The agony of congested heart , an Oromo short story, long strugle of Oromo
The agony of congested heart
By Teferi Nigussie
My name is Waaqoo. Waaqoo Bonayaa. I am from Borana, an Oromo clan living in southern Ethiopian and north Kenya. I am the first son of Qallu Oromo spiritual leaders.
Since my father is Qallu, he used to tell the people when Gada election would takes place, when the Gada in power leave the office, when to anoint the new Abba gada, when would be Irrecha and to predict public festivals.
My father burn fire in a yard every Friday evening and spend the night out side to pray to God. He used to examine stars and prepare calendar based on astronomical principles and calculate dates for every activities.
My father never carries weapons. He doest slay animals as he is not expected to kill any animal. He is calm and speaking gently for he is so religious that I never saw him got angered. Other than this he looks after God’s safu (laws) so that they are not broken, over looked hence everybody lives to his/her expectations. He used to teach others to act in a right way.
His other duty was to make sure that animals to be slaughtered for festivities have nothing wrong with them for animals with spot, lame or have any default cannot be killed for festivals. The animal that would be killed must also be uncontested no claim of any sort should be made about it. If it is to be bought from some one, the seller shouldn’t be a person accused or suspected of murder, thief, betrayal, rape or any other crime.
I have such a good father and I am proud of him. I know people specially my teenagers were envy of me. Girls of my village have desire to merry me. Even some fall in love with me. Because Qallu in Borana in particular, and in Oromo in general, believed to be descended from heaven.
My father told me that the first Qallu descended from heaven and found among Matari clan. He is said to be the son of God.
* * *
I grown in such beautiful and moralistic society and haven’t encounter any problem until I go to school. In school for the first time I saw people who don’t speak my language but who hate my language. By any means we are forbidden to speak our language, understanding instructional languages was very difficult to me and understanding concepts in that language was another problem. Facing two interrelated problems at the same time.
Not only speaking our mother tongue but mispronunciation or misspelling or misreading would result in savior punishment.
So many times I dismissed from school but because of my uncle who was in government position I managed to complete my school.
Other than this sometimes they despise us for we are from countryside, a poor pastoralist who doesn’t know anything than fallowing his cattle.
I have serious problem than my other friends who are from country side. They use to tell me that my father is a priest for Satan. I never spoken a word for I know the consequence. For this reason I keep quiet, quiet as dead and now I think that is why they were speaking like they want. They have freedom to speak freedom to name and freedom to define who we are? I can not speak for my self. I cannot name my experience and I cannot define who I am.
They and I are always in contrast. always in quarrel. But thanks to my Uncle I managed to complete my secondary school and managed to join university.
It was one beautiful Friday morning I get out of my dormitory to go to the class. I was freshman and I don’t know much about Finifinne University campus
A light dark thin and tall young boy was speaking in front of University president office which was once Haila sillasse’s palace.
Students murmur, some shout and some clap hand. When I arrived he was saying “students of Addis Ababa University, I don’t think you do not know our serious problem. It is one and only one: feudalism and petty bourgeois. Majority of you are from country side. Do your families have land to till? Have you ever had enough food for your meal? How many of you have shoos when you were in school? How many of you have extra trousers? How many of you have pocket money for tea? How many of you are proud of yourself and proudly speak your language? How many of you are proud of your culture and religion?
Only few, I guess, who happened to live splendid and prestigious life why? Why? Why? Is it because our family are lazy, is it because they do not deserve let alone happy life but enough food and cloth? Is it because we are naturally inferior and not men of worthy? Answer me my follow men? It is not” he answered himself. “It is not, it is because of this old dirty regime.”
My fellowmen “is it just to make the weak poor to sell their pitiful belongings, which is the source of their life’s bread in order to add more gold to their master’s wealth? Is it right that the poor should be oppressed, exploited and as a result made poorer in order to make the rich richer? Should we, my fellow men, allow this butcher to slaughter our farmers further? I tell you! My country men came here to the palace carrying yoke like their oxen to show how much they were subjugated and oppressed by the feudal system.
