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Don’t underestimate Ethiopia’s crisis, Mail & Guardian February 23, 2018

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Oppressed: Oromo mourn the hundreds of people killed by Ethiopia’s security forces in the 2016 Irreecha massacre (Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)
Oppressed: Oromo mourn the hundreds of people killed by Ethiopia’s security forces in the 2016 Irreecha massacre (Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)

For the past four years, ever since the first serious rumblings of discontent began, it has been difficult to appreciate the scale of the political crisis in Ethiopia.

Africa’s second-most populous country maintains an extraordinarily tight grip on information. Local journalists are routinely harassed, intimidated and censored, and foreign journalists are closely watched and prevented from going anywhere too sensitive. Local nongovernmental organisations and opposition parties operate under similar restrictions: under draconian laws, NGOs must tow the government line or risk losing their operating licences; opposition sympathisers are locked up in their thousands.

The international NGOs and think-tanks that operate in Ethiopia are complicit in maintaining the veil of silence. Many agree to refrain from any criticism of the Ethiopian regime in exchange for unfettered access to the African Union, which is based in Addis Ababa. Others turn a blind eye to the government’s routine human rights abuses because of its relatively good record on delivering socioeconomic development — although that record has been called into question by the sheer volume of protest action over the past few years.

In this climate, building an accurate picture of the unrest — and getting any of the usual suspects in the international community to raise the alarm — becomes nearly impossible.

There were plenty of clues, however, that not all was right. The odd massacre made international headlines — such as the dozens, perhaps hundreds, mowed down by security forces at an Oromo religious festival in October 2016. Reports of co-ordinated protests across the restive Oromia and Amhara regions suggested that resistance to the regime ran far deeper and was much better co-ordinated than the government was willing to admit.

Now, the political crisis has exploded into the open, with the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn — always little more than temporary successor to Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012 — and the imposition of Ethiopia’s second state of emergency in under two years.

This new state of emergency, valid for six months pending parliamentary approval, will give sweeping powers of search and arrest to the security forces and restrict freedom of movement, protest and association. It gives licence for another crackdown on all forms of political opposition.

In this context, it is clear that recent political reform, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, was not a symptom of more progressive policies but the desperate act of a government increasingly fearful for its very survival.

But the rapturous reception received by the freed opposition leaders, especially the Oromo Federalist Congress’s Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba, seems to have convinced the hardliners in the country’s ruling coalition to remove the velvet glove and revert to the iron fist, which has served the regime so well for so long.

Now the country waits to see who will replace Desalegn. In another bid to placate protesters, it is almost certain to be someone from the Oromo region, either Lemma Megersa or Abiy Ahmed — both senior officials in the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation, one of the four ethnically based parties that make up the ruling coalition. The Oromos are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but have been long marginalised both economically and politically.

Somehow, the new prime minister will have to find a way to balance the demands of the protesters, who will expect immediate, demonstrable change, with the needs of the powerful securocrats in the ruling coalition who are manoeuvring for their own political futures, especially senior figures in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, who have long monopolised power and are not anxious to share.

“Whoever ascends to the top post will have much to prove but they should begin by following the advice of the United States embassy in Addis Ababa, which warned recently that the answer to growing unrest is ‘greater freedom, not less’,” wrote Mohammed Ademo, founder and editor of OPride.com, for African Arguments. “Indeed, Ethiopia sorely needs national reconciliation and an all-inclusive dialogue, and the next leader must act swiftly to make good on pledges of widening the democratic space.”

The alternative is too frightening to contemplate.

“[The ruling coalition] is at a historic crossroads and the options are clear. It can choose to genuinely reform or it can implode under the weight of a bitter power struggle and popular discontent,” said Ademo.

Meles ZenawiHailemariam DesalegnEthiopiaAfrican UnionOromo Liberation Front


Related (Oromian Economist findings):

Ethiopia: New State of Emergency Risks Renewed Abuses

Overbroad, Vague Provisions Undercut Rights,  HRW

Does Ethiopia’s New State of Emergency Dash Hopes for Reform?, Human Rights Watch

‘Game Over,’ U.S. Congressman jabs Ethiopia’s TPLF, Africa News

U.S. condemns crackdown in Ethiopia as political crisis deepens

Ethiopia: Mass protests ‘rooted in country’s history’, Al Jazeera

OMN Insight: Conversation with Jawar Mohammed on Ethiopian Political Crisis (Feb 21, 2018)

የኢትዮጲያ ሕዝብ በህወሓት/ኢህአዴግ ላይ የአስቸኳይ ግዜ አዋጅ ማወጅ አለበት! 

