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Addis Standard staffs

Addis Abeba, September 08/2017 – Residents of Ethiopia’s Moyale town, 795 km south of Addis Abeba, in Guji zone, Borena, say both local and regional government officials have “failed us repeatedly” in the face of renewed border incursions followed by attacks by what they described were members of the “Liyu Police”, a special paramilitary force operating within the Ethiopian Somali regional state.

The complaint from residents who talked to Addis Standard came following yesterday’s bloody fighting between the locals and what Addisu Arega, head of communications affairs bureau of the Oromia regional state, said were “armed men who crossed over to the border from the Ethiopian Somali regional state”.

Several people were reported to have been killed during the daylong fighting in Chamuqi woreda in the town of Moyale and its environs. Addisu told DW Amharic that yesterday’s fighting was a “serious conflict” and that causalities were reported, but he said the regional state was not able to verify the number of causalities and the extent of the damage as of yet due to the “ongoing conflict”.

Dube Qajelcha, a resident of Moyale town, told Addis Standard that several accounts from the people around put the number of causalities both from the members of the “Liyu Police” and the locals to more than 30. “Most of the causalities are from the members of the “Liyu police” who were met with resistance from the locals when they crossed to the Chamuqi village,” Dube said.

According to Addisu, the Somali regional state administration had in the past began a project in Chamuqi woreda, which is under the administrative boundaries of the Oromia regional state, but had to stop following negotiations. But armed men from the Somali regional state returned back and tried to waive the Somali regional state’s flag.

Dube Qajelcha said the local youth have taken matters into their own hands and “went to fight against members of the “Liyu Police” who then stared to indiscriminately fire at the locals.”  “Officials of the Oromia regional government knew about this repeated incident in the past but have chosen to ignore it,” he said “they have failed us.”

Another resident of the town who wanted to remain anonymous expressed his anger at the “OPDO leadership who, just a few months ago, were seen shaking hands with officials from the Somali regional state pretending that the problems were resolved.  We all know that the real problem is not a border issue. The real problem is the use of the “Liyu Polcie” by the Somali regional government to loot our cattle, rape our women and kill our men,” he said, “the Oromia regional state know this. We have been telling them since ten years now, but they are unable to deal with our plights.”

Several bodies of dead military men and civilians have littered Oromo social media activists throughout yesterday. And in late afternoon similar conflict erupted in Rayitu Gelbi woreda of Bale zone, south east Ethiopia. According to DW Amharic at least four people were killed in yesterday fighting and the federal army reserve from Ginir, Bale, were seen mobilizing toward the area, DW said quoting eye witnesses.  However, reports indicate the conflict is still ongoing.

The incident is not an isolated one; it is an extension of a growing tension related to border and resource issues between the two regional states but one that is exacerbated by the persistent raid by the members of the “Liyu Police” into towns and villages of areas under the administrative border of the Oromia regional state.

The “Liyu police” is a special police force established in April 2007 following an attack by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group on a Chinese oil exploration that killed 74 Ethiopians and nine Chinese workers. However, since its establishment the paramilitary force is repeatedly accused of committing atrocious crimes against civilians with pure impunity.

Mieso 1

On Tuesday this week, Addisu Arega reported that four children were hurt when a hand grenade went off in in Mieso town eastern Ethiopia.  He posted another report on the same day saying armed men who crossed from the Somali regional state have opened fire against civilians in the same town and have wounded two people. On Friday last week another intense fighting between the Ethiopian Somali and the Oromo ethnic groups in the same town and its environs has left “more than 30 people”, including “more than a dozen army members”, dead and several others injured, Addis Standard reported.

eldersThe elders who traveled from East Hararghe Zone

In August, 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 areas bordering the Oromia and Somali regional states; and 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. AS





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Construction site 1

Families of the deceased were offered just 15,000 Birr (about US$640) as compensation while the injured have received medical treatments only   


Samuel Bogale

 Addis Abeba, September 5/2017 – A fire that engulfed workers’ dormitory at the construction site of Adey Abeba Stadium, the biggest stadium Ethiopia is constructing, has claimed the lives of seven people so far while almost a dozen were burned severely, the survivors told Addis Standard.

Around 20 day laborers who came from various parts of the country in search of jobs were believed to have been inside their dormitory when the fire broke out on Saturday August 08/2017. Some of them were readying to sleep and others were preparing dinner when a gas cylinder exploded at about 8:00 PM local time.

Officials from the Chinese State Engineering Corporation Ltd (CSCEC), which is constructing the stadium in the capital Addis Abeba (near the Bob Marley Square), have refused to speak about the accident to the press, an silence that led the victims to believe is a deliberate silence to protect the company’s interest and its image.

Desta Zeleke at Menilik Hospital

Desta Zeleke is currently receiving treatment at Menelik II Hospital

Addis Standard has confirmed the incident by visiting Desta Zeleke, one of the dozen badly injured worker who is currently receiving medical treatment at Menelik II Hospital and several other victims who were already discharged from hospitals.

Wondosen Demeke, Omer Abdela and Yalew Tsehaye, who had their legs and hands burned but had already left hospital, told Addis Standard that five of the deceased: Gutema Meshu, Shuferi Abdurahman, Aliye Mohammed, Kediro Midaso and Dita Geleto had come from Torban Hansawe Woreda in Shashemene, 250 km south of Addis Abeba; while two of them: Berihun Belay and Mengistu Dibash, came from Wolo, 508 km north east of Addis Abeba. Their bodies have all been sent to their families.


Wondosen Demeke, Omer Abdela &Yalew Tsehaye are discharged fromthe clinic and they want to go back to their birth places

Alemnew, another laborer who wanted to be identified by his first name only, also confirmed the accident and said it was caused by an explosion from a gas cylinder. He survived unscathed because he “was outside the dormitory” he told Addis Standard. Another victim who was badly injured by the fire is Getachew who left the city and “went to his family,” according to Alemnew. No one knew Getachew’s current location.

Chen, who is the site manager of CSCEC, but only wanted to give his first name, admitted to Addis Standard that the accident has indeed happened but refused to show the place or give more details of the accident. When asked if he was willing to show Addis Standard the scene of the accident, he said it was already “demolished and not safe [to visit].”

The victims were first taken to Haya Hulet health center, a government clinic, but later on they were transferred to various government hospitals. There was also a time lapse, as there were not enough ambulances to take the victims to hospitals.

“It was beyond our capacity to handle so we took many of the victims to Zewditu Memorial Hospital and a few of them to Yekatit 12 and Addis Hiwot Hospitals in a [crowded] ambulance, putting one victim on top of another,” said one of the nurses at the clinic in Haya Hult. The ones admitted to Zewuditu Memorial Hospital were subsequently referred to Menelik II, Dejazmach Balcha Hospitals, and Addis Abeba Burn, Emergency and Trauma (AaBET) Hospital, which is under the administration of St. Paul Hospital.

The seven were pronounced dead in these three different hospitals on various dates. Addis Standard’s several attempts to reach out to the families of the victims were not successful as of the publishing of this story.

