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addisstandard /  December 14, 2018 

Illustration: John Holmes for Human Rights Watch report on Jail Ogaden 

Solomon A Dersso, PhD,

Addis Abeba, December 14/2018 – Addressing the topic of transitional justice and reconciliation in today’s Ethiopia is perhaps one of, if not, the most difficult one. Transitions, which are characterized by political and institutional fluidity and societal polarization, by their very nature, are complicated and challenging. They as such make justice and reconciliation unavoidably problematic. That is why the theme is a very delicate subject that should be handled with a great deal of principled care, wisdom and sense of responsibility.

As a point of departure and to enable us all have a common framework or vocabulary, it is important that to start off by clarifying the concept of transitional justice.

As aptly put in the AU Transitional Justice Policy, transitional justice refers to the various (state centric and community based) policy measures and institutional mechanisms that societies coming out of violent conflict or repression or patterns of systematically unjust power relationships adopt, through an inclusive consultative process, in order to overcome past violations, divisions and inequalities and to create conditions for both security and democratic and socio-economic transformation.

Justice defined in a context of transition thus goes far beyond judicial forms of accountability and covers wide range of political, institutional and socio-economic measures required for a transition destined to establish solid foundations for just and inclusive political and socio-economic order.

Before delving further into the core of the theme, it is important to make an observation on the nature of Ethiopia’s unfolding transition.

The current transition is not a negotiated transition like the transition in South Africa in the early 1990s. It is not either a transition that resulted from the overthrow of the old regime like the transitions this country witnessed in 1974 and in 1991. It is rather a hybrid transition.

It is a transition that resulted from the ad hoc alliance of members of society who mobilized in public protest against the prevailing regime of the ruling EPRDF and a portion of the membership of the EPRDF. It is a transition that brought to the position of leadership, and is being led by, the major reformist members of the EPRDF coalition to a position of leadership. It is a hybrid transition, which relies on the old EPRDF based regime while trying to fundamentally reform it. The feature of the transition is not without its major ramifications for the trajectory of the transition and the pursuit of transitional justice and reconciliation in Ethiopia.

It is important to note that for a society in transition seeking to pursue transitional justice, it is imperative that it develops, as part of the transitional process, a well-thought out approach for planning, designing and implementing transitional justice and reconciliation. Experience from successful transitions in Africa and the world over shows that, the elaboration of such approach needs to be informed by key considerations for designing legitimate and rule-based effective transitional justice and reconciliation process.

Key considerations

The first of these considerations or questions is our definition of the injustice to which transitional justice and reconciliation is to be applied as a response. One form of injustice is that which results from the non-recognition of certain ethno-cultural groups or of the equal worth of such groups and the oppression accompanying it. Charles Taylor’s famous work of ‘The politics of recognition’ is worth mentioning here for a great philosophical exploration of this theme.Another form of injustice is that which result from gender oppression. Another form of injustice involves the socio-economic marginalization and deprivation.

The injustice that often dominates the discourse on transitional justice results from the arbitrary use of state violence by state agents against human rights activists, political opposition actors, journalists and dissidents.

The second consideration relates to the question of the injustice/s of which period. This is a question about the temporal scope of transitional justice and reconciliation.

The next question is what approach of transitional justice and reconciliation to be used. In an opinion piece that he wrote on Al Jazeera using the on-going criminal investigation relating to grand corruption involving embezzlement of public funds and perpetration of human rights violations as a backdrop, Awol Allo argued that the path to reconciliation and justice should combine both criminal accountability and a peace and reconciliation process that allows for a comprehensive official investigation and a public acknowledgement of the abuses and harms done.

The issue that arises here is how a transitional society determines the balance and which factors matter for putting more or less emphasis on one aspect of the transitional justice approach (let’s say criminal prosecution) than on another (truth and reconciliation or institutional reform). The African Union Transitional Justice Policy, adopted in October this year, states that ‘emphasis on one element of transitional justice should be equitable and hence not result in either impunity (by failing to ensure accountability) or full-throated revenge of victor’s justice.’

In a line that eloquently captures the weight of the dilemmas involved, the late Chief Justice of South Africa, Justice Mohamed, writing for the South African Constitutional Court in AZAPO v. the President of the Republic of South Africa, put it thus, transitional justice involves a ‘difficult, sensitive, perhaps even agonizing, balancing act between the need for justice to victims and the need for reconciliation and rapid transition to a new future’. The key for success is the approach that the society adopts for addressing this dilemma that often arises during transitions. This relates to the next question or consideration.

The other question that needs to be addressed in our consideration of transitional justice in Ethiopia is how to organize and administer the chosen approach of transitional justice. Experience from across the continent and other parts of the world shows that for a transitional justice approach to be not only successful for delivering its objectives but also legitimate, the process of its design and implementation has to be transparent, independent and compliant with the minimum requirements of due process.

Past experience is another consideration. As we all know transitional justice is not completely new to Ethiopia. An exercise at transitional justice has been undertaken following the fall of the Derg regime. That exercise in transitional justice focused on the wrongs that happened during the Red Terror – the transitional justice mechanisms chosen involved principally criminal trials, although it also combined the use of lustration, some form of restorative justice involving the reinstating of possessions taken away unjustly and memorialization by erecting the Red Terror Museum at the heart of Addis Abeba.

The limitations from the transitional justice approach of the Red Terror including the lack of even-handedness of the process and the lessons from this experience should thus inform the design and implementation of any transitional justice and reconciliation process we may pursue in the context of the current transition.

The other question is the process that should be followed in initiating, designing and implementing transitional justice and reconciliation. When the transition is a result of negotiation, the parameters for pursuing transitional justice are set as part of the peace settlement. In Ethiopia’s hybrid transition, there is no agreed upon framework on how to formulate and implement transitional justice. Questions abound as to whether relevant stakeholders such as victim groups, civil society organizations and the legal community will be afforded the opportunity and platform to take part in the planning and formulation of the transitional justice process and in its monitoring.

Indeed, as experiences show and appropriately underscored in the AU Transitional Justice Policy, such effective participation of the public is one of the most important success factors of transitional justice.

It has been hinted earlier and has by now become clear that the nature of the transition is the other consideration that informs the choice of the form that transitional justice takes. The current transition did not lead to major bloodshed in the country. It may not be completely off mark if one describes the current transition as a bloodless revolution as opposed to the enormous blood letting that the two previous revolutions involved. Yet, it is also a transition that combines both hope and uncertainty and change and continuity.

These features of the transition are not without consequences for the choice of the mechanism or the combination of mechanisms to be used for pursuing transitional justice and importantly how such mechanism or mechanisms are designed and pursued. As Awol rightly pointed out, ‘pursuing prosecutorial justice while at the same time promoting reconciliation of a highly divided society, particularly in a highly fragile (context) …requires a strategic and holistic integration of the process, as well as careful planning’.

The other consideration is the objective/s or purpose for which the transitional justice and reconciliation process is to be applied. Among others, this depends on whether the focus is primarily on how to deal with the past or how to achieve rule-based democratic transformation that secures the interest of all sectors of society. This question also depends on the consideration of whether the focus of transitional justice is on perpetrators of violations, and hence punishment or on victims and hence recognition of the injustice they suffered and healing, or the political system and hence on building a system of governance based on constitutionalism, rule of law and respect of the rights of all.

The final consideration is the care that should be taken to avoid the perils that come with transitions, such as emergence of new grievances and deepening of polarization. During transitions, the politics, the economy and the social structure of the state tend to be in flux. Despite the demand of transitional justice for a rule-based approach, much of the changes may involve ad hoc measures, popular but extralegal or extra-constitutional actions and purges lacking due process of the law. This is particularly the case where transitions unfold without a common framework or negotiated roadmap. Another peril that comes with transitions is the susceptibility of transitional societies to external influence in their choice of the form of transitional justice and reconciliation approaches.

By way of conclusion 

From the foregoing exposition it is clear that transitional justice and reconciliation is not an easy endeavor.

This is not totally surprising.

For some of us it could be a topic, which provokes our memories of suffering, our experience of being violated and undeservedly subjected to physical and psychological violence.

It could also be a topic that summons our sense of vengeance, our innate disposition of taking the law into our own hands, our retributive desire of meting out on our tormentors and their real or perceived associates the pain and suffering we endured.

It is also a subject, which is not always amenable for an easy and neat identification of responsibility. After all, the failures that resulted in the wrongs of the past are not simply products of individual culpability. Rather, they are in the main outcomes of societal and institutional pathologies, including a tradition of intolerance to and violent repression of dissent and political opposition, patterns of authoritarianism and patriarchal chauvinism, among others.

It is also a subject that necessitates all at once the act of cursing and exorcising the wrongs of the past, acknowledging the suffering that those wronged endured, while allowing room for showing magnanimity to those willing to own up their responsibility and culpability.

If pursued within legitimately established and internationally accepted parameters, transitional justice and reconciliation is also a subject that affords those who were wronged (victims, or to use a more empowering language, survivors) the platform and opportunity to tell their stories in public, to have their suffering get public acknowledgement and thereby enabling society to establish a record of the wrongs of the past through the voice of survivors and to learn lessons for avoiding the conditions that make the perpetration of such wrongs possible.

It is also a subject that offers society as a whole the occasion to see itself on the mirror, examine its various flaws, scars and violent divisions and apply the necessary corrective measures for removing the flaws, fully healing the scars and wounds and for mending the divisions among the members of society that the wrongs of the past sowed and nurtured.

As various sections of the public reflect on how to deal with the wrongs of the past and create the conditions for a better future that forestalls the recurrence of such wrongs, it is imperative that the foregoing considerations inform these reflections and the choices or decisions being made (or yet to be made) on the scope, form and implementation of transitional justice in Ethiopia. This is possibly a major issue that stands to shape the success of the current transition in charting a political and socio-economic order that is more enduring, stable and just than the previous transitions the country has experienced. AS

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Ambassador Mike Raynor joined the State Department in 1988, and is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. He has been Director of the Bureau of Human Resources’ Office of Career Development and Assignments since September 2016. From August 2015 to August 2016, he served as Assistant Chief of Mission in Kabul, with responsibility for the embassy’s foreign assistance, counter-narcotics, and law enforcement portfolios as well as its consular, management, and security functions. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Benin from 2012 to 2015. From 2010 to 2012, he served as Executive Director of the Bureau of African Affairs, following two years as the Deputy Executive Director. He has spent much of his career in Africa, including as management officer in Harare, Windhoek, Conakry, and Djibouti, and as General Services Officer in Brazzaville. He also served as Zimbabwe desk officer in the Bureau of African Affairs, Special Assistant and Legislative Management Officer in the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, and Consular Officer in Luxembourg.  Ambassador Raynor arrived in Ethiopia to assume his role in September 2017. 

Addis Standard’s Ephream Seleshi sat down with Ambassador Raynor for this exclusive interview, only the second Ambassador Raynor has given to media since he moved to Ethiopia. Excerpts:

Addis Standard: [Given how things have changed within the last three months]  do you think Ethiopia has avoided danger or just delayed it?

Ambassador Raynor: I wouldn’t have really characterized it that way. What I would say is that Ethiopia has created amazing opportunities. I think I understand your question and if I take us back to when former prime minister Hailemariam [Desalegn] announced his resignation and, by the way, I just want to say that that was an extraordinary moment in Ethiopian history and, frankly, in world history, that he took that moment to articulate a vision that governance is not about having power or holding onto power but to do what you think is right for your country and people; and at that moment he decided that the right thing to do was to step back in a way that he thought would accelerate reforms and I thought that was an amazing gesture and I thought it created amazing opportunities and that’s what I mean when I say that it seems to be a moment of opportunity. After that resignation we watched how the EPRDF decided what to do with that opportunity, watched the people of Ethiopia debate what to do with that opportunity and to us it has created a moment of great opportunity and real change and that’s something we find very exciting.

AS: [The release of thousands of prisoners is one of the changes EPRDF is conducting since the resignation of former Prime Minister Hailemariam. But the issue of justice to those wronged by the same government is missing from the reformed EPRDF.] Will your country put efforts to help or even pressure the Ethiopian government to give justice for these prisoners? 

One of the most consequential things that has happened in recent months has been the release of so many prisoners, I mean thousands of prisoners. That there were thousands of prisoners to be released is, of course, an extraordinary thing in its own right. But I’ll say that I have met with a number of them and it’s been a really inspirational thing. And what I have found consistently with the ones I’ve met, and obviously I’ve only met a small subset but it included some very prominent thinkers in terms of the political opposition and as you said people who paid an extraordinary price for the courage of their convictions, and the thing that struck me about them is that they were looking ahead. They were looking to where they wanted this country to go. They were talking to us about what they thought we might be able to do to support that and they were talking about what they themselves were planning to do. Issues of justice for them, you know, that’s a difficult issue. I feel I’d be a little presumptuous to say exactly how that should play out and that’s something that I think is very specific to individual cultures, individual people, individual histories. I think it is something that needs to be discussed openly and I think it is something that the Ethiopian people and the government need to think about and figure out the right way forward. Where on the spectrum Ethiopia falls in terms of justice, in terms of reconciliation, I think these are very specific questions that only Ethiopians can answer.

AS: How did the protests of the past four years affect the US’ engagement with Ethiopia both diplomatically and in terms of development projects that are funded by the US?

I can probably speak best about the nine months I’ve been here. And so if I may, I’ll just constrain my answer to my own personal experience. I arrived at a moment when the previous state of emergency had just been lifted. It was the aftermath of a period of great unrest in the country. And I found the country to be rather pessimistic, the people to be rather pessimistic, rather shaken by what they had been going through over the previous months. As a representative of the US government, I had to figure out what to do with that reality. We decided a couple of things. One is that we decided that we’d reinforce the fact that we’re friends with this country and we are friends with the people of this country. And we want what’s best for this country as a partner. We want it for the sake of Ethiopia, but we also want it for the sake of the US. We have very strong areas of collaboration; the development of this country, the economic growth of this country, the education, the food security also our partnership in helping to create political and peace-keeping solutions to some of the strains the region faces as well. It’s been a long standing partnership and a longstanding and important relationship. But we felt that it was being undercut by the fact that the Ethiopian people were growing increasingly dissatisfied with their own governments. So, these were conversations we had very frankly with the government of Ethiopia. You’ll have seen that the day after Prime Minister Hailemariam resigned and the re-imposition of the state of emergency, the day after that we put out a public statement that was quite forceful in expressing concern, because we felt Ethiopia had reached a moment of opportunity and we wanted to express our hope that Ethiopia would benefit from that opportunity. So in the context of a longstanding and important relationship and a true friendship with this country we were doing what we could to encourage what we felt was necessary for this country to be stable and prosperous going forward which was greater political freedoms.

AS: Fast forward to the past three months, many are convinced that the US was one of those countries that have unambiguously supported the nomination of Dr. Abiy Ahmed to the position of prime minister of Ethiopia. Why was that?

Let me say that we didn’t exactly do that. One of the things we have to do is respect the fact that it is up to Ethiopians to decide what their leadership is going to be. What we did was articulate a vision for the kind of outcome we wished for Ethiopia which was an outcome that felt credible to the people that felt inclusive to the fullest extent that current political realities would have allowed. So that was the context within which we watched, with great interest, the EPRDF choose Dr. Abiy as the new prime minister and we regarded that as  an expression of the Ethiopian people through their own engagement but also the EPRDF in its selection process as an expression of the desire for change and we welcomed that.

AS: So, in a way, your country believed all of these, the desire for change, the opening up of new opportunities and the people’s will was encapsulated by the nomination of Dr. Abiy Ahmed as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia?

I think that is very, very well put. We spend a lot of our time dealing with the government and other partners, but we also spend a lot of our time talking to Ethiopians. Ultimately, as much as anything, my job here is to build those connections, to build those bridges between the American people and the Ethiopian people and in doing so we felt and we perceived the desire for change. And I think in the aftermath of the selection of Prime Minister Abiy, we’ve seen what felt like a fundamental reset in the atmosphere of this country, one of more optimism and hope and one of more enthusiasm. To us, once again, this seems to be an expression, to some extent, the desire of the people for change being perceived to be becoming a reality.

AS: But there were [still are] many who were discontented at the nomination and selection of Prime Minister Abiy. It is believed that most of these people are wither members of the TPLF or its sympathizers; in fact there were rumors that some have written to the US government opposing this. Can you confirm and if so, what was your reaction?

First I have to say I did not receive any communications from the TPLF of any kind, much less one expressing any particular opinion about that. I think the question sort of suggests a greater role of the United States in this process than we would have played. Again, we were observing this process play out. We articulated a general vision of our desire or improved governance, for improved rights, for improved inclusiveness and then we stepped back and we watched that process play out. You mentioned that certain elements of Ethiopian governance and society are less comfortable with changes than others. I think that’s fair and that’s natural. Change is stressful. Even positive change can require adjustment from people. And people who are uncomfortable with this change, I think that’s part of human nature and I think what’s happening and what’s important to be happening is that that’s provoking dialogue, that’s provoking discussions within the EPRDF, within the society more broadly about where this change is going to take people and for us that feels healthy, that feels democratic. So, it’s something we welcome.

AS: But given the entrenched interest of those who are discontent with the change many express concern that it could pose a danger to the opportunities that we now see. Do you share this concern?

I don’t perceive danger. As I said I perceive dialogue and discussion and I perceive people working through how they feel about what’s happening in this country. To be honest with you, the winds of change in this country, the dynamism and the momentum that [Prime Minister] Abiy has already created seem quite strong. We are not perceiving any efforts or anything we regard as fundamentally putting this trajectory at risk. That said, obviously there are going to be different views, and there are going to be people who are going to embrace this change and people who are going to resist it. I think part of the democratic process is to discuss all of these things, work through them, try to get as much buy in as the government can for the changes they are pursuing. I think [what is] an important element of democracy is the winners win but they still represent everyone in the country, even people who might feel like they lost. So everything the government can do to embrace the totality of what’s happening in this country and to be as responsive and representative of as many people as possible, I think would be a healthy thing. But again, we see that happening in the context of the trajectory of very positive and very dynamic change.

AS: Do you believe elections are due then?

Well, they’re due on their schedule. I think we are due municipal elections some time fairly soon in the next year or so and certainly we are due the general elections in 2020. One of the things we’ve seen with Prime Minister Abiy is that he has set a tone of political inclusiveness. He’s reaching out to the diaspora, he’s reaching out to the opposition, he’s reaching out to people that had previously been branded as terrorists many of whom had taken up residence in the United States. So, how that plays out between now and 2020 is something, I think, we’ll be very interested to watch. But we very much welcome the tone of political inclusiveness, the notion that the political opposition isn’t the enemy- they’re the competition. I think that is a very healthy construct and I think it’s something that creates real possibility for more inclusive political process leading up to the 2020 elections.

AS: Currently the Ethiopian parliament is 100% controlled by the ruling EPRDF and there are sweeping changes being approved by the same parliament. Don’t you think that puts the Ethiopian people at a major disadvantage, that they might not have a voice in some of these changes being undertaken by the parliament?

I think it remains to be seen how it plays out. But, I have to say that although I understand that there is a lot of Ethiopians who feel any solution that is within the EPRDF is suspicious, I have to say that we are seeing enormous change within the ERPDF. Prime Minister Abiy is within the EPRDF and he’s articulating a vision of reform and political inclusiveness that, I think, really creates opportunities that can go well beyond EPRDF. And so I think, change is a process. I think change need not be destabilizing or disruptive. I think it can sometimes take time and I think it can sometimes take more time than some people would like. But I think we have to acknowledge that we have seen enormous change in a very brief amount of time since Prime Minister Abiy was selected. That, to me, creates possibilities for further political reform to come.

AS: How will these changes or reforms affect the US’ involvement particularly in supporting the civil society, human rights organizations and media freedom in the country?

Well, we have long had the position that we wished for greater freedom for civil society. An engaged, dynamic civil society informs governance as well or better than any other single element of society. We feel that by cutting itself off from as dynamic a civil society as possible, through the CSO law for example, the Ethiopian government has robbed itself of resources that could have informed and improved governance decisions. We very much would welcome in the coming days efforts to address the constrains on civil society. We have many civil society partners here but I’ll tell you that relative to other countries where I have served we have fewer and they are less empowered than we would like to see. We are hoping that changes in the days ahead.

AS: Tensions are flaring up in many parts of Ethiopia; the inter-ethnic dynamics is experiencing strains. What would you say should be done to avert the kinds of violence we saw in recent weeks in places like Hawassa and Sodo in the south?

Thank you, it’s a really important question and it’s a central question. Frankly it is one we are grappling with trying to get our own understanding of. We are outsiders and what we are seeing are dynamics that have existed in some form or another for centuries in some cases. We are very saddened by the ethnic unrest that has flared in numerous areas of Ethiopia. It’s not new, unfortunately, but it seems to persist and there has been a flare up of late. Anytime we see Ethiopians against Ethiopians causing destruction, causing harm, causing death, it feels like a very sad thing and it feels like it’s not taking the country forward. I think it is something that the government has to engage on, it is engaging on. My only thought is that perhaps civil society, community leaders, religious leaders can encourage a bit of patience, can encourage a bit of hope, can encourage a bit of pride, if I may put it, in the fact that Ethiopia is an amazing country and the Ethiopian people are amazing people. And if they can accentuate the strength that Ethiopia has and the strength and the bonds that Ethiopians have and perhaps they can say “this is not a great time to be tearing the country or each other apart. This is a time to be coming together. This is a time to be supporting the change underway. This is a time to be supporting each other.” I don’t have the standing to give that message in the way that Ethiopian civil society and leaders do. But I think it is an important aspect of what’s going on now to encourage that sort of frame of mind.

AS: Lets move to recent developments between Eritrea and Ethiopia. How does your country view Ethiopia’s willingness to fully implement the Algiers agreement and the EEBC’s ruling?

Well, it was yet another extraordinary thing that Prime Minister Abiy has done. It was a fundamental reset, as, again, he has done in many other aspects of his announcements on political, economic areas as well. It created, again, opportunity where it seemed like it might not exist and people wondered when it might happen. So it was an enormously important gesture. Both his initial speech when he was sworn in at parliament when he expressed in general terms his desire for reconciliation with Eritrea and more recently his announcement of respect for the Algiers Agreement, a really consequential development which has since been reciprocated by the government of Eritrea’s decision to send a delegation to Ethiopia for talks. The United States has put out a public statement from the White House embracing this development and encouraging next steps. It is a really consequential issue. This disagreement, this problem between these two countries has been good for neither of these countries, it has not been good for the region. If these countries can get past it, it’ll be good for their economies, it’ll be good for their societies, it’ll be good for the stability of the region. So if we can get there, it’ll be hugely consequential and we strongly encourage both governments to persist in trying to reach that outcome.

AS: Obviously, there will be a lot of diplomatic shuttle to further consolidate these changes. Is the US planning to be a part of it?

Well, we have said to both parties, and publicly, and continue to say that we are available to play that role. Back in the day of the Algiers Agreement the United States was formally a guarantor; we had a structural role established at the point that the agreement was made. We have encouraged this outcome for sometime with both governments and in doing so we have said ‘If you collaboratively feel there is a role that the US can constructively play, we’ll do everything we can to support that’. We have not been asked in any form or way to play any sort of role in that process. But if we are, we would look very strongly at doing everything we can to respond favorably.

AS: Do you think there should be further measures the Ethiopian government could take in order to avoid the odds against any conflict between the two countries during this period of transition? 

I think at this point the two parties need to sit down. If such steps are identified then we would hope that both countries would do what they could to build confidence and to do so in a way that seems responsive to the other party’s concerns. In terms of what those specific steps might be, it would be premature and presumptuous for me to suggest anything. I think that has to be an outcome of discussions between the two governments.

AS: Many analysts are asserting that the increase in pressure from the US played a role in pressuring Ethiopia to make this decision. What are your comments about that?

While that might seem flattering in a way, I think it overstates things. I think we’ve played a constructive role. As I said, we’ve had engagements with both countries for a number of months now encouraging this outcome. That predates Prime Minister Abiy, but certainly includes the time and period he came to power. But, I think Dr. Abiy came to power with very clear ideas of what he wanted to do and what his priorities would be. From the moment he addressed the parliament upon being sworn in, he had articulated reconciliation with Eritrea as being among those priorities. What you’re seeing here is the Ethiopian government driving this process and deciding to make it a priority.

AS: Your top Africa diplomat, Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, has been to Eritrea and discussed with the Eritrean government and did the same here in Ethiopia. What was the immediate purpose of his visit?

Exactly what I said-encouraging both sides to look for possible ways to come together. Pure and simple.

AS: Is the US engaged with Eritrea in trying to bring about democratic change in the country?

We are very much interested in having Eritrea become a constructive actor in the region and a good neighbor. We are very hopeful that this can be an outcome of this process. We are looking very much to encourage both sides to find common ground to move to a place where both countries are engaging with each other and with the region in ways that build up the region and themselves. That, I think, is a really possible outcome thanks to these recent developments.

AS: In his speech on Eritrean Martyr’s day on June 20 President Isaias Afeworki placed a lot of the blame for the acrimony between Ethiopia and Eritrea on, among others, the ‘defunct policies’ of the US government. What’s your reaction to that?

I am really not going to react to that. The president of Eritrea is, certainly, free to speak his mind. He did so in the context of expressing a desire to come together with Ethiopia to find a way forward. To us that’s the important part of his message and the important part of where we are right now.

AS: Does that mean the US sees a democratic Eritrea with Isaias Afeworki at its helm?

At this point I’d have to refer you to my counterpart in Eritrea if you’d like the conversation to be about US policy towards Eritrea. I represent our government in Ethiopia and I don’t really have a whole lot to add to what we’ve already been discussing in that regard. I am not going to talk about bilateral relations between the US and a country I’m not accredited to. But I’ll say, once again, that we are extremely encouraged to see these two parties talking to each other and planning to get together. That is really the main takeaway and an exciting one.

AS: What kind of Ethiopian influence does the US want to see in East Africa?

I think we see it. We see in Ethiopia as a country that engages in multiple ways to try to bring stability and harmony and commonality of purpose to a really volatile and troubled region. It’s an important role that Ethiopia plays politically and it’s an important role that Ethiopia plays in terms of its peace-keeping engagements. We are proud to support Ethiopia in those efforts. We confer with them frequently on next steps. But in terms of the broad desire the US has with regards of the Ethiopian region, it is to find ways to support what Ethiopia already does, which is try to be a very constructive actor in a challenging area.

AS: Ethiopia recently signed an agreement with DP World and Somaliland to acquire 19% of the port of Berbera. How does the US see that?

We don’t really have a view on that. Ethiopia has to figure out what makes sense for its own interests and for the relationships it maintains in the region. But it is not the sort of thing  that the US government would stake out a particular position on.

AS: How does the US react to the recent geopolitical shifts in alliances happening in the Horn of Africa due to the Qatar crisis?

Again, it is something that goes a little bit beyond my direct engagement. But I think as with all engagement between nations, everyone benefits when that engagement is transparent and when it reflects mutual interest. And I hope that as the countries of the Horn including Ethiopia engage with Gulf States as any other states that’ll play out in a way that helps bring about a region that is harmonious, stable, prosperous and has as much of a commonality of purpose as possible. How that plays out in terms of the Gulf States in the region is something I really can’t speak to in much more detail.

AS: There are many military outposts in the Horn of Africa, especially in Djibouti. Do you think Ethiopia should have a say in the decisions to establish military installations in its vicinity?

I think any neighbors need to be in a position they can talk to each other about developments in the countries that might impact each other. I think that happens. I think Ethiopia has frank and ongoing relationships with all of its neighbors and I imagine that part of those discussions touch on the area you are referring to.

AS: Lets’ get back to Ethiopian politics. How does the US view the struggle by the Ethiopian youth, especially the youth in Oromia and Amhara regional states, that brought in the new administration and the political change we are witnessing today?

I think we are not the first to figure out that one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities in front of Ethiopia right now is a very large, very dynamic, very motivated youth population. Depending on how you define youth, doesn’t matter, we’re still talking about tens of millions of people. And I think you’re right. I think that one of the reasons that Prime Minister Abiy is in power today is because he was listening to the youth and he was learning from the youth and he was thinking about how to be responsive to the youth. So, I think it  is one of the biggest challenges Ethiopia faces right now. You’ve got a young population that wants to be politically empowered, that wants to be economically empowered. But I think if you unleash the potential of Ethiopia’s youth, you’ll strengthen this country immeasurably.

AS: There are many Ethiopian activists in the United States such as Jawar Mohammed, who actively affected many of the outcomes that we’re seeing now. First, what do you think of the roles played by these activists? And because many of these activists have been a thorn in the side of previous Ethiopian administrations, has there ever been a request for any one of them to be deported to Ethiopia, as some people in Ethiopia have publicly suggested?

Again this is one of the areas where what Prime Minister Abiy is doing is extraordinary in its vision and its potential for impact. I grew up in the Washington DC. area and I know that the Ethiopian population in the United States is extremely smart, dynamic, thoughtful, successful and interested and committed to the welfare of Ethiopia. So, what we have here, again I’m gonna get back to it, is opportunity. Dr. Abiy is reaching out to these people. He’s encouraging them to bring their expertise, their resources, the values they have developed both as Ethiopians and as Americans to bear on this country’s development. It’s a really exciting possibility and it’s a really an aspect of the Ethiopian strength that, I think, can be tapped more fully. So, it’s another aspect of everything going on today that we are encouraged by.

AS: Finally, what message would you pass to the people of Ethiopia?

Thank you. I guess I’d say a couple of things. First I’d say that myself as a person and the country I represent, the United States, feel really excited and hopeful right now about Ethiopia. We are really inspired by the pace of change and by the scope of change. They’re going to face a lot of challenges, the Ethiopian people and the Ethiopian government. This is a very big, very rich, very complicated, very dynamic country. It’s not going to be easy to address some of the political challenges, some of the economic challenges, some of the security challenges, some of the justice challenges that we have been talking about throughout this. But, I guess I’d say a couple of things. For everything that we, as Americans, worry about Ethiopia’s future, we’ve heard Dr. Abiy articulate a vision and a path toward resolution. And that, I think, is important. I think we feel that we’re hearing in Ethiopian leadership a government that understands the will of the people, understand the needs of its people and is working to address those. That’s encouraging from where we sit. I guess the last thing I’d say is that I’d ask the Ethiopian people to think about what they might be able to do to support. Back in the 1960s we had a president named John F. Kennedy and he had a very famous quote: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’. That’s a quote that Americans love because it talks about the shared responsibility, the reciprocal relationship between the governed and the governing. I think this is an interesting moment for Ethiopians to think about things in terms like that. To think about not just the grievances they might have, the frustrations they might have, the historical divisions they might feel and want to express but to put all of that aside and say ‘this is an amazing moment of opportunity, that I don’t think any Ethiopians saw six months ago!’. And to think about how they can contribute to this opportunity and to move their country forward. AS



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In a statement by spokesperson released this afternoon regarding the current situation in Ethiopia, the European Union (EU) said it was “essential that independent investigations on all acts of violence are conducted.”

The statement from the EU came in  the wake of increasing numbers of violence, including ethnic-based in nature, seen in various parts of Ethiopia as a result of which at least eighty people were killed in just one week

At least 61 people Ethiopian Somalis and Oromos were killed in the latest spate of violence in eastern Ethiopia, Oromia regional state. More than 800 houses were also burned and 14, 000 people were internally displaced.

In the previous week sixteen civilians were killed by  the federal army in Chelenko, eastern Hararghe zone of the Oromia regional state in eastern Ethiopia, bringing the death toll higher.

Residents of Nekemte, western Ethiopia, staging peaceful protest against the Killing in Chelenko last week.

“Recurring reports of violence in several universities and clashes in different parts of Ethiopia are deeply worrying” said the statement, adding, “in particular as regards their increasingly ethnic nature. This includes the recent incidents in Oromia-Somali regions, causing many casualties and the destruction of properties. The European Union extends its condolences to the families of the victims.”

