By Dr. Henok Gabisa @henokgabisa
Addis Abeba – On the afternoon of 04 December 2023, Australia was confronted with somber news – the untimely passing of Urge Dinegde during a routine maternity checkup. Notably, Urge, with no any pre-existing conditions, had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of her child, expected in January 2024.
As a luminary within the Oromo community, Urge’s ephemeral sojourn on Earth was distinguished by a meaningful and purposeful existence. The abrupt cessation of Urge’s vibrant life cast a pervasive pall over those fortunate enough to have crossed paths with her, leaving us in a state of incredulity. The weight of her absence feels like an unyielding burden, and just like others, I too found myself wrestling with the meaning of it all.
In this eulogy, I attempt to pay a succinct tribute to Urge Dinegde by presenting her records from her presence and the palpable void now manifested in her absence. I will draw on my personal experiences, friendship and observation of her public records and I will attempt to put Urge’s legacy in context.
My personal encounters and camaraderie with Urge goes back to 2016. As we collectively grapple with the ramifications of her sudden departure, the legacy of Urge Dinegde is bequeathed a profound imprint of a life lived with purpose and passion. Urge is a soul of unparalleled purity, a spirit authentically genuine, and a heart guided by a pragmatic and visionary life philosophy. She was a paragon of virtue and authority to be used in shaping others. Driven by an unyielding sense of purpose and ignited by an impassioned zeal, Urge Dinegde, a young Oromo Australian woman, boldly diverged from the conventional trajectory of existence.
Urge’s life as a Symbol of family Resilience and Successful Parenting in the Diaspora
Urge’s ephemeral life transcends her mere individuality, emblematic of familial resilience and adept parenting within the diaspora context. As a scion of persecuted Oromo parents who sought a safe place in Australia during the tumultuous 1980s, Urge’s narrative defies conventional expectations. Her life serves as a marker of the enduring legacy meticulously crafted by Oromo parents, imparting to their offspring a deeper comprehension of selfhood, identity, and the historical travails of the Oromo people navigating foreign terrain.
Within the intricate tapestry of Ethiopian politics in the last half a century, Oromos stand out as the most marginalized and displaced community. The international mobility and forced migration of Oromo families, precipitated by war, mass violence, dislocation, displacement, and the political tumult of the nation, started as early as the 1980s. Existing data and scholarly discourse indicate that such displacements invariably give rise to intergenerational trauma, a burden often bequeathed to first-generation offspring. Urge’s life, as the inaugural scion of Oromo parents in the diaspora, nevertheless, stands testament to the resilience required to surmount such traumatic effects and other challenging social realities. She embodies a triumphant professional odyssey, a trajectory less traversed by members of the diaspora, attributable, perhaps, to the scaffolding of adept parenting.
Urge’s formative years, professional accomplishments, trajectories, nuanced and implacable commitment to the Oromo struggle for freedom, democracy and national identity, along with her humanitarian vision, collectively illuminate the narrative of a young Oromo woman who adeptly transformed adversity into a chronicle of hope and aspiration.
Hailing from Mandi town in Western Oromia, Urge’s parents laid the groundwork for her profound awareness of heritage, cultural citizenship, Oromo identity, transnational involvement, and dedication to her ancestral homeland, Oromia. Such multifaceted abilities are indeed rare, emerging sporadically amidst the intricate layers of managing multiple identities inherent in the diasporic experience. Against this backdrop, Urge effortlessly constructed an identity epitomized by the notion articulated by the esteemed scholar and diasporic theorist, Vijay Mishra, as “simultaneously belonging both here and there.”
A Lighthouse in the #OromoProtest: Pre and Post-Haacaaluu Hundessaa Era
Urge emerged as a central and influential figure within the #OromoProtest movement spanning from 2014 to 2018, and later after the assassination of Haacaaluu Hundessa. #OromoProtests is a transnationally transformative phenomenon that galvanized Oromo people in the diaspora and homeland in opposition to an erstwhile draconian authoritarian regime of the time. This decentralized social uprising, sometimes referred to as the Arab Spring of Africa, borne out of a century-long history of political and economic marginalization, discovered a resonant global voice through the dedicated endeavors of individuals like Urge Dinegde.
Instrumental in orchestrating and spearheading the movement’s digital arm in Australia, Urge, alongside her sister Agartu Dinegde, assumed a pivotal role. Her adept organizational prowess not only added a layer of sophistication and finesse to the movement but also infused it with a sense of elegance. Urge’s articulate delineation of the Oromo struggle, contextualized within historical and philosophical dimensions, served as a testament to her intellectual brilliance. Despite her proclivity for privacy in the public domain, she astutely monitored the operational facets of the movement.
Urge’s indefatigable dedication extended beyond the digital realm, manifesting in her active involvement with Oromo community organizations and her role in social mobilization. Seemingly deeply rooted in the “Triumphist” school of thought which thinks of democracy as “a universal public good,” Urge led many first generation Oromo youth to advocate and march on the Capitol with a targeted goal of informing the foreign policy of Australia. This commitment bore fruit in the formation of a robust voter bloc in Australia, a constituency that played a pivotal role in shaping the host nation’s foreign policy towards Ethiopia. Through efforts of individuals like Urge, Australia gained a more nuanced understanding of the Oromo political movement and its aspirations for the homeland. Urge thus becomes emblematic of the transformative power wielded by organized diaspora communities, not only in shaping international policies but also in actively contributing to clarifying the blindspot of foreign policy.
