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HRW: Interview: Ethiopia Lets in Human Rights Watch for First Time in 8 Years Genuine Progress on Rights, Yet Ethnic Tensions Loom in Rural Regions February 23, 2019

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Interview: Ethiopia Lets in Human Rights Watch for First Time in 8 Years

Genuine Progress on Rights, Yet Ethnic Tensions Loom in Rural Regions

Amy Braunschweiger,  Senior Web Communications Manager, HRW and Felix Horne, Senior Researcher, Horn of Africa, HRW

After more than two years of protests, power changed hands in Ethiopia last April. Under the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia is shedding its reputation as a country that tortures detainees and spies on its citizens. The authorities have released thousands of political prisoners and dismissed some abusive security force officers. The decades-long conflict with neighboring Eritrea came to an end. And for the first time in eight years, Human Rights Watch staff who cover Ethiopia were permitted to visit the country. Senior Researcher Felix Horne talks with Amy Braunschweiger about these exciting steps forward, as well as his concerns about rising tensions among ethnic groups in the country’s rural areas.

Abiy Ahmed, newly elected prime minister of Ethiopia, is sworn in at the House of Peoples' Representatives in Addis Ababa, April 2, 2018. © 2018 Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Abiy Ahmed, newly elected prime minister of Ethiopia, is sworn in at the House of Peoples’ Representatives in Addis Ababa, April 2, 2018.  © 2018 Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

How has Ethiopia changed since you were last there?

Addis Ababa, the capital, has changed so much. Unlike before, modern asphalt roads are everywhere, there are freeways, tall, modern shiny buildings, lots of new restaurants, and a light rail system. It used to smell of smoke, from people burning wood to prepare food, but that smell is now gone. People seemed to feel much more free to express their opinions. They were speaking very openly about sensitive subjects in public spaces, cafes, and mini buses. That’s not the Addis I knew, where everyone was looking over their shoulder to see who was eavesdropping.

You went specifically for a workshop on rebuilding civil society. What did you learn?

Under the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation, civil society groups working on human rights issues in Ethiopia was decimated. Most nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were closed. Others had their bank accounts frozen. But a new law was passed earlier this month. It eliminates most of the draconian restrictions from previous legislation. The new agency registering NGOs needs to get up and running and that will take time, but we hope NGOs will be able to register soon, which will open up possibilities for funding. Then they can document abuses and advocate for respect for human rights, which is critical ahead of the May 2020 elections.

What was the workshop like?

There was a feeling of newfound optimism there. Still, it was starkly evident the extent to which civil society working on human rights has been decimated since the Charities and Societies Proclamation was passed 10 years ago. It will clearly take time for the sector to recover.

At the workshop, international and Ethiopian NGOs, such as the Human Rights Council of Ethiopia and the Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations, discussed advocacy strategies and research gaps, and talked about economic, social, and cultural rights. It was a chance for everyone to get together in person. There were people there who I knew quite well but had never actually met. It was nice to put faces to names.

Newspaper readers at Arat Kilo, a square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Newspaper readers at Arat Kilo, a square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © 2011 Tom Cochrem/Getty Images

Did anything surprise you?

Some of the activists organized a press conference at the end of the workshop, and I honestly didn’t expect much media interest. But 60 journalists showed up, and most were from the state media. When I talked about how it was our first visa in eight years, there was applause. They asked questions about what work we planned to do in Ethiopia and if we’d open up an office there.

State media never covered our work in the past, and that has clearly changed. But media is still publishing a pro-government prospective. For example, we spoke about all the great reforms happening, and we also talked about our concerns. But most of the media never reported on the concerns.

I have this memory from the press conference, when, among the microphones was one from ETV, which is the main state broadcaster, and next to it was one from OMN, the Oromia Media Network, which used to be banned in Ethiopia. The former government went to great lengths to jam OMN’s television broadcasts and had unfairly charged it under the counterterrorism law. It was great to see them side-to-side and a powerful image of change in the media landscape.

Over the past few years, there have been simmering ethnic tensions across Ethiopia. Where do these tensions now stand?

