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Fed up with ineffective leaders who aren’t dealing with the crises on the continent, people are coming together to launch a pan-African solidarity movement
The expression “Africa rising” was popularised by the Economist and focuses on GDP growth. The growing middle class and major increases in foreign direct investment all pointed to Africa being a prime investment destination and the promised return-on-investment levels that City bankers could only dream of since the collapse of the Asian tigers.
But while GDP has been rising across Africa, Africans themselves have been sinking – into deepening inequality, increasing corruption, shrinking civic space and in low lying areas, literally due to climate change.
This is why 272 people from 44 African countries (and the diaspora) founded Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity, in August last year, out of a deep desire to rewrite the rising narrative. The vision is a decentralised, citizen-owned future. Social inclusion, peace and shared prosperity are the key touch points of this new pan-African movement.
Africa is a rich continent. It has been impoverished by colonialism, slavery and now by new forms of economic injustice. We can’t undo history and the mess that we find ourselves in but we refuse to allow our political and business leaders to blame everything on colonialism.
History is not to blame for the human rights violations happening right now, for the gender inequality, for using fossil fuels when we have some of the best conditions for renewable energy. These wrongs are current and Africans Rising is about calling out our leaders on these failures and building a better, more just, more peaceful and sustainable Africa.
On 25 May – commonly know as Africa Day and officially as African Liberation Day – there will be a series of actions and events across the continent to mark the launch of the movement. We chose that day so that we can remind ourselves, our leaders and the world that we are tired of waiting for that liberation to be delivered. And to show them that we are prepared to take action and hold political and business leaders accountable and reinvigorate the journey to that better life for all.
Red is the colour of the launch, primarily to commemorate the blood that was spilt for the freedom of the peoples of Africa (and reminding our leaders that what is asked of them today is much less than what was asked from leaders in our anti-colonial struggles). Secondly, red signifies that Africa is bleeding its wealth on a daily basis through illicit financial outflows. Thirdly, we want to remind all Africans that whatever our beliefs and origins, we all have the same blood and, we have to work together for peace and justice.
Africans Rising is a catalysing movement and the launch will amplify existing struggles. If you are addressing violence against women for instance, you can use #25May2017 to advance your demands or other struggles at local or national level.
On the evening of 25 May, we’re calling on people to switch off their lights between 7pm and 8pm and to light a candle. This is for two reasons. One is to recognise there are still millions of Africans living in absolute energy poverty, which has consequences for education, health and economic activity. Even though Africa is blessed with some of the best renewable energy resources, we have hardly begun to harness these to lift our people out of energy poverty and create decent jobs. Secondly, the candles are a signal to our leaders, who do not have the political courage to lead in the way that we need them to, that we will not allow them to destroy the futures of current and forthcoming generations.
At the launch events all over the continent on 25 May, people will read out the Kilimanjaro declaration and pledge that: “We are Africans and we are rising for justice, peace and dignity”.
Young people are at the centre of Africans Rising, and were the majority at the conference in Arusha, Tanzania that gave birth to the movement. We are one of the youngest continents in terms of our demographic profile but we have some of the oldest leaders. If political leaders were honest with themselves many would acknowledge that they’ve been in power for far too long. They’ve run out of fresh ideas. We need to make way for younger people who have new perspectives on the problems facing the world.
We are building pan-African solidarity. When there is a crisis of humanity in Africa, either through manmade or natural disasters, the first people to step forward and offer solidarity often are people from outside the continent. Valued though those expressions of solidarity are by the victims of injustice, this allows our governments to cry imperialism and foreign interference.
There are devastating human rights violations happening in many countries including Zimbabwe, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon and in my own country, South Africa. While we have a wonderful constitution for which so many people gave their lives, we still see protesting workers killed.
Africans Rising is about deepening solidarity across the continent. We must step up and be the first to speak out against human rights violations.
Even though we have not yet formally launched, Africans Rising has already responded to crises with a solidarity mission to the Gambia, after the long-serving president refused to accept electoral defeat and a fact-finding mission to Cameroon to investigate a brutal state crackdown on protests by minority Anglophone communities.
We are committed ethically as well as tactically to peace. The Kilimanjaro declaration explicitly commits us to non-violent means of resisting injustices. But we believe peaceful civil disobedience is the right of citizens when governments refuse to listen or to act in the interests of the people.