Teaching learning processes in many universities have been disrupted following ethnic clashes in universities located in Oromia, Amhara and Tigrai regional states in which at least a dozen students were killed. Some universities are gearing up to open while other remain closed.

According to a local newspaper, Ethiopian ruling party dominated  members of parliament have requested PM Hailemariam Desalegn to appear in parliament to give explanations on current pressing issues related to ethnic based violence & growing political crisis. Representatives of OPDO & ANDM, the two parties representing Oromia and Amhara regional states and are members of the ruling EPRDF were at the forefront of the request, according to the report.

“The setting up by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne of a task force to investigate the most recent killings is a welcome step. All sides, including regional and federal police forces, should show restraint to ensure full protection and safety of all citizens,” the EU said in the statement.

It also said that the conflict resolution mechanisms enshrined in the Constitution “should be activated swiftly in order to allow for a peaceful settlement of the issues” and called for inclusive political dialogue. “We remain convinced that only an inclusive political dialogue with all stakeholders will address the grievances of the population in a peaceful and constructive manner.”

Protests have continued in various places as residents and students keep taking to the streets denouncing these killings. AS

Photo credit : Social media


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 By Etenesh Abera

Addis Abeba, December 15/2017 – September 2017, the start of the Ethiopian New Year of 2010, had a devastating beginning, the level of which was previously unseen for at least two and a half decades. More than half a million innocent Ethiopians (mostly from the ethnic Oromo background – and to a smaller extent Ethiopian Somalis) were brutally uprooted from their homes and their ways of lives. Only a few weeks before September  they all called the villages and towns bordering the Ethio-Somali and Oromia  regions – in eastern, southern and south eastern part of the country – a home for decades.

This is what they now have as “home” away from home

Their displacement didn’t come alone; hundreds of men and women were killed in the process; women and girls were raped; and children were separated from their families. This violence has since long been a military violence more than an “ethnic clash” that the international media were busy calling it.  It was all laid bare for the world to see in just few weeks.

But laid bare as it were, for the following months since, Addis Abeba, the capital and the center of the federal government’s power, remained as far removed emotionally as it is physically, save for few exceptions. The Oromia regional government’s effort to raise money via an SMS campaign using the country’s telecom monopoly was quickly put off , perplexing the authorities of the regional government and Ethiopians willing to support the effort. But Addis can no longer remain unaffected as more than 2,000 families of who are the victims have made the perilous journey to seek for shelter and safety are now camped inside the Rift Valley university premises located in Nifas Silk Lafto Sub-city, at the heart of the city. They are being sheltered and fed by Dinku Deyas, the owner of the university and volunteers.


Taking care of one another. A group of women cooking for a camp full of internally displaced fellows

This are their stories…

“I was celebrating the New Year with my family when suddenly some members of the Liyu Police broke in to our house,”  Deyasa Dengeya, who used to a businessman in the town of Jigjiga, the capital of the Ethio-Somali region, for the last 18 year told Addis Standard. He estimated his capital to be around 3.8 million Birr. “I couldn’t save anything else but my wife and four kids; we left right away, but I wasn’t able to save my kids from the trauma they had to go through.  We managed to reach to the military personnel who were around there but they told us that they couldn’t interfere as they don’t have any order.”

At the university’s compound , businessmen and women and different professionals such as teachers, doctors, engineers and more than 30 university lecturers are temporarily sheltered, as was recounted by a Jigjiga university lecturer who didn’t want to tell us his name, not his story. He escaped the attack by hiding in a toilet for five days.

Another woman, who also wanted to remain anonymous, says hat organizations such as the UNICEF and UNHCR had had their workers, whose ethnic backgrounds were Oromo, leave the area for fear that it was beyond their capacity to stay safe and didn’t want to take the risk. “My husband, who was an employee of Save the Environment Ethiopia, survived the attack and death because I locked him in the house,” she said, adding that although the organizations are now calling their employees back to their works places no one wants to go back as they don’t have a guarantee for their safety.

Among those who are now sheltered in Rift Valley University Gerji premises are those, a few years ago, used to live in the outskirts of Addis Abeba but were displaced due to the city expansion projects. Birhanu Girma is one of the people who left Addis Abeba to settle in Jigjiga because his home located in Yeka Sub-city Kotebe area was demolished for a development reason. Displacements has haunted him back.

Men like Dereje Getachew, who were once a productive part of their society, are now sitting jobless, playing cards

The story of Dereje Getachew, a father of two who owned an electronics business for the last two years, is no different. “I never thought this would happen when I started my business there. I even created some job opportunities for the locals but now I’m looking for help myself,” he told Addis Standard.

A committee of misery

Zenebe Degefew is a member of the refugees’ committee formed inside the university shelter. According to him, the committee has reached out tothe Addis Abeba city administration and the surrounding towns requesting for a permanent resettlement. They are waiting for a response, hoping all the same that their please would fall into compassionate ears. But he fears all the same that the mass killings they have seen, the disappearance of families and the large number of rape victims, (seven of those are still getting medical treatment in Sebeta town), is more than what can be compensated.

“There was this bride we have seen, they raped her on her wedding day and killed her groom right in front of her. She then took her dead groom to a place called Gara Muleta, which later became another reason for a rally in Awoday and the surrounding,” a brokenhearted Zenebe told Addis Standard. 

There are currently more than 2,000 families living at this temporary camp since they first began arriving on September 22, 2010. “We have been getting supports only from volunteers since the first day we came here and we didn’t receive any meaningful support from the concerned government body,” say other members of the committee who were interviewed by Addis Standard. The lack compassion, political and material support to the victims from the federal government has been a point the authorities of the Oromia regional states have been unhappy about and have stated criticized publicly time and again.

Lack of Hygiene is the next horror awaiting them all 

Escaped, just alive

Those who escaped alive and are now sheltered in the university campus are in tern haunted by lack of access to hygiene, including clean living areas, kitchen and toilets, as well as access to medical care, which could have easily been met if the federal government showed the will, according to Ebisa Tamene, a nurse by training who is working in the temporary clinic center at the camp. Ebisa is deeply worried about the dangerous possibilities of an outbreak of a disease or two. According to him, one person was recently infected by skin rash, which immediately transmitted to some 20 other people; “luckily we managed to control it. But if an outbreak such as cholera happens here, I’m afraid it’ll even spread rapidly to the local communities outside the camp,” Ebisa told Addis Standard.

Ebisa sits in this temporary clinic, unable to provide what a clinic is supposed to provide 

Ebisa and his colleagues are themselves victims who escaped alive from Chelenko, a scene of another atrocity last Monday. They are now volunteering to take care of their victim friends and camp neighbors. “The Addis Abeba City Administration Health Office has promised to give us an ambulance and free medical treatment at Zewuditu Hospital, but we haven’t seen any of it so far and the refugees are paying half of their medical cost by themselves,” he added.

The refugees are currently being asked to go return to the towns and villages they have left behind. But according to the committee members many are saying they will never go back unless they first see justice served for the wrong done to them. AS


Click here to read Oromian Economist article: #Prevent #Genocide! 

Click here to read OSA’s statement on displaced Oromos.

Konsarti Lammiin Lammif

#CalanqooMassacre, Calii Calanqoo 2ffaa

Continuing TPLF massacres


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Odaa OromooOromianEconomist

Addis Standard



Photo from the Addis Abeba Ethnographic Museum

One of the dilemmas of studying contemporary Africa is the issue of researching the continent with terms and ideologies that were born outside the continent and outside African languages. When the scramble for Africa began, and European powers needed legitimacy to push for colonization, Phrenological works and Social Darwinist ideas became central to this effort for legitimacy. Consequently, in the early 20th century, ethnographic works developed which show the persistence of Eurocentric ideas in the research undertaken at the time. For example, structural functionalist anthropology that existed in pure form up to the 1930s and 1940s include scholars such as Malinowski and Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard[1] who inscribed Africa into a literary colonial culture and legacy. Such works simplified cultures and societies; they operated on the assumption that cultures are bounded-entities that could be studied and limited to a single book. This simplification of cultures, among other issues, explained the simplification of Africans, their languages and their customs, convincing colonialists of the need to ‘civilize’ them. These works portrayed Africa as disease ridden, poverty-stricken, uncivilized, illiterate, and pagan, with Europe as its successful inverse. Though discourses of ‘Africa rising’ and ‘Ethiopian renaissance’ are slowly coming to the fore, the persistent image of Africa as a trouble-child traces its roots from the continuation of the image of pre-colonial Africa.[2]

Post-independence, most African states were called upon to “exercise all aspects of modern sovereignty at once”.[3]From the 1960s up-to the 1980s, new independent African states tried to develop their countries autonomously based on ‘developmentalism’ and state socialism, but were dismantled later by the collapse of the USSR, US imperialism and influence of other prior colonizers in the 70s. From the 80s onward, structural adjustment plans enforced by the IMF and the World Bank forced most countries to open up their economies as well as several other sectors to the global market. There was no question to the premise that Africa must follow Europe. In addition to this, except for secession movements that later engulfed the continent, there were few who questioned the existence of the nation state as bound to borders, adopted from the Berlin-West Africa conference.[4] In several ways, Europe remained central to the political, and socio-economic narrative of post-independence African countries.

Europe as an idea has thus become an essential part of studying the African continent. It is, however, inadequate.[5] The global significance of Europe is clear. But it is also important to acknowledge that non-European sources of knowledge, leadership, political and economic ideals are as significant and important in the African continent. In terms of knowledge production, this inevitable yet inadequate nature of Europe to study Africa has been recently challenged by decolonizing movements emerging from Africa as well as Europe itself. I do not refer to the colonial independence movements from the past, but student led movements such as the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, which originated  at the University of Cape Town and spread to European universities such as Oxford, challenging the production, ownership and studying of Africa through the glorification of European ideas, and at times at the risk of ignoring the faults of these European scholars.

I will proceed to present the complexities of studying Ethiopia and how even a country that allegedly wasn’t colonized needs to embark upon similar attempts at decolonization.

Language and Ethiopian Studies

Parallel to the anthropologists of pre-colonial Africa, Ethiopia has had its fair share of European scholars attempting to study it. (An example is Eike Haberland, who misrepresents and essentializes “the Galla” at a time when the Imperial Southern Marches were in full swing.[6]) The difference is that as home-grown systems of Ethiopian education were not centered on Europe or done through European languages; they have had no place in Ethiopia’s scholarly world – i.e., until late 20th century[7]. Further, Ethiopia’s sovereignty also led to its subsequent removal from contributing meaningfully to scholarship on African history, or African studies. Whereas, independence allowed Ethiopians to continue using their own languages to write, discuss, and evaluate their history, it also hindered the spread of their knowledge into other countries. The knowledge produced by most Ethiopian scholars is thus to-date limited to the nation. This means that subsequently, what Ethiopians write does not receive as much credit on the global scale because of the language barrier. Even if the narrative of their history, lives, and society differs vastly from common Eurocentric narratives, they are made voiceless because they do not write in English or French or say, German.

It also goes the other way that Ethiopian scholars, to be read and to find jobs, have to write in English, or French. This spreads into the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, the most important secular institute of Ethiopian epistemology. One would assume, at least for the Ethiopian studies based in Ethiopia, that Ethiopian languages be at the front of the scholarship being produced about Ethiopia. But no, that is far from the reality. The trouble here is that the foundation of the Ethiopian Studies initially took place outside of Ethiopia, to this- Ullendorf accredits Hiob Ludolf as the founder of Ethiopian Studies, and its foundation in Ethiopia is accredited to Richard Pankhurst. While it is important to acknowledge the strides taken in the field of Ethiopian studies from abroad and with the contribution of foreign scholars, the critique of this paper is precisely that Ethiopians seem to have little agency in the institute that studies them and takes them as the center of analysis. While Hiob Ludolf must be noted in his opening of the IES in Europe, it should also be as commonly known that it was an Ethiopian monk who taught him what he knows about Ethiopia, namely Aba Gorgorious.

Globally acclaimed works on Ethiopians are rarely written in Ethiopian languages. Languages carry culture and engraved with in them are the history, priorities, aspirations and fabric of the society they emerge from. Studying a society through the lens of foreign languages has troubling implications. Primarily, one will certainly fail to understand fully how a given society understands itself. Using European ideals and languages changes the basic way of how we understand ourselves; almost always, it forces us to accept that we are trying to be like Europe. It is why it may be necessary to also create room for Ethiopian, or other African ways of describing, labeling, and categorizing ideas.

Ethiopian Studies in this regard has yet to face resistance from Ethiopians. The resistance I mention has several unanswered questions to it: primarily, what would a resistance look like in Ethiopian Studies and where could it get inspiration from? I am primarily discussing a break from the exclusion of Ethiopian languages in journals, publications, research and methodologies. Further, another problem is that Europeans having authority over scholarship produced about Ethiopia means that Ethiopians are constantly looking to the West as the source of Ethiopian knowledge. At what point does it become necessary to question where the agency and ownership of Ethiopians is in the knowledge produced about them?

For example Ethiopia’s Axumite civilization is a key point on which foreign and vernacular narratives of Ethiopian history diverge, but where the European interpretation has dominated the field. Foreign scholars have stated boldly that indigenous Ethiopians were invaded by Arabians;[8] which must explain why Ethiopians were able to design their own written forms of languages, and adopt Christianity among other aspects of their civilization. This narrative is singularly the most Euro-centrist way of studying Ethiopia.[9] A land of black Africans who have achieved equal, if not greater, in their history stands to shake the core belief that white-Europe is the epitome of human civilization. Representing discomfort at all cost, Ethiopians are thus presented as not entirely black, with Arab features, and not appearing ‘African enough’. The silver lining of this is, ‘they must have been foreign to Africa. They could not have achieved this without foreigners helping them’.

Such discourses continue in scholarship and engagement with Ethiopia today. One way scholarship on Ethiopian studies remains problematic is that a large number of non-Ethiopian Ethiopianist scholars do not wholly understand Ethiopian languages. Yet, most have been confident in their ability to translate, or write books based on works written in these same languages. The dilemma is precisely that there is an asymmetry of ignorance, the idea that students can study Africa through European ideals and languages but Europeans do not have to use African ideals and language to study the same continent. This allows for an unchecked interpretation of Ethiopian history, politics and society. Because of the global attention papers written in European languages get, it is now a trend to simply ignore Ethiopian scholarship. Further, not only is the product of Ethiopians disregarded, it trickles down to entirely disregarding the guardians of Ethiopian history, Ethiopians themselves.  On numerous occasions, I have sat through discussions about Ethiopia with non Ethiopian scholars invited on the panels of globally influential institutes; with Ethiopianists who have little to no understanding of any of the country’s major languages and who boldly assert, at times, laughable claims about the country. For example, at an Oxford University seminar, a renowned European scholar confidently stated that the Ethiopian holiday Buhe was the equivalent of Halloween.

What is apparent here is that Ethiopian scholars, both traditional and contemporary scholars, and Ethiopians themselves have been pushed to the margins of Ethiopian studies, forcing the scholarly work to revolve around European ideals, writers and scholars which is also vastly incomprehensible to the average Ethiopian. Shouldn’t Ethiopian Studies be attributed to Ethiopian scholars instead of Europeans (some of whom never even set foot in Ethiopia)? By this I mean, Ethiopian Studies Institutes should also strive to be understood as primarily shaped and influenced by Ethiopians and Ethiopian languages, feature more Ethiopians in directorial positions, encourage European scholars to learn Ethiopian languages and cite more Ethiopian scholars, encourage joint research projects with Ethiopians in the leading roles, translate all publications of Ethiopian Studies journals into Amharic and other languages, and provide open source and affordable access to research articles/books for Ethiopians in Ethiopia. What use is the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, if it remains primarily a European dominated field far removed from the lives of the subjects of the institute? This is of course a problem of the social sciences in the Western world in general; and a question I cannot answer in this article. What is the place of vernacular views in the ways Ethiopia is represented globally?

Any place to begin?

Agreeably, there are barriers to the development and dominance of Ethiopian languages and ideas in Ethiopian studies. As a keen observer  and Ethiopianist scholar, Michael Kebede posits, where should the decolonization effortbegin? Which institution? Should one language have primacy? How to allocate scarce resources between Ethiopia’s many languages? How to deal with the dominance of Amharic in Ethiopian-produced literature? Who will pay for the effort? Or is it a question of a redirection of existing resources? Is there a resource scarcity problem? Does funding decide the response to your proposal?

If history is to be studied by using ‘Europe’ as the thematic subject, then we should be able to find space for other cultures that do not fit into such categories. There should be space for non-European terminologies and languages to study the continent. And in the case of Ethiopia, it is crucial to be able to write a paper in, say, Amharic and present one’s work on a global scale as that is as important and is even closer to the subjects studied, as compared to French or English or Italian works. It is one thing to have escaped direct colonization, but it is also important to strive to have freedom in our ability to produce knowledge based on the people’s interpretations and ideals of what is important to them. Ideally, one of the many end goals is to have equal say in contemporary scholarly work as provisioned and written by Ethiopians in the various Ethiopian languages. It is simply not adequate to use Europe to study Ethiopia, or other African countries. AS

ED’s Note: Hewan Semon can be reached at hewanmarye15@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer’s and do not necessarily
reflect the editorial of Addis Standard.


[1] Malinowski and Evans-Pritchard’s works are central in structural functionalist anthropology. Some of their works include, Argonauts of the Wesern Pacific, see Malinowski, Bronislaw, 1978, London : Routledge, Ebook 1978 and The Nuer, see Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (Edward Evan), Oxford University Press, Alexander Street Press, 1940, respectively.

 [2] This discussion relies heavily on V. Y. Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

 [3] Herbst, Jeffrey, States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 2000, p 130.

 [4] Herbst, Jeffrey, ‘Responding to State Failure in Africa,’ International Security 21, 3 (1996), p 122. (Pan Africanists such as Nkrumah wanted to get beyond the nation-state, without being secessionists.)

 [5] Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2000, p 4.

[6] Messay Kebede’s 2003 article is a work to consider reading if one wants to see how European scholars have, at times, through racist narratives tried to define Ethiopian history.

[7] Yirga Gelaw’s recent book Native Colonialism discusses this particular evolution of Eurocentrism in Ethiopian Studies, from the point of view of Ethiopian agency in this. Gelaw, Yirga. Native Colonialism. 2017. Red Sea Press.

[8] Among the few that argue for this point are Ullendorf, The Ethiopians, Budge

[9] Kebede, Messay. ‘Eurocentrism and Ethiopian Historiography: Deconstructing Semitization’, Vol 1, No.1, 2003.


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Odaa OromooOromianEconomist

In this regard, two particularly serious events require investigation by an independent international body. The recent displacement of more than 150,000 and the killings of hundreds of members of the Oromo community might fall within the international legal definition of ethnic cleansing.[1] The other one is the extended displacement, population engineering and death of thousands of members of the Amhara community of Wolqait. This has all the traits and features of slow motion genocide.[2] These two, perhaps among many others, cannot be ignored by the international community as the usual ‘ethnic conflict’; they are atypical in scale, precision, latitude and nature of execution. To discount them is not only to implicitly condone these heinous acts, but also to buoy others to act with impunity. As all justice loving people applauded the recent conviction of the “the butcher of Srebrenica,” Ratko Mladić, former Bosnian Serb general, by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in the Bosnian genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the international community must also track other Mladic’s in various parts of the world and bring them to justice.

 Even though more than eighty ethnic groups make-up the country’s hundred million population, key structural, administrative and command and control positions are overwhelmingly reserved for members of the Tigray Peopele’s Liberation Front (TPLF), that claims to represent less than 6% of the country’s multi-ethnic population. This lack of national character and national allegiance within the military and security apparatus lends itself to a conclusion that these institutions are subordinates of and only loyal to the minority ruling elites.




By Alem Mamo, for Addis Standard November 27,  2017

Conceivably, if there is a single most important question that requires in depth interrogation in the present political atmosphere of Ethiopia it is this one: was/is there ethnic conflict in Ethiopia? Though it seems straightforward enough, it is an enormous research question that necessitates proper scrutiny and systemic analysis. Moreover, to provide an honest and somehow adequate answer to this crucial question it is important that both the past and the present be examined without indulging in sensationalism and one-dimensional political melodrama. But why ask this question now? Expressly, it is now more than two decades since the current federal political configuration has ‘commendably resolved’ all the lingering issues associated with ‘nations and nationalities.’ Well, the concise answer is contrary to this claim of ‘achievement.’ There is a persistent political revolt across the country rebuffing the government’s assertion that the ‘ethnic question’ has been ‘put to rest’ through the federal constitution and delineation of boundaries on linguistic as well as ethnic lines.

Furthermore, in recent instances some senior government officials, both at a national and regional levels, political groups, media outlets and individual commentators are chillingly pronouncing the current political and security environment in the country as an apocalypse of ‘ethnic conflict,’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and even ‘genocide.’ This message is communicated sometimes with implicit and other times explicit countenance of mass ethnic violence that has taken place. Often these terms are used interchangeably, as if they are one and the same.  Indeed, these three different classifications of conflict and violence demand careful conflict analysis methods before reaching a conclusion as to whether or not they have occurred. Most importantly, those who claim they have occurred should know the seriousness of the matter and at least endeavor to present qualitative and quantitative evidence that supports their assertion. Additionally, if in fact these claims are true, they must be put in the right context and their dynamics and nature (who, when, what and where) should be mapped and considered judiciously.

What is more disconcerting is the casual and banal use of theses terms without providing any background analysis or supporting data. This is particularly troubling because it is emanating from those who should be more responsible, cautious and disciplined in their evaluation, deliberation and communication with the public. Unfortunately, they are evoking these words in a way one would comment on spectator sports matches. The misuse, misinterpretation and exploitation of terms such as ‘ethnic conflict’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’ for the purpose of inverted victim-hood narrative is repugnant and should not be tolerated. This reality reflects grave moral and ethical decay among the political class.

Meanwhile a different form of quandary lurks within academic circles in the study of ethnic conflict, ethnic violence and related inquiry. This is deeply ingrained assumption among academia, ‘experts’ and policy makers is the hypothesis that state ethnic groups are primordial entities who are inherently bound for conflict, animosity and violence against each other rather than coexistence and congruence. This presupposition remains entrenched within ethnic and ethnic conflict studies programs across universities and college campuses. This is not to say, however, that there are no conflicts and violence between and among different ethnic groups. Indeed, they occur on different scales and magnitude, sometimes with a devastating effect, other times with a mild skirmishes and sporadic confrontations.

The problem is the mindset and pre-concluded notion of the inevitability of ethnic groups engaging in ‘old rivalry,’ which finds its roots in the legacy of colonialism slavery and apartheid. Furthermore, there are more ethnic studies and ethnic conflict studies programs in the West (focused on Africa and the “third world”) than in the regions where the ‘problem’ exists. In fact, in the Western academic institutions these programs have exploded over the last twenty or so years. This has led to a ‘confirmation bias,’ which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and evoke information in a way that validates one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses while offering unreasonably less consideration to evidence that challenges or contradicts it. This is perhaps the most persistent mistake conflict studies professionals make during a conflict analysis process.

In an academic sense there are four school of thoughts in understanding of ethnic identity and its potential for conflict. The primordial school of thought explicates ethnicity as a fixed characteristic of individuals and communities. Additionally, for primordialists, ethnicity is embedded in inherited biological attributes, a long history of practicing cultural differences, or both. Ethnic identity is unique in its intensity and strength and as an existential feature defining individual self-identification and communal distinctiveness. The psychocultural orientation of ethnicity offers deep cultural and psychological roots which shape the groups’ shared world views. Hence, ethnic identity cannot be changed, only made more tolerant and open-minded. Promoters of a different school of thought, called as social constructivism, emphasize the social nature of ethnic identity. In their assessment, ethnicity is neither immovable nor entirely open. Thus, ethnic identity is created by social exchanges between individuals and groups and stays beyond a person’s choice. For instrumentalists, ethnicity is a product of personal choice and mostly neutral from the situational circumstances or the existence of cultural and biological traits.

The most potent ingredient in a politically motivated ethnic violence is the construction and promotion of hateful narratives against an ethnic group or more than one ethnic group. Stories, songs, literature mixed with myth, and history serve as a mobilizing propaganda campaign strategy as well as dehumanizing the ‘other’ to the point that justifies killing or harming. In the same way these stories of dehumanization are transmitted intergenerationally to keep the hate message alive. There are groups and individuals at the highest leadership positions involved in such a dangerous and divisive campaign against more than one ethnic group. In fact, this reckless venture continues to be employed as a political tactic and strategy to retain hold on power.

In this regard, two particularly serious events require investigation by an independent international body. The recent displacement of more than 150,000 and the killings of hundreds of members of the Oromo community might fall within the international legal definition of ethnic cleansing.[1] The other one is the extended displacement, population engineering and death of thousands of members of the Amhara community of Wolqait. This has all the traits and features of slow motion genocide.[2] These two, perhaps among many others, cannot be ignored by the international community as the usual ‘ethnic conflict’; they are atypical in scale, precision, latitude and nature of execution. To discount them is not only to implicitly condone these heinous acts, but also to buoy others to act with impunity. As all justice loving people applauded the recent conviction of the “the butcher of Srebrenica,” Ratko Mladić, former Bosnian Serb general, by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in the Bosnian genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the international community must also track other Mladic’s in various parts of the world and bring them to justice.

When analyzing the conflict and violence dynamics in Ethiopia, we encounter one incontrovertible detail which gives credence to the ‘ethnic conflict’ argument. That is the militarization of ethnicity and the ethnicization of the military. This is particularly factual for the ethnic party directly associated with the ruling elite. Reminiscence of the guerrilla years, all units of the army and security reflect ethnic hegemony. This way of structuring the military is the most troubling feature of the political dynamic in the country. Even though more than eighty ethnic groups make-up the country’s hundred million population, key structural, administrative and command and control positions are overwhelmingly reserved for members of the Tigray Peopele’s Liberation Front (TPLF), that claims to represent less than 6% of the country’s multi-ethnic population. This lack of national character and national allegiance within the military and security apparatus lends itself to a conclusion that these institutions are subordinates of and only loyal to the minority ruling elites.

In addition, the presence and involvement of federal and regional paramilitary groups with a sworn loyalty to their ethnic parties in quashing popular uprisings and revolts demanding change appears to be an affirmation that government backed institutional ethnic violence is taking place. Since these groups are organized by and report to their ethnic military and political power command, it is safe to say the violence contains an ethnic element. The conventional rationale for such violence is often the fear of a minority that the majority will abuse power to the disadvantage of the minority in the political arrangement. While this analysis is true for much of ethnic conflict/violence in various parts of the world, the minority-majority dynamics is set up in reverse in Ethiopia. In other words, the minority group controls the political and economic power, while the majority is marginalized.

As of late, non-conformist and independent leadership within the political landscape of the country is making an appearance. Inter-ethnic collaboration inside the country and within the diaspora both at a community and political party levels is gathering momentum. All in all, despite the weight of injustice and the pain of oppression, there is some modest wind of hope and optimism blowing on the majestic mountains, valleys and farmlands. Hope and optimism, the unbreakable spirit of the people that broke the back of European fascism, is  once again ready to fight for its freedom, be it against external threat or homegrown transgressions.

It is clear that regional ethnic parties that make up the ruling EPRDF do suffer from authenticity and credibility deficits due to the original nature of their creations. Both the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) didn’t come to being through an organic process. They were formed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) during the civil war. In recent months, these two groups have shown a very practical as well as psychological (symbolic) demonstration of unity and leadership to their constituencies and the entire country. Given the fact that trust between authority and citizenry is often absent in Ethiopian governance structure, ANDM and OPDO must travel a great length before they gain the full trust and support of the people. In return, the people of Ethiopia must offer them the benefit of the doubt and give them sometime to prove themselves.

Justifiably, the majority of the Ethiopian public views the military, the police and security apparatus as a threat rather than a protection. In addition, the lack of unifying symbols and expressions, such as a national flag or national anthem, have resulted in the use of competing symbols rather than commonly shared ones, further dividing the society not only on a substantive level but also at a symbolic level.

In an apparently leaked document entitled ‘Security situation analysis,’ a little-known body called the National Security Council derided that the country’s political, social and economic order is unraveling and inter-ethnic violence including genocide is “threatening” the country’s very existence. Unfortunately, this rather alarming assessment doesn’t substantiate, quantify or offer any background analysis about this gloomy situation. The reports claim that “genocide has taken place in the eastern part of the country” is obviously startling, but lack of further investigation by an independent international body is equally disturbing.

In contextualizing and analyzing the current dynamics in Ethiopia, it is safe to say that there is no mass inter-ethnic violence. However, there is unambiguous evidence that federal and state level institutions, such as the military, special units and regional police forces with an ethnic administrative and structural commands have been used to target ethnic groups.  This should make the identification, investigation and prosecution of the responsible individuals much easier than mass ethnic conflict.

History’s pitfalls and blood stains are not unique to Ethiopia. They are the tragic scars and contours that mark the nation. Some of the terrains of our past show the blood-stained footprints of our ancestors. However, the prejudice and injustice of our past must not serve to engineer the suffering of our present. Thus, the study and honest interrogation of the past will obviously bring discomfort and pain. We must look at them, touch them, and feel them. This, all of us to face and do by unlocking our hearts and making it our collective tragedy. Most importantly these experiences, however painful, are sacred pages of our history and they should be treated as such. Any meditative calculation to use them as political stock to build division between groups and sustain a grip on power is not only dangerous, it also falls outside the moral decency and cultural norms of the people of this land. The seeds of division and hate, in spite of how deep they were planted and how loud they were propagated, they failed to sow permanent discord between communities with shared history and experience. For that we as people should be proud.

Despite the uncomfortable and at times painful chapters of the country’s history, people across this land have kept their decency and sanity. Never in this country’s history has an ethnic group mobilized to wage a war or terrorized another ethnic group. Yes, state armies and groups manipulated by elites past and present have executed the desire and agenda of the ruling class. But there was no deep rooted, hate-filled animosity that indented neighbor against neighbor, village against village or community against community. Not for lack of trying by the elites, but by people’s rejection of hate and division. Ultimately, the people must join together to build a shared future.

ED’s Note: The writer can be reached at Alem6711@gmail.com. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial of Addis Standard.

[1] A United Nations Commission of Experts mandated to look into violations of international humanitarian law committed in the former Yugoslavia defined ethnic cleansing in its interim report as “… rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.” In its final report, the same Commission described ethnic cleansing as “… a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”

[2] See United Nations definition of genocide: http://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide.html.


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Odaa Oromoooromianeconomist

A renowned brand such as Ethiopian Airlines decided against the norms of professionalism and morality their wrongly detained employee.



Mahlet Fantahun (Translated by Zecharias Zelalem

Addis Abeba, Nov. 07/2017 – Looking at the lives of Ethiopians who were once incarcerated for no sufficient reasons then  “freed” from prisons often after arduous court battles, such as the case for Zone9 blogging collective in which I was one, or many others whose trumped up charges fail the smell test, or those who finish serving their sentences and are eventually released, I fall short of sufficiently expressing how overwhelming my emotions are. It often leaves me with a combined feeling of ruefulness, hopelessness, frustration and helplessness.

The truth is, despite the jubilant public outburst that follows news of being “released from prison,” for those who are “released” life never returns to what it was prior to their unjustified detentions. Socially, politically and financially ex-prisoners are destined to suffer. Physically, many of those who take a walk a mile will begin to agonize from both the physical and psychological wounds inflicted while in prison, leaving post-prison life full of memories and longing for what life used to be prior to being thrown behind bars.

Of course facing challenges can and does bring out the best in us due to the fact that it further hones our ability to endure and resist the worst of what life throws at us. All the same, once the jubilant outpourings are over and the news of regaining their “freedom” have faded away, very little is documented about the lives of Ethiopia’s ex-prisoners after returning to the society they came from.

With that in mind, below is a highlight of how life changed for some of the ex-prisoners after being discharged from various prisons and  returned to the other side of the fence.

