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#OromoProtests in Perspective, By Ayantu Tibeso* June 8, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Amane Badhaso, Ambo, Colonizing Structure, Ethnic Cleansing, Finfinnee is the Capital City of Oromia, Finfinnee n Kan Oromoo ti, Genocidal Master plan of Ethiopia, Land Grabs in Africa, Oromia, Oromian Voices, Oromians Protests, Oromiyaa, Oromo, Oromo and the call for justice and freedom, Oromo Diaspora, Oromo Nation, Oromo Protests, Oromo Protests in Ambo, Oromo students movement, Oromo students protests, Say no to the expansions of Addis Ababa, State of Oromia, Stop evicting Oromo people from Cities, The Colonizing Structure & The Development Problems of Oromia.
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OOromo Protests Information Center

The brutal crackdown on the Oromo people is not new. The Ethiopian state itself has been predicated upon the expropriation of Oromo lands and held together through violent assimilationist policies, the destruction of the identity of conquered and resistant people, and economic and political exploitation of groups who are not represented in government. With each changing regime state power has been retained in the hands of minority rulers and the Oromos, who are the largest group living on the richest land, have remained the main targets of Ethiopian state repression, terrorism and discrimination. Over the last two decades alone multiple human rights organizations have released reports documenting the extent of extrajudicial killings, mass imprisonment, and torture on a massive scale, mutilations and disappearances. For instance, as of May 2012, the Oromia Support Group reported 4,407 extra-judicial killings and 992 disappearances of civilians perceived to support the political and even social groups opposing the current regime. Most of these have been Oromo people.

 

The crisis in Ethiopia is a major international story of mass protest, wholesale dispossession of millions of peasants, and state-sponsored violence.  Yet it has gone almost completely ignored in the international media. 

There are a number of reasons the story hasn’t grabbed attention around the world—the situation’s complexity, the tight control of information by Ethiopian authorities, and western journalists’ unfamiliarity with Ethiopia’s tense ethnic politics, to name just a few. But the bigger issue has to do with Western media bias. 

As long as this bias remains salient, the deaths of hundreds, possibly thousands, will continue to go unreported and unrecognized, and the cause for which so many have sacrificed will remain hidden. -Ayantu Tibeso

Since April 25th, thousands of high school and university students across Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia, have turned out in peaceful protest against a government land grab that stands to displace millions of indigenous peoples from their ancestral


Image via Twin Cities Daily Planet

lands. Even though the country’s constitution theoretically allows for peaceful demonstrations, the student protesters, along with local populations in many cities and towns, have faced a ruthless crackdown from Ethiopian Special Forces, known as the Agazi Commandos. These forces have used excessive violence by indiscriminately shooting into crowds in an attempt to quash the protests. Children as young as eleven years old have been killed, according to statement issued by Amnesty International on May 13, and reports of fatal injuries, torture, imprisonment, disappearances and killings have been coming out of Ethiopia since then.

The Ethiopian government has evicted millions of indigenous peoples from their homelands at gunpoint under the pretext of “development” since it took power. In and around the capital of the country, Addis Ababa, over 200,000 of these residents have been removed from their lands without proper compensation since 2005. The newly-announced Integrated Development Master Plan for Addis Ababa (known simply as the “Master Plan”) seeks to legalize past land grab activities and to consolidate larger areas of territory displacing native peoples from their land. The Master Plan will expand the territory of Addis Ababa city administration to about 25 times its current size and is expected to forcefully remove another four to five million Oromo peasants from their lands within the coming years.

The current Ethiopian government came to power in 1991. It is a government dominated mainly by elites from a single ethnic group, the Tigray, which constitute approximately six percent of the peoples within Ethiopian boundaries. The Oromo, who are targeted by this Master Plan, make up between 40-50 percent of the population.  The Ethiopian Agazi special Commando force is almost entirely Tigrayan. The government relies on this ethnic army to stamp out the Oromo protests.