That doesn’t mean we won’t engage in conventional dialogue with governments. We will, but we won’t do so believing that merely meeting with government is going to deliver the changes we need, quickly enough to improve the lot of our people.
We are building a movement that aims to finish the journey of true African liberation, for which so many people laid down their lives in the struggle against colonialism and since. We refuse to accept that all that blood was spilt for the difficult lives people live every day on the continent. The struggle continues!
An impatient Ayider Habesha, nine, had left his older brother searching for his footwear. He headed to religious lessons in a hut next to the towering dump. Ayider was buried alive with his six classmates and teacher when a chunk of the open landfill gave way on the evening of 11 March. His body was recovered two days later.
While Bargicho sees divine intervention at play in the incident, the collapse at Reppi landfill was an avoidable, manmade disaster.
In 2011, the French development agency (AFD) gave Addis Ababa’s government 34.6m euros (£17.3m) to close and rehabilitate Reppi and build a new landfill site at Sendafa, about 25 miles outside the capital in Oromia state.
Oromia has been engulfed by violence since November 2015. The unrest has been fuelled by concerns over a masterplan to integrate the development of Addis Ababa – a metropolis of about 5 million people – with surrounding Oromo areas. While federal officials insist the blueprint would mean harmonious progress, activists cast it as another land grab that would mean the eviction of thousands more Oromo farmers as the capital expands.
The AFD funding also covers retraining for the hundreds of people who picked through the waste at Reppi for valuable items, some of whom died in the landslide.
When Reppi was established in the 1960s, it was in the countryside. Now it is surrounded by shops and houses, which have encroached on an expanding rubbish mountain.
Rubbish started being sent to Sendafa, rather than Reppi, in January last year. But operations were suspended seven months later after protests by local farmers, who said the Sendafa site was poisoning water and killing livestock.
The trucks returned to Reppi, where rubbish had been dumped without being treated, compacted or otherwise managed for half a century. Authorities knew Reppi was unstable and over capacity when they resumed operations, according to Nega Fantahun, the head of the city government’s solid waste recycling and disposal project office, the responsible agency.
“One cause is the return to Reppi. It’s not the only reason, but it’s one cause, one reason, it aggravates it,” he says of the landslide.
The government hasn’t given up on Sendafa, a joint initiative of the city and Oromia region. But activity at the fenced-off site is limited to work on buildings and other infrastructure. Black sheeting covers a shallow bulge of rubbish to try to reduce the smell. An eight-metre high net was constructed to prevent waste blowing on to adjacent farmland but, when a gust of wind arrives, several plastic scraps soar into the air and tumble over the fence into the fields.
In rolling farmland next to the landfill, local opposition to the project is fierce. Gemechu Tefera, 40, a farmer, says maggots from the landfill have ruined food, cattle have died from toxic water, and a dog brought a human hand back from the site. Consultation was so inadequate that residents thought the site would become an airport, the group claims. “If they come again they will have to go through us. We will continue protesting. They will have to kill us first,” says Tefera.
The French financing included Sendafa’s construction and the closure of 19 hectares (about 47 acres) of Reppi’s 36 hectares between 2011 and 2013. Eventually, the plan is to transform the toxic site into a park. Seven hectares have been set aside for a separately funded $120m (£96m) waste-to energy plantowned by the state electricity company, which could deal with 75% of the city’s rubbish when it becomes operational later this year.
The AFD is waiting for notification from the city government to begin rehabilitating the remaining section of Reppi. That will only begin once the site is no longer being used for dumping, says Shayan Kassim, project manager at the French agency’s Addis Ababa regional office.
According to Kassim, consultants reported that the performance at Sendafa of the city’s contractor, Vinci Construction Grands Projets, was satisfactory and there were no irregularities in dealing with the impact on the community. Vinci worked with AFD and the authorities on improving Sendafa for a year after completion, and the government is undertaking more work following storms that caused some leakage into the nearby environment, he says.
The local administration responsible for the new landfill’s location supports the farmers’ pollution claims. Shimallis Abbabaa Jimaa took over as head of Bereke district government last year after the protests. He produced an October 2016 report from Oromia’s government that concluded water in a local well was not potable and the cause could be a river polluted by seepage from Sendafa. The area had been earmarked by the region as a productive cropping area and should not have been selected for waste disposal, says Jimaa.