University students…

April 2014: Megersa Worku was a 5th year law student at Haramaya University, in East Hararghe Zone of the Oromia regional state in eastern Ethiopia, when he was detained by security forces. Along with six other university students, he was subsequently charged with on terrorism, found guilty of the charges and was awaiting verdict at the infamous Ma’ekelawi prison,  a prison facility known as a notorious  torture gulag. While at Ma’ekelawi, Megersa Worku was severely beaten and forced to sign on a paper confessing to crimes he didn’t commit.

After enduring two and a half years of mind-numbing trial and pain, while the rest of defendants charged with him were sentenced to various terms in jail,  Megersa was declared innocent and was acquitted of all the terrorism charges against him. At this time, he was detained at not Ma’ekelawi but Qilnto, another prison facility located on the southern outskirt of the capital Addis Abeba. Upon leaving Qilinto after having been declared innocent, Megersa stood at the entrance gate expecting to walk away from the facility to his freedom. It was not to be. A group of people approached him in a vehicle, picked him up and dropping him off back at the entrance to Ma’ekelawi prison, where he spent another traumatizing week.

Megersa would  eventually leave the premises, but his life wouldn’t continue from where he had left it off before prison. He made multiple requests for re-admission at the university, all which were rejected and this is despite the fact that he had already been declared innocent of any crime. Freed from prison, he is unable to finish his education. He has been forbidden the opportunity to become a productive member of society and provide for himself or his family. When he was detained in April 2014, Megersa was merely months away before finishing his studies and being able to serve his country and community; instead he was tossed into prison on trumped up charges and robbed of the chance to live out a fruitful prodigious life.



A look at the other defendants charged with terrorism along Megeresa, we find Lenjisa Alemayehu, a third year water engineering student from Jimma University who was “freed” after more than twenty months behind bars; Teshale Bekele also a student at Jimma University and was sentenced to a year and a half but ended up spending two years instead. Adugna Kesso was a student at Adama University at the time of his arrest; Adugna would go on to spend four and a half years in jail.

Each of these students repeatedly testified of having being subjected to brutal tortures to force them to sign on confessions to crimes they never committed. Adugna, the Adama University student, recalls his stay at the federal prison we colloquially refer to as “hell” – Maekelawi and says it was nothing compared to the horrors he was subjected to while staying at the holding facility located in Adama, where he briefly stayed at, and dubbed his transfer to Ma’ekelawi as “being sent to heaven from hell.” If the gulag that is Ma’ekelawi is considered heaven, one may not able to fully imagine the horror that the facility in Adama is. Adugna talks of a tragic incident about a friend who had been arrested with him in Adama died en route Ma’ekelawi after succumbing to the wounds he suffered during his beatings. Adugna witnessed his friend’s body being dumped on the road by police afterwards.

All four of these young university students are no longer in prison today and have since been applying for a second chance to return to their their studies, but to no avail. With all the doors of opportunity firmly locked, they are now left in limbo and with nowhere to go, and forced to rely on their families and friends to get by.

…and others

It is not only university students who have been unable to continue with their interrupted lives upon being told they could walk free. Ethiopians who were formerly employed and were earning a steady income prior to being detained have encountered similar fates. Cases of institutions refusing to take back their freed former employees and not offering compensations are most common. Applying for new work becomes impossible once potential employers get wind of the applicant’s personal history. And others, due to the effect of the mental and physical scars, are unable to function properly and thus are unable to work.

Due to the severity of beatings he received at the Ma’ekelawi prison, Abel Wabella, a member of the Zone 9 blogging collective, had lost his hearing through one of his ears. After a year and a half of incarceration and sporadic court appearances, he too was declared innocent and free to walk in November of 2015. Prior to his detention, Abel was an employee at one of the most reputed institutions in the country, Ethiopian Airlines. Upon his release, he went back to his former workplace, with an official court document declaring his innocence of any wrongdoing and requested to continue working. There he discovered that its employer had basically declared him persona non grata. He was told that during his detention, he had been fired and was forbidden from ever working there again. A renowned brand such as Ethiopian Airlines decided against the norms of professionalism and morality their wrongly detained employee. In fact, as if to add insult to injury, Ethiopian Airlines decided to pursue a legal case against Abel claiming to have lost the money it invested to pay for training Abel as an employee. And today, many members of the zone9 blogging collective are forced to live in exile, scattered around the world.

In an interview with a local newspaper, journalist Temesgen Desalegn, who has recently been released from Ziway prison after serving three years sentence, spoke of his prison ordeal including enduing a severe ear pain sustained as a result of prison torture he was subjected to.

In 2006, Tesfaye Tekalign graduated from Addis Abeba University in Sociology and would later be employed by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture up until April of 2011. On April 20th 2011, he was forcibly detained by men he described as federal security forces and would spend the next twenty three months behind bars being tortured despite having never committed a crime of any sort. During his unjust imprisonment, he was never brought into a courtroom and was denied of the chance to hear exactly why he was arrested in the first place. Freed on April 4th  2013, he told the story of his incarceration in an interview with Finote Selam newspaper, an Amharic weekly.

“I’ve suffered unbearably. They would shock my back with electricity. The torture they inflicted upon my private parts and kidneys affects me to this day. I can no longer control my own urine. My kidneys are severely affected. They would also soak me in water and beat me. Today, I struggle to even speak, they’ve tortured me in an unimaginable ways.”

Tesfaye, who was released in 2013, was rearrested in 2016 as part of the government’s massive campaign of arrests following the year long anti-government protests. During his incarceration last year, Tesfaye was once again subjected to tortured before he was release. Once a free man though, his efforts to seek employment have yielded no result and his former employer, the Ethiopian Ministry of Tourism and Culture, refused to even give him a letter of recommendation or any document indicating employment history with the ministry. His kidneys have healed somewhat and he is considerably better today than in 2013. Nevertheless his health is far from normal and he frequently speaks of throat pain that still hinders his ability to eat normally.


These are but small cases showing what life is like after being free from prison. There is so much more beyond what can be written in a single article. It is safe to assume, however, that health problems (both mental and physical), inability to return to former employment, find new employment or continue pursuing studies, threats and intimidation from federal agents, being constantly under surveillance, harassment, the risk of being rearrested, losing friends who chose to distance themselves out of fear, several forms of isolation, the risk of becoming an outcast, of being evicted by landlords and much more are but few of the commonly shared experiences by by ex-prisoners .

Although the circumstances are much worse on ex-political prisoners, ordinary citizens known for their political dissent in Ethiopia do face a similar fate that are too numerous to quantify because in Ethiopia, being free is not free. AS


Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests, Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Afar, Ogaden, Sidama, Southern Ethiopia and the Omo Valley, Ethiopian Empire, Ethnic Cleansing, Horn of Africa Affairs, Uncategorized.
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Thousands of internally displaced Oromos from the recent conflict in eastern Ethiopia remain in temporary shelters

Addis Abeba, September 27/2017 – Ethiopia is fast descending into turmoil as the result of incessant state-sanctioned violence and repression. Popular demands that precipitated a three year-long protest, which started in Oromia in 2014and then spread to the Amhara and other regions, remain unaddressed. The discontent in the two most populous regional states, Oromia and Amhara, home to two-thirds of the country’s population of over 100 million, is deep and widespread. The resulting anxiety, expressed by serious Ethiopia watchers, is confirmed by the country’s leader, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who once warned that the continued protests could push Ethiopia into a situation similar to what has prevailed in neighboring Somalia for the last 26 years: state collapse.

The popular protests signaled a regime in crisis. After ruling for a quarter century, the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), began to exhibit signs of decomposition. Nowhere is this well archived than the reporting by this magazine over the last six years.  The economy, once touted as the envy of the world, started experiencing a downward spiral. Tensions emerged at the highest echelons of the security apparatus with the civilian and military intelligence at loggerheads over the direction of the regime’s response to the protests. Beginning in December 2016, two months into the state of emergency that was declared to suppress the protests, the situation got further complicated with rising tensions between regional states – first between the Amhara and Tigray regions and currently between the Oromia and Somali regional states.

Escalating Tensions

For years, Oromo residents near the regional frontiers have complained of an aggressive attempt by the Somali Regional State to forcefully dispossess their land. Until recently their grievances fell on deaf ears. The conflicts escalated in February and March 2017 as incursions and raids conducted by the Somali Special Police (the Liyu Police), also known as the Liyu Hayil, and militia intensified along the border between the two regional states stretching from Chinaksan in the East (near the border with Somaliland) and Moyale (near the border with Kenya).

Cross-border raids and fighting increased in frequency and intensity in early August and tensions boiled over in mid-September in Oromia’s East Hararghe Zone, where at least 60 people were killed, according to locals. In addition to its assault on Oromo civilians in Oromia, members and sympathizers of the Liyu Police are currently attacking and expelling Oromo residents and merchants from the Somali region.  As a result, hundreds of Oromos have been killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes in the Somali region. Authorities in the Oromia region have begun sounding alarm about an all-out war of aggression by the notorious Somali Special Police.

In a more ominous development, officials from the two states are engaged in an unprecedented war of words, particularly on social media. Their tangling is not limited to words.  The security organs of the two states have been battling each other over the territories along the common border.

All of this is happening under the watchful eyes of the federal army and security forces, which are now ordered by the Prime Minister to man the common border between the two states and all major roads in Oromia. Oromo residents in the affected areas question the neutrality of the federal army, particularly the impartiality of Tigrean kingmakers in the ruling EPRDF coalition, and not a few accuse them of abetting and enabling the still-ongoing Liyu Police incursions into undisputed Oromo territories.

Critics contend that Tigrayan generals and intelligence officials, the current de facto rulers of Ethiopia, have two overarching objectives for empowering and enabling the Liyu Police and leaders of the Somali region: to cripple the three-year-long Oromo resistance against the EPRDF government, and to undermine, weaken and control the new leaders of the Oromia regional state, who have recently shown some signs of autonomy from the overbearing center. The development risks provoking a total breakdown of law and order on the peripheries, which can gradually creep toward the center—leading to state collapse.

Signs of Collapse

Predicting state collapse, a complex phenomenon with multiple causes and effects, is never easy.  However, those writing on state collapse, such as Caty ClementRobert Rotberg, and Claire Vallings and Magüi Moreno-Torres, agree that the legitimacy, or lack thereof, enjoyed by state institutions and their capacity or failure to deliver the political and economic goods needed by society are the primary indicators. Having refused to open up the political space to allow the population to render judgment on its political legitimacy, the EPRDF regime, in power for over a quarter of a century, had instead sought to predicate its legitimacy on the economy’s exaggerated performance. The resulting political instability now threatens to bring the economy to a standstill.

Many observers in and outside Ethiopia, including current and former Ethiopian officials, have offered a bleak prognosis about the country’s fate. For example, last year the former Chief of Staff of Ethiopian Defense Forces, General Tsadikan G/Tensae, warned that the mass protests in Oromia and Amhara regions in particular and EPRDF’s failure to contain them augurs the onset of a full-fledged political crisis. His colleague, Gen. Abebe Teklehaimanot also expressed similar concern about the country’s prospects for stability unless significant reforms are implemented.

Similarly, a string of international media headlines and expert analyses warn of a growing political crisis. Articles appearing in Open DemocracyForeign Policy JournalForeign Affairs,  and the Guardian, just to mention a few, have joined the chorus about an impending collapse. Perhaps acting out of this fear, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency in October 2016, which lasted for nearly ten months. The declaration was a stunning reversal for Ethiopia’s rulers, who had some success portraying Ethiopia as an island of stability in a troubled region and propagating a myth of “Ethiopia rising.”

Several trend indices point to Ethiopia’s growing state fragility. According to the Fragile State Index, for example, Ethiopia’s fragility has been rising steadily since 2006. The Index of State Weakness designates Ethiopia as one of the world’s critically weak states. Noting the complete lack of political rights, Freedom House has consistently rated Ethiopia as Not Free — with a score of only 14 out of 100 in its 2017 report.

And all states that collapsed had one thing in common: a violent dictatorship locked into a win-lose conflict with a populace determined to untangle the incumbent regime from the reins of power. The breakdown of state-society relations marks a milestone in a trajectory towards state collapse.  Other credible risk assessments underscore this same bleak picture for Ethiopia.

Recently, Christopher Clapham, a long-time Africa watcher, noted that Ethiopia is both the anchor and the main source of the perennial instability that has haunted the Horn of Africa region for decades. Should the Ethiopian state implode, as all indicators point toward, the whole region, where a quarter of a billion souls eke out an already precarious existence, would go down with it.

This is not an implausible scenario. Ethiopia is situated in a region harboring two already collapsed states (Somalia and South Sudan), two failing states (Sudan and Eritrea), and yet another fragile state (Kenya). It also abuts the world’s most volatile region, the Middle East. All of these factors about Ethiopia’s increasing fragility ought to have set off alarm bells in Washington, Brussels, London, and Addis Ababa itself, seat of the African Union.

To be sure, the EPRDF is not the sole culprit for all of Ethiopia’s ills. There are factors beyond its control that contribute to the ongoing political convulsion. One such factor is soaring population growth. Ethiopia’s population has doubled since EPRDF came to power, putting unbearable pressure on the environment and natural resources in a country where backward agriculture is the dominant means of agricultural production. In addition, there are a number of quite contentious issues hampering any consensus among the political class.

Divided elites

Ethiopia’s political class is beholden to deeply divergent diagnoses and remedies to tackle the mounting problems. It doesn’t agree even on such uncomplicated issues as the bases of the country’s statehood. EPRDF is convinced that Ethiopia is a nation of nations. Structuring Ethiopia as a federation of nations, nationalities, and peoples stemmed from this conviction.

The elites of the Oromo and other marginalized groups hold the view that the structuring of Ethiopia as a multinational federation was a positive step but dismiss EPRDF’s federation as bogus. Indeed federalism without democracy is an oxymoron. Their fear is that an undemocratic federation of nations could produce a repeat of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia’s disastrous fates. Members of these groups insist that only democratizing the present federation can avert such eventuality.

Another vocal group, hailing predominantly from the previous ruling elite, rejects the emphasis on Ethiopia’s multinational nature and aspires to forge the country’s numerous ethnic groups into a single Amharic-speaking nation—resurrecting the policies and memories of successive feudal and military regimes that stoked decades of armed conflicts and brought the state at different junctures to the brink of collapse. Since neither of these groups is willing to heed the fears, pains, and perspective of the other, a debate of the deaf has been going on among them for the last three decades.

These contrasting positions come with the dangerous implication of pulling the country in opposite directions. The concern that this configuration of political stands could culminate in ripping Ethiopia apart should not be underestimated.

A successful mobilization by multiple rival groups against a resented centralized power is a harbinger of regime collapse. All indications are that mobilization by both the Oromo and the Amhara, even within the EPRDF, is gathering momentum, thereby exacerbating the regime’s incoherence. To date the protests among the Oromo and Amhara have largely remained peaceful.  However, increased repression has made the breakout of armed insurrection all but certain. Most disconcertingly, regime collapse could easily morph into state collapse in Ethiopia as the regime has intricately tied its fate to the survival of the state.

Precipitating factors

The second most threatening factor is the refusal of the ruling party to institute the reforms demanded by the protesters. When the ruled refuse to live under the old order and rulers are unable to carry on in the old way, breaking out of the impasse could be achieved only by instituting significant reforms. And this is just what the EPRDF has been utterly unable and unwilling to do. Without reforms, the specter of a revolutionary breakdown looms around the horizon.

The excessive securitization of the Ethiopian state to stifle growing dissent is also having two unintended consequences.  First, it is making rising dissent inevitable. Second, ballooning costs of securing the regime could easily bankrupt it. The recent tax-hike, which resulted in one of the first successful attempts at a general strike in decades, presages what is to come.

The main obstacle to instituting any kind of reform is the lack of democracy and honest conversation within the ruling party. The EPRDF is composed of four entities: (1) The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), (2) The Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), (3) The Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and (4) The Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). Of all of these, the TPLF, speaking for the least populous constituency, plays a dominant role, thereby standing the EPRDF pyramid on its apex. The inherent instability of this setup accounts for much of Ethiopia’s fragility than anything else.

Growing fragility

States become susceptible to failure when two factors come into play. The first occurs when rulers lose their mandate to govern and their administration of the affairs of the state becomes illegitimate in the eyes and hearts of a growing sector of the concerned populace. The three-year-long protests in Oromia and Amhara regions bespeak the loss of mandate to govern. The second happens when the rulers’ capacity to keep the governed in tow is exhausted. The failure of the state of emergency to quell the popular appetite for resistance against the system attests to this fact. And there seems to be a dialectical relationship between soliciting legitimacy and seeking domination. As coercion is deployed more frequently, the consent of the ruled plummets, and rulers would be forced to increasingly resort to naked coercion, which further diminishes their legitimacy and necessitates the application of even more coercion.   For the EPRDF regime, more repression is not yielding the anticipated results.

This vicious cycle has characterized EPRDF’s rule ever since it came to power in 1991. It started with a questionable legitimacy, which steadily diminished with each passing decade. In order to make up for this falling legitimacy, EPRDF bolstered and fine-tuned its instruments of coercion and control. The crude application of these tools in the absence of an astute political leadership creates more security problems than it solves. To make matters worse, since the death in 2012 of its strongman, Meles Zenawi, the EPRDF has shown signs of atrophy, discord, and unraveling. In place of the centralized rule that characterized earlier decades, multiple sources of authority are currently vying for influence—at times violently.

Political fragmentation

Within the EPRDF, inter and intra-party relations have broken down. Both ANDM, ruling the Amhara region, and OPDO, ruling Oromia, are pressing for more autonomy from the TPLF-dominated center in a bid to respond to the growing popular chorus to end Tigrean domination of the country’s politics, economy, and security apparatus. The gap between the official rhetoric of the devolution of power and the reality of continuing centralization has undermined the resilience normally accruing to a federal arrangement. At the moment, the system is more brittle than it has ever been. The failure to stop armed incursions into Oromia from the Somali region, which has led to the killing of innocent people and mass expulsion of Oromo civilians from the Somali region, is a worrisome sign of the breakdown of central control.

The Oromo protests happened despite the long running process of extending party control over the populace, which culminated in 1 out of 5 Ethiopians (i.e., 20 million) being harnessed into an elaborate state surveillance system. This level of regime penetration of society is unprecedented in Ethiopian history and quite likely in the entire African Continent. This panoptic surveillance structure, however, proved totally useless in averting mass uprising particularly by the Oromo and the Amhara.

That is why authorities resorted to a state of emergency as part of the regime’s increasing reliance on force and coercion to stay in power. Yet even after martial law was imposed, the rebellious societies remain restive and will likely rise up again. It had to be lifted because it had become ineffectual and a burden. This begs a very important question: What would EPRDF do that it has not done to date in order to contain the imminent mass upsurge?

The incumbent regime shows no indication of heeding and addressing the protesters’ grievances. The regime’s effort to placate the people, including through declarations of war on rampant corruption, abuse of power, problems of good governance, cabinet reshuffles, and promises of “deep renewal” have come to naught. And the kneejerk reaction of violently putting down resistance protests has not worked so far and is unlikely to work in the future. This is what makes state failure in Ethiopia a real possibility.

In addition to the mounting political crisis, Ethiopia also faces a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Drought and famine are back in the headlines: See, for example, the  TelegraphBBCDWWashington PostEuro NewsSave the ChildrenOxfamWorld Food ProgramCBC, and IRC, just to mention a few. According to the United Nations, 20 million are suffering from acute food shortages, and in many places the situation has already developed into a famine. This time the crisis is not affecting the traditional famine-prone regions of northern Ethiopia, but the Eastern and Southern regions.

Call for action

The escalating conflict along the vast border between the Somali and the Oromia states indicates that Ethiopia’s political crisis is showing no sign of abating. Instead, it is deepening. It is almost universally believed among the Oromo that the conflict is not between the two brotherly populations, the Oromo and the Somali. Rather, it is a proxy war waged by the Tigreyan military brass, which practically rules the country, to intimidate the Oromo as well as the new OPDO leaders, who are increasingly asserting their autonomy from the TPLF under whose hegemony they grudgingly toiled the last 26 years. The Liyu Police happened to be another handy element in its toolbox of the strategy of “divide and conquer.”

The conflict between two large states of the Ethiopian federation has worsened the growing fear of state fragility. Ethiopia’s implosion would have catastrophic reverberations not only in the strife-ridden Horn of Africa but for the entire continent and beyond. The combined effect of these crises is bound to affect neighboring states and could reach as far as Europe, where the flood of refugees from the Middle East has already led to the rise of nativist and populist far-right-extremists. Until now, the EPRDF regime has been given the benefit of the doubt by its Western and other backers despite its gross abuse of power and persistent violations of human rights.

What would further destabilization of the Horn, home to a quarter of a billion, do? Africa and the rest of the world cannot afford Ethiopia, with a population of over 100 million, disintegrating into chaos. The EPRDF regime has laid the groundwork for this eventuality by design or default, and its continued hold on state power would only worsen the crisis. This should not be lost on anyone harboring the least goodwill toward Ethiopia, the troubled Horn region and its suffering population.

The international community has a stark choice: either it wakes up to the dangers and saves Ethiopia from collapse, or faces the consequences. Only an orderly transition toward a legitimate and accountable political order could avert the imminent danger of collapse. It is the best way out for the regime. And the international community needs to step up efforts to come face to face with the ensuing reality. The alternative is being swept away by a tidal wave of popular anger that has been building up for 26 years under a brutal, corrupt, and unyielding dictatorship.

The international community can no longer hope that the regime can muddle through these crises as it has always done. This time around the gravity of Ethiopia’s collapse is qualitatively different from previous situations, not to mention deadly serious.  The writing is on the wall: state collapse is on the horizon. AS 



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Addis Abeba, September 01/2017 – Intense fighting between the Ethiopian Somali and the Oromo ethnic groups in the eastern Ethiopia has left “more than 30 people”, including “more than a dozen army members”, dead and several others injured, Addis Standard learned.

According to three residents of Mieso town, west Hararghe zone, who contacted Addis Standard late this evening, today’s fighting in and around the town was between several members of local residents and heavily armed members of the “Liyu Police”.   “We couldn’t take the killings our men, the raping of our girls and the lootings of our cattle by bandits openly supported by the Liyu Police,” wrote Abdulatif Kererro, a resident of the town in his message. A similar attack has left seven civilians dead last week in Chinakson in east Hararghe and its environs.   

The conflict has been going on for several months now. The local say it is aggravated by the presence of members of Ethiopia’s notorious police force, “Liyu Police,” a special paramilitary elite force accused of its close connection to Abdi Mohamoud Omar, president of the Somali regional state in eastern Ethiopia. Members of the “Liyu Police” are often accused of looting, rape and extrajudicial killings of civilians ever since their establishment in April 2007.

Last week, a group of elders who traveled from East Hararghe Zone, Gursum Woreda of the Oromia Regional State to the capital Addis Abeba have called for an end to the “Liyu police anarchy”.

In march 2017 weeks-long cross border incursions by armed militiamen that local say were members of “Liyu Police”  into many localities in eastern and southern part of the Oromia regional state, (bordering the Ethiopian Somali regional state in eastern and south eastern Ethiopia) had left more than 100 civilians dead.

It is not clear what trigged the latest conflict. But the Oromia regional state bureau head Addisu blamed the reasons for March’s conflict as “border expansion” and “economic” in nature. The clashes happened after incursions by “armed men” from the Somali regional state into towns and villages administratively under the Oromia regional state.  

In April 2017, following several attacks by Liyu police, Abdi Mohamud Omar and Lemma Megerssa, presidents of Somali and Oromia regional states respectively, have signed an agreement to end “border hostilities”. On August 19, the Oromia regional state said that as part of that agreement, of the 68 contested villages between the two regions, 48 have been returned to be under the administration of the Oromia regional state. But the deal doesn’t not seem to hold water.

Today’s heavy clash subsided late this afternoon after the “members of the federal army arrived in the scene”, according to Abdulatif, “but we are not going sit back and see this happen again,” he wrote. AS


Oromian EConomist: Six Major National and Regional Unintended Policy Consequences of the Invasion of the Eastern and Southern Oromia by the Somali Liyu Police, i.e., the Somali Janjaweed Militia

Ethiopia’s Somali Region: Political Marketplace for Tigray Military Commanders

Analysis: History repeating itself in the Horn of Africa: Is the crime in Darfur being replicated in Eastern and Southern Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia? – http://addisstandard.com/analysis-history-repeating-horn-africa-crime-darfur-replicated-eastern-southern-oromia-regional-state-ethiopia/


Conversations in Ideas: Liyu Police and the Oromia-Ogaden Border Conflict


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Among the thousands facing criminal charges in the wake of the SoE are these group of women in Assela town. 

Liyat Fekade

Addis Abeba, August 22/2017 – On Friday August 04, members of the Ethiopian parliament have reconvened after having been called off their summer recess. Of the three topics they reconvened to discuss was the lifting of the ten month old State of Emergency (SoE), first declared on Oct. 08 2016.

Briefing the members of parliament (MPs) on the need to lift the SoE, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa, who is also the secretariat of the command post established to oversee the implementations of the SoE, said that the country was experiencing a return to normalcy as compared to the months and days prior to the declaration of the emergency decree, hence the need to lift the SoE.

However, almost as news besides the lifting of the SoE, Siraj Fegessa told the lawmakers that there were 7, 737 individuals who were facing legal actions in different courts in the country after having been charged with criminal offenses. According to Siraj, 4, 136 of these people were from the Oromia regional state, the epicenter of the 2016 yearlong anti-government protests; 1, 888 from the Amhara regional state, which followed suit six months into the protests in Oromia; 1, 166 from the less publicized protest-hit areas in the Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Regional state (SNNPR); and 547  from the capital Addis Abeba.

It was a déjà vu

Ethiopians are acutely familiar with the government’s intuitive response of mass detention that quickly follows popular anti-government protests. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians from all walks of life had ended up in the country’s military camps, prisons wards and temporary detention facilities in the post 2005 general elections, in which close to 200 protesters were also gunned down in the streets of the capital by fully armed security forces.


female prisosners

These detainees include students, mothers and in some instances, government employees 

Reminiscent of that recent past, 24,799 Ethiopians were detained in two rounds during in the first few weeks into the October SoE, according to the government’s own account. However, countless others were already detained in the lead up to October 2016, which brought the number of those detained to over 27, 000.

Grieving in Ethiopia’s politicized court rooms

It is worth mentioning here that the 7, 737 people who are now facing charges of serious criminal offenses, including but not limited to outrage against the constitutional order, is a number three times higher than the 2, 449 individuals that Siraj Fegessa said would be brought to face justice on Dec. 17, 2016.

In what could safely be considered as politically motivated act, the federal Supreme Court has “placed considerable pressures on courts and prisons authorities in Oromia, Amhara and Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s regional states to bring thousands of detainees to Addis Abeba for them to be tried with terrorism offenses,” a senior judge in Adama, 100 km south of Addis Abeba, told Addis Standard.

A somewhat similar incident in post-2005 elections played a significant role in forcing the then president of the Oromia Regional State Supreme court, Teshale Aberra, into exile.


Judge Teshale Abera is now living in exile

Speaking from his exile in the UK, Teshale told Addis Standard that in 2005, the rift between him and the federal Supreme Court widened when the later requested him to facilitate the trials of some 18,000 detainees who were transported to several detention facilities in Oromia regional state after having been detained in the capital Addis Abeba. “Because the case concerned protesters who supported the opposition CUD, which won all the 23 seats allocated to the city of Addis Abeba in the federal parliament, and because many of the judges who were presiding in the federal courts in the capital were ethnic Amharas, authorities at the federal Supreme Court believed that the trial would lack judicial impartiality from the judges,” Teshale said. “This was a clear case of politically motivated decision, which I refused to accept.”

Teshale’s experience in 2005 remained a perpetual stain in judicial procedures in Ethiopia, leaving the fate of hundreds of Ethiopians detained during protest-crackdowns and subsequently prosecuted hanging in the country’s politicized court rooms.

For starters, detainees are often brought to the capital from all corners of the country to face terrorism charges. This practice often exposes  detainees to extrajudicial brutalities, including torture, inside prison facilities in the capital, especially the notorious Ma’ekelawi prison, where hundreds are forced to spend months on end without any due legal process. It also leaves detainees isolated from family members, thereby denying them of adequate legal representations.

A data available on newly established tracking website documents the number of people brought from different parts of the country and are facing terrorism charges in the capital, which shows a recent sharp increase since Ethiopia first introduced the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) in 2009.



The iconic picture of activist Nigist Yirga wearing a t-shirt with a text “The People of Amhara are not terrorists”

Of the close to 900 cases of terrorism (most of which is related to people who were brought from different parts of the country), a particular case in point is the case of six detainees who were brought to the capital after having been arrested in north Gonder and Bahir Dar of the Amhara Regional state.  Activist Nigist Yirga, known by her iconic protest picture captured during last year’s protests in Amhara regional state with a text “The People of Amhara are not terrorists”, is facing terrorism charges along with Alemneh Wase Gebre Mariam, Tewdros Telay, Awoke Abate, Belayneh Alemneh, & Yared Girma in the federal high court 4th criminal bench here in the capital.  A recent short animation video produced by the Ethiopia Human Rights Project (EHRP) sheds light on the disturbing abuse Nigist Yirga sustained while she was held in Ma’ekelawi.

However, Nigist’s case – neither her arrest nor the prison abuses she is subjected to – is by no means an isolated one. On July 25/2017, the families of Ayele Beyene, who died while in police custody at Qilinto prison, a maximum prison facility on the southern outskirt of Addis Abeba, have received and buried his body in his home town in Gidami, east Wallaga zone of western Ethiopia. After having spent months at Ma’ekelawi following their arrest in October 2016, Ayele and seven others with him were charged on May 10 with terror related as well as criminal offenses.


Ayele Beyene died while in police custody. He was detained in Oct. 2016 and was only charged in May 2017.

Delegation of federal courts jurisdiction

Perhaps beyond and above this disturbing practice is the constitutional legality of transferring detainees from other parts of the country to face terrorism charges in the capital Addis Abeba. The federal Constitution and the criminal justice policy (adopted in 2011) highly centralize criminal law, i.e. investigation and prosecution of crimes, under the federal government. It is a legal practice which relegates regional states in a federated Ethiopia to depend on the federal government concerning criminal matters that are political in nature, in particular terrorism related offenses.

Currently, there are two tiered courts both at the federal and state levels in Ethiopia: the Federal Supreme Court, (Federal High and First Instance Courts), and the State Supreme Court, (State High and First-Instance Courts). Article 80 of the federal constitution clearly stipulates that State Supreme Courts have the highest and final judicial power over State matters. Quote: “They shall also exercise the Jurisdiction of the Federal High Court [by delegation]. State High Courts shall, in addition to State jurisdiction, exercise the jurisdiction of the Federal First-Instance Court.” In other words, although the legislative criminal power has been centralized by the Federal Government in Ethiopia and has been ferociously applied to punish dissenting , it is, at the same time, decentralized in terms of its execution and adjudication by doctrine of delegation, at least on paper.

According to Yohannes Bekele (name changed), a former public prosecutor who is currently an attorney and counselor at law, there are two arguments to be made on the issue of criminal jurisdiction.  The first is that all cases arising from the Federal Criminal Code should be the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Courts in line with Art. 3(1) of the Federal Court Proclamation No. 25/96. “This is the common argument the federal government criminal investigation and prosecution organs use when they want to investigate a crime of their interest”, Yohannes told Addis Standard.

The second argument is that the Regional State courts are empowered to hear cases other than the ones exhaustively reckoned under Article 4 of Federal Courts Proclamation. These are cases related to, among others, offenses against the constitutional order or against the internal security of the state; offenses against foreign states, against the law of nations, against the fiscal and economic interests of the Federal Government, as well as offenses regarding counterfeit currency, and forgery of instruments of the Federal Government.

Teshale on his part believes that if regional courts can take up cases as grave as these ones, “there should be no question about their ability to preside over terrorism cases.”

