by Prof Mekuria Bulcha
"Dhibbaa kara kamiyyuu isinitti dhufuun dirqamtani of duuba hin jedhina; waan saba keenyaf hin baasaa, bu’as qaba jettan hojjedha."
"Let no external pressure force you to back from fulfilling your responsibilities to your people; do what you believe will serve the interest of our nation."
Yishaaq to Galaasaa Dilboo, Secretary General of the OLF, 1994.
Yishaaq was one of the leading members of the Macca Tuulama Association until it was banned in 2004. As a conscious Oromo nationalist, he stood behind the independence of Oromia. OLF’s former Secretary General Galaasaa Dilbo notes that in 1994, Yishaaq sent him a letter with Colonel Alemu Qixxeessaa and Obbo Baqala Nadhii who were sent to Nairobi as members of a committee delegated to mediate between the OLF and the TPLF regime. According to Galaasaa, the content of the letter was in short what is cited at beginning of this article. He advised Galaasaa and his comrades, not give way to external pressure whatsoever and compromise their responsibility. He encouraged them to do what they believe is good and will serve the interest of the Oromo nation. Ibsaa Gutamaa remembers the encouragement and valuable support he had received from Yishaaq when he was the Minister of Education of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia in 1991-92.
A version of the article was prepared as a tribute to Yishaaq. He passed away on November 19, 2015 in Finfinnee. His daughter Saba and son-in law Giyorgis called and told me the sad news and also asked me if I can send them a short tribute that can be read at his funeral ceremony the next morning. Since the time was too short to prepare what I was asked, I told them that I will consult his former students and prepare a short article in his memory and publish it on Oromo websites. Consequently, the first version of this article was published on Ayyaantuu.com on December 11 as a tribute from his former students and friends. However, I believe that the Oromo people should know more about Yishaaq than what was said in that and other tributes paid to him to console his family and relatives. I believe that there are valuable lessons that can be learnt by Oromo school principals, university presidents, and not the least by Oromo political leaders, from his selfless contributions and courageous leadership. This is particularly the case today when our youth are being hunted down, imprisoned and killed by the enemies of our people. It is with this in mind that I have rewritten the previous article for submission to Oromia Today for publication.
Our people had great leaders in their history who had defended their interest with courage and dedication and promoted their welfare. We should cherish their legacies and use them as role models. There is no doubt that Yishaaq Angos was one of those leaders. His Promethean characteristics are briefly, but poetically, described in the elegy composed in Afaan Oromoo by one of his former students, Zelealem Aberra, and is produced at the end of this article. In the elegy, Zelealem attributes exemplary characteristics such as effective leadership, nationalism, self-sacrifice, commitment, generosity and magnanimity to Yishaaq. Those who know Yishaaq confirm that he had not only radiated courage and self-confidence as a person, but also abhorred political and intellectual cowardice in others. Indeed, those are also the characteristics we wish to see in our political leaders at this crucial juncture in our history. We need courageous leaders who listen to their people’s “heart beats” and act accordingly – not those who act according to their own selfish interests or the interests of external powers. We all know that without courageous leaders who will fulfil the aspirations of their people, the blood of our youth, whom the TPLF leaders are calling aganent (“devils”) and are murdering with unprecedented impunity, will be what the Abyssinian call deme-kelb, blood that is spilt in vain or the blood of a master-less dog. The sacrifices they are making to salvage their homeland from wanton destruction by the TPLF dictatorship will be wasted. The hope for a life worthy of human beings which the gallant deeds of their sons and daughters have revived in the hearts of millions of Oromos will be betrayed once again. Needless to say the advice Yishaaq gave to the leaders of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in 1994 is more relevant today than ever before. To start with, it should be a reminder. We, who know both the positive and negative things that had happened when the OLF was part of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia in 1991-92, can guess what Yishaaq was alluding to in his advice. He was advising the OLF leaders not to repeat the mistakes they had made in 1991-92 and repeat history. He was telling them that since you are asserting the role of national leaders you must also know that your responsibility and accountability is first and foremost to the people you claim to lead; external opinions and interests should not decide the course of your action; you must trust in yourselves and do what you think must be done in the interest of your people. Whether the current leaders of the OLF and other Oromo political organizations are doing what is said above is up to every Oromo to judge.
Yishaaq Angos (1933 - 2015)
But who was Yishaaq Angos?
Yishaaq Angos, the son of Angos Gurmuu and Gariitu Garbee, was born in 1933 in Cirrii in the outskirts of the town of Naqamtee. His father, Fitawrari Angos Gurmuu, belonged to a class of wealthy notables that constituted the aristocracy of the Oromo state of Leeqaa Naqamtee which was conquered by Menelik in 1886. He attended elementary school in Naqamtee and advanced to General Wingate School in Finfinnee for his secondary education. Following that he took a teachers’ training course and taught for a couple of years in Aggaaro. He joined the Addis Ababa University in 1958 and earned his first degree in Education. After few years as director of a secondary school in Jimmaa, he got scholarship for further education in the US where he received his M.A in education and school administration from Ohio University. After returning from the USA, Yishaaq was hired as an expert in his field by the Ministry of Education and Fine Arts in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa). That was what brought him to the attention of public in Wallaga and elsewhere.
