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FT: Ethiopia regime caught between will to survive and call for change January 9, 2018

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Ethiopia regime caught between will to survive and call for change


Real reform unlikely as it would mean self-destruction for government, critics say

#OromoProtests at a point of no returns

After anti-government protests erupted two years ago, Ethiopia’s government adopted its traditional approach to dealing with dissent: hundreds of people were killed in clashes with security forces, tens of thousands were detained and a state of emergency was imposed. But the unrest continued to fester and has escalated in the five months since emergency rule was lifted, once more threatening the stability of the nation and the prospects of one of Africa’s best-performing economies. Now the rattled government is trying a different tactic — making conciliatory gestures to those who oppose its autocratic rule.  Hailemariam Desalegn, the prime minister, announced last week that the government would release political prisoners and close a notorious prison as the first steps in a process to “foster national reconciliation”.  Analysts say the highly unusual measure was prompted by a belated realisation in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front that the unrest posed a serious threat to its 26-year hold on power. But the way the crisis has been handled also exposes unprecedented cracks in the unity of the four-party ruling coalition. “[While] on the one hand . . . the situation of our country is delightful, the conflicts . . . pose serious danger to our national survival Regime executive committee press release “The EPRDF has always had divisions but it’s been very insular and everything has been contained,” says Ahmed Salim, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence. “For the first time we’re seeing some of these machinations play out publicly because of the anti-government protests.” The decision to release prisoners, which has yet to be implemented, was taken by the EPRDF’s 36-member executive committee at a 17-day retreat last month. In a rare bout of self-criticism, the executive committee blamed the crisis on poor leadership at all levels of the coalition and a lack of democracy. The EPRDF controls all the seats in parliament and all the main opposition parties have been outlawed or emasculated, the country has few independent civil society organisations and the media is muzzled. The committee concluded that while “on the one hand . . . the situation of our country is delightful”, according to an official translation of a press release, “the conflicts being ensued in different parts of the country . . . posed serious danger to our national survival”. The “conflicts” erupted in 2015 over opposition to government plans to expand the capital, Addis Ababa. They escalated into a more general anti-government movement as discontent rose, particularly in the Oromia and Amhara regions, where people complain about decades of marginalisation by the ruling Tigrayan elite. Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the move to free prisoners would ‘foster national reconciliation’.

More recently, the protests have centred on clashes between people in Oromia and the Somali federal state, prompting fears among analysts that the unrest could become increasingly ethnic. “It’s a realisation by the [EPRDF], perhaps a little too late, that they need to shift course in their approach to the growing anti-government sentiment,” Mr Salim says. “It’s a tacit acceptance they’ve got it all wrong.” After its meeting, the EPRDF committee expressed “its earnest remorse for putting the ongoing quarter century [of] development in jeopardy”. Over the past decade, Ethiopia, an impoverished nation of 100m, has recorded average economic growth of more than 8 per cent, while attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment as it positioned itself as a centre of low-cost manufacturing. Awol Allo, an Ethiopian political analyst at Keele University in the UK, describes the prisoner announcement as a “major step in the right direction for the EPRDF”. However, activists’ long-held scepticism of the regime’s reform promises would remain until there was tangible progress, he says. Arguably the greater threat to the coalition’s survival comes not from the streets but from within its ranks, he says, particularly the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation and Amhara National Democratic Movement parties. “These parties are becoming increasingly vocal and demanding greater democracy,” he says.   The Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups account for more than 60 per cent of the population, but the EPRDF is dominated by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. Tigrayans comprise only 6 per cent of the population but the TPLF led the armed struggle that in 1991 toppled Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship.  The fourth party in the EPRDF is the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, which is led by Mr Hailemariam, the prime minister Mr Salim says the EPRDF is “clearly not united” but that it is premature to predict what will happen. “Complete collapse is the most unlikely scenario but they’re experiencing threats that are existential,” he says.  The coalition’s challenge is to find a balance between survival and satisfying demands for change, says Befeqadu Hailu, a prominent Ethiopian blogger. “If the EPRDF does real reform and introduces proper democracy it will perish, because it’s reated so many grievances in every citizen’s head it will either split or be voted out,” he says. “But if it doesn’t do reform, the crisis will get worse.”