In Addis, things are good. There’s lots of optimism. But outside the capital – and I’ve been in regular contact with people around the country since Abiy came to power – it’s almost the exact opposite.

Previously, the ruling coalition’s direction was implemented from the highest-level officials down to the villages. An expansive network of intelligence at every level meant the government knew everything, allowing it to suppress any emerging threats to its power and control. The government also used other strategies to stem criticism, including force.

But that system in many places has all but broken down, as people associated with serious abuses, or those not loyal to the current government, have been purged. There is little governance happening at local levels, and local security officials are often ineffectual, allowing some vigilante groups to take control. At the same time, people are feeling newly empowered to speak openly after years of suppression, and many have longstanding grievances over land, border demarcations, access to state resources, and perceived discrimination against their ethnic group.

June 15, 2016 Report

“Such a Brutal Crackdown”

Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests

Unfortunately, institutions that would normally resolve those grievances – the judiciary, parliament, the Human Rights Commission — aren’t yet seen as independent or capable of doing so.

All this is happening at the same time as a massive influx of firearms into the country, many from Sudan. It’s a dangerous mix.

What does this look like on the ground?

The ethnic tensions play out in different ways. In some places, you see young armed gang members stopping cars and demanding payments, smuggling goods, controlling regional trade. There has been open fighting in other places, and the Ethiopian army has recently been engaged in clashes with the Oromo Liberation Front forces. The OLF was welcomed back into the country, but some of its members weren’t willing to disarm or reintegrate into government security forces.

What’s really worrying is that this violence could just be the tip of the iceberg. Around the boundary between the Tigray and Amhara regions, both sides are engaging in war-like rhetoric and heavily arming themselves. If open fighting broke out between those regions, it would affect the whole country. Yet there has been notable silence from Abiy around this and other emerging conflicts around the country.

Some of the challenges facing the government are inevitable in transitioning from an authoritarian government to a fledgling democracy. But restoring law and order doesn’t seem to be high on the government agenda. Officials don’t seem to be taking these risks seriously. Eighty-five percent of Ethiopians are rural, mostly small-scale farmers or pastoralists who need grazing land and water for their animals. If there is widespread conflict, if they’re displaced, or if they can’t plant or harvest because of fighting, the humanitarian consequences would be dire.

The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations and the construction of Africa’s highest dam, the Gibe III hydropower project. The Lower Omo valley, one of the most remote and culturally diverse areas on the planet, is home to around 200,000 people from eight unique agro-pastoral communities who have lived there for as long as anyone can remember. Their way of life and their identity is linked to the land and access to the Omo River.

What about the problem of internal displacement?

There are over two million internally displaced people in Ethiopia. This includes 1.4 million new displaced people in the first half of 2018 alone – the largest internal displacement of people in the world during that time period. A changing climate brought increased drought and variability of rains, causing the displacement of pastoralists who didn’t have enough grazing for their animals. But most of those displaced were fleeing armed conflict. In many places along the 800 kilometer boundary between the Oromia and Somali regions, groups, many of them armed, violently removed people from their lands. Because these places are remote, it’s difficult to provide food and other types of humanitarian aid there.

We are worried the government may be forcing internally displaced people back to their lands before it’s safe. Recently, about 900,000 people from the Gedeo ethnic group were forced to flee their lands in the country’s coffee-growing south by the Guji Oromo ethnic group. But the spike in the number of those displaced embarrassed the government, so local officials pressured them to move back in part by telling humanitarian groups – which were feeding the Gedeo – to only provide them food in the places they had fled. Many Gedeo went back because of the pressure, even though for many there is nothing to return to or they feel it is still unsafe.

October 19, 2010 Report

Development without Freedom

How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia

Using aid to control people’s movement was a strategy the former government regularly deployed. It’s concerning to see it being used again in Abiy’s Ethiopia.

How will these factors play into Ethiopia’s 2020 election?

In the past, Ethiopia’s elections were riddled with irregularities, with the government “winning” over 99.6 percent of federal parliamentary seats in 2010 and all 547 seats in 2015 election. Expectations are high that the 2020 elections will be different.