Yishaaq Angos as remembered by former students and friends
To start with myself, I was a student at the Haile Selassie I University (now Addis Ababa University) when Yishaaq was the director of the Naqamtee High School. I came to know him in the late 1960s through friends. Although Yishaaq was older than me, we became close friends soon after we met. He gave me the task of a “talent hunter”: to contact senior Oromo students at the Haile Selassie University’s faculty of education and persuade them to apply for teaching job at his school when they graduate. I didn’t help him much with that, but our friendship continued. After I left my homeland, we met only twice, in July 1991 in Finfinnee and July 2012 in Stockholm. Then he was visiting his daughter and her family in Munich, Germany. Myself, and two of his former students (Dr. Mekbib Gebeyehu and Dr. Galaana Balcha) had the opportunity to invite him over to Sweden. We spent a few memorable days with him and he enjoyed his short stay in the beautiful city of Stockholm. The last time I talked to Yishaaq was by telephone in July 2015 when he was in Germany for medical treatment.
Yishaaq was an anti-thesis of current Oromo university presidents who are accused of inviting the Agazi forces into their campuses to crackdown on students who are protesting against the so-called Addis Ababa Master plan. According to his former students I have consulted to prepare this article, Yishaaq was not only a great teacher but also a father figure who protected his students.
As mentioned I prepared this article in consultation with Yishaaq’s former students and friends. I asked Zelealem Aberra in Helsinki, Finland, first if he was willing to join me in preparing a tribute to Yishaaq. He accepted the invitation and wrote down his memories about Yishaaq and sent it immediately to me. In addition he also contacted two Oromos in the US, who were former students and friends of Yishaaq who also made their contributions. As mentioned above, the poem at the end of this article is his contribution. In addition, I had also contacted other Oromos who were former students and a friends of Yishaaq and solicited short notes of their memories of him. The following quotes are from their notes.
Yishaaq “had in fact few peers and parallels with his drive, vision, and commitment during the Haile Selassie era when self-ingratiating and social climbing was the order of the day. For that, I deeply admire him.” (Paulos Assefa Duula, author, USA).
Yishaaq was a hero who stood firm for what he believed in. He encouraged students who were serious in following their studies and coached those who were less serious. He treated teachers with respect, but was also bold to tell those who showed weakness in fulfilling their duties (Galaasaa Dilbo, Former Secretary General of the OLF).
“Yishaaq Angos was a great and influential educator who shaped the minds of thousands of Oromo students and others. I was one of those students he nurtured. He shaped my intellectual career between 1968 and 1972, when l attended the Naqamtee Comprehensive High School.” (Asafa Jalata, PhD, Professor of Sociology, USA)
“Yishaaq Angos opened the eyes of many young people for further education. He was a Great Man. I am one of the beneficiaries of his great work and wisdom.” (Imiru Itaanaa, Sociologist, Oromo activist, London, UK)
“As a school principal, Yishaaq displayed a combination of love and tough discipline throughout his administrative years that I witnessed. He cared deeply about student success. He rewarded hard-working teachers. He was fearless and had the heart of a lion.” (Asfaw Beyene, PhD. Professor of Mechanical Engineering, USA)
“Yishaaq was a father figure and a teacher” (Mekbib Gebeyehu, PhD, Geologist, Stockholm, Sweden)
“When I was in the tenth grade, he cancelled my name from a list of students who applied to join a teacher training institute. I am grateful to him for that.” (Galaana Balcha, Medical Doctor, Heart Specialist, Lund Sweden)
Phrases such as “vision and commitment”, “stood firm for what he believed in”, “shaped the minds of students”, “opened the eyes of young people for education”, “combination of love and discipline” “father figure and teacher”, “rewarded hardworking teachers”, etc. we read in the quotes are among the qualities which scholars of leadership studies ascribe to good leaders.
A Call to Make a Change
As he closely observed the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Examination (ESLCE) results of Naqamtee, or Wallaga, he was not happy about it. Although he had a comfortable position as an education expert in the Ministry of Education, he decided to quit it and become the Principal of the then only high school in Wallaga, Naqamtee Comprehensive High School (hereafter Naqamtee High School (NHS). Selflessness and love of his people made Yishaaq to give up a high position and comfortable life in the capital city and become a director of a secondary school in his home province.
