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The Observer: Ethiopia falls into violence a year after leader’s Nobel peace prize win August 30, 2020

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The Observer: Ethiopia falls into violence a year after leader’s Nobel peace prize win

Abiy Ahmed came to power promising radical reform, but 180 people have died amid ethnic unrest in Oromia state

Jason Burke, 29 August 2020

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, centre, arrives at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa in July.
 Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, centre, arrives at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa in July. Photograph: AP

Ethiopia faces a dangerous cycle of intensifying internal political dissent, ethnic unrest and security crackdowns, observers have warned, after a series of protests in recent weeks highlighted growing discontent with the government of Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel peace prize winner.

Many western powers welcomed the new approach of Abiy, who took power in 2018 and promised a programme of radical reform after decades of repressive one-party rule, hoping for swift changes in an emerging economic power that plays a key strategic role in a region increasingly contested by Middle Eastern powers and China. He won the peace prize in 2019 for ending a conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

The most vocal unrest was in the state of Oromia, where there have been waves of protests since the killing last month of a popular Oromo artist and activist, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, in Addis Ababa, the capital. An estimated 180 people have died in the violence, some murdered by mobs, others shot by security forces. Houses, factories, businesses, hotels, cars and government offices were set alight or damaged and several thousand people, including opposition leaders, were arrested.https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2020/08/ethiopia-map/giv-3902E7Ml0LJ7Dfz7Ethiopia

Further protests last week prompted a new wave of repression and left at least 11 dead. “Oromia is still reeling from the grim weight of tragic killings this year. These grave patterns of abuse should never be allowed to continue,” said Aaron Maasho, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

The Oromo community have long felt excluded from power and the benefits of Ethiopia’s booming economy. The Oromo protest movement gained momentum from 2015 and contributed to the appointment of Abiy, an Oromo from the ruling party, who promised democracy and prosperity for all.

“We are seeing a continuation of that movement, and also signs that the government’s response will be equally forceful. Once people are shot and arrested then that becomes a rallying cry,” said William Davison, an analyst based in Addis Ababa for the International Crisis Group.

The decision to indefinitely delay elections due later this year because of coronavirus – which has caused 600 deaths in the country of 100 million so far – has also worried diplomats and other international observers.

The protests in Oromia last week began amid claims that Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo opposition politician and one of Abiy’s most outspoken critics, was being denied medical attention in prison.

Young protesters described being “hunted down, shot in the streets” in the Oromia town of Aweday.

“Soldiers shot at us so I ran as fast as I could. I witnessed people getting shot in the back as they fled,” said Kedir, who took part in a demonstration on Tuesday.

Haacaaluu Hundeessaa performing in Addis Ababa in July 2018.
 Haacaaluu Hundeessaa performing in Addis Ababa in July 2018. He was known for his activism and political lyrics. Photograph: EPA

Aliyyi Mohammed, a 22-year-old from Hirna, was taken to hospital after being shot in the thigh on Monday. Relatives said he had been “nowhere near” the protests when injured and now feared for his safety. “There are police waiting outside the hospital … We have heard that they want to arrest him as soon as he’s recovered. We can only pray they leave him alone,” said a member of the family who requested anonymity.

Relatives of Farhan Ali, 22, claimed he had been killed by security forces after leaving his home in Dire Dawa to visit a neighbour. “Soldiers killed him in cold blood,” said Bahar Omar, a cousin. “He didn’t break the law. They shot him multiple times in the back. He died right there and had no chance.”

Officials have denied such claims. “There has been violence, but we are yet to confirm reports of any killings by state forces,” said Getachew Balcha of the Oromia region’s communication affairs office.

But claims of mistreatment by security forces are fuelling the cycle of unrest in Oromia. Graphic images of 21-year-old Durassa Lolo were widely shared on social media after relatives claimed he had been tortured in the town of Asasa by soldiers who had asked him for his name.