The promised improvements could mean local acceptance of Sendafa but, given the strength of the resistance, that seems unlikely, he says. “No one agreed with the project so they rose in revolt.”
Towards the end of the day at the Abyssinia Springs bottled water factory near Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, workers hose down the car park liberally. Outside the gates, residents of the Sululta area trudge along the road with empty yellow jerrycans that they will fill from muddy wells and water points.
Over the past decade, the town in Oromia region has attracted plenty of investment. A Chinese tannery, steel mills, water factories and hotels have sprung up.
The boom has also lured workers for the building sites that litter the district with piles of rubble, electric cables, and eucalyptus tree trunks used for scaffolding.
Officials appointed last year amid a wave of unrest admit that they do not know the exact size of Sululta’s population. The local government has failed to keep up with the town’s chaotic growth over the past decade, which has contributed to anti-government sentiment.
Although investing in water infrastructure is challenging for a poor country, funding is not the problem in relatively wealthy Sululta, according to Messay. Instead, he believes corrupt management of the land rush, a lack of demand on investors to protect the environment, and the government’s inadequate planning and data collection have contributed to the crisis.
“When the public burned the investments down, it was not that they wanted to damage them. It was our problem in managing them,” says Messay.
Initially peaceful, the protests that began in Oromia in November 2015evolved into the angry ransacking of government offices and businesses after security forces used lethal force to disperse crowds. Human rights groups estimate that up to 600 people were killed across the country.
Since then, Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which controls all the legislative seats in a de facto one-party state, has embarked on what it calls a process of “deep reform” to try to address governance failings.
In 2014 – the latest year for which data is available – the Ethiopian government received $3.6 bn (£3bn) in aid, while the government budget was $9bn, which included donor funding. Most cash for regional governments comes from federal transfers. However, the impressive statistics rattled off at development conferences are of little comfort to low-income workers in Sululta, who say they feel ignored by a government that has licensed more than five plants for bottled water while failing to dig enough wells or build pipes to houses. According to WaterAid, 42 million Ethiopians lack access to safe water.
Worku Deme, 40, who delivers cement blocks around Sululta, says the community wrote to government offices two years ago asking for action on water supply. But nothing has changed, he says, beyond the faces of the administrators who ask people to be patient.
“There is no one to care about us,” says Deme, as a woman walks past with a jerrycan strapped to her back.
The situation is especially galling for Sululta because the town is situated in the highlands, where rainfall is abundant for about four months of the year.
The national government, which likes to describe Ethiopia as the “water tower of Africa”, is investing heavily in hydropower, including the continent’s largest dam, in the Nile basin. However, past failures to tap water resources in the rain-deprived east of the country contributed to a fifth of the population needing aid during a drought that began in 2015, killing livestock and causing crops to wither.
In Suluta, there has been investment in boreholes and pumps, but mostly by the private sector. Abyssinia Springs, in which Nestlé Waters bought a majority stakelast year, pumps 50,000 litres an hour, which means its capacity is more than half that of the local government.
“There’s water everywhere. The only problem is the government’s willingness,” says a manager at another company, Classy Water, who did not give his name.
Many non-water businesses have dug their own wells.
According to Getachew Teklemariam, a former government economic planner, there has been a lack of water infrastructure planning that takes into account demographic and economic changes across Ethiopia. Instead, development has been piecemeal and household water supply numbers are sometimes inflated by officials for political gain. “With a lack of insight into the reality on the ground, most efforts at improving infrastructure have been uncoordinated and wasteful,” he says.
In January 2016, the government shelved its “integrated development plan” to expand Addis Ababa into surrounding Oromia areas following protests and criticism that the plan would pave the way for more evictions of Oromo farmers.
Today, locals in Sululta travel on public transport to queue for water at a tap built by the Sudanese-owned Nile Petroleum, or pay others to do so. At the end of the town, which mostly lies along one main road, residents collect water from a faucet provided by China-Africa Overseas Leather Products. But the tannery has been accused of polluting water supplies, and in January 2016 protesters invaded the premises. Last month, it was a base for about 50 Ethiopian soldiers monitoring the security situation.