Despite individual efforts made by many of its students to study hard, the performance of the NHS on ESLCE remained embarrassingly very poor for many years. Only one or two students got a rare chance to join the university. The cause of the poor results on the ESLCE was alleged that the Ministry of Education did not assign qualified teachers to the school. Consequently, the dream of students in those days was at the most to pass in two, or three subjects to join colleges, or other institutions that offer diploma courses. At that time, the NHS was the only one where students from all over Wallaga could obtain education in order to join the university in the country or abroad after passing the ESLCE. This means, virtually the highest level of education for the students of a province with more than 1.5 million inhabitants was limited to completion of grade 12. The situation was a great concern for many of those who were born and educated in Wallaga and working in different parts of the country including, of course, Yishaaq. Imiru tells us that he heard from his close friends that Yishaaq discussed the seriousness of the problem with people like Gebeyehu Firriisaa (a well-known leader of the Ethiopian Student Movement in the early 1960s) and others before he decided to become the director of Naqamtee High School. As he was the only one who was willing and committed to do his best to improve the dire academic standard of the NHS, he applied to the Minister of Education to be transferred to Naqamtee. The Minister of Education denied his request and told him he would rather be promoted if he stayed at the Ministry. Yishaaq told the Minister that he would prefer to be demoted from his position as an expert in the Ministry of Education to the post of a high school director in Naqamtee. When the officials realised that he was fully devoted to what he believed in, they let him go. Another slightly different version of the story is narrated by a colleague who worked as a teacher under Yishaaq in Naqamtee. According to him, Yishaaq became a school director because one day during a coffee break at the Ministry, experts were discussing a report in that day’s newspaper, which narrated that the NHS had performed so poorly that only one student passed the ESCLE to join the university. The experts alluded the poor performance to students’ “inability to learn.” Yishaaq argued with his colleagues that the problem was not with the students, but rather with the system of education. It is said that this argument found its way to the Minister’s ears who, it seems was interested in Yishaaq’s theory about a relationship between faults in the country’s educational system and NHS’s poor ESLCE results. He summoned Yishaaq and asked him if he can do something to solve the problem that led to the poor performance by students at the NHS. Yishaaq accepted the challenge, gave up the comfort of city life, and the advantage he had at the Ministry of Education in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) and became the director of a high school in the provincial town of Naqamtee.
Yishaaq’s Discipline at the NHS
His former students remember Yishaaq Angos as a tough leader and educator who combined unwavering discipline with a fatherly nurture and love for his students. Starting from the day he set his foot on the compound of the NHS, he let his student know that he was there to do a job, implement discipline, and deal with the embarrassing reputation of that institution. Zelealem Aberra tells his experience from the first time he met Yishaaq at his school. “It was on the first day of the school year 1968-1969 that I met Yishaaq Angos for the first time. As it was the practice then, we students of the NHS were assembled for the morning-prayers and flag raising ceremony on this day. Near the concrete platform on which the flag-post stood, an ebony-black, heavily built muscular man in his mid-forties was standing firmly planted. He had a white short-sleeve-shirt on. I don’t think most of us have guessed that this rather wrestler-looking stranger could be our next Headmaster. As the first day of school was approaching to a close, rumour has been circulating in town about the arrival of a new Headmaster. We were so eager to know who this stranger was and couldn’t wait until the morning prayers and the flag raising ceremony are over and the stranger tells us few things about himself as part of the customary introduction.” That was not to be as expected, because after the flag was raised and the morning prayers were said “that wrestler looking man finally got onto the platform and gave us a stern look for few minutes which seemed to have lasted hours. Contrary to the polite introduction we have been expecting, he unceremoniously shouted an order: “Twelve A! To your classroom! Hurry up!” The bewildered group started running, followed by “Twelve B” and “C” and so on, as he continued shouting his orders. That was not a polite way to start a new school day and year; we murmured, as we dashed to our classes, some of the girls giggling and some of us colliding with standing objects. Nothing of that sort has ever happened before that day.” Zelealem says that the effect of the initial encounter with the new director became a routine: “the running-to-class right after the morning-prayer and flag raising ceremony became the norm.” This norm and other strict disciplinary rules he later introduced and the measures he took to implement them earned Yishaaq Angos the nickname: “Tiqur Anbessa,” or the “Black Lion”
Notwithstanding the “boorish” image he projected at the first encounter with them, it did not take time for the vast majority of students to find the “Black Lion” as being a cheerful, appealing, and compelling leader to follow. To use the words of Paulos Assefa who is one of his former students, “the chain-smoking Mr. Yishaaq was in truth forward thinking, visionary, and deeply concerned with our future and the future of our nation; behind a somewhat stern exterior demeanour, he proved to be excessively modest, generous, and congenial.” In other words, it did not take him time to prove that he was genuinely interested in changing the embarrassing reputation of their school and helping students to prepare themselves for a bright future.
Imiru, another former student, remembers that “Yishaaq did not simply sit in his office” and implement his plans for uplifting the NHS from the bottom position it had occupied in the ranks of the empire’s high schools for many years, or shape a bright future for his students. He was everywhere on the school grounds. “You do not know from which direction the ‘Black Lion’ comes and catches you when you are outside the classroom without a reason and wasting your time. Nobody could escape from him whatsoever.” Obviously, since nobody wanted to be caught loitering in the school compound, or anywhere for that manner, the safest thing to do was staying in the classroom. Asfaw Beyene notes that Yishaaq implemented his radical plans to erase the bad reputation of the NHS at the Ministry of Education “by walking or driving around town during school hours, and stopping high school students anywhere. He interrogated such students who were missing schools and he punished them at times on the spot, so that they don’t miss school again. He didn’t tolerate tardy and absentee students without a valid reason.” This had not only made him feared and respected, but also had a positive contribution in transforming the results achieved by the Naqamtee High School in the ESLCE from one of the poorest to one of the best in the country for many years.
