Monthly Archives: March 2014

April 15: Oromo National Memorial Day

April 15th is the Oromo Martyrs’ Day, also known as Guyyaa Gootota Oromoo. This commemorative day was first started by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) after the executions of its prominent leaders on a diplomatic mission en routed to Somalia on April 15, 1980. Since then, this day has been observed as the Oromo Martyrs’ Day by Oromo nationals around the world to honor those who have sacrificed their lives to free Oromia, and to renew a commitment to the cause for which they had died.

Why April 15th?

Mid 1978-1979 is remembered as the period when the survival of the Oromo national liberation struggle, led by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), was under a severe threat of extinction. It was feared that OLA units in Arsi, Bale and Hararghe would disintegrate, and their channel of connection and supplies would be cut off by the Dergue army that just recuperated from the Ethio-Somali war. Upon defeating the Siad Barre army, the Dergue turned its face on OLA. The OLA, in the fronts of Arsi, Bale and Hararghe, fought steadfastly and scored victory over the Dergue army and regrouped once again on January 1st 1980. In the wake of their military victory, OLF intensified its political struggle inside the country and abroad. The initial political victory included the persuasion of the Siad Barre government to allow the opening of OLF office in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1980, to serve as a center of consultation and deliberation between OLF political and military leaders.

In the same year, a ten-member high-ranking military and political delegates (see list below) were on their way to Somalia to meet with political leaders there when they were captured by Somali bandits in Shinniga desert (in Ogaden). These bandits were members of a splinter group from the Siad Barre army that harbored bitter hatred towards Oromo and the OLF. These bandits abused and severely tortured their Oromo captives. The bandits finally ordered the Muslims and Christians to segregate before their executions. The Oromo comrades chose to stay together and face any eventualities than identifying themselves as nothing else, but Oromo. On the day of April 15, 1980, all the ten were executed and their bodies thrown into a single grave.

Reasons for Celebrating the Oromo Martyrs’ Day
There are four major reasons why we commemorate this day.

First, this day allows us to remember those Oromo heroines and heroes who sacrificed their lives to restore Oromo culture, identity, and human dignity that were wounded by Ethiopian colonialism. In other words, this commemoration assists us to recognize the dialectical connection between martyrdom, bravery, patriotism and Oromummaa.

Until Oromo heroes and heroines created the OLF and maintained its survival by paying ultimate sacrifices, Oromo peoplehood, culture, language, and history were dumped into the trashcan of Ethiopian history. These heroes and heroines had clearly understood the significance of Oromo culture, history, language, and identity in building Oromummaa, and victorious consciousness to consolidate the Oromo national struggle for achieving Oromian statehood, sovereignty, and democracy.

Second, this commemoration day reminds us that Oromo liberation requires heavy sacrifices, and those who have given their lives for our freedom, are our revolutionary models. Such patriots created dignified history for our nation.

Third, this day reminds us that we have historical obligations to continue the struggle that Oromo martyrs started until victory.

Fourth, this celebration helps us recognize that Oromo heroes and heroines are still fighting in Oromia today. Overall, those Oromo patriots, who by luck have survived and continued the difficult and complex struggle, deserve recognition and respect for what they have done for their people. We must protect them from lies and propaganda of the internal and external enemies. Without the persistent efforts of our patriots, the multiple enemies of the Oromo nation would have destroyed the OLF a long time ago. This does not mean that we do not criticize them when they make mistakes. It is the responsibility of Oromo nationalists to develop constructive criticisms to strengthen our national movement.

The Oromo leaders and members of the OLF, who ignited the fire of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism, whether dead or alive, have been the foundation and pillar of the Oromo national movement. They left their families, wives, husbands, houses, professions, and children by choosing Oromo human dignity and freedom. By making these kinds of difficult choices, they confronted suffering and death. Consequently, they opened a new historical chapter in our history, and showed to us new possibilities by taking risky and courageous actions. Today, Oromo heroes and heroines are engaged in the Oromo struggle; members of the OLA, Oromo activist students and other activists are our contemporary heroes and heroines, who are intensifying the struggle. All Oromos all over the world who demonstrate their support and sympathy for the Oromo national struggle by contributing whatever they can for these brave men and women are also engaged in patriotic and brave activities.

We, Oromos in exile/Diaspora, should follow the footsteps of the fallen and surviving Oromo heroes and heroes by contributing anything we can to support the Oromo national struggle. If the fallen Oromos had paid with their lives to liberate us, how can we fail to contribute our time, money and expertise to liberate our beloved country, Oromia? How can we sleep when our mothers, daughters and sisters are raped in Oromia? How can we be at peace when genocide is committed on our people? Since our people live under Ethiopian political slavery, and since no country supports the Oromo struggle, we must fulfill our historical obligations by supporting the Oromo national struggle.

April 15th is then chosen to be a day of remembrance for these and all other martyrs, who died in any month and season of the past 120 years of the Oromo anti-colonial struggle.

The following Oromo leaders were martyred on April 15, 1980
1. Bariso Waabii (Magarsaa Barii)
2. Gadaa Gammadaa (Demise Tacaane)
3. Abbaa Xiq (Abboma Mitikku)
4. Doori Barii (Yiggazu Banti)
5. Falmataa (Umar, Caccabsaa)
6. Fafamaa Doyyoo
7. Irrinaa Qacale (Dhibaa)
8. Dhadhachaa Mul’ataa
9. Dhadhachaa Boruu
10. Marii Galaan

Our martyrs lost their lives while dreaming and fighting for freedom, justice, democracy, and development of their people and their country. They recognized that agitating, educating, organizing, and mobilizing a colonized and dehumanized nation for liberation requires courage, determination, bravery and self-sacrifice without fear of suffering and death in the hands of the enemy and their collaborators. We have moral and national responsibilities to achieve the objectives for which our heroines and heroes sacrificed their lives.

