Lt. Mamo Mezemer, the Unsung Hero

By Worku Gadissa, July 25, 2018

First graduates of Harar Military Academy at around 1960

Today I want to present a short article about one of the key founders and leaders of Mecha Tulama Association, Lt. Mamo Mezemer the Unsung Hero.

What draws me to write the story of Mamo Mezemer?

  1. He was the only member of Mecha Tulama sentenced to death by hanging.
  2. He was the chief ideological leader of Mecha Tulama.
  3. Mamo prophesied the downfall of the Haile Selassie branch of the Solomonic Dynasty and Ethiopian Empire.
  4. His heroism in the struggle against Haile Selassie and the empire is largely unsung. Yet even though Mamo is little known his achievements are substantial.
  5. Finally, I want to recount his story to show gratitude to him and all MTA members for their heroic struggle against the injustice and the oppression of the Haile Selassie regime.

In modern Oromo history Mecha Tulama was, after Raya Azebo and Bale Peasant Movement, the most significant Oromo organization engaged in social, political and armed struggle against the Ethiopian empire.

In 1955 [Eth. Calendar] Mecha Tulama Association [MTA] was born.  Its founding marked the beginning of the modern Oromo nationalist movement. MTA is a social and political movement that has literally altered the course of Oromo history.  Through the establishment of MTA Oromos took control of their own destinies for the first time in centuries.   Mass meetings were organized in many regions of Ethiopia from which arose torch burns symbolizing the Oromo struggle and the Oromo peoples’ quest for freedom.  MTA is the foundation and a beginning of OLF and Qerroo .

Mamo Mezemer was born in Guder, a town some 15 km. from Ambo, the birth place of many Oromo heroes. Few regions can match Macha and Bale as a birthplace for heroic figures of Oromo history.

A few details about Mamo’s birthplace.   Guder is a small town known for wine,  limestone  and a special quarry stone for house building known as “ Ambo Dingay”

Mamo attended Ambo Hagere Hywot School and then high school at Teferi Mekonen.  Upon graduating high school, he went to Harar Teacher Training Institute. After that he joined the Army Academy in Harar and graduated as 1st Lt. For a period, he served at the Army Academy as instructor.

Attracted to its revolutionary appeal, Mamo joined Mecha Tulama at a young age and played a key role in shaping events.

Continuing his education, he entered AA University Law School.  At the university he organized a student movement with the popular slogan of “meret la rashu” – “Land to the tiller”.  But before he received his degree Mamo was arrested and imprisoned by the Ethiopian government.

The Plot to Arrest Mamo

Ethiopian history is rife with conspiracy especially when it comes to the Oromo struggle for justice and freedom from political and governmental oppression.  Central and provincial governments lie about everything concerning the Oromo people from their historical origin to the history of their relationship with the Ethiopian state.

The arrest of Mamo Mezemer was the vile fruit of a deceptive and deceitful plot concocted by the Aklilu Habte-Wold government.  It viewed the charismatic Mamo, a man of intellect, wisdom and imagination, and described by Bekele Nadi as a visionary, revolutionary, and ideological figure deeply involved in Mecha Tulama, an organization and movement that it fearfully viewed as a threat to the Haile Selassie dynasty, empire, and regime and the Aklilu premiership and government.

The plot to arrest and judicially murder Mamo unfolded this way.

One day as Mamo was watching a movie with a friend in Cinema Adwa in Sheger a bomb exploded in the cinema.  The bomb was actually detonated by an Aklilu government agent but Mamo’s proximity to the explosion gave seeming credibility to the accusation that it was he who detonated the bomb.  This false accusation led to his arrest and imprisonment for treason.

The framing of Mamo was provoked by the regime’s increasing suspicion, fear, and hatred of the Oromo people.  It was only made worse by Mecha Tulama’s plot to assassinate the emperor and endeavor a coup against the state and government. But the coup d’etat failed.  One of the subsequent effects of its failure was the government’s ruthless pursuit, arrest, and imprisonment of MTA members.

In 1962 (Ethiopian Calendar) Gen. Tadesse Biru and Lt. Mamo Mezemer were tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.  Gen. Tadesse’s death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. No commutation of sentence was granted Mamo.  He was to die by hanging.