He Cared Deeply about His Students’ Future
His former students confirm unanimously that Yishaaq cared deeply about their success in life. He encouraged his students to use their talents properly. He stopped students from joining vocational schools and limit their academic education potentials, if he believed the student has a chance to pass the school leaving exam. Nearly all of his former students who have contributed to this memorial document expressed to me that they themselves were stirred away by him from joining teacher training institute, or a military academy and were encouraged to take the ESLCE. Today, they are authors, doctors and professors as indicated above. Yishaaq persuaded his students not to be defeated by a hard life that may confront them at the moment, but to struggle hard and transform their God-given talents into instruments for a better future life. A story narrated by Zelealem about a gifted student from a very poor peasant family illustrates this point. In the tenth grade, this “exceptionally brilliant student gets a chance to join a teacher training institute and approaches Yishaaq with tears in his eyes and tells him that he was leading a miserable life, and in fact for the last ten years, it is on nothing, but roasted maize that he survived and reached his current academic level and asked him to be sympathetic and kind as to allow him join the teacher training institute.” The tears did not change Yishaaq who responded: “Eat roasted maize for two more years; and then you will eat real food!” The poor student did not have an alternative, but follow the advice of his school director. After two years, he sat for the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Exam (ESLCE) and scored an “A” in every subject he took. He went on to study at the university up to the graduate level. There is no doubt that he is “eating real food now.” Certainly, there are dozens of Oromo students who, like him, were guided by Yishaaq and are enjoying better life at home and in the diaspora today.
Yishaaq Angos was a man who turned every stone to help his students and also realized his vision of transforming the NHS into one of the top secondary schools in the country. He turned the space that served as classrooms during the day into study rooms at night. He understood that many students did not have electric light at home and were using kerosene lamps. For this reason, he set up a program for all grade twelve students to study under his and other volunteer teachers’ close supervision, staying in the school from 6 to 9 pm from Monday through Friday in the beginning. Later, the twelfth grade students were required to stay overnight and study so that they could be sufficiently prepared for the exams.
The routine of supervision he set up and followed strictly was effective. According to Imiru, there was nothing that could prevent Yishaaq from conducting his evening supervision. Not even an after-work jovial socializing moments with friends over a glass of beer at his favourite Efrem Hotel, which was serving as a rendezvous for Oromo nationalists in the town of Naqamtee, could make him forget his duty. It is said that, occasionally, he used to leave his friends with his glass of beer on the table pretending that he was going to the bathroom and drive to the school to check what was going on in the study room. Imiru narrates that one evening, unlike the other times, Yishaaq did not come to the study room. Everybody was expecting that he would knock on the door if he came and when he delayed, students thought he would not come and some of them were shouting, making jokes, and disturbing others. He observed what the students were doing through the windows. The next morning, he came to the classroom and told them what they were up to in the study room last evening. He told them that he had recorded the names of those who were not serious and that he would not allow them to sit for the national examination if they continue with that kind of behaviour. He added, he would not like to see any losers at all in his school and that he would delete their names from the list of candidates. The students were all shocked and nobody wasted the study hours after that, believing that Yishaaq was watching even when one does not see him.
Before Yishaaq came to the NHS, many of its students who failed in one or few subjects such as Amharic were forced to drop out of the school, or repeat the entire year. Asfaw remembers that Yishaaq had abolished this practice. He framed and implemented a policy of not failing high school students, and passed them from class to class in mass from Ninth grade up. He passed an overwhelming number of students, near 100 per cent. He held the belief that students reaching twelfth grade and failing there are more valuable resources than failing them and forcing them to repeat classes earlier. At the same time, he also made a special arrangement for fast learners. He brought together students who scored the highest grades and were among the top three in rank in their respective classes and created a special class for them. Thereby he made them to compete among themselves, learn faster and excel in passing the ESLCE with top grades.
