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The Birth of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)

Date

Event

1970 A Liberation Front of Somali West (LFSW) delegation headed by the general secretary, Hussein Mohammed Ali, alias Hussein Sora, visited the Middle East.  Hussein had been an active member of the Macha-Tuullama Welfare Association and had been to Somalia in 1967 when the Association was banned and its members persecuted.
May 1971 The underground agitation paper, "The Oromo: Voice Against Tyranny," (issued by members who went underground in Addis Ababa following the ban on MTWA), stated ... "An Oromo has no empire to build but a mission to break an imperial yoke, that makes this mission sacred and his sacrifices never too dear."
1971 The LFSW in the Middle East changed its name to the "Ethiopian National Liberation Front."  The ENLF provided training to a few individuals in Aden and other friendly Arab countries and dispatched them to enter the country through northern Somalia - Barbara, Hargessa - to start an armed struggle.  The group was tracked down and arrested with their weapons by Somali security forces, shortly after they disembarked.  One person was shot and killed during the arrest.  The rest and many of their collaborators in Somalia remained in the custody of the government until 1975.
1973 The ENLF made preparation to try to enter the country to start armed struggle for a second time.  On the issue of the name of the organization, "Oromo" was favored, even though Hussein Sora continued to insist on "Ethiopia."  Hussein went back to Aden to continue foreign activities.  The other members proceeded to Hararge where they received supplies sent in from Aden through Afar land and Wallo to Hararge.  They established the first guerrilla base in the Charchar mountains in November 1973.  In the field the name "Oromo" and not "Ethiopia" was used.  Soon a new political situation developed which led to the taking over of power by the military in Ethiopia.
1973 A body or a committee was created to coordinate the work of the underground study.  After the banning of the MTWA in 1967, those members who escaped arrest continued the struggle both outside and inside the country where they operated clandestinely.  Students, particularly those in the university, continued agitating through various means, including underground papers, such as "The Oromo Voice Against Tyranny" and "Kana Beektaa."
Dec 1973 The leaders of the underground Macha-Tuullama movement organized a secret conference in Addis Ababa itself.  Among the participants, Hussein Sora (Sheik Hussein) and Elemo Qilixxu (Baker Yusuf) came from the Middle East.  
January 1974 The conference in December 1973 culminated in forming the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).  The first political program of the OLF (amended in 1976) was also the product of that conference.  Those who formed the OLF were card-carrying members of the Macha-Tuullama Welfare Association (MTWA).  In short, the OLF grew out of the MT movement.  
April 1974 The first unit of the OLF guerrilla fighters led by Elemo Qilixxu launched an armed struggle in the highlands of Charchar, Eastern Oromia.  
5 Sept, 1974 The Oromo guerrilla activities in Charchar mountains created a great deal of fear among the naftanya and junta circles.  The government deployed a special force in the area where the guerrillas were operating and carried out mass genocide on an innocent civilian population.  The guerrilla leader, Hassen Ibrahim, popularly known by his name De Geurre - Elemo Qilixxu - was martyred. He and his comrades died for the self-determination of Oromia, which still motivates millions of Oromo.
1975 The few individuals who went back to Aden, after the incident in Charchar, together with others organized themselves under another name, the Organization for the Oromo People's Liberation Struggle (OOPLS).  For a while ENLF and OOPLS functioned side by side until their offices were closed mainly because of the cordial relations that developed between the governments of Ethiopia and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.
13-14 June, 1976 Gadaa.comA two day "Founding Congress" of the Oromo Liberation Front was held in Finfinne.  All of the disorganized and organized uprisings, revolts and movements of the Oromo people for over 75 years under the Abyssinian colonization culminated in the birth of the Oromo Liberation Front.  A few members of ENLF who were released from custody in Somalia in 1975 and others who had entered the country on previous occasions, as well representatives of the underground study cells, individual Oromo nationalists and patriots were members of the "Founding Congress."  The Congress revised a 1974 draft and issued a new detailed political program of the Front.  For the first time in the history of the Oromo national struggle, a political organization with a political program and a clear set of objectives emerged to lead the Oromo people in the struggle against Ethiopian colonialism and oppression and on to independence.  
1976 Armed struggle resumed in Gara Mul'ata, Hararge by the Oromo Liberation Front.  Students and intellectuals were dispatched into the field from urban centers to provide needed leadership and cadres.  This rapidly improved the number and quality of fighters.
1976 Saartuu Yusouf joined the Oromo Liberation Army and fought in several battles as a regular guerrilla.  
1976 The OLF assigned a foreign affairs representative to the office in Damascus, Syria.  OLF activities in foreign lands have grown hand in hand and commensurate with the activities inside Oromia.
1976 "Bakkalcha Oromo" (Oromo Star), the official organ of the OLF, first appeared.  It's being issued irregularly and it's in Amharic.   

