Edao Oda Boru, An Exemplary Oromo, is a national treasure
By Teferi Degeneh Bijiga
Thanks to the flourishing Oromo media, more people than ever have recently been given the opportunity to hear Edao narrate the Oromo historical facts, which had been deliberately suppressed, trivialized or hidden for so long. All who have heard Edao speak on radio or television will have admired his photographic memory of names, places and historical events. Justifiably, he has been widely dubbed ‘a walking Encyclopedia’. Indeed, Edao’s ability to remember vital and less well-documented historical events is incredible. Also commendable is his integrity and unswerving commitment to the Oromo cause.
It was a long time ago (sorry, I am now giving away our ages!) that I met Edao for the very first time at a teacher training institute (TTI) in Bahir Dar. Having just completed a secondary school education, I, like many friends at the time, joined the TTI in order to avoid the ‘Development through Co-operation and Education’ campaign that the Derg had proclaimed soon after deposing Haile Sellassie. I think Edao’s intention to join the TTI, by withdrawing from the university, was for the same reason.
It all began one afternoon in early November (a few weeks after we joined the TTI) when Edao came to be prominent and caught our attention. That was the day when about 700 or so newly-admitted teacher trainees came to a meeting in the auditorium of the institute to establish a student union, by electing a president, a secretary and other officials to represent us. As we all came from different places and knew very little about each other, the only way to nominate and vote for a candidate was by their performance in the debates that ensued. What I vividly remember to this day was a young, slim boy raising his hand to be granted the opportunity to speak to the audience. Remember, this was early days in the revolution when the Derg itself hardly knew what it had set out to undertake.
The young man’s speech was so captivating that every statement he made was followed by a thunderous applause. He stole the hearts and minds of the audience with the result that he was unanimously elected as the TTI’s student union president. This was Edao, an Oromo boy elected as president at Bahir Dar TTI in 1975. I emphasize this because life then was nowhere near what it is today for an Oromo in that part of the country.
But, was Edao really an Oromo? This was a question that used to be asked by many fellow Oromo and non-Oromo at that time. In fact the question had continued to be asked, especially by non-Oromo’s until very recently in Europe. In Bahir Dar in the late 1970’s, however, there were legitimate reasons why the question was posed. One of the reasons was that Edao spoke relatively very good Amharic, a language that most of us ‘broke into pieces’ whilst trying to use it even in informal situations. The second reason was probably, but not exclusively, due to his position as the president of the union. Edao rarely socialized with us, for example, by going to the town and drinking tella or qunduftii, which was fashionable to do at the time. I have lately realised that Edao bought people drinks including alcohol but rarely drank himself.
However, in spite of the unfounded accusations or questions about whether or not he was an Oromo, Edao was always proud to speak in Afaan Oromo whenever we met in the campus or in the town. This might also sound odd to some present readers (specially the Qubee generation) but it was a big deal to use your own language (afaan Oromo) in the campus or town in those days. Edao was one of very few students who had a high enough level of political consciousness to be able to engage in mature debates.
There were, of course, some who were already acquainted with a rudimentary knowledge of Marxism-Leninism. Although the majority of us were in the dark about the general direction of which the country’s politics was leading to, we were not only aware of, but ready to resist, the inequalities that existed between nationalities and manifested in different forms. One may wonder how to deal with such a scenario if one were in Edao’s shoes.
I want to share an episode where Edao’s skills were tested: One Saturday evening an Oromo teacher trainee by the name of M.G. (I have heard this person lives in the USA) was attacked by six trainees when returning to the TTI campus from the town. The six boys spoke Amharic and came from Adama. Their presumed reasons for the attack were, a) M.G. looked smart with his afro-hair and b) he (an Oromo boy) had stood on the stage without being assigned to announce anything to the trainees. The six boys did not like this. What they did to M.G. was to wait for him and give him a bloody nose. When the news came that M.G. was attacked by these thugs, Oromo students from all the provinces met under a tree by the Blue Nile to deliberate on how to retaliate. Because of his position as the president, Edao was excused for not joining us at that meeting. The news of our meeting and what we intended to do reached the director who panicked and called a student meeting. Even more than the director, the six boys were so frightened for their lives that they begged the director and Edao to play a reconcilliatory role in resolving the issue. In the end, the director and Edao facilitated the meeting and the boys were required to go on to the stage and ask M.G. for forgiveness. By the way, these boys did the same thing to a boy from Gondar and another one from Debre Markos. In both cases no retaliatory action was attempted or carried out and they got away with their atrocities. But they never attempted another attack with an Oromo after the incident with M.G.
A month or so after that incident, we woke up one morning to learn that Edao was missing from the campus. None of us had any knowledge whatsoever as to what had happened to him or his whereabouts for many weeks. However, news came later that Edao left the TTI to work somewhere else. Since then I haven’t had any information about Edao until by chance I met him early 1990’s in an Oromo Relief Association office in London. With his exceptional memory, it was not hard for him to remember me including my full name. On that rare occasion my memory also did me justice by enabling me to remember the Edao I had known almost two decades before. My recollection was that Edao had not changed physically very much despite the time that had elapsed. We subsequently met and socialized several times in London. Edao has many good qualities but the one I admire most is his consistency in his belief in Oromo independence and Oromo as one nation without allegiance to, or preference of, a region or religion. So, it cannot be any exaggeration to say that Edao is a national treasure, and let us pray for him to get well very soon from his current illness.