Events in Oromo History During the Reign of Haile Selassie
Oromo peasants and nomads in
Yejju, Rayya or
Wajerat districts of present southern Tigray and northern Wallo revolted
against the rule of Haile Selassie and refused to pay the heavy taxes
imposed on them. The government dispatched troops to put down the
revolt. The peasants with few arms they possessed were able to
defeat the troops and capture a large quantity of arms and
ammunition. Additional arms were obtained by the nomads from the Red
Sea coast in Tajura.
The Oromo fighters of the revolt in Yejju and
Rayya controlled a large part of their area and closed the trade route
that connected Dasee, the capital of Wallo, to the south. In a
battle with the government forces in October 1929, the Oromo fighters
captured 2,000 rifles and 12,000 cartridges.
Makonnen, throne name Haile Sellassie I,
Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God and Emperor of
Ethiopia, succeeded Zawditu to the throne.
A large government force, led by the war
minister, Mulugeta, arrived in Yejju and Rayya regions. The Oromo
fighters put up stiff resistance. The Oromo resistance was finally
put down, although temporarily, mainly by the use of airplanes. It
was the first time airplanes were ever used in a war in the Empire.
The first constitution of Ethiopia was
introduced. In this document the term "Abyssinia" was
dropped in favor of "Ethiopia," thereby defining Abyssinians and
all the colonized peoples as "Ethiopians."
Jimma was fully incorporated into the Ethiopian
As the colonial government strengthened its
grasp on Oromia and consolidated its power, the situation concerning land
and property for Oromo worsened. In 1933 Haile Selassie passed a law
decreeing that "... once a person was given to a naftanya he was not
allowed to leave the land against the landlord's will ... "
League of Nations Report C.240, M.171, VII,
p.41: "The inhabitants of the conquered country were registered in
families by the Abyssinian chiefs, and to every family of Abyssinians
settled in the country there is assigned one or more families of the
conquered as gabbar. The gabbar family is obliged to support the
Abyssinian family, it gives that family its own lands, builds and
maintains, the huts in which it lives, cultivates the fields, grazes the
cattle, and carries to every kind of work and performs all possible
services for the Abyssinian family. All this is done without any
remuneration, merely in token of the perpetual servitude resulting from
the defeat sustained thirty years ago."
The Jimma Oromo rose up and attacked colonial
officials and settlers, just prior to the Italian invasion. At the
time of the Italian invasion, the Jimma population used the situation to
their advantage and routed the naftanyas. This doesn't mean they
preferred the Italians as masters. In fact, at the time of the
Italian invasion of 1936, the Sultan of Jimma, Abbaa Jobir, joined the
other Oromo leaders in the region in the independence movement and the
establishment of the Western Oromo Confederation.
The Italian Fascist regime invaded the
Ethiopian Empire in revenge for Italy's defeat at the Battle of Adwa some
40 years earlier.
The Oromo resisted Italian occupation everywhere because they wanted
freedom and naturally did not want to substitute one master for another.
A. Sbacchi, "Ethiopia Under Mussolini's Fascism and Colonial Experience,"
noted "The Oromo ... gained more in the long run than the Amhara from
the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, but were not always too cooperative
and did not live up to Italian expectations."
The Oromo language was used in courts and on radio for the first time.
Even some literature appeared in the Oromo language. Haile Sellasie,
upon his restoration by the British and against the wishes of the Oromo
people, reversed all these positive developments.
Western Oromo leaders refused to send troops to
take part in the battle against the Italians in the northern front.
Thirty-three local leaders of western Oromia formed the "Western
Oromo Confederation" under the leadership of Kumsa Moroda, alias
Habte Mariam Moroda, and appealed to the League of Nations through the
British Consul in Gore for recognition and membership. The request
was ignored. During the same time, the British Government was
requested to establish mandate over the "Western Oromo
Confederation" until it achieved self-government. The British
refused to give their support.
