The Oromo of Harerghe: On the Evolution of Urban Centers (Part Two)

By Afendi Muteki


Dirre DhawaaThe urban centers in the Harerghe have shown many changes in the 20th century; some of them grew continuously, others stayed in dwarfism. Few of them continue to play their historical role while a handful were totally forgotten. This essay tries to assess the ups and downs of the towns of Harerghe in the 20th century.


In early 20th century, Dire Dawa was made the main terminal of the Franco-Ethiopian Railway Line. This has caused commerce to bloom in the area and consequently, many people settled there permanently. European, Arabian and Indian traders also came to the area and introduced new transactions and building styles. Within a decade, it replaced the centuries old Harar as the main commercial center of east Ethiopia (But Harar remained the administrative center).

In the same period, the land of Harerghe was divided to vast woredas (district). The woreda’s chief activity was gathering the tributes and taxes from the native Oromos who became tenants on their land. Due to their strategic positions, some towns situated on the mountain tops like Qun’e (Qunnii) and Gurawa became seats of the newly created woredas. These towns were mostly inhabited by the imperial army and their families. The Oromos living around those woreda towns suffered greatly from the repeated looting undertaken by the army. For example, the people of Gara Mul’ata have a famous saying which reminds us of the situation of the time.

Gurawaa gad-yaatii
Loon nu aati

They come out of Gurawa (town)

And they steal our cattle

Ras Tafari Makonen’s ascendance to the Solomonic throne as Emperor Haile-Silasie I of Ethiopia brought another change on the urbanization process. Harerghe was devided to “awraja”s (sub-provinces) and woredas. In the eastern half of Harerghe, towns like Dadar, Gurawa and Funyan Biiraa became awraja centers along with Harar and Dire Dawa. In the western part, Afdam became the capital of Adal and Issa Awraja but Qun’ee (Qunnii) was replaced by the newly founded “Ciroo” town as the capital of “Carcar” awraja. (Ciroo was renamed “Asebe Teferi” in the honor of the emperor, but the Oromos continue to call it by its original name).

The five year Italian occupation of the country brought a new dynamism in the urbanization process in the Harerghe. The occupiers constructed the all weather road that runs from Addis Ababa to Harar and then passes to Jijjiga. This had intensified trade and communication in the area and more urban centers appeared on the Fugug Mountains. The Italian era also favored historical towns to resurrect. For example, Galamso was made the capital of “Carcar” awraja in that period and consequently, it expanded in all directions.

Another thing to note here was the Italian attempt to establish a new urbanized community of immigrants which were thought to be brought from southern Italy. The site selected to host those immigrants was a place called “Waccuu” in Carcar province (20kms East of Galamso). An intensive housing program was launched in the area and dozens of European style buildings were constructed. However, the program was interrupted when the Italians left the country in 1941 yet “Waacuu” became a typical town that represents the five years time (the elderly people still call it “Kinteerii”- derived from the Italian “cantiere” which was to mean “construction site”).

The emperor’s return to the throne turned the development of many urban centers of Harerghe in the other way; Afdem lost it status of awraja capital, Galamso was replaced by “Assebe Teferi” (Ciroo), and Harar’s high expansion stopped. But Dire Dawa continued to play its role as the leading commercial center of the east; “Magaala” became the commercial half of the city and “Kazira” became the residential half.

In the 1950s, Christian missionary groups launched programs of evangelization in the Harerghe. Their effort had little effect on the religious composition of the  Oromos of Harerghe yet they helped found new health facilities and education centers. For example, an American Adventist missionary group established Dadar Hospital which was the first one to be opened outside Harar and Dire Dawa.

The 1950s was also marked by a wide spread of European and Arabian merchants in the Harerghe. Due to the efforts made by these entrepreneurs, electric lighting system and tap water was introduced in many urban centers. However, apart from Harar and Dire Dawa, the imperial government gave low attention on improving the infrastructure and housing conditions in the towns of Harerghe. For example, it was only in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the banking and telephone services were introduced to the towns of Ciroo, Haramaya, Galamso and Dadar.

The coming of the Dergue to power highly favored the towns that had awraja status and some woreda towns; many had got 24 hours electric power, health center, high school etc.. However, trade had diminished due to the regime’s anti-market policies. As a result, contraband engulfed many towns of Harerghe. The Ethio-Somali war of 1977-78 also caused serious damage to the towns of Harerghe. This damage was very great to the towns situated in the former Jijjiga and Gursum awrajas. For example, a town of Qoree (in Gursum) was almost completely destroyed by the war.


Afandi Mutaki, a native of  Galamso, is an ethnographer based in the historic  city of Harar . His works can be accessed at

4 comments for “The Oromo of Harerghe: On the Evolution of Urban Centers (Part Two)

  1. Afendi Muteki
    February 5, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    The Christian missionary group that built Dadar Hospital were from American Mennonite Church, not the Adventist Church. This was happened in 1957.

  2. February 6, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I would like to remind you two lmpotant history that took place about the same time in east oromia.1.girgirii mummad jilo 2.aweaallee french catholic mission in harar city and the surrounding before caliicalanqo.waan lamaan kana qoradhu waan guddoo si geessaa.

  3. Afendi Muteki
    February 6, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you for your information. It helps for further investigation.

  4. Yeroo
    February 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    the article is nice. but i see it is incomplete. it focused on few towns. what about towns like calanqo, qarsa, haramaya, fadis, bishidimo, qobbo and many others?

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