“My brother did nothing wrong. When they heard an Oromo-sounding name, his fate was sealed. They took him to a military camp and inflicted on him unbelievable savagery. [He] is fighting for his life in hospital. This is why there are protests. The government sees us as expendable,” Durassa’s brother, Abdisa Lolo, said.

The government says Haacaaluu was murdered by Oromo nationalist militants as part of a wider plot to derail its reform agenda. The ruling party has also suggested that its rival in the northern region of Tigray, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), masterminded the conspiracy. The TPLF dominated the ruling coalition until Abiy took office. It has since joined the opposition, accusing the prime minister of planning to replace the ethnic-based federal system with a more centralised state.

The aftermath of angry protests in Shashamene after Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was assassinated.
 After Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was assassinated in July, there were angry protests in towns such as Shashamene. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Both the TPLF and Oromo nationalist groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front deny involvement in either the murder or the unrest.

Government policy has also led to fallouts within the ruling party. The defence minister, Lemma Megersa, an ally turned critic of Abiy, was last week fired and placed under house arrest. State media reported Lemma’s dismissal from the ruling party being due to his “violating party discipline”.

Analysts say it was important to recognise that recent unrest has been limited to Oromia and that there was credible evidence suggesting violence over the previous months had not simply been inflicted on protesters by the security forces but also had occurred between ethnic communities.

The office of Ethiopia’s attorney general last week defended the government’s response to the unrest, saying in a statement that investigations would reflect a “commitment to human rights”.

Abel Abate Demissie, an Addis Ababa-based analyst with London’s Chatham House, said Ethiopia’s political polarisation has deep roots, with structural problems that have been insufficiently addressed under Abiy: conflicting narratives about Ethiopia’s history, an unfinished federal project and tensions over the division of power between the centre and the regions.

“Two years down the line [after his appointment], and you find every major political group is disappointed with Abiy,” he said.

Abiy Ahmed’s Plot Against Multinational Federalism in Ethiopia July 21, 2020

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Abiy Ahmed’s Plot Against Multinational Federalism in Ethiopia

OpinionSoreti Kadir and Ayantu Ayana July 20, 2020

The last three weeks in Ethiopia have been full of tragedy. Beloved Oromo musical powerhouse and political activist Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was assassinated in Addis Ababa on June 29th. After the assassination, a series of events began to rapidly unfold. With the internet almost immediately shut down in the country, many Ethiopians grappled to understand what was happening in their homeland and to the people that they love. In the flurry of the last couple of weeks, which feel more like one elongated moment, the dominant narrative that has emerged centers on ethnic conflict.

The day after Haacaaluu’s assassination, leaders of the Oromo Federalist Congress, including Bekele Gerba and Jawar Mohammed, along with thirty-five of their friends and colleagues were arrested in Addis Ababa. Over the following days, several senior members of the Oromo Federalist Congress and the Oromo Liberation Front (both legally registered parties) as well as journalists from the Oromia Media Network were similarly detained. As of this week, the government has arrested more than 7000 civilians. Local sources suggest that this number is much higher.

Among those detained are youth, activists, artists, elders, scholars, businesspeople, along with the prominent members of Oromo opposition parties mentioned above. Leaders of other opposition parties have also been detained. Security forces have gone from house to house arresting and, in some cases, killing young Oromo people. In Addis Ababa, Oromo individuals and businesses bearing Oromo names have been attacked. In some parts of Oromia, members of ethnic Amhara, Christians, and in some cases Muslims, have been killed, their properties damaged, and livelihoods shuttered.  This is a tragedy that we condemn in no uncertain terms and we grieve with everyone grieving. We know that in the face of human loss, it is difficult to see past individual acts of violence and to observe events with nuance and context.

Currently, media coverage and social media conversations are extremely polarized. As writers and researchers, we are writing to locate this historic moment in the political context of the Ethiopian state. We argue that the current ruling party in Ethiopia, the Prosperity Party (PP), is working to systemically silence ideological dissent. Specifically, it is aiming to silence, detain or eliminate anyone affiliated with the Oromo grassroots youth movement (#OromoProtests). The Ethiopian government and their allies are intentionally centering the narrative of inter-ethnic violence as a pretext to justify and legitimize ideological and political dominance.