Some middle class Oromo women got together to form the first few women's study circles to read and discuss radical literature, especially those on women's oppression.  The main objectives were to be aware of the roots of gender oppression, to organize Oromo women at grassroots to raise gender consciousness, and to bring the message of liberation to them.  But these groups were to be nipped in the bud when the Supreme Politico-Military Command (SPMC) of the OLF moved to eastern Oromia to intensify the armed struggle.

Sept 1977 Members of the leading organ of the Oromo Liberation Front and representatives of the fighters and underground cells met in Finfinne to restructure the organization and elect a new leadership.  According to the new structure, the Front was to have 41 central committee members.  The central committee elected five individuals from among its members to an executive body called the "Supreme Politico Military Command (SPMC)."  The five members of the SPMC were the chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary and two other members overseeing the activities of the committee.  Under the SPMC, there were five functional committees each headed by a member of the central committee.  These were military, political, financial and logistical, social and foreign affairs committee.  The leaders elected to the SPMC were Muhee Abdoo, Magarsaa Barii, Gadaa Gammadaa, Leenco Lata and Baaroo Tumsaa.
1977-1978 The Ethio-Somali War was, mainly, fought in eastern Oromia.  The War affected the Oromo national struggle in many ways.  In 1977 the OLF and Oromo peasants obtained large numbers of arms and ammunitions that the Ethiopian army had abandoned in its fight before the advancing Somali and Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) armies.  Then in 1978, the OLF gained more weapons from WSLF fighters and the Somali army fleeing from the attacking Soviet and Cuban forces.  On the other hand, the armies of both regional powers and WSLF have tried their utmost to eliminate the nascent OLF guerrilla force.

Saartu Yusouf was among the Oromo combatants who were killed during a battle between retreating Ethiopian soldiers and an OLF guerrilla unit.  

1978 Most of the leaders and cadres working in the cities and towns had left for the field to join the Oromo Liberation Army in Gara Mul'ata and other areas.  Many students and members of the armed forces joined the Front in large numbers and dispatched to the field as well.  OLF guerrilla operational areas expanded to many parts of Hararge and Arba Guugu in Arsi.  A few leaders and cadres were dispatched to Gadab and other parts of Baale and commenced the armed struggle there. 
August 1978 Some leaders of the OLF fighters in the eastern Oromia region attempted to create dissension in the fighting forces.  The attempt was foiled.
1978 Attempts were made by the OLF to implement the plan to extend armed struggle in central Oromia, western Shawa.  A guerrilla unit was dispatched to the Gudar river valley, northwest of Ambo.  The guerrilla detachment was spotted only a few weeks after its arrival in the area and many of its members were captured.  This caused consternation in the government circles and led to the mass arrest and imprisonment of innocent Oromo peasants, leaders, students, teachers, workers, intellectuals, women and merchants.  Most of them were from Hararge and Shawa. 
1978 The OLF opened a foreign affairs office in Khartoum, the Sudan.  
1980 Oromo students, women, peasants and leading intellectuals were mass-arrested and imprisoned by the Derg.  This unparalleled indiscriminate mass arrest of Oromo all over the country even caught the attention of the international human rights organizations.  They were suspected of aiding or having knowledge of the Oromo Liberation Front, which was fighting the government in parts of the south. 
1980 The Somali government appeared to show some degree of understanding and cooperation by allowing the OLF to open offices in Somalia.
1981 The OLF extended armed struggle to western Oromia, Wallagga region, starting with a dozen or so fighters.  Apparently, this was facilitated by the opening of a foreign affairs office in Khartoum.
1982 The offices opened by the OLF two years earlier in Mogadishu, Somalia, were closed down and the OLF members working in the country were told to leave.  Some observers have hinted that the main reason behind this action by the Somali government was the OLF's reluctance to come to terms with SALF - Somali Abbo Liberation Front.
1983 Ayyaantuu Daaqaa joined the OLA, worked with the hawwisoo (musical troupe) till 1986, then trained in health care, and fought at many battles on the front line of eastern Oromia.  Not only did she take part in large battles, but she also treated and took care of wounded.  