Rewarded and Encouraged Hardworking Teachers
Yishaaq knew the power he had as a school director and used it from the beginning to transform the NHS into a functioning educational institution. Imiru recollects that Yishaaq did not take much time as to what he would do when he arrived in Naqamtee. Since he already knew in which subjects the students always failed, he started to investigate the performance of teachers. He attended classes and then invited the teachers to his office for discussions. A month or so after the school started, he suspended some of the expatriate teachers who according to his observations did not benefit the school. He shifted or demoted some of the indigenous teachers too. He encouraged and pushed them to prepare the student so that they can pass the school leaving exam. He rewarded the best teachers. He fought hard with the Ministry of Education to attract the best teachers to his high school. He selected teachers like the history teacher Mr. V.K. Sharma, English teacher Mr. Jacob, Biology teachers Mr. Govil and Mr. Berges, Physics teacher, Mr. Markos Maths teacher, Mr. Phillip Chemistry teacher, Mr. Bengery Geography teacher, Mr. Thapar, and Amharic teacher Beyene Getahun who had shaped and prepared students for College. Asfaw Beyene notes that “As a result, I remember our Biology teacher Mr. Burges gave us tests every Saturday. We went to school on Saturdays, just to take tests so that weekdays were spared for classes.” These teachers were said to be the best teachers the school ever had.
Transformation at an Amazing Speed
The NHS erased the embarrassing reputation it had for years soon after the native son took charge of its administration. During the first year under Yishaaq’s leadership, 11 students passed the ESLCE and joined the university for the first time in the history of NHS. The rest, who had failed in only one or two subjects at the time also joined the university later without a problem. The result for the following year was even much better; 25 students passed the ESLCE and a few failed in only one subject or two subjects. The result of the third year was fantastic: about 50 passed the exams and joined degree courses and another 50 scored grades that enabled them to join diploma courses. After that, no body worried about the ESLCE result anymore as long as Yishaaq, who stood for this historic achievement of the high school was there. He proved that the education system, not the students were responsible for the previous poor results of the NHS. Thus, the decisive steps taken by Yishaaq Angos helped, not only his students to pass the ESLCE, but also transformed NHS into one of the empire’s top secondary schools. Partly because of his dedication and leadership, the number of Oromo students entering colleges and universities could double and triple in a few years. In short, what has been achieved was not only the number of students passing the examination but, many were also getting great distinction results and the school became one of the best performing schools in the country on a sustainable basis.
Unruly Youth and a Turbulent Time
What made the progress which the NHS achieved outstanding under the leadership of Yishaaq Angos was the conditions under which it was accomplished. The late 1960s and early 1970s were periods of student protests in Ethiopia and the rest of the world. The NHS students were also involved. According Asfaw Beyene, who narrates that once “We boycotted school as a result of the student movement, he drove around, picked us, and took us to his office at night. Present was a police chief who was also an Oromo [General Hailu Qana’aa]. He told us to immediately return to school because the Governor [Dajazmach Wolde Semayat] was going to close the school.” Regarding Yishaaq’s reaction to student protests, Asfaw recalls that “Yishaaq was never intimidated by demonstrating students who threw rocks at everyone who stood in front of them. I remember one day when we walked out of school to demonstrate, he followed us walking out of the campus and walked through a crowd of students trying to enforce a recently imposed traffic rule of walking on one side of the street. I was so nervous that someone will start throwing a rock at him, and that the mob will then follow. I really saw a dead man walking at the moment. Yishaaq Angos, the tough man came out on the other side of the crowd yelling and telling us to move to the side of the road – with a style and his courageous way. Deep inside, he must have known how much we loved and respected him; our fear was just superficial. I think this knowledge was the source of his confidence, it was born from his own recognition of what he was doing and where he was standing. He knew he stood on a fertile and rich ground of his making, a historic ground on which so many great and tall trees sprouted.” Leaders like Yishaaq who are out to act and change the world are not afraid of their people. They see themselves and are seen as the assets for their followers and organizations. Only second-rate leaders who scheme to stay in their posts see and fear their compatriots as enemies.
Paulos Assefa, who as the Secretary of the Student Council of the NHS had the opportunity to know Yishaaq, tells us that he often had interacted with Yishaaq and that from time to time and “argued with him on issues that concerned the student government which was being heavily politicized during that tumultuous era of the late 1960’s worldwide student movements.” He says that at that time, Yishaaq “gave me the impression that he had a distaste for politics” and that he was particularly wary about political campaigns conducted by “radical National Service teachers who had an undeniably seductive rapport with many in the student population.” However, Paulos found out later on that it was with good reason that Yishaaq “preferred an academic milieu where political grandstanding was off-limits,” and that his own initial impression that Yishaaq “was out-of-touch” with reality was unjustified. The observation which Paulos makes here supports Asfaw’s view about the tacit understanding and rapport which Yishaaq could establish gradually with his students. Furthermore, Paulos notes that “from the beginning of his tenure the whole school felt his exhortations and demands to focus on the sciences for the benefit of ourselves, our community, and the future welfare of our nation. He used to say with a whimsical chuckle that we had “enough politicians” and “clerks”. To improve itself and to engage as equals with the wider international community, the country needed to produce more engineers, more medical doctors, and more scientists.” I have no doubt that this was understood by his students; the grades they scored on the ESLCE demonstrated that they were listening to him and paying serious attention to their studies despite the tumultuous student politics of that time.