Many have described Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as a leader who eschews ethnicity in favor of an Ethiopian national identity. What he has done, however, is to adapt an ideology that dismisses historic grievances and systemic injustice that have huge implications for millions of people. Ethiopia, the configuration of multiple nations and nationalities into one state, is the fruit of colonial conquest. Abiy and the PP do not espouse an ethnic neutral ideology. What they champion is a state ideology that denies historical facts and imposes upon diverse peoples a narrow political vision that strips millions of self-administration and cultural representation. There is no ethnic neutrality in a country where Abyssinian culture, religion, history, and economic institutions have historically been privileged and rendered the norm at the exclusion of all others.  

Reducing the Ethiopian crisis simply to ethnic conflict is a reductive and dangerous framing of a complex issue. Unfortunately, it is a common perspective through which matters pertaining to societies on the African continent are frequently understood. Reports of violence that we have gotten from different parts of the country tell a more complicated and disturbing story. They place the Ethiopian state as neither a neutral nor healing actor amidst multifaceted violence. To see this story with some clarity, we bear witness to the stories of state violence that have come out of the country over the last three weeks, and more broadly, over the last two years.

State Violence

This recent spate of violence occurs in the context of the last two years where state and nonstate actors have committed atrocities in different parts of the country, which were largely ignored by the government. Government forces have engaged in widespread torture, rape, land evictions and killings. In both the Oromia and the Amhara regions, there have been numerous reports of attacks against multiple communities including the burning of mosques, churches, and businesses. In June 2019, dozens of people were killed by armed militias on the border between the Amhara region and Benishangul-Gumuz. According to a report released by Amnesty International, in January 2019, armed Amhara vigilante groups burned houses and killed 130 members of the Qimant community—a minority group who have been demanding self-administration within the Amhara regional state. These are only a few of such cases.

In the past two years, the Abiy administration has not attempted any reparative process to address past and existing harm that have and continue to result in violence. There have not been any credible nor timely investigations of the numerous cases/incidents of violence against community and against individuals by the state. That the government is now weaponizing current attacks for the purpose of justifying their political strategy raises legitimate questions about the ability or commitment of this government to appropriately respond to historic and contemporary violence and their underlying causes. 

The Ethiopian government and its supporters insist that nothing unconstitutional is happening and that the government’s response is necessary. They argue that Ethiopia is in the throes of “ethnic violence”, with clear perpetrators and victims. They argue that this is the single most urgent issue threatening Ethiopia’s stability today. This narrative reverberates across some sections of the Ethiopian diaspora and has now begun making it into international media such as Reuters and the Associated Press.

The continued acts of state violence occurring across the Oromia region of Ethiopia need an urgent response. The government and those that echo its sentiments have positioned this state violence in relation to their inflamed and contextless version of ethnic violence. They have created a framework that justifies authoritarian state practices such as mass detention and closure of the internet and non-government media. Why is the Ethiopian government, who has not been committed to protecting communities, so invested in centering the ‘ethnic-violence’ narrative? Why have we seen military forces and state apparatuses systematically target Oromo people from all sections of Ethiopian society?

The Political Agenda

Abiy Ahmed came to power following the successful 2014-2018 #OromoProtests, a grassroots youth movement which first started in the Oromia region and spread throughout the country. The #OromoProtests served as a catalyst for major changes within the then ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Abiy was selected by the EPRDF to lead what was to be a transition to democracy through free and fair elections. Initially, his emergence was viewed by many as the beginning of an era where Ethiopians solved their problems peacefully. The return to the use of militarization and punitive punishment against ideological difference under the guise of curbing civil unrest is a dangerous move in a country that was just starting to emerge from an experience of years of civil protest being met with state violence.