Messay, a mechanical engineer who has worked in the public water sector for a decade, says the government has erred by placing only minimal demands on investors in its eagerness to create jobs: “They [the leather company] drop their waste downstream. It is killing the farmers’ cattle, it’s making the fertility of the soil deplete.” Managers from the firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Messay appears committed to solving the water problem but realistic. He is critical of property investors from the capital who, he claims, seized plots illegally, and of the “corrupt” land administrators who facilitated the town’s chaotic growth. “You expect them to be more responsible, as they are from a big city,” says Messay of the investors.
Turkish contractors are digging a borehole to increase the water supply, which Messay believes might be meeting half the demand.
Nestlé Waters says it wants to help and is funding Addis Ababa University experts to study the environmental and socio-economic situation of the area. The study might feed into another “integrated” plan and possibly an effort to turn Sululta into an “eco city”. But Messay is sceptical as to whether the corporation’s public interest is genuine, noting that there were similar noises from Abyssinia Springs when the water plant was built about seven years ago.
The EU is facing calls to rethink its cooperation with Sudan on migration flows after scores of refugees were whipped, fined, jailed and deported from Khartoum last weekend following a peaceful protest over a huge rise in visa processing fees.
About 65 asylum seekers – the majority from Ethiopia and some from Eritrea – were lashed 40 times on their backs and the back of their legs with leather whips, lawyers told the Guardian.
The detainees were also handed fines of more than $800 (£645), and 40 were deported immediately, after being arrested in what witnesses say was a violent police attack on a peaceful protest.
The MEP Barbara Lochbihler, vice-chair of the European parliament’s sub-committee on human rights, said the EU should launch an inquiry. “The EU must voice clear criticism on the recent incidents, conduct a thorough investigation, try and help the people concerned, and draw the necessary conclusion: if projects such as Better MigrationManagement carry the risk for the EU to become complicit in human rights abuses, which I believe to be true, we should pull out immediately.”
Judith Sargentini, an MEP on the European parliament’s development committee, said she would be asking a question about the issue in parliament this week.
“Honestly, when we see Ethiopian refugees being harassed, lashed and thrown out of the country, we have to wonder whether we are not legitimising the Sudanese behaviour with our funding,” she said.
“The [EU] training for immigration and border management does not seem to be working very effectively yet,” she added. “I can imagine that [Sudan’s president Omar] al-Bashir thinks he has more manoeuvring space because the EU money is coming.”
A human rights worker in Sudan, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, said the regime’s brutality towards refugees had worsened in the last year as EU cooperation had increased.
“The crackdown on migrants and refugees has escalated,” the activist said. “The government feels empowered to do whatever they want. They think they can get away with human rights violations like this. They see them as goodwill gestures to the EU to show they are controlling the flow of migrants.”
Sudan is also benefiting from €40m (£34m) set aside under the Khartoum Process’s Better Migration Management scheme to help restrict refugee flows in central and east Africa.
These revenues could be used to pay for military and police border management posts, surveillance systems, transport vehicles, communications, protective police gear, IT systems, infrastructure and power supplies.
EU officials deny that any revenues will go to government forces such as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), border guards on Sudan’s Libyan frontier linked to the notorious Janjaweed militia.
The RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan, known as Hemedity, last year demanded that the EU replace vehicles and weapons lost while his force rounded up 20,000 migrants.
“We are hard at work to aid Europe in containing the flow of migrants, and if our valuable efforts are not well appreciated, we will open the desert to migrants,” Hemedity said.
But it was a Khartoum court’s police that whipped and deported the asylum seekers, not the RSF. Most of those arrested were Oromo people fleeing ethnic and political repression. The court case that followed also fell short of international standards, according to local lawyers.
“It was not a fair trial,” claimed Montasir Mohammed, a lawyer for two of the arrestees. “No legal representatives were allowed to attend the court, and the men were not given a chance to appeal. The flogging was administered immediately after the court hearing. No doctors have been allowed to see them.”
The asylum seekers had been arrested last Friday when police dispersed a sit-down protest by 300-500 people outside the Ethiopian embassy in Khartoum. Eyewitnesses say officers attacked protesters with long wooden batons and tear gas canisters, provoking a dangerous stampede.
One witness, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “People were quietly sitting down on the pavement when suddenly the police came with big sticks and started to beat people. Then the military police arrived and fired teargas.
“People started to run but there was no way to escape except by jumping over a cemetery wall. Then it collapsed because so many people were jumping and pushing on it. All the people trying to escape were badly beaten as they ran, even me. It was painful.”