Berihun Belay

Berihun Belay came from South Wollo. He is one of the seven victims. He was only 19

Meager or no compensations  

According to the information from some of the victims, the families of the deceased who came all the way from Shashemene and Wollo were promised 15,000 Birr (about US$640) each as compensations package to “avoid controversy and potential lawsuits”, but they declined to accept. In addition to that, they were also offered 4,000 Birr (about US$170) for burial costs, which was what they were paid so far. They used it to cover the cost of transporting the bodies of their loved ones to their respective places of birth.

Chen of CSCEC claims that his company has “given money” to the families of the deceased and is taking care of those who are in hospital and who were already discharged from hospitals after treatment, “even though it is not the responsibility of the company”; but he did not want to disclose the exact amount of money the company paid.

Saturday, September 2, 2017, was the last day of the medical treatment Wendosen, Omer and Yalew were receiving at the Haya Hulet clinic, where Addis Standard met them. They were joined by three of their colleagues who were discharged earlier from Yekatit 12 Hospital. They complained that they were discharged from Yekatit 12 Hospital to return back to their dormitories while the burns on their bodies were still hurting.

Wendosen, Omer and Yalew wanted to leave Addis Abeba on Monday, September 04, 2017 to their birth places after receiving their salaries, but that was not made available to them, Addis Standard has learned. They were told they would get a fixed payment of just 3,000 birr (about US$127) including compensations for their properties lost in the fire.

Work place abuses

According to the victims Addis Standard talked to, currently there are around 800 Ethiopians and close to 200 Chinese construction workers at the site. Among the Ethiopians, around half were living in the compound in 19 dormitories. Each dormitory, about the size of 90m² and is built from corrugated iron, houses 20 people on average. The workers also said that there was no fire distinguisher in and around the dormitories and parts of the dormitories were covered with plastic canvas, which has likely exacerbated the fire.

Dormitories for Chinese workersThe dormitories for Chinese workers are by far better and safe

The story is different for the dormitories accommodating their Chinese co-workers; there, one dormitory hosts a maximum of four Chinese workers and is equipped with fire distinguishers and other safety equipment.

Following the fire accident, many of the dormitories where Ethiopian laborers lived were dismantled without replacements, forcing the laborers to live outside, but with no additional pay to compensate their housing expenses. Their Chinese colleagues were allowed to remain.

The salary of the employees at the construction site ranges from 80 -120 Birr (US$3-5) per day.  Alemnew complains of labor exploitation and says Ethiopian laborers “work the same job [with their Chinese co-workers] every day,” but get paid “way too less.” Other laborers spoke of disputes and other trivial cases for which their salaries are often deducted as punishment.

The Ethiopian laborers are not also provided with construction safety equipment such as proper clothes, shoes and hand gloves. According to the nurse at Haya Hulet clinic, the clinic often treats laborers from the site for injuries both big and small sustained at their work places.

Chen, the project manager, denies that. According to him, the company provides all safety equipment except for “shoes”. The company pays 200 birr (about $US8.5) to each laborer to buy safety shoes for themselves, Chen claims. But many laborers deny receiving neither the money nor the safety shoes. “We only have helmets (and use to get a pair of gloves once a month) but it has been more than two months since we received the last pair of gloves,” said Alemnew.

Adey Abeba Stadium is the biggest stadium Ethiopia is building among a number of other stadiums both in Addis Abeba and in regional cities. Its design has been approved by FIFA standards. In January 2015, a deal was signed between Redwan Hussien, then Ethiopia’s Youths and Sport Minster and Song Sudong, Director of CSCEC, for the later to begin the construction of the stadium in two phases. The first phase of the construction is estimated to consume around 2.4b. Birr.  When completed Adey Abeba Stadium is expected to hold up to 60,000 people. It will also contain other sport facilities such as basketball and volleyball fields as well as an Olympic size swimming pool.

CSCEC has done other big constructions in Ethiopia, including the new AU Headquarters, which was entirely funded by the Chinese government, and the 20-storey building for the headquarters of the National Oil Company (NOC). Currently it is also building the new 46-storey headquarters of the state owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE). AS


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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.

AS: Ethiopia’s ‘Miraculous’ Economic Growth: Dancing While Standing Still July 20, 2016

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TPLF Ethiopia's regime's economic record, the growth of Garbage in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa, picture, 20 July 2016

TPLF Ethiopia’s regime’s economic record, the growth of poverty, pollution, disease  & Garbage in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa), picture, 20 July 2016.

Ethiopia’s ‘Miraculous’ Economic Growth: Dancing While Standing Still

By J. Bonsa, Addis Standard, 20 July 2016

The 25th episode of “Ginbot 20” was on show in Addis Abeba on May 28th. This is a melodramatic event, an anniversary of the 28th May 1991 when the EPRDF rebel forces ousted the Military regime.  Ethiopians have much to celebrate as far as the demise of theDerge regime was concerned. Perhaps this is the only element that unites public opinion toward this anniversary.

But May28th is celebrated with a mixed feeling. For some it is a “victory day”, a military success, a day to remember the lives lost during the civil war, and the dawn of Ethiopia’s renaissance. For others, it is a day when all hopes and promises brought about by that victory day have already been shattered one by one; a day that left Ethiopia under the iron fist of a group no less dictatorial than the regime they deposed.  Such rare admissions are beginning to be heard even from among critics within the EPRDF inner circles.

In order to seek legitimacy, it has been customary for EPRDF to engage the general public by propaganda campaign, often contrasting their achievements in socio-economic progresses with those under their predecessor. At a press briefing he gave to state media on the eve of May 28, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn claimed, once again, that the economic policy and the multi-party system introduced by the current regime has brought about tremendous socio-economic progress.  He stressed specifically that Ethiopia’s agriculture has been “growing at all levels and market oriented farmers were created and these are vital for the advancement of the economic policy of the country”.

In this piece, I will focus on Ethiopia’s economic success story and examine its validity.  I will then highlight broader claims related to multi-party system.  Unless stated differently, most data and charts presented in the subsequent sections are taken from the World Bank Development Indicators database.

GDP growth rate

The jury is still out on the credibility of Ethiopia’s double digit GDP growth rate. On the one hand, government official data have presented double digit growth for more than a decade.  The official version has often been reflected in flagship reports regularly published by the multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF.

On the other hand, analysts have utilized credible empirical evidences to raise serious questions about the validity of the official data.  For instance, in its March 2nd 2012 issue, the Economist warned that Ethiopia’s GDP growth figures cannot be taken seriously:

“Just how sustainable is Ethiopia’s advance out of poverty? This is a vexed topic among bankers and others in Ethiopia who hold large wads of birr, the oft devalued currency. Despite hard work by the World Bank, oversight from the International Monetary Fund, and studies by economists from donor countries, it is not clear how factual Ethiopia’s economic data are. Life is intolerably expensive for Ethiopians in [Addis Abeba], the capital, and its outlying towns. Some think Ethiopia’s inflation figures are fiddled with even more than those in Argentina. Even if the data are deemed usable, the double-digit growth rates predicted by the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi look fanciful.”