 

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FT: Ethiopia’s economic gains tainted by violent repression February 5, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests.
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Ethiopia’s economic gains tainted by violent repression

Emergency fails to protect regime from biggest threat to 26-year grip on power

The Ethiopian regime has acted on its threat to crush any threat to its economic model.

Six soldiers burst into Beckham’s dormitory at Gondar university in northern Ethiopiaone evening without pausing to question the student.

Beckham’s crime was to share with the world, via a diaspora network, how 104 other Ethiopian students had been detained for complaining about conditions on campus.

Despite the beating, the smiling Ethiopian, who is studying applied science, considers himself lucky because he is still alive.

Beckham was held in a police station rather than a military camp, unlike many of the tens of thousands of people detained under a state of emergency imposed last October to contain anti-government protests.

“After a few weeks the police let me go. They seemed to sympathise with our cause,” says Beckham, who asked to use the name of his favourite footballer for fear of reprisals.

Beckham is among hundreds of thousands who joined protests over the past two years in the biggest threat to the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Frontsince it seized power 26 years ago. The autocratic government has responded with force, sending troops and police to break up protests, in which more than 500 people have been killed, imposing the state of emergency and rounding up tens of thousands.

It has vowed to crush any threat to its economic model, which has been lauded by development experts and helped lure billions of dollars to one of Africa’s best-performing economies. Yet the protests have underlined the fragility of the economic success. They spread from Oromia region in the centre to the northern highlands around Gondar, for generations the seat of imperial power, drawing in Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic groups, the Oromo and Amhara.

Human rights groups, domestic and foreign, have documented repeated and widespread abuses by the security forces. They also reported increasing use of violence by the opposition, particularly before the emergency was imposed.

Protesters’ grievances include a lack of democracy, repressive rule, limited job opportunities and the dominance of the Tigrayan ethnic group, which accounts for 6 per cent of the population, in the state and ruling coalition.

“We have no freedom and no prospects unless we join a party in the EPRDF,” Beckham says. “We need change and so we have to fight for it however we can.”

Raised in the city of Ambo, 120km west of Addis Ababa in Oromia, Beckham, who is in his 20s, has experienced the manner in which the EPRDF crushes dissent.

The unrest began in early 2014 when the government announced it wanted to extend the capital Addis Ababa into Oromia. Locals considered it a land grab and protested.

“In Ambo 72 people were killed on one day,” Beckham says of a demonstration in April 2014. “I was there and saw them shot [by soldiers].”

The authorities say the highest number of fatalities in Ambo on any day during that period was eight.

Stung by the level of anger, the government offered to negotiate with the Oromo over the Addis Ababa master plan. No deal was reached and 18 months later, in November 2015, protesters took to the streets again.

Beckham was then studying in Gondar, 730km north of Addis Ababa, but rushed back to Ambo after his 16-year-old brother was killed by soldiers in one of the first protests.

“He had been shot once in the heart and hit on the head with a stick,” he says. “It was difficult to identify if it was him or someone else because he was beaten so badly.”

The capital expansion was scrapped but the protests morphed into a wider anti-government movement and spread north.

A further source of discontent was the annexation of Welkait, once part of Amhara, into Tigray more than two decades ago. Protests flared in Gondar in July after Tigrayan police tried to arrest Demeke Zewdu, a former colonel and leader of the self-styled Welkait Committee, which has agitated for the area’s return to Amhara.

“About 300,000 people took to the streets of Gondar when they tried to arrest Colonel Demeke and everything went from there,” says a university lecturer who asked to be called Sufi Seid. “For about 20 days shops did not open as a sign of protest and demonstrations continued.”

