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Ethiopia - Kumsa shares her story
Heather MacDonald Jan 31, 2008
Journalist and Wilfrid Laurier professor in the Faculty of Social Work, Martha Kuwee Kumsa, tells a packed audience of her 10 years spent in an Ethiopian prison, where she was jailed for defying the government-imposed free-speech restrictions
Kumsa shares her storyIt was a full house at the Registry Theatre on Thursday, January 24, as nearly 100 people were given the opportunity to hear Ethiopian journalist Martha Kuwee Kumsa tell her story. Dr. Kumsa is also an associate professor in Laurier’s Faculty of Social Work.
The spotlight shone on the soft-spoken African woman as she told the attentive audience of the ten years she spent being tortured in an Ethiopian prison.
In January of 1980, Kumsa was unjustly torn away from her husband and three children, as members of the communist regime dragged her from work one day to a prison holding approximately 10,000 other highly-educated, outspoken, independent thinkers.
Kumsa recalled that morning as vividly as if it had happened yesterday. She described the long drive to her unknown destination. When Kumsa finally reached the prison, she was “thrown into a room on the floor.” She continued, “There were bodies all over the floor. It was hell.”
Many of Kumsa’s good friends were in jail with her, awaiting their sentence. No one knew if they were going to be freed, tortured or killed at any moment. “You can’t predict anything. That’s part of the torture; they keep you suspended.”
As Kumsa watched many of her colleagues being blindfolded and tortured, some being “dragged away like garbage bags,” a little part of her spirit would die each time. “People from my left and right were dragged out of the room and we never saw them again. They were my friends.”
Kumsa told herself hundreds of times that her captors would never get to her mind; that they would never get to her spirit. They could do whatever they wanted to her body, because “the body will heal but when the spirit breaks, they win.”
The only things that kept Kumsa’s spirit alive were the letters sent to her by members of Amnesty International. People that wrote to Kumsa didn’t even know her but because she felt she had someone out there who believed in her, she was able to hold onto her inner strength.
As more letters poured in over the years, Kumsa finally heard her name over the loudspeaker. When a name was called, prisoners always dropped everything and ran towards the door.
“Ten seconds was too long,” she explained. “Even though you didn’t know whether you were running to your death; you didn’t know whether you were running to torture; and you didn’t know whether you were running to your freedom.”
Kumsa was called one September day. Many others called that day rejoiced in the possibility of freedom, but a little part of Kumsa felt that she was heading towards her death.After the celebrations began to fade and people became nervous, Kumsa yelled courageously to her peers, “If we’re going to die, we’re going to die spitting in their face!” To her surprise, they were released later that day.
It wasn’t until Kumsa was living in Toronto that she received news that there would be a public display of the torturing of her captors.
Many crowded around to watch the video of a man Kumsa remembered quite well, being beaten in the same way she and so many others had been.
Many watching the video were cheering and celebrating but Kumsa’s vengeance quickly faded as she declared that, “This should not happen to him! No human being should go through this.” It was only then that Kumsa was able to “connect with that man on a level of humanity.”
Kumsa then discussed the evil among the human race. She is constantly challenging others to reflect on their own lives. “If we’re always looking for the evil out there, the evil will continue within ourselves.”
She described her love for Canada and other countries that are safe for people to live in, but pointed out that, “Because there is comfort here it means there is misery somewhere else.”
The passion Kumsa has for humanity was fully displayed when she admitted, “I really wanted to die with those who were dying … they were my
friends, and one was my brother.”
We love you Kumsa. We wish you all the best in your life. I remember, when I met you last time somewhere in the west. You are so nice and courageous person. I know you are in good hand and good place. I read a number of article about you over the years. You real doing a great job. You are a model to your felow citizens in particular to Oromo children. Keep it up with your creative job. God bless you our great sista. Take care.
finfinee, free mind, relax, she is a model to all ethiopianchildren, notjust oromo. I don’t think she is as narrow as you are.
u stupid garbege.. have u ever used to say this word when # of oromo kid’s were collected from their schools killed, tortued and thrown to jell even now in Ethiopia, where have u been that time?
what i want to say is it already taken as a tradition for oromo children to face challenges and harasnment in prision of Ethiopia by all leaders of the country at d/t time.
let “waaqaa” may free them one day?
God bless and make them free, for all the opperesed people of our planet earth.
Adde Dr. Kumsa,
Thanks God that you were not killed by the brutal regim of Mengistuand Meles. You are a very determined Oromo-African respected lady. We love you!Go on with your struggle against inhumanity and brutal government of TPLF.
God bless you and your work.
“prisons speak afan oromo” from minilk to meles.generations to come,
will prevail the ethinic cleansening
aimed at being oromo.oromo were targets ,they servived this long. an end to is not far.