Global community responds to Ethiopia’s political uncertainties

 Ethiopia: Final days of the TPLF regime

Where is Ethiopia heading after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s surprise resignation?

Ethiopia’s Great Rift

OPINION: CAN ETHIOPIA OVERCOME ITS CRISIS AND BE A NORMAL COUNTRY?

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN ETHIOPIA? STATE OF EMERGENCY, PROTESTS AND POLITICAL CRISIS EXPLAINED

Ethiopia crisis needs reforms not emergency rule – E.U. warns govt

Ethiopia’s next Prime Minister

With nobody in charge, Ethiopia declares a state of emergency, The Economist

የኢትዮጲያ ሕዝብ በህወሓት/ኢህአዴግ ላይ የአስቸኳይ ግዜ አዋጅ ማወጅ አለበት! 

First a concession, then a crackdown. The ruling party’s divisions over how to respond to growing revolt are on show

«የአስቸኳይ ጊዜ አዋጁ የሰብዓዊ መብቶችን ይገድባል»ጀርመን 

የጀርመን ውጭ ጉዳይ ሚኒስቴር ሰላማዊ ለውጥ እና አስፈላጊ ማሻሻያ የሚያመጣው ከሚመለከታቸው የፖለቲካ አካላት ጋር አካታች እና ሰፊ ውይይት ብቻ እንደሆነ እናምናለን ብሏል። መሥሪያ ቤቱ እንዳለው እንዲሕ አይነቱ ውይይት ለኢትዮጵያ ዘላቂ ውስጣዊ ሰላም እና መረጋጋት መንገድ ይጠርጋል።

Statement of the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union on the situation in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s reinstatement of state of emergency worries Sweden

Governments Call for Ethiopia to Revoke its State of Emergency

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Mail & Guardian Africa: Ethiopia’s political ripple a big test for infrastructure-led Chinese approach January 8, 2017

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Ethiopia’s political ripple a big test for infrastructure-led Chinese approach

 NIV HORESH, Mail & Guardian Africa, 06 JAN 2017 

Both the US and China could lose out if chaos spreads in the Horn of Africa.

Violence broke out during an Oromo religious festival, and in some instances foreigners seem to have been targeted. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)
Violence broke out during an Oromo religious festival, and in some instances foreigners seem to have been targeted. (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)

Nearly three months into the state of emergency declared by Ethiopia, the atmosphere on the streets of its bustling and impressively modern metropolis and capital, Addis Ababa, feels tense.

At 2 355m above sea level, the climate is pleasantly mild most of the year. Its broad thoroughfares are studded with magnificent cultural attractions. These are infused with the glow of an ancient yet resilient civilisation that could withstand both Jesuit and Wahhabi encroachment.

READ MORE: #OromoProtests: An African salute to fight continued marginalisation and suppression

Yet, at present, tourists are understandably few and far between. There have been reports of hundreds of deaths in districts surrounding the capital in recent weeks. But these have been played down as an exaggeration by Prime Minister Heilemariam Desalegn.

Violence broke out during an Oromo religious festival, and in some instances foreigners seem to have been targeted. In response, the predominantly ethnic-Tigrean government clamped down on social media, took a few TV channels off the air, and restricted the movement of the opposition leader and foreign observers.

For the past few years, Ethiopia has been able to partly shed its association with abject poverty and famine. Arguably inspired by China, the country became a developmental success story and one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. At much the same time, Addis Ababa was able to capitalise on being the gateway to the politics of the African continent and foreign aid.

READ MORE: Ethiopia’s volcano: The Oromo are resisting the regime and its bid to grab their land

It is evident just how rapidly China’s stakes here have grown over the past few years. Just as evident is China’s different approach to development as compared with the West. It is also easy to see why the recent instability in Ethiopia is a real test to China’s approach.

Behind the veneer of Ethiopia’s parliamentary federalism lies an authoritarian system of state-led development that is preferred by Beijing over the country’s ragtag opposition forces. The question is whether the fruits of fast economic growth can be distributed sufficiently effectively in Ethiopia so as to forestall ethnic rural unrest.

Showcase infrastructural projects

Rather than providing grants directly aimed at poverty alleviation or promoting civil society, Chinese state-owned enterprises have been busy erecting showcase infrastructural projects. The aim is to attract further private business investment and to boost tourism.