The Oromo national movement is a very dangerous project. Tens of thousands of our people have been imprisoned, tortured, raped, and received all forms of abuse from successive Ethiopian governments in general, and that of the Meles Zenawi in particular. The Tigrayan-led government has been systematically targeting and killing all Oromo leaders and those who have potentials of leadership while promoting the most despicable elements of Oromo society and the children of colonial settlers as leaders of the Oromo nation.

While commemorating our fallen heroes and heroines, we must also remember our current ones who are engaging in the bitter struggle and those who are suffering in Ethiopian prisons. We must double our support for the OLA that is engaging in implementing the missions of the fallen Oromo heroines and heroes in Oromian forests, valleys, mountains, and Ethiopian garrison cities. We should sustain the spirits of our fallen heroes and heroines by taking concrete actions every day. It is our national responsibility to educate, mobilize and recruit passive or unconscious Oromo individuals to join the Oromo national movement. Such actions must start in families by educating and training children; husbands and wives must teach one another and their children the essence of Oromoummaa. The spirits of our heroes and heroines require that all of us must be grass-root leaders who engage in a systematic struggle to fight those agents of the enemy or those misled individuals who undermine the Oromo national struggle intentionally or unintentionally.

All Oromo nationalists must be cadres, teachers, students, leaders, followers, fighters, financiers, ideologues, organizers, defenders and promoters of the Oromo cause. We should not keep quiet when certain individuals attack our organizations, leaders, communities and Oromo peoplehood to satisfy their troubled egos or their masters. If we do some of these activities in our daily lives, the spirits of our fallen heroes and heroines will survive through our actions.


Karrayyu preserves Oromo culture and identity

(A4O, 26 March 2014) The Karrayu Oromo who have lived for generations (for more than 6ooo years) in the north-east of Oromia, Metehara Plain and Mount Fantalle area keeps the wonderful Oromo culture and history.

MenduringGadaceremonyinKarrayyutribe-EthiopiaThey trace their descent from Oromo through Barentuma whom they regard as their genealogical father while they consider the Ittu as their genealogical brother.

According to a popular belief, Karrayu begot two sons known as Dullacha and Basso, names that represent the two major genealogical groups within the Karrayu. 

The Karrayu consider a location called Meda Wollabu, a natural lake located between the Borana and Bale areas, as their place of origin.

Oral tradition has it that the Karrayu settled around Fantalle mountain where they had been residing around lake Basaqa, in the Sabober plains and the Metehara area for the past 6000 years.

The present Karrayu land is located on the edge of the Upper Valley of the Awash River Basin.

It lies at an altitude of not more than 1000 meters above sea level falling to 955 meters at Metehara Plain and rising as high as 2007 meters at Mount Fantalle, which is the highest elevation in the area.

The neighbors of the Karrayu are the Afar Debine in the North, Arsi Oromo in the South, the Awash National Park in the East, and beyond the Park are the Ittu of West Harrerge, the Argoba in the West and the Amhara in the district of Berehet in the southwest.

However, the socio-cultural identity they have preserved for centuries as a predominantly pastoralist community is being put to test both spontaneously and systematically. 

The Oromo Studies Association is organizing its mid-year conference

Hello Everyone,

As you all may know, the Oromo Studies Association is organizing its mid-year conference here in Chicago. The local organizing committee and OSA’s leadership is working diligently to make this conference successful and a memorable one.


I am very excited by the fact that the honorable professor Beyene Petros will be attending OSA’s mid year conference. He is a long time opposition politician and an ex-parliamentarian, and one of leaders of the main opposition coalition in Ethiopia. He is here in Chicago on a sabbatical leave.

We are also working very hard to have among us some of the Chicago/IL public servants/representatives. We are hoping that Senator Heather Steans will attend our conference. Cook County Election Coordinator, Befekadu Retta, is interested to talk on election process. He observed elections in Ethiopia twice and once in south Sudan, and run for Aldermanic position of the 46th ward in Chicago. Mr. Harry Fouche, former Haiti Consul General in New York (2003/2004) will also be attending.

We also have a speaker on HIV from the Hennepin County Medical Center, Dr. Rachel Prosser, sponsored by Gilead Sciences. She will be giving us her own experience of treating HIV patients from the horn of Africa and the epidemiology of HIV, diagnosis and linkage to care.

I am expecting a wonderful keynote speech from our two young professionals and leaders, Aadde Obse Lubo and Obbo Nagessa Oddo. We have the honor and privilege of hearing the Oromo resistance history from those who lived it and took part in the making of history. the giants of the 60’s struggle against oppression, heroes of the Dhombir war and subsequent protracted rebellion of Bale and other southern Oromiya regions. I personally consider hearing their stories more inspiring than reading several books. It is the stories that they tell us that inspires some of our scholars and academicians to pursue further research and right the wrong in the Oromo history as told by others.

From Canada, we have Dr. Begna Dugasa, forfmer OSA president, Mr. Garoma Wakessa, founder and Director of Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), and Tesfaye Kumsa, the editor of the banned Urjii newspaper. Obbo Kumsa will also share with us some of his poetic writings…”Walaloo”

We also have panelists in several other panels…Dr. Guluma from Michigan, former OSA president and ex-board chairman of OSA, Dr. Tekleab S. Gala (Tennessee State University), Dr. Ahmed Bedasso, Kadiro Elemo, Ibrahim German, Fenta, Said, Engineer Abdul Dirre from Minnesota, Liiban Waaqoo, Adam Wario, Jarso Jianmario, and myself making presentations on the conflicts in Borana/ southern Oromiya, environmental issues and the need to form an umbrella organization of the Oromo community organizations.

I am also excited by the fact that the newly established Oromia Media Network will be broadcasting our conference to our bigger audience, the Oromo people back home and around the globe.