The current crisis cannot be understood apart from the ethnic dynamics at play in the policy of the Master Plan and in its response.  In the Ethiopian political, social and economic system, ethnicity and language are the two most important factors which influence policy preferences and choices of different sectors or communities in Ethiopia.  It is also along these two dimensions that the Ethiopian state has been structured since the current regime came to power. In recognition of these factors, a formal system of Ethnic Federalism has been instituted and written into law as the centerpiece of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Oromia, where most Oromos reside, is legally recognized as one of the nine members of the Ethiopian Federation.

In practice, however, all the key government positions and institutions are controlled by elites—directly and indirectly—that come from the Tigrayan ethnic group. Key positions in security sectors, including the military, are exclusively under the control of Tigrayan rulers. It is this group of elites that have aggressively pursued policies that have drawn on the military might to remove Oromo peasants involuntarily from their homeland over the last decade or more. The new Master Plan for Addis Ababa should be seen in this context, as the protestors well understand.  The Master Plan is one more chapter in implementing a disastrous policy that has already displaced thousands of the native peasants, and now officially aims to displace millions more. This is the policy against which Oromo students have gone out to protest. In keeping with their former legacy of sheer brutality, the Tigrayan ethnic armed force, the Agazi, responded to peaceful gatherings with a rain of bullets.

The brutal crackdown on the Oromo people is not new. The Ethiopian state itself has been predicated upon the expropriation of Oromo lands and held together through violent assimilationist policies, the destruction of the identity of conquered and resistant people, and economic and political exploitation of groups who are not represented in government. With each changing regime state power has been retained in the hands of minority rulers and the Oromos, who are the largest group living on the richest land, have remained the main targets of Ethiopian state repression, terrorism and discrimination. Over the last two decades alone multiple human rights organizations have released reports documenting the extent of extrajudicial killings, mass imprisonment, and torture on a massive scale, mutilations and disappearances. For instance, as of May 2012, the Oromia Support Group reported 4,407 extra-judicial killings and 992 disappearances of civilians perceived to support the political and even social groups opposing the current regime. Most of these have been Oromo people.

It is within this context that the current violent response to Oromo protests should be understood and appreciated. Like it has always been, kidnappings and/or extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and disappearances continue in different parts of Oromia Regional State. Those being imprisoned face an imminent danger of death, torture or disappearance.  Yet despite the fact that the situation is quickly deteriorating, it is going largely unreported in the international media. The Ethiopian government is notorious for keeping very tight control over all local and international media in the country. Information is not easily attainable. Independent journalism and human rights monitoring are securitized and criminalized. Major restrictions remain on exchange of information, as the government is known to block almost all websites it regards as forums capable of providing information about the atrocities committed by its security agents. These include all independent websites that are situated both in and outside of Ethiopian territories. Given these circumstances, it has not been possible to determine the exact number of victims of the recent retaliation against Oromo protesters.  But thanks to social media and mobile technology, a view of the scale of the crisis is emerging.

Some human rights organizations have managed to get limited information and offer an insight regarding what is taking place as the protests continue. For instance, according to the above-mentioned statement released by Amnesty International, hundreds of those arrested during the protests have been held at different detention centers, including at unauthorized places such as police and military training camps. Detention in these places is almost always arbitrary, with prisoners spending months and years without being formally charged or taken to a courtroom. As the Amnesty International report notes, “military camps in Oromia have regularly been used to detain thousands of actual or perceived government opponents.” These detainees are not allowed access to lawyers or relatives, usually throughout the duration of their detention. In many instances, relatives do not know where their loved ones have been taken upon arrest. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International have received reports of torture on a massive scale at these unofficial holding places.

In addition to Amnesty International, other human rights organizations have also released statements of concern that recent detainees face imminent risk of torture and abuse, if not death. Human Rights Watch reported that security forces beat and shot at peaceful Oromo protesters in many towns in Oromia Regional State, among others, Ambo, Nekemte, Gimbi and Jimma. The Human Rights League of Horn of Africa has also issued a report citing torture and disappearances in places where student protesters are being held in Naqamte, East Wollega zone. In one instance alone, fifty detainees were taken away by security forces in Naqamte.  Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The crisis in Ethiopia is a major international story of mass protest, wholesale dispossession of millions of peasants, and state-sponsored violence.  Yet it has gone almost completely ignored in the international media. To be sure, the story has attracted fleeting attention from English-language outlets like the BBC and the Guardian, while Al-Jazeera has curated what little information trickles out of the country from social media users on the ground.  But sustained analysis of the causes and context of the government’s plan, the protests in response and the violent government crackdown have been hard to come by.