: meriet [Visitor]
what’s your point. Are you a special oromo or what, I am oromo my self and I believe in fighting for justic and equalty and my fight for justic should not have any thing to do with my being oromo.every ethinic group desrves justic and equality not just Oromo.it’s not just inpractical but imoral to talk just about oromo, what the hell do you think you are? stop crying your Asylem case on this forum. be honest Oromo’s have never had it so good. exept lifeless people like you who cry foul in the name of Oromo. don’t spoil it for Oromos back home. just enjoy your dish washing in Minisota. wusha.
From a person who was blessed enough to have spent 3 wonderful years with Kuwee, I can tell you that she is a wonderful lady. Her children and all Oromo women should take pride in her. She achieved so much even while she was in prison that included learning other languages. We love you Kuwee and we are proud of you. May God continue to bless you, your husband and your kids.
Menelik was 1st enemy of Oromo.
Haile Sellaise 2nd enemy of Oromo.
Derg 3rd enemy.
Wayane 4th enemy.
Until the Amharas have a new brain we the Oromos can not live side by side will komaataa
All Oromos blem Amharians and Tigrians for ther weakeness and filure.This is not correct.
These woman (Kumsa) with Scandinevian farners national jaket…..no one knows if She is Oromo or Walaita and I dont really know if she has been in Mengestus prison for 10 years .I need evedens…..
Fake and forged asylem ceas is unecseptabl
She was in prison for ten years. I can assure you of that. I have personal knowledge of it her youngest daughter who was a toddler didn’t get to spend a day with her until she was almost a teenager. Soon after her husband, the honorable Lencho Letta, fled from Ethiopia because his life was threatened. Grandparents and other relatives raised their kids for 10 years. This is the Oromo history now and then. The prison is still speaking Oromifa even now. The Oromo will be free!!!
So what? There were/are/will be thousands of political prisoners in Ethiopia. She is an individual and had her support for the political organization she believed in. Anyone trying to change the status qou will face challenges on the way to success upto sacrificing own life for your belief. I have seen the Dregue prison cell when I was a teenager and tortured, too. However, I did not stay for the length of time she endured. Her man leads OLF when she was jailed. What do you expect? She wanted to be a first lady with no sacrifice. Her husband fled leaving her behind just to save his skin, and the gov’t may think it might curtail his political activism by holding his familiy as hostage. Politics is politics and requires sacrifice. Nothing unique here. Many many people perished in politics in all sides and it will continue. It has nothing to do with being Oromo, but OLF BOSS.
it is sad to be from that land and being created in ethiopia in other words absynia. she is great oromo woman, i hope the histoy of absynia government and mistreatment of oromo will be paid one day. respect is better if any body want to be in good term of living with oromo and their land in near future to come, wow take care you have been killing millions and one day the remaing ones will be free from the absyinas parasites
I am an old friend of Yohannes Letta. He is a wonderful gentleman and a great student in Chemical engineering from the University of Rochester. He returned from the US in late 1971 or early 1972 and was working for Wonji sugar factory and later went on to be a chemical engineering expert at the Ethiopian Standards Institute. When the fascist Derg took over, they appointed him as the manager of Mega Paint co., which had just been nationalized. He disappeared soon after.
Yohannes came from a religious family and his father was a Lutheran Pastor in Ghimbi, Wollega, when Yohannes came to Addis Ababa as a college student. I have known him to be a humble person and a knowledgeable person. I have never known him to be a man of narrow vision nor as a tribal activist. However, upon his return from the USA there was a change in him that was evident in his distaste for religion which I know was dear to him before going to America. There was humor in him that I enjoyed when we have conversation that seem to have faded away that last time I saw him at Mega paints co. office. Soon I heard he has disappeared and no one that I knew could tell me what happened to him. Because the fascist Derg was mowing dawn so many innocent people at that time, I was afraid that he may have become one of those who perished as a collateral damage. Years later, I met a casual friend of ours and asked him if he knows what has happened to Yohannes? He gave me a gleeful smile and whispered in my ear what has happened to Yohannes. Imagine my surprise when the man said, “Don’t you know that Yohannes was one of the major activists of the OLF who escaped with the skin of his teeth when Derg was about to catch him?” Even though what the man said turned out to be true, to this day I can’t imagine the transformation of my friend Yohannes. The culmination of my surprise was the appearance in 1991 of Yohannes in the political stage in Ethiopia fully renamed “Lencho Letta” and a major leader of OLF.
If this Lady is in fact his wife, she is one lucky lady to have survived the rabid Derg’s wrath to enjoy her children and her husband. I am not from the Oromo but my beautiful wife of 35 years is a proud Oromo. We are also proud Ethiopians. Yohannes shall always be my friend but OLF that preaches tribal politics will never be one that we will support. Long live Ethiopia. May the unity of the people of the Oromo, the Amhara, the Tirgie, the Kembata/Hadiya, the Gambella and the hundreds of other Ethiopian tribes be everlasting? AMEN
respect each other she is amazing to shae her story
OK.THANKS.I DID`NOT KNOW THAT .SORRY.
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