Terrorism related offenses

Despite the constitution however, Article 31 of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation solely sanctioned the Federal High Court and the Federal Supreme Courts to have jurisdictions over terrorism related offenses. This proclamation does not incorporate a delegation clause to regional courts, giving federal courts the exclusive mandate to preside over terrorism cases brought against defendants who come from all parts of the country.

This, in and of itself, raises several concerns. The most alarming is the issues of access to justice. “Many of the suspects, especially those from Oromia and the southern regional state, do not have translation facilities during interrogations while in prison and during the hearing procedures,” said the senior judge in Adama, who wants to remain anonymous.

The issue of access to justice was one of the many concerns Addis Standard raised in its extensive coverage on Ma’ekelawi prison ward.  To quote one of the interviewees then: “The fact that detainees come from afar disconnects them from their family and their support system thereof. But more importantly such distance from one’s place of residence becomes a barrier to access to justice. Physical distance, cultural distance, and linguistic distance are the three major barriers to access to justice.”

In a 2014 research paper submitted to the Addis Abeba University (AAU) titled Criminal Jurisdiction of State Court under FDRE Constitution, Abdi Gurmessa, a law graduate, stated that the current trend of centralization of criminal law and policy in the federal government is not effective when tested in light of the guiding principles of the distribution of powers, the principle of subsidiarity and the experiences of other federations. Centralized criminal law, according to Abdi, has an “adverse effect on the regional autonomy of the states”, and prohibits regional states from exercising the right to self-determination in the context of criminal laws.

This judicial overreach by the federal court was raised during a preliminary objection in one of the high profile terrorism charges in recent history of the country involving the Federal Attorney General vs. Gurmessa Ayano et al (including prominent politician Bekele Gerba).  In a debate the later have since lost to the former, the defense team have argued on lack of jurisdiction of the federal court and said that the case could be tried by the Oromia Regional State Supreme court through delegation pursuant to the constitution. Their objection was dismissed by the federal court citing Article 31 of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; the case continued to be tried at the federal high court 4th criminal bench where it reached a curious stage.

‘Sharp departure’

However, in what is seen by many as a ‘sharp departure’ from what was expected, a complaint was lodged by the executive of the Oromia regional state sometime between November and December 2016 at the federal Supreme Court to block possible additional terrorism indictments against hundreds of individuals detained in the wake of the 2016 protest. (Gurmessa Ayano et.al were detained in the beginning of the protests in Dec. 2015, as are several others).

Subsequently, the federal Supreme Court has granted a rare delegation to the Oromia Supreme court to look into the cases involving the 4, 136 people who are now facing criminal charges in eleven different courts within the regional state, according to the judge in Adama. “It was a chance for these people to avoid terrorism indictments,” he said, “we are now working even in weekends to facilitate speedy trials.” Some of these courts where the hearings are taking place include courts in Dambi Dollo and Gimbi in western Ethiopia, Asella and Adama in south east, Batu (Ziway) and Shashemene in west Arsi, as well as Bale Robe and Yabello in south eastern Ethiopia, according to him.


Copy of a letter exclusively received by Addis Standard showing the federal Supreme court’s delegation

Too little too late?

Despite this positive turn of event, however, the lingering detention and trial not only of the 4, 136 in Oromia, but also the rest in Amhara, SNNPR and Addis Abeba after the state of emergency was declared over defies constitutionalism.

The federal constitution under Article 22 provides protection under “Non-Retroactivity of Criminal Law.’ Art.22/1: “No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offense at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed on any person than the one that was applicable at the time when the criminal offense was committed.”  Art.22/2: “Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-Article 1 of this Article, a law promulgated subsequent to the commission of the offense shall apply if it is advantageous to the accused or convicted person.”

“If the newly enacted law [that ostensibly repealed the SoE] is advantageous to those people who are accused of violating a repealed law, the new law will be implemented,” wrote Zelalem Kibret, a lecturer of law before he was dismissed by the Ambo University following his arrest as part of the Zone9 blogging collective, from which he was later on acquitted. In a series of twitter post shortly after the SoE was declared over, Zelalem wrote, “The State of Emergency decree criminalizes many trivial things that thousands were convicted of [or] are currently accused of. However, the State lifted the [SoE] by another proclamation, hence since the subsequent repeal is obviously advantageous to the incarcerated, it [would] get precedence in its application. As a result, all the cases invoking the SoE decree must be dropped and all awaiting and convicted prisoners must be released,” Zelalem said.

It is an optimism that Nigist Yirga, 24, and her co-defendants, as well as hundreds of others facing similar fate, could use following the lifting of the SoE on Aug. 04. But Ethiopians know that it may be too little too late. On August 18th, the Federal High Court 4th criminal bench has once again, and after several protracted hearings, failed to deliver a key a verdict on whether Nigist Yirga et.al have a case to defend; like several other cases, the court adjourned the next hearing to October 31/2017 after its summer recess. AS

Ed’s Note: Kiya Tsegaye, Addis Standard’s legal affairs researcher, contributed to this story

Photos: Social Media


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Finfinnee (Addis Abeba) , June 12/2017 – The year 2016 placed Ethiopia on major newspapers across the world including Financial Times, and Washington Post as well as major broadcast media outlets such as the BBC and Aljazeera all due to the persistent, widespread and escalating anti-government protests that engulfed the country.

The question many asked was “Why are Ethiopians protesting?”  Ethiopians were protesting mainly because of, to refer to a July 2001 research by Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson: “state and private predation”, (not to be confused with lack of good governance or corruption); state violence; and repression of democratic rights.

Given the yearlong protest and the government’s response to it, it is imperative to analyze Ethiopia’s political instability in an already unstable region. Many political analysts assert that Ethiopia is experiencing an alarming level of political instability that will intensify the instability in the Horn of African region.

In this article, I will use a political instability forecasting model developed by Goldstone et.al (2010) to assess the situation in Ethiopia.

Goldstone et.al (2010) model is distinguished by its accuracy, simplicity, and policy implications. The model accuracy is impressive, exhibiting 80 percent accuracy in predicting the onset of political instability with a two-year lead time. It is unique in the sense that its policy implication – that is, political institution reform – is both within reach in the short term and the least costly option for national and international communities. The model is simple in its specification, too, and it uses only four variables in estimation. The four explanatory variables are infant mortality, conflict in neighboring states, political and economic discrimination, and regime type.

The model predicts an increased likelihood of political instability in countries that exhibit one or more of these factors: high infant mortality rate, location in conflict-prone neighborhood, discrimination against one or more minorities, and a non-democratic regime type. Instead of using a binary measure of regime type (autocracy/democracy) or a three-category measure (autocracy/anocracy/democracy), Goldstone et.al constructed a new categorical measure of regime type. They did this by using the two-polity component (openness in executive recruitment and competitiveness of political participation) from the polity data set and creating a two-dimensional space that can be used to identify the regime types of full autocracy, partial autocracy, partial democracy, partial democracy with factionalism and full democracy. (Please See table below.)

Regime Type: Ethiopia (1995, 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2014)

Competitiveness of political participation
Executive Recruitment Repressed (0) Suppressed  (1) Unregulated  (2) Factional (3) Transitional (4) Competitive (5)
Ascription(1) FA FA PA PA PA PA
Ascription +Designation (2) FA FA PA PA PA PA
Designation(3) FA FA PA PAETH 2005, 2010 & 2014 PA PA
Self-Selection(4) FA FA PA PA PA PA
Transition fromself-selection (5) FA FA PA PA PA PA
Ascritption +Election (6) PA PA PD PDF PD PD
Transitional orRestricted election (7) PA PA PD PDFETH 1995 & 2000 PD PD
Competitive Election(8) PA PA PD PDF PD FD

The table format and analysis is reproduced from Goldstone et. al (2010), and data is based on POLITY IV scales for Executive Recruitment (EXREC) and Competitiveness of Political Participation (PARCOMP). FA – Full Autocracy, PA – Partial Autocracy, PD – Partial Democracy, PDF – Partial Democracy with Factionalism, and FD – Full Democracy

Where does Ethiopia stand along these four independent variables?

The first variable of interest is infant mortality rate.  Over the past twenty years, Ethiopia has made great progress in reducing infant mortality rate compared to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). According to this data from the World Bank, in 1990, Ethiopia’s infant mortality rate was 121.6 while SSA’s was 108.5; in 2015, Ethiopia’s number was 41.4 while SSA’s was 56.4. One can say that Ethiopia’s performance on this front is truly impressive.

The second variable is whether the country is located in conflict-prone neighborhood. Ethiopia shares borders with six countries: Somalia (1640 km), South Sudan (1299 km), Eritrea (1033 km), Kenya (867 km), Sudan (744 km), and Djibouti (342 km). Based on data from the Center for Systemic Peace’s Major Episodes of Political Violence, Ethiopia is situated in a neighborhood ravaged by prolonged conflict. Somalia, which shares the longest border with Ethiopia, has suffered an ongoing civil war since 1988 that claimed the lives of more than 117,000 Somalis and led to the migration and displacement of hundreds of thousands of its people. South Sudan, which shares the second longest border with Ethiopia, has gone through a devastating civil war (1998-2014) and an ongoing ethnic violence with a loss of 16,000 lives. Eritrea (part of Ethiopia until its succession in 1991-2) experienced war with Ethiopia itself from 1998-2000, a war, which, by many estimates, cost the lives of more than 70, 000 on both sides. Kenya, a relatively stable country, has been subject to spurts of ethnic violence between 1991 and 2008, costing 4,300 lives. And it is estimated that the 1983-2002 ethnic war in Sudan had claimed the lives of nearly one million Sudanese; and the recent ethnic violence (2011-2014) has claimed 4,000 lives. Djibouti’s civil war (1991-1994) had also led to the death of 1,000 people in the tiniest Horn of African nation.

It is clear, then, that Ethiopia is surrounded by countries characterized by recurring ethnic violence and civil war. There is a need to analyze this “neighborhood factor” in Ethiopia by incorporating four other factors that significantly increase the impact of a “bad neighborhood” on political stability.

First, Ethiopia itself is marred by its own civil war. Its struggles with Oromo separatists (1999-2000) and ethnic violence among the Somali and Oromo people (2007-2014) have resulted in the death of thousands.

Second, Ethiopia is directly involved in either peace-keeping missions (in the case of Darfur in Sudan and Somalia) or in conflict (in the case of Somalia and Eritrea) which have separate implications in several neighboring countries.

Third, the prolonged nature of the conflicts in these neighboring countries and within Ethiopia itself add another dimension.

Finally, different ethnic groups affected by ethnic violence or ethnic wars span across all the region’s borders (Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, South Sudan, and Eritrea), increasing the risk of political instability.

The third factor is whether there exist political or economic discrimination. According to the Minorities at Risk Project by the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), four ethnic groups are subject to discrimination in Ethiopia: the Oromo, Somali, Amhara and Afar. Although to a lesser extent, the report also named Tigreans as a minority at risk, stating that:

“Currently, Tigreans possess special status within Ethiopian politics and society with the best official posts, military positions, and of university slots allotted to those of the Tigray province … While Tigreans remain an advantaged minority in Ethiopia to date, it is unclear whether the EPRDF’s mix of political maneuvering and governmental heavy-handedness will last.”

In addition to the minorities subjected to political and economic discrimination, the Political Instability Task Force (PTIF) has identified possible target groups of genocide and politicide in Ethiopia, including supporters of the Oromo and Somali secessionists (2001, 2005 and 2011) and the people of Gambella (2005) and Anuak (2005, 2011).

The last variable of interest is regime type. Ethiopia had a partial democracy with factionalism from 1995-2000 but then transitioned to a partial autocracy from 2005-2014. The country’s score worsened in terms of executive recruitment, dropping from a 7 (transitional/restricted election) to a 3 (designation). This suggests that executive recruitment is not competitive, but rather closed to contestation. The second component, competitiveness of political participation, has remained factional since 1995. It is evident that the relationship among political elites has not improved in the last 20 years, and the political sphere in the country remains exclusive.

Ethiopia’s status based on these four variables indicates that the country is highly likely to experience political instability (civil war or adverse regime change) in the near future. It is imperative that all concerned parties- the Ethiopian people, political groups, civic society, the international community and donor countries, step up their efforts to prevent the onset of political instability in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.  AS

ED’s Note: the author can be reached at gurradimae@gmail.com



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Zeid expressed alarm at the “extremely large number” of arrests and said some charges against those detained “may be misplaced.”He asked that U.N. staffers be allowed to visit the areas of unrest. “We may then perhaps provide a list to the government and ask for specific releases” of people detained, Zeid said. “This requires more attention.”

AP Photo
AP Photo/STR

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopian officials have blocked United Nations access to areas that experienced deadly protests during one of the country’s most violent periods in recent memory, the U.N. human rights chief said Thursday.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein spoke during a three-day visit to the East African nation at the government’s invitation. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has rejected United Nations and other outside requests to investigate the months of anti-government protests demanding more political freedoms.

The government has said at least 669 people were killed and largely blames the political opposition for the unrest. Opposition figures and human rights groups say security forces killed protesters, while the government has called security forces’ response “proportionate.”

More than 26,000 people were detained amid the protests, and Ethiopia in October declared a state of emergency that recently was extended.

Zeid expressed alarm at the “extremely large number” of arrests and said some charges against those detained “may be misplaced.”

He asked that U.N. staffers be allowed to visit the areas of unrest. “We may then perhaps provide a list to the government and ask for specific releases” of people detained, Zeid said. “This requires more attention.”

The human rights chief also expressed concern about anti-terrorism laws in Ethiopia, saying that “an excessively broad definition of terrorism may be misused against journalists, bloggers and members of opposition parties.”

Earlier Thursday, Zeid addressed the crisis in neighboring South Sudan, saying up to 50,000 civilians in the country’s Upper Nile region are at imminent risk of human rights violations as government troops close in.

Many civilians in Aburoc town, some of whom recently fled a military attack on nearby Kodok town, are ethnic Shilluk and have faced a sharp rise in government attacks as South Sudan’s civil war continues.

Zeid said military commanders on both sides show little regard for protecting civilians.

Separately, the U.N. humanitarian affairs agency said roughly 100,000 civilians have been displaced after a South Sudan government offensive in the Jonglei region.

Army spokesman Santo Domic Chol did not comment on fighting in either location but said government attacks on civilians “didn’t make sense” because civilians are not armed.

Associated Press writer Justin Lynch in Nairobi, Kenya contributed.

Daily Mail: UN rights chief urges Ethiopia to free prisoners after protests

At a press conference, Zeid said he was concerned about the mass arrests last year during protests driven by discontent among the country’s two largest ethnic groups, which left hundreds dead.

“The extremely large number of arrests, over 26,000, suggests it is unlikely rule of law guarantees have been observed in every case,” Zeid said.

“I am requesting the government to consider, if possible, the release of a number of individuals whose arrest or conviction appears to have been motivated by fear of criticism rather than evidence of intent to spark violent overthrow,” he said.  – More at Daily Mail.


NewsweeK: U.N. Renews Calls to Investigate Deadly Anti-Government Protests in Ethiopia

The U.N. has renewed calls to the Ethiopian government to let human rights officials conduct independent investigations into allegations of abuses by security forces against protesters in the country in 2015 and 2016.


Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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Mahlet Fasil,  Addis Standard, March 17, 2017 

For the second time in less than six months, the Ethiopian ruling party EPRDF-dominated parliament has declared a three-day nationwide mourning. This time it is for the victims of a devastating collapse of a mountain of solid waste located 13 km southwest of the capital Addis Abeba on Saturday, March 9.

More excavators arriving

As late as Wednesday and Thursday more excavators were arriving

The story of the growing numbers of Ethiopians (115 as of yet) who died buried under a pile of Addis Abeba’s solid waste first broke nearly 12 hours after it struck. For such a story about Ethiopia’s “forsaken” [“we are the forsaken; why would anyone care, right?”], it was neither surprising nor unexpected.

In the shadow of death

Officially known as “Reppi” landfill (commonly called by its local name Qoshe in Amharic) the area is a mountain of an open dumpsite where millions of tons of solid waste collected from the sprawling capital, home to some four to five million inhabitants, has simply been disposed off for more than half a century.

Established 54 years ago, and occupying 37ha surface area, Qoshe is not your ideal landfill. For starters, its surroundings on all four sides is home to both plastic makeshift shelters and poorly constructed mud & wood houses that shelter hundreds of people, a figure by far bigger than what the government admits as ‘houses’ with registered title deeds; and unlike repeated media reports that followed the tragic incident, the residents of the plastic makeshift and mud & wood houses are not all rubbish scavengers. “I work at the Ethiopian electric power corporation,” said Alemayehu Teklu, a father of four who, as of this writing, is still looking for his three children and his wife. “Only my first born son survived because he was not at home the night the garbage mountain caved in.”

Alemayehu and his family resettled in the area ten years ago when several shanty towns were demolished in many parts of Addis Abeba city to give way to new high rising buildings. “We had a two bedroom old house near Kazanchis that belonged to the families of my wife. The Kebele administrators had told us we should evacuate in two months but our house was demolished within three weeks after we were served with the notice,” Alemayehu said, “we were paid 70,000 birr [roughly $2, 500 in today’s exchange rate] as value for our house and were told we would be given a plot in one of the outskirts of the city. No one ever responded to our repeated pleas afterward and I settled my family here after buying the plot for 10, 000 birr.” Struggling to contain his tears, Alemayehu said: “we are the forsaken; why would anyone care, right?”

Living under a pile of waste

The people living around Qoshe are not only waste pickers who come from the city

The massive scale of decades-old evictions of the poor from the center of the city, which is, by all measures, a corruption-infested practice by city administration officials, means there are countless stories similar to Alemayehu’s. None of the dozen interviewees approached by Addis Standard say they become residents of an area surrounding a mountain of waste by choice. These include Mintiwab Gushe, a mother of four who lived in the area for the last 35 years, gave birth to all her children in the same mud & wood house they now remain buried under. Mintiwab is unable to compose herself to talk. And others, such as Gurmu Kidane and his now missing family of two have come to Qoshe as recently as June 2016, when more than 200 special police task force units have started demolishing houses in Nefas Silk Lafto Kifle Ketema in western Addis Abeba, which city authorities claimed were built illegally since 2005. “My family and I came here after losing our house because my sister who got a new condominium unit and had rented her house here in Qoshe gave it to me so I can shelter my family,” said Gurmu. He owns a cement mixer and lives off renting it to construction sites. His 16 years old daughter and his wife are now among the missing.

But the area surrounding Qoshe is not just home to the 200 or so households known to the city Administration; there are at least “500 households most of which also rent additional quarters to tenants,” said a young man who wants to remain anonymous. Here is where the story of Hadya Hassan, 72, fits. She rented her house to 13 different people who came from different parts of the country in search of labor. They are unregistered anywhere hence unknown to city officials. “We have been submitting requests to be relocated to our respective Kebele officials for years. Today, they came to see us mourn,” Hadiya told Addis Standard.

More unregistred tenants also lived in Qoshe

A sign posted at a tent erected to mourn the victims show the presence of unregistered tenants

Haunted by collect and dump

Until 2014, Qoshe has consolidated its notoriety as the only open dumpsite that outlived its original purpose. For 54 years, it served as a dumpsite while having no facilities such as fences, drainage systems, odor control, or recycling methods.

“The present method of disposal is crude open dumping: hauling the wastes by truck, spreading and leveling by bulldozer and compacting by compactor or bulldozer,” admitted a research overview paper commissioned by the Addis Abeba City Administration in 2010 and was delivered to the UN Habitat. It also estimated that about 200,000 tons of waste was annually produced in Addis Abeba alone, of which 76% is generated from domestic households.

The ten-years-old commissioned review is an early sign that city authorities have long been haunted by the black mountain of dumpsite they have created half a century ago and have subsequently failed to manage properly. Nor have they been short of policy recommendations from think-tank organizations funded by foreign governments.  “Adequate planning of waste management is essential if communities and regions are to successfully address the challenge of a sustainable development, including resource conservation, climate protection, and pollution prevention,” reads one such action brief written in 2010 and was partially funded by the German government’s ministry of education.

The Addis Abeba City Government Cleaning Management Agency, an agency accountable to the city administration, began taking the ensuing disaster at Qoshe a little more seriously around 2009, according to an official in the agency who spoke to Addis Standard but wants to remain anonymous because “now is a sensitive time.”

“At that time, authorities have begun to discuss selecting alternative sites and the closure and eventual transformation into a public park of Qoshe. Project proposals were submitted to several donors to conduct feasibility studies to open a modern dumpsite, which would also be used to generate green energy,” he said. Several donors, including the US, have responded positively and have provided large amounts of grants to the city administration,” he said, without mentioning the exact amount of money. “It was a lot.”

This was followed by a binge of workshops, both by the city administration and donors, research works, study tours to foreign capitals for high-level city officials including the Mayor, Diriba Kuma, and proposals on alternative sites and type of a state-of-the-art dumpsite.

As the spree of talks and workshops began to take shape, in a process the details of which is shrouded in backdoor negotiations, in 2012 the Addis Abeba city administration decided to obtain 136ha land in Sendafa, some 30km northeast of Addis Abeba, and is home to hundreds of farmers. As of now, Addis Standard is not able to verify the availability of documents, if any, detailing the process and eventual decision by the city administration to acquire this plot of land in Sendafa.

Be that as it may, with a US$337 million grant secured from the French government, and a  project office assigned to do the job – Addis Abeba Waste Recycling & Disposal Project Office – the city administration looked poised to turn Sendafa Sanitary Landfill become everything Qoshe was not in more than 50 years of its history.

Sendafa Sanitary Landfill had a US$27.6 million initial budget; it is supposedly guided by an elaborated Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report;  it had a 40 million birr [roughly US$1.8 million] compensation scheme for the farmers to be displaced by the project; it was benefiting from the rich experience of VINCI Grands Projets, a French construction company (coincidence?); it was to be assisted by four separate waste transfer stations for preliminary treatment of waste; and city officials determined to change the city’s face defiled by the solid waste its residents keep on producing and dumping carelessly.  Sendafa Sanitary Landfill had everything to become a modern-day landfill.

Simultaneously, city administration officials have assigned a US$158 million for a project to turn Qoshe into a 50mw waste-to-energy plant and have awarded the contract to the UK-based Cambridge Industries; this was to be followed by yet another ambitious work to turn Qoshe into a green public park. This plan to green Qoshe was receiving institutional guidance, including from the Addis Abeba University (AAU) and the Horn of Africa Regional Environmental Center and Network (HoARE&N).

If the French government came to the financial rescue of the Sendafa Sanitary Landfill, turning Qoshe into a waste-to-energy plant and a green park is enjoying a large sum of donors’ money Ethiopia is receiving in grants as part of its newly designed ClimateResilient Green Economy (CRGE) planned to last for 20 years at cost of US$150 billion. One of the four pillars stated in this new lucrative project is the government’s wish to expand “electricity generation form renewable energy for domestic and regional markets.” Among the major contributors to this project are the United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) and OECD countries.

However, reminiscent of delays the Sendafa Sendafa Sanitary Landfill experienced, the Qoshe waste-to-energy project has already missed its opening deadline several times.

What really went wrong?

Delayed as it may, Sendafa Sanitary Landfill opened in February 2016; Qoshe took its first break in 53 years. But six months into its service, Sendafa Sanitary Landfill imploded, leaving Addis Abeba to explode with its waste.

In July 2016, farmers living in and around the new landfill have forced garbage trucks to stop dumping the city’s unsorted, crude waste in the landfill.

At the heart of the matter is the US$27.6 worth landfill which looked nowhere close to its plans on paper. “VINCI Grands Projets was paid may be half of the initial amount it won the contract for and even that, it was done in bits and pieces with several delays. The company was also not able to receive the hard currency it needed to import some of the equipment it badly needed” said a project team member at the Addis Abeba Waste Recycling & Disposal Project Office, who also spoke to Addis Standard on conditions that he remains anonymous. “And yet authorities from the city administration have rushed the opening of the landfill before it was fully completed.”


in Less than six months, households in Sendafa were exposed to toxic fluid

Addis Standard is unable to hear from VINCI Grands Projets representatives because its office is nowhere to be found in the addresses it listed was its location: “Sendafa Subcity – Woreda 13 and Yeka Subcity – Woreda 13 (Ayat Village Zone 06) Legetafo road.” And there is no registered telephone line under the company, or at the very least, operators at the state owned telecom giant are not aware of it.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Sendafa Sanitary Landfill was not only incomplete when it started receiving the city’s solid waste, but also none of the four waste transfer stations incorporated in the plan were built. These were sites designed to serve as preliminary waste treatment sites and were planned to be built simultaneously in four separate sites including Akaki sub city and Reppi itself.

“And yet, in Oct. 2016, the Addis Ababa City Government Cleaning Management Agency spent close to US$5 million to purchase 25 compactors and ten road sweepers designed to be given to all sub-cities to boost the existing, old compactors in order to dispose off the city’s waste in an efficient manner at the designated waste transfer sites. This was the second time the agency made such huge investment to buy compactors. Already in 2012, it bought 19 compactors at a cost of US$3.9 million; almost all of them were sitting idle by the time Sendafa Sanitary Landfill was opened,” our source at the Agency said.

Having consumed millions of dollars, but being not much of use in a city that never knew how to sort its garbage, Sendafa was quickly becoming just another Qoshe and the farmers were a storm in wait.


A truck pushing the pile of trash in the new Sendafa Sanitary Landfill

Under-compensated (of the 40 million birr originally assigned as compensations package, an official from the Solid Waste Recycling and Disposal project Office admitted having disbursed only 25 million – but the actual payment is even less than five million birr); dispossessed of their land; lied to as they were told their land was needed for future construction of an airport; and forced to live near a landfill that already started to stink, the Sendafa farmers have refused to accept nothing less than the total closure of the landfill.

And as the yearlong anti-government protests that started in Nov. 2015 continued to gather momentum, questions also began popping up; questions that probe the tumultuous power the city of Addis Abeba exercises over its surrounding villages administratively belonging to the Oromia regional state. Authorities both from the city administration and the Oromia regional state were locked in last minute discussions to avoid the fallout, and find ways to re-open a US$27 million worth new landfill, to no avail.

A City threatened by trash

A city threatned by trash

As the pile of solid waste threatened Addis Abeba in the middle of the summer rainy season, the city administration decided to quietly reopen Qoshe.

Not the old Qoshe anymore

But in the six months since Qoshe was going through its eventual closure, Reppi as an area has completely changed. The real estate market in its surroundings, hyper inflated by the promise of a future public park and the ever increasing land value in Addis Abeba, has boomed. Construction sites near Qoshe have mushroomed, and bulldozing excavators have begun working aggressively for several projects the poor residents of the area know nothing about. “One day before the collapse of the trash, several bulldozers were ploughing the earth for what one of the operators carelessly told us was an ‘important government project’,” said Gebresselasie Mekuria, a resident at the western end of Qoshe landfill. “The smell was getting worse and we have filled our complaints to the Kebele officials asking them to relocate us; they responded to us as if we were mad people; as if living in this hell on earth is our preordained destiny.”

Meanwhile, while the planned constriction of the 50mw waste-to-energy plant is still ongoing, the plan for earlier promises to turn Qoshe into a green public park has stalled. With the collapse of the black mountain, its residents are now left with nothing but unknown numbers of victims.

Qoshe waste-to-energy plant

The new waste-to-energey plant from outside

For the hundreds of these people who lived in the shadow of death, death is a routine exercise; and every time it happens, it leaves in its devastating wake a trail of lives altered forever. That is what happened on Saturday night to Bethlehem Yared, 16, who feels the burden of not been able to save her six years old brother who “decided to hide under the sofa when I ran for my life and asked him to follow me; I had to leave him behind”. Another one, Ayalew Negussie, who survived with his family, is deeply disoriented because “I lost all of my neighbors and friends whom I knew longer than I knew my children”; and Bedria Jibril, who is unable to “think anymore” after losing everything she has in less than 25 minutes. “I only left the house to buy milk for my one-year-old son and when I came back, I couldn’t find where my house was; I lost my husband and my two children all in less than 25 minutes.”

The collapse of this mountain of waste also deprived a means of income to no less than 300 waste pickers who scour it every day. Some of these are residents of the area, but many come from the city in search of something valuable, including food.

 Qoshe is not new to life-devouring accidents. In 2015, a flashflood had displaced more than 70 households, many of which are plastic makeshift; in 2014, shortly before the closure of the dumpsite, a small collapse triggered by waste pickers had killed about 13 of them.

But on Saturday March 9, the black mountain of dirt finally decided to end sheltering the people who have taken refuge in it from a city that loathes them but loves their labor. Sadly, their story is not only a story of a waste mountain that collapsed on them, but has a trail of corruption and criminal negligence that left  survivors with nothing but counting the bodies of their loved ones. AS

Additional reseach by Selam Ayalew from Addis Abeba University (AAU) 

Unmarked Photos: Addis Standard


Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests.
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 Addis Abeba, Jan. 18/2017 – When Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn indicated last week that a draft law was prepared on the “special interest” of Oromia in Finfinnee (aka Addis Abeba), discussions have resurfaced on the issue of the status of the city and its relations with Oromia. Last week, I had the privilege of discussing the matter in a couple of radio interviews where, inter alia, I was asked what the content of the special interest is, what I anticipate the content of the draft law will be, and whether passing the law would address the concerns raised in the Oromo protests that has rocked the country for over two years now. What follows is a set of reflections on some of these issues.[1]

This announcement about the draft being prepared on the ‘special interest’ comes at a time when the country is under a state of emergency the end of which is indefinite even according to the Prime Minister.[2] The announcement comes at a time when, in the wake of the Oromo protests against the Master Plan, at least over 700 people are killed by the regime and thousands more are injured. In particular, it comes after key Oromo political leaders—such as Bekele Gerba and Dr Merera Gudina–and tens of thousands of protestors have been sent to jail and military detention centers, respectively, for demanding the right to ownership of their Oromo land including Addis Abeba. The announcement comes at a time when the Oromia and Amhara regions are chiefly being administered by the Command Post in charge of implementing the state of emergency law. The Master Plan, which was once said to be repealed, is reportedly being implemented within Addis Abeba. The boundary between the city and its Oromo suburbs that are still within the administrative jurisdiction of Oromia is not delimited. The repression of all forms of dissent continues. This immediate political context is not without a precedent. In fact, one can say that it is only the continuation of a long-drawn historical context.

Before the advent of Art 49(5)…

Historically, it is now a well-known fact that the notion of Oromia’s ‘Special Interest’ entered the Ethiopian legal universe in 1992 through the instrumentality of the Proclamation that established National/Regional Self Governments (Proclamation No. 7/ 1992). This is the proclamation that set the blue-print for what came later to be the constituent units of the Ethiopian Federation. Adopted to give effect to the decentralization that was envisaged in the Transitional Charter – and to valorize the right of ethno-national groups to self-determination – it established 14 self-governing national regions. Accordingly, Oromia became one of the 14 self-governing States. Addis Abeba, like the City of Harar, was also a region in its own right. Oromia’s ‘special interest’ over both cities was first recognized in this piece of legislation (1).In Article 3 (4), it is provided that:

“The special interest and political right of the Oromo over Region Thirteen [Harari] and Region Fourteen [Addis Abeba] are reserved. These Regions shall be accountable to the Central Transitional Government and the relations of these Self-Governments with the Central Transitional Government shall be prescribed in detail by a special law.”

Very much like the provision in Art 49 (5) of the Constitution that came later, it envisaged a ‘special law’ (meant to clarify the relation of accountability to the Central Government), but such a law was never promulgated. It is interesting to observe that, unlike in the constitution, in this transitional period law, the Oromo has not just a “special interest” but also a political right over the two self-government regions. It is also important to observe that there is no attempt to delimit the boundary of the city. As a result, it was not clear as to where exactly the jurisdiction of the government of Addis Abeba ends and that of Oromia commences.

While it looked like a city-state in a federation, Addis Abeba was also seen as a city within a larger state, i.e., Oromia. In other words, administratively, it was an enclave falling outside of Oromia while also housing the Government of Oromia as its capital. In a sense, Addis Abeba is in Oromia, but not of Oromia. Oromia was a State governing from Addis Abeba without, however, governing Addis Abeba itself. While the meaning of ‘special interest’ was understood to mean much more than having a seat for the Oromia government in the city, for the entire period of the transitional times, this remained to be the only ‘interest’ Oromia could obtain.