There are a number of reasons the story hasn’t grabbed attention around the world—the situation’s complexity, the tight control of information by Ethiopian authorities, and western journalists’ unfamiliarity with Ethiopia’s tense ethnic politics, to name just a few. But the bigger issue has to do with Western media bias. Over the years, a considerable amount of attention has rightly been given to bloggers and journalists whose individual rights have been violated by the Ethiopian government. This is not surprising. It is easy to sympathize with those trying to practice their freedom of expression or tell a difficult story in the face of authoritarianism. The repression of media in a given country is an easier account to give, and it is a simpler story to process. The miseries and violence of the other repression—that against the voiceless masses—cannot afford to be get lost in the shuffle, as the situation in Oromia makes clear.   As long as this bias remains salient, the deaths of hundreds, possibly thousands, will continue to go unreported and unrecognized, and the cause for which so many have sacrificed will remain hidden.

*Ayantu Tibeso is a researcher and communications consultant based in North America. She can be reached at atibeso@gmail.com or on twitter @diasporiclife.

Read more @ http://warscapes.com/opinion/oromoprotests-perspective#sthash.FmxKbAdj.fqpFJ2bA.dpu

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COVERING OROMO ISSUES: ETHIOPIA’S BESIEGED PRESS, INSTITUTIONAL BIAS AND THE #OROMOPROTESTS June 4, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Amane Badhaso, Ambo, Finfinne is Oromia's land, Finfinnee, Finfinnee is the Capital City of Oromia, Finfinnee n Kan Oromoo ti, Genocidal Master plan of Ethiopia, No to land grabs in Oromia, No to the Addis Ababa Master Plan, NO to the Evictions of Oromo Nationals from Finfinnee (Central Oromia), Oromia Satelite Radio and TV Channels, Oromia wide Oromo Universtiy students Protested Addis Ababa Expansion Master Plan, Oromian Voices, Oromians Protests, Oromo and the call for justice and freedom, Oromo Diaspora, Oromo Identity, Oromo Media Network, Oromo Protests, Oromo Protests in Ambo, Oromo students protests, State of Oromia, The Tyranny of Ethiopia.
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The local coverage of the protests offer a best case study to look at Ethiopian media’s inherent, institutional bias toward Oromo stories. Given the foregoing discussion on Ethiopia’s challenging media environment, the dangers of balanced coverage are not contested. The government’s choke-hold on the media and fear of repercussions have discouraged journalists from visiting the scenes of protests and accurately reporting on the events. Ethiopia’s independent press is saturated in Finfinne, and many simply don’t have credible regional sources, especially in Oromia, who can feed them with the news of the protests. Besides, media institutions and some journalists consider approaching the protesters or contacting the victims’ families almost existential.

There is also an ideological bias toward “ethnic” based activism. In part this explains the reluctance among many journalists to visit some of the 15 towns included in the master plan and interview local residents and farmers. However, speaking to government officials and opposition politicians about the master plan, the protests and violent crackdown could have been done with minimum effort.

A closer look at reports by six web-based publications and three international correspondents reveals much not only about Ethiopia’s handcuffed press but also the deficiency of the so-called independent press itself. It took almost a month for most local outlets to offer basic, even if lopsided coverage on the cause of the protest and the causalities. Even considering the grim media environment, there were many missing links in those reports.

Others completely disregarded the matter and kept to their business as usual. For example, Addis Fortune, a weekly English newspaper with 10,000 monthly circulations, devoted only one singlesentence to the protests its May 11 report about the master plan.