Oromo of Rayya and Qobbo were fighting Haile
Selassie's army. At one point, on April 3, 1936 near Ashange Lake,
they almost trapped Haile Selassie himself fleeing from the
Italians. He never put his feet in this area again after that.
During the same period, the Oromo guerrillas attacked the retreating
Ethiopian army led by Ras Mulugeta and inflicted heavy casualties.
They revenged his earlier (1930) aerial attack on them by killing his son;
he himself narrowly escaped. One of the reasons for the attack was,
the Ethiopian army on its way to the war had looted the property of the
After the Italian defeat and expulsion, many
Oromo communities opposed the restoration of Haile Selassie and gabbar
(tenancy) system abolished by the Italians. The uprising of Oromo
communities in Rayya, Shawa, Hararge, Jimma, etc, were a few centers of
The Oromo rebellion at Qobbo effectively cut off all communication
between Addis Ababa and Asmara. The Oromo guerrillas in Rayya
liberated a large area of the territory and gained control of it for
The central and eastern Oromia leaders petitioned the British
government for the establishment of an independent Oromia Republic.
The request was denied and Haile Selassie was reinstated, which brought to
an end for the time being, Oromo's hope for immediate independence.
Somalis, under British and Italian colonial
rule, organized themselves under the name "Somali Youth League (SYL)"
or "Kulub" to struggle for their independence. When news
of this organization reached the neighboring Oromo, Harari and Somalis of
Hararge, they in turn began to secretly organize to seek liberation from
The Oromo uprising in Rayya was temporarily
suppressed with the assistance of the British Royal Air Force stationed in
Aden. Many of the leaders of the Oromo movement were also implicated
in the Woyane revolt in Tigray in 1943.
Oromo communities from Jaarso and Baabbile of
eastern Oromia began armed struggle, following the creation of the Somali
Youth League in British and Italian Somaliland. Within a short time,
they liberated large areas in eastern Hararge, except for large towns like
Harrar and Dire Dawa. The Ethiopian government reacted with
unexpected violence, and killed many people, razed the countryside,
destroyed mosques and other religious centers and property. The
fighting subsided temporarily.
Jile, pastoral Oromo communities, were
evicted from their lands in the upper and middle Hawas (Awash) valley,
around Qoqaa (present Qoqaa Dam) and Wanji. Their land was given to
Handels Vereniging Amsterdam (HVA), a Dutch firm, with sugar plantations
and processing. Those who survived the onslaught of the Ethiopian
army among the Jile community of Karrayyu disintegrated and
disappeared. The surviving Karrayyu communities moved further south
and joined thier kin in the middle Hawas valley.
At a place called Waleenso near Bookee in Harbo
province, Oromo nationalists in the surrounding area organized themselves
and fought the colonial regime. The movement was a continuation of
that of the previous year and was also in opposition to the restoration of
tenancy that had been abolished by the Italians. Among the leaders
were Mohammed Jilo and M. Jawwe, who had gained experience in the use of
modern arms and fighting during the Italian occupation. The fighters
laid down their arms only after they were assured they could continue to
administer their area without the interference of the colonial
The Somali Youth League
(SYL) invited Oromo and
other groups in Hararge to join them in the struggle against the three
colonial powers in the region, British, Italians and Ethiopians, and to
build one country together. For fear of unnecessarily aggravating
Ethiopian authorities too early, the use of Oromo in the name of the
organization was avoided and it was agreed to conduct the struggle under
the SYL. But it was perhaps a mistake of historic significance that
has plagued the Oromo national struggle up to this moment.
Oromo leaders in Hararge were able to smuggle
in arms through Djibouti. Fighting started simultaneously in British
Somaliland and Hararge. This created fear among the settlers.
The government was able to suppress the movement after a lot of bloodshed,
arrest and imprisonment. Following this event, SYL offices in Harar,
Dire Dawa, Dadar, Ginnir, etc were closed down.
The Rayya Oromo rose up in arms again.
Again after they had liberated a large area of their land, the movement
was stopped when the British Royal Air Force in Aden at the request of the
Ethiopian regime, savagely bombed the Oromo guerrilla positions.