In a muted show of defiance near Ethiopia’s capital city, a tall farmer glanced around before furtively crossing his arms below his waist to make the Oromo people’s resistance symbol.
Ethiopia’s government outlawed the gesture made famous by Olympic men’s marathon silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa – who formed the “X” above his head at last year’s Rio games – when it enacted a draconian state of emergency in Octoberin an attempt to stem 11 months of protests. Although that decree has suppressed unrest, the farmer thinks demonstrations will start anew.
“The solution is the government has to come with true democracy. The people are waiting until the state of emergency is over and then people are ready to begin to protest,” he said.
While the emergency has led to at least 25,000 people being detained, security forces aren’t visible on roads flanked by fields with workers wielding curved sickles to harvest crops. Beyond that seeming normality, there is pervasive discontent with authorities accused of responding to claims of ethnic marginalisation by intensifying repression.
“The protests will come again because the government is not responding to the demands of the people in the right way,” said another young Oromo man in Ejere town. Like others, he answered via a translator in the Oromo language, and asked for his views to be kept anonymous.
Farmers in the restive West Shewa district of Oromia dismissed the political response so far, which has amounted to replacing regional leaders. Despite positive noises from the new Oromia president, many seek a wholesale change of government. “People need new faces and a new system,” the Ejere man said.
The problem for activists is how to translate popular anger stemming from grievances into political change. The security apparatus has shown it can quell protests and a de facto one-party state offers few opportunities for opposition activities.
Under a multinational federal system introduced in 1995, the Oromo group runs its own region, but people complain the resource-rich state is economically exploited, and their leaders subservient to the TPLF in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). “There’s an Oromo saying: what the husband says, the wife cannot change,” said another opponent apropos of the political dynamic.
Land, which is state-owned in Ethiopia, is a particularly emotive issue. An aggressive, government-driven approach to development, combined with corrupt officials and investors, led to Oromo families losing farmland without receiving adequate compensation over the past two decades, particularly on the sought-after fringes of the capital.
Around Guder town, 80 miles (130km) west of Addis Ababa, farmers believe Oromo officials enriched themselves by selling plots on the edge of town to developers and using the proceeds to build houses near the capital. One man interviewed can’t give a specific example of an unfair eviction near Guder, but he’s worried about the trend. “People have a fear about what happened in the Addis Ababa area,” he said.
Other common concerns are mundane, and acknowledged as legitimate by officials: people want an improved road, or better supplies of water and electricity. Despite evident progress, Ethiopia, where the population of close to 100 million is Africa’s second largest, still lies 174th out of 188 countries on the UN’s 2015 human development index, below South Sudan and Afghanistan.
The evolving and multi-layered grievances are an acute test for the government, as well as a conundrum for major donors, such as the UK’s Department for International Development, which remains silent on the EPRDF’s repression as it lauds its development record. While efforts to improve public services, create jobs and reduce corruption may make headway, there’s little chance of the desired systemic reform.
That was reinforced by the arrest in November of Merera Gudina, the most high-profile Oromo opposition leader not in jail or abroad. He was accused of breaking emergency rules by communicating with a banned nationalist opposition leader at a European parliament hearing in Brussels.
Across West Shewa, locals said there had not yet been any changes in community leaders and the government hadn’t reached out to discuss the problems with them. Some said they were no longer interested in what officials had to say.
In Addis Ababa, the federal communications minister, Negeri Lencho, an Oromo professor of journalism, offers a different view. “The change belongs to the people. The reform belongs to the people. The reform includes increasing awareness of people to defend their interests,” he said.
Despite this gulf between officials and public, serious dialogue is unlikely, according to Zelalem Kibret, an Ethiopian blogger who was arrested in 2014 and is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University.
“The government will not go for any type of concession while the opposing force is weak. The activists also seem unwilling, since they are aimed at ousting the regime. I think the brutality that was unleashed by the regime for the last 12 months pushed every moderate voice to the fringe,” he said.
If the movement were to opt for incremental gains through the ballot box, opposition parties would have to compete in local elections scheduled for 2018, but that presents formidable political and logistical obstacles. As well as holding all seats in the federal parliament and regional chambers, the four-party EPRDF and allied organisations occupy all of up to 100 seats on each one of more than 18,000 village councils, and also on roughly 750 larger administrations, said Zelalem. With opposition leaders and activists exiled, imprisoned, or fearing arrest, already weak parties are in no shape to loosen the coalition’s hold.