In another piece, published on London School of Economics blog, I have provided compelling empirical evidences to suggest that at least agricultural GDP was substantially inflated. The best way to confirm whether or not the growth figures were factual is to triangulate it by examining other economic variables closely related to it. Now let us shift our attention from growth rate based discussion and anchor the policy debate on change in the size of the economy during the post 1991 period.

GDP per capita

It proves useful to begin by examining changes in GDP per capita since it combines changes in the sizes of two variables – economic and demographic.

Real GDP per capita changed from $129 in 1991 to $315 in 2014.  “Real” because the influence of inflation is filtered out.  Thus, if Ethiopia’s GDP was equally divided among all citizens, then income of every Ethiopian would have more than doubled between 1991 and 2014. I will return to the likelihood of equitable distribution.

But is the doubling of income per person such a big deal, given what we know about Ethiopia’s potential growth? Here I am not talking about abundant national resource endowments. The analysis here is confined to opportunities offered by the exceptionally high rates of capital inflows, the official development assistance and aid (ODA).

Ethiopia received $1.7 and $3.5 billion respectively in 1991 and 2014.  The cumulative total inflow was $53.6 billion. Real GDP in 2014 was only $30.6 billion, that is less than two-third of the total ODA.  In other words, Ethiopia’s GDP is only a fraction of the amount of its cumulative ODA.

A dollar injected into any economy would have a multiplier effect, that is to say “the capacity of new money to initiate chain reactions – generate jobs and hence income as it keep circulating in the economy”.  There is a ripple effect emanating from it, like a piece of stone thrown onto a still water, causing a motion in some predicable way in all directions. The size of the multiplier would depend on productive utilization.

The World Bank estimates the sizes of such multipliers to range between two and five.  Hence, the $53.6 billion should have generated between $107 billion and $268 billion. The sum of Ethiopia’s GDP over the entire period comes to about $320 billion. We normally expect ODA to constitute a small fraction of the size of an economy. Above all, ODA is meant to boost GDP, not to replace it.  Clearly, there is something seriously bizarre about the way ODA has been utilized in Ethiopia. GDP does not rise even proportionately with ODA, let alone in multiple of it.

In order to put matters in perspective, I would draw a parallel with South Korea which is known for using ODA for recovery from the Korean War as well as to propel itself onto a sustainable growth path.  It is estimated that the total amount of ODA [South] Korea received from foreign countries was US$12 billion. As economic policies took effect, however, the dependence on foreign grant assistance lessened. In less than ten years, South Korea’s economy grew so rapidly that the United States decided to phase out its aid program to Seoul. Starting from late 1980s, South Korea graduated from recipient to donor status.

This means South Korea achieved so much with less than a fourth of the ODA Ethiopia received. In a nutshell, the size of Ethiopia’s GDP (and GDP per capita) should have expanded by a multiple of what has been reported, as miraculous achievement at that!

Structural transformation

The livelihood of about 85% of Ethiopia’s population is supported by agriculture. Economic development in such countries is accompanied with two concurrent changes:  the size of GDP, and the composition of GDP.  The latter means the structure of the economy changes from predominantly traditional, rural and agricultural to modern, urban and industrial. This is what is called structural transformation. The art of devising sound economic development policy lies in balancing these two changes, without necessarily putting one ahead of the other.

EPRDF initially indicated a policy commitment to give priority to the Agricultural sector, when “Ethiopia had formally adopted Agriculture Development Led Industrialization (ADLI)as its development strategy in 1994”.  Through ADLI, agriculture was supposed to pave the way for industrialization.

However, enabling agricultural policy instruments such as fertilizer subsidy were withdrawn just three years into the launch of ADLI.  Government affiliated companies used “strong-handed promotion of the credit-fertilizer packages… [A]gricultural output continued to fall behind population growth.” Agricultural Extension and credit-fertilizer have been extensively used “as a means of control over smallholder producers”.

This culminated onto yet another bold program called the Growth and Transformation Program (GTP). This involved major departure from the previous policy commitment to small holder agricultural development. Small holder supports have largely become an exercise in trivia e.g. teaching farmers how to sow teff in rows! Horticulture and large scale farming have got precedence over small holder farming. However, large scale farming caused incalculable damages to the livelihoods of farming households who are evicted from their ancestral lands.

ethiopia's economy

The above chart (Fig.1) displays a litmus test of Ethiopia’s economic success story. I plotted the share of various economic sectors in aggregate GDP (1991-2014). Clearly, the relative shares of the industrial sector and manufacturing subsector are both stuck at around 10% and 4% marks respectively. Each barely moved from where it was in 1991!

Agriculture’s share was about 60% in 1991 but it dropped to around 40% in 2014. The initial share of services was about 30% in 1991 but now it increased to 40%.  The sharply contrasting shapes of the lines give the impression that the service sector expands almost exclusively at the expense of the agricultural sector. Since almost nothing happened to the share of the industrial sector, it follows that any transformation that has occurred is only between agriculture and services. De-industrializing advanced economies can afford to specialize in services, but certainly this should not apply to a traditional economy.

The external sector

The preceding sections have focused on the structure and performance of the domestic economy.  Now I proceed to examining how sectoral policy bias in the domestic economy has adversely affected the external sector.  Rhetoric aside, EPRDF has never favored commodity producing sectors, that is why agriculture shrank and industry stagnated.

ethiopia's economy, external trade

However, the construction and service sectors have grown considerably as a direct consequence of favorable policy toward them.  This is a cocktail of catastrophic policy blunder – promoting non-tradable services (non-exportables) and discriminating against tradable commodities (or exportables).  Critically, the sectoral policy bias is inevitable outcome of regional development policy bias, for instance, against the now decaying coffee growing regions such as Jimma.

Fig. 2 displays the outcome of these policy blunders. It shows an ever widening gap between earnings from exports and payments for imports.  In 1991, the external sector gap was only $305 million, but it rose to $8.1 billion, a gigantic 27 fold increase. The balance of payment deficit has been growing every year by more than the initial amount.  So, the regime has nothing to celebrate as achievements in export promotion.

ethiopia's economy, external debt

In addition to generous ODA, Ethiopia has received exceptional treatment in debt cancellations.  These assistances and grants should have helped close the external sector gap displayed in Fig. 2.  One would not expect a piling up of external debt stocks.  The fact is Ethiopia’s debt is hitting the roof, as shown in Fig. 3.  It is incomprehensible why this happens.  In 1991, the Derge regime left behind a debt stock of $8.8 billion. It was thought such a high debt pile was scandalous. The matter seems to have gotten from bad to worse under the EPRDF regime.  Now the size of debt stock has doubled, currently standing at $16 billion.  This constitutes 31% of GDP (both in current prices).

Income distribution

At this juncture, it is appropriate to refer back to the nearly two and a half fold real increase in GDP per capita.  I have provided tangible evidence to suggest that Ethiopia’s GDP could have increased by a substantially greater magnitude if internal and external resources were utilized effectively and efficiently.  Be that as it may, it is essential to know to what extent all Ethiopians have experienced fairly balanced and equitable changes in their incomes.