But lots of important issues about the upcoming elections aren’t being addressed. Key elements for an environment conducive to credible elections, like an independent media, fair registration procedures, and a vibrant civil society, just aren’t in place. Opposition parties, many of which only existed outside of Ethiopia for many years, are starting from scratch. An oft-delayed census, historically controversial in Ethiopia, has still not taken place.

Many people are quietly asking if the elections should be postponed. The ruling party and most opposition parties have not sought a postponement because they all think they will do well. And many of the youth – those who joined the protests that brought about the changes over the past year – don’t feel represented by the existing parties. Combine all this with the current ethnic tensions and the security void, and it’s a potential powder keg.

How does all of this affect your work?

In the past, we never were able to get the government’s perspective on the abuses taking place. We always reached out to officials but got nothing back, which denied them an opportunity to tell their side of the story. I’m hoping this new government will continue to give our researchers visas and be responsive to meeting and discussing our findings. We hope we will also be able to do more research on the ground in Ethiopia, and tackle issues that were previously off limits because of access and security constraints. We also look forward to working more openly with local civil society groups and activists as the sector rebuilds itself. After many years stuck on the outside, there’s lots to do, and we intend to be there to do it.


Oromia (Ethiopia): Exiled Olympic runner Feyisa Lilesa returns home. #Qeerroo #OromoProtests #OromoRevolution October 22, 2018

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Ethiopia: Exiled Olympic runner Feyisa Lilesa returns home

Marathoner who sought exile after making protest gesture at 2016 Olympic Games returns amid political reforms at home.

Feyisa: 'I knew this day was coming because I know the blood spilled by all these people was not going be in vain' [File: Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters]
Feyisa: ‘I knew this day was coming because I know the blood spilled by all these people was not going be in vain’ [File: Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters]

An Ethiopian marathon runner who made global headlines with an anti-government gesture at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics finish line has returned from exile.

Feyisa Lilesa’s return on Sunday came several months after Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy took officein the East African nation and announced sweeping political reforms.

The runner held his arms over his head, wrists crossed, as he finished second in the 2016 Olympicsin solidarity with protesters in his home region, Oromia.

He sought asylum in the United States, saying he feared he would be imprisoned or killed if he returned home.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu received Feyisa at Addis Ababa’s airport, where relatives – clad in traditional attire from the Oromia region – and fans had also gathered.


Why I run

Feyisa Lilesa
by Feyisa Lilesa

Feyisa said the new government is “a result of the struggle by the people” and he hopes it will address concerns after years of repression.

“I knew this day was coming because I know the blood spilled by all these people was not going be in vain,” the medal-winning runner told the Reuters news agency upon arrival.

‘Loved by my people’

The unrest in Ethiopia was originally triggered by protests over a government development plan for Addis Ababa, which critics said would lead to expropriation of farmland in the surrounding Oromia region.

Hundreds were subsequently killed by security forces as the demonstrations evolved into rallies against perceived political and economic marginalisation of ethnic Oromos.

In April, the EPRDF coalition which has ruled the country since 1991, elected Abiy – a 42-year old ethnic Oromo – as prime minister.

“I knew the dictatorship would eventually fall down,” Feyisa said. “I was expecting this day, but I did not know if it would be today or tomorrow, but it has been clear in my mind that I would go back to my father’s land alive.”

As well as making peace with neighbour Eritrea, Abiy has pursued a reconciliation strategy, extending an olive branch to dissidents and rebel groups, although the changes have not stopped bouts of ethnically charged violence.

After Rio, 28-year old Feyisa competed in a number of marathons, winning some. He told reporters he planned to focus on training for his sport.

“I can still bring good results for my country in my field,” he said. “I was loved by my people because I am a sportsman not because I am a politician. I only brought their suffering to global attention by using my profession.”

More from Oromia Economist sources:-


Olimpikii Riyoo irratti mallattoo mormii mootummaa irratti agarsiiseen waggoota lamaaf biyya ambaa kan ture atileet Fayyisaa Leellisaa biyyatti deebi’eera.

