By Yaadasaa Dafa*
Ali Siraj Ali was born on November 12, 1952 in Dalati, Oromia. He was a proud son of Haj Siraj Ali and Aaddee Kadija. He completed secondary education at the Prince Mekonnen High School in Finfinne, Oromia. In 1979 Ali Siraj Ali abandoned his job at Finfinee (Addis Ababa) as a result of the political harassment by the Ethiopian military junta ruling the country at the time. After Ali had reached Asmara on assignment from his main office, he surrendered to the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, known as EPLF. The Eritreans were fighting against the Ethiopian government for independence in those days under two major fronts: the ELF and the EPLF. There were also other Eritrean liberation fronts, but EPLF and ELF were the more powerful ones enjoying the support of nearly most of the Eritreans. EPLF was in control of the majority of the Eritrean countryside and transported Ali to Sudan with other Oromo political refugees, including one of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) leaders/representatives.
Ali arrived in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1979 as a registered political refugee. Even if a refugee’s life in Sudan was very difficult in those days, Ali did not face much difficulty in obtaining a full-time job and becoming a self-sufficient person as he was a skilled accountant with years of experiences. To his advantage, Ali was also fluent in the classic Arabic language. After getting familiar with his new refugee life in the Sudan, he did not waste much time to get to know the Oromo Students Union in the Sudan. He immediately joined the main branch and began to render his dedicated services to the Oromo political refugees in Sudan with other dedicated members of the Oromo Students Union of those days.
Background on Oromo Politics in the Sudan in the 1970’s
In 1976 the Oromo Students Union was established in the Sudan. Oromo Workers’ Union in the Sudan was started in 1978. Both unions were registered with the Sudan Ministry of Interior, the Sudanese Security Division and the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Sudan. It was the Executive Committee of the Oromo Students Union which took the initiatives and responsibilities of organizing the Oromo Workers’ Union in Sudan. The organization of Oromo workers became essential as the number of non-student Oromos arriving in Sudan was growing beyond the expectations and abilities of the nationalist Oromo Students. On the other hand, other Ethiopian organizations, such as EDU and EPRP, were actively and without scrutiny recruiting people to join and fight for them. Therefore, all Oromos were their targets for solicitation to join them. But, the only independent Oromo social/political institution was the Oromo Students Union in Sudan in those days. It was at this critical time in the Oromo Students Union’s history that Ali Siraj Ali arrived at Khartoum and joined the struggle and advocacy; and he represented the Oromo nation in the Sudan and the Middle East till 1979, when most of the members of the Oromo Liberation Front arrived and opened the Foreign Relations Office in Khartoum North. Then, members of the Oromo Workers’ Union were the greatest asset to be founding members of OLA.
Ali always found his ways, without much reservation, to connect and establish friendship with those who might happen to see him for the first time! He was a gifted, warm, sincere and good-natured person who would never cease to make a joke out of circumstances or situations that one might normally find to be stressful or worst. His childhood experiences in Finfinee schools, especially his secondary education at the Prince Mekonnen High School, including his harassment for being an Oromo as well as a Muslim, had equipped him with a lot of consciousness. Ali never exhibited anger or bitterness towards the Amhara people. In fact, he felt sorry for some Amhara elites’ arrogance, and the primitive manners these elites displayed towards non-Amhara people.
As a member of the Oromo Students Union, Ali never put his personal interests before rendering his part of the division of responsibilities in helping physically or materially other Oromo refugees in Sudan. When he was told that it was his turn to go to the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Khartoum, he never complained how long it would take him to complete his responsibilities standing in line for hours in that hot Khartoum weather with other refugees to get into the UNHCR office. Furthermore, Ali never missed a meeting – that being held at different localities, usually after obtaining a permission from the Sudanese Security headquarters for the assembly – be it at the University of Khartoum Main Campus, or at the College of Education (University of Khartoum, Swoora Bewady Campus, where two of the Executive Committee members were students, and also lived at), or at the Omdurman Islamic University (where the other two Executive Committee members and a number of members of the Students Union were students and were residing), or at the Omdurman-Sawura, Oromo Workers’ Union residence, or the Khartoum College of Technology (where Obbo Ali Siraj Ali studied and obtained his Bachelor degree in Business).
Ali Siraj Ali was a man with unflinching conviction and great moral commitment. He had ethical and great moral satisfaction when he observed the fruits and positive results of his endeavors in helping his Oromo brothers and sisters, who happened to be in need of assistance in Sudan during those dark days.
Life in Canada
Ali immigrated to Canada in 1986. He continued advocating for the Nation of Oromia in his new home, Canada. Ali was one of the main campaigners for the establishment of the Oromo Community Association in Toronto during the Fall of 1988. Furthermore, Ali was one of the founding fathers of OPLO (Oromo People’s Liberation Organization). Unfortunately, Ali was diagnosed with a lung cancer in June 2003, and finally, passed away on December 11, 2007, after battling the cancer for four long years. Ali is survived by his beautiful family: by his wife Aaddee Sara Ali Siraj, his daughters Aantu, Alia, and his son Siraj Ali Siraj. Aantu is married now, and Obbo Ali Siraj Ali is blessed with a grandchild whom he smiles to from the heaven above.
It was a great privilege and honor for all Oromo refugee-students as well as Oromo citizens, including myself, to be his a personal confidants and close friends sharing with him all the hardship of a refugee-student life in the Sudan. Ali was, not only a friend to all members of the Oromo Students Union, he was also part of all of them, and vise versa. May the Almighty God rest his soul in peace!
* The author, Yaadasaa Dafa, can be reached at Yaadasaa@gmail.com