A peasant revolt broke out in the Dawwe
area. The continuous harassment and unwarranted confiscation of
Oromo property by the settlers was the immediate cause of the
revolt. The Oromo organized themselves into guerrilla forces and
forced the colonial settlers and administrators out of the area.
Soon the revolt spread and covered a wider area. The guerrilla
defeated the government troops, who were sent to quell the revolt, several
times and captured arms and ammunition. After several attempts to
subdue them with a regular army failed, a detachment of the Imperial Body
Guard with combat experience in Korea, led by one of Haile Selassie's
generals, in an act of barbarism massacred more than 700 of those who gave
themselves up peacefully. Previously, one of the local leaders, Ali
Dullatti, slipped out of the war area secretly and traveled to Addis Ababa
to appeal to the Emperor, who agreed on amnesty to the fighters.
Taye, an Abyssinian court historian,
alleged that in the 14th and 15th centuries the Oromo migrated from Asia
Haile Sellasie revised his constitution.
An Oromo scholar, Sheikh Bakri
discovered a script for writing Oromiffa; the script gained popularity in
some parts of eastern Oromia, before it was discovered by the Abyssinian
colonial authorities and suppressed.
A radio program, called the Voice of Harar
Oromo, broadcasted in the Oromo language from Egypt. The Oromo and
few Adares behind this project (organized as Harar Oromo) came to Egypt
after the crackdown on SYL in 1948 in Hararge.
A few Oromo youth organized themselves, with
the encouragement and financial support of some Oromo nationalists, into
an Oromo cultural troupe called Afran Qallo, after the four major Oromo
clans of the region, in Dire Dawa town. In addition to the regular
show in Dire Dawa, the group traveled to other towns in the regions and
staged musical shows and enjoyed tremendous popularity. The popular
singer, Ali Birraa, was a member of this group.
Somali radio started a program in the Oromo language. At the
time, there was no Oromo language program on Ethiopian radio. It was
a new development and was very effective in educating the Oromo people
about their own position and situation in the Empire.
Somalia became independent. Prior to
this, members of Somali Youth League reorganized and opened an office in
Mogadishu under the name of the Liberation Front for the Somali West (LFSW)
or "Somali Galbed." Its main objective was to regain 'the
lost territories of Somalia' - referring to Hararge, Arsi, Baale and
Sidamo - and annex them to Somalia.
A coup d'etat to topple the
Haile Selassie Monarchy failed. Oromo officers (such as Taddasaa
Biru, Jaagamaa Keello, Waqejira Serda, Dawit Abdi and Major Qadida
Guremeysa) loyal to the Emperor were instrumental in failing the
coup. And yet they were suspected of disloyalty and subjected to
discrimination by the authorities. Such a policy not only angered
Oromo officers, but also encouraged them to be involved in political
The United Nations passed
Resolution 1514 XV, which defined colonialism as "the subjection of
peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation." The
establishment of the Ethiopian rule in Oromia and the subsequent all-out
attempts at destroying Oromo culture, norms, values and beliefs and its
replacement by that of Abyssinians has fitted the UN's definition of
The new Somali government opened an embassy in
Cairo. Some of the embassy staff who had a long history of
involvement with SYL and the creation of LFSW put a lot of pressure on the
Oromo, including snatching passports, canceling scholarships, etc. to
accept the LFSW. The Oromo refused to adopt a Somali identity.
24 Jan, 1963
In the early 1960s several self-help
associations mushroomed in the Empire. Among such self-help
communities of the time were the Shawa Tuullama and Jibaat and Macha in
Shawa. These two merged and formed the Macha-Tuullama Welfare
Association (MTWA). MTWA was formed in accordance with Article 45 of
his Imperial Majesty's 1955 revised Constitution and Article 14, Number
505 of the Civil Code of the Ethiopian Empire as a civilian self-help
association. Its logo, designed by Haile Mariam Gamada, was the
Odaa (sycamore tree), the symbol of freedom and self-administration.