The Oromo community of Chicago’s fundraising cultural night is being organized by the Oromo youth of Chicago under the leadership of the Board of Directors. This is another event that I believe will contribute to the success of our much anticipated conference.

Please, talk to your friends and colleagues ( Oromos and non-Oromos) and encourage them to attend our conferences and cultural night. We should work towards equal participation of both men and women.

Ibrahim Elemo,
President, Oromo Studies Association

Kemants Call on Nations and Nationalities for Support

(A4O, 22 March 2014) Kemant Recognition and Self-Governance Coordination Committee called on Ethiopian Nations and Nationalities for support on the 7th NNPD celebrated in Bahir Dar on the 8th of December.

The call was made on the Amharic pamphlet distributed and indicated below. Some of nations and nationalities representatives communicated back Kemants for further information.

There was also another pamphlet from the Addis Ababa communities, but that was not dispatched to public because it was strongly worded protest to celebration of NNPD at Bahir Dar what the document called the oppressive region for nationalities.

Get your issue heard in Geneva!!

Calling all individuals and refugee community groups!

As part of the annual UNHCR-NGO (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) consultations in June, Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA) are inviting Individuals and refugee community groups to lodge submissions on current issues of concern for people living in refugee situations overseas.

The Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA) are a coalition of Australian NGOs, refugee advocates and academics who engage in advocacy at an international level with and on behalf of refugees in Australia and the region. Submissions are due by Monday, 14 April, 2014.

Find out here:


PTW Baxter obituary

  By Hector Blackhurst
PTW Baxter studied and championed the culture of the Oromo, Borana and Kiga peoples of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

PTW Baxter, anthropologist, who has died aged 89My friend, the social anthropologist PTW (Paul) Baxter, who has died aged 89, made a significant contribution to western understanding of the Oromo peoples of northern Kenya and Ethiopia and championed their culture, which was frequently denigrated by colonial and local elites.

His work on the plight of the Ethiopian Oromo became a standard text in Oromo studies and a rallying point for the Oromo cause. Paul was not always comfortable with the praise he received as a result, and was often self-deprecating, describing himself as the world’s most unpublished anthropologist. That was a harsh judgment, since a complete list of his output is respectably long. He also made a wider contribution by editing the journal Africa and sitting on the Royal African Society board.

Born in Leamington Spa – his father was a primary school headteacher in the town – Paul attended Warwick school. Academic ambitions were put aside when he joined the commandos in 1943, serving in the Netherlands and occupied Germany. He married Pat, whom he had met at school, in 1944, and after the war went to Downing College, Cambridge, studying English under FR Leavis before switching to anthropology.

On graduation he moved to Oxford, where anthropology under EE Evans-Pritchard was flourishing. Field research on the pastoral Borana people in northern Kenya followed for two years, accompanied by Pat and their son, Timothy. He gained his DPhil in 1954 and more fieldwork followed among the Kiga of Uganda.

With UK jobs scarce, he took a position at the University College of Ghana. This was a happy time for the family, who found Ghana delightful. Returning to the UK in 1960, he was offered a one-year lectureship at the University of Manchester by the sociology and social anthropology head, Max Gluckman, after a recommendation by Evans-Pritchard. He then spent two years at the University College of Swansea (now Swansea University) before returning permanently to the University of Manchester. Over the next 26 years Paul contributed significantly to anthropological studies and to Oromo research, spending 12 months among the Arssi Oromo of Ethiopia before retiring in 1989.

Paul was never interested in winning academic prizes; instead his focus was on helping people. Generations of students, both at home and overseas, benefited from friendship and, often, a warm welcome in his home.

Paul’s life was touched by sadness, particularly Timothy’s death from multiple sclerosis in 2005, but he took great pleasure in his family. He is survived by Pat, their son Adam, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


Help send the Oromo Support Group to the UN – Fundraiser

22 March, 2014

Date: 22, March, 2014
Time: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Location: The Blue Room, Multicultural Hub. 506 Elizabeth st, Melbourne
Cost: $30
Contact: Phone: Marama 0411 672 163, or Email:

Join the Oromo Community of Australia as they celebrate their culture.

Enjoy traditional Oromo cuisine, dancing and entertainment, and contribute to supporting their efforts toward protecting human rights for all Oromo and Ethiopian people.

Underdevelopment of Dembi Dollo in a Broader Context of the Horn of Africa

From the point of view of the media, the Horn of Africa is a synonym for instability, conflict and famine. The region itself is much more diverse than can be put into one category. Ethiopia, as the largest country in the Horn, belongs to one of the most complex and historically complicated states not only in this region, but Africa in general.

Recently, Ethiopia has witnessed enormous growth visible mainly in large cities mixed with repeating famines, local small-scale conflicts, as well as war with neighboring Eritrea. Ethiopia has been very much affected by ecological disasters as well as political mismanagement for at least the last four decades, which means during three types of regimes: Imperial (Haile Selassie), socialist (the Derg), and EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front). With the rise of “newcomers” such as China, India, Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey, and many others, Ethiopia has also become the primary destination for many companies developing their agricultural business in parts of Ethiopia. Consequently, “land-grabbing” has become as common a practice in Ethiopia as in Africa in general.

This article deals with a neglected region surrounding Dembi Dollo, a town close to the Sudanese border on the Western fringe of the Federal State of Oromia, the largest federal state of Ethiopia. The article is a part of my research interest in Oromo nationalism and modern/contemporary history of Ethiopia. It is based on my visit to Dembi Dollo in 2009 and the information I have got from my Oromo friends and informants both in and outside Ethiopia.

Oromia and the Oromo People

Oromia is the largest federal state in Ethiopia. It spreads across the Western and Eastern parts of Ethiopia which makes it very diverse. Diversity can be seen not only in the architecture of urban areas, but mainly in different topography, and especially religious environments.

