Democracy: Liberty, Security, & Prosperity

Open letter to the Oromo Federalist Congress & fellow Ethiopians

Posted by Jawar on August 2, 2012

By Prof. Paulos Milkias | August 1, 2012


Congratulations to the Oromo Peoples’ Congress (OPC) and the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) who have merged to form the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). My sincere hope is that more Oromo political factions will follow suit. Here is why. The famous French author, Martial de Salviac, in his book: Les Galla: Grande NationAfricaine, un peuple antique au pays de Menelik (published in 1901) had considered theOromos as the pillar of the Ethiopian nation state. (For those who are interested, this book has been translated into English by Dr. Ayalew Kano as The Oromos: An Ancient People, Great African Nation [2005].)

It is an open secret that theOromos have been at the forefront of all those who fought off colonialism and moulded Ethiopia into the only truly independent African country during the European scramble for the continent. This is an incontrovertible historical fact.

What many are not aware of is the valour with which theOromos fought foreign invaders. Mark that the commander ofMenelik’s army that annihilated the Italian army at the battle ofAmba Alagie (jailed by Ras Makonnen, Emperor Haile Selassie’s father for doing so without receiving imperial orders) and then led the Ethiopian army into a brilliant victory against the Italians in 1896 was none other than an Oromo general, FitawurariGebeyehu [aka Gabo] Gora. Gebeyehu, though badly wounded, persevered in his gallantry and died while pursuing the retreating Italian soldiers at the conclusion of the Battle of Adwa, clearly the greatest military operation between the Africans and the Europeans since Hannibal marched from an African soil, crossed the Alps with elephants and vanquished the Romans at the Battle of Cannae in 210 BC.

One can give cases after cases regarding Oromo gallantry in fighting foreign invaders such as the episode of Major Abdisa Aga who confronted the Italian aggressors on their own soil wreaking havoc wherever he carried out his insurgency right under the nose of the feared Fascist bully, Benito Mussolini, or the case of a youthful, courageous Oromo fighter known as Abichu who in 1935-36 led an all young Salalé contingent, harassed the invading Fascist Army capturing badly needed weapons and ammunition for his comrades and commandeering provisions from the enemy even while Emperor Haile Selassie considered him an adventurous young man who should be restrained and if he refused and persisted in his herculean task of engaging bomb and poison gas spitting war planes and rumbling tanks discharging a hail of bullets on the Ethiopian peasant army should be arrested (Read Adolf Parselak’s Habesska Odyŝsea [The Valour of the Habeshas], recently translated by TechaneJobire Makonnen as Ye-Habesha Jebdu.]

Lest anyone doubt the chivalry of the Oromos and their role in keeping Ethiopia independent, and for that reason why they should be at the forefront of keeping this country, genuinely federated and led with a democracy that prescribes to the concept of the rule of the majority and the protection of the minority, I shall leave you with a long quotation I extracted from a recent book I was asked by a major scholarly journal to review. The book is The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire written by Professor Raymond Jonas of the University of Washington in Seattle, and published by Harvard University Press in 2011. Here it is, verbatim other than a quote within a quote from a previous book edited by myself and my colleague Prof. Getachew Metaferia.

Quotes from Raymond Jonas’ book:

The Battle of Adwa: Africa’s Historic Victory against European Colonialism, Harvard University Press, 2012: [pp. 213, 214, 215,…]

… Fear began to weigh in the decisions of Italian soldiers. The appearance of the Oromo cavalrymen, known at the time as Galla, had a notably dispiriting effect. The Oromo were mounted infantrymen. They rode into position, dismounted, and fired. Oromo cavalry had achieved quasi-mythical status in the weeks leading up to the war … Stories on Oromo cavalry and illustrations with captions reading “Mow them down!” fed the imaginations not only of civilians but also of soldiers shipping out. ….Since the Italians had no cavalry and, in retreat, were sometimes without weapons, the Oromo held a distinct advantage. Their lion’s mane headdresses, which amplified their reputation for ferocity in combat, made them fearsome.