However the regime didn’t at least consider their problem rather it arrested them and put them in jail. Is this is a solution for our farmer perennial problem? My fellow student, land and nationalities problem are our pertinent problems. Thus I proclaim “land for tillers, freedom for nationalities” he said it loud and the student shouted saying “land for tillers, freedom to nationalities” while the mob was going on hot for sometimes the campus police get in and dispersed the gathering and arrested the tall thin student speaking loud standing on the stages Mussolini build when he occupied Ethiopia for five years as a commemorial statue he stayed in power.
The students get angered with the student arrested and demonstrated the next day and threw stone at the police. The police answered by firing teargas at students that took the whole morning. Some wounded and some more arrested.
I for the first time experienced what I cannot express by words. I felt as if I am the one who can contribute something for the feature of my people. I read about revolution but I didn’t realize revolution. But now I thought I am at the gate of the revolutionists. For the first time I heard someone who speaks in behave of poor people and I get interested to it.
Suddenly I start thinking about freedom of people, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of nations and nationalities. Oh God! How many freedom we are struggling for? And to what extent?
I remembered Georg Washington beloved saying “God who gave us life has also given us freedom” what I a nice saying. Rousseau came to my mind” man is born free but in chain of slavery every where”. This is most true in Ethiopia, in Oromo my nation a nation failed in the hands of black colonialists while the other African brothers failed under cruel yoke of white colonialism. My black brothers struggled neck to neck with the white and won their war. For my people everything is too late. Too late to understand even what is going on. Too late to remember what happened to my grand father.
* * *
That day changed my life. I determined to step down Haile Silasie’s regime. We started clandestine movement. We started to publish political pamphlets. We organized workers under their union.
We, I and my friends who suffered much in the prison managed to call general strike in Finifinne. Everything was secretly done and at last we were successful. The day came and people get out of their fear and demonstrate in Masqal square asking all kind of question from wage increment to regime change.
At this time I thought as if I was about to make my dream true. I thought how much leader ship is important and I learn that from my father. I got capitalized the life skills I got from my father. Thus I thought establishing political party is very important thing.
I started to read about different party history my people problem and the dominant individuals of the day. At last with the generous help of my friend we finished our manifesto and distributed it to our friends. While we were doing on this we also intensified our protest in school, in university and in the society.
At last we were successful. We secretly found a political a party that struggle for the freedom of my people.
At this time a thin tall student who impressed me and introduced me to the revolution for the first time became my best friend. He was a co-founder of our party. He introduced a student called Muze to me. He said we have similar problem.
One day in the evening I had dinner with Muze. He told me that my people and his people have similar problem and need similar solution.
“Ethiopia needs to be restructured so that it fulfilled its peoples need. Nations has to be free to rule over their affairs. I hope this would give you sense, so let us do together and hasten the fall of this old regime.
“I agree” I said and we became good friends. We used to meet regularly and discussed everything together. In short period of time he became my best friend next to Humnecha, who made the first speech of the revolution. I introduced him to my girl friend and soon they became friends too. We eat together; laugh together and at last we were in the same dormitory.
Muze was from northern part of Ethiopia and his family lived on agriculture. He was a son of priest like me but very different from me. If he was as he said or his people were oppressed, it was only because of their language and yet has got second place in Ethiopian empire. But for me oppression was everything and affected everything and affected every part of my life. For this reason many times I told him we are not the same and by no means would we have similar experience and similar solution for our cause.
Some of my friends with other Oromo intellectual started to define our cause. They said we, the Oromo and other southern Ethiopian people including Somali have similar problem and that is colonialism. “We were colony of Abyssinian. Other African countries were colonized by white European but we were colonized by neighboring African brothers by the help of European colonialist. We share the same experience with other African people. We discussed a lot about this issue whether our case is colonialism or simply some kind of domination but not in full agreement. However this thought me at least to suspect Muze.