Throughout the Oromo land, we can distinguish several types of land, from very dry and sandy in the East around Dire Dawa and southwards, to deeply green in the Western parts of Oromia where rainfalls are not so rare, and where rich soil gives plenty of agricultural products including coffee and maize.


What is now the Federal State of Oromia is a land inhabited by various societies speaking many languages. Oromia is the largest and economically most important federal state in Ethiopia. The Oromo people are the most numerous from all the ca. 80 ethnic groups sharing the Ethiopian space. Until the 19th century, Oromo’s inhabited regions were home to many smaller kingdoms including Jimma Abba Jifar, Limmu Ennarea, Janjero, etc. These were incorporated into the modern Ethiopian state during the last quarter of the 19th century. Oromo has traditionally been known as the land of plenty, even though famines have devastated some parts of its territory many times in history.

On one hand, Oromia does not belong to the most seriously affected territories in Ethiopia when it comes to recent drought and famine, but on the other hand, due to certain political heritage, at least some parts of Oromia are severely affected by the government’s tight grip on power and politically sensitive issues of Oromo nationalism and secessionism. In this regard, I especially refer to the town of Dembi Dollo which is the last big town along the ‘Western frontier’, and generally the Western part of the Wellegga region.

Dembi Dollo and the heritage of the OLF

Dembi Dollo, formerly known as Illubabor, is a relatively small town (approximately 40.000 inhabitants) placed in a very remote area of Oromia in Western Ethiopia. The town has historical significance as the former seat of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). OLF has been one of the main ethno-political organizations which was formed during the Derg regime in order to fight for emancipation of the Oromo people. After the failure of transitional government talks in the early 1990s, OLF left the political arena and took up arms against Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)-led army.

OLF’s headquarters in Dembi Dollo were heavily damaged by the Ethiopian army at the beginning of the 1990s. The town was severely affected, and even today, unlike for example Dire Dawa, it is composed of small houses on a very muddy area with no tar road.

OLF was later forced to move its actions to Southern Ethiopia and Kenya from where the majority of smuggled arms and ammunition come. Since that time, activities of OLF are limited mostly to diaspora statements and some minor attacks. For the government, OLF is an ‘important enemy’ used as a tool of oppression of political opposition. Everyone who is regarded as a potential threat to the regime can be easily blamed of being associated with OLF. The government regards OLF as a terrorist organization. Shortly before the 2005 parliamentary elections Prime Minister Meles Zenawiblamed OLF of preparation of nine bomb attacks in Addis Ababa.

Heritage of struggle between the ruling TPLF, which is a part of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and OLF is still visible in Western Ethiopia. Atmosphere of fear and mistrust is one of the main features of Dembi Dollo. The Meles Zenawi government, in an effort to break remaining seeds of resistance in this area, has frozen any investments including closure of the Dembi Dollo airport. Catastrophic stage of infrastructure only deepens devastation of social and economic life in the town and neighborhood, especially when compared to actual flourishing of some other regional centers including Ghimbi, Nekemte, or Ambo.

The only visible development of Dembi Dollo comes from the diaspora and the various churches whose presence in this region has a long tradition coming back to the end of the 19th century. According to locals, the former saying ‘Dembi Dollo, bïrri aka bokolo’ (Dembi Dollo, where maize is like a bïrr – the Ethiopian currency) is now meant only as a bitter joke though once the town and the neighborhood was known for its fertility. For example, in 2009, there was only one hotel in Dembi Dollo, and another was under construction, both financed by the diaspora.

Identities, Development and the Church

In Dembi Dollo, one may encounter a relative ethnic homogeneity with strong predominance of Oromo people. Religiously, the area is composed mainly of Protestants, followed by Catholics, Orthodox and Muslim believers. Generally, the Oromo people tended to convert to Islam or followed their traditional religion Waaqefaana, due to historical animosity against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church since the 17th century. In the Wellegga region, Protestantism, and to a lesser extent Catholicism is dominant, while in other parts of Oromia, Islam is the leading confession. Since the end of the 19th century, local Oromo people have been mostly educated by Christian missionaries, particularly German, Dutch, Norwegian, and Swedish Protestants.

images/issue2/bethel evangelical missionary secondary school in dembi dollo.jpg

Bethel Evangelical Missionary secondary school in Dembi Dollo.

As is the case of many Oromo Muslims in the East, also in Dembi Dollo, many people regard their religious affiliation and association as their primary identification. Therefore, ethnicity is somewhat less discussed since almost everybody here is Oromo, except for a minority of newcomers and foreign missionaries. ‘Religious naming’ is, on the other hand, a matter of everyday life. People usually categorize themselves along religious lines, so it is more usual to hear that somebody is ‘a Protestant’, or ‘a Catholic’, or ‘a Muslim’, rather than ‘an Oromo’ or ‘an Amhara’.

Obviously, on one hand, one explanation is that due to ethnic homogeneity there is no need to talk about ethnicity. On the other hand, it shows one remarkable aspect of the complexity of daily life in Ethiopia ? the strength of religion.

The Oromo diaspora usually emphasizes the ethnic side of the ‘perpetual conflict’ in Ethiopia which has historical and political roots and consequences. However, the role of ethnicity is, despite the existence of ‘ethnic federalism’, very often exaggerated while the importance of religion is seen rather as a minor part of cultural heritage. The opposite is true, as the author of this article is convinced. Religion is in many African societies a primary source of identity and identification. Religious identities are often more deeply rooted in societies than ethnic identities which may be seen as artificial, politicized, and most of all, very recent phenomena. Despite all the scholarly works regarding ‘ethnic’ rivalries, what is happening now in Ethiopia is the rise of religious fundamentalism which may negatively influence group relations in heterogeneous regions such as Oromia. Ethiopia is often said to be a country where politicized ethnicity stands behind many of the local or latent conflicts. But this would be a simplification as some new rather religious disputes in the public show.