The new sparkling African Union conference centre in Addis was fully funded by China. A new six-lane 87km highway to Adama has cut travel time from three hours to just one hour. And the international arm of China State Construction will soon give the capital a state-of-the-art stadium and upgrade its airport.

But perhaps a more persuasive productivity-booster is Addis Ababa’s new light-rail network completed in 2015 by China Railway Engineering Corporation. Often, the Chinese developmental approach is portrayed as construction frenzy ahead of genuine consumer demand.

Yet, far from being at risk of becoming a white elephant, it is already heavily used by local commuters just over a year after inauguration. In a city where taxi fares are exorbitant and buses are often in bad repair, the network is making a real difference to ordinary people’s lives.

But Beijing also runs a real risk here. In 2007, for example, 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese expatriates were murdered by Somali separatists in an attack on a Sinopec-run oilfield in the east of the country. There is clearly a strong case for Heilemariam to broaden his government’s ethnic support base and heed various regional and rural concerns about disenfranchisement as a result of foreign investment.

No zero-sum game between the US and China

Unlike the Chinese Foreign Affairs ministry, the US State Department has expressed concern over the imposition of the state of emergency.

But the Ethiopian government is likely to remain in the US’s good books. This is primarily because of its role in countering the spread of fundamentalist terrorism in the Horn of Africa. In fact, it is that role that has helped endear Ethiopia to the world, and facilitated Western relief aid.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to conclude China’s growing stakes in Ethiopia immediately offset Western interests. For one thing, Ethiopia’s recent troubled history suggests the enemies of government often denounce oppression. But they do not necessarily champion human rights when they seize power themselves.

In addition, Western aid is still far greater and more vital to the running of the country than anything China provides. For all the speculation about the Chinese currency replacing the US dollar as global reserve currency soon, most hotels here do not seem to readily exchange China’s currency for Birr yet.

READ MORE: Oromo protests: Ethiopia arrests blogger Seyoum Teshome

There is, in short, no zero-sum game between the US and China over Ethiopia, at times quite to the contrary. Neither power is interested in Ethiopia purely for exploitative colonial-style mineral extraction, or is purely motivated by altruism. The budding, somewhat desultory Chinatown in Addis Ababa’s Rwanda Vegetable Market hardly comes across as an insular colonial outpost. And the Chinese embassy compound is vastly outsized by the American one.

What plays out instead are perhaps different approaches to the low-income world where the US has prized the diffusion of individual freedoms and human-rights norms and China has prized collective economic betterment. And both the US and China are set to lose out if chaos spreads in the Horn of Africa.

China’s approach may be benefiting Ethiopia

Amid capital scarcity, China’s different approach seems to benefit Ethiopia. Put simply, it opens up another avenue for development where the World Bank and IMF doctrines have until recently been the only show in town.

In concrete terms, it means Chinese companies nowadays bid for projects often with concessional terms – where, in the past, only Western companies had the technological capacity to deliver.

Hydro-electricity is perhaps the best example for that: a healthy competition seems to be building up between Italy’s Salini Impregilo and Sinohydro when it comes to damming Ethiopia’s rivers. Local and foreign NGO oversight would still be vital in order to minimise the dislocation and environmental degradation that both companies can cause.

But, at the same time, with better planning, the untapped potential of hydro-power might mean cleaner and lower-cost energy in a part of the world where power cuts are all too common.


Niv Horesh, Visiting Research Fellow, School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


 

Oromo protests: Ethiopia arrests blogger Seyoum Teshome October 7, 2016

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Oromo protests: Ethiopia arrests blogger Seyoum Teshome

Mail & Guardian   AL JAZEERA   06 OCT 2016

 

The world’s third worst jailer of journalists detains notable critic after days of deadly protests in Oromia and Amhara.

irreecha-malkaa-2016-bishoftu-horaa-harsadi-oromia-oromoprotests
Protests started among the Oromo – Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group – in November. They later spread to the Amhara, the second-most largest in the country. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopian police have arrested a blogger who criticised the government, especially its handling of the ongoing protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions.

Seyoum Teshome, an outspoken university lecturer who has been quoted frequently by foreign media outlets about the anti-government protests, was detained on October 1 at his home in Wolisso town in the Oromia region.

Ethiopia’s government spokesman, Getachew Reda, told The Associated Press news agency on Tuesday that he heard about Seyoum’s arrest and is investigating the reasons why.

