Passing the Legacy on
By Worku Gadissa, January 12, 2020
It is fascinating to learn about the people of the past. We enjoy listening, seeing, reading and singing what happened in the past.
Normally, when some dies, there impact on the world immediately begins to recede and fade away but after 40 years, Baro Tumsa, influence is grater after his death than during his life. Baro’s legacy and vision for the oppressed Oromo people and other nations and nationalities in Ethiopia continues to haunt and challenge humanity.
What is a legacy? A legacy is what we provide for future generation. Parents provide legacies. Patriots provide legacies, each of us provide a legacy of some sort. I have written a legacy of Mamo Mezemer “Unsung Hero” one of many who have been hanged by prime PM. Aklilu Habtewold during Haile Selassie’s rule
Today, we are going to read the legacy of one of the Oromo hero who offered himself and suffered for doing so in the struggle to bring about justice, equality and democracy in Ethiopia. A lot has been written and heroic songs has been sung about Baro Tumsa who gave his life for changing and transforming Oromo struggle for freedom. In popular literature, stories and songs Baro is often mentioned, exalted and celebrated.
This is not by any means a historical narrative of Baro, but short summary of story to remember the idea of his vision in contest of present situation in Oromia. His legacy laid the foundation for the birth of Oromo Youth Movement (Qeerroo) and Qube generation.
Furthermore, we should remember the countless Oromo sons and daughters of Baro’s generation who have offered themselves and died in the struggle for the Oromo causes. They have chosen to pay ultimate sacrifices in their lives.
I have in mind, out of many thousands of names, especially to remember following prominent names who have helped make Oromia what it is today. Never doubt that these committed individuals have changed Oromia by sacrificing of their lives.
Baro Tumsa 1942 – 1978
Baro Tumsa was born and lived in Gimbi Wollega. I first become acquainted with him when I was a student at Ethiopian Evangelical High School in Bishoftu. He was my senior and mentor and helped me in math home works and his political passion was a significant change in my life. Being at the same school with him has given me the opportunity and understanding of him more. Baro was an outstanding and brilliant student and had strong interest in politics and revolutionary ideas. He respected people, was open and honest as any man I have known.
Baro was unusually tall, 7 ft. His brother and sister had similar heights. He played volleyball and basketball and was very good in both sports, especially in volleyball he stood at top of the net and skilled in blocking and smashing or kill tactics.
Baro had a unique way of bringing people together and forming them into groups. One of the way he sought to get his message across was through individual contact. He was, often, in the street looking anxiously to find friends and others with whom he had acquaintance. One of my most vivid memories of his influence goes back that at one time he was sitting with two friends at a coffee bar outside National Theater, Finfinne. I was walking and he saw me from far and invited me to come and join them. I took empty chair and joined the conversation. After a short talk from our high school days our conversation turned to political situation in the country. We discussed strategies how to organize Oromo struggle against dictatorial Darg regime.
While he was talking he was also looking for more friends passing by. He rose up and walked forward to meet another friend, yelling, Kinfe! Come and join us! He introduced Kinfe to all of us and said Kinfe is from Salale, and added, you guys are from same region and probably knew each other? After short talk, we exchanged phone numbers with Kinfe and when we were about to leave, Baro saw two other young men and started talking to them. He simply put his hands on their shoulders and started talking of the urgency of forming Oromo organization for the struggle against the Habasha domination over the Oromo.
At another time, I saw Baro standing with the historical giant, General Tadesse Biru. Baro introduced me to the general and I felt overwhelmed. It was a thrilling moment in my life. I was filled with hope and utmost confidence in future that G. Taddesa’s and Baro’s vision would help energize all oppressed people of Ethiopia.
Baro had many ways to bring people together. Most of the time he used his house to meet friends. He could not do other way because public gathering or meeting was not allowed by the totalitarian, Darg regime.
Baro was a man of vision and of action and was brilliant communicator in bringing and organizing people together for freedom movement. He was so far ahead of his time.
Baro’s Activities As University Student
Baro received his graduate degree from Addis Ababa University. He was an honor student and graduated in two degrees, Pharmacy and Law. He was very active with student movement and become president of University Student Union. Haile Silasse maintained oppressive system of government. Under Barto’s leadership student opposition against Haile Sillase’s feudal backward and inhuman rule grew fast. He organized student opposition movement against feudal land ownership in the country under the motto of “Land to the tiller.” In some provinces like Showa and Elu-Ababor over 85 % of the land grabbed and appropriated to the Neftenya. The Oromo were deprived of their own land. Because of Baro’s anti- government critics and activities he was arrested and accused and imprisoned together with other friends, but released after pleading the Emperor. Remember that in those days, opposing Haile Selassie means, opposing God, “Emperor Haile Selassie I, Elect of God, King of Kings, Conquering Lion of Judah”.
The movement he started, eventually, produced a culmination to Haile Silasse rule. Haile Silasse was toppled and Derg took power.
