Lieutenant General Jagama Kelo, also known as ‘the Thunderstorm’ is an Ethiopian patriot, freedom fighter, and a war hero during the Italian aggression. Following Italian aggression on Ethiopia in 1935 GC, Jagama decided to join the resistance movement and fight for independence of his country. He was only 15 years old at the time. He started his patriotism without a gun or a follower. However, his elder brother had a rifle to fight the Italians. The two brothers with just one weapon ambushed the Italian troops and gradually armed themselves. They were joined by other peasants in the struggle, and at the age of only 18, Jagama had more than 3000 fighters at his command.
Jagama Kelo was born on January 29, 1920 in Ginichi, Oromia region. A son of a wealthy landlord, Jagama lost his mother when he was only one year old. His father also passed away a little after Jagama turned ten years old. An orphan at a very young age, Jagama was raised by his uncle and trustee, Aba Doyo Wami.
As a child Jagama was impressed by the heroic tales of his ancestors especially that of his great grandfather Godana Nemo. Godana was warrior, and legend has it that his presence only got his enemies trembled, and he killed everyone he fought with.
When Italians once again tried to colonize Ethiopia, at the age of only 15 years old at the time, Jagama did not hesitate to join the resistance movement and put his mark in Ethiopian struggle for independence. Jagama says he was inspired by his ancestors, their determination never to compromise their independence and freedom.
After the end of the Italian aggression, Jagama Kelo joined Holetta War Academy and received multiple military training. He was 20 years old at the time.
On May 1936, The Italian forces, under the command of General Rudolf Graziani and Pietro Badogilo, pushed back the ill armed and poorly trained Ethiopian military and controlled the capital Addis Ababa. Regardless of their fierce resistance of the aggression, the Ethiopian army were no match, by any standard with Italian troops who came with modern weaponry including tanks, planes and nerve gas. The Emperor didn’t take him long to predict that he completely lost the war. He exiled to the United Kingdome.
Though Italians officially declared Ethiopia their colony, the brave men and women of Ethiopia did not give in. The resistance movement by the patriots (Arbegnoch) made the Italian’s five years stay agitated and troubled. The young patriot Jagama Kelo was one of those war heroes. At a very young age, his Gorilla fighting skills, bravery, and heroism got him a name ‘the Thundersome. He attacked unexpectedly and escaped some of the most dangerous situations that would have him killed and his army destroyed. Jagama was also known for his charm, impressive negotiation skills and decisive leadership, which placed him above many of his peers and got him thousands of followers.
In 1941, after a five years of struggle and resistance by the Ethiopian patriots (and support by the British military), the Italian’s were defeated and left the country. Emperor Haile Selassie returns from exile to resume power. His home coming was highly celebrated by the people and patriots who fought the Italians. Jagama did not come to the capital Addis Ababa to greet the emperor and take part in the ceremony. Instead, the king himself had to make the trip to Gimichi, Jagama’s home town, to meet the heroic young patriot and his soldiers. Jagama commanded nearly 5000 soldiers at the time.
Haile Selassie offered Jagama to Join Holetta War Academy to receive a formal military training. Jagama was only 20 years old at the time.
The young Gorilla fighter in fact had a bright future waiting for him in the Imperial Ethiopia Military. He rose all the way to Lieutenant General Rank and became one of the top generals in the country, one that the emperor highly depended on. He was later appointed to provincial military commander. During his life time, Jagama Kelo took part in several battels and was wounded countless times. As a solider he survived a helicopter crash, and was wounded seriously 17 times, and had a near death experience as a result.
Following the fall of the DERG regime in 1991, Jagama also joined opposition politics and was one of the founders of an opposition party called the Ethiopian Unity Party.
Honor and Award
Jagama received many honors and awards in his stay in the army. He also rose all the way to Lieutenant General Rank.
The Thunderstorm, General Jagama Kelo passed away at the age of 96 on April 7, 2017 in Addis Ababa Armed Forces Hospital.
Jagama Kelo has five children, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.