Awramba Times republished a video and text from EthioFirst blog. To his credit, the EthioFirst reporter went to the scene of protests in Ambo town. The online only publication provided coverage supported with text and videos of what it said were destroyed properties. It also interviewed residents of Ambo, students of the Ambo University and chief of the university all denouncing the destruction of property. The report’s focus on the damage caused to properties as opposed to the loss of lives and arrests of hundreds gives us a reason for pause. Besides, the reporter made no attempt to speak with protesters, victims or their families.

Others recycled government statements and news releases from opposition political parties. For example, both the English and Amharic editions of The Reporter made its first coverage based on government statements. The English edition of the newspaper tried to balance the story by asserting“independent observers and those who claim to be eyewitnesses say that the death toll and injuries might be higher than what has been officially admitted.”

Sendek Amharic newspaper, which gave its reporting five days after the protests began, referred to a press release from the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and later conducted interviews with the party’s leaders.

Addis Admas, another local Amharic daily, also did its initial coverage using government statement and anonymous sources from Ambo, Robe and Haromaya, where the protests took place. In a subsequent report on May 10, the paper reached out to a farmer residing in Sabata, one of the 15 towns included in the master plan, and offered local grievances over issues of compensation and threat to the farmer’s livelihood. Addis Standard, a local English magazine, also did its “best” by relying on sources from the universities where protests were reported, otherwise largely toeing the line from government statement.

Unfortunately, Finfinne-based foreign correspondents also kept to the official line. The Associated Press carried a police statement, and even went a step further linking the protests to secession andOromo Liberation Front. Bloomberg News also repurposed the government statement, with a passing reference to opposition leaders. Reuters simply ignored the news.

Other newspapers offered sensationalized stories that reflect their bias more than journalistic inclinations. For example, on May 2, Addis Guday wrote, ‘Oromia: Gize Tebikiwu Yeminfeneda Bomboch-Yetameku ye politika bisotoch. Ye tebab bihertenynet tosoch’ roughly translated as ‘ Oromia: a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and a concealed political dissatisfaction. The scar of narrow-minded ethnicity” In all, almost no attempt was made to contact to the protesters or the farmers and residents affected by the master plan. And none of the aforementioned outlets treated the incident as a breaking news item.

Ethiopian journalism is still at its infancy stage. Restrictions against the press and physical harassment of journalist make it impossible to cover issues of public interest. The reliance on government press statement reveals the challenges of obtaining first-hand reports from the scene of the incident. The country’s ethnicized politics confounds the lack of impartial coverage. In a country where there is no single Oromo media outlet and given the jamming of diaspora-based websites, the Oromo are left with no voice so to speak. Dozens of Oromo newspapers and magazines that existed in the 1990s were either banned or forced out of business when Oromo journalists fled the country.

With a varying degree, both private and government media outlets share a common hostility toward Oromo interests. While some of the private media practitioners are in government pockets, others cater to non-Oromo political groups. The rest are far more concerned with making money and they know what their audience wants. “There is little independent media in Oromia to monitor these events, and foreign journalists who have attempted to reach demonstrations have been turned away or detained,” the HRW said. A case in point is the four-hour detention of Bloomberg’s William Davison on May 1, after attempting to report on protests that took place at Addis Ababa University.

In a nutshell, independent, objective journalism has essentially become a crime in Ethiopia. Given the highly restrictive media environment, Ethiopia’s “independent” press continues to teeter on the edge of death and survival. Under the circumstances, a lot of journalists have begrudgingly embraced the “developmental state” storyline. For others, strict self-censorship has become more of a norm. As a result, the professionalism and quality of Ethiopian journalism has been significantly compromised. Still more concerning is the inherent ideological and institutional bias toward coverage of “ethnic” stories, particularly stories about Oromo activism. The role of a journalist is to report on events as objectively and truthfully as possible. Journalists should act as non-participating spectators of events. When reporters become part of a story or offer their opinions, they are expected be transparent and issue a disclosure. These ethical values are rare in Ethiopia. However, if there’s any hope for future of Ethiopian journalism, Addis Ababa-based media houses should start checking their ethnicized and detached coverage of events outside of the capital. -To read the full article, visit OPride,  original source @http://www.opride.com/oromsis/news/3756-ethiopia-s-besieged-press-and-the-oromoprotests