A Pan-Africanist who trained Nelson Mandela, General Tadesse Birru

A Pan-Africanist who trained Nelson Mandela, General Tadesse Birru resisted both factionalism and ethnic partisanship, as evidenced by his initial rejection of an invitation to join the Macha Tulema Self-Help Association.
Determined to uplift and expand educational opportunities, General Tadesse Birru volunteered to lead the “Fidel Serawit”, a literacy campaign, in addition to his military duties. It was during this campaign that he encountered a life changing experience. Aklilu Habtewold, then prime minister of Ethiopia, not knowing General Tadesse Birru was an Oromo, suggested that it was unwise to educate or recruit Oromos to the military. Aklilu Habtewold said that doing so would mean sinking the empire under the Oromo ocean, an apparent reference to the large size of the Oromo population.
The prime ministers’ comments proved an eye-opener for the unsuspecting General. He realized the longstanding government policy to keep the Oromo uneducated and unempowered, in an effort to keep them away from the state power. Baffled by what he was hearing from the very government he served and defended, General Tadesse Birru decided to join the Macha Tulema Association and went on to become a prominent figure, a pioneer and the founding father of the Oromo national movement.
The much celebrated hero to millions of Oromos, General Tadesse Birru, advocated empowering the Oromo mass through education, modernizing their economy and infrastructure. He emphasized Oromo self-reliance as a primary means of development instead of dependence on the government with the sinister motive of keeping its own citizens in the dark. Although the sincere objective of General Tadesse Birru and the association was to build roads, schools and health centers, their attempt to unify and mobilize the Oromo for development was not welcomed by the government.
Prevented from working to educate his people, General Tadesse Birru along with other Oromo soldiers unsuccessfully attempted a coup in 1966, and was arrested along with many of his comrades. At an old age, General Tadesse Birru was severely tortured and was subjected to repeated ethnic slurs and ridicule. He was sentenced to death but later
committed to life in prison, while his colleague Captain Mammo Mezemir, an aspiring young lawyer, historian and officer was hanged. Hailamariam Gemeda, a lawyer and the intellectual powerhouse of Mecha Tulema Association was tortured to death by the direct order of Haile Silassie himself. Seyfu Tesemma and Temesgen Haile were poisoned and assassinated, respectively. Daniel Abebe Aregay was killed by a “mysterious” midair explosion aboard his private plane.
On the occasion of his execution, Cpt. Mamo Mezemir told the hangman “Please tell my children that I did not die in vain. My blood is spilled for the just cause of the Oromo people. I am certain that those who falsely convicted me, for a crime I did not commit and their rulers, will receive the appropriate judgment of Ethiopian people at this very spot I am being hanged. More importantly, sooner or later, the Oromo people will win their freedom by the struggle of its fighters” This message remains one of the most vibrant inspirations within the Oromo movement four decades later.
The trial of the Mecha Tulama leaders revealed the ethnic prejudice in the Ethiopian system at its worst. The prosecutor asked to expropriate the properties owned by the defendants in addition to demanding the highest possible punishment handed down to the accused. Responding to the prosecutor, General Tadesse Birru wrote a historic letter to the court, saying that officers who were accused of attempted coup previously were never asked to give up their property.
He argued that the government was taking the unprecedented and vindictive decision in order to uproot his family for the mere fact of his ethnicity. When it became clear that the judges were moved by the appeal, they were quickly replaced by hardliners before the verdict was reached. Thus, not only were the Mecha Tulema leaders were killed and incarcerated, their entire families were shattered. One can rightly argue that the vindictive ethnic-specific punishments directed against the founders have played a large role in radicalizing the Oromo movement and the subsequent formation of the OLF in 1973, leading to the current situation today.

አክሊሉ ሀብተወልድ፣ የቀድሞ የኢትዮጵያ ጠቅላይ ሚኒስተርን ስም ስንሰማ ትዝ የሚለን ንግግሩ ነው።
“ታደሰ፣ የኦሮሞ ህዝብ ይማር ይማር ለምን ትላለህ፣ ይህ ህዝብ እኮ ከተማረ ባህር ነው ይውጠናል፣ መቶ ኣመት ወደ ሗላ ኣስቀርተን ነው የምንገዛው”.
ዛሬ ኣክሊሉ የኣመቱ ምርጥ ሰው የተባለው ምን ታስቦ ነው?

“Osoo lammiin koo cunqurfamuu fi dhiibamuu, cunqursitoota fi dhiibdota lammii koo waliin nyaadhee dhuguun ‘dhiiga dhiiga’ natti jedhe.” J.Taaddasaa Birruu
Dubbii armaan olii kana kan dubbateJ Taaddasaa Birruu ture. Jeneraalichi, dubbii kana akka dubbatan sababa kan ta’e, Akiliiluu Habtawaldi ture.
Akiliil Habtawaldi galgala tokko B/J Taddasaa Birruu Irbaataaf mana isaatti afeeree osoo taphachaa jiranii waan tokko akeekkachiisee ture. Yeroo san B/J Taddasaa Birruu Koree Duula Qubee gaggeessaa ture. Hojii kanaanis ummanni Oromoo baratee doofummaa keessaa akka bahuuf tattafii gochaa ture.
Haala kana kan huabate Muummichi Ministeera yeroo sanaa, Akiliiluun, Oromoo ta’uu Jeneraal taaddasaa waan hin beekneef, ”Taddasaa ati erga duula qubee kana eegaltee ‘Baradhaa! Baradhaa!’ jechuu baay’istee jirta. ‘Baradhaa’ jechuun gaariidha. Garuu eeyyu barsiisuu akka qabnu adda baastee beekuu qabda.
Nuti yoo xiqqaatee, xiqqaate Oromoo jaarraa tokko gara boodaatti hambisnee bitaa jirra. ummata kana nan barsiisa yoo jette galaana nurra garagalu” jechuudhan duulichi akka ummata Oromoo hin ilaalle itti hime.
Egaa, dubbii kun J Taddasaa Birruutti gadoo cimaa uume. J Taaddasaanis guyyaa san irraa kaasanii gadoodhaan Waldaa Maccaaf Tuulamaatti dabalaman; yaadannoo isaanii guyyaa sanaas akaknatti dubabtan. ”Wuskiin fuuldura kootti buufamee jiru dhiiga natti fakkate. Gonkumaa miira koo to’achuu waan hin dandeenyeef, wuskiin naaf buufame ‘ani bar qorichaan fudhachaa jira; kanaafuu hin hin dhugu,’ jecheen dhiisee bahe!”
Eehee, seenana kun ni bubbule malee hin dagatamne; Habashoonni akleessaa har’as deebi’anii Oromoo balleessuuf waan qaban maraan duula guddaa gaggeessaa jiru.
Dammaquu, Ijaaramuu fi Qabsaa’uun aangoo oromoo harkatti deebisuu qabna; kana qofaatu furamaata!!

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