The concept of Oromia’s special interest was thus injected into the language of public law in the country accompanying the shift away from a formerly unitary state to what was subsequently to become a ‘multinational federation’. Acutely sensitive to the rights of sub-national groups (called ‘Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’) in Ethiopia, this ‘ethno-federalization’ was a reaction, and a push back, to the goings-on in history. We can thus see its immense historical import in its potency to speak both to the past and to the future. The ‘special’ in the ‘special interest’ phrase hails not only from the mere fact of geographic location of Addis Abeba in Oromia but also from the implicit recognition of the essentially Oromo identity of the city. Historians have routinely described the fact that, until it was violently raided and occupied by the forces of the Shoan Kingdom in the 19th century, the city was inhabited by the Oromo.

When it was ‘founded’ as the capital of the modern Ethiopian Empire in 1886, it was set as a launching pad for the campaigns of imperial conquest on the peoples of the Southern, South-Eastern, and South-Western peripheries. With a violent beginning marked by conquest and occupation of the land; raid, massacre, and displacement of the population; and transformation of the cultural and environmental terrain by the soldiers, it started as a garrison town. A cursory glance at writings by William Harris[3], Alexander Bulatovich[4], and even Evelyn Waugh[5], indicates that the State operated in Addis Abeba as an occupying force of settler colonialists bent on pushing out and displacing the indigenous Oromo peoples. Because the settlers generally spoke Amharic and confessed the Ethiopian Orthodox faith and because of the disproportionate concentration of modern urban facilities in Addis Abeba, it became increasingly different culturally from its surroundings.

Consequently, it projected a cultural life that is different from that of the Oromo. The culture, identity, and language of the Oromo became the constitutive outside of the cultural life in the city. In time, the Oromo were effectively marginalized and otherized. For most of the 20th century, the Oromo, although historically the host, was forced to live like the alien and the guest in what was their own homeland. Informed by this memory and propelled by years of national liberation struggles, the politicians that negotiated the Transitional Charter (Proc. 1/1991) and made the law (Proc. 7/1992) sought to emphasize the need to acknowledge the Oromo presence in the city’s affair through the ‘special interest’. The ‘special interest’ package was thus a way of making up for the artificial (created or intentionally produced) absence of the Oromo. In other words, it was a method of presenting the absent, a way of bringing back the Oromo to its own.

What does the Law Say about the Special Interest?: The Legal Context

When the constitution of FDRE was finally adopted in 1995, the ‘special interest’ clause was more or less carried over into art 49(5). To understand the full textual context of the special interest package in art 49 (5), it is important for us to reproduce the entirety of article 49 in full. Accordingly, the provision in art 49 reads as follows:

  • Addis Abeba shall be the capital city of the Federal State.
  • The residents of Addis Abeba shall have a full measure of self-government. Particulars shall be determined by law.
  • The Administration of Addis Abeba shall be responsible for the Federal Government.
  • Residents of Addis Abeba shall in accordance with the provisions of this constitution, be represented in the House of Peoples’ Representative.
  • The special interest of the state of Oromia in Addis Abeba regarding the provision of social services, or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Abeba within the State of Oromia, shall be respected. Particulars shall be determined by law.  

Owing to the unclarity of the clause in art 49 (5), coupled with the lack, to date, of the law constitutionally envisaged to enunciate the content, it became imperative for people to ask “just what is the ‘special interest’?” And what is so special about it? In this section, we make a close reading of the provision to explore what could be in the package.

Developments: Toward Articulating the Content of the ‘Special Interest’

It is important at the outset to underscore that Addis Abeba is a Federal capital city within a State. In this, it is more like Berne (of Switzerland) or Ottawa (of Canada). It is not a city-state (in the style of Berlin or Brussels). Nor is it a federal capital territory or a federal district (in the style of Abuja, or Canberra, or Washington DC). Once that is recognized, i.e., that Addis Abeba is a city in Oromia, one should have an explicit discussion and mutual understanding about what it means to be a federal capital because that automatically indicates that the Federal Government does not have a ‘natural’ right to be in the city. Unfortunately, that discussion did not happen. That was a historical blunder about a city mired in several historical misdeeds and mistakes.

That it was made accountable solely to the Federal Government was the second big blunder committed at the time of adopting the constitution. Given the fact that the city is Oromia and that it is also a ‘natural’ capital of the government of Oromia, it should have been made accountable to Oromia. Or, at the very least, it should have dual accountability to both the Federal and Oromia Governments. That did not happen. Commanding exclusive say on the administration of the city (in the name of ultimate accountability), the federal government ‘banished’ the Oromia government at will in 2003 and allowed it back into the city in 2005. In this, the federal government expanded and re-enacted the original violence of dispossession and displacement of Oromos from the city thereby perpetrating a new wound before the historical wounds could heal. Had it not been for this contemporary constitutive mistake, this ‘original sin’ of constitutional drafting in 1995, there wouldn’t have been anything special about the special interest of Oromia. If there would be ‘special interest’, it would have been that of the Federal Government or the non-Oromo residents of the city. These twin mistakes of recent history led to events of dire consequence that continue to claim lives and limbs to date.

The Host made a Guest

Having made a guest out of the host through the legal fiction of excision, i.e., by excising the city out of the political and administrative jurisdiction of Oromia, it became necessary for Ethiopia, almost as an afterthought, to ‘concede’ a lame ‘special interest’ to Oromia in Art 49(5). Over the years, the government of Oromia and Oromos in general hung on this provision more as a symbolic rallying point to interrogate Ethiopia for what is actually beyond the specific content of the Oromo interest in the city.

To the Oromo public, the city became the metaphor for what Ethiopia has made of the Oromo in general: an invisible, non-speaking, non-acting other who inhabits the interior of the territory but the exterior of the polity. It became the concentrated expression of the ‘life’ and the agony of the Oromo in the Ethiopian polity: their present-absence and their absent presence at a time.

Today, the Federal State presided over the coalition of four parties that make up the EPRDF became the new empire in a federal form, and the leaders became the new emperors in a democratic-republican garb. This forced the quip from many commentators that in Ethiopia ‘plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’ (‘the more it changes, the more it remains the same’).

Hence, the wide Oromo discontent over the whole arrangement with regard to Addis Abeba. Taking advantage of the historic asymmetry in power, the city administration, mostly prompted by the federal government, has consistently acted in complete neglect or wilful defiance of the interests of Oromia and Oromos.

Legal Silence Exploited

Taking advantage of the undefined territorial boundary of the city, the administration continued to expand its competence over the suburbs surrounding Addis Abeba. Routinely, the Federal and the City Governments exploited the legal silence on the matter of special interest. Thus, the Addis Abeba Land Administration office often acted as the authority in charge of land administration in areas such as Labbuu, the Laga Xaafo-Marii continuum, Bole-Bulbula, Buraayyuu, Sabbata, Sululta, and districts beyond the Aqaqii-Qaallittii corridor (such as Galaan, Dukam, etc). The Federal Government continued to implement its industrialization policy by reserving Industrial Zones, Recreation Parks, and designated investment sites (much like Special Economic Zones). In doing all these things, the Federal Government and the city never took the trouble to consult with Oromia, much less the Oromo people. Evictions of farmers with little or no compensation became a routine practice.

Pollutions, Waste, Deforestation, Evictions

Pollutions from industrial emissions were sustained with no sense of accountability from the part of the city. Waste was dumped recklessly causing massive health risks. Deforestation and soil degradation was intensified in the neighboring districts, especially after the rise of investment in flower farms, dairy farms, and poultry farms. Homelessness of the evicted farmers and residents started to be felt among the people.

Oromia and Oromos Respond Resentfully: #Oromorprotests Emerges

The response from the Government of Oromia was late, but it did come in the form of a 2009 Caffee Oromia proclamation that established a Special Zone of 17 districts and 36 towns in the area. Its attempt at legislative articulation of the ‘Constitutional Special Interest of Oromia over Addis Ababa’ remained a draft to date. Its demand for enunciation of the content of the ‘special interest’ by the Constitutional Inquiry Council (CIC) was rejected on the ground that the CIC and the House of Federation do not give an advisory opinion in the absence of litigation.

Also, Oromo residents of the inner city resented the absence of Schools and cultural centers that operate in Afaan Oromo. The fact that the city has become anything but Oromo over the years made Oromo residents lament the complete cultural insensitivity to the needs of the Oromo in the city. Increasingly, the demand for schools in Afaan Oromo and cultural centers began to be vocally expressed in the last decade or two (resulting in efforts to construct an Oromo Cultural Centre and to open public schools that operate in Afaan Oromo)[6].

While such demands were gaining momentum steadily over the years, the Integrated Regional Development Plan (alias the Master Plan) was announced to the public in 2014. Immediately, it provoked a resistance in all corners of the Oromia region.

The day-to-day encroachment of Oromia’s jurisdiction with the informal expansion of the city; the general spill over effects of the city; its becoming the dumping ground for Addis Abeba waste for no gain; the pollution of the rivers, the soil, and the general environment of the surrounding districts and towns; the evictions with ‘compensations’ whose lower limits are legally left unregulated; the insensitivity to the cultural and linguistic needs of Oromo residents; the temperamental behaviour the Federal Government showed vis-à-vis Oromia’s claim to Addis Abeba as its capital city; these and other resentments fed the anger that emerged in the wake of the revelation of the Master Plan.

Apart from its violation of the principles of federalism and a healthy intergovernmental relation that should exist in a working federation, one of the reasons given for resisting the Master Plan was that it liquidates the ‘special interest’ of Oromia. As was noted above, the particulars envisaged to ‘be determined by law’ were never determined.

Giving Content to the ‘Special Interest’

According to art 49 (5), the articulation of the content of the ‘special interest’ is hoped to revolve around the meaning of four broad phrases:

  1. ‘Provision of social services’
  2. ‘Utilization of natural resources’
  3. ‘Joint administrative matters’
  4. ‘Other matters’ similar to provision of social services or utilization of natural resources.

In the endeavor to give content to the special interest clause, one is expected to interpret these phrases in a judicious manner that can also satisfy the popular discontent that was ignited into full manifestation in the protest to the Master Plan.

Social Services

In particular, we must identify the kind of social services that Addis Abeba should provide to Oromia. Normally, ‘social services’ connote services such as access to housing, education, health, water, transport, and other matters needed for achieving adequate living standards. From experience, we know that one of the unmet needs of Oromia in Addis Abeba is access to public buildings and properties for their offices and residential places for their officials and civil servants. And the need for designated plots of land on which to build houses for the employees of the state.

Organizing public schools that operate in Afaan Oromo is another kind of social service seen as a pressing need. Related but not often articulated is the need for building or making spaces for public libraries run in Afaan Oromo, exhibition centres, concert halls, theatres, museums, galleries, cinema halls, printing presses dedicated to the nurture and development of Oromo cultural lives, shows, performances, plays, memories, arts/paintings, movies, books, etc. This need to give attention to culture also requires the need for memorializing personalities and historical moments of the Oromo through naming streets, places, squares; and erecting statues. In addition, subsidizing Oromo arts and printing and publications as part of making the Oromo presence felt to anyone who comes to and inhabits the city is an important aspect of social service. In other words, the provision of social services also extends to the cultural representation of the Oromo in the life of the wider city.

Similarly, health facilities and other utilities such as public transport services that operate in Afaan Oromo should be considered part of the social services to be provided to Oromos. One way of addressing this could be making Afaan Oromo the co-equal working language of the City Government. The move to make Afaan Oromo and other languages to become working languages of the Federal Government will also help curb part of the problem of access to social services and facilities such as public transport, celebration and registration of vital events (birth, marriage, death, certification, authentication, licensing, etc).

 Natural Resources

The proposed law must also clarify the type of ‘natural resources’ Addis Abeba has, resources that Oromia uses, and identify the modes in which it continues to use them. The effort to give content to this phrase becomes confounding when we note the fact that there is hardly any natural resource that the city offers to Oromia. Anything ‘natural’ in the city is ipso facto that of Oromia because the city itself is of Oromia anyway. The city actually is dependent on the natural resources of Oromia. Water, forest products, hydroelectric supply, minerals, sand, cement products, precious stones, food products, and everything else that Ethiopia (beyond and above Addis Abeba) needs come from outside of the city, Oromia and the other regions.

In the course of articulating this interest, one needs to consider the benefits Oromia should get from the delivery of these resources. One way of doing this is to agree on the percentage of income that should go back to Oromia’s revenue based on what is often called the principle of derivation in federal countries. If the federalism was properly functioning, this would have been handled through a negotiated channel of financial intergovernmental relations.

Joint Administration

The proposed law to be prepared must determine the scope and method of exercise of the envisaged ‘joint administration’. For this, we will first need to identify what tasks are matters for joint administration. Secondly, we need to decide who is responsible for what aspect of the administration. In the area of inter-jurisdictional roads (say maintenance); border management; managing trans-boundary forests, rivers, etc.; inter-jurisdictional legal cooperation (whose police takes responsibility for cross-border criminal activities); these and some such activities need to be spelt out.

One obvious area of joint administration is management of land. Because legislative power over land issues is a matter for the federal government and administration is for the States, issues such as town planning, mapping, cadastre, land redistribution among residents, designing construction regulations, etc should have been a matter for states, districts, and local/municipality governments. And in these areas, local governments of Oromia and the city administration (i.e., sub-cities and districts) could find some collaboration. Accordingly, the government of the state of Oromia and the government of the Addis Abeba City could coordinate their activities as they have overlapping jurisdictions (i.e., Oromia has a territorial jurisdiction while the city has a self-administrative jurisdiction) because the city is also the capital city of Oromia.

Ideally, ‘joint administration’ could have happened if the city was made accountable to the Government of Oromia rather than to the Federal Government. At the very least, joint administration could have been achieved through making the City government accountable to both the Federal and the Oromia governments. Settling on one of these options would mitigate the injustice of the original constitutional arrangement that: a) made Addis Abeba the capital city of the Federal government without the consent of Oromia and Oromos; and b) made the city’s self-government accountable exclusively to the Federal Government.

‘Other issues’

The meaning of the ‘other issues’ over which Oromia has a special interest is to be decided contextually on the basis of issues that rear their head in the course of day-to-day life experience. One cannot be definitive about the list of things to be included in this category.

However, twenty years of experience should have brought forth several such issues that may need to be specified while leaving others to the discretion of administrators subject to judicial review.

Who Takes Initiative?

Even assuming that the content of the ‘Special interest’ is clear, there is another issue left for us to determine: who comes up with the law that “determines” the “particulars”? Is it the Federal Government, the City Government, or the Government of Oromia? So far, the federal government had hesitated to legislate on the matter even in the face of a repeated demand by the government of the state of Oromia. That is of course because the federal government wants to exploit the ambiguity that remains because of the legal vacuum.

Legal silence is strategically deployed by the Federal and Addis Abeba Council to avoid their part of the obligation and to continue to enjoy what doesn’t rightfully belong to them in the absence of a law that proscribes it. Oromia’s attempt in the past (2006) to legislate on the matter could produce only a draft piece of legislation that couldn’t ultimately be presented to and passed by the Caffee Oromia.

Beyond the Content: Reconciled Relationship between the City, the Region, and the Country-Redemption via Relocation?

If there was an inclusive participatory constitutional moment that acknowledges the presence of the Oromo in the polis-to-be between 1992 and 1994, one or more of the following scenarios might have been negotiated:

a) Find a (new) site that is commonly agreed upon by all the constituent members of the Federation to be the Federal District Territory;

b) Designate another city in another State or in Oromia as the seat of the federal government accountable to that state;

c) Designate different cities that can serve as seats for the different branches of the Federal Government;

d) Agree to have a roving capital city for the federal government every decade or so;

e) Designate Addis Abeba as the capital city with a self-governing council ultimately accountable to Oromia—an essentially Oromo city in which the federal government may have some form of ‘special interest’

f) Designate Addis Abeba as a federal capital city whose self-governing council will be accountable to both the federal and the Oromia governments.

 Towards a Redemptive Discourse

We all know that the constitution-making process was less ideal than one would hope for. It was marked by lack of legitimacy on procedural and substantive accounts.[7] The work required now, while attending to the immediate needs of giving content to the ‘joint administrative issues’, is to identify potential areas of constitutional amendments that would overcome the problems caused by original flaws in the constitution. This will force us to engage in—and engage the public with–what I called, elsewhere, a ‘redemptive constitutional discourse,’ a discourse that overcomes the deficits in original legitimacy, a discourse that ‘corrects’ the imperfect beginnings of the constitution by also attending to the trauma caused by inaugural violence with which the city was incorporated into, and made the capital of, the modern imperial Ethiopian state.

Relocating the Capital

While that is being done, the search for a lasting solution to the violent Ethio-Oromia relations, especially regarding Addis Abeba needs to begin and continue. In particular, it is imperative that we consider the possibility of relocating the Federal Government elsewhere. Removing the Federal government will help undo the trauma of the violent occupation at the moment of ‘founding’ and subsequent displacement of the Oromo through the ‘settlement’ of others. Relocation has the advantage of:

  1. Dissolving the altercation over ownership of the city;
  2. Securing the socio-cultural interests of the Oromo in the city;
  3. Restoring full jurisdiction of Oromia over its territory;
  4. Rescinding the legal excision of the city from the administrative jurisdiction of Oromia through the provision of article 49;
  5. Enhancing the Oromo’s right to exercise of ultimate political power in the city;
  6. Restoring the host, the Oromo, to its rightful position and securing the rights of the guests, the non-Oromo inhabitants, in a context of mutual recognition;
  7. Arresting the continued lawless expansion of the city and the concomitant land grab, eviction, and ethnocide thereof;
  8. Responding to, and thereby dissolving, the question of the so-called ‘special interests’ within the context of Oromia and Oromia alone;
  9. Comprehensively responding to the demands of the #Oromoprotests whose rallying cry has been “Finfinnee belongs to Oromo” (“Finfinneen kan Oromooti!”).

The legal relocation of the Federal capital has more transformative potential for the entire polity than the obvious advantages outlined above. It is a restoration of Oromo agency and authority over the decision on what matters to their life in their land and in the wider country. The issue of choosing a negotiated site for a federal capital city is an opportunity to help the wider country to agonize over its history, its state system, its capacity to deal with historical injustice, and its hope of re-building the state on a fairer, more just, and more plural foundation. In short, it allows for a redemptive constitutional discourse to emerge.

It has to be explicitly stated however that to remove the Federal Government is not synonymous with removing the inhabitants of the city. The inhabitants will be part of Oromia and like all other people living in the wider Oromia, their rights shall be respected. Yes, there may be some people who work for the federal government institutions that may have to commute to and from work if they choose to continue living in Addis Abeba after the relocation of the capital. Yes, there will also be people who might move to the new capital altogether. But they don’t have to. No one has to. It is important to remember, incidentally, that not all the inhabitants of the city are employees of the Federal Government as such. The federal Government is merely its institutions, agencies, and its workers. That is not the (entire) population of the city.

Pending Redemption…Shift Accountability

Until that is done through constitutional revision or amendment, it may be necessary to consider the shift of accountability of the city government from the Federal to the Oromia government. It may be imperative for the Federal Government to start paying rent to the Oromia government as a token of acknowledgement to their being hosted by Oromia.

The quest for a lasting solution should start with identifying unconstitutional laws and policies that violate Oromia’s rights and special interests. Laws such as the one that promulgated the Addis Abeba Charter of 2003 (Proc. 361/2003, especially its article 5), the Investment Amendment Proclamation of 2014 (Proc. 849/2014, especially its provisions regarding ‘Industrial Development Zones), and projects like the World Bank sponsored Industrial Zone Projects (such as the Resettlement Action Plan [of] the Qilinxo Industrial Zone (April 2015) should all be rescinded.

New laws may need to be issued. An example is a proclamation that governs the lowest threshold for rates and modes of compensation awarded to a farmer in the event of eviction from her/his land. To be sure, there was a 2005 Proclamation (Proc. 455/2005) that provides for expropriation of land holdings and compensation. However, this proclamation, apart from enhancing the dispossessive regulatory and police powers of the Ministry of Federal Affairs, federal and local governments, and of several other agencies, it says little about the substance of the compensation, especially for collective landholdings (about which it says nothing). Needless, to say, as the actual practice of expropriation has routinely demonstrated, even the normative gesture in the law of providing a replacement remains to be more a legal rhetoric than an actual reality, more a juridical promise than a political practice.

Not so Special

Recognition of special interest is exception-making. Through a ‘special interest’ package, a rightful entity extends some rights, as part of underserved acts of grace, to another that cannot lay claim to these rights. To Oromia and Oromos, there is hardly anything special about the ‘special interest’. The city is naturally and intrinsically part of Oromia. As such, Oromos and Oromia have pre-eminence over the city. They lay claim over the city as their own natural territory. Oromo interests are not supposed to be granted to them by others as some kind of favor. They have the more fundamental right of an owner. As such, they do not need others to make exception in their favor in order to guarantee the protection of the interest of the Oromo in the city. If anything, it is the Oromo that should make exception to the other inhabitants in granting them, for instance, the right of self-government at the municipal level.  In other words, if anything was to be ‘special’, it was the ‘interest’ of other peoples who live in the city that should have been so designated as to constitute the ‘special interest’ of non-Oromos in this inherently and primarily Oromo city.

However, owing to the legacy of imperial conquest and violent occupation of the city and the consequent dispossession and displacement of the Oromo from the city, it is now the guests that are extending (and so far denying) the ‘special interest’ of the hosts. This is a testament to the total lack of self-awareness on the part of the Federal and City Governments about the land they stand on. It is a testament to their moral blindness and (and the consequent incapacity) to pay attention, to see the original owners of the land, and to recognize their natural rights thereof. The result is the failure to understand the pain of dispossession and relentless quest of the Oromo for restoration.

The more consequential result is that this moral blindness is blocking the redemption of the relationship between the city (Addis Abeba), the Region (Oromia), and the Country (Ethiopia). That is why it comes as no surprise that the contestation over the city is pivotal to the making or breaking of the Ethiopian state in our own time. AS


ED’s Note: Tsegaye R Ararssa, Melbourne Law School. Email: tsegayer@gmail.com.

Cover Photo: Partial view of Addis Abeba

Photo Credit: Dereje Belachew

End Notes:

[1] The substance of most of these reflections were extensively discussed elsewhere. Here, in most sections, I present a rehash of those reflections. See Tsegaye Ararssa, “The Special Interest in Addis Ababa: The Affirmation of Denial,” Addis Standard (Jan 18, 2016) available at http://addisstandard.com/the-special-interest-the-affirmation-of-denial/.

[2] Technically speaking, this government which needed a special—emergency–measures to secure peace and stability, does not have a legal mandate to enact a law before repealing the emergency declaration and calling the army back to its barracks. Nor does it command a moral authority to make a legislation for the people it killed, maimed, arrested, detained, and tortured unaccountably only because they protested.

[3]William Harris, The Highlands of Ethiopia (1844).

[4] Alexander Bulatovic, Ethiopia through Russian Eyes: A Country in Transition, 1896-1898 (Richard Seltzer, Tr), (2000).

[5] Evelyn Waugh, Waugh in Abyssinia (1936).

[6] Note that the Oromo Cultural Center in Addis Abeba was built and inaugurated only in 2015.

[7] See, for example, Ugo Matei, ‘The New Ethiopian Constitution,’ Cardozo Review (1995), http://www.jus.unitn.it/cardozo/Review/constitutional/Mattei2.html; and  Tsegaye Regassa, ‘The Making and Legitimacy of the Ethiopian Constitution,’ 23 (1) Afrika Focus (2010), 85-118.


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Addis Standard,  20 December 2016

On Saturday Dec. 17, Siraj Fegessa, Ethiopia’s minister of defense and the secretariat of the command post tasked to implement the country’s sweeping six-month state of emergency (SOE), had news that should have come as a relief to tens of thousands of Ethiopians.  Minister Siraj, a civilian, told journalists mostly drawn from state-controlled and state-affiliated media houses that some 9, 800 individuals who were detained under the SoE will be released by Wednesday Dec. 21 while 2, 449 others “will be brought to justice.”

But the mood among Ethiopians following the announcement is not that of a celebration; for many, the damage their loved ones have sustained while held at one of the half dozen detention facilities (referred to by many as ‘concentration camps’) is too deep to have been undone by the announcement of their release, and rightly so.

By the government’s account, a total of 24,799 individuals were arrested in two rounds under the SoE since October this year. However, this figure doesn’t mention whether those who were detained prior to the decreeing of the SoE on October 9 are accounted for. And, informed by previous brutalities of the security apparatus, Ethiopians are under no illusion that this figure is much higher than what’s being admitted by the government.

Even one is to take the government’s figures to account, it simply means that thousands of university students have missed this academic year’s attendance; thousands others who were the breadwinners of their families and extended family members have failed to deliver on their promises; and thousands have lost their jobs.

But for some, the cost is too personal to recover from. One such Ethiopian is Alemayehu Merga, (name changed upon request), a former clerk at a private Bank in Awash town some 91 km south east of the capital Addis Abeba.

In a letter sent to Addis Standard a few weeks ago, Alemayehu says when he was arrested from his hotel room (name of the hotel withheld) in Merkato, an open market hailed as the largest in Africa, he was preparing for his wedding scheduled to take place on Sunday September 16 in Adama, 100k south east of Addis Abeba.

The intense crackdown by the police that led to Alemayehu’s arrest followed a massive anti-government protest on August 06, 2016. The weekend protest was called by online activists of the #OromoProtest and was dubbed “Grand Oromo Rally”.  It ended when regional and federal police have brutally suppressed the protesters, killing hundreds and detaining thousands. But instead of receding, thousands more of protesters raged through the Special Zone of the Oromia Regional State, eight neighboring towns mostly located within 25k radius from the capital Addis Abeba.

The bedrock of these protests was a 10 month persistent anti-government protest that began in Oromia regional state, the largest regional states in federated Ethiopia, in November 2015; it was followed, several months later, by another anti-government protest in Amhara regional state in the north.

The protests in these two regional states have quickly escalated into a large scale anti-government protest that posed the ultimate challenge to the hitherto unchallenged quarter century reign of the ruling TPLF-dominated EPRDF regime in Ethiopia.

A pre-wedding trip gone dreadful

Almayehu’s arrest happened at a time when, reeling from uncontrollable protest flare ups in most parts of the country, the federal and city police began conducting random stop and search and have arrested unknown numbers of individuals from the city. Low-cost hotels throughout Addis Abeba have also received letters from their respective Kebele administrations ordering them to declare the identities of their guests who come from the countryside.

“I came to Addis Abeba from Awash to buy some household materials and pick my wedding suit which was ready at a tailor’s shop in Piassa. But I was arrested on September 10,” his letter narrates.

Alemayehu was then held at a police station commonly known in Addis Abeba as “Sidistegna” Police station located in the heart of the city. He was kept there incommunicado for about a month. No one from his family knew what happened to him. And he missed his wedding.

“I kept telling the police officers that I was only in town to prepare for my wedding, but they kept telling me I was in town to organize young people to protest. I had a few invitation cards that I was planning to give out to my friends and relatives living in the city. I never managed to give them as I was arrested the very next day after I arrived in the city. And even if I kept showing my wedding invitation cards to the police officers, no one wanted to believe me.”

Alemayehu joined hundreds of others detained under similar circumstances. Most of them are young Ethiopians and all of them were held incommunicado at several police stations in the city.

On October 02, the unthinkable happened when police fired shots at a gathering of millions of Oromo who came to celebrate the annual Ireechaa festival in Bishoftu town, 40 km south of the capital.

For many, the death by stamped of yet unverified numbers of Ethiopians at this sacred, otherwise peaceful festival was the turning point of the almost year-long anti-government protests that gripped the nation. A ‘five-day rage’ was called by online activists of the Oromo protests following what was quickly hashtaged as “IreechaaMassacre. It resulted in protesters attacking foreign owned businesses in several parts of the country. It also led to the near collapse of the country’s tourism industry, forced the government to declare the current SoE and to reshuffle the Prime Minister’s cabinet only a year after it was sworn in to the office.

But for Alemayehu and thousands of others detained pre and post the SoE, the ordeal has just began.

Three days after the decreeing on Oct. 9 of the sweeping SoE, which practically suspended most parts of the constitution, Alemayehu and “roughly 2000 others” held in police stations in Addis Abeba were transported to Awash Abra Military camp, not far away from Alemayehu’s birth place in Awash.

The military camp is one of the dozen camps throughout the country where tens of thousands of Ethiopians detained under the SoE are currently held.

The 2013 country report by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor describes these camps as “unofficial detention centers throughout the country, including in Dedessa, Bir Sheleko, Tolay, Hormat, Blate, Tatek, Jijiga, Holeta, and Senkele. Most were located at military camps.”

“None of my family members, including my bride-to-be, knew I was there,” Alemayehu’s 3-pages letter recounts. All of them were told they were arrested by the “orders of the command post”, after they were transported to the camp. By now, the government announced that the command post was led by defense minister Siraj and was comprised of other unnamed senior officials.

“Hell breaks loose”

“Once inside the military camp, we were told we would undergo an ideological training on the current federal arrangement and we will be taught about the illegalities of the protests.”

According to Alemayehu’s letter, in the beginning, there were about 3,000 detains who came from the Oromia regional state. “But after a week, and the weeks that followed our numbers grew, in my estimate, to about 6000. We were told we would only be there for two weeks’ training and be released afterwards.”

Describing the situation inside the military camp, Alemayehu wrote: “It was the moment I experienced how hell breaks loose.”

“The heat is unbearable during day time, and at night the temperature drops to a freezing cold. There was only one meal a day (often bread) and the temporary corrugated iron shacks we were held inside had no running water, no toilets no sleeping places. Sometime in mid-October what looked like a cholera outbreak spread. We have seen many dead bodies being transferred out of the camp at night times.”

“I never wanted to see tomorrow” 

 The said training didn’t begin during the first week, Alemayehu’s letter further said, “but every night dozens of us would be called for investigations. I was lucky to not have been called for the night time investigations, but many of those who did often come back limping after being tortured beyond words.”

When the training began, it involved hours-long lectures given mostly by military officials on the legacy the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the history of the party he co-founded, TPLF, and the 17 years sacrifices its members had paid to overthrow the military Derg in 1991. It also included the ruling party’s economic ideology of building a developmental state, the concept of federalism and multi-party democracy, according to the letter.

“But most of the time, we would just sit there in the blazing sun, hungry and thirsty, waiting for the officials to arrive. Sometimes, nobody shows up and we would be told to return to the barracks and come back tomorrow morning. But I never wanted to see tomorrow. All I wanted was to die and end my misery.”

Two weeks into his ordeal at the military camp, Almayehu was released after a “police officer who knew who I was and what I did for living in Awash spotted me there.”  “After what I think was this police officer’s attempt to help me, I was called one morning and told to pack up and be ready. There will be a car ready to transport me to Adama. That was it; no one to ask for justice; no one to ask for a letter to my employees, nothing.”

Alemayehu is back in Awash, from where he e-mailed us his letter. He is unemployed after the bank he was working for refused to take him back on “administrative grounds. I am now looking for a job.”

And he has since learned the devastating news of the disappearance of his fiancé. “Like me, no one knows where she is at now. I was told that after my mysterious disappearance she was struggling to face the possibilities that I may have simply deserted her. The last time she was seen in the town, where she was living with family members, was on Oct. 13, after that she has simply vanished; it is like she never existed.”

Alemayehu’s story of families torn apart and the hopelessness that follows resonates with hundreds and thousands of others who have been detained and still remain in one of the seven temporary detention facilities throughout the country.

A brief report released yesterday by the Ethiopia Human Right Project sampled 24 individuals, mainly opposition party members, bloggers, and journalists, who are currently detained under the SoE.

