Thu. May 26th, 2022

Baro Tumsa – The Hero of Oromo

Baro Tumsa (1938–1978) was a pharmacist, lawyer and Oromo nationalist and political activist in Ethiopia. He was the younger brother of the famed Reverend Gudina Tumsa and mainly responsible for the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

Baro Tumsa was born in 1938, from his father Tumsa Silga and his mother Nasise Chiracho, at Bodji Karkaro in the Wallaga Region of Oromia. His parents died while he was still very young and so he was brought up by his elder brother, Gudina Tumsa.[2] He had one sister (Rahel) and two brothers (Gudina and Nagassa).

Baro Tumsa completed primary education and part of his secondary education in the town of Nekemte, Wallaga, and later in Bishoftu, Shoa. Subsequently, he joined the then Haile Selassie I University in Finfinne and graduated with BSc in Pharmacy, in 1966. Baro was mentored and encouraged to study Law by the likes of Dhinsa Lepisa, and Baqala Nadhi (both lawyers) from the Macha and Tulama Self-help Association and, he re-joined Haile Selassie I University Law School, where he completed his legal education. His LLM thesis entitled “Decentralisation and Nation Building” remains a seminal piece on the issue of national question in the Ethiopian Empire. (now Addis Ababa University).

POLITICAL ACTIVISM

Membership of the MTA:

The Macha and Tulama Self-Help Association (an organisation which was banned in 1966, and some of its leaders were jailed or killed) attracted Oromo students from Haile Selassie I University, including Baro Tumsa (the Chairman of the University Students’ Union), Lieutenant Mamo Mazamir, Ibsa Gutama, Mekonnen Gallan, Taha Ali Abdi, and many others. With the exception of Mamo Mazamir, who was martyred in 1969 the rest were founding members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in 1974. Besides Baro Tumsa, Lieutenant Mamo Mazamir was among the university students who contributed to the radicalization of the Association. This establishes a direct link between the transition from the Macha and Tulama Association to the OLF (Hassen 1996: 75).

Leader of Student Movement:

Baro Tumsa, as the Chairman of Ethiopian Student Union, and his fellow Oromo, the then President of the Parliament secretly arranged for the staging of the first ever ‘Land to the Tiller’ demonstration against the Haile Selassie regime. Baro Tumsa, cognisant of the fact that the Oromo are usurped their ancestral land by the colonial settlers, is credited for the coining of the slogan ‘Land to the Tiller’. The university students not only energized the movement but also raised the famous slogan of ‘Land to the Tiller’ which became the binding revolutionary slogan for the Ethiopian student movements both at home and abroad. From that day until the unseating of the imperial government, this slogan was never missing from the almost annual event of student anti-government demonstrations (Lata 1999: 191-192). Today, after nearly a half-century, the new generation of Oromo students are rallying under the slogan ‘the matter of land is the matter of life’ in their resistance against farm-land grabbing.

Organizer:

Most above all Baro Tumsa is admired for two things: First, by his deep and profound understanding of the Oromo cause as a colonial question and his leadership in organising the Oromo was a distinct political force. Second of all, he is revered for his unequalled natural talent of bringing people together. He was singlehandedly instrumental in bringing Oromo from all regions and background together and cementing their unity. Among the Addis Ababa-based underground movement, the brothers Rev. Gudina Tumsa and Baro Tumsa played a very crucial role in keeping alive the spirit of resistance (Zoga 1993: 300-301). They both gave their lives for the Oromo cause.

Ideologue and Founder of the OLF:

In fact, Baro Tumsa was instrumental in the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front. It was he who organized a secret conference in Addis Ababa in December 1973. Among the participants, Hussein Sura (Sheik Hussen), the leader of Beirut-based organization, Elemo Qilixxu, the leader of Aden-based Oromo National Liberation, and Baker Yusuf, came from the Middle East. Several individuals from different regions of Oromia also participated in that conference, out of which the OLF was formed in early 1974.

According to Olana Zoga, the author of History of Macha and Tulama Association, under the leadership of Baro Tumsa, underground members of the Association which gave rise to the OLF took advantage of the February 1974 Revolution and contributed to the overthrow of Haile Sellassie’s regime in four ways: First, its members effectively used the limited freedom of the press, which flourished in Ethiopia from March to June 1974 for the purpose of exposing Oromo colonial experience. Second, its parliamentary members regularly challenged many of the regime’s policies. Third, its members conducted agitation among the university and high school students. Fourth and most important, the underground members of the military police forces were instrumental in organizing the committee of the men in uniform (Derg or Dergue in Amharic) that overthrew the Emperor in September 1974 Zoga 1993: 301- 302). From this aspect it is very clear that the OLF grew out of the underground Macha and Tulama Association, and it is firmly rooted in Oromo national consciousness and it bases its ideological fire on Oromo nationalism.

Consequently, it can be said that the emergence of a national movement indicates that a population or social group has reached a new stage on the road to nationhood: the transition to political action. The nation, or the sections of a population that consider themselves to be a nation, attempt to create their own state (Alter 1989: 22-23).

Freedom Fighter in the Mountains of Gara Mulata:

Dedicated and visionary leader Baro Tumsa left behind the comfort of his privileged life in Finfinne to join the nascent guerrilla force of the OLF in the eastern command in 1978 and sacrificed his life for the freedom of the Oromo nation. By then he was married and a father of three children. He comes from an unprivileged background and established himself as a member of the urban elite educated and well connected middle class. However, he swapped these luxuries for the hardships in the mountains of Oromia for the sake of the freedom of his people whom he loved with all his heart and mind. The circumstances of his death remains unclear to this day.

Source: Encyclopedia

By Chala Dandessa

Name: Chala Dandessa. I was born in West Shewa Zone, Chobi District of Oromia Region, Ethiopia in 1989. Currently I am Lecturer at Jimma Teachers College.

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