In summer that year some of my friends give up hope and determined to start armed struggle for they believed that our main problem was colonialism and we must be free by iron and blood. I and Muze were not happy with this solution. We prefer general solution and restructure in Ethiopian empire.
While we were busy organizing people for this goal, the army secretly organized themselves and disposed the king and snatched the revolution and its fruit from the people. They were the imperial army. They were those who were beating and imprisoning us. I myself was imprisoned three times and tortured. To put it nut shell, they were the right hand of the emperor. However over night they became revolutionary and took over our credit.
First we were surprised to her the news which says they despised the emperor and transitional military council called Dargue sized the power.
Soon it became apparent that the military junta is another phase of oppression. But within three months it responded to the first question we were asking. That was “land to tiller” and many of us were happy of this act for my people lost their father land for a century and this was great victory.
It also promised to tackle problems of nation and nationality and I was hope full while many of my friends were saying it was simply hypocrisy. Some even took our party to the fiercest and intensified armed struggle. Muze’s friends fleet to north and also commenced armed struggle.
We were confused for we believed that some of our questions were answered and some still left unanswered. For me I am a son of Qallu (priest) and I am not expected to fight. Thus I prefer to struggle peacefully without shedding blood. Thus, I thought my struggle should be to change mind. If I can do that, I can bring differences. As I did before, I started to publish news paper in my language and wrote some books too. In secret, I even published political pamphlets. Soon some of my classmate became my ardent enemy saying “you are working with a government.” They started urban armed struggle and attacked some of my friends.
The military government responded to this by killing indiscriminately. Who was suspected to be his opponents must be killed. I and Muze was also suspected of supporting and giving cover for anti revolutionist and we were arrested.
However one of my relative was in the revolutionary army and bribed the political cadre and we escaped the harsh punishment other were facing.
The next day I heard very shaking news. It was almost three years since Huminecha went to forest for armed struggle. He has got training in eastern Ethiopian called Gaara Mullataa and became rebel leader in the west Oromia (Ethiopia) for he was from this part of the country.
As soon as the military government seriously attacked in this part of the country it decided to take serious measurement.
The military government tried hard to get the where about of these rebel and at last they have information about where the rebel leaders hide and live. Especial task force was prepared and sent to west Ethiopia were the rebel leaders were active and live. Then they gave a poison to one of the rebel leader’s brother. The rebel leader’s brother was warned that if he will not add what they gave him to the rebel leaders’ food he will be killed and so of his whole family.
He hesitated but since he knows what is going to happen to him he did what they ordered him to do. At the end all were died but Huminecha who was not happy with the meal. He left the house for patrolling but failed as soon as he went out. Fortunately he was able to roll down to the river and there he ate lot of soil and drunk a lot of water and saved but arrested.
He was taken to hospital and after his health was improved he was taken to prison in Finifinne. This man is Huminecha, my friend. After I got this news, I thought that now it is my turn to be thrown to jail for they know that Hummencha was my best friend. Muze was also in fear because his friends in the north intensified their struggle.
In the evening my uncle gave me call and told me that the policemen are looking for me and Muze so we have to live the city. Around mid night we finished our preparation and left Finifinnee disguised as farmers. First we went to Awasa and from Awasa to Yabello where my family live. I and Muze didn’t go to my family home directly but stay in town because going to my family house may have danger.
I sent massage to my father and he came and takes us to country side saying we are shepherd. We spent the night out side our hats and in the early morning we left my home village to the open oven hot desert. We soon used to the environment and pretend to be herders.
Three times we were kept and asked for identification. Thanks to my father different identification was ready for us and we continue our journey leading our cattle.
After a week we reached at Ethio -Kenya border.
I told my father to return back and promised him to go refuge camp and then going to Europe or America and to help him.
