Retrospective Look at Macha and Tulema’s major Achievements, Challenges and Limitations

Ayele Z Bojia
I. General Introductory Remarks

Before proceeding to present the highlights of Macha Tulema’s achievements, challenges and Limitations; I would like to briefly touch upon one incident that may assist us put things within their proper context. If time permits, I will try to mention some newly acquired important information that should have been included in the book I published on the history of Macha Tulema association but were not acquired then.

One historical incident that appeared to be least noticed but was most consequential during the time that immediately followed the attempted coup d’état of Neway brothers in 1960 actually pertains rather to HabteWold brothers.

What had actually happened was, the eldest of all Habtewold brothers, Ato Mekonen Habtewold tipped the Emperor who was due to leave for official visit to Brazil, that his rule might have been in danger and urged the Emperor to take some precautionary measure before he leaves. Upon failing to win the attention of the Emperor who belittled the tip by uttering “Workeneh Gebeyeu is in full control”, Ato Mekonnen was reported to have begged the Emperor to allow him accompany him on the tour. This request too failed to get traction with the Emperor.

But things did not remain the same upon Emperors return. What Makonnen tipped did happen and Mekonnen himself was one of the fatal victims of the attempted coup d’état and the person whom the Emperor said was in control himself was one of the key figures who staged the coup d’état.

As a result of this, the remaining two Habtewold brothers, the then Prime Minister Ato Aklilu Habte Wold and the then Minister of Interior, later Justice and previously Education, Ato Akale Work Habte Wold , started to enjoy full confidence and trust the Emperor placed on them thus opening limitless opportunity for them and their external backers to exercise big influence.
These brothers were known for their focus on the name change of areas and institutions throughout the country. Such renaming of Bishoftu as DebreZeit and Adama as Nazreth were recent happenings done during the 1950s’ that were directly traceable to the influence of these brothers.

It is believed that some external forces pursuing their own ulterior motives might have used the sudden vulnerability felt by the Emperor and the sudden trust the HabteWold brothers won from the Emperor as an opportune moment to further deepen their meddling in the political process of the country by way of offering technical assistance to the government. Therefore, it is not without reason for Birgader General Taddese Birru to hear that cringing thing he heard from no one else but Aklilu HabteWolde himself.

This general observation needs to be further probed for what had actually happened then. What can certainly be stated is that the weird and erratic political behavior of the imperial regime that did not correspond with the nature of political alliance during the coup d’état cannot be fully explained by the then existing internal political dynamics. It is my firm belief that shedding some light on this paradox may also help us to partly explain the present political realities as well.

Having said that, when we come back to see what major contributions, challenges and limitations of this movement were, we find the following;

2. Achievements, Challenges and Limitations

2.1 One of the most significant achievements of this movement is the tremendous growth in political consciousness of the Oromo people it brought about. The achieved result in this respect came about through gradual and practical day to day activities of the Association that was led by skillful leader, Colonel Alemu Kitessa, who is naturally gifted with handling of different people with diverse perspectives without much problem.
While it can be stated that the association contributed to the growth of political consciousness of the Oromo people through its practical activities, it is also proper to mention the fact that there were few members who tried to guide the whole activity of the association towards the goal they believed was appropriate. Obbo Haile Mariam Gemeda’s role at the initial level and members like Obbo Seifu Tessema and Lt. Mammo Mezemers’ role at a later time seemed to have had a future direction to which they tried to steer the Association. Changing the country from monarchy to that of republic was believed to be the political goal.
On this point, the late Emperor had to say once with respect to Obbo Hailemariam Gemeda, during the time Lij Imru paid visit to the Emperor to bring the deteriorating state of Obbo Haile Mariam’s health to his attention and beg for his clemency so that he would be able to receive treatment, I quote” Imru, you do not know who Haile Mariam is. I know him thoroughly. (tenkike) the originator (kememu) of all these is him” . Let me concur, at least once in my life time with the late Emperor and say “Yeza hulu Kemem , yegna Kemem Haile Mariam Gemeda Nachew”.

At the later stage of the movement a big focus of charting the future direction to which the movement needed to be steered was given by Obbo Seifu Tessema and Lt. Mammo Mezemer in the foot step of the visionary leader Obbo Haile Mariam Gemeda. . It is worth noting that the Imperial regime made it its solemn duty to eliminate each of these young prospective leaders
I personally paid a repeated visit to Sawla (a town found in Gofa Awraja) where Seifu Tessema was banished and witnessed to what a great esteem he was held by the residents of the town who almost unanimously believe that he was poisoned on the occasion of official Meskel dinner threw by local official to which it is customary to invite individuals banished to their locality. An official dinner thrown only few days after the area was visited by the Emperor’s top security official, Major General Derresse Dubale.
All major achievements of this movement are in one way or other are tied to this major achievement we mentioned earlier.