Income distribution has been the least studied aspect of the Ethiopian economy.  Of course, there is abundant literature on poverty metrics. But they often rely on household survey data which are conducted under the auspices of government officials. Results from a few thousand persons are, more often than not, hastily generalized to arrive at “amazing and almost miraculous sounding conclusions”. For instance, IMF’s recent report on Ethiopia concluded: “Unlike other rapidly growing economies, the country has not experienced a significant increase in inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, even as poverty reduction occurred at a rapid pace”.

However, given what Ethiopians know about their country’s situation, it is mind boggling to read such statements from a reputable multilateral agency. In any event, it is not a difficult task to triangulate the issues and establish some balance in the argument. A report compiled by the World Bank in 2005 states that “real wages in Oromia declined by 36% followed by Amhara (31%).” This refers to wages of civil servants.

EPRDF has an explicit policy to keep wages low in all sectors, public or private, in order to attract foreign investment. For instance, in a recent interview, PM Hailemariam reiterated that “to achieve our advantage in light manufacturing, we have kept such costs low. This … starts with government wages. If you make government wages large, it impacts and inflates the market.” Perhaps it is fair to say that inflation is the only economic variable that has been persistently growing in double digits in Ethiopia.  Now given that the government has such an explicit policy to keep nominal wages low, how can real wage even stagnate or stay at the same level, let alone grow?

The civil servants and other fixed income groups, although their livelihoods have stagnated or worsened due to the wage policy, are actually in a relatively better off positions compared to the 85% of rural farming households.  The declining wage of the civil servants supports not just the employee and his/her immediate families in cities but also their extended families often residing in rural areas.  The fact that rural farming households depend on their salaried relatives living in cities confirms that actually their income and hence livelihoods are in a worse situation compared to those of their relatives earning fixed income.

This in turn tells us that the lion’s share of the cake, per capita GDP whose size more than doubled, must have gone to a tiny section of the population who depend neither on farming nor on wage income. After all, it is reported that “Ethiopia is creating millionaires at a faster rate than any other country on the continent.”

Fallacy of composition

Economic policy discussion on Ethiopia’s success story is becoming a philosophical debate in a fallacy of composition.  To begin with, for proponents of the EPRDF regime whether or not the success story does actually exist is proving to hinge more on faith than evidence.  Although I have not covered it in this piece, the contradictions in Ethiopia’s political economy start with the governance system.  In addition to “achievements in economic progress”, PM Hailemariam stated that EPRDF established a multi-party system as well as “a government structure which accommodates diversity and entertains the rights of nations and nationalities”. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

NPR journalist, Gregory Warner, paraphrased the late PM Meles Zenawi’s speech in 2005 and stated that EPRDFwaits until the opposition assemble and grow legs, that is establish leaders and constituency. They then cut off those legs and make the head (the leader) float on air with no root to give semblance of multiparty democracy in the country. Continue the same vicious policy over and over until the opposition is fully dismantled. It is by using such diabolically smart tactics that EPRDF “wins” elections. In fact, it is nonsensical to talk about multi-party democracy existing in Ethiopia.

Some overzealous reporters have hailed Ethiopia as “African Lion”, presumably to draw a parallel with Asian Tigers. However, one can only draw an analogy with a sick lion which cannot hunt and kill to feed itself, and always on a lookout to scavenge for leftover from other carnivore.

EPRDF officials and some gullible foreign analysts are seriously discussing that the country will join the middle income group by 2025 but manufacturing has barely moved from where it was 25 years go.  There are compelling empirical evidences emerging from reviews of progress in GTP I achievements that indicate nothing miraculous can happen in the remaining nine or so years.  Similarly, the EPRDF claims a dramatic fall in the poverty rate and improvements in living standards of Ethiopians but there are equally compelling evidences to suggest that the benefits of economic growth must have gone to only a tiny group of elites.

At every “victory day” anniversary, the EPRDF reminds Ethiopians that the country has turned into a paradise.  Yet, youth unemployment in Addis Abeba alone is at least around 30%, according to a December 2014 research paper by Beshir Butta Dale.  Ethiopia’s youth are departing in droves to different parts of the world. At least half a million have migrated to Saudi Arabia in recent years alone. Between 2008 and 2012, about 164 thousand Ethiopians have migrated to the USA.  These provide some clues to obtain rough estimates of the total size of labor force that have migrated over the years to different destinations, including other Middle East Countries, South Africa, and Europe, and including those who perished along the way in the deserts and high seas.

In the finale of Francis Spufford’s novel, Red Plenty, set in the Soviet Union, and referring to Khrushchev’s angry remarks while in retirement: “Paradise … is a place where people want to end up, not a place they run from. What kind of socialism is that? What kind of [s**t] is that, when you have to keep people in chains? What kind of social order? What kind of paradise?”

ED’s Note: J. Bonsa is an economist by training. He can be reached atdinade0612@gmail.com



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In Piassa, an area many consider to be the heart of Addis Abeba, rests the Ethiopian Federal Police Force Central Bureau of Criminal Investigation, otherwise known by its Amharic name, Ma’ekelawi (Amharic for central). Notorious for the sever torture detainees are subjected to inside its enclosures, Ma’ekelawi is a time defying institution which has been in use for more than half a century in Ethiopia, sadly for the same purpose.

During the dark days of the Marxist Derg regime between 1974 and 1991, Ma’ekelawi served as a place where thousands of dissenters were exposed to cruelties including disquieting torture and arbitrary killings. More than three decades down the line many of those who survived Ma’ekelawi live a life overshadowed by what happened when they were incarcerated, struggling to fully overcome the experience as they carry the burden of the darkest chapters in their lives.

Today nowhere is that history of horror visibly displayed than at the Red Terror Martyr’s Museum around MesqelSquare in central Addis Abeba. The Museum’s motto, “Never Ever Again”, speaks volumes about the atrocities committed inside Ma’ekelawi throughout the 17 years in power of the Derg regime.

The Red Terror Martyr’s Museum was built by the current regime in Ethiopia in honor of the people who perished during its predecessor’s infamous Red Terror campaign of 1977-1978. An estimated number of more than half a million Ethiopians were killed during that brutal campaign; and many of the victims have gone through the terrible experience of life at Ma’ekelawi.

For the survivors of the campaign, the Red Terror Martyr’s Museum is a place where solace and comfort can be sought. Some survivors who were approached by this magazine found talking about the horrendous experience they had gone through inside the fortress of Ma’ekelawi too much to bear, rendering our attempts to get their stories futile.

Fast forward, decades later and a completely different government that has ‘democratic’ written all over it, and that waged a civil war against a regime which partially depended on what happened inside Ma’ekelawi to extend its grip on power, the story of Ma’ekelawi remained intact.