Vision for Oromo Struggle and Prophetic Warning of the Fall of Haile Selassie

Mamo Mezemer’s execution date was set for mid-1962.  As he walked to the gallows, one of the prison guards heard him speak a vision for the Oromo people and a prophetic warning of the fall of Haile Selassie.

Mamo said “I am falsely accused of a crime which I never committed, but my death has great value for the Oromo people. As you have dealt with me, judgment will come upon the emperor and his cabinet within not a long time.”

Mamo predicted that God`s judgment would fall on the Haile Selassie dynasty and the regime through which it had oppressively ruled Ethiopia for over four decades.

Aklilu Habte- Wold at the Hanging of Mamo Mezemer

On the day of Mamo’s execution Prime Minister Aklilu who rarely appeared at public events, went to Alem Bekagne prison to observe and celebrate the killing of a man who he deemed a dangerous threat to him and his government.

Accompanying Prime Minister Aklilu was an entourage of high ranking governmental officials to whom he granted the honor of watching and enjoying the judicial murder by hanging of Mamo Mezemer.

Aklilu was accompanied by:

Akalework Habte-Wold, Dej. Sahilu Defaye, Dej. Kifle Yirgtu, Mej. Gen. Derese Dubale, Mej, Gen. Yilma Shibashi and other prominent members of the Aklilus cabinet.

After most of the Mecha Tulama leaders who had been arrested, imprisoned, and hanged in the aftermath of the failed coup, the ministers and generals who accompanied Aklilu to witness and celebrate Memo’s death, were generously rewarded, decorated and promoted to higher ranks.

Dej. Kifle Yirgatu was given 20 gashas in Gamu Gofa and 15 gashas in Kaffa, Mj. Gen. Derese Dubale given many Gashas along Awash river. Others were promoted to high ranks and given lands and money.

Memo’s prophecy was loud and clear and judgment did eventually befall the Haile Selassie dynasty and regime.

In 1974 Haile Selassie’s feudal rule was brought to its terminating end by its toppling army, Derg. Soon after its overthrow sixty cabinet ministers and high-ranking army officers including Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wolde were arrested and brought into same prison where Mamo Mezemer had been imprisoned, executed and buried.

Ultimately, the Derg condemned all sixty high ranking government officials to death.   Those executed were buried inside the same prison where Mamo was hanged and then buried.

Mamo Mezemir

Lies, injustices and evil acts, eventually receive just retribution as shown by the execution and burial of Aklilu, his ministers, and military supporters for they died and were buried at the same prison Akililu had built to imprison, execute, and bury his political foes.

Mamo said “My blood will pave the way for the struggle of my people” and predicted judgment and destruction would fall upon the Haile Selassie dynasty and regime.

This is a clear example of how the prophetic word achieves fulfillment and how God can transform injustice into justice

What does Macha Tulama mean for us today?

The Haile Selassie, Derg, and TPLF regimes all banned MTA.   But, after 48 years we are witnessing and experiencing a very important time in Oromo history. Mamo’s spirit is not dead because Qeerroo keeps the fire burning.  We patriotic and resisting Oromos have reached an absolutely crucial moment in our struggle. Ultimately, our goal is not only to remember and teach the history of the MTA, but to rediscover in our own hearts and minds its legacy and pass it on to future generations of our people

The history of the Oromo people is shaped up by people like Mamo Mezemr: brave individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for equality and justice.

Although his earthly remains are buried Mamo’s life and immortal spirit inspires us to courageous deeds of Oromo patriotism.  The millions of Qeerroo of today are a blossoming of his heroic legacy.   Lt. Mamo Mezemer sacrificed his life for our cause and we are both proud of and grateful to him.

Lastly, I would like to thank the MTA’S original founding fathers, some of whom are with us today.  They have kept the fire burning.  I also have the hopeful expectation that MTA will one day return to Sheger.

Some are chosen to pay a price like Mamo.  Some of us stand for nothing, but remember you are standing on the sacrifices of heroes like Mamo Mezemer.

As Assatar Shakury declared “Nobody in the world, nobody in human history has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

You should stop asking for freedom, equality and justices from EPRDF, OPDO, or anyone.