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Remembering Jaal Battee Urgessa: A Beacon of Hope for the Oromo People

The late Bate Urgessa (Photo: Social Media)

By Kiya Segni @KiyaSegni

A Tragic Loss 

On the 9th of April, a brave champion of peace was brutally slain in the middle of the night plunging his beloved nation into a state of profound sorrow and disbelief. Jaal Bate Urgessa, one of the most vocal opposition party officials and a tireless advocate for justice, was struck down in his prime, leaving a void that seemed impossible to fill. His assassination not only plunged a nation into mourning, but also marked the loss of a visionary whose dreams were interwoven with the hopes of the Oromo people. 

From his humble beginnings to becoming a symbol of resistance and hope, Jaal Bate Urgessa’s life was a testament to the power of resilience against overwhelming odds. He was not merely a political figure but a beacon of hope in a tumultuous landscape, relentlessly advocating for the rights and dignity of his people. His untimely death leaves behind a void, but also a legacy of unyielding dedication to the principles of justice and freedom—a legacy that continues to inspire a nation on its path toward a dawn of justice and peace. 

A Life of Impact 

Born in 1979 in the modest village of Bakale Girisa, nestled within the East Shewa zone of the Oromia region, Jaal Bate Urgessa’s journey from a village boy to a national icon is a story of extraordinary determination and intellectual prowess. His academic journey began at the local primary school in Bakale and later vaulted him to Bahir Dar University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2005. 

The transition from academia to activism was fueled by his profound commitment to change the system that had enabled the injustices against his people that he had grown up witnessing. Jaal Battee Urgessa’s dedication to the Oromo cause began in 2005 when he was arrested at Bahirdar University for speaking out against injustice. This event marked his deep commitment to political activism and led him to join the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Throughout the years, he actively participated in politics and supported the OLF in various capacities. His engagement became more pronounced during the Oromo Protests against the EPRDF-led government, where despite sustaining severe injuries, his resolve only strengthened. 

In 2018, following the return of the OLF to the political scene, Jaal Battee was appointed as a finance officer. He quickly ascended to become the interim head of public relations, often serving as the articulate voice of the Oromo on numerous media platforms. With a calm demeanor and intellectual clarity, he articulated the aspirations and frustrations of his people, earning respect across Ethiopia’s diverse societal spectrum. At a time when independent Oromo voices were often suppressed, Jaal Battee’s stood out as a crucial and rare beacon representing the perspective of millions. 

Throughout his political career, Jaal Bate Urgessa faced numerous challenges, including arrests and torture. Yet, he never wavered in his advocacy or his dedication to the cause of Oromo liberation and broader Ethiopian reform. His resilience in the face of adversity made him not just a leader but a symbol of hope and courage, striving for a future where justice and equality prevail. 

In the Face of Adversity: Arrests, Illness, and Advocacy 

Jaal Bate’s commitment to justice often put him at odds with the authorities. His articulate and reasoned approach on media platforms, where he discussed the situation in Oromia and the aspirations of the Oromo people, positioned him as a counterpoint to government narratives attempting to depict Oromo activists as destabilizers. This outspokenness led to his arrest on March 5, 2021, by the very government his activism had helped to establish. During his imprisonment, he was subjected to severe torture and diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, being denied the medical care he desperately needed. In protest, he and his fellow inmates initiated a hunger strike, a move that ultimately pressured authorities into releasing him in March of 2022. 

His challenges did not end with his release. In February 2024, Bate was again detained, this time with French journalist Antoine Galindo, during a meeting at a hotel in Addis Ababa. While Galindo was soon released due to international pressure, Bate faced spurious allegations linking him to both the Oromo Liberation Army and the Fano Amhara—two opposing groups—highlighting the absurdity and desperation of the charges against him. He was released two weeks later, yet the pattern of harassment persisted until his tragic assassination. 

In a time when many well-known members of the Oromo political and economic elite have disappointed their people, betraying their principles and colluding with the government, Bate stood apart. He remained a vocal critic of the oppression faced by his people, refusing offers that would have led to personal enrichment, status, and safety in exchange for his silence. As the Public Relations Officer for the OLF, Jaal Bate Urgessa’s articulate and reasoned presence on media platforms made him a significant figure in national politics and a prime target for government suppression.

Even as his body weakened from illness and torture, his mind stayed clear and sober. Bate’s unyielding spirit and refusal to compromise his principles endeared him not just to Oromos but to Ethiopians across all political affiliations. His potential to bridge the deep divides within the country made him an intolerable figure to the government, which saw no other recourse but to silence him through repeated arrests, torture, and threats. This relentless persecution underscored his significance as a beacon of hope and integrity in a country fraught with political strife. 

