At the age of fifteen, Jagama Kello left home to fight the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which began on October 3, 1935.
On May 5, 1936, the Italian forces which were under the command of Generals Rodolfo Graziani and Pietro Badgolio, were steadily pushing back the poorly trained Ethiopian army, eventually taking Addis Ababa.
Kello, who was the son of a wealthy landlord who was also the owner of 900 acres of farms in the Gimchi area was not far from Addis Ababa. As a young child, Kello had heard countless stories of the brave acts of his ancestors and planned someday to be just like them. Kello saw the Italian invasion as an opportunity to be like his ancestors. Along with his older brother and uncle, Kello took to the bush, he did not have a gun, but his older brother had one. After ambushing the Italian troops they were able to better arm themselves. During this time, peasants joined the struggle and by the end of the war, they had over 3,000 fighters under their command.
One of the largest battles happened at Seyoum Mariam. Kello and his fighters were told by a woman fighter where they could find the Italians and they were able to do a surprise attack. Seventy-two Italians were killed and they confiscated around 3,000 rifles.
On May 5, 1941, after being in exile in Britain, Emperor Haile Selassie returned. However, Kello, who had received no help from the British during the war, refused to go to the ceremony. The Emperor in return came to Gimchi. Kello put his troops on parade, to greet the Emperor, he was taken to the palace in the Emperor’s car where he was awarded a gold watch and gabardine coat.
The war continued and the Emperor asked for the help of Kello and his troops. During this time, Kello’s troops captured over 500 Italian soldiers and handed them over to the British.
Kello fell ill with malaria and was taken to a hospital in Addis Ababa. The doctors there refused to treat him because of his hair which was in a high afro. Kello refused to cut his hair because it scared his enemies and he went home. It was not until the Emperor arrived an ordered him to cut his hair in order to save his life that he accepted. After the war, Kello continued serving in the military where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant General.
Ethiopian general who fought fascism: Jagama Kelo