Such an aplomb narrative of Urge’s life stands as a compelling counter-archive to skeptical political theorists, including Huntingtonians, who may overlook the pivotal reality that a well-organized diaspora community in the Western world can effectively compel and help their second home country to champion human rights abroad as a creed to global liberal democracy.
Urge’s Leadership Philosophy, Humanitarian Legacy and Philanthropic Vision
Urge’s life engagement transcended advocacy for civil liberty, embracing a broader and more expansive role within the Oromo movement for capability and empowerment. Her dedication surpassed the conventional boundaries of the diasporic role, which is typically confined to political involvement.
Urge was a successful professional and influential leader with accolades in her professional orbit. Some of her accolades include an award from Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) Top 50 Women in the Public Sector 2022 which highlights excellence delivered by exceptional female leaders in the public sector. She was also Chief Practitioner’s Award Finalist (Outstanding Team) for her leadership in the Cultural Engagement Team in Australia’s Department of Families, Fairness and Housing child protection program.
Urge laid the foundation for her Village School Project during her college years in 2011, encapsulated by the motto “Rebuilding Dreams” for Oromia’s children dwelling in the neglected corners of her homeland Oromia. Articulating her humanitarian philosophy, she aimed at furnishing education as a transformative ticket to freedom and self-reliance for Oromo children in the remotest corners of Oromia. This initiative mirrors Urge’s steadfast commitment to instill hope and aspirations in the lives of those confronted with poverty and adversity. She coined the approach as “one village and one school at a time,” encapsulating her dedication to fostering positive change incrementally.
The center of Urge’s village’s school has approximately 1,400 students and 24 teachers. On average, a child will walk 38 minutes to school, and one book is shared between 3 students. In August 2015, Urge completed a plan to construct new classrooms with required infrastructure that would enhance education quality for the Oromo children. In 2016, she approached me with a request to speak about her Village School Project at the annual conference of the International Oromo Lawyers Association (IOLA) and Oromo Studies Association (OSA) in Washington D.C. My anticipation heightened as I eagerly awaited insights into her project. Graciously, I integrated her into our annual meeting, providing her with a platform to present and create awareness about her school project to Oromo in North America. Her project is rooted in the discourse of hope and pragmatic visions, substantiated by empirical data and vibrant testimonials from the field. Urge’s conceptualization of hope and dreams for Oromo school children revolves around cultivating a self-defined purpose in their lives. This approach would empower students to eventually break free from their shackles on their own terms and conditions, illustrating Urge’s intense belief in the transformative potential of education as a catalyst for liberation and self-empowerment.
Urge’s legacy of decency that influenced and touched her friends
Urge embodied the essence of Oromo decency, recognized for her integrity, loyalty, and respect within the team she operated. Despite the inherently traumatic and disenfranchising nature of Oromo advocacy, Urge consistently treated her friends and comrades with kindness and respect. Guided by what appears the “big stick ideology – of speaking softly and walking farther,” she demonstrated a steadfast commitment that set her apart. These attributes contributed to Urge’s sustained consistency and endurance in the Oromo movement, in contrast to some colleagues who engage seasonally in the quest for Oromo freedom.
Urge’s legacy of decency reverberated far and wide, casting an intense impact on her friends, myself included, as we grappled with the suddenness of her departure and meaning to it all. The shockwaves of her absence left heavy hearts and tearful eyes among those who had the privilege of knowing her. In bidding farewell to Urge, Maya Angelou’s words ring true, emphasizing the enduring impression left by those who touch our lives. Looking back, Urge’s life exemplified the essence of Oromo decency, eliciting reverence and respect from everyone within her sphere of influence because she left .
The online send-off service, a collective virtual gathering, further illuminated the vast extent of her influence, with heartfelt tributes pouring in from every corner of her life. Amidst these expressions of love and admiration, one crucial aspect emerges – the enduring legacy she leaves behind in her baby girl, Mi’a, who stands as the heir to her mother’s impactful journey. Mi’a inherits not just a name but a rich history embodying her mom’s brilliance, pride, dignity, excellence, and decency.
“At least my baby is okay” – Urge’s final words
Understanding Urge’s life philosophy becomes clearer through her husband Dr. Million’s (Milli) moving testimony of her final moments. In her last breath, Urge found solace upon hearing the voice of her baby girl, Mi’a. As Milli shared, Urge’s final words were “at least my baby is fine.” A deeply touching and painful moment!
In the midst of her own agony and suffering, Urge found joy in the thought of her daughter’s safety, despite the heartbreaking reality that she would never have the chance to parent her. These last moments of her life, though immensely difficult, witnessed Urge departing in peace, leaving us with a precious legacy and an indomitable heir in her baby girl, Mi’a.
Mi’a, the living heir of Urge’s legacy, will now grow up surrounded by stories from all of Urge’s family and friends, painting a vivid picture of how wonderful her mother was and the lasting impact she had on those fortunate enough to have known her.
Urge, you were truly unique. Grateful for a life rich in its impact and meaning. May you find serenity in the embrace of eternal peace, and may your memory continue to serve as an enduring muse, inspiring us to navigate our lives with the same fervor, authenticity, and dedication that you so wonderfully exemplified.
Rest easy, comrade.
If you would like to contribute towards continuing the legacy of Urge’s Village School project, you can donate here
Editor’s Note: Dr. Henok Gabisa is Co-Chair of International Oromo Lawyers Association (IOLA).