Juukii Bareentoo became the first Oromo woman fighter ever to be elected to the Central Committee of the OLF, because of her excellent and extraordinary ability in leadership and teaching.  She was responsible for the propaganda section of the political department.

1984 Arbii Miilii joined the OLA, worked with the hawwisoo (musical troupe) and became deputy squad commander because of her fighting abilities.   

The Derg army ambushed the command post of the OLF leadership in a place called Billiqa.  Juukii Bareentoo was among the fighters who fought in a long battle that saved the lives of many members of the leadership, including Galaasa Dilboo, the Secretary General of the OLF.  Juukii took her own life to avoid falling into the hands of her enemies.

1983/1984 The Somali Abbo Liberation Front (SALF) ceased to exist inside the country.  Most of the areas in Baale and Arsi where SALF used to operate fell under the influence of the OLF.
1985 Ibsituu Margaa rose to be platoon commander in the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).  She became a Dabballee Buttaa (cadre of the Buttaa, 3 platoons) and was responsible for training hawwisoo (musical troupe).  She defended the Oromo peasants as they were fleeing Mengistu's villagization program.

Aradoolaa Abdalla joined the OLA and took part at ten major battles in western Oromia.  Because of her bravery, she rose to be platoon commander in the guerrilla leadership.

October 1986

On a cold October day in 1986, long-time Maa'ikalaawii (Central Prison) Oromo prisoners of conscience: Gezahegne Kassahun, Kebede Demissie, Muhee Abdo and Yigezu Wake, were dragged out of their cells and executed by cold-blooded security officers of the Derg regime inside a military intelligence compound in Kotebe, a Finfinne suburb.

According to an Amnesty International Report, in addition to being ardent Oromo nationalists, the four executed prisoners were:
Gezahegne Kassahun - former first deputy chairman, All Ethiopia Trades Union,
Kebede Demissie - former Ministry of Agriculture official,
Muhee Abdo - civil servant and university graduate,
Yigezu Wake - former army lieutenant.

Their "crime" resulting in this cold-blooded extrajudicial execution was being Oromo.

Their fellow prisoner of conscience, Ibsaa Guutama, recounts that October day in 1986 in his book, titled Prison of Conscience, as follows:

"From the Upper Compound, Muhee Abdoo and Gazaheny Kaasaahun were called [out]. It was already heard that several old prisoners from the Karchallee had arrived presumably to be released. Gazaheny informed this writer [Ibsaa] about their arrival, shortly before he himself was called out. The subsequent addition of the two comrades [Muhee and Gazaheny] raised doubt. After some time, the Administration sent for their belongings. That was an enough clue for something bad [had happened to Muhee and Gazaheny.] All their comrades were numbed. They did not know how to respond." (Source: Guutama, Ibsaa, "Prison of Conscience: Upper Compound Maa'kalaawii," Gubirmans Publishing, New York, 2003.)