2.2 By creating a propensity for coming together in order to become powerful and be able to resolve encountered problems by joining hands. Thus Oromo people from all directions of the country having different religions that belong to different administrative regions came together as a nation. Unifying Oromo people can be mentioned as the prime expression of the growth of political consciousness achieved. The unifying spirit injected to the movement by Haji Robele Turre of Arsi deserves a specific mention here. “When the creeks flowing from different direction meet they form a big river. Big rivers meet to form a sea. This is true for people too. When we flow from different directions and meet we become a people and form a country.” The determination and unparalleled bravery of Haji Adam Sado of Balle needs to be mentioned in this regard too.

Therefore, bringing Oromo people having diverse religious persuasion and locality can be cited as one of the major achievements of the association. The Imperial regime made no secret of its indignation at this development to the extent of citing this coming togetherness of Muslim and Christian Oromos as a big offence committed by the leaders of the association in its indictment it filed against them.

2.3 Another area where this growth in the political consciousness manifested itself was in the area of cementing strong connection with the younger generation. The movement’s emphasis on connecting with the youth directly emanated from their practical activity and lessons learned in the process. The primacy they gave to education made them realize that their objective could only be realized if it is done over a longer period through chain of generational activities. Apart from devotedly campaigning for the wide spread opening of schools in all Oromia region they also tried to address the issue of accessibility by trying to make it affordable to all through initiating various interventions.
The Arsi experience (led by persons like Obbo Bushira Worku) of renting houses in urban areas in order to encourage farmers to send their children to modern schools could be cited as a good example. Such a modest intervention did bring about a significant result that is being emulated until present. They learnt that they should start with the few who will eventually have a multiplier effect by themselves joining the effort. Later when they met with obstacles, they believed a continued effort by successive generation was necessary and aimed at making the younger generation be aware of the hostile situation they were operating in thus preparing the young politically as well. Therefore, strong connection with the younger generation could be cited as one of the areas where the movement’s contribution to the growth of Oromo political consciousness had manifested itself.

2.4 The historical alliance created with the peoples of the southern region is one of the association’s significant achievements that actually made the movement powerful country wide. Members coming from the Southern region, like Mammo Kommolcha Korati of Gedeo Mulu Meja of Woliata, Fitawrari Abayneh Finno of Gofa (Zala), Kebede Borana of Gurage, WoldeAmmanuel Dubale of Sidama, Basha Aba Godu of Kulo konta ,Shasha Rasha Zewde Ottoro of Kaffa and Kegnazmach Gebre Odu of Gimira deserve a specific mention at this particular time we are celebrating the Golden jubilee of the movement. The Woliata people’s rebellion and ensued court drama was challenged by this movement through various practical measures thus practically consolidating the alliance that was in the making then.

As political power was being successively practiced by the Northerners for centuries, any sign of coming together of Oromia and the peoples of the southern region is seen as a big threat to this lopsided tradition.
(One can entertain oneself right now by making a quick peek at how Obbo Abaa Dula Gemeda was included in the video meant to smear the current prime minister posted on ethiomedia.com under the title- “Hailemariam Desalegn falls flat in English language”).

During the time we are celebrating the golden jubilee of Macha and Tulema movement it is proper to proudly ascertain once again that the historical alliance created between Oromo and the peoples of the South will continue to strengthen and flourish despite the fact that a lot of attempt is being done to undermine our effort.

2.5 The historical alliance created with the south did immediately lead to a common realization of the fact that “imperial throne” actually was a divisive factor for the country instead of being a symbol of unity as it was then being disseminated through different mediums primarily led by Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
The significance of this achievement may not fully and appropriately be comprehended by the current generation as the then prevalent mainstream political belief lost ground in the country rather in a much faster pace. This achievement of the movement can fully be appreciated when we put things within their corresponding political setting of the time.
This fiction that was being disseminated by Ethiopian Orthodox Church and almost was being worshipped then was serving as a psychological backbone for the continued existence of the imperial regime. It can be ascertained with all certainty that the encouragement and advice given by few Oromo and Southern parliamentarians to the then committee of armed forces to go ahead and depose the Emperor was directly attributable to the political activities of this movement.

As a passing remark, it should be noted that the partisan meddling of the church in the political affairs of the country to be one of the main reasons why the church at present is fastly losing ground to other migrating Christian denominations in the country.

2.6 Another important achievement of this movement was the important lesson it thought the Oromo people that one needs to achieve political results through one’s own effort and that nothing will come of its own accord. Their initial motto launched under the slogan “You do what you expect your brethren to do for you” that appeared to have genuinely been heeded to was not reciprocated giving an almost instant lesson to the leaders of this movement that whatever they want need to be earned through one’s own effort. This initial motto having religious tone could not allow them move an inch before it was met with harsh repressive measures primarily at Woreda and provincial levels where the movement launched its initial activities.

