Published on October 23, 2013.
Translated by : Hambisaa Soolee
In the history of OLA (Oromo Liberation Army), Juukii Barentoo is the most revered female martyr. Her martyrdom was so different in that she gave her life to save many Oromo fighters while she was one of the leaders of the organization. This was happened in 1984 when the special force of the Dergue army ambushed the OLF central command post at Daro-Billiqa in sounthern Daro-Labu district, Hararge province (Near Hararge-Bale border). Juukii, the first female to be elected to the Central Committee of OLF, fought bravely with the Dergue forces for three consecutive days and saved the life of many leaders and fighters of the organization including Obbo Galaasaa Dilboo, the then chairperson of OLF. When she knew that the OLF leaders and others safely crossed to Bale province, because she was wounded, she took her own life, instead of surrender.
The Dergue junta thought that the martyrdom of Juukii would cause a big morale disaster on OLF fighters and many would leave the struggle and come back to home. But the matter was so different. The death of the famous Oromo heroine created a high spirit of fighting for the independence of Oromia among the youth. As a result, there was an exodus of Oromos who sought to join OLA in the mid 1980s. Especially it was a time where many young Oromo females joined OLA en mass. Asli Oromo, Caaltuu, Waarituu, Ibsitu, Kulani, Dursitu, Obsitu and many more female fighters went to the jungles of Oromia and started to show their bravery in their own rites. Among all Oromo heroines who joined OLA at that time, the one that became the foremost topic of discussion for many people was “Raggaatuu”, an OLA commander for whom a popular saying “Raggaatuu! Dheysitee jalaa hinbaatuu!” ( meaning “Raggaatuu, the one whom you can’t escape”) was created.
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Raggaatuu was a daughter of an Oromo peasant. She was born in Daro-Labu district of Hararge province. Her name at birth is still unclear to the writer of this article. In OLA and among the Oromos in eastern Oromia, she is known by her nom-de-guerre “Raggaatuu”; it is an Oromo word meaning “the one that is loyal to what she believed in” or “the one that stayed on what she said”.
As it is described at the beginning, Raggaatuu was among the female fighters that joined OLA immediately after the death of Juukii Bareentoo in 1984. It was said that Raggaatuu was younger than 20 years when she went out for the struggle. She had got a military training at OLA base in southern Hararge. She attended also a para-commando training in Somalia.
Raggaatuu fought the Dergue army in different fronts in Hararge and Bale in late 1980s. When OLF joined the transitional government established by EPRDF in 1991, she worked as a trainer and a political cadre. She already assumed the “Abbaa Buttaa” (commander of a battalion) rank at that time. However, she was doing her work silently at the period. Her glorious days were yet to come.
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In June 1992, OLF left the EPRDF led transitional government. OLA, its armed wing, assumed the military action against EPRDF forces. The two forces fought bloody battles in Hararge, Bale and Wallaga. But after some period, leadership crises happened in different regional commands of OLA. Analysts say that the main cause of the crisis was EPRDF’s targeting of highly combatant and efficient commanders of OLA. After some period, however, some astonishing commanders rose in OLA and started to fill the leadership gaps. And indeed that was the time when Raggatuu started to show her bravery in action.
The rise of Raggaatuu in Hararge attracted the attention of thousands at once. Her military might became a spirit of OLA existence in the struggle. Her true appearance was known only by few people, but the effect of her operations was felt by the mass. Some believed that Raggaatuu was indeed the same woman as the legendary Juukii Barentoo whom they thought she had restarted the struggle after long years of disappearance in the forests of Oromia. Some even went on arguing that that it was “Ayalensh” of EPRP who came to Hararge under different name and opened a war on EPRDF (“Ayalnesh” was a famous commander of EPRP in Gondar and Gojjam who was captured by EPRDF forces in 1991; she is now living in Europe). All of these assumptions were happened out of the people’s astonishment at extra-ordinary skills and military art of Raggaatuu.
Raggaatuu was a military artist indeed. She won in all of the battles she fought in five years. She was able to open fire in ten different places in a month and disturb her enemy. She was a queen of the vast Carcar plateau in those years. When she attacked the town of Hardim in one day, she would travel for 100 kms in the eastern direction and open fire at Kurfaa Roqaa on another day before the enemy recovered from the former damage. While the enemies were searching for her around Machara town, she would go further to the north and attack Ciroo town. An interesting thing was that the administrators of the towns and villages of West Harerghe Zone who were assigned by the EPRDF government also recognized Raggaatuu as their leader secretly. They work for the EPRDF government during the daylight, but they work with Raggaatuu in the night.