Wofe-Lala – Derg’s favorite torture method


Wofe-Lala – Derg’s favorite torture method

 ‘Chambers of horror’

Other than its frightening name, a great number of present-day Ethiopians know little about either the physical structure or the torture techniques applied inside Ma’ekelawi. But a 2013 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled:“They Want a Confession: Torture and Ill treatment in Ethiopia’s Ma’ekelawi Police Station,” revealed a chilling account. It documented in detail the scale of human rights abuses, unlawful investigation tactics, and detention conditions practiced between the years of 2010 and 2013. It accuses investigators of using coercive methods including several ways of torture to extract confessions, statements, and other information from detainees. Depending on their compliances with the demands of investigators, the report said, detainees are punished or rewarded with denial or access to water, food, light, and other basic needs.They are also subjected to sever physical tortures involving beatings and punishments by stressful positions such as hanging them with their wrists tied to ceilings, or being made to stand with their hands tied above their heads for several hours.

The US State Department’s annual Human Right Report on Ethiopia, which was released in April this year, also admits that “there were credible reports police investigators used physical and psychological abuse to extract confessions inMa’ekelawi. Interrogators reportedly administered beatings and electric shocks to extract information and confessions from detainees.”

Both reports have been corroborated by several detainees (past and present) who were interviewed by Addis Standard for this story. (See selected stories here and here).

Many of them refer to Ma’ekelawi as “chambers of horror.”

Ethiopia's chambers of horror


“For many of the detainees Tawla Bet is a place of heartache, guilt and moral dilemma”

Inside the ‘Chambers of horror’

Ma’ekelawi has three different blocks with conditions significantly differing amongst them. Based on the locations and the facilities inside; the three blocks are known as Siberia, Tawla Bet & Sheraton.


The worst of the three blocks is called Siberia for none other than the cells’ freezing temperature.  Siberia alone has between seven and 10 cells at a time, all ranging from 16 to 25 square meters in size. (The number of the cells can go up and down depending on the number of detainees received at a time. And when detainees overwhelm the block, the management converts rooms that serve as storage places or communal rooms into detention centers).

One of the cells in Siberia, cell number 8, is partitioned into four separate cells and is used to keep detainees in solitary confinement. The rooms are just big enough to accommodate a mattress to sleep and a bucket to urinate on. They have no window and no light inside, which is why they are called “Chelema Bet” (Amharic for Dark House).

The rest of the Siberia block hosts communal cells, which are lined up along a long corridor facing one another. They do share similar features with “Chelema Bet”: the rooms are naturally dark except for a dim fluorescent light hanging on a barred, small window near each ceiling. The metal doors have small peepholes, often covered on cardboard, and are kept locked for 24 hours. Detainees inside these communal cells are allowed to have just 10 minutes of access to daylight per day.  The only other stuffs in each communal cell are mattresses, a bucket and a few food bowls. Up to 20 detainees (sometimes more) are forced to share each of the communal cells, which are not more than 4X5 square meters in size.

At one end of the corridor there are five filthy toilets and a shower located adjacent the toilets, all for communal use. While showering is allowed once a week, accessing the toilet is restricted to 15 minutes at a time, twice a day; and as if that is not enough discomfort the toilets don’t have doors to give detainees the privacy they need.

‘Tawla Bet’

Tawla Bet (Amharic for wooden house), is where those who are coerced to testify against fellow detainees are kept as prosecutors’ key witnesses. For many of the detainees Tawla Bet is a place of heartache, guilt and moral dilemma;  many of them are brought into a point of mental breakdown to testify against fellow detainees under sever duress.

Tawla Bet is also where female detainees are kept. Although most of the regulations are similar with Siberia, the doors in Tawla Bet cells can stay open during daytime, allowing detainees to sit at their doorstep and sometimes move from one cell to the other, a precious asset inside the two blocks.


Named after Ethiopia’s luxurious hotel, Sheraton is a block in which detainees are indulged with a movement as well as access to lawyers and relatives. They can also watch television – mainly broadcast of the state TV programs – at daytime.  Detainees who went through interrogations in Siberia and Tawla Bet and are waiting to be officially charged are the primary occupants of the Sheraton block.

The political element

Amha Mekonen, a prominent defense attorney who has represented some of the high profile defendants in recent years – including the much publicized case of Zone9 bloggers – is no stranger to the stories of Ma’ekelawi detailed in the HRW report. “Defendants who are detained at Ma’ekelawi often complain that they are subjected to inhuman treatments,” he tells this magazine. “Some of the defendants even manage to convince courts that they indeed have been abused and assaulted.”

One key problem Amha sees with Ma’ekelawi is that “the division initiates investigation without actually having any real ground to suspect that there is a crime that warrants an investigation. Many say this happens when the case is politically motivated. I am not sure whether that is true or not. What I am sure is the fact that there are instances when the division begins investigation without having sufficient evidence,” he says.

But for the HRW’s report the political element in Ma’ekelawi’s conduct is not easy to miss. The facility is the first stop for the majority of the country’s opposition politicians, journalists, protest organizers, and alleged supporters of ethnic insurgencies once all are taken into police custody, the report says.

Article 6/1 of the Ethiopian Federal Police Commission Establishment Proclamation 720/2011 gives the Federal Police the duty to prevent and investigate any threat and acts of crime against the Constitution and the constitutional order, security of the government and the state and human rights offenses. As a result the majority detainees in Ma’ekelawiare suspected of committing Federal offenses.

Furthermore, Ethiopia’s introduction in 2009 of the infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) has made Ma’ekelawian important site for the detention and investigation of most of the politically sensitive cases, according to the HRW report. The provisions included in Ethiopia’s ATP seriously undermine basic legal safeguards against prolonged pre-charge detentions. Thus, once accused of offenses under this law, the facilities at Ma’ekelawi automatically become home to the majority of detainees in preparation for their trials, according to the report.

As of late the facility is overcrowded, Amha says. “I heard that they are transferring some of the detainees to Addis Abeba Police Commission nearby,” he says. “This shows that they are overwhelmed with cases. It might be criminal cases or something else. It might be something the government wants to suppress. It can be politically motivated,” Amha opines, but Tsegaye Ararssa, a Melbourne-based legal scholar, is unambiguous in his assertion: “the fact that the larger proportion of detainees are political prisoners and prisoners of conscience indicates that something is wrong with the way the politics is run in that country,” he told this magazine in a written interview.

One of the factors that made living conditions inside Ma’ekelawi hellish has always been the disproportionately big numbers of people forced to stay in a single room. “We hear that around 12 sometimes up to 15 people are detained in a cell which is no wider than 4 meter square,” says Amha.

Recently, Bekele Gerba, first secretary general of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) – and who is going through life at Ma’ekelawifor the second time –  made a passionate plea at a federal court that he and 21 other detainees were forced to stay at a “4×5 meter cell that included a toilet”.

The Constitution: Ma’ekelawi’s first victim

The operations inside Ma’ekelawi are not only against basic human rights but are at odds with the Supreme Law of the land, the constitution, as well as other laws the country governs itself by, according to Amha.  For Tsegaye the essential purpose of Ma’ekelawi is “regime security not human security” and as such it has become an institution that flouts the rights and security of citizens that are otherwise guaranteed in the country’s constitution.

