to strengthen the institute and solicit efforts from other similar institutions.
At the subsequent stages of the conference, forty seven papers were presented by different prominent scholars in the plenary and four parallel sessions. Among the scholars presented lead paper at the conference were Professor Ephraim Issac, Professor Tessema Ta’a, Dr. Taddesse Berisso, Dr. Chikage Oba-Smidt and others.
At the final stage of the conference, Mr. Kora Tushune, V/P for Business and Development of JU chaired the session that discussed on the way forward to glean out outstanding issues which have to be emphasized for the successful accomplishment that aspired for targets of the institute at institutional, national and international level. Mr. Kora presented a comprehensive list of proposals that needs due attention to enrich the institute, sustain its efforts and take it further steps to meet its set forth goals. The points he raised were instrumental in shaping the discussions and later on substantiated by the panelists of the session and the participants. Finally, it was agreed that, the institute should target the production of high quality research outputs and dissemination, ensure scientific and evidence based promotion of the Oromo cultural values and practices, gather all research outputs and books at national and international level to organized an archive of Oromo studies and support future young researchers, form robust network of institutions and scholars to extend the efforts initiated by JU and institutionalize the efforts to a broader level of collaboration to bring international actors on board.
The Conference was wrapped up after certificates were awarded to paper presenters and institutions sponsored the workshop and with a closing speech by Dr. Taye Tolemariam, V/P for Academic Affairs of JU who extended his gratitude for participants from abroad and within Ethiopia and organizers of the workshop. He has also underlined the importance of giving special emphasis on the outstanding issues suggested by participants and panelists to register sustained success by the institute in the country and beyond.