For ordinary people, i.e. those without direct access to power regardless of their ethnic identity it is more important to satisfy their basic needs than to feed their potential nationalist ambitions.

Due to the catastrophic underdevelopment in Dembi Dollo, caused by a direct decision made by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to punish former headquarters of OLF, the development in this area is mainly managed by churches, both Protestant and Catholic. For instance, the only public library in town was built in 2007 with the help of the Ethiopian Full Gospel Church Development Organization. Famous Bethel Evangelical Secondary School is run by American Presbyterian Church while state run schools are desolated or in very poor condition.

images/issue2/state-run secondray school in dembi dollo.jpg

State-run secondary school in Dembi Dollo.

It is thus no surprise that many people with whom the author spoke were very thankful to Christian Churches. This feeling of reverence for religious organizations and groups makes ethnic identity less important in the eyes of locals since there is no Oromo association which would directly be involved in the development of Dembi Dollo. It does not mean that ethnic rivalries and historical tensions are not seen in Dembi Dollo, but that this viewing of Ethiopia’s past and present is not the only one. Even in Dembi Dollo, many people are aware of the fact that any potential independence of Oromia would be impossible and, what is more, there is no direct need for it due to cultural emancipation which has indubitably taken place in Ethiopia in the last couple of decades.

Humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa and Oromia – some historical reflections

In 2011, the world was struck by the scale of the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa. It affected mostly southern Somalia and some parts of Ethiopia – mainly those in semi-desert areas. Famine is not a new phenomenon in the Horn of Africa. History knows disastrous examples of famines which killed large numbers of people. Because almost the entire population is dependent on agriculture, and because agriculture depends on regular rainfalls, it is obvious that any shortage in rainfalls may have direct impact on harvests and the lives of people in the countryside, especially when they are dependent on one commodity.

Despite its natural causes the humanitarian crisis may have an unfortunate political dimension. In the 1980s, the Sudan and Ethiopia were affected by a devastating famine which attracted attention of the international public. Its prolongation was caused by political decisions coming from the central governments of both countries. The reason was simply to punish regional rebellions and cause harm to liberation movements.

Both in the Sudan and Ethiopia, the 1980s were largely characterized by perpetual conflicts in many regions. South Sudan was fighting against the regime in Khartoum, and Ethiopia was disintegrated due to the Eritrean struggle for independence, and the fight of many ‘liberation fronts’ against Mengistu in order to support their ethnic and political emancipation.

Regions such as Ogaden and Benishangul/Gumuz as well as some parts of Oromia and northern Ethiopia were badly affected by drought and famine. Humanitarian aid, coming from the West, could be (and in many cases certainly was) under such circumstances blocked or simply not delivered to the most affected ‘rebel regions’. Recently, some parts of Ethiopia face serious crises not that much because of lack of rainfalls, but due to the direct impact of the central government as well.

Various internet sources bring almost daily new information regarding the phenomenon of ‘land-grabbing’ and displacement of people in the countryside as well as in Addis Ababa. Such one-sided acts done by the government agents can only weaken the already very fragile socio-political situation in Ethiopia. Like in Dembi Dollo, due to forceful government policy leading to oppression of opposition and civil society, non-democratic and one-sided acts of land-grabbing and displacement can lead to further social frustration and lack of affiliation with the state.


images/issue2/richness and beauty of wellegga.jpg

Richness and beauty of Wellega.

Dembi Dollo and the neighboring areas of the Wellegga region belong to the historically important trade routes but their recent history overshadows the once famous past. Due to very tense ethnic politics in Ethiopia, and the existence of a non-democratic regime in the country, Dembi Dollo has become a marginalized and disadvantaged ‘frontier’ town in comparison with similar towns in Ethiopia.

Face-to-face with the contemporary humanitarian crisis, the Ethiopian state only shows a policy of ethnic and regional favoritism. It has become a daily practice in Ethiopia, but may result in severe crises which are not new to these regions. An example is the Ogaden region. When accumulated, such phenomena as land-grabbing, displacement, ethnic rivalry, religious tensions, and regionally imbalanced development make the future of Ethiopia remain fragile and uncertain, especially when the vast majority of people still depend on agriculture and rainfalls, and when the state is not able to save all the regions from poverty and famine.

Jan Záhořík

The author is Ph.D. and a member of a new Centre of African Studies at the Department of History, University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, Czech Republic. His research is focused mainly on modern and contemporary history of Ethiopia, ethnicity and nationalism in Africa, position of Africa in international relations, and socio-economic problems of Africa. He has published numerous articles in English and Czech, including three books (in Czech).


Abbink, Jon (2009). The Ethiopian second republic and the fragile ‘social contract’. Afrika Spectrum, 44(2): 3/28.

De Waal, Alex (1997). Famine crimes: politics and the disaster relief industry in Africa. London: International African Institute.

Gidada, Negasso (1984). History of the Sayyoo Oromoo of Southwestern Wallaga, Ethiopia from about 1730 to 1886. Frankfurt: Publisher Unknown.

McCann, James. C. (1995). People of the Plow. An Agricultural History of Ethiopia, 1800/1990. London: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Mekuria Bulcha (1996). The Survival and Reconstruction of Oromo National identity in Peter T. W. Baxter & Jan Hultin & Alessandro Triulzi (eds.): Being and Becoming Oromo. Historical and Anthropological Enquiries. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 48/66.

Østebø, Terje (2005). A History of Islam and Inter-religious Relations in Bale, Ethiopia. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell International.

Záhořík, Jan (2011). Meles and the Rest: Continuation of Power Strategy in Ethiopia, in Hana Horáková & Paul Nugent & Peter Skalník (eds.): Africa: Power and Powerlessness. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 44/54.

Záhořík, Jan (2010). Ethiopian Federalism Revisited, in Patrick Chabal & Peter Skalník (eds.): Africanists on Africa. Current Issues. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 127/137.