At the crux of the unfolding political crisis is the fate of the multinational federation adapted in 1995. Its establishment was a compromise that enabled the Ethiopian state to remain standing. The Oromo protesters demanded further decentralization and realization of the regional rights enshrined in the 1995 constitution which had been ignored by the previous ruling party over the last two decades. Since coming to power, Abiy has taken actions that undermine the federal system. He dissolved the coalition of parties that made up the previous federal government structure. Representatives of all regions in the federation now belong to one party. The current structure of the PP centralizes power and undermines possibilities of regional autonomy and shared federal rule. It is the first step towards a gradual weakening and eventual elimination of the multinational federation.

A political approach centered on regional sovereignty is important because the demands of Ethiopia’s diverse nations and nationalities for self-administration go back decades. These are not just a collection of cultural and linguistic groups without diverse political needs, but structured nations with their own approaches to governance. The right to multi-national existence and self-rule in Ethiopia is important to millions of historically marginalized groups as evidenced by ongoing demands for decentralization.

This reform by Abiy gives us perspective with which to raise our first question: why the hyper focus on ethnic violence, and as the investigation by Amnesty International reveals, why would state actors have a role in exacerbating these unhealed, collective wounds? For one thing, focusing on ethnic based violence legitimizes Abiy’s Ethiopian nationalism rooted in Abyssinian ideology. The reasoning is this: if ethnicity can be established as the most serious problem facing Ethiopia, then it seems rational to see the solution as an approach that is free of ethnicity. In other words, Abiy needs ethnic conflict to justify dismantling any protection that the constitution provides for regional sovereignty and self-determination. This view takes the country back to the same old thing: a failed unitary system at the heart of the perennial conflict that has afflicted the Ethiopian state since its inception. By foreclosing possibilities for peaceful realization of a multinational state it encourages national groups to take the path of armed conflict to assert their sovereignty once again.

Historically, the Ethiopian government has internalized and actualized the purpose of its existence by using the military to preserve the state and to control perceived stability. Instead of centering people and their justified generational grievances, the state has used militarization to violently silence dissent. Not unlike other governments around the world, the Ethiopian government has made “stability” synonymous with eliminating ideological opposition. Abiy’s administration has framed dissent as a disruption of stability thus making the case that militarization is necessary for a peaceful Ethiopia.

If Abiy’s government continues to centralize power in Addis Ababa and keeps amassing his individual political and military power, Ethiopia faces an uncertain and volatile future. The government must be encouraged by all parties engaged with Ethiopia to address the root causes of ethnic violence, compelling the administration to sincerely assess its readiness to lead a country like Ethiopia. Ethiopians must also challenge Abiy’s use of the military and other state violence across Oromia, because it will not remain contained in the Oromia region. Wherever an ideological threat is perceived state-sposnored violence will follow. If we can see past the minimalistic and in many cases, suspiciously evidenced narratives of neighbor-on-neighbor violence that the government and its counterparts are pushing, then we may find grounds to stand together in this moment.

Soreti Kadir is a storyteller, facilitator, and activist. Follow Soreti on Twitter at @iamsoreti.

Ayantu Ayana is an activist and doctoral student. Follow Ayantu on Twitter at @ThaAyantu.

Oromos say Ethiopia has become a ‘dangerous country for us’ at Paris rally July 12, 2020

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Oromos say Ethiopia has become a ‘dangerous country for us’ at Paris rally

France 24 12 July 2020

Oromos say Ethiopia has become a ‘dangerous country for us’ at Paris rally

Ethiopia has seen deadly unrest since Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa was shot dead at the end of June, with Oromos denouncing their marginalisation within a country that many experts are saying is becoming an authoritarian regime once more – despite the election of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018. Oromos in Paris gathered to protest on Monday.