“The EPRDF is still the only strong political force in Ethiopia. I doubt the protesters have any solid bargaining power other than sporadic demonstrations that are likely to be quashed easily. It is an impasse. Most probably the regime will stay in power for many years,” Zelalem said.
Ethiopia’s Oromo people are systematically targeted and oppressed by its ruling regime. The athlete’s crossed arms protest shouldn’t be ignored
When the Ethiopian Olympic marathon medallist Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms at the finish line, the world asked what the symbol stood for. Little is known about the historical marginalisation and collective persecution of Lilesa’s people, the Oromo of north-east Africa.
Almost all Ethiopian runners come from the Oromia region; but the Ethiopian athletics federation is highly scornful of their Oromo identity. Perhaps the federation’s imperious attitude towards the athletes emanates from its paranoia and mistrust of the people, and fear that one day Oromo athletes might open Ethiopia’s Pandora’s box and spill the beans at an international sports event. Exactly what Lilesa did in Rio – and now he has not returned to Ethiopia.
At risk to his life, and at the sacrifice of his career, Lilesa was determined to express at the Olympics the collective grievances and institutional discrimination his people suffer in the Oromia region. The courageous crossing of his arms is a gesture of solidarity with the Oromo protest symbol that has been used over the last nine months in defiance of the ruling regime. In a short interview, Lelisa told what many believe is the story of the Oromo: the killings, the maimings, arbitrary detentions, profiling, enforced disappearances and economic injustices perpetrated by the Ethiopian government against the Oromo nation.
The current social and political crisis in Ethiopia was triggered by theAddis Ababa “master plan”, which was perceived by protesters as an attempt to remove the Oromo from the capital city. Even though it later dropped plans for this land grab, the regime claimed that its intention was to develop the city’s business district by further moving into the Oromo territories and neighbouring districts. No prior consultation, discussion or deliberation was had with the Oromo people, the ancestral owners of the land. Some saw this as being part of a grand scheme to ensure the long-term hegemony of the regime’s favoured ethnic group over the rest of the country. The Tigray, the regime’s dominant group, make up only 6% of the country’s population.
As Lilesa’s protest drew national attention, the situation in Ethiopia appeared to be deteriorating and having a serious impact on internal stability. It also cast a shadow of political uncertainty over the country.
Contemporary experiences teach us that economic and political inequality increases the risk of internal strife. When one ethnic group captures political power and excludes its perceived rivals, ethno-nationalist conflict is likely to increase, potentially descending into civil war. A heterogeneous society such as Ethiopia, where disparities in wealth overlap with ethnic grievances, is a good case study.
The scale of the Oromo protest over the last nine months has exposed Ethiopia’s ethnic-coded wealth distribution. According to Oxford University’s 2014Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), Ethiopia is the second poorest country in the world with about 58% living in acute destitution. Not all Ethiopians have benefited equally from the country’s economic growth.
The Oromia region, the nation’s agricultural breadbasket, is also the nation’s second poorest region in the federation. According to the 2014 MPI, about 90% of Oromo live in severe poverty and destitution, more than 80% of Oromo households do not have access to electricity or sanitation and more than 75% of Oromo do not have access to potable drinking water. Similarly, the UNDP’s 2014Human Development Index (HDI) placed Oromia well below the national average. Development in Ethiopia is not inclusive, not shared; many rural Ethiopians – the majority Oromo – remain in severe poverty. Oromo people are the most affected by the current drought and by the government’s response to it.
Economic inequality is echoed in the political realm. Amnesty International’s 2014 report, Because I am Oromo, chronicles targeting based on ethnic identity. Long before that, in June 2007, the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination had highlighted how Ethiopian military and police forces systematically targeted certain ethnic groups, in particular the Anuak and the Oromo peoples, and reported the summary executions, rape of women and girls, arbitrary detention, torture, humiliations and destruction of property and crops of members of those communities.
It is this marginalisation in the Oromia and Amhara regions that has forced the younger generation to protest in the streets, but the government response has been bloody. International human rights organisations report more than 500 lives were lost, but activists believe this figure could be more than 700. An estimated 20,000 or more people have been imprisoned, tens of thousands wounded and disappeared; many more rendered landless, homeless and jobless.