A Futile Intrigue to Remove Yishaaq from NHS
That Yishaaq was liked by his students and most of the inhabitants of Naqamtee does not mean that he had no adversaries. Imiru remembers an incident when the students revolted demanding Yishaaq’s removal from his post. They boycotted classes to stress their demands. Mekbib Gebeyehu, who was one of the students who participated in the protest, says that, as he came to know later, an external intrigue was behind the class boycott. It was concocted by a certain naftnaya group in town who were not happy about the fast progress which Oromo education was making under the leadership of Yishaaq. According Mekbib they misled the students to revolt against him and demand his removal from the school. However, the revolt did not have any effect. Yishaaq had a strong support from influential elders and leaders in Naqamtee such as Olaanaa Bati, Tafarra Gurmessaa, Efrem Kabaa, Tamasgen Gammada and Gabbisaa Baaro. The irony was that, when some of the revolting students were detained, it was nobody else, but Yishaaq himself who acted behind the scenes to have them released. He asked the elders mentioned above to demand their release because it was wrong to keep young students in prison. And that was what the elders did. Thus, he worked with the Oromo community in Naqamtee not only to promote Oromo education, but also protect his students. Yishaaq took the student protest against him calmly. He knew that they loved him. He referred to them as “ijolleeko” – my children. He also knew about the intrigue that stirred their protest against him. As mentioned above, when myself, Mekbib and Galaana Balcha invited him to Sweden four years ago, we had the opportunity to talk about many things that had happened in Oromia in the past and what have been happening since the TPLF-led regime took power. When Mekbib raised the student protest against him mentioned above, and was about to apologize for his part in it, Yishaaq dismissed it with laughter. Silly things that are done to him by others did not hurt his feelings or made him angry. It is said that in the early 1990s, while leading an activity as board member of the Macca Tuulama Association in Finfinnee, he was slapped in the face by a rude young Oromo. He remained calm and told the dumbstruck, but angry onlookers magnanimously: “dhiisaa ilma kootu na kabalee”, meaning “leave him alone, I am slapped by my son.” It is referring to that scandalous incident that Zelealem is asking in his poetic elegy above “Yaa leencaa Aangos Gurmuu; Akkamiin obsite, maddii kabalamuu?” meaning “Oh! Lion (the brave son) of Angos Gurmuu, how could you tolerate being slapped in the face?” The obvious answer is that Yishaaq Angos had a strong nerve to be bothered by silly things that others did to him. It is interesting to note here that, sometimes, his tough nerve even had an unnerving effect on his adversaries. This is a story that his prison mate told me. He said that when they were in prison in Naqamtee during the Dergue era, the security agents who were always ready to mistreat other prisoners were afraid to touch him. His explanation was “it seems that his personality had a petrifying effect on them.” It was not without good reason that his students nicknamed him “the Black Lion”; he was self-confident and tough to bother.
No Room for Bullying among Students
Yishaaq’s former students remember that, what he established as a director of the NHS was a positive and attractive educational environment which enabled them to learn effectively and efficiently without disruptions. He strived to promote healthy relationship among students even outside the classrooms and the school compound.
It is common among students to bully and fight each other for various silly reasons. Yishaaq understood the consequences of bullying in schools long before it was recognized as an obstacle to learning, even in the West. Consequently, he did not allow bullying or the use of abusive language that affected the feeling of fellowship among his students and disturbed the school environment. Imiru mentions how Yishaaq responded to an incident which such a behavior had caused. In those days many of the NHS students, not only lived far away from home, but also come from poor families. They lived on “shiroo” which is stew made from beans. They could not afford meat. Using shiroo as a derogatory epithet, one group of students called another group “shiroo eaters,” meaning those from low class or low birth. That caused a quarrel. Yishaaq heard about it, appeared one morning at the flag raising ceremony, climbed a platform, cast his piercing stare on the students for a minute, and said “I am here to tell you something about shiroo. That it is good food. You know, many people eat, including me. Those of you, who despise it and never eat shiroo at home, raise your hands.” No body raised his, or her hand. They knew that he was talking not about shiroo or food, per se, but that denigrating human beings is disgusting and not permissible. He warned if anyone uses it as an abusive word any more, it would lead to their suspension from school. He called the ring leaders of the fight to his office to give them additional instruction and advice.
A Humble “Lion”
Yishaaq was different from most of the educated men in Ethiopia of his time. As Paulos notes correctly, in a country where going overseas for higher education was a mark of status and a near guarantee to entrance into the nation’s elite circles, one never heard Yishaaq talk about his experience in the United States. As his former students and friends have stated, when many government employees were making all efforts to be transferred to Addis Ababa seeking better living conditions, Yishaaq gave priority to improving the educational standards of his people and voluntarily got transferred to Naqamtee. As Paulos Assefa notes, he never regretted the choice he had made; he had, in fact, few peers and parallels with his drive, vision, and commitment in an era, when self-ingratiating and social climbing was the order of the day. His contemporaries led a much more lavish and comfortable life as college or university instructors, and even vice ministers, in the capital city of the empire, yet he chose a less paid and less prestigious position in a dusty and sleepy provincial town. He never talked about the sacrifices he made to promote education and serve his people. It is interesting to note here that he was never self-congratulatory about his achievements. Luckily, and deservedly, he was held in high esteem for what he did and had accomplished as a native son in the Naqamtee region. In many ways, Yishaaq was a rare character for his generation and a solid model to follow by the present and future leaders of the Oromo people and their institutions. In particular, the present Oromo school directors, university presidents and administrators have a lot to learn from Yishaaq Angos. He cared for his students and protected them from harms. They should stop allying with a regime that is engaged in massacring and imprisoning our youth and follow his example.