As they gathered around the statue holding aloft the flame of liberty at Place de la République – a major site for demonstrations in the French capital,  near the ultimate symbol of protest, the Bastille – the Oromo protesters made their anger clear. Placards and banners read “Free all political prisoners”, “Abiy Ahmed, dictator” and “Justice for Hachulu”.

The demonstration was organised in response to the killing of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa, who was seen as a crucial voice for the Oromo people in Ethiopian politics. The day after he was shot dead in the capital Addis Ababa, crowds of demonstrators converged on several big cities – especially in the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital.

Violence soon flared, with at least 239 people killed in the protests that shook Ethiopia last week, according to the country’s police. Authorities said some people were killed during the security crackdown while other were killed in clashes between different ethnic groups. More than 3,500 suspects were arrested.

The Oromo demonstrating in Paris were worried about this crackdown and expressed support for sweeping political change. “We need equality and justice in our country,” said Mussa, a 25 year-old migrant from Ethiopia.

Notably, a statement from the association organising the demonstration said that Hundessa was murdered “on government orders”, motivated by the fact that “He was Oromo”. Since then there has been a twist in the case. On Friday, Ethiopian Attorney-General Abebech Abbebe said that “the assassination was intended to be a cover to take power from the incumbent by force”, without providing details.

Intra-Oromo ‘civil war’

Abiy Ahmed is himself an Oromo. But the community is divided. “There’s a civil war going on within the Oromo group at the moment,” said Ethiopia specialist René Lefort. “Oromo are fighting against other Oromo; there are those who support Ahmed and those who have taken up arms against the government,” Lefort said.

At Place de la République, one protester who gave her name as Duniya argued that Ahmed has not done enough for the Oromo: “We thought that Abiy Ahmed supported our cause because he is Oromo, but over the past year Ethiopia has became a dangerous country for us,” she said.

This is part of a broader “repression of human rights, which affects everyone in the country”, added Fisseha Tekle, an Amnesty International Researcher on Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is becoming “more and more of an authoritarian regime”, Lefort said. He noted in particular the “thousands of political prisoners locked up all over the country” and “a press that’s starting to censor itself”.

The demonstrators in Paris also denounced these abuses. “The internet has been cut off in Ethiopia since June 30; we don’t know how our families are,” Mussa said. “We don’t know what’s going on in Ethiopia from day to day,” Duniya added.

Ahmed was not always such a divisive figure. In April 2018, his electoral victory was seen as heralding a brave new world – with the release of thousands of prisoners, the lifting of bans on hitherto repressed opposition parties and the repeal of illiberal laws. To cap it all off, Abiy was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for creating a peace deal to end longstanding conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

But modern Ethiopia’s first-ever Oromo leader has failed to maintain the soaring popularity that characterised his honeymoon period, especially amongst the Oromo ethnic group. “Ahmed has done nothing to stop the country from being torn apart by inter-ethnic conflicts,” Lefort said. “His main objective is to assert his power.”

This article was translated from the original in French.



Hachalu Hundessa: the Oromo singer who helped transform politics in Ethiopia

DW: Oromia: #OromoProtests set to continue in Ethiopia December 24, 2015

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Oromo protests set to continue in Ethiopia

In an interview with DW, a spokesman of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum accused the government of abusing the country’s constitution with its plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa.

OromoProtests set to continue

Violence and chaos gripped Ethiopia this week as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest against government plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa. Human Rights Watch said at least 75 people were killed in a bloody crackdown by heavily armed security forces. 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 people consider a land grab. DW spoke to Merara Gundina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federal Congress, in Addis Ababa.

DW: What exactly are you demonstrating against?

Merara Gundina: The Addis Ababa Master Plan is part of a larger land grab by the Ethiopian government around Addis Ababa, which has displaced not less than 200,000 people. Secondly, under federalism all the boundaries are being eroded by the ruling party which is bent on taking the land. People are very angry with the government and people who wanted to see change are frustrated.

Under the Ethiopian constitution all land belongs to the state, with people living there legally considered tenants. Doesn’t this allow the government to carry out any developments that may serve the interests of all Ethiopians?