DW: Ethiopian anti-government protests set to continue. #OromoProtests August 18, 2016

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#OromoProtests against the Ethiopian regime fascist tyranny. Join the peaceful movement for justice, democracy, development and freedom of Oromo and other oppressed people in Ethiopia#OromoProtests, #GrandOromiaProtests, 6 August 2016, all over Oromia. Dhaadannoo. p4#OromoProtests iconic picture

Ethiopian anti-government protests set to continue

DW, 18 August 2016

Since November 2015, Ethiopia has been experiencing a wave of anti-government protests unleashed by fears by the Oromo people that the government was planning to seize their land. Hundreds of people have been killed.

Oromo protesters in Addis Ababa

In early August, anti-government demonstrations rocked the Oromia and Amhara regional states of Ethiopia. Thousands of demonstrators went on to the streets calling on the government to stop killing protesters, release those arrested, implement political reform, and respect justice and the rule of law. However, the response from government security forces, which used live ammunition against protesters, led to the death of about 100 unarmed people.

Although the government security apparatus reported that the demonstrations had been contained, “the current political situation has become volatile. Things are fast changing and developments have become increasingly unpredictable,” according to analyst Tsegaye R. Ararssa. Activists are said to be busy devising alternative methods of protest that range from weakening government institutions through staying at home and not operating businesses to organizing a Diaspora-based “grand solidarity rally.”

Change of tactics

In the town of Gondar in the state of Amhara, where the first demonstration took place, residents resorted to a new mode of protest – staying at home. A resident of the town, talking on condition of anonymity, told Deutsche Welle that from last Sunday to Tuesday the streets were deserted. Workers stayed at home and stores remained closed.

Asked why the public had opted for this type of protest, the man said “it is clear that society has demanded an answer from the government, but the response was one of bullets in return, so the public decided to launch a stay-at-home strike.”

For Tsegaye, this peaceful method of protest demonstrates “a complete rejection of the regime by the people. It also blunts the regime’s false claims that the protests were violent. The stay-at-home protest is an indication of the increasing maturity of civil disobedience in Ethiopia.”

An angry man leading a group of protestersProtesters are now leaving the streets and staying at home

Internet restrictions

Residents in both the Oromia and Amhara regions say that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get an internet connection and access to social media tools has been blocked. “The only way to get through is by using proxy servers,” one resident of Gondar told DW.

In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Ethiopia’s Communications Affairs Minister Getachew Reda claimed that that social media had been used “to churn out false information after false information, mostly seditious remarks, trying to agitate people against security forces and also against fellow brothers and sisters.” The administration therefore decided to gag “the kind of vitriol running over social media,” he said.

However, political pundits argue that the state move to censor the internet places a strain on political discourse and the sharing of information. Despite the fact that the country has less than three percent of internet access, there are growing numbers of news and opposition websites which the regime is notorious for blocking.

Aid from the West

The Ethiopian government receives some 3.5 billion dollars (3 billion euros) annually from international donors and has remained a key strategic partner of the West, particularly the US and the EU, in the ‘war against terror.’ However, analysts argue this financial support has been toughening the regime’s resolve to silence dissenting voices. The western approach of tiptoeing around human right violations in the country and its continued support for the regime has been stirring up anger among sections of the public.

Tsegaye says that US and EU “support of the regime – which they know is clearly undemocratic – is the very cause of the state terrorism we observe in the region.”

A recent editorial in The Washington Post argues that the Obama administration, beyond releasing their “deeply concerned” statements, should put pressure on the regime to allow for “credible investigation into the killings.” Following the demonstrations in the two regions, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urged the Ethiopian government to “give access to international observers in the affected areas to establish what really happened.”

In an interview with DW, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the commissioner, said restrictions on internet access, the blocking of social media and lack of civil society organizations in the country have made it difficult to verify reports of deaths and casualties.

a group of Oromo activists demonstrating in BerlinOromo activists took to the streets of Berlin in November 2015

Mohammed Said, public relations officer with Ethiopia’s Communications Affairs Office, told DW that the government had its own system of checks and balances and the country’s own Human Rights Commission was doing its job in investigating and publicizing the human rights situation in the country.

For analyst Tsegaye, this shows that the regime “is still in denial of the injustice its policies have resulted in.” The Ethiopian government now has the opportunity to change its approach – otherwise, Ravina said, “if the situation is left to fester, there will be more outbursts, more unrest, more protests and perhaps more violence.”

