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A Lifetime of Struggle for the Oromo: Honoring Haji Hasen Gamada

On March 22, 2022, thousands of Oromos gathered to celebrate the life of Haji Hasen Gamada, who had died the previous day after struggling with… The post A Lifetime of Struggle for the Oromo: Honoring Haji Hasen Gamada appeared first on OROMO LEGACY LEADERSHIP & ADVOCACY ASSOCIATION. click here to read original...

On March 22, 2022, thousands of Oromos gathered to celebrate the life of Haji Hasen Gamada, who had died the previous day after struggling with heart and lung disease for the past seven years. Haji Hasen was born shortly before the turn of the 20th century in the West Arsi zone, Oromia region, and was a lifelong advocate for the rights of the Oromo people and a practicing Muslim.  He had 11 children, but also took pride in his work educating his students and looking after the welfare of countless others. His funeral brought Oromos from all walks of life, including prominent politicians and religious leaders, together as they honored a man who spent his life fighting for the rights of the Oromo.  

Haji Hasen Gamada (Photo credit: BBC Afaan Oromoo)

Born in the early 1890’s under the rule of Emperor Menelik II, Haji Hasen’s life serves as a lens into the Oromo struggle for the past 130 years. During Haji Hasen’s early years, Emperor Menelik II adopted an aggressive expansionist policy for the Abyssinian empire that was functionally similar to that of European colonization within the continent, and eventually formed the country Ethiopia. During Haile Selassie’s regime , the Amharaized state structure of Ethiopia was further entrenched through the introduction of a new Constitution which made Amharic the only official language of Ethiopia and explicitly encouraged acculturation. Many Oromos reportedly felt pressured to convert to Christianity in order to advance politically, economically, and socially in Ethiopia. In contrast, Haji Hasen, who was born to a Christian family, became a Muslim and studied Islam in Jima, Bale, Wollo and Hararge zones.  Later, in 1954, traveled to Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia, where he studied to advance his knowledge of Islam for the next seven years.

In 1963, Haji Hasen returned to Ethiopia, where he began to teach Islam, his profession for the next 60 years, and to fight for the rights of the Oromo.  Although this was also the year when Mecha and Tulama (MT), an Oromo civic organization designed to preserve Oromo culture and national identity, was created, Haji Hasen was not a part of any political organization, although he often worked closely with prominent Oromo leaders who created such institutions, including Waqo Gutu, Haji Adem Sado, Haji Abdulahi Ganamo, Colonel Aliyi Ciri, Husen Bune and Adam Jilo.   

In 1969, Haji Hasen  was forced to flee to Somalia due to the State’s continued abuses against the Oromo, where he trained fighters until 1971, when he again returned to Ethiopia. 

Following Selassie’s regime, the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia (DERG or Dergue) was established in 1974. The DERG massacred thousands in what is known as the “Red Terror”.  During the fighting that took place between the DERG and a resistance group that Haji Hasen was part of, he lost a brother and a child, alongside countless friends and colleagues. Haji Hasen was also arrested on five different occasions during Selassie’s feudal regime and under the DERG’s military government.

In 1991, the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) came to power, allied with other ethnic-based resistance groups like the OLF, under the EPRDF. Almost immediately following the rise to power of the EPRDF, the OLF, led by Lencho Leta and Nadhi Gemeda, held an assembly in Finfinne Gulele, where Haji Hasen was invited to bless and open the ceremony as a community elder.  Unfortunately, Haji Hasen’s son has reported that he faced even greater acts of discrimination from the EPRDF government after his participation in this assembly, due to his participation in the resistance movement. Therefore, he made the decision to travel back to his hometown, where he continued advancing the armed struggle for the rights of the Oromo from 1984-1988.  

Although Haji Hasen devoted his life to advancing the Oromo cause, Oromos today continue to face arbitrary arrests and detention, discrimination, and exclusion. Much can be learned from Haji Hasen, who never gave up, and continued consulting with prominent Oromo leaders and calling for Oromos to unite and fight against injustice until the day he died.

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