Martha Kuwee Kumsa: The Unsung heroine and Iron Lady!


( A4O, 10 March 2014)  Martha Kuwee Kumsa is standing in front of her social work students at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Out of the corner of one eye, the Ethiopian-born woman catches sight of a man in uniform lingering in the hall. She continues her lecture, but her heart beats faster and her breathing becomes heavier. Then she gets a clear view of the man — and it’s a university security officer, not a soldier come to drag her away. She relaxes.

“It’s amazing how the brain works and the body responds,” the soft-spoken Kumsa says of the triggers she has learned to cope with over the years.

Martha Kuwee Kumsa of Kitchener is at home in Canada, but still has strong feelings about her native Ethiopia. For years she had long dreadlocks, but two months ago she cut them off in a symbolic gesture.

Terror, struggle, pain and grief have all been part of a long journey in which she lost her husband, her home and sense of security.

Two months ago, in an act symbolic of those losses, she lifted her dreadlocks and cut them off.

Kumsa, 51, who now lives in Kitchener, had let her hair grow since moving to Canada and starting work on her PhD. This spring, however, she decided a woman her age shouldn’t have hair down to her buttocks.

Kumsa knows now, however, that there was more to the haircut than that. In Ethiopia, women who cut their hair are often in mourning.

Martha Kumsa was born in Dembi Dollo, a small town 800 kilometres southwest of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, near the border of Sudan.

The youngest daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she was named Martha after the Christian nurse who delivered her. The name she holds close to her heart is her middle name, Kuwee, the name of a heroine in Oromo history. But Kumsa wasn’t allowed to go by Kuwee in Ethiopia, where the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in the country, are still struggling for equality.

When Kumsa finished high school, she moved to Addis Ababa to attend university. She hoped to become an engineer, but in early 1974, shortly after her arrival in the capital, Ethiopia erupted in revolution. The aging emperor, Haile Selassie, was replaced by a Marxist government and Kumsa and other students took to the streets to support his removal from power.

One day, helicopters circled above the crowds.

“We climbed trees running for cover, thinking that they were going to bomb us,” Kumsa remembers. But instead it was pamphlets that rained down, a sign the new military government wanted the protesting students on its side. “It was one of the most exciting moments for me,” Kumsa said. “Even today, I look for something to come down when I see a helicopter.”

Like many of the revolutionaries, Kumsa thought denouncing the emperor meant denouncing the West, that embracing socialism meant land for the poor. The new regime did nationalize private and church-owned property, but then landlords rebelled. In response, the government closed the universities and students were put to work on the land.

Around this time, Kumsa trained as a journalist with the Lutheran World Federation in Addis Ababa. She also married Leenco Lata, a chemical engineer. They had their first child in 1975 and they named her Huriya after an Arabic word for liberation and freedom.

“We felt we were reclaiming our history,” Kumsa says. “The future seemed vibrant. It was the best time of our lives.”

But the bliss would not last. In 1977, the dictatorship of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam unleashed what became known as the Red Terror. Anyone suspected of counter-revolutionary acts was deemed an enemy. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were held, tortured and executed.

Kumsa, who by then was pregnant with her third child, remembers passing bodies in the streets.

Her husband became a leader of the Oromo Liberation Movement and active in the resistance. Four times in six months, he was kidnapped during the night.The couple’s two-year-old son, Robale, would grab Kumsa’s legs and scream as his father was carted away.

“To this day, my son can’t sleep without a light on,” Kumsa says.

Martha Kuwee Kumsa and her three children posed for this photo in 1989. The children are (from left): Robale, Huriya and Goli. All three came to Canada with her in 1991.


Three times, Lata was brought home after being tortured. The fourth time, he didn’t come back.

“I was turning bodies in the street to find him,” Kumsa says. “There was no body I didn’t turn over. I went all over the place looking for him.”

When her baby was finally born, she named her Goli, the Oromo word for terror.

Kumsa searched for Lata for a year. Family members and friends shunned her, afraid they’d be hauled off to jail or death if they spoke to her.

“I felt so alienated and alone in the world.”

She continued her job at an Oromo newspaper, where she wrote a column that encouraged Oromo women to take back their cultural traditions.

One day in 1980, Kumsa said goodbye as usual to her son and two daughters and went to work. The children were then ages three, two and one. She would not hold them again for seven years.

When Kumsa arrived at work that day, four men in plainclothes met her at the elevator. She recognized them as the same security force members who had recently arrested a colleague and never brought him back.

“My heart started racing,” Kumsa says.

The men blocked her way and told her they wanted to ask a few questions. One man showed her a badge.

“I froze in terror. I didn’t know anyone who had come back. I thought this was the end of me.”

The men threw Kumsa into a car and blindfolded her before speeding away. When the blindfold was finally ripped off, she was inside a security forces building and being dragged down a grey corridor and into a crowded room.

She was shocked to see people on the floor, bleeding from their mouths. Their faces were disfigured and pus oozed from wounds. The stench was overpowering.

“I was thrown into a living hell,” Kumsa says.

Soon after, in what became the torture room, she was asked if she was involved in the resistance. She denied it.

Blindfolded and with her hands tied, Kumsa was ordered to sit on the floor and wrap her arms around her knees. She was gagged with a blood-soaked sock.

Then, with a rope around her body, she was lifted and flipped over so that her bare heels faced the ceiling.

Her captors struck her soles with a whip made of a hippopotamus tail. She screamed, but with the gag the sound was more like a whimper. Then a solution was sprayed on her feet.

“The burning, God Almighty,” she says. “You want to jump through the roof. They want to make you feel the beating again.”

During all the punching, slapping and burning, her tormentors kept asking whether she was part of a political movement. They were trying to break her body and spirit, and eventually they did.