Article 19 (2/5) of the Ethiopian Constitution, for example, asserts that people under police custody should not be forced to make confessions or make admissions which could be “used in evidence against them”. It nullifies any evidence obtained under coercion as inadmissible in the court of law. And article 24 of Proclamation No. 720/2011 prohibits the police from committing, “any inhuman or degrading treatment or act.”

In addition, regulation on the Treatment of Federal Prisoners 138/2007 (art. 3/1) clearly states that “no discrimination on grounds of gender, language, religion, political opinion nation/nationality, social status or citizen,” while art. 3/2 of the same Regulation guarantees “respect to [the detainees’] human dignity unless restricted by the penalties imposed on them.”

Nonetheless detainees at Ma’ekelawi are not only refused access to lawyers and relatives, but are subjected to tortures. “[Similar] tortures we have been hearing in the Derg period such as hanging a bottle of water on male genitals, electric shock, beating, being forced to stand for a long time, and other forms of prolonged interrogations,” are committed against detainees, says Amha, adding that defendants also experience self-incrimination and coercion to testify against co-defendants.  “What is more astonishing is the level of details and [organized narratives] we find on those confessions. It is as if they were [composed] by someone with a literary background. No one in his right mind incriminates himself in that manner,” Amha says.

Tsegaye reinforces Amha’s point. “In Ethiopian detention centers fact is not found, or discovered, as such; they are made. They are created in the course of the ‘investigation’”.

Many detainees are brought from remote areas all over the country. For them the pain is twice as much. “They are separated from their social background and support system. There might even be a language barrier. I am not sure ifMa’ekelawi is equipped with proper translation mechanism during interrogations,” says Amha. “And what is worse is after having gone through painful and life-altering months or even years at Ma’ekelawi, they might be acquitted and walk free,” he adds.

According to Tsegaye, “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,” Tsegaye said, adding that when a detainee is far removed from his/her own place of residence it “makes it more difficult to gather evidence even for the investigator.”  But because the main focus is on “infliction of pain on the ‘suspect’ rather than finding facts, often this fact is neglected.”

To ease this problem, if not to solve it, Amha suggests that other criminal investigation facilities should be established in regional states. Further explaining on this, Tsegaye says that in principle regional states can – and perhaps should – have their own system of criminal investigation. But their power would be confined to the crimes over which they have jurisdiction. (The States have legislative competence over criminal matters that are not covered by the federal criminal code.)

As per Proclamation No. 25/1996 (and its amendments since), the State Supreme Courts have jurisdiction over cases that were meant to appear in the Federal High Court, according to Tsegaye. “State High Courts would adjudge cases that are normally under the jurisdiction of the Federal First Instance Court. This practice suggests that, to this extent, the Ethiopian federal system is merely an executive/administrative federal system. (That is to say, it is a federal system where the federal government has a legislative power whereas the States have an executive/administrative power. The State institutions enforce or execute federal laws), Tsegaye explains.

Ethiopia, prisoners items in Ma'ikelawi (Torture chamber).

Back to a lingering past

On February 26, 1977 44 prisoners were picked from Ma’ekelawi and were taken to the outskirts of the city where they were executed and buried in a mass grave, Babile Tola, a survivor of Ma’ekelawi, recounts in his book, “To Kill a Generation: the Red Terror in Ethiopia.” The youngest of the 44 was only 17 while many of them were aged between 17 and 26. The story of the secret mass execution was brought to light thanks to two prisoners who managed to jump and escape out of the police van on their way to their execution. One of them was the young Hilawi Yosef, who subsequently joined the armed struggle against theDerg regime.

After putting the stories during the armed struggle behind him Hilawi Yosef served in several senior positions in the incumbent’s government. Asked by this magazine to relate his story of the Ma’ekelawi Hilawi, who is currently serving as Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Israel, declined to return our email, but his story was narrated in Babile Tola’s historical book, as well as Girmaye Abraha’s “Yemiyanebu Egroch” (Amharic for “The feet that weep”), an apparent reference to the tortures that leave detainees’ feet bleeding.

In addition to Ambassador Hilawi Yosef, several other officials in the current government have been, at one point or another, detained at Ma’ekelawi during the Derg regime. It is a fact that leaves Ma’ekelawi’s current victims mystified and in endless search for answers on the logic of keeping and running an institution that many died fighting against.

So why is Ma’ekelawi still running?

For Tsegaye, the core reason for its existence as the prime source of state terror is the fundamental insecurity of the Ethiopian state. “There lacks to be a political will to demolish this prime example of the apparatus of state repression,” he says. The US state department report revealed that majority of mistreatments happen in “Ma’ekelawi and police stations rather than federal prisons.”

Amha carefully points at the existence of other facilities as a viable alternative to (at least) replace the deteriorating physical infrastructure of Ma’ekelawi, but agrees with Tsegaye that lack of political will is what is holding the change back. “You can find the evidence to that within a walking distance. The newly built Addis Abeba Police Commission has a much better criminal investigation block and facility. If there was a political will, the same improvements could have been done to Ma’ekelawi.

However, Amha says he doesn’t have any problem with the existence of a Federal Criminal Investigation facility. “My problem is with how it is being operated. [Also] for symbolic reasons, I would prefer it if it is somewhere else because of the horrible memories associated with that place.”

Tsegaye argues that the structure and even the name of Ma’ekelawi should have been altered to “reflect the changed politico-administrative structure of the country. Taking account of the federal set up, the name could have changed into ‘Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation’. That it hasn’t changed even in name already betrays the virtually non-federal political culture and the political practice of the country to date.”

Tsegaye is of the view that if there was a serious thinking into it, such a change – the change from a unitary system to a federal one – would have offered an “opportunity to move away from the dastardly, imperial, and barbaric practices that [Ma’ekelawi] represents and is a symbol of.”

One obstacle that hindered this change, according to Tsegaye, is the fact that Ma’ekelawi has never been put to the light of political and legal accountability. “It has never been publicly criticized (for its misdeeds) in representative political institutions (such as Parliamentary Oversight Committees); its power, finance, and personnel have never been put to a transparent audit system; the legal foundation of that institution, its competence (such as the matters it has jurisdiction over), its jurisdiction, and its responsibility framework has never been publicly accounted for.”

Aside from the visible lack of political will (see our editorial here), lack of skill in crime investigation is yet another factor that contributes to the brutal handling of detainees under police custody, Tsegaye adds. “Criminal investigation is a science, a profession in its own right. Detection requires a distinct set of skills that have to be put to use in the investigation of a particular crime.” From his stint as a lecturer at the Police College, Tsegaye remembers “being told that no one was trained in criminal investigation.”

Tsegaye is under no illusion that judging from its ultimate purpose as a tool of repression, its ideal location in the heart of Piassa (comforted by a general silence), and the total information blackout on the purpose and everyday conduct of the injustice inside its fortress, the current government is, unfortunately, poised to continue running Ma’ekelawi,despite it being a  “monument of state barbarity” and a “primary institution that serves as the true face of the repressive regimes – past and present.”