Now, with rallies taking place and with funerals in several corners of Oromia and Amhara lands, the conflict is likely to escalate and the country’s public security and stability to deteriorate. As reports continue to emerge, after several days of internet and social media blackout in the country, there is a growing fear that the regime has, knowingly or not, helped foment inter-ethnic conflict, pitting the Tigray against the Oromo and Amhara peoples. In fact, given the differences among ethnic groups, this could quickly descend into a large-scale conflict.
If there is any lesson the world can learn from Rwanda’s genocide, it is the pressing need to act as swiftly as possible to avoid this kind of worst-case scenario. Lilesa’s gesture is a request to the citizens of the world to stand with the Oromo in their quest for political and economic survival against the unjust face of Ethiopia. It is also a call for the western powers to re-evaluate their foreign policy towards Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa in the interests of real security, dignity, stability, peace and development for all the people – not a select few.
Ethiopia’s clampdown on dissent tests ethnic federal structure
Protests sparked by the arrest of Konso leader Kala Gezahegn underlined growing tensions between Ethiopia’s central government and many ethnic populations
BY William Davison, The Guardian, Global development, 8 April 2016
Kala Gezahegn, the traditional leader of Ethiopia’s Konso people. Kala Gezahegn, the leader of the Konso people, addresses a crowd. His arrest highlighted growing tensions in Ethiopia between state power and ethnic groups’ desire for autonomy. Photograph: Courtesy of Kasaye Soka
Nothing seemed amiss when an Ethiopian government vehicle arrived to collect the traditional leader of the Konso people for a meeting in March. But instead of being taken to discuss his community’s requests for more autonomy, Kala Gezahegn was arrested.
Kala’s detention marked a low point in fraught relations between the Konso in southern Ethiopia and the regional authorities in the state capital, Hawassa. Five years ago, the Konso lost their right to self-govern, and growing tensions since then mirror discontent in other parts of Ethiopia.
The 1995 constitution in Africa’s second most populous country allows different ethnic groups to self-govern and protects their languages and culture under a system called ethnic federalism. The largest ethnicities – such as the approximately 35 million-strong Oromo – have their own regional states, while some smaller groups administer zones within regions, as the Konso effectively used to do.
Many of Ethiopia’s ethnic identities, which number more than 80, were suppressed during the imperial and national-socialist eras that preceded the federal system.
What happened in Konso followed demonstrations and killings by security forces in Oromia, the most populous region. A rights group says 266 people have been killed since mid-November during protests over injustice and marginalisation.
Demonstrations were sparked by a government plan to integrate the development of Addis Ababa and surrounding areas of Oromia. After fierce opposition from the Oromo, that scheme was shelved in January, but protests have continued, fuelled by anger over alleged killings, beatings and arrests.
In Amhara, a large region north of Addis Ababa, there was violence late last year related to the Qemant group’s almost decade-old claim for recognition as a group with constitutional rights. The fact that the Qemant rejected a territorial offer from the authorities, saying it was too small, may have provoked local Amhara people. In December, federal security forces were dispatched to contain escalating communal violence.
In Konso, after Kala and other leaders were locked up, thousands took to the streets to protest. During clashes with police on 13 March, three people were killed, and now the dispute seems entrenched.
Women at Fasha market in Ethiopia’s Konso region. Photograph: Grant Rooney/Alamy
The crux of the issue is a 2011 decision to include the Konso – which is in the multi-ethnic Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) and has 250,000 people – in the newly created Segen zone, thereby removing their right to self-rule. That decision was taken without consultation and resulted in worsening public services and unresponsive courts, says Kambiro Aylate, a member of a committee chosen to represent the community’s demands.
The budget for Konso’s government was reduced by 15%, says Orkissa Orno, another committee member. “The Konso people used their rights to ask for a different administrative structure,” he says.
In a recent interview, prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn blamed the unrest in Oromia on high youth unemployment and a “lack of good governance”, a line echoed by officials in other regions.
Kifle Gebremariam, the deputy president of the SNNPR, said the Konso leaders were arrested on suspicion of maladministration and corruption, issues “completely different” from the political question.
Kifle added that discussions had been held with residents about the status of the administration. “The regional government, including the president, gave them the right response, but they are not peacefully accepting this.”
Kala’s supporters dispute that account, although there have been signs of compromise, with the traditional leader permitted to take part in recent negotiations.