I kissed him and he left me carrying and I burst in tear and just return back calling my father. Muze run after me and caught me by arm and said “are you mad? What are you doing? If they got you here imagine what they would do to you. Don’t be fools” He grabbed my arm fast and stopped me. I return back to word the boarder and it is very near. I prayed in my heart “please, God if it is your will let me turn back in peace to my home” I said and nailed down unknowingly and murmured up to the firmament. Then I stand and walked slowly to the border. Farewell Oromia.
We crossed the dead desert called Didoo Galgalo and after a day reached Marsabet. Then we proceed to Nairobi the next day.
In Nairobi we meet our Africa brothers and our nationalities. Muze said that staying here at Nairobi and talking about war, liberation and the dictator Mangistu has no use. Rather we have to join our comrade and fight to the last. At last we decided to join our respective liberation front then operating in southern and northern Ethiopia.
Muze departed from me. I saw him off to Mombasa and from Mombasa he left to Sahel and took part in the northern liberation army.
I return back to Nairobi and stayed for few weeks. While I stayed in Nairobi I learn a lot about Oromo and the grievance they have against their government. I talked to the elder and young people and found that they all have the same problem. Oppression is their main problem and liberation is their ultimate goal. That was all that they talk about then I went back to Borana and joined the liberation army at the time newly arriving at Borana and putting its foot on that area. I helped them to great extent for I know the custom as well as the regional dialect and to some extent the topography of the region. Soon we became successful and able to establish some liberated zone. Our influence was extended to the north and we got remarkable support from the society.
However, we had serious problem with a faction struggling to liberate Somali people in Ethiopia as well as forces fighting for greater Somalia. In many ways they negate and took our credit. They even deny our identity and perceive us as simply pre-ethnic raw material ready to be converted to the dominant group. Thus they claim all Muslim Oromo must be the part of greater Somalia. For us we are a people with distinct culture and language as well as economic and political culture in spite of our being almost equally Islam and Christian. For us religion is neither a tool for labeling nor a card of identification. We are Islam and we are Christian and that makes us very peculiar in the horn of Africa for there is no society in the horn who has almost equivalent number of Islam and Christian other than Oromo.
In all these representation and prejudice against us and pervasive punishment and atrocity the government took against us and our people we were advancing our attack and seized remarkable area in south, east and west of Oromia.
In the mid autumn of 1988 I was injured severely and had to leave the battle zone. I was taken to Marsabet hospital and referred to Nairobi and to Europe. I went to Europe late summer 1988. I went to Germany and there I acquainted with many Oromo, Eritrean, Tigriyean and other third world citizens.
We used to share what we have, what we do, our vision and even our version of democracy. As soon as I arrived I enrolled in the university for I got scholarship and I got my MA in philosophy in 1990.
I got job in an NGO working to improve live hood of people in the third world. Beside this I became representative of my organization and I was working hard for our success. I was living in Munich and organizing a community there.
While life was going in such a way the Ethiopian ruthless military junta raged the country for 17 years come to an end. It was great success and great job. For the first time I felt Ethiopia is my country too and I have to contribute my share for the general development of the country.
Soon I left Germany and fly to Finifinne .I got my comrades and we were very happy. I saw every body saying it is the usher of new era. Things were totally changed. The revolutionaries proclaimed that the old system went older thus should be uprooted and replaced with the new one. We were very happy for it is only then oppression would abolish with dismantling of colonial institutions.
I had returned to home only a month a go. My scholarship years had ended, and I was coming back to bring the wisdom of the west to my “under developed” homeland. I arrived at Finifinne in the evening and the next morning I run to Borana. When I had reached my family home after midnight, none of the neighbors had seen me come. My father, glad as he and all the family were to see me, had said “Enough we will go to bed and talk in the morning you must be tired”.
Tired I was, tired of the long, long voyage, and still ill adjusted to the many hour change in time, so tired I was that I developed a fever of exhaustion that night. It was as though I had been holding it in until I could get back to my own bed before letting it go. In the dusk I used to walk around the village taking my father overcoat so that no body recognizes me.
