A Tribute to J. Damissee K Sarda by Mulugeta Mossissa

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Demissie K. Sarda: A principled and committed young and passionate Oromo freedom fighter, who was involved in the struggle of the Oromo people for freedom at his early age, and then after he dedicated his entire life to the causes of his people.

I heard about Demissie K. Sarda from Muhe Abdo (aka Duulaa) before I personally met him. The admiration Duula had for him, which was genuine and without exaggeration also impressed me the most after I met him in 1978 and exchange ideas with him.  I have never met such an honest, selfless hero who genuinely dedicated his entire life to the causes of his people. He was an exceptionally patient person, who had the capacity to listen without interrupting the speaker.  He was an orator who had the capability to speak with a power of conviction. He always spoke from the heart and what he felt. When he spoke about the plights of his people one could feel the real connections he had with his people and the flame of freedom burning in his heart. He always said what he meant. He was not a political chameleon who spoke what others wanted to hear or for personal aggrandisement. He spoke about what should be and how it could be achieved based on the realities he perceived. In a nutshell, he was an irreplaceable Oromo freedom fighter who was fully committed and dedicated his entire life to the struggle of the Oromo people for freedom.

I had known him for the last 45 years, as a friend and comrade. Together with other Oromo political prisoners, Demissie and I spent almost 12 years in the most notorious Ethiopian prisons where we faced psychological and physical tortures. Demissie was the most committed, selfless comrade whose moral strength and convictions the sufferings he underwent in prison could not break.

Withstanding the most difficult situations he faced, such as psychological and physical tortures and as a result the deteriorating health condition he was confronted with, he was always composed and dignified and remained himself. Even after his release from prison he had never lived his own life. Although he had medical treatments, his health problem became a standing part of his life. Even then, more than before, he committed his energy, time and knowledge to the struggle of the Oromo people for freedom.  At one point his life was threatened by the TPLF/EPRDF because of the role he played in the Oromo struggle for freedom. Because of that and his health problem he was advised to go abroad where he could get medical treatments and undertake political activities as a senior member of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) although his ambition was to confront the enemy face to face and mobilise the Oromo people to eject all the TPLF forces from Oromia. However, under pressure he left the country in 1992 and went to the Netherlands where he got medical treatment. After a while he went to the USA and the same year to Canada where he settled to the end of his life.

He faced many ups and downs in life. However, those ups and downs could not change his commitment to the cause of his people. Sometimes we talked about him in his absence wondering the moral strength he had and his dedication to the causes of his people under the most difficult conditions many of us might not been able to bear. There were times when we witnessed division in the OLF. As a result, there were many comrades who were affected by the division and some of them left the Front for good. Demissie and some of his comrades who took the division as one of the side effects of a prolonged struggle continued with the struggle based on the political objectives of the OLF as formulated by its founders.

We have witnessed many “revolutionaries” who got off the train of revolution because of the ups and downs of the Oromo struggle for freedom and the costly price that the freedom of a nation demanded. All through those difficult times Comrade Demissie K. Sarda always remained calm, undisturbed, disciplined, self-confident and positive about the final success of the Oromo struggle for freedom. He became the source of moral strength for many of us. He never used the word impossible. For him, so far as it was based on the truth and facts, the truth would always win. He always said, “Ni dandeenya. Haayaallu. Akkamitti calisnee wan kana laalla? Waa gochuu qabana. [Roughly interpreted: – we can. Let us try it. How could we silently watch this situation? We must do something.”  His positive thinking was transforming.

Demissie was one of the most respected and loved comrade simply because, he respected, and genuinely loved his comrades and the Oromo people in general. He was a brave man who did not like and tolerate the human rights violations perpetrated against his people and other oppressed nations and nationalities. He was always ready to pay the ultimate price required for the freedom of his people.

He was an exceptional, friend and comrade who selflessly gave his entire life and fought for the dignity and freedom of the Oromo people. He did not have his own family. He made the Oromo people his family, the Oromo children his children and struggled for their freedom. He never complained, even as a passing remark about the sufferings he faced because of the struggle. He never regretted what he did. His ultimate desire was to see an independent Oromia where the Oromo people could freely empower the government they want and depower when it could not serve their interests. He wanted to see the Oromo nation who could freely exercise their political, economic social and cultural rights. Whether these desires will be materialized or compromised by the new generation are to be seen.

Demissie was not only a dedicated revolutionary, but he was also the most generous and humane person who shared what he had. He gave priority to someone in need even when his basic needs were not met. It did not matter how small it was and insufficient for himself, he always shared what he had with others. He was so generous and selfless, sometimes people misunderstood his honesty and generosity and even tried to misuse them.

He was the most humane person ever. While in Canada, as many members of his Oromo communities in Canada know, he used to help every new refugee who arrived in Canada and needed help. His human kindness was not limited to the Oromo but also others who needed help. He trusted people and treated them based on humanity irrespective of their nationalities, religion or gender. He always stood with the oppressed who were deprived of their freedom, human rights and dignity. I cannot describe even one tenth of Demissie’s full contribution to the Oromo struggle for freedom, his kindness and generosity. I leave the detailed account which I cannot handle and his biography to the Oromo historians who, I hope, will be interested to know who the villain was and who the hero in the Oromo struggle for freedom. History shall be the witness of all concerned.

Comrade Demissie K. Sarda’s exemplary revolutionary spirit, his love and respect for his people, his kindness and generosity as human being live with us and pass from generation to generation.

We miss him so much. Let his soul rest in peace.

Mulugeta Mossissa,

March 3, 2023.

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