It happened the day she was made to watch the torture of a minister, a man who was a friend.

“I broke down . . . It was like hearing a person yelp like a dog every time the whip touched him.”

Kumsa, then 24, says she was taken to the torture room 10 times in the first year after her arrest. She was then moved to the prison that would be her home for almost nine years.

It was her home during the famine of the mid-1980s when one million Ethiopians died. She wasn’t told about the famine, but knew something was wrong because of changes in the food being smuggled into the jail by prisoners’ families and friends. Pasta was soaked in water and ground up to make bread.

Kumsa was never charged, never tried, never officially told why she lost her freedom. But she considered herself one of the lucky ones, spared death because she was a journalist.

Many of her fellow prisoners vanished, taken away after their names were heard over a loudspeaker.

“There was no pattern or control of anything you did there,” Kumsa says. “You couldn’t predict the next five minutes.”

She taught herself French in prison and then taught it to others. With books, she learned Tigrigna, the official language of the prison. She also taught biology, geography and math to prisoners and to the sons and daughters of prison administrators.

“The best minds were in prison,” she says. “It was the best school in the country.”

Meanwhile, her own children were shuffled among family members. When Kumsa found out they were in Addis Ababa, she concocted a plan to see them.

“I pretended I was sick. I told them I had a toothache and I screamed and cried.”

With help from Amnesty International and other human rights groups, and from imprisoned relatives of the former emperor, Kumsa was allowed to leave prison for treatment. Guards were then bribed so her children could get into the hospital where the tooth was pulled.

“The two older kids ran to me,” Kumsa said. “They hugged and cried and I screamed. But the youngest one, she stood there. I ran to her and she pushed me away.”

Despite her harrowing life as a prisoner, Kumsa says she felt her greatest pain when Goli, the youngest daughter, spat in her face. Goli had only been a year old when her mother was arrested and felt abandoned.

“If this is my mother, I don’t want a mother,” the girl said.

The reunion lasted only 15 minutes, but soon after the prison began allowing monthly visits to prisoners. Kumsa’s children would wait all day to see their mother, sometimes without ever reaching the front of the line.

“I would see them from afar, but then they would be chased away when time was up.”

After several years in the prison, Kumsa began to understand how hard Amnesty and PEN, a group that helps writers around the world, were working to free her. She would receive postcards that read: “We know about you. You are not alone.”

The postcards brought her joy.

“Somebody knows about me,” she remembers thinking. “I’m not totally forgotten. How wonderful and uplifting it was to know someone knew of me.”

The late Canadian novelist Timothy Findley was a frequent writer, always sending the same message: “Hope against despair” and Kumsa still calls him her “Canadian father.”

One Saturday morning, Kumsa was washing her hair, preparing for a Sunday visit with her children, when she heard her name over the loudspeaker. It was Sept. 10, 1989. She wrapped her hair in a towel and ran.

“When you hear your name, you have to jump and run. If it’s death, you run to death. And if it’s release, it’s freedom you are running to.”

At the front door of the prison, a bus was waiting. Other prisoners started jumping with excitement, but Kumsa was wary.

“What if it was execution?” she wondered.

She and other political prisoners were driven in the direction of the security forces headquarters, the place where Kumsa had been tortured. For a brief moment, Kumsa thought freedom might be at hand, since being set free meant processing paperwork at headquarters.

When the bus drove by the building, a silence fell over the prisoners.

“You could see the physical terror. People were looking at each other. It was not release.”

Kumsa jumped to her feet, yelling at her friends: “We will die like human beings. We will spit in their face.”

The bus came to a stop in front of red stone building surrounded by a tall, iron fence topped with spikes. As the gate opened, Kumsa saw journalists with notepads and cameras.

“Are they going to document our execution?” she wondered.

Then she saw a general and watched his lips move as she tried to absorb the words she had waited so long to hear.

“You are free from this moment on,” the general said.

The prisoners stood like statues, so the general repeated his words.

Then, as if being jolted from a deep sleep, the crowd rose. Men clapped and the woman ululated in unison.

“It’s a moment I will never forget,” Kumsa says.

Close to 90 political prisoners and 400 other convicts were released that day. Mixed with Kumsa’s happiness was anger over bring robbed of 10 years, with no explanation, no apology and no help returning to normal life.

“Where do I go now? I didn’t know whether I was happy or sad.”

Kumsa went to the home of a missionary, where she learned that even the most mundane tasks were no longer easy.

“I hadn’t opened a door in 10 years. I didn’t have the confidence in me to do it. It was such a huge effort to reach out and grab the door and open it.”

She was reunited with her children, but there was no word from her husband, who she believed was still alive. And she had no job or money to support a family.

Ethiopia’s government, meanwhile, was in disarray and the political climate remained dangerous. Kumsa was approached by radical militants who wanted her to attend training camps.

“I knew that I was dead if I refused, and I will die if I accept,” she said. “If I have to die, I will run for dear life.”

So seven months after her release, Kumsa and her children, helped by PEN and Amnesty, made their escape.

They were driven 700 kilometres south toward Kenya and dropped off in woods near the border. For two weeks, the family walked through dense bush, dodging soldiers until they reached safety across the border.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, what have I done? Why did I take my kids?”‘

She and the children were in Kenya five months before they were accepted by Canada in September 1991.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopia government of Mengistu had crumbled. Several opposition forces had united as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and it had taken over the country in May 1991.

Lata was part of a team negotiating the transition to the new government. He called Kumsa from London in July that year to let her know he was alive. Kumsa hadn’t seen him in 13 years.

“I was angry and happy. I didn’t want to talk to him, but I couldn’t resist.”

While she was in prison, she learned, Lata had been working for the liberation of the Oromo people, living at different times in Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti.

Two days before Kumsa and the children were to leave for Canada, he visited them in Kenya. He had never even see his youngest daughter, now a teenager.