This encountered reality, apart from imparting the above mentioned lesson also left behind a significant lesson that any development activity presupposes the existence of a corresponding conducive political environment. Therefore one of the greatest achievements of this movement is to show to the Oromo people that own activity based on own knowledge (new transformative political beliefs blended with rich traditional knowledge) is a sure way to success and not leaning on multiple external Actors that may be having their own respective agenda.

Macha Tulema members and supporters inside the country may not be able to celebrate the golden jubilee of the movement in an overt manner due to the repressive political atmosphere that is prevalent in the country. It will be a gross mistake to depart from this and claim that the members and supporters of this association as we know it, fully rely on the good will of any Ethiopian Government for that matter to celebrate this important day or for any other activities of the association. It is equally erroneous to entertain the idea that what we are doing here is to preserve this association externally in order to take it back to the country with us later. Such an elitist attitude of regarding the entire Oromo people marginal to the whole process and seeing oneself as someone around which Oromo matters only revolve is something that we need to nub it in the bud.

3. Challenges and Limitations

3.1 This same lesson thought the leaders of the movement that dealing with hostile political opponent may require having a concomitant readiness to stand up to those ruthless oppressive measures. The movement’s demonstrated inability to somehow reciprocate the repressive measures that were directed against it could be cited as the biggest limitation the movement experienced.

3.2 In the same manner, their experience of going through ugly smear campaign of being depicted as savages and cruel basically by what their opponents did like bomb throwing at the cinema was extremely valuable which unfortunately the successive generation seemed not to have properly learned from it.

3.3 Macha Tulema movement did enable Oromo people to realize the fact that it’s just cause of aspiring to be a master of its own destiny is not an isolated issue that we tackle by being insular but rather a big issue that properly need to be put and addressed within the larger national and regional geo-political setting. It can be asserted that Oromo people shares border with almost all Ethiopian people. Whatever Oromo people do is generally believed to have an immediate bearing over most of the peoples of the country. The fact that the movement reached out to form an alliance with the peoples of the southern region was presumed to be based on the proper understanding of this dimension whereas the difficulty it encountered to fully comprehend the political dynamics that were in play in the eastern and south eastern region attest to its limitation.

Therefore, we should be able to weigh our just cause of being able to determine one’s own destiny in relation and in conjunction with the relation with the rest of the peoples of the country and that of our sub region too. Macha Tulema’s effort to get connected to the Bale resistance force was undermined not solely by the Imperial government but also by Somali Security forces, Egypt being the main manipulator from behind. Somali’s see the growing muscle of the Oromo movement as a big threat to their aspiration of “greater Somalia” and instead try to magnify religious issues in these regions so that they can use it as a justification and rallying factor for the proxy war they are waging against the country.

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Updating the Book

1 The real reason behind Dejazmatch Geresu Duki’s disappointment at the Emperor is convincingly and powerfully reported by Obbo Tabor Wami whom I closely know has based his work on dependable prime sources. The Emperor, during his visit to Gishen, promised Geresu to appoint him as Ministry of War as it was called then enabling him to inherit a position previously occupied by his relative, Fitawrari Habtegiorgis. The crux of the promise goes as “We will give you your uncles Minister of War position with the very exact title of Fitawrari. We confer upon you the title today and soon give you the position afterwards”.
This fully explains the observed perplexing reaction that was expressed by Dejazmach Geresus’s acceptance of traditional military title of “Fitawrari” gladly earlier and his fuming at being promoted to “Dejazmatch” later. He was simply reacting angrily to the broken promise. That was the situation that prompted the Dejazmatch to publically admonish the Administrative Director of the province who tried to mock the Dejazmach as failing to properly distinguish the relative importance level of those military ranks.

1.2 In the book it was mentioned the fact that the death of Dejazmatch Daniel, as a result of mid-air bursting of his private plane, is widely believed to be the hit job of the Imperial regime and argued that it actually appeared to be so. The new information acquired since then was Dejazmatch Daniel Abebe had earlier been assaulted by armed and uniformed intruders who faked being Major General Debebe Haile Mariam whose wife (Sosna Abebe) is the younger sister of Dejazmatch Daniel. The assault and the manner it was carried (A fully uniformed gang impersonating the Major General driving the same brand and color duty limousine) proves beyond any reasonable doubt that it was government job and nobody else. This is new information acquired that strongly reinforces the widely held suspicion that he was rather a victim of the regime and not a victim of an accident.

August 1, 2014

Presented to Oromo Studies Association

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