Haile Mariam Gamada also coined the name of the Association.
Many of the now disbanded Harar Oromo
organization members moved to Somalia, joined LFSW and dominated it.
Realizing this, the Ogaden Somali withdrew from the LFSW and formed its
own organization, the Ogaden Somali Liberation Front (OSLF). For all
practical purposes, LFSW was an Oromo organization.
Independent of the outside group, armed
struggle started in Baale in 1963. Like almost all of its predecessors, the
issue that triggered the Baale armed uprising was conflict on land
use. Waaqo Guutu and about 40 others revolted against the government
order to sent back Oromo who moved to Sidamo from Baale during that
period. With the assistance of Somalis who were treated in similar
manner, Waaqo Guutu's force moved to Dallo, the birthplace of Waaqo, and
joined old friends like Aliyyi Chirri, who had already revolted and were
in the Madda Walaabu forest. The first time the join Waaqo/Chirri
guerilla force encountered the enemy was at Malkaa Arganno, where they
tasted their fist victory. From there, they advanced to the towns of
Oborso and Bidere and liberated them.
The Macha-Tullama Welfare
Association (MTWA) was permitted by the government to function as a
self-help organization in the Shawa region. After this permit,
MTWA's leaders started mobilizing the Oromo through public
23 June, 1964
The Macha-Tuullama Welfare Association became
highly publicized and gained members in thousands. This was
triggered by the politically charged speeches of General Taddasaa Birru
delivered at the regular meetings of the Association. This was after
his meetings with the Prime Minister, Akelilu Habete Wolde, and other high officials at which the
Prime Minister took Taddasaa for an Amhara and shared secret state
policies with him that restricted non-Amhara to high posts in all
government institutions and those entering higher education institutions.
Public rallies and meetings were organized in villages, towns and
cities in several parts of Oromia where the Association leaders and cadres
spoke. The government was particularly disturbed when persons like
General Taddasaa, who they took for an Amhara or considered Amharized for
all practical purposes not only openly identify himself as an Oromo but
articulated his people's position and dissatisfaction with the government.
The Waaqo/Chirri rebellion spread like forest
fire through Dallo, Waabee and other provinces. More leaders with
hundreds of followers went to Somalia and received assistance. They
used classical guerrilla tactics operating out of bases in the dense
forests and mountains of Baale. The guerrillas made constant raids
on the colonial force and army outposts and roads to make it difficult for
the army to move or to receive supplies. Some of the prominent
leaders in the Baale uprising were Waaqo Guutu, Waaqo Luugo, Aliyyi Chirri,
Abbaa Washa and Hajji Yisihaq.
The top leaders of the MTWA and
the Baale rebellion met secretly and discussed how best to coordinate
their activities. The man who was instrumental in bringing the two
movements together was Ahmad Buna, a school teacher, a long time member of
the MTWA and one of the founders of the Oromo Liberation Front in 1974.
15 May, 1966
The MTWA organized a mass
gathering at Itayaa, in Arsi. Haile Selassie's government did
everything to prevent the meeting from taking place, but to no
avail. It's estimated that as many as 100,000 Oromo peasants from
the Arsi region might have participated in that gathering, which was a
turning point in the short history of the Association as well as in modern
Oromo history. Haji Robale Ture, one of the leaders of the
Association, stated that as "streams join together to form a river,
people also join together to be a nation to become a country,"
calling on the Oromo to strengthen their unity and create their own
The Ethiopian government attacked guerrilla
positions in El-Karre province with airplanes. This was effective
only due to the topography of the land, which was mostly flat and
bare. The bombing of villages over all the regions was intensified
with some effect, creating fear and horror among the population who were
not used to this type of warfare.
The government security force confiscated
Mamo Mazamir's "History of the Oromo" when they searched in
house. Mamo Mazamir was an Oromo student in the Addis Ababa
University (Haile Selassie I University) Law School and a member of MTWA.
