When Jagama Kello defied the Emperor

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In 1941, Emperor Haile Selassie re-entered Addis Ababa, five years after his country was occupied by Italy and his exile years in Britain. Before his triumphant entry into Addis Ababa with British and Ethiopian troops, the Emperor had gotten in touch with the Patriot leaders in Shoa and gave orders so that they help the British army in achieving the total liberation. However, the patriot leaders who had resisted the fascist army with no help during the five years were not so enthusiast about the order. Among them was Jagama Kello.Jeff Pearce in his book entitled “Prevail: The Inspiring Story of Ethiopia’s Victory over Mussolini’s Invasion, 1935–1941” – November 18, 2014, narrated the story.

Not everyone took their marching orders so well. While they were getting flushed elsewhere, some Italian units had apparently dug in around Gondar and Jimma, managing to destroy the bridge over the Gibe River. So Haile Selassie put the patriot leader, Geressu Duki, in charge of prying Jimma away from the enemy. The story goes that Geressu sent word back, asking, “Please send Jagama Kello down to help our efforts here.” This was reasonable, and so the Emperor promptly wrote the young general a letter, summoning him to go up help Geressu. “But I refused and threw away the letter,” says Jagama. What was this Emperor to him? How could he give him commands? “He doesn’t know me.”
This, of course, did not go down well with the King of Kings and Elect of God. Fortunately, another Patriot stepped in, to smooth things over: Shawaragad Gadle. She and Jagama, of course, worked together before, most notably in the raid on Addis Alem. She had heard that he was refusing the orders, but informed Haile Selassie ever so gently that Jagama Kello, after all was quite young and that “all I need was a little coercing.”
The Emperor-who by now had needed to smooth the ruffled feathers of many a Patriot leader-wrote to Jagama again. He would come to Ginchi, Jagama’s home base, and the general should wait for him.
It must have been quite a first meeting. There was Haile Selassie, the tiny Emperor, meeting a tall youth barely out of his teens who had behind him thirty-five hundred men, all with Afros and braids. The Emperor inspected Jagama’s army, then had the young general accompany him back to Addis Ababa to further report his activities. He clearly liked what he heard, because he gave Jagama twenty-five thousand thalers- and then sent him off to finally help Geressu push the Italians out of Jimma, which they did.
In fact, according to Jagama, while Geressu’s army was stuck at the Gibe River, he and his men found a detour and confronted the Italian forces. He captured two air force commanders, arranged a surrender, and then Geressu’s army finished things off by seizing the Italians’ weapons and property. “And that was the end of the Jimma war.”
It wasn’t the end, however, of Jagama Kello being stubborn. Shortly afterwards, he fell sick with malaria and returned to Addis Ababa to check into a hospital. But A British doctor informed him that unless he cut his massive Afro (presumably an excuse for hygienic reasons), he wouldn’t be admitted. Jagama refused. Once again, Haile Selassie had to pay a visit to the boy general, coming around to his house. “You better cut,” he was told. And by now it was understood that when the Emperor said you better, it amounted to an order. Jagama duly had a haircut-and his life was saved.

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  1. Alem says:

    Aref, The last of Ethiopian heroes, I suppose. I am hoping school children are being taught about this aspect of our history. This is yet another illustration of British duplicity. Gave a nod to Mussolini to occupy our country so as to weaken the Axis Powers [Japan, Germany, Italy]; took the Emperor “hostage” until such time he could be used to further British imperial design. Brought along the Emperor, now as liberators. I don’t know how much new generation Britons know of their evil and dirty past; really, a past mired in hypocrisy, loot, and destruction. Only the British could see you in the eye and tell you how their foreign aid is most generous [never mentioning the grand theft over the centuries from Asia and Africa], the benefits of their colonial administration, their introducing law and order [where they have been lawless and to-date a source of much of the chaos around the world]. I am embarrassed to even acknowledge that a street in Addis is named for Churchill [a racist and colonialist]. Perhaps we need to rename Churchill with a Pankhurst.

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