After graduation Baro got a job in the Ministry of Health as head of pharmacy department. The major part of his effort was to help motivate the Oromo to own and expand their businesses. One of his great accomplishment at the time was to help many Oromo to own their drug stores.
A little has been told and written about Baro’s elder brother Pastor Gudina Tumsa president of Mekane Yesus Church. There is parallel between them and they share many qualities together. Pastor Gudina played a significant role in religion and human right issues in Ethiopia. Just like Baro he was deeply involved and seriously committed to the struggle of Oromo people. Although, he played similar role with Baro he received little attention and he remains unsung hero. During Haile Selassie’s autocratic rule and Derg’s dictatorial rule, he had shown a symbol of exceptionally courageous opposing of inhuman system of government. He loved and cared for oppressed groups in the country. Many Evangelical preachers so called “Pente” don’t want participate in politics. They relate politics synonymous to sin and not true followers of God. They think that a church is a place for perfect people. In real life there is no life without politics. In fact, the mission of true church is to stand for the freedom of their fellow human beings. The church should support and advocate for the oppressed people. Pastor Gudina made a vital contribution to reenergizing the Oromo movement of his time. God likes and needs people who will take stands for what is right.
Pastor Gudina often preached emphasizing the suffering of millions of people from poverty, sickness, famine and government cruelty and abuse of power. Because of these critics of the government and services he provided to the Oromo people, he was kidnapped by Derg security forces and later killed in secret.
Pastor Gudina’s murder caused strong international condemnation of Derg regime. Pastor Gudina’s spouse, Tesay Tolessa, was arrested and imprisoned for nine years.
Many, Oromo intellectuals of Biro’s days were either killed or imprisoned for up to ten years by Derg.
Baro Tumsa had wit, wisdom and imagination in bringing people together and forming opposition groups against the dictatorial Derg regime. To listen to his speech, people turned out and he was happy to answer their questions. The idea of oppressed and exploited class struggle was not confined to Oromo only, but rapidly expanded into other nationalities across the country. In reality, Baro opened up the door for the minority groups and he made his mark in Ethiopian history. Before long others from minority ethnic groups joined him and founded “ECHAT” (The Ethiopian Oppressed Mass Revolutionary Organization), the brain child of Baro Tumsa. He then become a chairman of ECHAT organization. The development history of oppressed ethnic groups rests on Baro more than any other figure. The whole idea of “ chiqunoch” or oppressed minority nationalities movement and political parties have their root in ECHAT. He brought a vision of extraordinary significance and actively promoting inter-ethnic groups organization and cooperation to share their common problems.
Long before, formation of ECAHT, Baro joined and deeply committed to Matcha Tulama Organization which marked the birth of Oromo Movement.
The Dream That Is Not Dead
The Derg regime, began wide spread arrests of MESON often called “Fidist” and ECHAT members. Baro with other colleagues escaped and went to Hararge Province to continue their struggle.
The reality on Baro’s death or how he was killed is still unclear, but one thing is clear that he was ambushed and killed with other colleagues in the mountains of Gara Mulata. Many believed that they were killed by another rival Oromo political group. Others say he was ambushed and killed by the Derg secret services.
We are not to mourn, but celebrate his legacy and his legacy that lives on forever. Baro’s idea turned out to find their fullest expression in laying down a new foundation for Oromo Youth Movement, the Qeerroo struggle for freedom. But after his death, it looked as if whatever small mark he left is greater still after four decades. As the Bible says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will not produces many seeds”
How much do we really know about other comrades who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Oromo struggle for freedom and democracy? How much have you been told about other heroes of Biro’s generation? We need to remember those who chose to pay highest prices in their lives and made marks in the Oromo struggle for freedom like Abu Bakar Musa, Abushe Garba, Badho Ragasaa, Elemo Qilxu, Haile Fida, Megersa Beri, Nadi Gamada and many more?
In July 25, 2018 I wrote an article on the life and legacy of Mamo Mezemer “The Unsung Hero”, one of the enlighten intellectual members of Mecha /Tulama Organization who was condemned to death by hanging by PM. Aklilu Habtewold government. Can one believe what happened then? As a tribute to him a street was named after him in Adama. Furthermore, to remember and honor Mamo, another street was named after him at his home town of Guder.
In this short story, I hope you will get a glimpse of what it is like to have a personal relationship with a person who organized and charged/motivated Oromo and other minority nationalities into consciousness. Baro created a whole new vision of what it means to be an Oromo and he had a radically new view of exploited and oppressed people in the country. Baro did many other things as well and if every one of them were written down, it would become many books.
Baro’s legacy lives in each of us and every one of us. He was my friend, but he was also my hero who helped to shape and create in me proper mind set for engaging in Oromo struggle for freedom. Through him I came to know a totally different view of oppressed nationalities.
After the fall of Derg and rise of EPRDF the path ahead for Oromo was not easy and it took us 42 years to reach where we are today.
Finally, as usual I would like the people to remember “nobody in the world, nobody in human history, has ever gotten there freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them”. Remember, freedom is taken never given. Freedom! Before fake election!