The Oromo functioned with such grim efficiency that they hastened the demoralization of the crumbling Italian army. Baratieri would later claim that fear of the Oromo-and the belief that the Oromo castrated only soldiers caught with weapons-prompted dozens of retreating sol­diers to cast down their weapons come pazzi-like madmen. 


(Quote within a quote from Paulos Milkias and Getachew Metaferia the Battle of Adwa, Reflections on Ethiopia’s Historic Victory against European Colonialism, New York: Algora, 2004. )


Here is what General Baratieri, commander of the Italian invasion Army reported regarding the battle of Adwa and the final debacle in a coded top secret message to his government:

The enemy,…with great boldness, were mounting upwards to our position and were penetrating our files, firing almost point blank at our officers. Then all was at an end and no orderly retirement could be organized. The officers sought in vain to hold the troops at one of the successive positions; because enemy eruptions and a few Galla horsemen below discouragingly sufficed to throw everything into a state of confusion. Then our true losses commenced; [Italian] soldiers like madmen threw away rifles and ammunition because they thought that if they were captured unarmed, they would not be castrated, and almost all of them were abandoning their rations and cloaks. [General Bartieri’s telegram to the Italian Government on March 3, 1896, See, Italian Ministry of War, Documenti Diplomatici XXXIII, Rome, 1896.)

[Back to quote from Jonas’ book:]  

One Italian soldier survived the combat but lost his mind. He had managed to re­treat as far as Sauria, where he was seen wandering around the camp “with a strange smile on his lips” and murmuring, “Gallacavalry! Galla cavalry! Horror! Horror!,

Giovanni Tedone, a sergeant in the bersaglieri fighting under General Arimondi’s command, gave a vivid account of the role of the Oromo in the breakdown of Italian forces. Colonels Ugo Brusati and Francesco Stevani were part of a group of officers who tried to organize an orderly retreat. Just as his men rallied to slow the assault from in front, Tedone glanced to his left to see a large group of Ethiopian soldiers approach their posi­tion. It was as if “a high black sea had flowed into the immense valley.” He and his men were nearly surrounded. Eugenio Dolciotti, like Tedone a member of a bersaglieri unit assigned to Arimondi, watched officer after officer fall-Lieutenant Agostino Chigi, Lieutenant Colonel Lorenzo Compiano, Lieutenant Gillio, and finally General Arimondi himself.ll ,

Despair set in. For the Italians, the retreat was now deadlier than the battle, especially as they lost the discipline needed to halt the Ethiopian pursuit. Some chose individual strategies. Tedone watched Lieutenant Pastore put a revolver to his head and pull the trigger.12 Francesco Frisina witnessed a man-wounded, disarmed, and unable to continue the retreat-toss himself from a high rock, a final cigarette still in his mouth.

As Tedone and his men moved away from the passes, they found them­selves surrounded by Oromo cavalry. Tedone’s men were badly outnum­bered in the ensuing firefight; they held the Oromo at bay as their ammu­nition and numbers dwindled. Tedone watched as his immediate superior, Lieutenant Garibaldi Pennazzi, chose death. Sensing the end of combat, Pennazzi turned his pistol on himself, firing a round into his chest. The wound wasn’t fatal, so Pennazzi sat up and fired again, crumpling atTedone’s feet. Following Pennazzi’s lead, Second Lieutenant Mazzoleni raised his revolver to his right temple and pulled the trigger, spraying Tedone with blood and grey matter. As the Oromo closed in onTedone he fell, wounded by saber and lance blows.14 His battle was over.

It is certainly the case that the Oromo, uniquely able in their capacity as mounted soldiers to pursue the fleeing Italians, were well placed to carry out such acts. Alberto Woctt praised the fighting ardor of the Oromo, referring to them as “bold,” “beautiful” warriors and “stupendous horsemen” who “love war for war’s sake.”22 In fact, it was the warlike reputation of the Oromo that made them par­ticularly effective. Their mere appearance could undermine the confi­dence of the Italians, hastening their collapse into disorderly retreat.

… Dubisati Dubisisa!….

Professor Paulos Milkias
Department of Political Science
Concordia University
Montreal, Canada


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