Read more at:- Ethiopian anti-government protests set to continue


Grand #OromoProtests Global Solidarity Rally Held in Johannesburg South Africa, 18 August 2016 August 18, 2016

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#OromoProtests #AmharaProtests #OgadeniaProtests joint global solidarity rally in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Grand #OromoProtests Global solidarity joint Ethiopians Rally Held in South Africa on 18 August 2016 p2


Grand #OromoProtests Global solidarity joint Ethiopians Rally Held in South Africa on 18 August 2016 p1


Grand #OromoProtests Global solidarity joint Ethiopians Rally Held in South Africa on 18 August 2016


Seattle Weekly: Grand #OromoProtests Global Solidarity Rally Held in Sheattle, 16 August 2016 August 18, 2016

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Grand #OromoProtests Global solidarity joint Ethiopians Rally Held in Sheattle, USA on 16 August 2016

Ethiopian Immigrants March Against Brutal Regime

Seattle Weekly, 16 August 2016

The government has recently killed and disappeared hundreds of people.


A couple hundred members of Seattle’s Ethiopian immigrant community marched through downtown’s streets Tuesday afternoon in protest against U.S. support for the brutal Ethiopian regime.

“Back in Ethiopia, we have a dictatorial regime which has committed mass crimes against its own people,” said attorney Daniel Ajema, a marcher who identified himself as an organizer. “We’re here in solidarity with the people back home, and would like to support them and show our support.”

He’s not exaggerating. In their “Democracy Index” last year, the Economistgave Ethiopia’s government their lowest classification: an authoritarian regime, with an “Electoral Process and Pluralism” score of zero out of ten. Since November, according to the Human Rights Watch, government forces have killed hundreds of largely peaceful protesters and “disappeared” hundreds more.

Ajema said that the protest was specifically aimed at urging President Obama and philanthropist Bill Gates to try to lean on Ethiopia’s national government to do better on human rights and democracy. “We are here to voice our concern and our anger against the enablers of the regime,” he said. The Gates foundation currently has 150 projects worth more than $500 million in Ethiopia, according to the South African Broadcasting Service. The official U.S. relationship with Ethiopia is a friendly one: Ethiopian troops have battled the terrorist army al-Shabaab in neighboring Somolia, and last year our government sent theirs more than half a billion dollars in aid.

Ajema says both the U.S.’s and Gates Foundation’s money helps finance the regime, and he says both Gates and the president should insist on putting human rights ahead of political expediency.

“They’re not doing a whole lot of checking on good governance and democratic rights,” Ajema said. “They’re just blindly giving money to the government.”

Click hear to read  more at Sheattle Weekly


Grand #OromoProtests Global Solidarity Rally Held in Melbourne, Australia, 18 August 2016 August 18, 2016

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Wayyaaneen haa dhabmtu!

Grand #OromoProtests Global solidarity Rally Held in Melbourne, Australia, 18 August 2016.

Grand #OromoProtests Global solidarity Rally Held in Melbourne, Australia, 18 August 2016. p2

Grand #OromoProtests Global solidarity Rally Held in Melbourne, Australia, 18 August 2016. p3


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Odaa Oromoo#OromoProtests against the Ethiopian regime fascist tyranny. Join the peaceful movement for justice, democracy, development and freedom of Oromo and other oppressed people in Ethiopia#OromoProtests, Qabosoon itti fufa jedhu aayyoleenOromo students Protests, Western Oromia, Mandii, Najjoo, Jaarsoo,....


#OromoProtests Special coverage


By Henok Gabisa, Addis Standard,  25 January 2016


The current situation in Oromiya and wider Ethiopia is blusterous. In the words of an anonymous commentator on the ground, “Oromiya is a war zone; we are under effective military control.” From this characterization, I gather that the government security forces’ merciless firing of live ammunition at peaceful protestors has turned the situation into a popular civil rebellion in all of Oromiya. As a matter of fact, protest actions have taken place in more than 170 Oromo cities, towns and villages. As of this writing, Oromo activists have verified and documented the killing of over 100 Oromo persons, the majority of whom are students and farmers. The Associated Press reports that 80 Oromo protestors were killed. Oromo mothers and female students are being kidnapped and transported to unknown locations.