The three salient circumstances all the 24 detainees share in common are, according to the report: almost all remained detained without due court process; some have been informed of the reasons for their arrests after they were taken to the detention facilities; and some have not even been informed of the reason for their detention.

By all accounts, it is a story of the human cost in a country under a sweeping State of Emergency; a country where the news of the release of thousands would come too little too late to restore the hopes that were dashed, for some, forever. AS



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By Hamaa Loolaa, Addis Standard, 7  December 2016

It is now more than a year since the Oromo Protest for justice and democracy began in Ethiopia. It reverberated throughout Oromia and exposed the regime’s use of brutality to suppress and silence dissenting voices. But instead of waning, the struggle gained momentum when the Amhara youth in Gondar and Bahir Dar came out not only to demand justice for themselves but also carrying slogans asking the regime to stop the killings, arbitrary imprisonments, the torture and forced disappearances of  innocent Oromo civilians.

Such protest is not only the first of its kind to vehemently challenge the quarter century uncontested rule of the TPLF dominated EPRDF in Ethiopia, but also has significantly shifted the overall power balance, mindsets and political dynamics in the country.  It also inspired other peoples of Ethiopia to rise up for their rights and engaged all Oromo from east to west and from south to north irrespective of age, gender or religion. (The streets in Oromia were overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of protesters including a 77-year-old grandmother who went out with her stick in a brave act of defiance against the regime’s brutality.)

Because the protest has, beyond its initial call against land dispossession, evolved into a struggle for freedom, a resistance against injustice, and a longing for a dignified life, no amount of force or of coercion was able to suppress it, let alone stop it. A year on, it is now safe to conclude that this nationwide protest has already planted itself in the hearts and minds of millions of oppressed people as the most significant event of the year.

The protests and the public debates that followed have also impacted others’ views on the long-standing plights of the Oromo and the Amhara, the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Prior to these protests hardly anyone understood, much less publicly recognized, the sacrifices paid by the Oromo and the Amhara to live a dignified life in their own country. Above all, it exposed how successive regimes in Ethiopia have marginalized, denied and robbed these two groups of their ability to develop and flourish as human beings in their own country.

What a demanding public exposed

Inspired by these protests, currently, Ethiopians all over the country are asking their government to protect and respect their economic, social and cultural rights as well as their civil and political rights. But at the same time, the government’s response is helping the people of Ethiopia to realize that it has almost no leadership capacity to respond to their demands. Ethiopians now see that their government is dysfunctional and its leadership in crisis; what exists and functions is a dissonant leadership that exacerbates conflict, driving the society into a downward spiral from frustration to resentment, and perpetuates antagonism and hostility.

Throughout the year, the ruling party has demonstrated no notable leadership capacity; not one political leader has spoken authentically to the hearts and the minds of the people in order to solve the common problem amicably. Instead of making an effort to lead through this crisis and face the challenge by creating an accommodating environment for all Ethiopians, the ruling party cliques have remained empty demagogues who keep on sending divisive messages and wielding their power by fear-mongering techniques.

Beyond the call for freedom and justice, the Oromo and Amhara protests, as well as the defiance in various parts of the country including from the people of Konso in the south and Tigray in the north, have exposed the truth about EPRDF’s leadership capacity, which was mystified by ‘*seventeen years of relentless struggle and tested leadership to defeat the largest military in Africa*’. It is now clear that it is nothing more than an empty ideological rhetoric and a means to frighten, belittle and silence people who ask difficult questions and challenge the system. But that doesn not mean than the rest of Ethiopians do not recognize and appreciate the sacrifices and the agony the Tigray people have paid for seventeen years to oust the military dictatorship. However, it is not hard to see that the TPLF, which was born out of this struggle and had led this protracted war to victory, and the regime it dominates, have turned out to be an authoritarian regime.

There for good or bad

 Although the yearlong nationwide protests led by the Oromo and the Amhara, as well as others to various degrees, have exposed the regime’s inability to bring in meaningful political leadership, for good or bad, the TPLF dominated EPRDF is the government in power which, for now, will determine the course of actions to respond to the current struggle for justice and democracy.

There is a possibility that the TPLF dominated EPRDF might take one of the following two courses of actions. Both have a potential to direct or misdirect the current call for democracy and justice in two mutually exclusive directions.

First course of action: road to democratization and peace

The first direction and course of action the TPLF dominated EPRDF may consider is the road to democracy and sustainable peace. However, reversing the current dire political condition and responding to the needs of the people requires it to recognize and understand the need for change; it requires embracing the change and transformation the people want to realize through a democratic process.

Hard as it may be, the following course of actions should precede any other course of action to start the democratization process.

Restore the constitution – build trust and confidence of citizens around the constitution by making it a practical document. Arguably, this means the regime itself should begin respecting the constitution and lead by example.

Scrap laws and policies which are against the constitution and which prevent citizens from exercising their democratic rights enshrined in the constitution. These include, but not limited to, scrapping the Anti-Terrorism Law, which is so far mainly used to silence citizens and violate their rights than persecute suspected terrorists; amending the draconian press law, which is so far used to violate citizens’ right to freedom of expression and access to information; scrapping the Civil Society and Charities Law, which is prohibiting the growth of independent civil society organizations which are the pillars of non-state actors in the development of democracy and human rights in the country.

Release all political prisoners unconditionally.  Obviously, once the laws and procedures, which often undermine the constitution, are lifted there is no reason to keep people in prison.

Reform, among others, the justice system, the police, security forces and prison administrations as well as the election board, the anti-corruption commission, the human rights commission, and the state-controlled media.

Possible impact

 The ruling party would lose nothing for taking this revolutionary action. In fact, it would help it to breath; to objectively address its current leadership crisis and reemerge as a legitimate political force. It would also provide it with the opportunity to think strategically.

Change is a natural state, which we cannot completely control or make predictable.  It is overwhelming and chaotic, but rewarding at the end. The most important step to start the process of change is by being bold, letting go of the old and rigid ways of thinking and governing. The regime in Ethiopia has to come out of its fear of change and see the bigger picture; it should relax its grips on old practices, which did not contribute to its own growth or to that of the rest of the country for the last 25 years.

There is no question that by taking such bold actions, the TPLF dominated EPRDF has a comparative advantage over other political groupings currently operating in the country. As it has shown in the past it can rehabilitate itself quicker than others and appear as a viable political organization in the years to come.

Above all, this action ensures the continuity of the democratization processes by engaging citizens to determine their own future and relieves the existing state-citizen tensions. If this is done, the healing process, as well as the peace and reconciliation process will be relatively easier.  Ultimately, this approach also guarantees the existence and continuity of Ethiopia as a nation home to all its citizens.

Implications for a protesting nation

This peaceful democratization process can bring change and transformation to the people of Ethiopia in general and the Oromo in particular, who are the largest ethnic group in the country and have been the driving force of the nationwide protests. As a result, the Oromo struggle for democracy and justice might fall under one of the following two scenarios.

First is the scenario in which Oromo elites, by the virtue of being a middle class, by affiliation to any Oromo-related organization, or by their prior personal experience come together and create a consortium, a democratic front, or a party to lead a meaningful struggle. This may, in turn, render irrelevant disorganized struggles, which often hamper or even take hostage the Oromo struggle for freedom and justice.

The physical and emotional separation and distance of the Oromo elites from the struggle on the ground may at times prevent them from sensing and living the struggle itself. Unless the democratic process on the ground creates room to accommodate all dissenting voices both from within and abroad, those who have the leadership capacity and the necessary political know-how cannot provide adaptive leadership or have the empathetic capacity to connect to the mass, particularly with the young generation that is both leading and shouldering the brunt of the struggle.

The second is a scenario in which the need to phase out the old and replace it with the new thinking and political organization both within the country and abroad takes precedence.  The Oromo Protest and the current awakening is a painful form of labor to give birth to a new dynamic and profound political organization fit for the 21st century.

For this new Oromo organization to be born and to become the vanguard of the struggle, all old Oromo organizations, which were and still are trying to contribute under different names and ideologies, have to die a natural death and give way to new thinking and new possibilities. The new will have the energy and capacity to unify and transform the Oromo to a higher level and lead the struggle to victory. Like the TPLF, all Oromo organizations which existed for decades and have tried to contribute, albeit less successfully, have reached their maximum limit and are in need of reform.

The struggle between the old and the new is natural – even our cells are continually dying and being reborn. The Safuvalue, which is unique to Oromo culture and psyche, reaffirms this natural process, which urges the old to peacefully pass the scepter to the new.

Qeerro, the emboldened youth (as the name implies) is currently filling the leadership gap and taking the responsibility of leading the resistance against the current government, even as they are met with brutal responses. The Qeerro is successful in amplifying the struggle to all corners of Oromia and beyond, as well as inspiring all Oromos irrespective of age, religion, gender, class and locality. It has also unified the Oromo under the motto of ‘Tokkummaa’ (oneness or unity) and the ‘Say No’ or ‘Diidnee’ slogan.

Above all, by flying the resistance flag (not the OLF flag) the Qeerro demonstrated that the flag is the sign of freedom for which all revolutionary Oromos sacrificed their lives even long before OLF was created. It has raised this flag because it embodies hope and reminds all Oromos about those beautiful young people who died flying it.  Therefore, to lead the struggle to its final destination, the current Qeerro movement is in the stage of development to come out with the new leadership and organization from within its rank and file. Many think that Qeerro is just the network of youth from colleges, high schools, and elementary schools who are just driven by social media. But the fact is there are engineers, professors, medical doctors, businesspeople, and other professionals who are part of the rank and file of the Qeerro.

When the situation is ripe and there is a favorable political environment, the Qeerro can easily transform into a political organization. It is this organization and leadership of the Oromo which can navigate the ship towards freedom through the storm and onto its final destination. It is time this passion gets a new leadership it deserves.

Status quo: The second course of action for TPLF/EPRDF

The above scenario is in the event that the ruling party takes the course to democratize through reform. The second course of action is about maintaining the status quo. But it is a dangerous choice; a choice of war. It is about TPLF/EPRDF refusing to bring change from within itself and the country as a whole.

This is also a choice that looks for easy answers; but it is not the easy way out of the current quagmire. It is easy because it does not require critical thinking and having difficult conversations.  This course of action is a decision to repress and silence the current cry for democracy and human rights through the barrel of the gun. It is about war and involving its armed force, intelligence, federal police and militia in the internal issues of the country to brutally suppress the uprising. By doing so, it will only intensify the conflict to a higher level and bring human and property losses to the level the country and the people of Ethiopia can no longer endure.

Unfortunately, this is what we are witnessing today; military forces killing, arresting and torturing citizens on behalf of a regime in power. The impending consequence is that they will never be regarded as a national army delegated to protect the constitution, and will be labeled only as the enemy of the people.

In addition to its military solution to the conflict, TPLF/EPRDF is getting into its age-old habit of manipulating and drawing other nations and nationalities into a civil war; perpetuate religious conflict in different places by pitting one religion against the other; and create conflicts between rural people/farmers and urban dwellers. But it should be known that this will benefit no one, including the ruling party itself.

What is next?

Inspired by the yearlong Oromo and Amhara protests the rest of Ethiopians have made it loud and clear that they need a fundamental change; they have been saying so for 25 years, too. Ethiopians have tried with all their might and used every means possible to make their voices heard and have time and again proclaimed a moment of reckoning for a paradigm shift. Alas, instead of objectively and purposefully responding to this popular demand, the government is stuck into its old tactics of blaming, accusing, and intimidating people.

Now in a frantic act to quell and pacify the protests and silence the voices of the oppressed, in October this year the government declared a state of emergency for six months. However, the state of emergency is doing more harm than good and its implementation is driving millions to the edge of bitterness. The sooner the ruling party realizes that such techniques are only good to temporarily pacify rising public demands, the better. The only road to bring lasting solution is the road that begins by protecting the constitution and striving to build a democratic country with respect for human rights and the rule of law. This is also true for opposition political organizations, which are operating both in the country and abroad.

The underlying cause for the current protest and uprising is the struggle between the old and the new. The old is trying to do everything in its capacity to extend its life while the new is striving to shape and realize the new world it is envisioning.

For the good of all, the old (self and system) has to be courageous enough to accept and let go of its old organization, thinking, and power; it has to accept the inevitable.

The people of Ethiopia in general and the Oromo youth in particular, are determined to leave the past behind and move forward. They don’t want to be chained to and distracted by the past, which contributes less for the wellbeing of today and humanity of tomorrow.

Only when the old gives way to the new do citizens develop trust and confidence in a political system and themselves to take the responsibility of contributing to a democratic society and prosperous nation.

Oromia (Ethiopia): Bishoftu Massacre: #IrreechaMassacre: The day that changed the game November 10, 2016

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#OromoProtests image, Addis Standard


P. 5 – #IrreechaMassacre: The day that changed the game (By Addis Standard staffs)

“I saw people who had fallen inside ditches and deeper pits. I saw people who had no one to pick them up. I saw people suffocated by the smoke of the tear gas”

P.8 – A survivor’s account (By Bekel Atoma Boruu)

“Those who ran to save their lives from the teargas bombs and the gun shots pulled themselves and one another to the nearby 6 meters long ditch in front of the podium. The tear gas bomb thrown at the mass increased the number of people running to the ditch not seeing what is in front of them; besides they were blinded by the heavy smoke from tear gas”

P.10 – Irreecha is sacred! We cannot let them take it away (By Ayantu Ayana)

“I keep asking myself how dare they kill on sacred grounds and on a sacred day. How dare they? All those people muddied and bloodied in their beautiful and colorful clothes. All those lives lost. Should mourning be all we do these days? “

P. 13 – Into the heart of Irreecha: Why is it so important to the Oromo? (Buli Edjeta Jobir, Guest Writer)

“An amazing part of the Irreecha ceremony is its absolute orderliness, the reigning of absolute peaceful aura, the showering of love and mutual respect, the sense of oneness and unity. In all the Irreecha ceremonies recorded over the last two decades, after its first rejuvenation, there has never been a single stampede or injury recorded.”

P. 17 – Irreecha: A defining moment in a hallowed land (By Prof. Ezekiel Gebissa, Special to Addis Standard)

“In 2016, it was clear that the largest gathering of Oromos from Oromia’s all corners would be a scene of expression of anger in the wake of the government’s brutal crackdown of Oromo protests during the preceding ten months.


Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests, Uncategorized.
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Vendors are too scared to sell the “Addis Standard,” its editor said.

One of Ethiopia’s few independent magazines has suspended its print edition after the government imposed a restrictive state of emergency in the country.

The editor-in-chief of the Addis Standard, Tsedale Lemma, told AFP that printers and vendors were afraid to be involved in producing the monthly publication in case the government interpreted it as dissent. “We have tried to convince them that the state of emergency only targets ‘inciteful material’ but they fear this can be interpreted and abused,” said Lemma.

Around half of the Standard’s 23 full-time staff are expected to lose their jobs. While the print edition is suspended indefinitely, Lemma said that the digital edition would continue and that new podcasts were in the pipeline. The English-language magazine had been in print continuously since February 2011.

Ethiopia newspapers

Ethiopian people read newspapers a day before the country’s general election, Addis Ababa, May 22, 2015. Most of Ethiopia’s press is state-controlled.TIKSA NEGERI/REUTERS

Ethiopia’s press is largely controlled by the government. The country is ranked 142 out of 180 nations in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by international NGO Reporters Without Borders. Ethiopia arrested ten journalists in 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn brought in the six-month state of emergency on October 9 following months of deadly clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters.

The clashes had intensified after at least 50 people died in a stampede during the Irreecha festival, an annual religious gathering held by members of the Oromo ethnic group. Protesters said that security forces provoked the stampede by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd.

Under the state of emergency, Ethiopians are barred from using social media to contact so-called “outside forces” and are not allowed to watch certain television channels that are based outside the country. The government is also cracking down on gestures of dissent, including crossed arms above the head, which has become associated with the Oromo protests and was demonstrated at the Rio 2016 Olympics by Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa.

Protests begun among the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, in November 2015 against government plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa. The government abandoned the plans in January, but demonstrations have continued and spread to the Amhara, the country’s second-largest ethnicity.

Human Rights Watch said in June that 400 people had been killed in the course of the demonstrations, and there have been several incidents since—including the Irreecha stampede and clashes in the Amhara region in August, in which almost 100 people reportedly died. The Ethiopian government has denied that the death toll is as high as rights groups say.


OMN: ልዩ ዝግጅት LIVE (Oct 26,2016)


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Addis Standard

“What is being seen right now is that people come out to protest, EPRDF kills. It is trying to govern by the force of arms, but the Ethiopian people are not going to accept that. If things continue this way, we are getting into a very dangerous road. Talking about development while refusing to protect the rights and freedoms of the people, who are the main instruments of development, is both insanity and an embarrassment. Any dictatorial regime can build infrastructure but development, in its essence, is intertwined with the rights and freedoms of the people who benefit from it. Unless EPRDF tries to seek its legitimacy from respecting these rights and freedoms, it is taking the country in a wrong way, to a very dangerous place where there might be carnages.”



Gebru Asrat

(Addis Standard) — Born in Mekelle, the Capital of the Tigray regional state in the north, Gebru Asrat became one of the early members of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), Ethiopia’s all too powerful member of the governing coalition, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). But Gebru left EPRDF in early 2000 following a major split within TPLF in the wake of the 1998-2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Prior to that Gebru served as the president of the Tigray Regional State from 1991 – 2001 and was one of the top executive members of the TPLF’s politburo as well as the executive member of EPRDF. After leaving EPRDF, Gebru established the opposition Arena Tigray and became its chairman in 2007. Today Arena Tigray is one of the member parties of the larger opposition block, MEDREK.  In 2014, Gebru has published an acclaimed book: “LualawinetEna Democracy Be Ethiopia” (Sovereignty and Democracy in Ethiopia).  Addis Standard’s

Addis Standard – In your 2014 book “Democracy and Sovereignty in Ethiopia” you argued that TPLF’s culture of secrecy had helped its eventual triumph in overthrowing the militarist Derg and most of the party’s followers were indoctrinated with the propaganda of Stalinist determination. What’s the context of that culture, if you will, in light of the current situation in the TPLF-dominated-EPRDF led Ethiopia?

 GebruAsrat – TPLF was initially formed to pursue a political struggle. In order to meet that political goal through military means, it had established an army. This is one of its features. In its early days TPLF was a Marxist Leninist party. An army needs prudence [and] caution; secrets are not needed to be passed to the opposing group or to the enemy. But there is also fierce centralism which comes from the Marxist Leninist ideology.

These two factors [contributed to TPLF’s culture of secrecy] and helped it for the success of the armed struggle. But later on, after the armed struggle came to an end [with victory] TPLF denounced the Marxist Leninist ideology, and its militarist approach was seemingly replaced by a political program. But what TPLF did was to remove the flesh from its Stalinism structure, not the bone and the skeleton.  It kept the skeleton so that it would help it to rule the people of Ethiopia. It did so by using the fundamental principles of centralism; there is the rule of one party, which now they call the dominant party under the guise of revolution ary democracy.  The party kept its culture of secrecy and its centralism principle because they are convenient to rule [with an iron first].All the talks about democracy, justice, equality and the rule of law were eventually abandoned. Although it somehow shifted the gear to Capitalism during the early days of its rule the transition was not clear either. The party didn’t completely abandon the old Marxist Leninist ways; it selected what it needed to rule, to maintain its power and sustained them. Transparency was lost and a highly centralized one party dominated system was established. This secretive nature of the dominant TPLF and its refusal to be open to the public has impacted the democratization process of the country. More than that the features it has brought from the Marxist Leninist ideology like centralism, the concept of a dominant party and revolutionary democracy has eventually hampered the road to democracy and gave way to our reality today in which one party does whatever it wants.

 AS – There are people who argue that TPLF betrayed its initial noble goals, which were its foundations, after it assumed power. But judging from what you just said above (its culture of secrecy and its loyalty to an out-of-date ideology) one could say that the formation of TPLF was essentially flawed from the very beginning. And it seems that the problems we are witnessing today are the manifestations of those flaws. Am I correct?

GA – We have to clarify this in two ways: there are those who argue that TPLF’s noble goals could have only been attained through [the guiding principles of] Marxist Leninist ideology. I was one of those who believed in this. I used to fully believe that other ways of democratization were wrong; that it would not bring equality, liberty and justice. It was a mixture of belief, philosophy and ideology. So people who saw [the party’s last minute conversion to capitalism] felt they were betrayed. Many of the old guard (the old cadres), were carved in this way, so they clearly felt betrayed. On the other hand there were those even in that time who asked [if TPLF] shouldn’t have to be a democratic organization in which a marketplace of ideas were entertained. People who saw things from this perspective felt like the Marxist Leninist ideology, in its essence, could not have brought democracy. These were people who felt betrayed from the very beginning. At the end both of them have lost. There is no democracy; and there was no Marxist Leninist as it was envisioned in the beginning. Those ardent Marxist Leninist ideology supporters were betrayed because at the dawn of victory when the rebel soldiers entered into the capital the ideology was not even to be mentioned. And those who yearned for democracy were also betrayed because we ended up having a system of one dominant party rule.

AS – In chapter two of your book you explained the rocky relationship that often existed between TPLF and other armed groups that were operating in the country during the armed struggle. As someone who has been in the inner circles of the TPLF both during the armed struggle and afterwards, how do you characterize this nature of TPLF as a party vis a vis its relationship with the other sister parties within the governing coalition of EPRDF?

 GA – Yes I have written that TPLF often ended its relationships with other armed groups, which did not identify with it, by force and war. That was during the time of the armed struggle. Now, these four parties that make up the EPRDF are sister parties. More than that they say they have the same program and objective. But even in that case, there is something that must be known:  these parties are not unified and it is not clear why. If they do not have a program difference, if they have similar national visions, if they do not have a principle or ideology difference, as they claim, they should have been one national party [or] should have formed a unity. But this didn’t happen because there is this notion that EPRDF can keep the interests of each party, so it stayed this way for 25 years.

As it is known, of the four parties the one with the highest influence and the most veteran is TPLF. The amount of influence TPLF has, or we should rather say had, on other parties is not a minor one. This is not visible during eventless and peaceful times. But when there is a problem, things start to surface. For example in 2000, when EPRDF as a governing coalition was hit by a serious crisis, the value of these parties began to be measured by their loyalties to the late MelesZenawi, or TPLF. The leaders of some of these parties have even found themselves in dangerous positions.  Senior party members who have a sense of independence were kicked out and were replaced by others. This is to say that during the times of peace, the parties appear to be equal. Gradually this led the umbrella party to become what we can call a one man tyranny. As a result every party or member, who is not loyal, has faced difficulties.

But now there appear to be changes following the death of MelesZenawi, which had a very big tactical implication to EPRDF. The late Meles was a leader who managed to control and rule all the parties as well as the army. After his death all the parties within EPRDF, or rather senior leaders within those parties, have nominated him/herself to be the next Meles, showing visible signs of an increasing distance between the four parties.

AS  – In the past intra-party or intra-region conflicts which are common in federal states like Ethiopia were effectively managed by TPLF/EPDRF. This was attributed to the absence of the role of opposition parties in any of the regions. Since EPRDF governs all the regions, it has found it to be easier to manage potential intra-party or intra-region conflicts. But recent regional squabbles, for example between the Amhara and Tigray regions, seem to be on the rise. These are not simply expressions of discontent by the people of the two regions.  They are rather conflicts between the two parties governing the two regions. What is at the bottom of this? These are two parties under the same umbrella. What does this say about the two parties which are seemingly loyal to the principles of the mother party EPRDF?

GA – We can call these parties one and at the same time four. They are one because they have a common program and a national vision. On the other hand they are parties formed to maintain the interests of their individual regional interests. So this problem, even if it was not as accentuated as now, was seen before, especially in border issues. There were problems about border demarcation between Tigray and Amhara in two particular places; one in Wolkait, specifically in the place called Dansha; the second around Agaw, in the area called Abergede. There were conflicts. At the end of the day what are these parties loyal to? Their own regions or the country in general? It is not clear. Even if we see them as members of one party, they are also four different entities. So they give precedence   for their respective regions. This in itself creates conflicts; here it is expressed in the form of border conflict. It might as well be expressed in a different form. In benefits, in budget, for instance.So it can stem from the regional interest each party is trying to pursue. But essentially the Wolkait situation can be resolved by following the dictates of the Constitution. The same with Addis Abeba and Oromia. They can be solved following the Constitution. But the questions raised by the public go beyond that. They are questions of basic rights and liberties. They are questions of justice. They are questions of governorship. But in EPRDF’s Ethiopia whenever there is a problem, there is a tendency to externalize the sources. They point fingers at others. They are even saying that the public movement we are seeing now is the doing of the Eritrean government, the doings of our enemies from abroad. I think it is pure insanity to assume that millions are bought by the enemy; it is insane to assume that the Eritrean government has the power, in our country, to mobilize all these people. This externalization is also visible in other ways; whenever there is a problem in Oromia, the others see it as the fault line of OPDO. Whenever there is a problem in Amhara, the others point their fingers at ANDM and so on. They do not see it as a national problem. So when big problems, like we are witnessing now, occur, they tend to pull each other. We have seen it in 2000. It was triggered by the Eritrean question and how sovereignty was handled. There are problems within one party, let alone a front of four parties that are not unified.


AS – Ethiopia is experiencing frequent protests almost in every corner. With that in mind some prominent veterans say TPLF/EPRDF is at a crossroads and they are calling for a reform from within. What is your take on that? Do you agree that their prescription of reform within the TPLF/EPRDF is what a better Ethiopia needs now?

In my view TPLF was at the crossroads for a long time now. It’s been a long time but now it is very clear. It is failing to even manage the situation in its own backyard. There are demonstrations, for example the one in Embasenet. There is public discontent. There are questions of absence of good governance and democracy, and the presence of rampant corruption. These problems, through time, have penetrated into the party itself. Last year in August and September when the TPLF held its convention, the questions were raised from within the party. Party members were saying that the party was not in the right track. They criticized TPLF for being so weak that it can’t even manage its own region properly let alone impact the wider country. These questions are still alive.  Now the situation is very critical. For an entire year, there have been public gatherings, public meetings by members of civil servants and the society at large. But as [Albert] Einstein said it well it’s insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.  They have tried it for more than twenty years without a change. And now we have reached at a tipping point. This problem cannot be solved in a similar way unless there is a fundamental change in the country. So these people, my older comrades, appear to be concerned by this reality. I agree with the analyses they give about the presence of a critical situation in the country.  I see their initiation to do this as a much needed positive move. However, when we come to solutions they subscribed, I must say that, they have said what I have said personally and as a member of Arena Tigray Party, which is also a member of the larger Medrek. We, as a party, have long put what we saw as the solutions to the problems in Ethiopia on several occasions. Fundamental democratic change is needed, much different from what EPRDF is following right now. If there is no democratization in Ethiopia, the problems will keep on escalating and they will put the country in a very dangerous situation. So I agree with some of what they had to say personally. But there are also suggestions that revolutionary democracy is still right. I disagree with that. It is not right. It hasn’t been right. It never worked. It cannot be a means to cultivate democracy. In fact it chokes it to death. And those commentators are saying that they agree with the principles of the developmental state. This is a scheme to put the entire economy in the hands of the state; to put the land, the budget, the country’s wealth in the hands of the state to oppress the others more easily. So I don’t agree. I do not have any problem with the government putting its hand in the economy. But like the way it is now, when the government controls everything, it becomes wrong. But the main thing is they have seen it that the country is in a critical state. And there are some solutions they suggested, like mass public discussions. But I don’t have the naiveté to believe that EPRDF is capable of reforming itself. I don’t believe that. To be fair, these are not the only solutions they suggested. They also recommended the party to have a dialogue with other opposition parties and to open the political space, which I agree with. If EPRDF reforms itself it might be useful for it. However I, as an opposition, and as someone who is a member of a party representing an alternative way,  I say, as long as democracy is not practiced in its entirety, I don’t see a way out of this quagmire for Ethiopia. There will not be justice. A fundamental change is what is needed; not a mending reform.

AS – But do you believe TPLF/EPRDF is capable of reforming itself? The language of reform has been applied for over 15 years. It’s been that long since the late MelesZenawi himself admitted EPRDF was ‘rotten’ inside out. Can TPLF/EPRDF reform itself or is the fear that if it does it might bring in its own demise takes precedence? Which one do you believe in: is it the unwillingness or the incapacity to reform that’s holding it back?

In my view reform can come in two ways; from the forces within or from the outside public. In TPLF/EPRDF when they talk about reform, it is all about keeping the status quobecause on many of the important questions the party falters.  They believe any change must happen over the graves of the party. They say they are ready to debate but they are not open for debate because they are afraid; they work from the assumption that any change on the status quo will be dangerous for them.  They tried it after the split in 2000 and during elections in 2005, but the results became overwhelming. So they used all means to close until they ended up taking a 100 per cent of the parliamentary seats. They have managed to have eight million members in an attempt to control every village. The recent statement by Prime Minister HailemariamDesalegn can be read in this light. For over a year, he has been saying they have problems of all sorts. But recently he resorted to force as a means to relinquish these pubic demands. All he said was they have the military power and they can control the situation forcefully.  He didn’t solicit political legitimacy. He didn’t see democratization as a solution, unless nominally. So far the way TPLF/EPRDF follows is guided by the principle that it controls the army, the police and the intelligence to rule the country with an iron fist. So the pressures witnessed from within are not making TPLF/EPRDF to reform. Now we have to wait and see how the public demands are pressurizing them into having a reform.

AS – Perhaps getting into the bottom of the party’s way of governing the county may help us understand on whether or not applying the language of reform could yield any result. You have, for instance, served as the president of the Tigray Regional state for about ten years. And one of the long standing problems of TPLF/EPRDF is its failure to implement the federal system as stipulated in the constitution. You had a chance to see how exactly that was played out during your presidency. How do you evaluate, for example, the fault lines in the federal-regional nexus? And what’s its contribution to the current crisis?

GA – This is a good question. Constitutionally speaking Ethiopia is a federated country. There are authority levels and limitations between the Federal government and the Regional governments. But the Constitution is not functioning. EPRDF is not practicing the Constitution. The fundamental rights and freedoms stipulated in the constitution are not respected. They are being muzzled. Human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of organization, are to mention few. My opinion is that the government is not operating following the Constitution.  It must be known that EPRDF is a highly centralized party which has and follows its own program outside of the Constitution. There is nothing like revolutionary democracy in the Constitution; it is a liberal constitution. There is no centralism in the Constitution. The Constitution is designed in such a fabulous manner only to appease the public and the wider world. But what is practiced is EPRDF’s party program. The party releases so many regulations and directives and that is what is used to govern the county. Almost all these papers are written to ensure the hegemony of one party. And all the cadres are guided by these papers. The ‘shared-rule’ and ‘self-rule principles of federalism cannot work in a highly centralized party.  Let me make myself an example. [In 2000] the split within TPLF occurred. When the split occurred, I was the President of Tigray Regional government. I was elected by the Tigray people. But I was sacked by the central government.  This means that the people have no right at all. The party ousts, sacks anybody that it wants to. The regional government, the regional entity has no power at all. This didn’t happen only to me. Abate Kisho, the president of the Southern regions was sacked in a similar manner. In Benishangul and Gambella and Somali regional states the leaders are changed frequently by the order from the EPRDF office. This flawed operation of the Federal system is just one example. But it works in all aspects. The justice system suffers from similar fate as is the military. EPRDF’s central hand is stretched in every aspect.

AS – Often time people talk about first 2000 and then 2005 being the turning points or the downward spiral in the country’s democratic experiment. The implications of these assertions are that all was well before 2000. You were the President of a Regional government before the first turning point in 2000. Do you believe that the country was on the right track before that?