“In Gondar and a couple of other towns that I know of about 120 people were killed and many many were arrested,” says a café owner.

Hailemariam Desalegn, the prime minister, said in November the death toll since November 2015 might be 500. His ministers admit that more than 20,000 have been detained. Activists say those are huge underestimates.

The emergency has brought a semblance of calm to Gondar, although grenade blasts rocked two hotels last month and violence has been reported in nearby towns.

“The protests have not gone away. People are just waiting because they don’t want to get into trouble,” Beckham says. “And nothing is being done to address the roots of the problem. So some people are now fighting back with weapons.”



 

Financial Times: Anti-government protests grow in Ethiopia. Grand #OromoProtests August 7, 2016

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#OromoProtests, 2nd August 2016 and continuesstop killing Oromo People

 

Images posted on social media showed huge demonstrations in the capital and other cities. Activists said the protests could mark a possible turning point in the nine month campaign against the government.

“The dynamic had shifted and people are now calling for the downfall of the government,” said Jawar Mohammed, who runs the Oromo Media Network in the US state of Minnesota and said he was in regular contact with protesters in multiple cities. “This is by far the biggest demonstration that Ethiopia has seen in terms of size and co-ordination across Oromia.” FT

 



(FT) — Scores of people were arrested in Ethiopia on Saturday in a wave of anti-government protests that rocked the capital Addis Ababa and dozens of other towns in the restless region of Oromia.

Images posted on social media showed huge demonstrations in the capital and other cities. Activists said the protests could mark a possible turning point in the nine month campaign against the government.

“The dynamic had shifted and people are now calling for the downfall of the government,” said Jawar Mohammed, who runs the Oromo Media Network in the US state of Minnesota and said he was in regular contact with protesters in multiple cities. “This is by far the biggest demonstration that Ethiopia has seen in terms of size and co-ordination across Oromia.”

Fisseha Tekle, an Amnesty International researcher who is based in Kenya, said the police and the army were using live bullets to disperse the protesters.

The demonstrations were sparked last November in protest against a move to extend the municipal boundaries of Addis Ababa into Oromia, which straddles much of the centre and south of the country and includes the capital. But they have grown in intensity in response to a fierce government crackdown.

The Oromo make up about 40 per cent of Ethiopia’s 90m people but they believe they are marginalised by the Tigrayan ethnic group, which dominates federal institutions despite comprising only about 6 per cent of the population.

In a report released in June, Human Rights Watch said that at least 400 people had been killed and thousands more injured since the protests began.

However, Ethiopia’s communications minister Getachew Reda said that Saturday’s protests were “illegal” and that “scores” of people had been arrested in the restless region.

Mr Reda denied suggestions that security personnel had used live gunfire, but said armed protesters were “trying to arm-twist the security forces into shooting” and “destroying private and public property.”

Independent efforts to reach protesters in Ethiopia were unsuccessful. The Ethiopian government has severely restricted access to the internet and social media in the Oromia region, making it hard to verify reports of protests.

But images showing bloodied bodies of protesters were circulated on social media using the hashtag #oromoprotests.

A massive demonstration was held in Gondar last Sunday, a city in the northern region of Amhara, to express solidarity with the Oromo and to express other grievances. It was the first time a major protest had broken out in another part of the country.



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Financial Times on #OromoProtests: A dispute that started over a football field has evolved into one of the biggest challenges to the Ethiopian state since the end of the civil war a quarter of a century ago. February 9, 2016

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Odaa Oromoo#OromoProtests iconic picture

 

 

#OromoProtests: “This is a popular uprising against political marginalisation, non-representation and corruption,….”