On top of his responsibilities as a school director, he also worked in promoting sport in Naqamtee. This was particularly the case with football. Galaasaa says that Yishaaq was directly involved in one of the football clubs called Nagodguad. This club was one of the best among the five football clubs in Naqamtee at the time. According to his former students, Yishaaq Angos was financing the Negodguad team mostly from his pocket. The Negodguad team was one of the best school teams in Ethiopia at that time. They represented their school and province in the national soccer competition held in Finfinnee and was successful until the final round a couple of times. Thus, Yishaaq worked tirelessly, not only for the reputation of the NHS from an embarrassingly poor academic performance to one of high academic excellence, but also as an institution buzzing with other activities, most significantly sport.
General Manager of Schools in Wallaga
Gutamaa reports that, based on the exceptional results he had achieved as the director of Naqamtee High School Yishaaq was promoted to be General Manager of the branch office of the province for education as a whole. This gave him the opportunity to review and improve the entire school system and educational standard in the province. During this time Yishaaq was able to not only improve the academic standards of schools in Wallaga, but had more secondary schools opened in the province. The opening of additional secondary schools clearly increased the number of students joining secondary school education since those who could not afford to go to Naqamtee to obtain their secondary school education got the opportunity to do so in their own districts. According to Obbo Tilahun Gobanaa, he had built a school at Diimtu for the Gumuz of the Dhidheessa River valley (today in the Beneshangul Regional State) who were one of the most marginalized communities in the Ethiopian Empire, and assigned competent teachers to educate their children. The school has developed into a high school now.
Furthermore, Yishaaq struggled with the bureaucracy for the allocation of budget for activities he thought will improve the standard of education in his province. He travelled constantly all over the province to supervise all schools under his administrative responsibility. It was at this time that Yishaaq, on a visit to a high school in Shambu, was attacked by a mob, which ironically was organised by his former student, the then head of Shambu high school named Belay Tassama and lost sight in one of his eyes. The elegy at the beginning of this tribute refers to the incident. Its contributor, Zelealem Aberra marvels at the tolerance Yishaaq had and the sacrifices he had made, including losing own eye sight, while opening the eyes of his people. One of the things which Yishaaq told his daughter, Saba, before his death was that the political representatives of the Dergue in Wallaga had hands in the incident that damaged his eye sight.
Five Years in Jaato Prison
The military regime had a so-called revolutionary committee at every administrative level. In every province it was mandatory for all branch office heads to serve on the revolutionary committee. The committee has supreme power to the extent of deciding death penalty on those suspected as anti-revolutionaries. In Wallaga the committee was chaired by a notorious Dergue member called Negusie Fanata. It is said that members of this committee were always expected to support what Negusie wanted to decide. By virtue of being a branch office head Yishaaq was a member of this committee. It is said Yishaaq and Abiyu Galata were among the few members of the committee who challenged Negusie stopping some of his arbitrary decisions. However, it was for a short time that he served on the committee; he was detained as anti-revolutionary himself in February 1978. The reason given for detaining Obbo Yishaaq, and some other Oromos with him, was anti-revolutionary in general. They were detained specifically for attending a buttaa ceremony which was celebrated in the Innaango district of Gimbi awraja. Buttaa is a traditional festival where anybody is free to express his opinion on any subject without reservation and restriction, but only on that day. At the festival participants demanded that Negusie be brought to the court of law for killing farmers, students and teachers without due process of law. It is interesting to note here that the festival was not organized in secret and that Negusie himself was invited as a guest of the people. However, he did not participate, but upon receiving information about it, he didn’t take time to put all those he suspected were behind organizing the buttaa festival, including those who did not participate, in prison. He arrested those he arbitrarily categorized as tsere abiyootanyooch (“anti-revolutionary”) or xebbaab bihertanyooch (“narrow nationalists”). Yishaaq was incarcerated in Jaato Prison in Naqamtee for over 5 years for no other tangible reason but for his attendance of the buttaa ceremony. He was not brought to the court of law during these years. He was imprisoned by the order of Negusie Fanta and released from prison on the basis of his instruction. Four Oromos, Imiru Ibsaa, Fariis Hirphaa, Birru Warku and Alamu Danda’aa, who were imprisoned together with him were gunned down in the premises. Their compatriots such as the late Taddese Qana’aa were imprisoned for over 9 years.