Kumsa went to the airport alone to meet him, waiting for two hours until she saw him in the distance, with a cigarette in his hand. She wanted to scold him for abandoning her.

“I wanted to be angry, but it wouldn’t come. I ran like crazy to him. It felt like 13 years had been 13 seconds. It was as if we hadn’t been separated. It was a magical click.”

Kumsa wished she could return to Ethiopia with Lata to be part of the new leadership in her country. But she and the children came to Canada.

“When they needed me the most, I left my country,” she says. “I felt I was really needed there, but I chose my children.”

One year later, the Ethiopian coalition was falling apart. The Oromo Liberation Front withdrew from the government, disappointed with the delay in bringing democracy to the country.

Lata moved to London in 1993, then three years later joined his family in Canada.

In Canada, Kumsa reclaimed Kuwee, her Oromo name. For the first year, the family was sponsored by PEN, Amnesty and a Toronto church, but it was not an easy time.

“I wanted to be a mother to my kids, she said. “I had been denied this experience.”

But the children were still angry about their childhood without parents and took it out on their mother.

With the help of a student loan and two part-time jobs, Kumsa enrolled at York University during her second year in Canada. She got a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1996, the same year that she received a human rights award from the New York-based group, Human Rights Watch. A master’s degree from the University of Toronto came a year later.

In 2002, Kumsa was hired for a teaching post at Wilfrid Laurier University, but continued to work on her PhD at the University of Toronto and received that in 2004.

In Waterloo, Lata worked as a freelance writer, producing two books on the political climate of Ethiopia.

But he began to see Canada as a kind of prison. With only a temporary resident permit, he wasn’t allowed to attend school or get a job.

Nor could he become a Canadian citizen, Kumsa says, because as a member of the Oromo Liberation Front he had fought to overthrow the Ethiopian government.

“It’s a real shame,” says Isobel Harry, executive director of PEN Canada, who has heard Lata speak at conferences and describes him as a scholar.

“It’s a real hardship for Martha and her family.”

Federal government officials won’t comment on Lata’s case.

Kumsa knew that sooner of later her husband would leave Canada. And last August, he moved to Norway, a country he finds more sympathetic to the struggles within Ethiopia. From there he continues to work on the plight of the Oromo people.

Kumsa believes that her destiny, too, is wrapped up in Ethiopia. She would love to join her husband, the man she calls her jewel, to fight for recognition of the Oromo people.

There have been times since she cut her hair when she has wondered if she is ready to run again.

“My spirit is up. My wings are up, but I don’t know where I will be landing.”

She may even live in Ethiopia someday. But she said she won’t feel safe there until the Oromo people are fully recognized.

For now, however, Kumsa is content not to run.

Her three children are university-educated and she now enjoys a close relationship with Goli, who will begin practising law this summer.

Together, they are working on a research project about Oromo youth and how they identify themselves in Canadian society.

Kumsa is also studying Oromo spirituality and ancient birthing rituals. She will present a paper next month at a conference in Nigeria. Most of her research centres on the immigrant’s sense of belonging and identity.

“I’ve been running after things and from things,” Kumsa says.

“I need to slow down. I want this to be my home.”

Still, the walls of her university office are bare and few photographs adorn her home.

“I never feel settled,” she says.

“I feel like I’m living with one foot out of the door.”


A Guru on Oromo Studies dies

(A4O, 3 March 2014) Dr. Paul Baxter, a leading and longtime researcher on the Oromo nation, died at the age of 89. Dr. Baxter was a distinguished British anthropologist who devoted his entire life studying the Oromo.

According to Oromo Study Association, Dr Paul Baxter was one of the authoritative authors on the subject and contributed immensely to the development of Oromo studies at the time when the scholarship on the Oromo people was extremely discouraged in Ethiopia.

Born on January 30, 1925 in England, Paul Trevor William Baxter, popularly known as Paul Baxter or P.T.W. Baxter, earned his BA degree from Cambridge University. Influenced by famous scholars such as Bronisław Kasper Malinowski, Charles Gabriel Seligman, and Evans Pritchard, Paul Baxter had a solid affection for social anthropology. He went to the famous Oxford University to study social anthropology.

It was at the zenith of the Amharization project of Emperor Haile Selassie that he developed a strong interest to study the social organization of the Oromo people. In fact, in 1952, he started to study the Oromo Gada system, against all odds from authorities of the Ethiopian empire, and subsequently produced some of the finest scholarly pieces that laid the foundation for Oromo scholarship.

His first article titled “The Social Organization of the Oromo of Northern Kenya”, published in 1954 became a foundation for more of his researches to come and a reference for the students of Oromo studies. Besides, the research disqualified many of the myths and pseudo stories that assume the Oromos were a people without civilization, culture, and history.

Dr. Paul Baxter did not stop there. He continued with his studies and spent several decades studying different aspects of the Oromo society. It was through his extended research among the Oromos that he managed to deconstruct some of the myths that portrayed the Oromo people as a “warlike” or “barbarian” nation in the rather fictious stories written by the 16th century Abyssinian spy monk, Aba Bahrey and all the subsequent debteras.

The title of essays in his honor, in 1994, “A River of Blessings” speaks to his perception and reality of the Oromo as a peace-loving nation. In his article, “Ethiopia’s Unacknowledged Problem: The Oromo”, he highlighted some of the Oromophobic and barbaric manners of the Ethiopian Empire, and he suggested that peace with the Oromo nation was the only lasting panacea to the Ethiopian political sickening.

In his long academic and research career, he studied the Oromo from northern Kenya to Wallo and Arsi-all the way to Guji and so on. He edited a number of books on Oromo studies and published many other articles and book chapters in the field of social anthropology.

Dr. Paul Baxter is survived by his wife, Pat Baxter, his son, Adam Baxter, and his three grandsons and their children. May his soul rest in peace!!