About the Department of Afan Oromo and Literature
Background of the Department
The overall development of a language is determined by the context in which it is used. For instance, languages like English and French have developed enormously and they are rich in literature because of political, economic and socio-cultural factors. Both languages are widely spoken and used even as official languages in many countries of the world.
By the same token, issues of language rights have become increasingly prominent in the last decade and are often raised in the context of more general human rights. Linguists have become involved in this area through numerous routes. These include: language endangerment, preservation and revitalisation; language planning; forensic linguistics; bilingual education and other school-centred language issues; action research with urban linguistic minorities; work with indigenous peoples, including land claims; and, refugee and asylum issues.
After heated debates on the use of languages as factors to determine people’s identity, international organisations such as UNESCO started preserving and promoting languages of indigenous people, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. This action placed many languages in the broader international context of the movement for linguistic human rights. It has also created favourable conditions for many languages of the world to develop from spoken to written form, for which Ethiopia is a case in point.
As a language of wider communication in Ethiopia, Afan Oromo had not previously had the opportunity to be used as a written language until Abba Gammachis, the prominent Oromo, translated the Bible into Afan Oromo in the 1880s. Abba Gammachis also made efforts to use Afan Oromo as a medium of instruction. However, this proved to be short-lived since the ruling regime of that time banned the use of the language in schools.
Years later, when Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1935, they used Afan Oromo in radio broadcasts to disseminate their propaganda. This brief lease of life for the language came to an end when the Italians were defeated and left the country, and the use of it was banned once again.
In spite of the persistent struggles of different individuals such as Sheikh Bakri Saphalo (1941-1952), who developed his own script to write in Afan Oromo, the language remained suppressed in its written form.
After the downfall of Haile Sellasie's regime, the Oromo elites posed the timely question of using Afan Oromo in mass media and as a medium of instruction. As a result, the language started to be used in news broadcast on the radio for disseminating the existing government's ideology. Soon after in 1967 E.C., the weekly newspaper, Barisa, was published in Afan Oromo. These accomplishments laid a firm foundation for the language to be used in its written form in Ethiopia. In addition to these measures, in the 1970s., different books were printed in Afan Oromo as part of literacy campaigns. Although conditions were conducive towards such programmes, the efforts made were not satisfactory.
Ever since the change of government in May 1991, due recognition has been given to the languages of Ethiopian nations and nationalities. The formulation of the New Education and Training Policy of 1994 brought about the use of mother tongues in schools. Using the nations and nationalities’ languages in different socio-cultural spheres has continued to encourage the language speakers of Ethiopia to use and promote their mother tongues. Similarly, Afan Oromo has had the chance to be used as a medium of instruction in primary schools and as an official language of Oromia regional state. This opportunity has also led to the language being taught as a subject in Oromia high schools. Moreover, it has become a medium of instruction in teachers' training institutes as well as other colleges in Oromia. Having qualified personnel in Afan Oromo has therefore become an urgent need of the region. The Government of Oromia Regional State has given due attention to promote Afan Oromo to B.Ed degree level in order to meet this urgent demand for qualified professionals in Afan Oromo.
Concomitantly, the programme was launched at Jimma University and Haramaya University in the 2004/2005 academic year for the first time in the history of the country. Since then, the Department has been offering B.Ed. Degrees in Afan Oromo in regular, extension and summer in-service programmes.