Days before his arrest, Seyoum told the AP that he was planning to start his doctoral studies at Addis Ababa University and was starting his own blogging website, Ethiothinkthank. He wrote about Ethiopia’s anti-government protests on his blogging site and Facebook page.

“This arrest of a prominent writer and commentator is deeply disturbing as it comes against a backdrop of government moves to stifle protests and criticism,” said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “Seyoum Teshome should be released without delay and without condition.”

Ethiopia is the third worst jailer of journalists in Africa, and a number of journalists are serving jail terms for writing critical pieces about the government, said the journalists’ group.

The arrest came a day before dozens of people were killed in the Oromia region.

They were crushed in a stampede after government forces fired tear gas and bullets to disperse protesters during the annual Irrecha thanksgiving celebration of the Oromo people.

The government has said 55 have died, but online activists and opposition groups outside Ethiopia claim the death toll is much higher.

The incident has sparked renewed protests in many towns across Oromia, where over the past year anti-government protests have called for respect for human rights, wider freedoms and the release of detained opposition figures and journalists.

Witnesses said many people were crushed to death and others fell into ditches as they tried desperately to escape police. Shoes and clothing littered the scene of the disaster as a small group of angry residents dug for bodies in a deep ditch.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation and said the government should “end the use of deadly force to quell largely peaceful protests that began nearly a year ago”.

Protests started among the Oromo – Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group – in November. They later spread to the Amhara, the second-most largest in the country.

Both groups say a ruling multi-ethnic coalition is dominated by the Tigray ethnic group, which makes up about six percent of the population. –  Al Jazeera

Ethiopia’s volcano: The Oromo are resisting the regime and its bid to grab their land August 17, 2016

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For the first time in history, the plight of the Oromo people has also received worldwide attention. International media outlets have reported on the peaceful protests and subsequent government repression.

Ethiopia’s volcano: The Oromo are resisting the regime and its bid to grab their land

SAMANTHA SPOONER,  17 August 2016

 

Largest ethno-national group has been under martial law with citizens killed and subjected to beatings, torture and detention in concentration camps.
Oromo men, wearing their traditional costume.png
Oromo men  in their traditional costume

Countrywide demonstrations by the Oromo in Ethiopia have flared up again. Ethiopia’s authorities reacted with heavy force, resulting in the death of 100 civilians. SAMANTHA SPOONER asked Professor Asafa Jalata, a leading scholar on the politics of Oromia, about the countrywide protests

Who are the Oromo people?

The Oromo are the single largest ethno-national group in northeast Africa. In Ethiopia alone they are estimated to be 50-million strong out of a total population of 100-million. There are also Oromo living in Kenya and Somalia.

Ethiopia is said to have about 80 ethno-national groups. The Oromo represent 34.4% and the Amhara 27%. The rest are all less than 7% each.

The Oromo call themselves a nation. They have named their homeland “Oromia”, an area covering 284 538 square kilometres. It is considered to be the richest area of northeast Africa because of its agricultural and natural resources. It is often referred to as the “breadbasket” of the region. Sixty percent of Ethiopian economic resources are generated from Oromia.

The capital city of Ethiopia is located in the heart of Oromia. What the world knows as Addis Ababa is known to the Oromo as Finfinnee. When the Abyssinian warlord Menelik colonised the Oromo during the last decades of the 19th century, he established his main garrison city in Oromia and called it Addis Ababa.

Despite being the largest ethno-national group in Ethiopia, the Oromo consider themselves to be colonial subjects. This is because they have been denied equal access to their country’s political, economic and cultural resources. It all started with their colonisation by, and incorporation into, Abyssinia (the former Ethiopian empire) during the Scramble for Africa.

Today, comprising just 6% of the population, Tigrayans dominate and control the political economy of Ethiopia with the help of the West, particularly the United States. This relationship is strategic to the US, which uses the Tigrayan-led government’s army as their proxy to fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa and beyond.

The Oromo have been demonstrating since November last year. What triggered the protests?

The Oromo demonstrations have been underway for over eight months, first surfacing in Ginchi (about 80km southwest of the capital city) in November last year. It began when elementary and secondary schoolchildren in the small town began protesting the privatisation and confiscation of a small football field and the sale of the nearby Chilimoo forest.

The sentiment quickly spread across Oromia. The entire Oromo community then joined the protests, highlighting other complaints such as the so-called Integrated Addis Ababa Master Plan and associated land grabbing. The master plan was intended to expand Addis Ababa by 1.5-million hectares on to surrounding Oromo land, evicting Oromo farmers.