In addition to writing history, Mamo prepared a plan for a new
government, a new constitution and distribution of land among the landless
The MTWA opened more branch
offices all over Oromia. Tesfaye Degaga established the
Association's branch office in Sidamo province. Abba Biya Abba Jobir
and Dr. Moga Firissa established the Jimma branch office. Abera
Yemer opened the office in Wallo. Shaykh Hussein Sura and Haji Adam
Sado set up the office in the Baale region. In Illubabor and Hararge, the offices were established by Dr. Jamal Abdul Qadir and
Qenzamach Abdulaziz Mohammed, respectively. Astede Habte Mariam, the
only woman within the highest policy-making Board of the Association,
formed the Wallagga branch office.
15 Oct, 1966
General Taddasaa Birru stated at
a meeting in the town of Dheera in Arsi that the political goal of MTWA
was to restore the inalienable rights of the Oromo people. He went
on to say that the Oromo had nothing to expect from the Amhara rulers, and
they would have to depend on themselves.
Terrified by the Oromo national consciousness,
both in Baale and Finfinne, a government conspiracy led to the explosion
of a hand grenade in an Addis Ababa cinema. The regime immediately
placed the responsibility at the door of the Macha-Tuullama Welfare
Association and the Association was immediately banned. Several of
the leaders and cadres were arrested and brought to trial before special
court in February 1967.
Using air cover, the Ethiopian army launched an
all-out offensive in Dallo and Gannale to defeat the Baale
rebellion. After some of the ferocious fighting, the army captured
the towns of Hawo and Buluq in Dallo. But it was a temporary defeat
to the guerrillas since they recaptured these places after a few weeks and
the government offensive ended as a total failure. At this juncture,
the Ethiopian government became desperate, and once again it turned to its
patrons for help to rescue the Empire. The British sent over 400
British army engineers to build bridges and roads. One of the
bridges that was of tremendous strategic importance was built over the
Gannaale river. The American Air Force experts were brought in to
improve the fire power of the Ethiopian Air Force jet fighters for more
accurate air strikes. Several Israeli counter-insurgency and
explosive experts were brought in to advise and guide the army. In
spite of all these efforts, the guerrillas were able to repulse the enemy
and continue to expand their area activity.
The government persecuted
leaders of the MTWA. Among the leaders, Mamo Mazamir, was sentenced to
death by hanging while others, such as Haile Mariam Gamada and a few
others were believed to have died from poisoning, later. General
Taddasaa shot his way out when colonial security agents went to arrest him
at his home.
A military coup d'etat took place in Somalia,
which brought a significant change of policy. Even though the
president of the military government, General Siad Barre, was a staunch
supporter of the liberation movements and all forces fighting the
Ethiopian colonial rulers, support for the Oromo guerrilla in Baale was
suspended and the supply of arms and ammunition ceased. The
Ethiopian government exploited this situation by changing its tactics of
confrontation to reconciliation.
The leaders and the majority of the rank and
file of the Baale rebellion laid down their arms after the Ethiopian
government used Oromo generals like Jaagamaa Keello to get the sympathy
and confidence of the movement leaders. Waaqo Guutu and a few others
were invited to the capital where they met with the Emperor and were shown
military facilities like the Imperial Air Force. As the leader of the movement, he had the title of
A Liberation Front of Somali West
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.
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."
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.
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.
Asmarom Legesse published "Gada:
Three Approaches to the Study of African Society" in which he
described the Gadaa system: "one of the most astonishing and
instructive turns the evolution of human society has taken."
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."
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.
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.
The first unit of the OLF
guerrilla fighters led by Elemo Qilixxu launched an armed struggle in the
highlands of Charchar, Eastern Oromia.
Ethiopian Revolution toppled the Haile
On September 12th, 1974, the Military Coordinating Committee
proclaimed itself as the Provisional Military Administration Council (PMAC)
and took over the state and government power.
At the end of 1974, to weaken and eliminate the major opposition groups
in the urban centers, the Derg sent all university and high school
students and teachers to rural areas on what was called "Development
Through Cooperation Campaign" - Zamacha.
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