His Murder 

On that doomed day on April 9th, 2024, Jaal Bate was visiting his farm near Meki town. His presence in the area was not unusual, but this visit proved fatal. Around midnight, armed individuals came to his hotel room and forcefully took him with them.

The next morning, Jaal Bate’s body was discovered on the outskirts of the town. The brutal manner in which he was killed—his arms cruelly tied behind his back and abandoned in an area known for hyenas—stood in stark contrast to his persona as a humble pacifist, known and revered for his unwavering commitment to nonviolence and dialogue. This grotesque act of violence not only took his life but also sought to erase his physical existence from the world, hoping nature would conceal their crime. 

The outcry over his assassination was immediate and widespread. Prominent politicians and human rights organizations demanded a thorough investigation, as they had in so many cases of political assassinations in Ethiopia that had gone unresolved. Jaal Bate’s family and close associates accused government forces of orchestrating the murder. In a distressing turn of events, and further complicating the narrative of his untimely demise, members of his family were arrested accused of having involvement in his murder, deepening the anguish that his grief-stricken relatives are going through. 

This brutal end to a life of advocacy and hope left a community in mourning and a nation grappling with the harsh realities of political conflict and the cost of standing up for justice. 

A Personal Connection 

Though I never had the chance to meet Jaal Bate Urgessa face-to-face, my relationship with him was profoundly personal and impactful. We were introduced by his comrade, Lammi Begna, who remains imprisoned, and over time, our bond deepened through consistent communication. Jaal Bate not only introduced me to his family but also entrusted me with personal matters that showed the depth of his trust and respect. 

In 2021, when he was detained, he reached out from behind bars with a simple yet poignant request: he asked for books that could sustain his spirit during his incarceration. Among them were titles like “Nations before Nationalism” by John A. Armstrong and “The Ethnic Origins of Nations” by Anthony D. Smith. These books were not just reading material; they were lifelines to the intellectual engagement that jaal Bate cherished. Dr. Kebede Fedha facilitated their delivery to the Ethiopian prison, helping maintain jaal Bate’s connection to the world of ideas even in confinement. 

Our discussions, though conducted through letters and sporadic phone calls, were rich with insights and debate. Jaal Bate had a unique ability to engage with ideas rather than personalities, fostering a space where intellectual and thoughtful debate could flourish. This approach not only deepened our connection but also enriched my understanding of the complexities and challenges faced by the Oromo people. 

His resilience and commitment to his principles in the face of adversity inspired not only me but many others. The bond we formed, strengthened by shared ideals and mutual respect, grew stronger over time, bridging the physical distance and the bars that separated us. This connection, though mediated, underscored the profound impact that one determined individual can have on others, even from behind prison walls. 

Jaal Bate Urgessa’s legacy continues to resonate with me and many others, reminding us of the power of resilience, the importance of intellectual integrity, and the enduring strength of peaceful convictions in a world often marred by conflict and injustice. 

Conclusion 

The life and tragic assassination of Jaal Bate Urgessa remind us of the profound costs and sacrifices associated with advocating for truth and justice in environments resistant to change. His relentless commitment to the Oromo people and his broader aspirations for Ethiopia forged a legacy that remains vibrant despite his untimely death. 

In a time marked by frequent disappointments from many within the Oromo political and economic elite, who have often compromised their principles for personal gain, jaal Bate stood as a stark contrast. His refusal to succumb to government pressures or betray his people’s trust made him a symbol of hope and integrity, not just to Oromos but to all Ethiopians. His clarity of purpose and unwavering resolve, even in the face of personal peril, showcased the kind of leadership that inspires true change and fosters unity. 

As we reflect on his life, let us celebrate not only his personal achievements but also the indelible impact of his principles on the pursuit of a just and equitable society. The void left by his passing is deep, yet his influence continues to guide those who champion the values he held dear. In our remembrance of Jaal Bate, we not only honor his memory but also affirm our commitment to embodying the values he championed—perseverance, intellectual integrity, and peaceful advocacy. 

Though Jaal Bate Urgessa has been taken from us, his legacy shines as a beacon in the darkest times, urging us to continue the struggle against injustice and to uphold civility and respect in our communities. Let his memory serve as a lasting inspiration, a reminder of the power of resilience and the enduring strength of steadfast convictions in achieving lasting societal transformation. AS

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