Effective December 15, the Oromo nation has fallen under the administrative jurisdiction of a “Command Post”, an entity chaired by the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. “Counter-Terrorism Task Force”, which is assembled for this particular purpose is also deployed. It remains a major legal question whether the “military administration” constitutes the same effect as declaration of emergency situation-executive decree which should have followed a procedure of its own as under article 93 of the constitution. However, as of now, what we know is that the inception of the “command post” already has obliterated any semblance of legality because it unconstitutionally suspended the bodies that administer (i.e., the State Parliament and the Executive) of the State of Oromiya and the nominal political party in charge there.
On December 16, the federal government released something very close to a national decree. It was read on a national TV during prime time broadcast service. A joint venture of the “Command Post” and “Anti-Terrorism Special Task Force”, the decree’s content was considered by many as amounting to a declaration of war against the Oromo in general. The following day, the communication minister, Getachew Reda, followed up the decree with a presser, in which he described Oromo protesters as “devils”, “demons”, “satanic”, “witches” and “terrorists”, who need special military operation “to be put back in their place”. In his cantankerous statements, Getachew cleared up what many observers already suspected: the deep-seated and systematized dehumanization project of the Oromo by the regime and beyond. Again, PM Hailemariam Dessalegn, in an exclusive interview with the national TV, menacingly vowed for a “merciless” national response against the Oromo protesters if they don’t stop protesting. Now, we are observing synchronized, condescending and patronizing melodrama being translated into collective punishment against the Oromo. Getachew’s sordidly loaded press communication in fact reminded me of Seif-Al Islam Gaddafi’s last taunting moment in one of the notorious TV broadcast in which he called the Libyan protestors “rats” who had to be annihilated. The current military control in Oromiya exactly resembles the famous Nazi Law known as The Third Reich of 1933 that Nazified all German law in order to grant arbitrary power to Hitler to detain and convict Jews. In a similar way, ours is also a regime that has unequivocally and arrogantly displayed that it is not only the enemy of the people, but also of itself.


Why the plan is the reincarnation of perennial Oromo question?
The protest, now turned into an unarmed popular uprising or movement, is a renewed call from Oromo people to object to and demand the unconditional and permanent termination of the implementation of the Addis Abeba Master Plan, which is designed to incorporate surrounding Oromo lands into the capital against the will of owner-operators. The complete absence, on the part of the government, to solicit public consultation or participation since the start of the plan’s preparation in 2009 did not only make it a surreptitious political scheme, but also flagged major questions as to the substantive intent and content of the plan itself. In fact, the plan was viewed among the Oromo as an existential threat to the people and their land. The Oromo see the plan as a danger to their identity, language, culture, environment, and most importantly, their right to property/land security and the right to a sustainable development.
The government’s initial attempt to foist the plan in 2014 faced a stiff resistance from Ambo University students and all corners of Oromiya, triggering a massive crackdown by the government that killed unknown number of Oromo students in April and May of the same year. No judicial investigation or commission of inquiry was established, nor did anyone government official was hold accountable.


Completely disrespecting the peoples’ persistent objection against the plan, as of November 2015, the government came back with an imperious determination to implement the infamous master plan. At this juncture, the Oromo people, indisputably, were convinced of the federal government’s long-term scheme to end the meager economic and political presence, of the Oromo in central Addis Abeba and its surroundings.
The Master Plan, which the regional government said was scarped all together, is an epitome of the major political and economic injustices that have lingered on unresolved for far too long. Political subordination and denial of self-governance, rising poverty and increasing unemployment rate among Oromo households because of the policy of land eviction and language discrimination, are some of the fundamental questions. The ongoing movement is an expression of demand for an international scrutiny towards the Ethiopian regime’s system of wealth distribution and economic regulation in the ethnically structured federal system of the country.