Yishaaq Cared about His People
As indicated above Yishaaq was a fearless person. He spoke truth to power. He spoke on behalf of his people with conviction and without fear. His friends and compatriots note that Yishaaq was a committed Oromo nationalist and was always suspected as a member of the OLF by the military government whereby he was closely watched by its security forces. As the result, he had suffered during the military regime of Ethiopia.
For most of his former students, Yishaaq Angos was and will remain an academic hero, a role model, and outstanding educator. As noted by Asafa Jalata, Yishaaq was a leader who clearly understood several decades ago the ignorance that Ethiopian colonialism imposed on the Oromo people. He understood the necessity of producing an educated manpower that will and can dismantle the prison house of nations and release his people from bondage. He opened the eyes of many young people for further education. His former student Imiru Itaanaa remembers Yishaaq’s advice to his students: “If you endeavour to study hard and acquire an adequate knowledge, those who hate you will love you and those who despise you will honour you.” He devoted his life to providing education to the young. Just before he died at the age of 82, he was a high school teacher in Mugar north of Finfinnee. He served his people to the end of his life
A Hero to be Remembered and Followed as a Role Model
Yishaaq Angos was a great educator who deserves gratitude from all of us. One way of showing our gratitude is by celebrating his name. For that, my suggestion is changing the name of the Naqamtee High School to “Yishaaq Angos High School”. This can be done in a short time. His former students, the present inhabitants of Naqamtee, and its student population can approach the relevant authorities with a request for that. His former students may also raise funds for his statue to be erected in the school compound. His name and the history of his contribution can survive long in that manner. Asafa Jalata recommends the creation of a foundation that will raise funds to study his contributions to the development of Oromo national culture and identity directly and indirectly. That can be done, but may take time.
To conclude, Obbo Yishaaq Angos was a great educator and brave nationalist. There are few Oromos, if any at all, who have made such great sacrifices to educate their people as he did. As a high school director he had not only educated his students, but also showed them the way to follow and make the best out of their lives. He protected them from harm during the tempestuous and insecure period of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was an outstanding leader and shining model whom current and future Oromo school principals and university presidents should emulate. His name deserves a special place in the annals of Oromo education and history of the Oromo nation.
Sii Gamtee Leencako?
Akka Prometheus* qananii balfitee
Aangoo gamoo dheeraarraa saba caalchifattee
Gulantaa olaanaarraa goodaatti gadi ofbuustee
Bara waaqayyoo abidda, nama jalaa dhoksee ofiisaaf qusate
Yennaa dhalli namaa, ifaa fi ho’a dhabee, baayisee rakkate
Abiddaa Waaq hattee, saba kee badhaaste
“Ho’ifadhaa!” jettee, “Ifa argaa!” ittiin jette
Sabaaf ija banuutti, ofii ijaa jaamtee;
Wallaalaaf dhaabachuuf, dofaadhaaf dhaqqabu
Prometheus tiruusaa, ati qarookee dhabuu
Maal cookkoon akkasii, nama hinajaa’ibuu?
Ijaa sabaaf loogaan, Waaqni nama adabaa?
Ifa hiyyeessaaf hiruun, cubbuu maalii qabaa?
Yaa leencaa Aangos Gurmuu
Akkamiin obsite maddii kabalamuu?
Namaaf qaroo saaqaa, ofii qaroo jaamuu?
“Nan-dadhabee” hinbeektuu, maal isheen baranaa?
Sii gamee leencakoo?.... Sii gamtee namana?
Egaa, nuwoo si’rakkisnu, yammuttii siigamu
Isa si kabale, Waaq itta haa araaramu
Isa ija si jaamse, ijjisaa haabanamu
Boqoti leencako, sin rakkisnu lamuu
Garu hinyaadda’in, xomborri nuuf laattee, nu harkatti hindhaamu
Galaa ati nuu galaaste, eenyumtuu nun saamuu
Lakkii; galfatakee hinyaannu, akka ilmaan haraamuu;
Boqoti leencako, ekeraankee gaaddisa, ciisee haaboqotu
Ayyaannikee garuu nuttis haadhalatu
Ho’a nuu hiixatte, hundi akka qaammatu
Ifa nuu dhaalchistes hundi akka argatu.
Beekna yaa leencakoo, Waaqi keenya donn’aa
Lakkii isa hinkomannu, maalumaaf komannaa?
Siachi barreerraa, ammawoo itti beeknaa
Ati ifa nuu hatte, nuyi sabbatasaa hannaa
Warri eelaan miidhe, dugda ittiin hidhannaa.
Boqoti leencako; yaa ibsaa dukkanaa
Boqoti, ….hinyaadda’in,…ammawoo itti beeknaa
Abidda nuu laattee, ittuma xuqanna
Ifee akka muldhatu guyyuu bobeessina.
Yisaaq Aangos Gurmuuf
Zelealem Aberra Tesfa
Prometheus: a deity in Greek mythology who was the creator of mankind and its greatest benefactor. He stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind, an action for which he was punished by Zeus, the Greek god who ensured every day that an eagle ate his liver as he was helplessly chained to a rock.