In memory of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa: Singing freedom into the convulsing suicidal empire

The late Haacaaluu Hundeessaa

By Martha Kuwee Kumsaa

Addis Abeba – There is an amazing aura of jubilation in the air. Young and old alike, we are celebrating the life and legacy of our beloved Haacaaluu Hundeessaa on the first anniversary of his assassination on 29 June 2021. The Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia Canada even named June 29 as Oromiya Day.

Oromos and their friends were paying homage to our icon and offering him the great hero’s send-off he deserved but never received. We are honoring his incredible legacies and reflecting on how to take them further into the liberation of all nations trapped in the Ethiopian empire.

Only a few months ago, such celebration seemed unthinkable, as the convulsing suicidal empire unleashed an avalanche of sinister tragedies one after another, bombarding and beating us down. It seemed like an eternal nightmare from which we could not wake up. We were engulfed by intense collective grief and mourning, the likes of which we had never seen before.

Now, nothing is more inspiring than to watch our young people bounce back so dramatically. Nothing is more uplifting than to see them regroup, organize, and take charge of our collective affairs. Nothing is more joyous than to witness them break the harsh grip of the sinister imperial grief with such incredible resolve and take Haacaaluu’s legacies into a brighter future.

Musicians have sung for the musical genius, Haacaaluu. Artists have created wonderfully imaginative pieces for him. Scholars and activists have poured out oceans of ink writing about him. But what is so great about Haacaaluu? What are his important legacies?

“He dug into the deep cultural wells and beautiful rhythmic melodies of ancient Oromo music”

Arts activism is a deeply relational process, and Haacaaluu did this with a unique finesse that only he could accomplish. He dug into the deep cultural wells and beautiful rhythmic melodies of ancient Oromo music. He revitalized and amplified Oromo resistance music and used them to shake the roots of the dying empire.

Haacaaluu stands out as the most fearless freedom singer of his generation. He sang freedom to the empire, urging it to come to terms with its past and free itself from its imperial chains. He passionately supported the new multinational Ethiopia where all its diverse peoples live in freedom and with equal respect and dignity.

In deep resonance with his people’s heartbeat, however, Haacaaluu also noticed that imperial Ethiopia may have been pared down tremendously by the last regime, but multinational Ethiopia was still stuck in its imperial ruins and could not move past it. There was a sharp discrepancy between the words and deeds of the regime, thus triggering large scale dissent and protest.

Perhaps Haacaaluu is most renowned for his inspirational leadership in the years of peaceful protests of qeerroo and qarree that ushered the current regime into power. He symbolizes the fiery spirit of his qubee [alphabet] generation – a generation schooled in its own Oromo language and knew a region called Oromia. This is a generation that stood on the ruins of empire and enjoyed the spectacular achievements of the bitter struggle of the generations before it.

Unlike the previous generations who were despised for being Oromo and disparaged for speaking their language and their truth, the qubee generation grew up with a sense of fierce freedom, equality and trust in the human dignity of Oromos.

When the system preached freedom but practiced repression, however, this generation took to the streets demanding freedom and democracy. The grassroots movements offered a peaceful alternative to the hitherto sole strategy of armed struggle to achieve freedom.

What is the current regime doing by mass killing and jailing of young Oromo peaceful protesters? It is driving them to armed struggle in tens of thousands, just like it is doing in its war on Tigray”

Now, this marks a pivotal turning point in the Oromo struggle for national liberation. Haacaaluu’s music had a tremendous contribution to these peaceful protests. His songs inspired the young people who brought the repressive regime to its knees. They simply raised their hands and demanded justice. And they continued to do so even as live bullets of the regime’s security forces rained down on them, and even through repeated State of Emergency declarations.

When the current regime was ushered in on the backs of these peaceful protests and in the last breaths of the dying empire, its mandate was to dismantle the empire and democratize multinational Ethiopia. Unfortunately, it chose to resuscitate the dying empire while giving a compulsively deceptive lip service to multinational Ethiopia.

As in his life, Haacaaluu is marking yet another turning point in his death. What is the current regime doing by mass killing and jailing of young Oromo peaceful protesters? It is driving them to armed struggle in tens of thousands, just like it is doing in its war on Tigray. It is making violence the only option of not only surviving but also dismantling the dying empire.

The assassination of Haacaaluu is an act of the dying empire trying its weary and shaky old hand to strike back. By shooting Haacaaluu, however, Imperial Ethiopia simply shot itself. It shot down its best chance to transform and renew. It chose death. The nonstop violence and repression we are witnessing since Haacaaluu’s assassination is the empire convulsing from its slow suicide. AS

Editor’s Note: Martha Kuwee Kumsa, is a Siinqee feminist and a Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, specializing in Oromo culture and immigrant identity. Professor Kuwee can be reached at 

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