Reclaiming Oromo Indigenous Organizational Structures and Fostering Supportive Environments for Health


Begna Fufa Dugassa
Toronto Public Health


The health of the Oromo people is determined by complex and intertwined social and natural environments. Modifying or entirely changing these environments necessitates developing effective organizations and leadership. Colonial socio-cultural-structural impositions conditioned the Oromo people to adopt the Euro-centric discourses and its top-down organizational structure. The top-down organizational structure is incompatible with the Oromo episteme; it is inaccessible, inequitable and unsustainable. Such a structure does not foster full participation of community members and promote healthy social conditions. This paper provokes a discussion as to whether or not the Oromo people and other indigenous people need to adopt the Euro-centric organizational structure or maintain their indigenous structures to transform their society and promote health. The Oromo indigenous organizational structures are framed in an Oromo paradigm of thinking and they are in a better position to understand the social problems of the Oromo people. In addition, they foster the participation of people, create a stable, transparent and dynamic society and help to continuously improve the social environments in which the Oromo people work and live. This can prevent illness and injuries in the first place and helps implement the principles of health promotion strategies and creates supportive environments i.e. nagaa (peace), haaqa (social justice) and tasgaabi (social order).


We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
(Lorde cited in Smith, 1999 p.19).

The first quote is the words of the famous theoretical physicist Albert Einstein who developed the general theory of relativity. The second is the words of an African-American activist and scholar. These two statements convey one common message – to better understand and solve our social and environmental problems, we need to change the lenses through which we see the world around us. The statements of those scholars are consistent with the views of Karl Marx and Max Weber (Weber, 1930) who theorized that socio-cultural beliefs are a fundamental determining factor in promoting or hindering social transformation. These statements remind us to reflect, ask questions and critically see our social realities. Similarly, the Oromo and other colonized peoples need to ask whether or not they need to retain the euro-centric organizational structures or reclaim their Indigenous organizational structure.

In promoting and defending the quest of Indigenous people to self-determination, Michael Dodson stated that, “Self-determination is the river in which all other rights swim”. Michael Dodson (cited in Craig, 1996). The concept of self-determination is intertwined with the idea of human liberty. Many critical thinkers have given a wide range of definitions to the concept of self-determination. Although there are differences among them as to what freedom, dependency and interdependency mean, there is consensus that self-determination and liberty are two of the essential conditions needed for all human beings to flourish and thrive. The concept of self-determination could apply to the person or to a group. It means that groups or individuals have free will. It is the right to make free choices, unconstrained by external agencies, and immunity from the arbitrary exercise of authority. This includes social, economic, political and cultural independence, home rule or sovereignty. According to Van Scotter et. al. (1991), if societies wish to secure their survival and flourish, they have to establish peace and stability in the changing world and maintain social order and foster supportive environments for health. In addition, they need to reproduce biologically, culturally and socially as well as create conditions that guarantee them physical and mental health, have goals and aspirations, as well as find meaning and purpose in life. The concept of self-determination includes being governed by society’s social philosophy, norms and by the traditional social structure.

Full report in PDF BFD Organizational Structure