GA– There are two things here: on the one hand I was the President of a regional state, on the other I was a member of EPRDF’s central committee as part of TPLF’s Executive Committee. Decisions were always made not by the regional parliament but by the party’s Executive committee. After that happened, the decision was taken to the public. In what I mentioned earlier as democratic centralism, it is not possible to refuse this. Even if it was wrong, you can’t refuse it. Of course there are possibilities to convince the committeeby raising arguments but it was up to the committee, not the public. One of the flaws of the system, I believe, is this. The party members are everywhere. They are in the Federal system. They are in the civil service structure. And they decide based on the instructions that they receive from above, from the party. Not according to what the public demand and need in every aspect. It must be known that the cause of public resentment, especially now, is this. What the people need is one thing, the party’s interest is another. There is a gap. When I look back at what was happening in the party then, there were arguments and dialogues but when it comes to the relationship between the Federal government and regional states, the dominance lies within the party. It makes the decisions.


AS – Despite these blatant failure of the ruling party to implement the federalism arrangement many people, including some opposition parties, point their fingers at the ethnic (some call it linguistic) federalism to be the main cause of the problem the country finds itself today. What is your opinion of that? Do you think the federalism arrangement is something that is worth protecting or something to blame for the country’s problems today?

GA – I don’t agree with such accusations. Federalism can be arranged in various ways. Now, what we have here in Ethiopia is an ethnic Federalism arrangement. There can also be a Federal arrangement based on geography. But the main thing is not this; the main thing is whether there is a condition for the pubic to choose these freely. Is there a condition to protect the people’s rights and freedoms? I believe that is the fundamental thing. As long as there is no democracy, there is going to be a problem. I mean, if there is a democratic system, those things can be debated upon. If the people don’t like them, the people can change them. But in the absence of democracy, there can’t even be a debate. So what I say is the source to all problems is lack of democratic practices, rights and freedoms by and for the public. As I said earlier the current federalism is not practiced rightly.  It’s just nominal. Yes, people work in their own languages, they celebrate their cultures. But when it comes to essential decisions, the Federal arrangement is not functioning at all. As long as there is a dominance of one party, federalism, ethnic or geographical, cannot function. I don’t think the root of Ethiopian problems is this arrangement. Problems were there long before the system came in place.  TPLF and OLF and others started armed struggle in the absence of this arrangement. It was the lack of democracy. In fact what I believe is that, the structuring of the current system has lessened ethnic resentments.  What the Ethiopian people, including intellectuals should focus on is the absence or presence of democracy. Rights and freedoms must be respected. Without doing this all the attempts will be futile. What I am saying is that this is not the root cause of all problems the country is facing today. It is the dominance of one party and the lack of basic democratic practices.

AS When you say the dominance of one party, are you saying EPRDF in general or TPLF’s dominance over EPRDF?

 GA – To make it clear, I don’t think EPRDF is a non-existent entity. Their level of power might be different but OPDO is an existing party. ANDM is an existing party. I don’t think those parties are free from taking responsibilities from whatever is happening in the country. I don’t think they have no influence on what is going on. TPLF used to be the most influential one; I doubt if it is like this now. It’s not clear. When I see what is going on and ask if TPLF has the level of influence it used to have, I have [doubts].  But even if TPLF is the most influential party, the other three cannot be exempted from taking the blame.

 AS – What do you mean when you say TPLF might not have the level of influence it once has?  The protests in Oromia throughout the year and quite recently in Amhara have laid bare not only the level of public discontent, but also the deep seated dissatisfactions by the two parties representing the two regions, the OPDO and ANDM against the all too powerful TPLF. Do you agree with that?

 GA – I find it difficult to answer this question with full certainty. However I tried to explain it earlier. Whenever there is a problem, pointing fingers is very common. In my opinion, for the lack of democracy in the country, for the muzzling of rights and freedoms, and for the rampant corruption all member parties of the EPRDF are blameworthy. They participated in the thievery; they have participated in the oppression so they can’t claim innocence. But as I said earlier pointing fingers is very common. TPLF points its fingers at others. It says it has been betrayed as the recent article on Aigaforum claims. It is nothing more than casting blame on others. And the fact is in a union that was not formed in a democratic way, this is inevitable.  Because whenever individuals or groups become stronger the others develop a sentiment of antipathy. When I see TPLF and others, I don’t think the lower level party members think like the leadership. I don’t think the leadership has enough control, influence, on its own members, like it used to have. It’s weak now. Each party has more than a million members. Those members can’t even control what’s going on in oneKebele, or in one Woreda. So when this happens, instead of saying this happens because of us, because of the roads we follow, they say it’s all about failed implementation, even worse, they say it’s because some betrayed us. It’s an inevitable accusation.

AS – What do you think is the best way to address the country’s not only political and economic but also historical crisis without causing a regrettable outcome? What do you see as prescription for redemption, if you will? 

GA– As I see Ethiopia is a country at the verge of crisis. In this regard I agree with what my previous comrades have written about. The crisis is created. In this reality, there are things not just politicians but also the general public must think about. The first one is that in Ethiopia there is lack of one strong guiding vision. So the main thing, I think, is to have a consensus of vision for the country. When I say this I am not denying the fact that each party has its own vision. But it has become a country without a vision which can gather people around. So in order to salvage the country out of this crisis, we must have more dialogues, more ideas. We need ideas, strong ideas that can gather the public together. But since ideas are not enough, strong institutions are needed. Strong parties are needed.  By this I don’t mean dominant party.I think Ethiopia lacks strong national parties that can gather people of all spectrums together. Some of them incline too much to their region. Some others deny the questions of nations and ethnicity; they claim to be national but their influence doesn’t transcend from one region. So I don’t see alternatives in which strong parties with strong vision can be created. We evaluate EPRDF on many parameters and we understand that the party is finding it difficult to bring forth solutions to the problems the country is facing. Or we are saying the party is in crisis. But we must also ask does the alternative certainly has principles and organizations that can bring forth change? We can’t bring in change using the same ideas. What Ethiopia needs is a change of ideas. Besides that there is yet another question that must be raised. Before now, during the Derg and Imperial regimes, there were problems in the country such as lack of democracy, lack of justice, lack of equality. But the country somehow survived these problems and stayed as one. We should be careful that the current situation isn’t any different.  What I see now dominantly, among the radical opposition and EPRDF alike, is the proliferation of racial or ethnic hatred. We can see that in the state owned and affiliated media there is a proliferation of mixing the ruling party with the people. This will lead us to irrevocable conflicts. There is no weak area in this regard, even if it is small. But sadly EPRDF is using it to its advantage. To put it bluntly, TPLF is doing a lot of mobilization saying to the [Tigray] people that chauvinists are going to invade them and they should gather around it. It is trying to make the [Tigray] people believe that all the critiques it is receiving are critiques not against the party but against the [Tigray] people. This is very dangerous. Similarly there are others who mix up the party and the people and spread rumors that the Tigayans are about to do this or that to this or that people. The opposition finds it easy to collect followers by telling people that what’s happening to them is done to them by Tigrayans. The ruling party is doing the same. They have been doing it for quite a long time actually. Every time an election approaches they tell the people in Tigray that chauvinist Amharas are going to engulf them.  And they tell the Amhara that narrow Oromos are coming to destroy them. And for the Oromo they say the chauvinists are going to sabotage them. This is an age old way of the party. And I believe that it has contributed to what is going on now. If religious leaders in this country were not followers and executers of EPRDF’s program who never slide an inch from the party’s dictates, they would have been important in looking for solutions for the country’s problems. The intellectuals and religious leaders must be part of the solution. So what I see as a strategy to get out of this quagmire is there must be an organization with a strong vision which can be an alternative to the EPRDF and which can gather the people of Ethiopia around this vision.


AS – Owing to this monumental failure to uphold the rule of law, many people say the ruling party in Ethiopia has forced its relationship with the people of Ethiopia to become violent. Your own party Arena Tigray has been pushed left and right to a point where peaceful politicking has become virtually impossible. This is leading many people to say that the idea of armed struggle is now becoming the last resort to deal with EPRDF. As a party which is denied the means to a peaceful struggle, do you see Arena Tigray responding to EPRDF’s dominance in what many say is the only means EPRDF understands: armed struggle?

 GA – Your question is right. EPRDF is pushing the people, especially the youth, to the extreme. It made me recall a Central Committee member we once had. He raised an argument that with EPRDF in power it’s impossible to have a peaceful struggle. But we said we have to use the political space that is available, as narrow as it can be, and conduct a peaceful struggle. Otherwise the other way is going to unleash calamity. He finally moved to Eritrea to join TIMIHT. This man represents a way of thinking among the youth. And the narrower the space gets, the more the youth are pushed to pick up armed struggle because they see what they see; they believe peaceful struggle is just getting to jail. But I don’t believe in that; I believe the current movements [the protests in various parts of the country] are essentially peaceful. I have a belief that it is possible to force the government to change. I also believe that it is possible to execute policy in a peaceful way.

Right after the election [in 2015] we have three of our members killed including a member of our central committee here in Addis Abeba. Another of our member was poisoned to death and we have about twenty members in jail. Incidents like this make peaceful struggle difficult. But paying the prices requires us to continue the peaceful struggle. And the protests we are seeing now, I count them as part and parcels of peaceful struggle. Other than that I don’t see anything but bloodshed from armed struggle.

AS – Where is EPRDF taking Ethiopia to?


 GA – This is a very difficult question. A hard one. In its own book, it is taking the country to development, to wealth, to job creation, to the providing of health services and what have you. That’s what it says. Of course there are some changes in some regards. This is undeniable. Access to health and education is better than what it used to be. There are foreign and domestic investments. But this cannot be a source of legitimacy for a regime. The main thing is: is there democracy? Are the rights and freedoms of people protected? A person who owns a cart feeds the horse that pushes the cart but it doesn’t mean that he gives the horse freedom. And humans are different from horses, from animals. Freedom is the main foundation and element of development. What is being seen right now is that people come out to protest, EPRDF kills. It is trying to govern by the force of arms, but the Ethiopian people are not going to accept that. If things continue this way, we are getting into a very dangerous road. Talking about development while refusing to protect the rights and freedoms of the people, who are the main instruments of development, is both insanity and an embarrassment. Any dictatorial regime can build infrastructure but development, in its essence, is intertwined with the rights and freedoms of the people who benefit from it. Unless EPRDF tries to seek its legitimacy from respecting these rights and freedoms, it is taking the country in a wrong way, to a very dangerous place where there might be carnages.

Click here to read related article: The Conflict between the Ethiopian State and the Oromo People


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The truth is that Ethiopians are revolting in the clearest of terms. One need not look beyond what has evolved in Oromia and Amhara regional states over the last ten months where simple, constitutional and even by the ruling party’s lexicon ‘legitimate’ requests by the people of Ethiopia was turned by the government into unimaginable horror.

For a government that deprived the people of Ethiopia any other means to either humble it or talk back to it, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is harvesting what it sowed and the least it can do is admit that its way of being a government is not working. If this means dissolving itself, so be it!



Addis Standard,  26 September 2016


When news of a 100% victory by the ruling EPRDF came out shortly after the May 2015 general elections, everyone scorned the result; it was too stupid to be true. After all, democratic elections in a multinational state home to a near 100 million odd, which Ethiopia is one, were not supposed to be like this. So, the world was right to scorn the results because nowhere in it would similar experiences go down history books unchallenged.  

Alas, the ruling party in Ethiopia was not only intoxicated by the victory to see what was in the offing, but it was so sure to get away with it, as it did get away with many lapses of political orders in the last quarter a century.

The reason why the world – not the government in Ethiopia – looked at the results of that fateful election with a sheer horror is because the latter is the author, director and main character of the tragic political drama which eventually dragged Ethiopia to the verge of crisis, yet again. And that election was the straw that broke the Camel’s back.  From north to south and left and right Ethiopians are on the streets screaming their ultimate rejection of a government which claimed to have won a 100% of their votes.

Damage from within and outside

There is damage to be sustained when a rebel-turned-government spoils its political capital to become a bullying dictatorship. In all measures, that is what happened in Ethiopia since the advent of May 1991. A federated state tutored by party manifesto; alternative political parties decimated from inside out with their leading members often jailed, harassed and in some cases killed or simply made to disappear from the face of earth; independent media and civil society organizations persecuted in equal terms as terrorists; and academic institutions and religious establishments coerced to dance to the music of the ruling party. Regrettably, that is Ethiopia as we know it since it was declared the ‘democratic republic of Ethiopia,’ although some would discount the first 10 years as a semi-successful democratic experiment.

The result is that military violence has now become the new language in which the government is using to talk back to the people of Ethiopia.  Judging by the look of events it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Ethiopians are betrayed by their own government which has no misgivings to turn into the military to answer their questions and control their dissenting voices.

But there is also damage to be sustained from outside when western allies of a dictatorship sugarcoat their terms of reference to declare a dictatorship “democratic” and continue to engage with it business as usual. (See story here).

Such blunders by the west are driven by several factors. Leaving aside the cliché, this magazine posits two of the often neglected factors.

The first is the burning ambition by Ethiopia’s western allies to showcase how the aid business turned a once poster child of famine into a successful budding state with a seemingly soaring economy. Calls by rights organizations, and most importantly, the people of Ethiopia for the west to use constructive diplomatic leverages to tame the government often fell on deaf ears. Ethiopia’s western allies repeatedly opted to hold their nose about the smelly human rights record and the government’s unbridled control of both the political and civic spaces in Ethiopia. But at the same time they continued pumping taxpayers’ money in the name of aid and lavish a repressive state with undeserved international legitimacy.

The second is the concept of not wanting to face the task of opening the Pandora’s Box during what’s often a constitutionally limited term in office practiced by most western governments. President Barak Obama is leaving office and he was under no illusion that speaking truth to the world that Ethiopia was going down the nasty way was going to do him more harm than good.

The result is that there remains no discourse and platform where Ethiopia’s western allies can use to discipline a government they themselves enabled to grow out of control.

True, Ethiopia is a sovereign state whose independence should not be tampered with but there are international laws, for example, that Ethiopia itself is a signatory to. Sadly no western ally is daring to speak out loud when Ethiopian officials use and abuse these laws the same way they use and abuse local laws. The recent flagrant dismissal by the government in Ethiopia of the kind reminder by the UN Human Rights Commission of the need to allow access to UN monitors to investigate recent killings and rights abuses in Ethiopia is one classic example.

This means it should now be up to the ruling party to stop playing illusory for the sake of PR consumption by the west and propaganda for Ethiopians and start facing the inevitable. That means the ruling EPRDF should admit that the country is really on the verge of crisis and that it and only it is responsible for it.

The truth is that Ethiopians are revolting in the clearest of terms. One need not look beyond what has evolved in Oromia and Amhara regional states over the last ten months where simple, constitutional and even by the ruling party’s lexicon ‘legitimate’ requests by the people of Ethiopia was turned by the government into unimaginable horror.

For a government that deprived the people of Ethiopia any other means to either humble it or talk back to it, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is harvesting what it sowed and the least it can do is admit that its way of being a government is not working. If this means dissolving itself, so be it!


Addis Standard & All Africa: Ethiopia: #OromoProtests – the ‘Oromo Street’ and Africa’s Counter-Protest State, part III September 17, 2016

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Ethiopia: #OromoProtests – the ‘Oromo Street’ and Africa’s Counter-Protest State


In the first part of this series, I explored in historic perspectives (particularly with developments in Oromia regional state) the Ethiopian government’s road to becoming a counter-protest state and the systematic ways in which the regime further bolstered its role as a counter-protest state.

And in the second part I discussed about the surge of popular protests in Ethiopia focusing on the socio-political and party architecture in which the ongoing Oromo protests first took shape. In this third, and last, part I will take a close look at the decades-old simmering tensions between the Oromo nation and successive Ethiopian states, discovering what they reveal about the contemporary politics of the Ethiopian counter-protest state vis a vis its relations with the Oromo protests, which, by several measures, have reached a point of no return.

Decades of simmering tensions

Continuous confrontations and tensions between Oromo protesters and the ruling party manifested in Oromia-wide Oromo protests may not be understood fully unless we look back its history. In order to contextualize the on-going Oromo protests, we must consider decades of relationships between the two confronting parties – the Ethiopian state and the Oromo nation – discovering what they reveal to us about the politics of the Ethiopian counter-protest state, and what they suggest about the future prospects of Ethiopia’s political trajectory.

It is indisputable that this massive movement in Oromia is not simply a political phenomenon whose root is limited to the period between 2006-2015; it goes as far back as the 1960s when modern Oromo political activism was born, and even goes as far back as the formation of the Ethiopian state itself.

Yearning since the 1960s for three overarching questions – language, land, and self-rule – Oromo nationalism has been growing more than ever since the introduction in Ethiopia of the multi-national federalism in the early 1990s. While the Oromo question for land has two parts: the homestead (qee’ee) and the Oromo country (biyya-Oromoo), the issue of language became the foundation of identity question. The third, the Oromo question for self-rule in the course of their national struggle, seemed to have been conceived as an ultimate solution capable of addressing the other two.

These three overarching Oromo questions were aired in the 1960s by the Oromo members of the Ethiopian student movement and the Maccaa-Tuulama Self-help Association, and were later on articulated in the early 1970s in the political program of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). These questions have been dealt with piecemeal in the revolutions of 1974 and 1991.

The 1974 revolution succeeded in the promulgation and implementation of a proclamation answering the country’s pressing demand, which was coined through the famous slogan of the student movement – “land to the tiller”; it was able to return plots/homestead to individual peasant households. With the Oromo in view, the 1974 revolution answered the question of qee’ee (homestead) but it had never attempted to deal with the Oromo question of yearning for biyya-Oromoo (Oromo country). Instead it criminalized the demand presenting it as a treasonable crime. The revolution also addressed the Oromo identity claims by allowing some media outlet for Afaan-Oromoo (Oromo language) but the demand to use Latin alphabet (qubee) was made another treasonable crime.

The political change in 1991, however, went far beyond the offers of its predecessor and dealt with more fundamental issues. Demands of Oromo nationalism was legitimized and institutionalized within the state apparatus when the new regime – for the sake of its own legitimacy – decided to offer concessions to decades old national struggles.

Through the federalism arrangement, it created the long sought after Oromo country within Ethiopia in the form of the Oromia National Regional State with its own regional parliament, Caffee Oromiyaa. It also allowed Afaan Oromoo, which had long been criminalized and heavily suppressed under the imperial and socialist Ethiopia, to be recognized as the medium of instruction in schools throughout Oromia.

But as the rule of the TPLF/EPRF began to unfold the problems inherently linked to its system of rule started to unearth. When in 1991 a coalition of rebels overthrew the Derg, the victorious TPLF-led-EPRDF not only took control of the capital city, expanding daily at the expense of Oromo farmers, but also inherited one of Africa’s oldest authoritarian state form, effectively excluding from the country’s politics, economy and cultural manifestation most of the southern peoples (the Oromo included).

As soon as TPLF took control of the center, a dubious, rather feckless Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), where various political groupings, including Oromo parties of which the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was prominent, was organized in 1992. Perhaps as part of its concerns to take the OLF on board, the TPLF recognized Addis Abeba as the capital of Oromia and promised that the interests of the Oromo people in the city would be accommodated.

The Transitional Charter that established the TGE (1991-1995) declared, “The special national and political interests of the Oromo are reserved over regions 13 [Harari State] and 14 [Addis Abeba].” In 1995, Oromia’s interest in Addis Abeba was once again recognized by the constitution that created the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE). Article 49, sub-article 5 of the constitution states that “The special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Abeba, regarding the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Abeba within the State of Oromia, shall be respected.”

However, the whole scheme boiled down into a political manipulation where the TGE gained the support of Oromo parties and the people’s support for the creation of a lasting TPLF-dominated authoritarian regime. When the TPLF dominated EPRDF ensured its control over Oromia, it went on to purge the OLF out of the TGE in June 1992.

In 1995, when the new constitution transformed TGE into the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE), the TPLF dominated government began employing ambiguities in the constitution and walked in earnest to take full control of Addis Abeba.

In Article 49, where issues of Addis Abeba have been stipulated, three of its sub-articles (sub articles 2, 3 and 5) present contrary provisions, a state of affairs that made the gate wide open for the ruling party’s looming interests over the city. After appointing a TPLF veteran soldier as the mayor of Addis Abeba in 2000, the regime took a bold decision in 2003 to shift Oromia’s capital from Addis Abeba to Adama, 100km southeast of Addis Abeba. When the office of the Oromia regional parliament, Caffee Oromiyaa, was thrown to Adama it appeared that the hope of the Oromo to have their government in the city they believe is the center of Oromia was dashed.

Following the 2003 government decision to transfer Oromia’s seat to Adama the leadership of Maccaa-Tuulama Association (MTA) and Addis Abeba University students immediately organized a protest, which was met with brutal crackdown.

The organizers were imprisoned and MTA was outlawed and had its office looted and dismantled. The university itself dismissed nearly 400 students whom it believed had taken part in the protest. While it was clear that thousands of farmers were evicted between 1995 and 2003, it was, however, the decision to transfer Oromia’s capital from Addis Abeba to Adama that gave birth to the Oromo struggle for Addis Abeba.

The declaration of the proposed “Master Plan” a decade later would mean dashed hopes and broken promises; it breaks up into two what has been known in the narrative of modern Oromo political activism as biyya-Oromoo (Oromo country), a reference to Oromia. On one hand, it is a broken promise because it sustains the regime’s tradition of deciding on issues relevant to biyya-Oromoo without the consent of the Oromo nation. In fact, many believed the implementation of “the Master Plan” would come close to restoration of the former Shewa governorate-general, which in turn would mean a renewed wave of cultural invasion on the Oromo as much as a territorial break up of Oromia.

Addis Abeba’s expansion in historical times had scored the highest record in eviction of the surrounding farmers in its environs, namely, Tuulama Oromo, but the EPRDF regime took this to a new level previously unmatched in Ethiopia’s history. Most peasant households have been and still are poor in Ethiopia but they live on their land and depend on its produce for their livelihoods, whatever its sufficiency.

Tuulama Oromo in this regard appear the most unfortunate for encountering endless evictions since at least the 18th century. Left in isolation from the Oromia National Regional State, Ethiopians in all walks of life, and undoubtedly the TPLF/EPRDF regime, the Tuulama Oromo have been forced to bear unbearable projects accompanying the regime’s intent (whatever the name attached to it) of expanding the city of Addis Abeba with no regard to their way of being.

Coherently conscious

The Oromo population constitutes nearly 40 per cent of Ethiopia’s estimated population of 100 million. Some are adherents of Islam (being involved in more than one sect); others follow different sects of Christianity, and still others adhere to Waaqeffannaa, the Oromo indigenous belief system. In rural Oromia, their social organizations exhibit diverse historical experiences and regional patterns. These few remarks help us appreciate the internal diversity of Ethiopia’s largest ethno-nation.

So far, a number of scholars have made serious attempts to understand the contemporary political status of this diversity within the Oromo nation. While some treated them as a nation others seriously question that status. This diversity, for example, in the eyes of Gebru Tareke, an Ethiopian scholar, made the Oromo nation “a vastly dispersed people with no history of political unity since the sixteenth century.”

Another scholar, John Markakis, wrote, “From the beginning of their historic [population movement] the Oromo did not forge unity above the tribal level, nor did they ever coordinate their efforts for a common purpose. Each tribe pursued its own destiny entirely independent of the others, and inter-tribal warfare was the rule rather than the exception.” Historian Bahru Zewde on his part says “… the incorporation of the nineteenth century has resulted in the denigration of Oromo culture and identity,” but plainly denies the fact that an Oromo country has ever existed before the twentieth century; he argues against a map of Oromo country – Ormania – made by a German missionary J.L. Krapf based on primary historical data he collected ‘during an eighteen-years residence in eastern Africa’ in mid 19th century.

 While Gebru Tareke and John Markakis have taken Oromo internal diversity far beyond limits, it is fairly recognizable that Oromo internal diversity led to considerable divisions that played key roles not only in their historical experiences with Ethiopian systems of rule but also in creating within themselves fissured political groupings.

But the fact that the ongoing Oromo protests engulfed the whole of Oromia in merely three weeks’ time threw some light on the perspectives of these scholars – Gebru and Markakis, for example – who consistently argued against the presence of the Oromo’s nationhood.

 By claiming that Oromoness is counterfeit, that it never existed, that Oromo nation possess within itself lots of local and cultural diversity to develop any coherent consciousness and never possessed an overarching sense of “nationhood”, or that they are inseparably intermingled with various other peoples, “the opponents believe that they can divide, destroy, or, perhaps, wish away Oromo nationalism,” to use the words of Herbert Lewis, who wrote The Development of Oromo Political Consciousness from 1958 to 1994.

While this attitude has clear origins in politics and “interests,” it is facilitated by the general social science discourse that still tends to discount or decry ethno-nationalism. Yet this kind of internal diversity which some scholars employed to question the very existence of the Oromo as a nation is seriously called into question with the start of Oromo protests in November 2015.

Many scholars attempted to understand the challenges of the Oromo national struggle in isolation from the political developments in that tumultuous region of Ethiopia and the horn of Africa. But the on-going Oromo movement appears to have overcome lots of deterring factors long-lived in the Oromo national struggle. In less than four weeks what the Oromo people regarded as a serious threat to their national identity caused a union of massive popular movement that engulfed the whole of Oromia.

A case in point is how Oromo national identity, Oromummaa, has been built over decades and the significant impact it has in uniting a population of close to 40 million for a coherent cause. Oromoness is a reference to all those features that make up Oromo personality.

It is constituted by the entirety of the Oromo culture. It is worth noticing that Oromo activists, artists, political commentators, scholars and politicians appear to have successfully campaigned over the last two decades highlighting the fact that Oromummaa transcends differences in political opinions, religions, and all sorts of background, a concept well articulated in the works of Oromo scholars such as Assefa Jaleta.

Readjusting the narrative

Apparently placed at a precarious position, many scholarly works need to be revisited; there is a need to further investigate facts and collect empirical data to create effective analytical frameworks capable of capturing the whole, more nuanced scenario that would help us better understand the Oromo nation and its indisputable place in the Ethiopian state.

Only then can we appreciate and understand why and how various Oromo politicians chose to establish different political parties after the onset of the 1974 revolution; have decided to join rival political groupings not founded for separate Oromo cause; have even joined the dictatorial military regime – a clear indication that even those of similar social and religious backgrounds understood Oromo problems differently and likewise proposed disputing routes of political struggle.

Only then can we clearly comprehend why Oromia has in the last quarter a century exhibited spatial and temporal mismatch on concerns of opposition to the EPRDF regime. Without readjusting our existing narratives it will be hard to understand how and why the 2014 and the on-going Oromo protest movement overlap and deviate.

Our understanding of the cultural and socio-political stances that are being taken through the Oromo protests movement can also be appreciated when placed into context with issues related to the wider Horn of Africa.

A more accurate contextualizing of these stances can be viewed within the affairs of Ethiopia’s broader issues, and their complexities. The same understanding appeared to have been useful to inform narratives shaping the future of the Oromo national struggle. The days of hiding behind Oromo internal diversity as Ethiopia’s numerical majority with subaltern political constructs are gone, and will not come back again.

It is also incumbent upon us to understand that taking opportunities offered in the current multinational federal system, Oromo youth at secondary schools and junior colleges throughout Oromia, and the ever expanding universities have for the last two and half decades propagated their literature, folklore, music, songs, poetry, theatre, drama, and other forms of cultural revival and actions in these concepts of the Oromo cultural movement. Taking into account the growth of federal universities from less than five when TPLF/EPRDF took power in 1991 to over 30 in 2015, it becomes important to see the relationship between this considerable expansion in higher education and the growth in modern Oromo political activism.

While ‘economic solvency’ remains one of the fundamental points of the Oromo people’s opposition to ‘the Master Plan’, for the growing Oromo consciousness it is by no means comparable to the Ethiopian regime’s project of posing immeasurable challenges to the concept of Oromoness altogether, and all of what it means from the central parts of Oromia, the territory the Oromos believe is “handhuura-Oromia” (Oromia’s bellybutton).

Understanding this is at the same time one of the pillars in symbolization and conceptualization of Oromoness in the minds of the Oromo people. It is such understanding of Oromoness which seems to have brought the new generation of OPDO, discussed in part two of this series, to openly speak against “the Master Plan” in April 2014. There is little doubt that the Oromo nation conceived ‘the Master Plan’ as a threat to their national identity. Styled after popular Arsii tradition, “namni lafa hinqabne, nama lafee hinqabne,” (a person without land is a person without bones).

Hope for millions

After nearly five decades of struggle, the Oromo seem to have learnt from experience and history that an attack on one part is an attack on the whole. Collective memory helps a society to understand both its past, present, and by implication, to imagine its future. It is important to underline here that it is the memory of past injustices and the contemporary aims of the TPLF/EPRDF regime against the future of the Oromo nation that has served as one of the most important tools stirring the ongoing protest.

The Oromo protesters believed that “the Master Plan” violates the territorial integrity and identity of the Oromo and their aspiration to become a self ruling nation. In the perspectives of the protesters rallies across Oromia are rallies for self-defence. The progress of Oromo nationalism over decades appear to have succeeded to present the cause of the Oromo of the central region as the cause of all.

While the government employs the same old narrative of “we have made it possible for Ethiopia’s oppressed nations for the first time to use their own language and exercise their cultures,” public political consciousness seems to have navigated far ahead of this narrative.

As protesters have proved for themselves through their practical experiences that the regime has very little room for implementation of provisions in the same constitution drafted and promulgated under its own dominance, they took up constitutional provisions as weapons against it.

In short, the constitution has become for the Oromo protesters what James Scott theorized as “weapon of the weak.” As the protests set out to start the systematic use of provisions in the constitution by dissent voices within OPDO, the protesters and the opposition became united. It is mainly in this sense that the regime’s propaganda to present the protesters as “terrorists” and “anti-peace” failed to bear fruit.

The struggle for Addis Abeba and the adjacent territories presents the Oromo people with a choice between survival and annihilation as a cultural unit and as a nation. It is this understanding that managed to mobilize the entire Oromo nation throughout Oromia region and tested the limits of the counter protest state that Ethiopia is.

This popular perception has clearly succeeded in establishing in the minds of Ethiopia’s single largest nation that “the struggle for Addis Abeba is the struggle for Oromia.” EPRDF’s killing is far from threatening the Oromo people and all indication suggest that there is no turning back. The slogans have now changed from “No to the Master Plan,” “Oromia is not for sale,” and “Oromia needs autonomous self-government,” to “justice for our blood and lives.”

It is also a hope of millions of Oromo and many more that it is upon the Oromo national struggle to give birth to an efficient national political narrative that, while not compromising unanswered historical questions in Oromia, gives rise to a country-wide coalition of political parties that can realize the old democratic demands of the peoples of Ethiopia, a state of affairs Ethiopia had missed to realize at many historical trajectories.

Despite age-old terrains of relations among various groups of peoples in Ethiopia and the Horn, and where the Oromo people deeply and actively involved themselves for generations, Oromo struggle is a struggle for self-rule as well as one for democracy, struggle for both group and individual rights. Signs of overcoming disagreements and standing together for common cause are being observed at this point of the Oromo national struggle. Appreciable is unequivocal banners carried out by Amhara protesters in support of their Oromo brethren and statements made by some Oromo and Amhara political parties and dialogues initiated by their respective media outlets.

TPLF/EPRDF’s approach of facing popular protests with bloody crackdowns is no longer keeping Ethiopia as a state. The persistence of the Oromo people in the face of the counter protest state’s ruthlessness will also soon begin to reflect itself within the Horn of Africa’s fragile peace and stability position. Any concerned party, be it domestic or international, which takes seriously the Horn of Africa’s peace and stability, must not only understand the framework of today’s popular demands (that refuse to turn back in Ethiopia’s Oromia region), but must also become grounded in the particular historical contexts of this framework.

Ed’s Note: Etana Habte is a PhD Candidate at the Department of History, SOAS, University of London. He can be reached at:ittaanaa@gmail.com

Click here to read related article on #OromoProtests: OPINION: THE QILINTO MASSACRE: THE TRUTH SHALL BE REVEALED


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#AmharaProtests, Road blockage against TPLF Agazi


Addis Standard, 1st September 2016

Several people are reported to have been killed in various parts of the Amhara regional state in Northern Ethiopia, where an ongoing protest by the people is intensifying. The VOA Amharic service quoted a resident in Debarq yesterday that four people were killed when security officers fired live bullets at protesting civilians.