 

Ethiopian land protests put down with deadly force


A dispute that started over a football field has evolved into one of the biggest challenges to the Ethiopian state since the end of the civil war a quarter of a century ago.
When local officials expropriated the school pitch for developers, students took to the streets of Ginchi, a small town 80km from Addis Ababa, the capital.
Their protest was swiftly put down. But the incident was symptomatic of a wider collision in one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies as the government seeks to transform a predominately agrarian society through industrialisation, commercial farming and urbanisation.
The Ginchi protest was the first spark in an outpouring of opposition to local and federal government in which at least 140 people died between November and last month, according to human rights groups. The protests spread across Oromia state, home to millions of subsistence farmers from the Oromo, the largest group in Ethiopia’s federation of ethnic nationalities.
Their anger was directed at local governments affiliated with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (which with its allies controls all 547 seats in parliament) because of perceived corruption plaguing land deals as speculators surf rising property prices in towns around the capital.
At the same time they accuse the federal government of riding roughshod over local sensitivities with a plan to extend administration of overcrowded Addis Ababa into Oromia, which surrounds the capital.
“The master plan is about taking Oromia land and expanding Addis. It will create job opportunities but not for the farmers because their land is being taken,” says a labourer in the satellite town of Sululta.
Sululta, where factories and new housing developments encroach on traditional farmland, was one of about 30 Oromo towns that were the scene of mass protests in December. Peasant farmers pouring down on horseback from the hills to join protesting students were met with tear gas and bullets.
Elsewhere police stations and symbols of the state were attacked. In some isolated incidents so were private businesses.
“They are giving permission [to build] for the people who are rich but they are not giving permission for poor people,” said a farmer near the town of Chancho. He had been unable to obtain a permit to build a house for his son on his three-hectare barley plot, and had one mud construction torn down near a towering cement plant. Another farmer said he was given tiny compensation when compelled to surrender land to local officials who sold it on.

Such parochial grievances conflate with broader frustration among the Oromo at the perceived dominance in federal institutions of the Tigrayan ethnic group. Oromos make up about 40 per cent of Ethiopia’s 90m population, Tigrayans, who spearheaded the 1991 revolution, about 6 per cent.
“This is a popular uprising against political marginalisation, non-representation and corruption,” says Merera Gudo, head of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress and one of the few senior members of his party not under arrest.
The government a month ago shelved the blueprint to expand Addis. Since then an uneasy calm policed by security forces has settled over the region.
But the episode has exposed a fundamental contradiction in the way Ethiopia is governed — between the federal state as enshrined in the constitution and the reality of centralised, authoritarian power.
“The master plan was intended to co-ordinate planning between Addis and satellite towns . . . Infrastructure would be developed, bottlenecks in housing addressed and the dynamic of the economy maintained,” says Arkebe Oqubay, a minister and former Addis mayor who acknowledges there was insufficient consultation with those likely to be affected. “It left room for misinterpretation and proper explanation has not been done,” he adds.
Abel Belete, a political analyst in Addis, says it was unprecedented for Ethiopian authorities to back off in this way under popular pressure. “It is a sign of weakness,” he says.
Despite the climbdown, underlying tensions remain, with the population appearing cowed rather than persuaded.
“Thinking for the people and thinking for the country are very different. You can stamp on the people and still promote the country,” says a young Oromo professional who was afraid to speak openly for fear of arrest.
He recognises efforts by the government of Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister since 2012, and Meles Zenawi, his predecessor, to deliver services, create jobs and invest in infrastructure. But like many of the 100,000 graduates emerging from new universities each year, he wants greater democratic rights and opportunity.
“We are not free to express ourselves. That means people are not involved in the development process,” he says.
Ethiopia’s semi-authoritarian government has fostered some of the fastest economic growth in Africa while resisting liberal market orthodoxy and giving the state a central role in development. It is an experiment keenly watched by other African governments more constrained by democratic process.
But the Oromo protests are interpreted by some observers as one sign that Addis Ababa’s strategy also has limits.
“Ethiopia is undoubtedly fragile even if the underlying state is strong,” says an Addis-based diplomat from the region.