Analysis: Ma’ekelawi! Why is Ethiopia still running a ‘Torture Chamber’ from the past?


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OPINION: TAKING OUR VOICE SERIOUSLY. #OromoProtests March 22, 2016

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By Hailegabriel Gedecho,  Addisstandard, 22nd March 2016


My starting point for this short reflection is my discomfort with friends and acquaintances who question (and dismiss) the morality of supporting (to use their pejorative expression‘mafafam’) Oromo Protests from overseas. As most of these critiques reside in Ethiopia (where public display of solidarity with Oromo Protests is meant risking torture, incarceration, and of course one’s life), the claim of immorality of Ethiopian diaspora showing solidarity with Oromo protesters may be interpreted as either a fear of tyranny or a disguised yearning for an Ethiopia where public display of resistance does not cost one’s freedom or life.

But there seems to be more to this argument than the fear or yearning that I alluded to above. If you push a bit further and ask why they are not themselves doing the support (if the morality of protests overseas is the issue as they claim), they end up telling you ‘order’ must be managed or Oromo Protests must first be reframed as ‘Ethiopia Protests’. So, for them, order (whatever that means) and fetishizing Ethiopia are the litmus tests of the morality of protests against the Ethiopian state. As a corollary, one can legitimately assume these people don’t care if the Ethiopian state kills, dispossess, disempowers, and denigrate Oromos as long as ‘order’ is maintained and fetish Ethiopia is thereby performed. In this piece, I will try to explain why, in many ways, the silence these resident Ethiopians seek from their overseas friends is ethically more troublesome than the solidarity (often expressed through social media outlets such as Facebook) that Ethiopians in overseas show to the victims of state terrorism in Ethiopia.
The participation of Ethiopians overseas in protests has more often involved social media activism. Although the effects of this social media activism cannot be contradicted, it is hardly the cause or the primary instigator of the Oromo Protests on the ground. In a country where internet access is limited to only less than 5% of the total population (the majority being Addis Abebans who are not apparently interested in the protest), the impact of social media activism in fuelling Oromo Protest is negligible, more so in rural Oromiya where we are witnessing the protest. Oromo Protest has its origin within Ethiopia and is related to developments there. The impossibility of the protesters’ demand to be expressed through other less explosive spaces of resistance and the eternally undemocratic and imperial nature of the Ethiopian state and its development model are its major contributors. The social media activism by the diaspora cannot be implicated in this, unless one wants to easily buy into the dull rhetoric of the Ethiopian government blaming every wrong on ‘external forces’.
Instead, complementing the voice of the subaltern in spaces where their participation is marginal (e.g. social media) is morally satisfying. As can be easily noticed, the social media is a space of its own dynamics. Though it can generally be open to all, there is every possibility that sympathisers of the violent Ethiopian state dominate the social media discussion of current affairs in the country. This makes the active complication of the suffocating state-sponsored discourses of developing, democratizing, and modernizing Ethiopia urgent. Those who perform their resistance on social media may at least vindicate the causes of the subaltern (such as the Oromo protesters) by exposing the state’s pretentiousness vis-à-vis its politically and economically marginal communities.
Of course, there is an additional reason why Ethiopians overseas should do the social media activism. Unlike their brothers and sisters at home (who are paying dearly for asking legitimate questions), Ethiopians overseas are removed from the immediate threat of state reprisal for echoing these questions. Although doing the easy thing in a virtual space cannot compensate for the pain suffered by victims of state terrorism, it is at least a blameless (as well as useful) thing than remaining silent about the injustices perpetrated by the Ethiopian state.
Another thing which seems to obsess the silent supporters of injustice relates to vocal diaspora activists and their increasing popularity. It is often argued resistance from afar is cowardice and meaningless. In their eyes, the brave is the one who dare to challenge the government from within. Admittedly, those who do their protest in Ethiopia are brave. But, their bravery cannot and should not be measured against the alleged spiritless-ness of vocal diaspora activists. In fact, numerous foreign-based Oromo protesters know what it means to challenge the Ethiopian state from home. They have experienced the brutality of the Ethiopian state for having done that.Their bodies and souls unalterably inscribe experiences of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment under the Ethiopian state that rendered them homeless in the first place. Hence, they have every reason to fear the brutality of the evil state, least for having part of their family back at home. This fear is not illegitimate and cannot be ridiculed as cowardice, not least by sympathisers of the violent state who often rationalise their desire for status quo in terms of fear of the unknown post-Oromo protest future.
Interestingly, some admit the Ethiopian state has always (perhaps unsurprisingly) justified its excessive violence in terms of the ‘need to maintain order’. It is unclear how one can ethically and consistently claim the primacy of order (which assumes the sincerity of state’s monopoly of violence to supress any protest) as well as suggest that those who languish in Ethiopian prisons (as a result of their participation in creating ‘disorder’) are morally more righteous than runaways who make the talk from overseas.This is just like saying: ‘come and face the power of the ruthless state or don’t tarnish Ethiopia’s hard won image of stability and development by channelling the legitimate question raised by the people of Oromiya through social media outlets’. Local elites who do not want their privileged life disturbed and their demand for silence from their equally privileged friends abroad may be interpreted as a desire to normalize the violence the majority is living under in Ethiopia. If anything, the diaspora can contribute (as well as it does) in exposing the façade of development and stability that the Ethiopian state and its sympathisers deploy to invisibilize the multidimensional structural violence in the country. There is no wrong in siding with the powerless, even if that would ‘disturb’ the imperial peace of the privileged that charge the diaspora for the continued mess at home.
For me, this is not the time to worry about the good image of Ethiopia or the Oromoness of the protest. Whether the protest is framed as Ethiopian or Oromo protest it is irrelevant as long as what is at stake is an issue of social justice. Those who suspend their support to Oromo Protest because of its framing as “Oromo” cannot be more ethically wrong than this. If they sincerely believe Oromo questions are Ethiopian questions, they should have done the framing themselves and join the struggle under the banner ‘Ethiopia Protests’ instead of demanding the Oromos to reaffirm the primacy of Ethiopia (which they cannot for legitimate reasons) or wanting the likes of me (who is not an Oromo by the way) keeping silent about the plight of the Ethiopian subaltern.
I don’t understand why it is morally right to keep silent about injustices while at the same time complaining about the ‘disturbing voice’ of Ethiopians overseas that rightly believe they are supporting the cause of justice and channelling that voice to those who care to hear. Those who don’t care to hear can continue complaining about the disturbing voice. Should I worry for incidentally disturbing the privileged and the complicit in violence? No. Those who worry much are those who have something to lose (like the ruling EPRDF) or those who want the continuity of violence. And, they are the reasons why I should take my otherwise insignificant but disturbingly resistant voice seriously.


