COLONIAL TRAUMA, COMMUNITY RESILIENCY AND COMMUNITY HEALTH DEVELOPMENT: The Case of the Oromo people in Ethiopia

 

By Begna F. DugassaCOMMUNITY RESILIENCY AND COMMUNITY HEALTH DEVELOPMENT: The Case of the Oromo people in Ethiopia

INTRODUCTION

In human history it is well known that among the many people who have lived in highly stressful social conditions, most of them are likely to die prematurely, live in poverty, and experience other social adversities in their lives (Lang & Dickason, 1996). A few of them successfully overcome these adversities and are able to lead competent lives. Those who overcame these diffi culties are considered resilient. However, it has not been clearly understood how these individuals and communities overcame the stress and adversities while the others did not. To understand how some communities overcome stress and violence and lead successful lives, it is important to enquire into the conditions in which the community members lived and identify the circumstances that are common to them and take a close look at how these groups rebuild healthy community following adversity. In addition, one needs to look at the social conditions that are essential for resiliency and if such conditions can be replicated in other places and look for the building blocks of community resiliency.

This paper has emerged from the presentation I made in 2004 in the conference of the Canadian Association for Studies in International Development (CASID). In this paper, using primary and secondary data, I take a close look to understand what those who overcome stress and trauma have in common, and identify the necessary social conditions for resilience. In doing so, I make an effort to fi gure out whether or not the Oromo people’s healing and resiliency could be cultivated.

It is well known that lived circumstances are a factor in predicting achievements. Researchers in public health identifi ed the social determinants of health (Raphael, 2004; Farmer, 2003) and the conditions that help protect people who might be at risk of developing health problems. Our knowledge in this area suggests that negative life experiences or living conditions are linked to poor health. In the past, scientists had closely looked into the biological conditions that make the difference between healthy survivors and those who succumb to diseases. They discovered antibodies for a number of disorders (Bock & Sabin, 1997), and were able to develop vaccinations against deadly infectious diseases. From the time of Virchows work in 1848 in Upper Silesia, a region predominantly Polish but ruled by Germany, the pathogencity of colonial power relations and unhealthy social relations has been well known (Taylor & Rieger, 1985). However, there is still a lack of understanding regarding community healing and resiliency processes. Recognizing the importance of individual and community resiliency or healing processes is recently capturing the imagination of researchers and policy makers.

The vulnerability of a community to a given risk is a function of its sensitivity to a potential threat and its adaptive capacities (Farmer, 1999). For example, it is well known that community social order is central to community resiliency. If there was no social order, an individual’s selfi sh desire would run wild and such societies would lead disrupted life conditions. To prevent this, society has to be empowered in order to establish order in the community. However, under colonial rule where justice is denied, poverty follows, and when the State is organized to oppress, conspire, rob and degrade, the community cannot maintain any social order and heal itself.

The study of community resiliency and healing begins with the ’diagnosis’ of clear accomplishments or resiliency despite adversity and violence faced by a community. This paper examines resiliency conditions in Oromia, touching on the social and economic problems that the Oromo people face. Oromia is environmentally prosperous, however, war, wide spread human right violations (Human Rights Watch, 2006), famine, HIV/AIDS, malaria epidemics and Iodine Defi ciency Disorders (Dugassa, 2005, 2006) have ravaged it. Part one of this paper introduces the concept of community resiliency or the healing process, collective violence and collective rights. Under this, I explore the necessary conditions that are vital for individuals and the community to overcome adversity and develop better community health conditions. Part two of this paper examines the role played by individuals and community resiliency in community health development. Part three of this paper takes a close look at the presence or absence of resiliency conditions in Oromia. Capturing the experience and the realities with which the Oromo people have lived for over a century, this paper reveals the social and the economic problems and their root causes. Part four covers how and why resiliency conditions have been hampered in Oromia. Here I examine the relationship between the long-term effects of collective violence against the Oromo people and community resiliency. In part fi ve, I discuss the ways that resiliency or healing conditions can be cultivated. The Oromo people are the single largest ethno-national group in the Horn of Africa. In studying the situation of Oromo people, this paper brings of light another dimension for the socio-economic and health problems such as famine, war and instability in the Horn of Africa.

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