 
When local officials expropriated the school pitch for developers, students took to the streets of Ginchi, a small town 80km from Addis Ababa, the capital.
Their protest was swiftly put down. But the incident was symptomatic of a wider collision in one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies as the government seeks to transform a predominately agrarian society through industrialisation, commercial farming and urbanisation.
The Ginchi protest was the first spark in an outpouring of opposition to local and federal government in which at least 140 people died between November and last month, according to human rights groups. The protests spread across Oromia state, home to millions of subsistence farmers from the Oromo, the largest group in Ethiopia’s federation of ethnic nationalities.
Their anger was directed at local governments affiliated with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (which with its allies controls all 547 seats in parliament) because of perceived corruption plaguing land deals as speculators surf rising property prices in towns around the capital.
At the same time they accuse the federal government of riding roughshod over local sensitivities with a plan to extend administration of overcrowded Addis Ababa into Oromia, which surrounds the capital.
“The master plan is about taking Oromia land and expanding Addis. It will create job opportunities but not for the farmers because their land is being taken,” says a labourer in the satellite town of Sululta.
Sululta, where factories and new housing developments encroach on traditional farmland, was one of about 30 Oromo towns that were the scene of mass protests in December. Peasant farmers pouring down on horseback from the hills to join protesting students were met with tear gas and bullets.
Elsewhere police stations and symbols of the state were attacked. In some isolated incidents so were private businesses.
“They are giving permission [to build] for the people who are rich but they are not giving permission for poor people,” said a farmer near the town of Chancho. He had been unable to obtain a permit to build a house for his son on his three-hectare barley plot, and had one mud construction torn down near a towering cement plant. Another farmer said he was given tiny compensation when compelled to surrender land to local officials who sold it on.

Such parochial grievances conflate with broader frustration among the Oromo at the perceived dominance in federal institutions of the Tigrayan ethnic group. Oromos make up about 40 per cent of Ethiopia’s 90m population, Tigrayans, who spearheaded the 1991 revolution, about 6 per cent.
“This is a popular uprising against political marginalisation, non-representation and corruption,” says Merera Gudo, head of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress and one of the few senior members of his party not under arrest.
The government a month ago shelved the blueprint to expand Addis. Since then an uneasy calm policed by security forces has settled over the region.
But the episode has exposed a fundamental contradiction in the way Ethiopia is governed — between the federal state as enshrined in the constitution and the reality of centralised, authoritarian power.
“The master plan was intended to co-ordinate planning between Addis and satellite towns . . . Infrastructure would be developed, bottlenecks in housing addressed and the dynamic of the economy maintained,” says Arkebe Oqubay, a minister and former Addis mayor who acknowledges there was insufficient consultation with those likely to be affected. “It left room for misinterpretation and proper explanation has not been done,” he adds.
Abel Belete, a political analyst in Addis, says it was unprecedented for Ethiopian authorities to back off in this way under popular pressure. “It is a sign of weakness,” he says.
Despite the climbdown, underlying tensions remain, with the population appearing cowed rather than persuaded.
“Thinking for the people and thinking for the country are very different. You can stamp on the people and still promote the country,” says a young Oromo professional who was afraid to speak openly for fear of arrest.
He recognises efforts by the government of Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister since 2012, and Meles Zenawi, his predecessor, to deliver services, create jobs and invest in infrastructure. But like many of the 100,000 graduates emerging from new universities each year, he wants greater democratic rights and opportunity.
“We are not free to express ourselves. That means people are not involved in the development process,” he says.
Ethiopia’s semi-authoritarian government has fostered some of the fastest economic growth in Africa while resisting liberal market orthodoxy and giving the state a central role in development. It is an experiment keenly watched by other African governments more constrained by democratic process.
But the Oromo protests are interpreted by some observers as one sign that Addis Ababa’s strategy also has limits.
“Ethiopia is undoubtedly fragile even if the underlying state is strong,” says an Addis-based diplomat from the region.

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