No, no, the government is misusing it. The constitution says the land belongs to the public so it doesn’t allow the government simply to tell the people “go away” and it takes the land. No, it says there are bonds of state in the name of the people and there are individuals owning the land. It is the ruling party that is misusing the constitution. In fact, the state itself is privatising the country.

We understand you have vowed to continue the demonstrations despite the killings and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared on television that the government would act without mercy. Is it not better to solve these issues through talks?

We continue to support the cause of our people. We continue our peaceful struggle. We cannot be intimidated as the government has done. We have popular support, we have millions of people behind us. The government cannot silence us easily. We are following the constitution but we are against the arbitrary misuse of the constitution by the ruling party. Our people will continue.

Is it true that your organization is getting support from outsiders?

The diaspora is far away. It’s school kids, high schools and universities and the government is simply accusing the left and the right. Probably the diaspora is very active in the media because the local media are totally controlled by the government. We have no access to the media and the diaspora have some media outlets and they report what is happening in the country. But a diaspora of a few thousand cannot move millions of people.





VOA: Ethiopia’s Oromos Tread Warily Amid Anti-government Protests

Ethiopian migrants, all members of the Oromo community of Ethiopia living in Malta, protest in Valletta against the Ethiopian regime's plan to evict Oromo farmers to expand Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, Dec. 21, 2015.

Ethiopian migrants, all members of the Oromo community of Ethiopia living in Malta, protest in Valletta against the Ethiopian regime’s plan to evict Oromo farmers to expand Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Dec. 21, 2015.

Marthe van der Wolf, December 23, 2015 3:22 PM
Schools are closed, businesses have just reopened after being closed for almost a week, and there is tension in Ginchi, Ethiopia, one of the first towns where the Oromo people began protesting last month against a plan to expand the capital, Addis Ababa.

Police are on the main road in Ginchi, which is about 80 kilometers west of Addis Ababa. Interviews have to be conducted on the basis of anonymity and on the outskirts of the town.

A waitress says that despite the reopening of the cafe where she works, life is not back to normal yet: She says that there is not an official curfew, but that young people risk being randomly detained if they are out in the evening.

The most recent protest in Ginchi was last weekend, after a funeral. Citizens said security forces killed three people before the protest took place.

The Addis Ababa master plan is a blueprint to expand the capital into the Oromiya region. The protesters believe that the expansion will lead to land grabs without proper compensation and a loss of the Oromo culture and language.

A shop owner, who participated in the protests, says those who created the master plan do not understand that life is tough and that people like him will not benefit from the promised development. He says there is no benefit for the people to have outside investors who take their land.

Established in 1991

The Oromiya region was established when the current government came to power in 1991. The federal system was divided along ethnic lines. The Oromos are the largest ethnic group in the country.

Bekele Gerba, leader of the opposition Oromo Federal Congress, lives in Adama, the former capital of the Oromiya region. The city, about 60 kilometers south of Addis Ababa, has also seen protests in recent weeks.

Gerba says Oromos have never been treated like equals by Ethiopia’s leaders, but he believes the current government is the worst.

“The ruling classes, usually, they think that Oromo is a threat,” he said. ” ‘One day they can overwhelm us. Therefore, they have to be treated in such a way so that they won’t have any power.’ Therefore, for example, we don’t have any power in the military. All the military commanders belong to a different ethnic group.”

Gerba’s party says more than 75 people have died since the protests began, and that many of his party members have been detained. Rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch say the government is using “excessive lethal force” on the protesters.

A government spokesman, Getachew Reda, told VOA on Wednesday that security forces had exercised restraint, “even under circumstances where they found themselves overwhelmed.”



FP: Revolt in an African Stasi State




Daily Mail: Ethiopia opposition: 80 killed in protests against land plan

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3372090/Ethiopia-opposition-80-killed-protests-against-land-plan.html#ixzz3vCWG0CDp