Last year’s demonstrations were the product of over 25 years of accumulated grievances. These grievances arose as a result of the domination by the minority Tigrayan ethno-national group. Because of this dominance the Oromo people have lost ownership of their land and become both impoverished and aliens in their own country.

What was different about these demonstrations was that, for the first time, all Oromo branches came together in co-ordinated action to fight for their national self-determination and democracy.

Which part of the Oromo is organising the rallies?

It is believed that underground activist networks, known as Qeerroo, are organising the Oromo community. The Qeerroo, also called the Qubee generation, first emerged in 1991 with the participation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the transitional government of Ethiopia.

In 1992 the Tigrayan-led minority regime pushed the OLF out of government and the activist networks of Qeerroo gradually blossomed as a form of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism.

Today the Qeerroo is made up of Oromo youth. These are predominantly students, from elementary school to university, organising collective action through social media. It is not clear what kind of relationship exists between the group and the OLF. But the Qeerroo clearly articulate that the OLF should replace the Tigrayan-led regime and recognise the Front as the origin of Oromo nationalism.

What are their demands?

Their immediate demands are for the Ethiopian government to halt the so-called Addis Ababa Master Plan, land grabbing, corruption and the violation of human rights.

Their extended demands are about achieving self-determination and sovereignty by replacing the Tigrayan-led regime with a multi-ethno-national democratic government. These demands gradually emerged to create solidarity with other ethno-national groups, such as the Amharas, who also have grievances with the regime.

How has the government reacted to the protests?

The government reaction has been violent and suppressive. Despite Oromia being the largest regional state in Ethiopia, it has been under martial law since the protests began. The government has been able to use this law to detain thousands of Oromos, holding them in prisons and concentration camps.

Security structures called tokkoo-shane (one-to-five), garee and gott have also been implemented. Their responsibilities include spying, identifying, exposing, imprisoning, torturing and killing Oromos who are not interested in serving the regime.

There have also been deaths and reports of thousands of Oromos who have been maimed as a result of torture, beatings or during the suppression of protests. For example, during the Oromia-wide day of peaceful protest on July 6, the regime army, known as Agazi, massacred nearly 100 Oromos. According to Amnesty International, 400 Oromos were killed before July 6. But in reality nobody knows exactly how many Oromos have been victims of violence.

What effect have these protests had on the country?

The Oromo protest movement has started to change the political landscape of Ethiopia and shaken the regime’s foundations. Erupting like “a social volcano”, it has sent ripples through the country, and several groups have changed their attitudes to stand in solidarity with the Oromo. The support of the Ahmaras has been particularly significant as they are the second-largest ethno-national group in Ethiopia.

For the first time in history, the plight of the Oromo people has also received worldwide attention. International media outlets have reported on the peaceful protests and subsequent government repression.

This has brought about diplomatic repercussions. In January the European Parliament condemned the Ethiopian government’s violent crackdown. It also called for the establishment of a credible, transparent and independent body to investigate the murdering and imprisonment of thousands of protesters. Similarly, the United Nations human rights experts demanded that Ethiopian authorities stop the violent crackdown.

Not all global actors are taking a strong stance. Some are concerned about maintaining good relations with the incumbent government. For example, the US State Department expressed vague concern about the violence associated with the protest movement. In sharp contrast, they signed a security partnership with the Ethiopian government.

Nevertheless, the momentum of the Oromo movement looks set to continue. The protests, and subsequent support, have seen the further development of activist networks and Oromo leadership, doubling their efforts to build their organisational capacity.

Is this the first time the Oromo have demonstrated their grievances?

No. The Oromo have engaged in scattered instances of resistance since the late 19th century when they were colonised.

In the 1970s the Oromo started to engage in a national movement under the leadership of the OLF. The Front was born out of the Macha-Tulama Self-Help Association, which was banned in the early 1960s, and other forms of resistance such as the Bale Oromo armed resistance of the 1960s. Successive Ethiopian regimes have killed or sent Oromo political and cultural leaders into exile.

How do you believe their grievances can be resolved?

Critics believe the Tigrayan-led minority regime is unlikely to resolve the Oromo grievances. Oromo activists believe that their national struggle for self-determination and egalitarian democracy must intensify.