The village was as it had been. No change at all. When I left there is no electricity, no pure water, no school, and no clinic in the village and yet after twenty years or so no infrastructure was build there. For months I stay there unnoticed.
One day the armies suddenly and without warning swarmed down from the north, lasting their way through my homeland, leaving us overnight under a strange fear lead by mean our own nation.
They banged out the doors. They hammered at the walls and said “out everybody out everybody to the field.”
With fear and with trembling we all got up, we get up out of our blankets in to the chilly down. My father and my Mother, my sisters and my brothers. Out! Out! The shouting and the hammering continued. Out to the field! “What about Waaqo?” my mother said to my father, pointing to me.” They do not know he is here. May be he should hide?”
“No, no” said my father “they will surely find him.
“But why? If we keep him hidden in the back, no one will see him”
“They will, they will, they are breaking in with out warning. Only the night before, they broke in to many houses in the village. In the middle of the night, of two or three they banged at our door and pushed their way in, stamped in to the houses and with their boots and dragged us away. While they got in the dog braked at them but they fired and the dogs dashed to the bush.
In between my mother said “I am sure we can hide him safely” “No, no” my mother again protested “Too dangerous. Better he go with all of us. But there was no time to argue. Out! Out! The shouting and banging went on. They were still there, rounding up every house, man women and child out I went, too with my sisters and brother, my father and mother, out to the field.
I had got many mixed memories about this field that most happily etched my mind. The tree in the middle of the field where my father use to tale stories about creation of earth and heaven, the split of Horo that become Hora(Adem) and Hortu(Hawwe) the formulation of Gada and how it lead human being into peace. “Bita Qara” the Calendar he used to count for beside traditional observatory called Namuratunga. The place I had spent so many happy hours of my child hood playing with the girls of my village. A field where in the past regime, people of the surround village also came and gathered for meeting. Where we were told what to do, how to act and even how we have to belief. It is where we were told to speak only in Amharic. The field where, we were tought to speak, to write and think only in foreign language. Where a phrase spoken in our mother tongue in a public place brought a slap on the face from the lords or their Oromo collaborator. It is where as I was told by my grandfather and others prostrated before the Abyssinian priest and baptized in mass and showed a change in heart by the will of God, by the will of great God and unrestricted ministry of these priest we at once saved of age’s sin and loath act to holiness and righteousness.
They came with their heavy rifles. They came dragging some men behind them. The men with rifles distributed themselves among the crowed. A man here, a man there, and every one felt the alien presence close to his skin, every one felt the gnawing concern digging in to his soul.
Their leader climbed up on the plat from and slowly turned his eyes over us, at the sea of faces all around him. “Comrade” bellowed the leader “behold on anti peace forces. They are with us. They are in us. They are our enemy. They are against the peace and prosperity we got by our blood. Know take out your identity card. Every body took out except young boys and girls as well as women. Solider with rifles straight come to me and shout at me “show me your identity card” I took out my ID I brought from Germany. He was not able to read it so he took it to their leader and whispered with him and showed him. He took it straight to his face and gazed at it for long time and called the solider and told him to take me to the place where he was standing.
“Comrades” he cried “Behold the anti-peace elements. Here is the one we are looking for; here is a member of anti-peace forces in your midst. They took me to the platform. My mother shouted”. It is my son and how he became anti-peace. He has grown and educated here. He is Borana, he is an Oromo”. They didn’t hear her and my brother took her away. Then I go to the leader and said “I am from Germany and just I am arriving so why I don’t have ID card”.
“Why you came from Germany? to fight?”
“No, no, just to help my people, to serve them”
“I see, you mean, we are not helping them, take him away” he ordered.
They took me and other who were suspected of supporting anti peace elements. Finally I learn that they did not arrest me alone but my father and one of my brothers and many people from the village.
