One Day with a Hero

Gadisa Hirphasa

August 24, 2012 (Gulele Post) – Two days have passed since Ethiopia’s longest serving Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was officially pronounced dead. In the short time since I have seen a great deal of reaction from different corners. It was a period filled with arguments of varying emotions, some hailing him as a great leader and others lamenting his dictatorship. His legacy is interpreted sporadically depending on where you are in society and geography. He is a hero in Adwa and a villain in Ambo. He is a visionary from the comfortable view of 10 Downing Street in London but a tyrant in the eyes of Anuaks in Gameblla. My purpose is not to comment on Meles’s death or his legacy. The world will talk about it and millions tune to mourn or reflect. What most don’t realize is the painful memory that lingers in the minds of many due to the innocent lives lost under his reign, some by his direct order. Today I am going to write about one such life, a friend and my hero – Gadisa Hirphasa. For the first time even to many of my friends I will reveal my experiences of a day and night I spent with him in prison.

Almost everyone has their heroic figure. Some look to their parents for inspiration, some look for spiritual figures and others take (in)famous individuals as their heroes. As such it is difficult to find common heroes unless that hero(ine) is an extraordinary person that captures our collective imagination. Wikipedia defines ‘hero’ as one who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage and the will for self sacrifice…for some greater good of all humanity.

Most of us tend to look up and further than our times to seek heroes but rarely do we see sideways or below us. I find myself extremely lucky to have known a hero of my age, a student of my college and a friend I shared a prison cell with.

Wednesday January 21, 2004 was a bright day in Addis Ababa(Finfinnee) as is usually the case during this time of the year. It being a day after the annual Timket ceremony, many in the city especially followers of Orthodox Christianity were in festive mood. It is also a stressful time of the year for students because final exam is around the corner. The spirit was different, however, for many Oromo students in Addis Ababa University. Within one week eight students, all Oromo, had been jailed one by one from different campuses. After recognizing the sudden and targeted arrests, few students mostly from senior years, brought the case to the attention of various heads of the university, but all their requests were left unanswered. The final attempt was to collectively speak to the university president and vice president. The cause and effects leading to that day and after are long and hence I’ll try to mainly focus on the event of that day. Suffice to say that it was all related to the large nationwide protest against the government’s decision to move the capital of Oromia region from Finfinnee to Adama.

–Full Document Gulele Post