The untold story of Oromo freedom fighter

Written by Mohammed A

(OPride) — Ibro Shaxa was killed at the battle of Ciracha during Egyptian invasion of Harar led by Rauf Pasha in 1876. He left behind a teenage son, Hamid. Unlike his father, Hamid was poisoned by Menelik after the battle of Calanqo (1887) in which the Abyssinian army defeated Oromo fighters. Hamid too, left his young son, Ibrahim, behind.

Abdulkarim Ibrahim was born in 1936, at a time when Abyssinian feudal lords usurped Oromo lands and subjected the farmers to a life of servitude. The son of Haji Ibrahim Hamid Ibro Shaxa, Abdulkarim — better know as Jara Abba Gadaa — was born in Eastern Oromia, near Gara Mulata, at a village of Mudir Goro, to a generation of men who have died fighting long and hard.

From an early age, in and outside of school, his peers knew Jara as a respectful and humble friend. Compassionate by nature, the soft hearted Jara was known for helping the needy.  As he came of age, Jara began seeing notable differences between the haves and have not’s, the troublemakers and the troubled among his rural community. He soon realized that the Oromo were seen as inferiors and relegated to second-class status on their own land. He demurred at those who attempted to fit-in with others by accepting what was imposed on them instead of revolting against the status quo and fighting for their freedom.

Wherever he went, the young Abdulkarim spoke proudly in Afan Oromo, at a time when the language was not favored. Proud of his culture and heritage, Abdulkarim began teaching others about it. After completing  secondary education at the city of Harar, in Eastern Ethiopia, the suffering of Oromo people began to weigh heavily on his soul. Though he had a promising educational and political career as one of the few Oromos who completed secondary school in those days, he was most concerned with Oromo people’s freedom and dignity. At the height of his youth, Jara left school and went to Asabot, also in Eastern Oromia, to prepare for a journey that would shape the rest of his life — taking him around the world for nearly half a century.

While in Asabot, Jara began learning about freedom fighters, those who had taken up arms against oppressive regimes. Deciding against marriage and having children under colonial occupation, Jara turned to learning about the revolutionaries of the day like Libya’s Omar Mukhtar.

In 1966, along with like-minded revolutionaries, Jara began preparing the ground for guerrilla warfare against Ethiopia’s feudal monarch. After meeting other freedom aspirants at a place called Galeyi, Jara learned about Bale Oromo movement through merchants returning from Robe and Micata — and decided to join them.

As they took a long-trek across vast land to join forces with those already waging a war of liberation in Bale, Jara’s comrades decided on cutting their journey short. Undeterred by hostile and unfamiliar environment, the resolute Jara forged ahead with his pilgrimage. That marked the beginning of an era — a crusade on which Jara would spend the rest of his life. After joining Oromo rebels in Bale, Jara proved his bravery earning respect from his compatriots at the battle of Laga Dhare. Until 1968, he would travel back and forth between Somalia and battlefield taking part in such combat missions as the battle of Eela Rooji — where the Ethiopian military attacked Oromo fighters using warplanes.

Jara then returned to Somalia to mobilize Oromo immigrants. In 1969, he brought together Oromo dissidents in Somalia to lay a foundation for the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). A year later, along with his comrades, Jara escaped from the watchful eye of the Somali government into the seaport city of Aden. Jara masterfully executed the escape to Aden after realizing the government’s apprehension about his military recruitment and planned attack on neighboring Ethiopia.

Jara then went to Iraq and later Syria, where he’d meet with Palestinian freedom fighters and receive proper military training. From Syria he travelled to Egypt — and back to Iraq establishing diplomatic contacts with respective governments in those countries. Upon his return to Aden, in late 1970, Jara Abba Gadaa — by then the commander of the first Oromo Liberation Army called Qeeyroo Ganamaa — crossed the Indian Ocean into Somalia to launch a military offensive against Ethiopia. But he was captured along with 37 other Oromo freedom fighters. He spent five years at the notorious Man’dheera prison in what’s now Somaliland.

Upon his release from prison, the audacious Jara walked across Somali desert, for weeks, and returned to  Gobele in Eastern Oromia on Mar. 14, 1976 — after journeying across continents for years in search of diplomatic support for Oromo struggle — to rejoin the armed insurgency then led by the late Elemo Qilxu. In 1978, he broke with his commrades in the OLF and formed the Islamic Front for Liberation of Oromia (IFLO), a polito-military organization. He’s now the chairman of Front for Independent Democratic Oromia (FIDO).

After years of armed struggle and subsequent exile, Jara Abba Gadaa is now ailing. But never for one day did he retire his resolve. The Oromo movement, thanks in large part to the selfless contribution of this elder statesman, has achieved many victories. But it is unfortunate that Jara, who as a teenager decided against having children in unliberated Oromia, is yet to see the Oromian dream realized.

Last month, after he apparently fell ill, a call went out asking Oromos to pray for him. We wish this illustrious son of Oromo a speedy recovery and a victorious return home — to an Oromia where its children are no longer subjects. 

This article was adapted from an Afan Oromo profile written by Abba Urji and published last week on GulelePost. Follow the link to read the original in Afaan Oromo. For questions contact the editor at, or find us on Twitter and Facebook.



About the author

Mohammed A

Mohammed Ademo is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. He's the founder and editor of, an independent news website about Ethiopia.

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