The vehicles that were traveling permanently in Raggaatuu’s area of influence should fulfill her demand. They should transport the food items and medicines that would be used by the OLA fighters under the command of Raggaatuu. Any owner of a vehicle’s that doesn’t obey her order should leave her realm. And if such owner of a vehicle was found of transporting military personnel, he would get a severe punishment. This may include destroying of the vehicle.
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Raggaatuu is vividly remembered for two famous operations. One was her kidnapping of Mick Wood, and the other was her saving of three top leaders of OLF. This writer still has fresh memory of the two operations. And here he describes them in short.
It was in 1994. OLA was in its full strength then. But Meles Zenawi, the President of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia, was repeatedly saying “There is no war of any kind now. OLF cease to exist in the country. Its armed wing has already perished”. The leaders of OLF wanted to disprove the claim of President Meles Zenawi and show the existence of their army to the world. To this ends, they wanted to undertake some kind of operation and attract the attention of the world media outlet. They thought over all possible situations and concluded that Raggaatuu would accomplish the task. And finally, they told her what they planned. Raggaatuu gladly respond to the leaders of OLF and told them that she would fulfill their demand very easily.
Few days later, a British man called Mick Wood, who was working for an American relief agency called “CARE International” was kidnapped from Galamso town. The staff members of his organization searched him for the whole day in the villages around the town and returned back with no result. After a day, Britain announced the kidnapping of one of her citizens in Hararge. Britain and USA started a joint search for the disappearing man in East Oromia. And after a week, BBC and VOA disclosed that Mick Wood was taken hostage by the armed wing of OLF.
The British Embassy in Addis Ababa negotiated with the kidnappers and Mick Wood was released around the city of Harar. After his release, he told BBC “I was kidnapped by a female OLF commander called Raggaatuu”.
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Raggaatuu’s other operation was accomplished in late 1993. As I said earlier, three top leaders of OLF were trapped in certain village and went out of the chain of command. The organization faced a difficulty to untrap the three leaders and take them to a safer area (some sources say that Obboo Galaasaa Dilboo was among the three people. But this doesn’t seem true). The thing caused a high tension among OLF leadership when it was learned that two of the three people were affected by malaria. Unless they got necessary treatment on time, their life would be at risk. However, nobody would come up with a good solution.
Raggaatuu heard about the situation and took a full responsibility to solve the crisis. She contemplated deeply and tried to see the matter from different angles. She learned that tacking a military action was the least efficient and a very risky scenario. Through some investigations on the socio- cultural conditions of the residents, she came to know that the people of the area had a strong tradition of celebrating “Mawlid” (the birth day of prophet Muhammad). Learning that, she concluded an arrangement of a Mawlid celebration could be the easiest way to take away the three leaders of OLF from the area. That means, it was possible to transfer three leaders easily when the crowd was gathered to celebrate the feast in that area.
The celebration of “Mawlid” started on the planned day. Oxen and goats were slaughtered.. A huge crowd of people was assembled in the area for the feast. Accordingly, Raggaatuu took away the three OLF leaders and transferred them to a very safe area.
Only few people knew about the plan at the time. But when the government security forces got the information after two years, they took a savage action on the people of the area.
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Raggaatuu, the famous OLA commander, became sick in 1998. Accordingly, she lost all powers of leading her army unit. Further, a very high strife occurred in the central body of the organization and caused the army to divide. This trouble caused some of the fighters under her leadership to surrender to the EPRDF government; some crossed the boundary and went to Kenya and Somalia. Raggaatuu felt lonely. She was so confused about what happened.
Meanwhile, some of her family members heard about her sickness and rushed out to save her life. They asked her to surrender and get a medical treatment. At first, she fiercely opposed their plan. But when her relatives learned that she was about die, they hurriedly took her to Machara town and admitted her to a hospital. The doctors saved her life after some treatment and they told her to take a long time rest. This became a reason for her relatives to convince her to surrender and stay with them. Accordingly, she accepted their proposal and remained in Machara town.
Since her surrender in 1998, Raggaatuu has been a resident of Machara. She was married about ten years ago and became a mother of children. However, her courage and pride is still with her. She doesn’t welcome any kind of attack on her life and others. Especially she doesn’t tolerate the mistreatment of the weak people and women.