I am sure that, sooner or later, the regime will be overthrown and replaced with a genuine egalitarian democratic system. This is because of the size of the Oromo population, abundant economic resources, oppression and repression by the Tigrayan-led government, the blossoming of Oromo political consciousness and willingness to pay the necessary sacrifices.

The Conversation

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published on theconversation.com


Troubled times: Blood and terror in Ethiopia as protests sweep the streets, and state vows to ‘act without mercy’. #OromoProtests January 3, 2016

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Troubled times: Blood and terror in Ethiopia as protests sweep the streets, and state vows to ‘act without mercy’

  Mail & Guardian Africa,   22 Dec 2015, AFP

The sight of the protesters on the streets shouting “Stop the killings! This isn’t democracy!” is rare in the country.

People in Wolenkomi, some 60km west of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa stand on December 15, 2015 near the body of a protester from Ethiopia's Oromo group allegedly shot dead by security forces . (Photo/AFP).

People in Wolenkomi, some 60km west of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa stand on December 15, 2015 near the body of a protester from Ethiopia’s Oromo group allegedly shot dead by security forces . (Photo/AFP).

TWO lifeless bodies lay on the ground as the terrified crowd, armed only with sticks against gun-toting Ethiopian security forces, fled the fierce crackdown on protesters.

Blood seeped through a sheet covering one of the bodies on the road outside Wolenkomi, a town just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa.

“That was my only son,” a woman sobbed. “They have killed me.”

Back at the family home of 20-year-old Kumsa Tafa, his younger sister Ababetch shook as she spoke. “He was a student. No one was violent. I do not understand why he is dead,” she said.

Human Rights Watch says at least 75 people have been killed in a bloody crackdown on protests by the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

Bekele Gerba, deputy president of the Oromo Federal Congress, puts the toll at more than 80 while the government says only five have been killed.

The demonstrations have spread to several towns since November, when students spoke out against plans to expand the capital into Oromia territory—a move the Oromo consider a land grab.

The sight of the protesters on the streets of towns like Wolenkomi—shouting “Stop the killings! This isn’t democracy!”—is rare in a country with little tolerance for expressions of discontent with the government.

Tree trunks and stones are strewn on the asphalt on the road west from Addis to Shewa zone, in Oromia territory, barricading the route for several kilometres.

Chaos broke out on a bus on the road when it emerged that the police were again clashing with demonstrators in Wolenkomi.

“My husband just called me,” said a woman clutching her phone, as others screamed and children burst into tears.

“He’s taking refuge in a church. Police shot at the protesters,” she said.

The man next to her cried in despair: “They’re taking our land, killing our children. Why don’t they just kill everyone now?”

The army raided Wolenkomi again the next day, the rattle of gunfire lasting for more than an hour.

“They grabbed me by the face and they told me, ‘Go home! If you come back here, we’ll kill you’,” said Kafani, a shopkeeper.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticised Ethiopia’s use of anti-terrorism legislation to stifle peaceful dissent.

But Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared on television that the government would act “without mercy in the fight against forces which are trying to destabilise the region.”

‘Land is everything’

Oromo leaders have vowed to keep up their resistance against proposals to extend Addis, and Human Rights Watch has warned of “a rapidly rising risk of greater bloodshed”.

“The government can continue to send security forces and act with violence—we will never give up,” said Gerba.

Land is at the heart of the problem. Under Ethiopia’s constitution, all land belongs to the state, with owners legally considered tenants—raising fears amongst the Oromo that a wave of dispossession is on its way.

“For farmers in Oromia and elsewhere in the country, their land is everything,” said Felix Horne, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s critical for their food supply, for their identity, for their culture,” he said.

“You cannot displace someone from their land with no consultation and then inadequately compensate them and not expect there to be any response,” Horne warned.

Some Oromo have already seen their lands confiscated.

Further west, in the town of Ambo, a woman named Turu was expropriated of her two hectares, receiving only 40,000 birr ($1,900) in compensation.

“We had a good life before,” she said.

Today she struggles to support her four children and her disabled husband with the 30 birr a day ($1.40) she earns working in a factory.

With their own language distinct from Ethiopia’s official Amharic tongue, the 27 million Oromo make up nearly 30% of the country’s population.

“The Oromos are seen as more of a threat by the government in part because they are by far the largest ethnic group,” said Horne.

The proposed expansion of Addis is part of a 25-year development plan to boost the city’s infrastructure and attract new investors.

It sparked demonstrations last year, but on a smaller scale.

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