Ropes used to strangle & execute the October 1986 Oromo martyrs: Gezahegne Kassahun, Kebede Demissie, Muhee Abdo & Yigezu Wake. Source: Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Viewer Discretion Advised)

In a similar account, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, that worked with the Special Prosecutors Office (which was set up in 1992 to investigate and prosecute former Derg officials), reports the following:

"The former Makalawi prisoners that we interviewed said that late on the night of October 7, 1979 [Geez Calendar, 1986 in European Calendar], a truck arrived in the prison compound and twenty prisoners were offloaded. The night was cold and many of the new prisoners had wrapped themselves in blankets. They were put in holding cells apart from the main cellblock. The next morning, at 10-20 minutes intervals, the guards called out each of the twenty new prisoners by name and, one by one, they were marched away. Ten Makalawi prisoners were similarly called out and taken away. The thirty men never returned, and by late afternoon rumors began to circulate that they had all been executed." (Source: Reports by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team)

Extrajudicial imprisonments and cold-blooded executions against Oromo nationalists were not limited to the four October 1986 martyrs and to the Derg regime. Just in October 2007, the Oromo Support Group reported 3,981 extrajudicial killings and 943 disappearances. In addition, it has been reported by former inmates that the Qallitti Prison Camp alone had 85% Oromo prisoners of conscience. This is despicable and outrageous by all human rights standards.

Tortures, illegal imprisonments and killings of Oromo nationalists are the tools deployed by the Abyssinian System of Domination to intimidate and exterminate the Oromummaa movement. It is, therefore, imperative that all independent Oromo nationalist institutions declare October as the Oromo Nationalist Prisoner of Conscience Month to honor the October 1986 martyrs, to bring about awareness about the hundreds and thousands of Oromo prisoners of conscience languishing helplessly and awaiting extrajudicial executions in prison camps of the Empire today, and to invigorate the campaign for the unconditional release of all Oromo political prisoners!

1987 Aashaa joined the OLA in western Oromia.  Her greatest jabduu (heroic deed) was in 1988 when the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) stormed Oromo refugee camps in Yabus.  Aashaa fought in the defense of Yabus for one month.  Aashaa kept fighting even as she was surrounded by SPLA forces and killed many SPLA fighters before she fell.
April 1990 The Tigrayans People's Liberation Front (TPLF) started to undermine the OLF by establishing the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO) among Oromo prisoners who had been captured while serving in the Ethiopian army.  
1990 Arbii Miilii took command and led the OLA unit when her commander fell during the fighting between Oromo Liberation Army and the Derg army around Asoosaa in Giizan.  She was seriously wounded during this fighting.  
May 1991 The London Conference was attended by the Derg, Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), but the Derg officials withdrew from the end of the meeting after hearing the news that Mengistu Haile Mariam fled to Zimbabwe.  The Mengistu regime was finally deposed.
July 1991 A national conference for establishing a transitional government was convened in Addis Ababa as an attempt on the part of the TPLF/EPRDF to rapidly secure widespread acceptance among the general population.  It resulted in the signing of a Charter by the representatives of some 31 political movements, the creation of an 87-seat Council of Representatives, and the establishment of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE).  The OLF joined the coalition that formed the TGE and it held the second largest number of seats in the Council of Representatives.  Five more seats were allotted for the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia (IFLO), Oromo Abbo Liberation Front (OALF) and the United Oromo People's Liberation Organization (UOPLO).  The Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO) also held seats as part of the EPRDF coalition. 
3 November 1991 The OLF convened a meeting of over 1,000 Oromo intellectuals to decide which alphabet to use to write Afaan Oromo.  After a many hours of debate, they decided unanimously to adopt the Latin alphabet.
1992 The OLF stated that its efforts to negotiate and work within the TGE for democracy had been blocked.  Insisting that the TGE wad dominated by the EPRDF, that it did not offer an avenue for democratic reforms in Ethiopia, that its supporters had been violently attacked and that the TGE simply represented the continuation of Ethiopian colonialism under a new disguise by replacing Amhara domination with that of Tigrayans, the OLF left the coalition and renewed its program for achieving an independent Oromo state.

Aradoolaa Abdalla led her OLA unit in the fight against the army of the TPLF/EPRDF in the vicinity of Najjoo, where she was wounded.  But, even when she became separated from her unit, Aradoolaa did not give up the struggle.  She acquired valuable information about the enemy and passed it to the Oromo fighters.

Over 20,000 Oromo fighters were arrested and held for long periods in camps around Oromia.

1994 The OLF launched 157 launches against the forces of the TPLF/EPRDF regime.
Feb 1995 In a military communiqué, the OLF claimed victory in 17 recent attacks on government forces.