Over the last few days several reports on social media indicated a rising death toll following security crackdown against a stay-at-home protests in Bahir Dar and Gonder, the region’s capital and a historic city visited by thousands of tourists respectively.  Pictures coming from many cities and towns in the region also show protesting citizens, burning tyres and roadblocks.  Reports also indicate that up to 50 civilians were killed in the past one week only.

Tensions are on the rise following a statement given to state owned media by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in which he announced that he has ordered the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) to intervene to control the situation in the region, home to the second largest ethnic group in the country. In his speech PM Hailemariam blamed Ethiopia’s “outside enemies” for being the instigators to disrupt the country by providing “radicals with sacks full of money.” He further stated that the government will use “its full forces to bring the rule of law” into the region.

A day prior to PM Hailemariam’s statement, Sheger FM, a private radio based in Addis Abeba, reported that the regional state has requested a military intervention by the Federal government. Talking to the station, Nigusu Tilahun, the regional government’s Chief spokesperson, conceded that lives were lost in the recent protests but declined to give numbers. As a result of intensifying protests, the regional government requested the intervention of the federal army, Sheger FM quoted the spokesperson.

Accordingly reports indicate that the region is now divided into five zones and is placed under a military command.

Pictures circulating around social media show heavy artillery moving towards the state capital Bahir Dar, 550 North of Addis Abeba, and the nearby town of Gondar where the recent wave of #Amharaprotests originated late last month. Addis Standard could not independently verify the authenticity of those pictures. Internet is shut off in the whole region while locals fear government sanctioned phone call monitoring.

The #Amharaprotests began in late July when security forces tried to arrest leaders of the Wolkayit committee, a committee formed by the people of Wokayit to find solutions related to the border and identity questions of the Wolkayit community.

In the last few days tens of thousands of citizens in several cities and towns in Gojam and Gonder areas of the region have come out to the streets to protest the government. In what many see as the ultimate test of the ruling EPRDF protesters are also showing solidarity with the #Oromoprotests which began in Nov. 2015.

In the weekend of 6-7 August region wide protests both in Amhara and Oromia regions were met by violent crackdown by security forces. It’s reported that more than 100 civilians were killed in that weekend only, according to Amnesty International. In Bahir Dar only, more than 30 people were killed when a security guard opened fire at protesters. The government disputes that number. The stay-at-home protests in Bahir and Gonder followed the deadliest weekend, however in the last few days that too turned violent when security forces began breaking into houses in an attempt to force citizens and businesses to stop the stay-at-home protests.

#AmharaProtests, Road blockage in Bahir Dar

Roadblock in Bahir Dar. Photo: Social Media 

Some reports claim that attacks against government institutions and party owned and affiliated businesses were witnessed in some cities and towns. There are also reports that young men and women are being arrested en mass by security forces.

SB Nation: Olympian Fayyisaa Lalisaa stood up to Ethopia’s state-sanctioned violence and became a national hero August 23, 2016

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Hero Hero, double hero in Olympic Marathon, Rio 2016 and Oromummaa. Oromo athlete. Fayyisaa Lelisa at press conference. p1Feyisa Lelisa Support Fund, #OromoProtests icon

Oromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa in the social and international media. #OrompProtests global icon. p7 

Olympian Feyisa Lilesa stood up to Ethopia’s state-sanctioned violence and became a national hero

Fayyisaa lalisaa Oromo national hero, at Rio 2016 Olympicmarathon in the podium, finishing line in #OromoProtests as winning theOlympic medal, 21 August 2016

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Why Lilesa’s simple act of making an “X” with his arms after winning an Olympic medal was a watershed moment for so many Ethiopian people.


After nabbing a silver medal in Olympic marathon, Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa hoisted his arms inches above his head in the form of an “X.”

With a seemingly innocuous gesture, the 150-pound black man was actually displaying a symbol of solidarity with the Oromo people of Ethiopia, who have protested the government’s reallocation of their land. At least 400 local protesters were killed by Ethiopian security forces over the last year, according to Human Rights Watch. The “X” symbol that Lilesa showed came into widespread use in Ethiopia four and half years ago by protesters as a mark of unarmed, civil resistance.

Following his demonstration, which he repeated on the medal stand, Lilesa toldreporters in Rio De Janeiro, “If I go back to Ethiopia, the government will kill me.” That’s the cost of protesting a government in Ethiopia that controls its media and stifles those who speak out against its will.

: to @ESATtv “many are dying and the regime must be removed by collective action”

After Lilesa’s protest, James Peterson, the Director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University spoke to many Ethiopians in America who felt galvanized by the gesture despite the ongoing human rights violations in their homeland.

“There are a lot of complicated things folks don’t understand about continental African politics,” Peterson said. “Addis (Ababa) as a city is sort of engaged in this moment of neoliberal straw. The city is trying to expand at the expense of these rural and suburban settlements that have been in place for like thousands of years. For an Ethiopian athlete, on the largest stage of any Ethiopian of the world right now at the Olympics, to be in solidarity with them, I don’t think it’s too much to say this is the equivalent of some of the most courageous, solidarity protests that we’ve seen in athletics.”

Olympians have long used the games as a stage to draw attention to national causes.Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave a black power salute on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics during an American wave of Civil Rights. After Simone Manuel’s historic gold medal, she also spoke out about police brutality and black lives in America.

Such acts have caused the International Olympic Committee executive board to ban political or religious demonstrations in multiple ways in their Olympic Charter Rule 50and can result in the “disqualification or withdrawal of the accreditation of the person concerned.”

Yet for Lilesa’s protest, his defiance of the Ethiopian government didn’t open up a new wave of Oromo activism. But it did demonstrate their current struggle for the world’s purview.

“Ethiopia has been praised as a poster child for peace and stability in the last 25 years. Western governments that continued financing this government, including the U.S. Government, have turned their eyes away,” Tsedale Lemma, the editor-in-chief of the Addis Standard, a monthly magazine focusing on Ethiopian current affairs from the country’s capital Addis Ababa, told SB Nation.

“To be able to tell this to the world, where everyone can see, on this stage was monumental,” she said. “It was telling the world to its face that this country, this poster child of peace, isn’t that way. It’s killing its own people. When everyone kept silent in the wake of this excessive killing, this young man (protested) at the great cost that he might not be able to come back to his country afterwards.”

Lemma’s magazine shares the same views as Lilesa. In January, it published a widely shared cover. Employees were intimidated and threatened, and the publication’s subscription numbers in Ethiopia have drastically declined for questioning the government.

#OromoProtests image, Addis Standard
The January 2016 cover of the Addis Standard, provided by Tsedale Lemma

Since the Ethiopian government announced plans in 2014 to expand the territory of the capital Addis Ababa, the country has been racked with protests resulting in hundreds of deaths at the hands of the government. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn wanted to further Addis Ababa’s territory into Oromia, where Lilesa lives.

Doing so would displace many of the Oromo people in Ethiopia who work on farmlands. It’s similar to American eminent domain, the right of the government or its agents to expropriate private property for public use. Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, accounting for nearly 40 percent of its population, according to a 2007 census.

Historically, the Oromo people have been marginalized by the government. Protests started in November; and though the government has dropped proposals to widen the capital in January, protests have continued, though, with citizens corralling for wider freedoms.

Local residents and Oromos between the United States and Ethiopia have claimed that thousands have also been jailed. Many incidents happened where the Oromo have gone to the streets and they almost always end in violence. They are killed. They are exiled or tried for treason. At best, the protestors just disappear from sight.

Within Ethiopia, Oromos mostly expressed their support for Lilesa on social media, Lemma said. Current government mandates do not tolerate people flooding the streets for celebration, particularly not for a man that flashed a symbol that is the nightmare for a regime in front of billions of people.

State-run media only showed a censored version of the marathon Lilesa won, and completely blocked his protest at the games. Some have refused to mention his name at all. But in the United States, where Ethiopians are the fifthlargest source of black immigrants, their ebullience was overflowing.

“Among his compatriots, including those in the diaspora, Lilesa’s protest was welcomed with tears of joy,” said Mohammed Ademo, the founder and editor of OPride.com that aggregates Oromo news. “A hero was born out of relative obscurity. A GoFundMe account was set up within hours. I have no doubt that it will be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of Oromo people.

“Kids will be named after him. Revolutionary songs and poems will be written in his honor. For a people who have been silenced for so long this is likely to embolden and generate more momentum for the budding movement in Ethiopia.”

The overwhelming thought is that the plight of the Oromo people, and Lilesa’s protest shedding light on it, are not what Ethiopia wants the world to know. It is an extremely censored country, where most newspapers and other outlets are either controlled or affiliated with the government.

One woman, who asked for anonymity to speak to SB Nation because she feared the consequences of speaking out against the Ethiopian regime for her and her family, said that when she last visited Ethiopia around the start of the protests, the government had blocked internet service and scrambled social media apps to stop people from collaborating by using them, a form of silencing dissent.

She said Lilesa’s feat exemplifies how fearful a lot of the Ethiopian diaspora is to speak out on this subject.

“(Lilesa) acknowledged the significance of this dialogue and that he may never walk the land he’s from or see his family again,” she said. “It was meaningful and it’s going to spur the type of international engagement that is necessary to challenge the Ethiopian government to recognize their faults and consider what a just government looks like.”

American media still largely ignores the African continent and most news organizations have dramatically cut their African bureaus or rely on one person to cover the entire continent. There’s more coverage generally on terrorism with direct implications for American national security, Ademo said.

There also hasn’t been much coverage of the Oromo protests. One reason is because Oromia has largely been off-limits to journalists since the protests began, and those who go to Ethiopia often face insurmountable hurdles for access, Ademo said.

Even Lilesa’s dominance as a marathoner is unique for Ethiopia. Ethnic Oromo athletes of all genders have often been erased from Ethiopian lore, yet they are the first black Africans to win Olympic gold, Ademo said. Abebe Bikila did so in the 1960s while running barefoot and Derartu Tulu followed in the 1992 and 2000 Olympics. Yet behind the scenes these same athletes faced implicit and explicit biases.

Few Oromo athletes spoke Amharic, a language of power in Ethiopia, and they were never sent with Oromo translators. They often had to operate by the doctrine of the country’s current rulers and the official Olympics body to compete, Ademo said.

Fayyisaa lalisaa Oromo national hero, After received his Rio 2016 Olympic medal, 21 August 2016
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Within Ethiopia, those who protest see these same issues at the micro level. Lemma described a phrase many have used to explain the discrimination and marginalization the Oromo face. Oromo have said “the prisons in Ethiopia speak Afaan Oromo,” the native language of the Oromo, which shows the disproportionate rate at which Oromo are jailed in Ethiopia.

Video this month, obtained by the Associated Press, showed Ethiopian security forces beating, kicking and dragging protestors during a demonstration in the capital as they cowered and fell to the ground.

This same fight to upend oppression in Ethiopia is one being done by current American black protestors at the height of a renewed wave of activism. Lilesa’s protest spoke to some on a bigger level. Because just like black lives, African lives also have value.

“Not even in just this particular incident, but the dominance of black athletes on the global stage is in a sense of protest, especially when you have representatives of countries under such oppression as Ethiopia and the black America,” said Kwame Rose, an activist from Baltimore most known for his stand-off with Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera after Freddie Grey’s death.

“What he did would get a lot of people killed in Ethiopia and could’ve gotten his medal stripped,” Rose continued. “This was the time to send a message, not only about competing as an athlete, but surviving as a human and trying to better humanity.”

The reality is that what Lilesa did might not change anything for the Oromo people, but his demonstration had much more validity than to be limited to just that notion.

Ademo said it provided a crucial show of inspiration for people being disproportionately jailed, that are unheard and have yearned for a change in their government.

“In the context of this long and tortuous history, Lilesa’s protest was revolutionary. Beyond the politics within the Ethiopian Olympics federation, his gesture brought much-needed attention to escalating human rights abuses in Ethiopia,” Ademo said.

Lilesa’s act was a moment to show the shackles of systemic oppression binding the Oromo people. He took their fight to the international stage.

Addis Standard News: Grand #OromoProtests: Carnage as Ethiopia Forces Conduct Massive Crackdown Against Anti-Government Protesters in Multiple Places August 8, 2016

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Odaa OromooOromianEconomistAddis Standardstop killing Oromo People

Grand #OromoProtests, Grand ‪#‎OromoProtests‬ full scale Military massacre has been conducted by Ethiopia's fascsit regimei n Naqamte, East Walaga. 6 August 2016 pcture

The total death toll from 6 & 7 August 2016, Saturday protest and Sundays attacks on funerals have surpassed 150. These are in addition to over 500 Oromo national killed by the same fascist TPLF.-  Oromian Economist admin sources

News: Carnage as Ethiopia Forces Conduct Massive Crackdown Against Anti-Government Protesters in Multiple Places

(Addis Standard) — Addis Standard has so far received reports of the death of more than 50 Ethiopians in Oromia and Amhara regions of the country following massive anti-government protests over the weekend, during which the government entirely shut down internet connections throughout the country.

According to several tips received by Addis Standard from individuals who want to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, death tolls were high in West Arsi (in Assasa, Adaba, Shashemene and Kofele cities), West Shewa in the city of Ambo and Ginchi town, east Hararge and east Wolega of the Oromia regional state. Accordingly more than 30 individuals were believed to have been shot dead by security forces on Saturday alone. Hundreds of protesters have also sustained gunshot wounds; hundreds detained by security forces while several people have disappeared without a trace.

A university student in Ambo who is originally from Dambi Dollo in Wolega called Addis Standard on Sundays with information that the police have abducted both his brother and his father “from their home on Saturday night. “

Further tips from northern Ethiopia also indicate that more than 20 individuals were killed on Friday and Saturday during protests in Gondar and Bahir Dar cities, ancient histories city home to thousands of tourists and the capital of the Amhara regional state respectively. It is believed that more than 20 individuals were killed by security forces. According to the government’s own account, seven people were killed in yesterday’s protest rally in Bahir Dar city, while five police officers were hospitalized. However, unconfirmed reports on social media claim the number to exceed 30.

The weekend protests in Bahir Dar followed a previous protest held between July 12th and 14th in which more than a dozen people were killed and a massive peaceful protest in the weekend of 30-31 July in Gonder city.

The protest in Amhara region followed a raid by heavily armed federal security forces, including the Anti-Terrorism special force, targeting members of the Wolkayit community who have been protesting against the federal government’s decision to incorporate the area where the community lives into the Tigray regional state. The Wolkayit community members also reject the idea of them being ethnically considered as Tigrayan and want to identify themselves as Amhara.

More causality feared

The death toll from both regions could reach as high as 80, according to online activists who post pictures of individuals who have died or have sustained severe wounds caused by gun shots.

The weekend region wide anti-government protests in Oromia regional state were called by online activists of the #OromoProtest, a persistent anti-government protest by Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo that lasted for the last nine months.

Accordingly, protests have happened in almost all major cities and small towns across the Oromia regional state, the largest of the nine regional states in Ethiopia home to close to 40 million of Ethiopia’s more than 100 million populations. Here in the capital Addis Abeba, a city originally belonging to the Oromo, police have quickly, and brutally dispersed protesters and have sealed roads leading up to Mesqel Square where online activists called for the protests to happen.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 400 Oromos were killed by security forces since the ongoing protest first flared up on November 12, 2015 in Ginchi, a small town some 80 Kms South West of the Capital Addis Abeba. In Addition to the report by the HRW, activists are also documenting the death, injuries and forced disappearances of individuals from areas where protests are taking place. Hundreds of University students have also been dismissed from several state universities located in the region.

Gabaasa Magaalaa Naqamtee irraa

(SBO/VOL – Hagayya 08,2016) Yakki suukaneessaan Uummata Oromoorratti raawwaachaa jiru hidda bal’iffachuun sadarkaa hawwwaasi akka galaanaa irratti galagale irrattillee addatti labsii waraanaa sagale guddoftuun beeksisuun meeshaa waraanaa hamma funyaaniitti hidhate sanaan Reeffa ilmaan keenyaa, dhiiga Uummata Oromoo akka galaanati dhangaalaasuu itti fufeera.

Addatti tibba kana magaalaa Naqamtee keessatti Gumuzoota hidhatan magaalaa Naqamtee Weerarsiisuun dhukaasaa Uummata nagaa bahe irratti roobsee, namoota 20,ol ajjeesuu ijaan arginee jirra.

Ani yeroon gabaasa kana qindeessu aariin jabaa fi akkasuma muddama dhukaasa qawwee mataarraa na xaxxaaxa’u jala taa’ee barreessuulle akka koo kan obsuu dadhabanii magaalattii keessa maanguddoo imimmaan harcaasaa bohanii mankaraaran ilaaluu hangan baqadhutti utuun gahuun, dhukaasa gadi qabamee nutti dhuka’u keessa magaalaattii goree mimmiliqaan barreessaa jira.

Dhuguma akka addunyaan dantaa uummatichaa hin qabne namatti agarsiisa. Mootummaan wayyaanee mootummaa ofiin bultuu ta’uushee mootummaa gaafatamni itti hin dhaga’amne callisee dhuukaasa namatti dhukaastu ta’uushee hubadheen jira.

Bakkeewwan rasaasni itti namoota keenya alanfatan Boordii, Bakke Jaamaa, Naannoo Hospitaalaa, Hoteela Addunyaa Galataa fuuldura, namaa karaa deemurratti, Hospitaala National fuuldura fi mana Amantaa Musilimaa cinaatti. Halkan sa’a afur keessa namni Afur lubbuun darbe video ergamerraa mirkaneffachuu dandeessu.

Dhukaasa guyyaa dheengaddaa guyyaa guutuu dhukaa’a tureen namoota hanga soddomaa ta’an lubbuun dhabnee jirra. Haa ta’u malee kana addaan baafachuuf reeffa keenyarratti waan nu rukutaa jiraniif maqaa kanneen addaan baasuun rakkisaa ta’aa jira. Addatti namoonnii halkan halkan akkasuma karaa asphaaltirratti akka hantuutaa ajjeefamaa jiraachuu ijaan argaa jirra.

Dhuguma Naqamte keessa guyyoota sadiif hojiin kamillee hojjetamaa hin jiru. Iyya keenya akka hin dhageessifneef connection kukkutaa jirti wayyaaneen. Nuti jiraattonni Naqamtee fi naannoo ishee dararaa jabduu addunyaan nuu hin beekne keessa jirra.


All Africa: #OromoProtests – the “Oromo Street” and Africa’s Counter-Protest State – Part II July 26, 2016

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 Odaa OromooOromianEconomistAddis Standard#OromoProtests in Shukute, West Shewa, Oromia, 23 July 2016 p2OromoProtests, Awaday, Oromia, 1 July 2016#OromoProtests in Dodola, Arsi, Oromia, 25 July 2016

Africa: #oromoprotests – the “Oromo Street” and Africa’s Counter-Protest State – Part II


In the first part of this series, I explored in historic perspectives (particularly with developments in Oromia regional state) the Ethiopian government’s road to becoming a counter-protest state, and proceeded to discuss the systematic ways in which the regime further bolstered its role as a counter-protest state in Oromia. Taking the recent #OromoProtests as a point of departure, in this part of the series I discuss a more recent surge of popular protests, and the socio-political and party architecture in which #OromoProtests first took shape.

The EPRDF-led regime’s ‘decentralization of power’ down the hierarchical administrative structures of the regional states discussed in the first part was also the beginning of how the so called rural, previously isolated communities, experienced the heavy handedness of a central repressive government (the falsification of ‘nation’, and its clearly underlying failures). It is an expression of failures because this type of response is a mark of states that ignore an alternative to their texts of national dialogue and whose intents exemplify regional and ethnic primacies.

The “Oromo Street”: A force derailing Africa’s counter-protest state

By going beyond economic and development topics – which remain very important – this section explores concepts that better explain the roots and trends of these protests, it then outlines dimensions of confrontations between protesters and the Ethiopian counter-protest state.

The importance of looking inward at the course of modern Oromo political activism and its relations with the Ethiopian state cannot be underestimated: tounderstand the roots of Oromo protests we must focus on specific demands in the process and progress of modern Oromo political activism. There are society-state relations toreflectupon that reveal some of the underlying patterns that have made up and shapedthismovement.

Three closely associated features underlying Ethiopia’s society-state relations take form mainly during the incumbent’s rule of the last 25 years: growth of coherent consciousness,decades of simmering tensions,and ’emergence of the Oromo street,’. In an attempt to look inside the Oromo nation at various levels it is important to analyze salient factors in decades of ‘constructions’ that led up to the recent Oromia wide protests.

The modern shaping of ‘the Oromo Street’

Worldwide, the upsurge in popular protest became a powerful tool of global political movements. People throughout the world have been taking to the streets, giving new life to a form of political movement ‘often thought of as a historical relic in today’s era of expanding security states and the apparent triumph of global elites.’ Given recent global protest movements mentioned in the first part of this series, Ethiopia by any standard is not alone in encountering an upsurge in popular movement.

All the major waves of protests in Africa have been by and large limited to urban centers, and when they involve rural areas it has been termed as ‘isolated’ movements. The same is true with the 2005 post election protests in Ethiopia. Oromo protests however have created in Ethiopia a unique ‘street of protests,’ which I refer to as “the Oromo Street.”

The Oromo Street brought together rural and urban protests – those on the ground and online via social media. Areas previously believed to have been ‘isolated and disparate’ have found themselves at the centerof the protest because of the combination of the ground and online (new media technologies and platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). (Daniel Miller’s, Tales From Facebook expands upon the concept of individuals as networking sites, and examines in detail how Facebook transforms the lives of particular individuals).

Merely seven months after Ethiopia’s ruling party declared a 100 per cent landslide victory in the national election, Oromia, the country’s largest federal state, was placed under full military ‘control’ as protesters swept through the streets in an unprecedented opposition against the ruling EPRDF.

Ignited on 12 November 2015 at Gincii Senior secondary School in central Oromia, the peaceful protests quickly spread as far west asOromia’s outer margins neighboring the Sudan. It then turned north and took the Tuulama Oromo on the train. Whilst continued unabated in the west and north, protests swiftly engulfed eastern Oromo provinces before they reached southern Oromia. Waves of protests quickly engulfed the whole region in merely three weeks between 12 November and 5 December. As rural Oromia and higher education institutions became the scene of Oromo protests, elementary school children and secondary school students also joined the protests – rare in Ethiopian history. In the following weeksthe movement captured, in a rather unusual fashion, federal universities beyond Oromia – Dilla and Hawassa Universities in Ethiopia’s south. Much like federal universities in Oromia, junior colleges, technical and agricultural colleges in Oromia also joined, forming the first and most important “Oromo Street.”

After taking all of Oromia student protests instead took the shape of a well-organized Oromo national movement. This illustrates a distinction from all of its precedents in another feature — it enjoyed a considerable size of support from the Oromo public. Peasants, merchants, unemployed urban youth and some government employees were seen rallying behind student protesters.

That the protests were triggered by a scheme that the Horn of African state called “the Addis Abeba Integrated Development Master Plan,” commonly known as ‘the Master Plan,’ is now exhausted and need not be repeated here. Rural Oromia, and of course urban centers become another productive dimension of the ‘Oromo Street.’

In less than four weeks what the Oromo people regarded as a serious threat to their national identity caused a massive popular movement that engulfed the whole of Oromia. On this occasion no political party made a call; no underground national leadership seem to exist either. The only Oromo opposition party, OFC, live under a constant threat from the state. All but two or three of its national leadership were imprisoned in the waves of arbitrary arrests the regime launched following the start of the movement. Almost all of its members, supporters and sympathizers throughout Oromia have also been jailed, exiled or at the worst killed.

In the course of this popular Oromo movement we heard of OFC’s voice only rarely for understandable reasons. There is no readily available institution to have caused such a regime shaking popular movement. This geographical spread suggests that Oromo protests, despite many precedents in Ethiopia, and Africa at large, are not limited to urban centers; it is at the same time a phenomenon in the rural areas. Even goingbeyond these locations Oromo protest movement gave birth to another productive dimension to its ‘Street’: supporters from the country and an Oromo diaspora connected on social media.

But there is another equally important “Oromo Street.” When modern Oromo political activism was denied a space and every element it possessed began to be systematically criminalized by the same state which legitimized and fostered its growth, it found another informal space as the ruling party opened its door widely for Oromo nationalists to join it as OPDO members.

Ignore at own peril

Between 2006 and 2010 in particular, stifling voices of dissent came to a systematic twist when OPDO invitedthe Oromo youth to become its party members and undertook appointments of middle level cadres from the so called new generation. Given such compelling circumstances however OPDO’s inflated membership turned out to be an instrument of economic, social and political mobility than agenuine political loyalty.

It is at this point that the architecture of repression the regime has built over the last decade under the name of ‘development’ unequivocally met its match: Oromo nationalism.Young nationalist Oromo civil servants, intellectuals and bureaucrats who, before 2006, were sought after, detained and persecuted on allegations of being “OLF members,” “anti-development,” or “anti-peace” were given an opportunity to join the rank and file of OPDO. In doing so, the ruling party believed that it could afford to use- within its structures and leadership – active and politically conscious Oromo nationalists to speak on its behalf and in the process restrain Oromo nationalism. Alas, as events gradually unfolded, this perception of the ruling party rather tended to be counterproductive.

When the EPRDF recently commended its national membership having reached seven million, it failed to realize that hundreds of thousands of Oromo nationalists who wished to work in earnest – and even openly through #OromoProtests – towards the interests and narratives of an Oromo national construct and against the regime, make up a significant portion of that number. When the regime took for granted that it had successfully silenced dissenting voices (particularly in Oromia), it felt safe and relaxed as an electoral authoritarian regime in declaring landslide victories in two consecutive national elections (2010 and 2015). In contrast, modern Oromo political activism was now brewing in its own turf than it has been among the opposition. When the protests broke out in November 2015 and engulfed the whole of Oromia in early December, there was little surprise that one of its immediate achievements was the dismantling of the sub-kebele institutions (gooxii and garee), the main vehicles of control and repression.

While the regime’s policy of claiming Oromo nationalists by recruiting theminto the rank and file as well as into middle level leadership of the OPDO went unabated, in practice it became a creation of formal forum where unconscious and semi-conscious Oromos meet politically conscious and articulate Oromo nationalists. The result was that the OPDO rank and file from kebele levels to the regional bureaus over the last ten years became heavily politicized and very much indoctrinated with the narratives of Oromo nationalism.

Although aware of what was going on within the OPDO, the TPLF dominated EPRDF and the state intelligence structure appear to have perceived it as insignificant; after all, all were de factomembers of the ruling party which had ‘their hands tied and their mouth muzzled’ with party rules and regulation. Besides, since party bylaws allow a process of free discussions, debates and arguments within party members at all levels there has not been any unified method with which the ruling EPRDF can tackle or even hinder these processes. A participant in the processes who was once an OPDO cell leader at one of Oromia’s regional bureaus tells me his experience:

Using the forums set aside for lower level political cadres, ideas raised by participating members, friction of thoughts as well as deficiencies and mistakes of EPRDF were widely reflected upon; the structure allowed for the members to [openly] argue that the overall objective of their party has been wrong. This gave them more opportunity to see internal deficiencies of the party more closely than when they had been outsiders. When they saw that the party has been unresponsive to the demands of their people and more importantly their suggestions many, in the years after 2005, seem to be convinced that the Oromo people need to look for alternative [forums]. I personally know the fact that many young party members became aware of the complex internal problems of the party- both horizontal and vertical (OPDO-TPLF) – has no solution at all. More importantly, participation in the party by the new generation of [politically conscious] Oromo youth called into question political opinions of senior politicians regarded as founders of the party. It is safe to say that most of pre-2005 OPDO members were people of very low education; many of them do not question legality and validity of existing principles and directives under which they serve. Those who joined the party after 2005 were the same students who had been in various schools and universities protesting against the government on behalf of their people and some of them were even leaders of such movements. Since the new members perceive themselves more as part of the society than the party itself, the political debate and arguments they injected into the party structures through the same forums of discussion the party offers at various levels made many members to squeeze their own regime with serious questions. This I believe contributed to the growth of political consciousness within the party and more broadly within the Oromo people, and can safely be stated as having contributed to the on-going Oromo protests.

These circumstances suggest that narratives of the Oromo national struggle centred on Oromummaa/Oromoness (Oromo national identity) have become nurtured through state resources. Clear evidence of this is how in April 2014, the OPDO party structure along with the Oromia regional state bureaucracy made the region’s TV to quickly televise a highly contested debate by OPDO officials openly rejecting, on behalf of Oromo national interests, the state proposed-turned-controversial “Master Plan.”

That Oromo nationalism has raised enough political consciousness not only within the masses of Oromo youth – especially college and university students – but also within the OPDO rank and file. This was demonstrated when an OPDO member who was the mayor of Sulultaa, north of the capital Addis Abeba, boldly aired his objection in a televised meeting allegedly convened to launch “training of trainers” on “the Master Plan.” He openly and eloquently spoke against the proposed “Master Plan” saying: “The question of [how to handle] Addis Abeba city and the surrounding towns [of Oromia] is not an issue of urban matter, it is a matter of identity. When we raise about identity we have to pursue a fundamentally necessary route in which the development of Addis Abeba and the surrounding towns can be addressed in a way that the rights of the Oromo nation can be protected and where the identity politics and history cannot be ignored… “

The way the mayor conceptualized issues surrounding “the Master Plan,” and expressed his fierce opposition to it, has exactly been the same way Oromo protesters spoke against it throughout Oromia. As thesemiddle level cadres strongly tied the subject to some looming danger on the Oromo identity in its entirety, the federalgovernment resorted to reject all concerns underlining that “the Master Plan” would be implemented regardless of what OPDO or the Oromo public may think. This proved the public discourse that “the Master Plan” is a deliberate attempt to dissect Oromia and was perceived throughout the region as a blunt offensive on Oromo identity by the regime. In fact, this time the protest against “the Master Plan” in its finest form began within the EPRDF, not among the Oromo students at various colleges and Universities. Indeed, the first round of the April-May 2014 Oromo protests against “the Master Plan” began in Ambo, 120kms west of the capital, and spread to other parts of Oromia immediately after this fierce debate between OPDO party members against the plan was first televised.

There is very little doubt that Oromo nationalist members of OPDO, now the larger part of its rank and file, were able to manipulate the inner circles of the party for that meeting to be quickly televised. This is so partly because the discipline and mechanisms of control required to advance this kind of argument and debate are very much linked to the interests of the de facto ruling party which will not allow such objections to last long; and partly becausethe act carries sizeable risk for few OPDO officials. Given the fact that the state intelligence, federal police and many other powerful state structures were and are under TPLF control, some of those who spoke against “the Master Plan” in public could have risked death and disappearance. To throw it to an Oromo pubic packed with grievances was, therefore, a safe political bet and a powerful instrument to fight againstthe ever growing manipulative political asymmetry within the EPRDF.

The Adama meeting of April 2014 was a typical manifestation of deep-seated tensions between the Oromo people and the regime in power. While OPDO officials who sided with demands of the Oromo people used the country’s constitution as “weapon of the weak,” only to ask for previously suspended right of Oromia’s self-rule, senior members of the central government used thinly veiled language to express their right of rule over the whole country. The course of the current #Oromoprotests movement to win over the proposed “Master Plan” became a manifestation of growth in coherent consciousness mobilized under the shade of Oromo national identity. By November 2015 there is little surprise that the situation throughout Oromia was ripe for a fully-fledged uprising.

In the third and final part of this series, I will take a close look at the decades old simmering tensions between parties, discovering what they reveal about the politics of the Ethiopian counter-protest state.

Ed’s Note: Etana Habte is a PhD Candidate at the Department of History, SOAS, University of London. He can be reached at:ittaanaa@gmail.com

Read more at All Africa :-

Part II at:-




Read part I at:- commentary-oromoprotests-oromo-street-africas-counter-protest-state, part I