Over the last quarter of century, the Oromo people have been ruthlessly targeted for their identity, falling prey to one of the authoritarian regimes in the continent. For example, various reports indicate that about 90% of the political prisoners in Ethiopian prison are exclusively made up of the Oromo. Not only did this create a deep-seated grievance among the Oromo, but also displayed the inept political leadership of the incumbent, potentially risking long-term stability of the region. The condensed account of political and economic discrimination based on identity, language and culture, the widespread and systematic violation of fundamental rights to property, crumbling land security, complete non-existence of freedom of assembly and of the press are some of the rudiments that are heating up the recent Oromo civil movement. These questions are as old as the coming into power of the current regime itself, or well beyond. The surreptitiously designed Addis Master Plan is the latest iteration of the long-standing policy of dispossessing the Oromo from their property, this time under the shibboleth of “urbanization” and “development.”


Humanitarian Crises: regime’s breach of common Article 3 of Geneva Convention
With the civilian protestors facing a regime that has no hesitation to use the national military force, a humanitarian crises has unfolded at an alarming rate. In some cases the government has deployed military helicopters to transport military personnel to the protest sites. We have witnessed that the regime’s military response doesn’t have moral boundary. I suspect the regime is oblivious to the fact that the whole world is watching.
Material breach-by the regime’s military force-of humanitarian obligation also continues to take place in several other forms. For example, in Wallaga, reports indicate that medical professionals are being beaten and arrested for treating wounded protesters. In Najjo town, Ambo and Burayu, security forces have occupied hospital compounds and other medical facilities in order to detain, deny and refuse admittance of the fatally injured protesters. In fact, the same type of cruelty has been witnessed during the 2014 Oromo protest. Of course, this kind of material breach of international humanitarian duty could also be considered as a constitutive element of war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Furthermore, the regime’s moral revulsion against the protestors is well indicated in the pervasive and horrifying acts of group rapes allegedly committed by members of the military  in a number of villages and university campuses. Some reports also reveal a disturbing account of a wife who was raped at night in front of her husband. It is clear that rape has always been used as a tool of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in different countries at different times. That is why International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) developed a legal theory under which an act of rape could give rise to a joint criminal conviction for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Any viable solution?
The movement is an expressed demand for sustainable peace, justice, democracy, equality and true development that had been lacking in the country over the last 25 years. Apparently, the existing model of governance couldn’t extend to the greater public beyond the elites and a few members of a group who are affiliated with the regime. In fact, that is why Ethiopia is on the brink of famine with over 20 million Ethiopian people in need of urgent food, the majority of the affected being the Oromo. The number of Ethiopian youths that very frequently perish in the Mediterranean Sea while running away from home should put the lie to the government’s claim of the double digit growth. The stories thousands of our sisters living in an almost slavery-like situation in the Middle East should be a sufficient indication of how the travesty of the assertion Ethiopia’s fast economic growth.



The recent movement filled with ultimate self-sacrifice is the latest episode in Oromo’s quest for a better future and legitimate self-governance. The movement understands that unchecked state power in Ethiopia has been the problem and not the solution to economic development. The movement is an ultimate negation of the regime’s grandiloquent declaration of the recent 100% parliamentary win. It is the movement that is guarding and protecting the constitution from the government that was supposed to defend it. At the end of the day, the movement is a demand for reconfiguration and restructuring of the politics of the country. Of all, the movement is a plea for the permanent removal of the metastasized political cancer that that has diminished the lives and existence of the Oromo.
So, it is possible that the movement will soon culminate in being a sole driving force for the emergence of a new Ethiopia that all can call home. Oromo children’s blood gushing like a river on every street of Oromo city is a timely proof for a well-deserved moral leadership in the country. Over the last two months, the incumbent regime has conveyed a message to the Oromo and all other Ethiopians that it cannot lead the country; that its moral integrity is already corrupted, busted and politically bankrupt. The regime didn’t cash in on the benefit of the doubt it was granted 25 years ago. Now, it is a prime time for the people to step up their games by owning and showing the right leadership. That is the only way out.



Ed’s Note: Henok Gabisa is Visiting International Law Fellow based at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia. He can be reached at The opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect Addis Standard’s editorial guideline.


Opinion: Oromo Protests: Marking the next Ethiopian political chapter