They took us to detention camp found in Yabello. Just in the morning my mother and my sister came crying in the morning. I saw them and told them we are safe and we will be safe and do not be worry too much about us. I heard that Muze has got good position in new government and I thought he would help me.
I told my sister to search for his address and give him call. She was successful and got him after two days and he promised her to help us.
After two days Muze arrived and put to end our case and we released from prison. We were found supporting anti peace forces but Muze the top official arrived and in moment we promoted to pro peace elements position. Muze stayed a day with us and invited me to see him at Finifinne.
After a week I went to Finfinne and got him. He told me how he went to Sahel Eretria and then to the free land of Tigray and become one of TPLF prominent reader. Then we turned to our present case “look” he said” you are wrong; I don’t know why are you longing for war? Now things are not like yesterday. All that we were struggling for are in the hands of the people. We and our people achieved what we have to achieve. Now it is time to think about development. Let us eradicate poverty. Let our people eat three times a day. That is what we have to do”.
“Muze,” I said I know you did great job, it is your great leadership commitments to create democratic political system in the country torn out of many years war”.
I must thank you and your comrade for their pain fall struggle for our freedom. But I am afraid; if really this is not to establish your own hegemonic status. You are kicking out all strong political organization and how you dare to say you are really on the right track to democratization
“Common man, leaving transitional government is not our fault but it is their own fault.”
“But they say they were pushed a way”
“Not at all, we now what they may contribute for our democratization of the country but if they refused our offering we cannot help them. So we let them go”.
“For war again”
“We don’t have any option”
“No, no, I do not think this would be a solution, I know some of their men and talked to them. They said we are ready to discuss. Thus you better discuss and compromise also. If there is no compromsation there will not be tolerance and if there is no tolerance there is no democracy”.
“No that is not the case, if there is no peace there is no democracy but let forget this dirty politics” he said he invited me to dinner in the evening in first class hotel in metropolitan. We had our chievaze and very good dinner. When I called for bill he said “do not worry it has been paid he said and signed on red book brought by the host.
I asked him “who paid it”
He said “we are valued to this extent” and laughed “how is life in Europe?”
“it is not good, you know, every time you think that you are in some body’s home and feel strange. You have home but you do not feel at home because you are not in your culture. You are cut of your cultural root. For this reason you are always in burning longing for your home and feel hard and tire making some argument about yourself. Sometimes you came to term with your self and made up your mind to go back to your home land having all western wisdom, skill and money. But soon you understand that you can not do at your home land because at any time you are suspected to be anti government and detained for silly reason like me. Then you regret by your decision”.
“So you regretted”
“Of course, you now I left the political organization you are accusing now before two years. I have nothing to do with them. But because I am from Europe, because of my educational status, your government is suspicious about me and I do not think I will live long here .To your surprise when I came here i had great hop. I was to invest. To establish a very good model school and referral hospital in my home town. However all of my dream evaporated like morning mist”
You better back to Europe, I advise you, you have to go as soon as possible I know you love you country but that has no use now”.
I left him and went to my bed. It was very boring night. I though why he advised me to leave the country? May be they want to arrest me or maybe he is in fear of me for I may discover how they are leading the country in wrong direction.
Any how I decide to go back to Europe. I went to Borana and farewell my family and flight to Germany.
After two years I saw on the news paper that the Swezz government invited Muze and Muze was depositing money Swaziland banks. The news paper stated how the Swizze banks are feeding on poor African and other third word countries and it says now it is the turn of Ethiopia. I heard that they were entertaining him in a very expensive hotel just serving so that he could see the values of money and invest money in Swizzes banks. I also heard that Muze was building an elegant sky scrapper building in the heart of Finifinne.
When I read all this I thought of my forty years struggle for some thing but end in nothing. Africa, struggle, victory, dictator, corruption, Africa, struggle. All curse! All are the agony of congested heart. My agony, my people agony.