Martha Kuwee Kumsa

Martha Kumsa

Martha Kumsa, a writer and journalist, was arrested in 1980 at the newspaper offices where she worked in her home country of Ethiopia after writing an article calling for ethnic-Oromo women to defy current power systems and reclaim their cultural heritage. She was imprisoned without charge and tortured. Despite these harsh conditions, she was able to teach in a prison school established by inmates. She was released in September 1989 after receiving that year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. PEN America and other organizations also campaigned for her freedom. Faced with forced military conscription upon her release, she moved to Canada, where she currently resides.


I received my PhD in Social Work in 2004 (University of Toronto), my MSW in 1997 (University of Toronto), my BSW in 1996 (York University) and my BA in 1995 (York University).

Prior to joining Laurier, I taught at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto and at the School of Social Work, Ryerson University.


My broad interdisciplinary research interest includes issues of identity and belonging, the meaning of home and homeland in the era of heightened globalization, grassroots spirituality, indigeneity and transnationality, and youth violence and the practices of healing and liberation. I am also interested in exploring multiple ways of knowing. Issues of social justice and human rights sit at the heart of my scholarship. My utmost practice interest is the development of strategies for critical self-reflexivity as a way of engaging injustice and the violation of human rights. 


  • Courage Award for Human Rights, Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation, 2012.
  • Faculty Merit Award, 2009.
  • New Pioneers Award, Skills for Change, 2003.
  • Massey College Junior Fellowship Award, University of Toronto, 2000.
  • Massey College Scholars-at-Risk Fellowship, University of Toronto, 2000-02.
  • Graduate Special Entrance Scholarship, University of Toronto, 1997-2000.
  • Hellman/Hammett Award for Free Expression, Human Rights Watch, 1996.
  • The Dr. Wilson Head Memorial Award for Outstanding Work in Anti-Racism, Peace, and Human Rights; Atkinson College, York University, 1996.
  • Major Program Scholarship, Atkinson College, York University, 1995.
  • Christopher Beattie Essay Prize, Atkinson College, York University, 1995.


I welcome graduate and undergraduate students interested in research assistantships in my research projects. As my research interest is broad, I welcome students from across multiple disciplinary boundaries.

I am interested in advising graduate students whose research areas align with mine.


  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee, Adrienne Chambon, Miu Chung Yan, and Sarah Maiter. “Catching the Shimmers of the Social: From the Limits of Reflexivity to Methodological Creativity.” Qualitative Research. (2014).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee, Magnus Mfoafo-M’Carthy, Funke Oba and Sadia Gaasim. “The Contours of Anti-Black Racism: Engaging Anti-Oppression from Embodied Spaces.” CAOS: The Journal of Critical Anti-Oppressive Social Inquiry. (2014).
  • Berihun, Gebrehiwot, Martha Kuwee Kumsa, Abdullahi Hussein, Amilah Baksh, Jemila Jackson, Jenany Jeyarajan, Shani Ellis, and Yunfei Ma. “Reflections on Using Physical Objects as Data Generation Strategies: An Example from a Study of Youth Violence and Healing.” Qualitative Social Work: Research and Practice. (2014).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “Precarious Positioning: Tensions in doing Siiqqee Feminist Social Work Research.” In Wahab, Stephanie, Ben Anderson-Nate and Christina Gingeri (Eds), Feminisms in Social Work Research. Routledge (2014).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “Subversive Education: Turning Coercive Encounters into Transformative Possibilities.” In Nilan Yu and Deena Mandell (Eds.), Subversive Social Action: Extralegal Action for Social Justice. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. (2014).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. Songs of Exile: Singing the Past into the Future. Kitchener, Canada: Duudhaa Publishing. (2013).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee, Kelly Ng, Adrienne Chambon, Sarah Maiter, and Miu Chung Yan. “Rethinking Youth Violence and Healing.” Journal of Youth Studies. (2013).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “When ‘Woman-at-Risk’ Meets ‘Youth-at-Risk:’ Engaging the Discursive Practices of the Nation-State.” In Stanley Witkin (Ed.), The Call to Social Construction: Social Work as Relational Practice. Colombia University Press. (2012).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “A Resettlement Story of Unsettlement: Transformative Practices of Taking It Personally.” In Donna Baines (Ed.), Doing Anti-Oppressive Practice: Social Justice Social Work (2nd Ed), Fernwood Publishing. (2011).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “Wounds of the Gut, Wounds of the Soul: Youth Violence and Community Healing among Oromos in Toronto.” Canadian Social Work Journal. (2010).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “Soothing the Wounds of the Nation: Oromo Women Performing Ateetee in Exile.” In Chima Korieh and Philomena Okeke-Ihejirika (Eds.), Gendering Transformations: Gender, Culture, Race, and Identity, Routledge. (2009).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “Community Service Learning: Social Working the Dance of Otherness.” Canadian Social Work Review. (2008).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “Home and Exile.” Qualitative Social Work: Research and Practice. (2007).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “The Meaning of Displacement and the Displacement of Meaning.” In Alireza Asgharzadeh, Erica Lawson, Kathelene Oka and Amar Wahab (Eds.) Diasporic Ruptures: Globality, Migrancy, and Expressions of Identity. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. (2007).
  • Kumsa, Martha Kuwee. “’No! I’m not a Refugee!’ The Poetics of Be-longing among Young Oromos in Toronto.” Journal of Refugee Studies. (2006).


Martha Kuwee Kumsa was born in Dembi Dollo, Ethiopia. As the Ethiopian revolution in 1974 caused the closure of all universities before she could finish her studies, Kumsa trained as a journalist at the Lutheran World Federation in the capital Addis Ababa.

The revolution led to the establishment of a communist dictatorship under Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam. During this time, those deemed to be enemies of the state were arrested, tortured, and executed. Among them were hundreds of Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and the one to which Martha and her family belonged. Martha’s husband, Leenco Lata, who was one of the founders of the rebel Oromo Liberation Movement. He was arrested and tortured on four separate occasions, after which he fled the country.

Martha was freed in 1989 as part of a general amnesty. Her release came only a few months after receiving the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, though her name was kept secret at the time, in order to protect her from being targeted by the government. Upon her release she was forced into joining the military, where she feared she would be further mistreated or perish while fighting the rebel militias that would soon seize power and depose Mengistu. She was able to escape to Kenya by hiding in bushes during the day and traveling by night. From there, she applied for and received asylum in Canada, where she is currently a professor of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University. 

Martha has published a number of learned articles as well as essays and poetry. She has presented papers at conferences in Toronto, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden and participates in panel discussions on issues related to human rights and freedom of expression.

Martha is an active member of PEN International, PEN Canada, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Oromo-Canadian Womens Organization and is a founding member of Ormo Global Communities Network. She also actively volunteers for Amnesty International.

In 1996, Martha received the Helman/Hammet Award for Free Expression from Human Rights Watch in New York and, in the same year also received the Dr. Wilson Head Memorial Award for Outstanding Work in Anti-Racism, Peace and Human Rights from Atkinson College, York University.

Professor Martha Kuwee Kumsa, a remarkable woman who was born in Oromia. Her experience as an ethnic Oromo, suffering through multiple oppressive regimes, is remarkable. Click at the bottom to get the full story. Martha Kuwee Kumsa of Kitchener is at home in Canada, but still has strong feelings about her native Ethiopia. For years she had long dreadlocks, but two months ago she cut them off in a symbolic gesture.