Ed’s note: Hailegabriel Gedecho former assistant professor at Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia. He now studies law at University of Melbourne, Australia



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Odaa OromooDeath toll climbs as #OromoProtests still rage in Oromia state ( Ethiopia); schools remain closed. As of 30 january 2016. Fascist Ethiopian regime conducts genocide against Oromo people.#OromoProtests of 7 December 2015#OromoLivesMatters!Stop killing Oromo Students




It is happening again, sadly. The government in Ethiopia is back to its signature of killing, maiming and jailing its own people because they are exercising their chance of rejecting state excesses using the only means available: taking to the streets to protest.

Ethiopia is a country that has effectively obliterated several channels that normally help foster a healthy communication between citizens and the state .The sorry state of independent media and civil society organization is distressing; and every day lived experienced of Ethiopians and their contacts with authorities at any level is alarmingly toxic.
Authorities in Ethiopia should have therefore been the last ones to get started by the idea of citizens taking to the streets to make their grievances heard. Alas, that is not to be.
Hundreds and thousands of students and residents in more than 100 cities and towns in Oromiya Regional State (Oromiya for short), the largest and most populous state in Ethiopia, are in and out of the streets since early Nov. last year. Like every experience when Ethiopians were out on the streets protesting state excesses, every day is bringing heart breaking stories of Ethiopians suffering in the hands of security personnel. Since Nov.12th 2015, when the first protest broke out in Ginchi, a small town 80km west of Addis Abeba, countless households have buried their loved ones; young university students have disappeared without a trace; hundreds have lost limbs and countless others are jailed
Ethiopians are once again killing, miming and jailing Ethiopians.
The immediate trigger factor is the possible implementation of the infamous Addis Abeba and Surrounding Oromiya Special Zone Integrated Development Plan, popularly known as ‘the Addis Abeba Master Plan.’
The federal government claims it is a plan aimed at only creating a better infrastructure link between the capital Addis Abeba and eight towns located within the Oromiya Regional State Special Zone. But the reason why it is having a hard time selling this otherwise fairytale like development plan is the same reason why it is responding heavy handedly to any dissent against it: it is what it wants to do.
The current protest is led by the Oromos, who are the largest ethnic majority in Ethiopia. In all the four corners of the Addis Abeba surrounding localities, Oromos also make up the single largest majority whose way of lives have already been affected by mammoth changes Addis Abeba has been having over the last Century.
They are rejecting the central government’s top down plan because they are informed by a merciless history of eviction and dispossession. Several researches show that over the last 25 years alone about half a million Oromo farmers have unjustly lost their farmlands to give way to an expansion of a city that is xenophobic to their way to being.
Not the first time
Sadly, this is not the first time Ethiopians are pleading with their government to be heard in regards to the so-called ‘Master Plan.’ The first protest erupted in April-May 2014 when mostly Oromo student protesters from universities in Ambo and Jimma in the west, Adama in the east and Medaawalabu in south east Ethiopia, among others, expressed their disapproval of the plan. Like today, they have resorted to communicate with authorities the only way they possibly can: take to the streets to protest. And like today authorities have responded the only way they have so far responded to Ethiopian voices calling for justice: killing tens, maiming hundreds and incarcerating thousands.
As of 1991, when the current regime first came to power, students, mostly Oromo students, have staged several protest rallies calling for justice. Each time the end result has been nothing short of a disaster.
Although the 2014 Oromo students protest marked the first of the largest protest against the central government, a not so distant memory of Oromo students’ protests and subsequent crackdowns reveal a disturbing history of state brutality gone with impunity. To mention just two, in late ‘90s Oromo Students at the Addis Abeba University (AAU) protested against a systematic expulsion of hundreds of Oromo students, who, authorities claimed, had links with the then rebel group, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). But many of those who protested against the dismissal of their dorm mates soon joined the growing list of expulsion; hundreds of were also jailed. Today mothers speak of their kids who have disappeared without a trace since then. And in early 2000 Oromo students have taken to the streets to protest against the federal government’s decision to relocate the capital of the Oromiya regional state from Addis Abeba to Adama. Many of them were killed when police opened fires in several of those protests, including the one here in Addis Abeba.
Although in 2005 the federal government decided to relocate the capital of Oromiya back to Addis Abeba, fifteen years later Ethiopian prisons are hosting hundreds of students who were jailed following their protest against the decision in the first place; hundreds of them have left the country via Kenya and have become homeless in foreign lands. Less mentioned are also the lives that have been altered forever; the hopes that were dashed; the students’ quest to study and change their lives that were cut short; a country that is deprived of its young and brightest; and family fabrics that were shattered.
State impunity and all that
Following the 2014 Oromo students’ protest and the killing spree by the federal and the regional state police, Abadula Gemeda, speaker of the house of people’s representatives and former president of the Oromiya regional state, promised to bring to justice those who were responsible for the killing.
But two outstanding experiences explain why Abadula’s words were mere rhetoric. And the government in Ethiopia should address both if it wants to remain a legitimate representative of the people it claims to govern.
First, so far no one who represents the government has been held accountable for the killings, maiming, disappearances and unjust incarceration for countless Ethiopians following protest crackdowns. No matter how excessive the use of force by its security agents against unarmed protesters is, the government knows (and acts as such) it can simply get away with it, as it did several times in the past. This is wrong. A state that has no mechanism to hold its rogue agents accountable for their excesses is equally guilty.
In addition to that, in what came as a disturbing twist, the government has adopted a new strategy aimed at portraying itself as a victim of public vandalism. It is rushing to clean itself of the crimes committed by its security agents. Using its disproportionate access to state owned and affiliated media currently the government is presiding over the stories of victimhood more than those whose lives have been destroyed by it. In an act of shame and disgrace to the profession, these state owned and affiliated media are providing their helping hands to complete the act of state impunity.
Second, the central government’s first answer to the repeated cries of justice by Ethiopians is to communicate with them through its army. Like in the past, in the ongoing protests by the Oromo, which have largely focused on cities and towns within the Oromiya regional state, protesters are not only facing the regional state’s security apparatus but also the merciless hands of the federal army reserve. This is an act that not only trespasses the country’s constitutionally guaranteed federal arrangement but also makes the horrific crimes committed by necrophiliac security agents against protesters to get lost in unnecessary details, hence go unpunished.
Public protests in the past and the manner by which the current government dealt with them should teach the later a lesson or two. But the first and most urgent one is that it should stop killing, maiming and jailing its people’s questions.
In addition to the unknown numbers of those who have been killed by the police and the army in the wake of the ongoing protest, cities have seen their hospitals crowded with wounded Ethiopians of all ages; hundreds of individuals, including senior members of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), are already thrown into jails without due legal process. In clear violation of the constitution by none other than the state most of them are held incommunicado in places unknown to their loved ones.
In the wake of his release after serving four years in prison, Bekele Gerba, the prominent opposition figure, told this magazine in April last year that prison was “not a place one appreciates to be, but I think it is also the other way of life as an Ethiopian.” Sadly, Bekele is once again thrown in to jail because that is Ethiopia does to its people’s questions. But an end to this is long overdue.

Editorial: Ethiopia should stop killing, maiming and incarcerating its people’s question