Concerns over the federal system’s ability to withstand such strains are not new. For example, southern groups such as the Wolayta were involved in violent clashes before they were granted their own zone in 2000.
In 2009, the International Crisis Group wrote in a report (pdf): “Ethnic federalism has not dampened conflict, but rather increased competition among groups that vie over land and natural resources, as well as administrative boundaries and government budgets.”
Officials have argued for decades that the focus on minority rights has been integral to an unprecedented period of peace and development.
Assefa Fiseha, a federalism expert at Addis Ababa University, agrees the system has brought stability to a country threatened with fragmentation in the early 1990s after ethno-nationalist rebellions overthrew a military regime.
But a lack of democratisation and centralised economic decision-making works against local autonomy and exacerbates grievances, according to Assefa.
“The regional states, as agents of the regional people, have to be consulted on whatever development project the federal government wants to undertake,” he says.
In fact, the government appears to have been moving in the opposite direction, as its legitimacy depends on economic growth and improving social services and infrastructure.
National projects – 175,000 hectares (430,000 acres) of state-owned sugar plantations in the ethnically rich south Omo area, for instance – are designed, implemented and owned by federal agencies.
The now scrapped integrated Oromia-Addis Ababa plan is another example, as it was developed without scrutiny by “key stakeholders” in the Oromia government, Addis Ababa city and the federal parliament, Assefa says.
One reason for quick decisions in a devolved federation is that the political positions of Ethiopia’s diverse communities are filtered through a rigid ruling coalition.
Along with allied parties, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front won every federal and regional legislative seat in May’s elections, extending its control of all tiers of government.
The EPRDF has held power for 25 years, partly by building a popular base of millions of farmers and demanding strict obedience to party doctrine and policy, but some say this is now changing.
The wave of protests, so soon after the landslide election victory, shows that the “dominant party system is facing problems”, Assefa says.
“Growing ethno-nationalism, centralised policymaking and the failure to provide space for political dissent combined together make a perfect storm for violence.”
Toltu Tufa, right, created posters and worksheets for her father’s students before launching Afaan Publications, the first publishing company to print teaching resources entirely in Oromo. Photograph: Toltu Tufa
Toltu Tufa grew up in Australia, so she couldn’t understand why her father insisted on teaching her Oromo, a macrolanguage spoken in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Egypt.
But what she went on to discover about the language prompted her to launch the first publishing company to print children’s books entirely in Oromo, which she exports from her home in Footscray, 5km west of Melbourne, to schools and families throughout the world.
Tufa’s father is from Ethiopia where Amharic, not Oromo, is the national language. Her mother was born in Turkey but moved to Australia when she was four, and it was here her parents met.
‘Stop the killing!’: farmland development scheme sparks fatal clashes in Ethiopia
Tufa grew up learning English, Arabic and Turkish but, for reasons Tufa couldn’t fathom at the time, her father also made sure she could speak Oromo, the fourth most spoken language in Africa.
“Dad never spoke about his life back in Ethiopia and yet he insisted on teaching us this language,” Tufa said.
“There were so many resources at my fingertips for the other languages I was learning and so many people that speak them. But when Dad was teaching us Oromo, there were no textbooks or learning materials at all. And that struck me as really strange.”
Her father wouldn’t answer her questions about it either.
“He wouldn’t talk about it and he wouldn’t tell us about his past,” Tufa said. “He would just say, ‘Just learn to speak the language. We are Oromo and this is the language we speak.’ ”
But as Tufa, who is now 30, got older and began doing her own research, she discovered why speaking about Oromo was so painful for her father.
The Oromo are the largest ethnic group of Ethiopia. But since their land was conquered and rolled into the Ethiopian empire in the 1880s, the people have suffered repression and persecution at the hands of numerous African regimes, including mass executions, mutilations and slavery.
Under the dictatorship of Haile Selassie in 1941, the Oromo language was banned, including from political life and schools, and the Amharic language and culture was forced upon the Oromo people. It was a ban that would remain until 1991, when the military Derg regime was overthrown by rebel forces.
During this time the Oromo were jailed, abused and executed. Oromo texts were destroyed. Tufa’s father, an Oromo, fled to Egypt and, in the late 1970s, he was granted asylum in Australia.
By the time the Oromo ban was lifted, Tufa’s father had established a small, private Oromo school in Melbourne to teach the language to the children of asylum seekers who had fled the Horn of Africa. As she helped to teach the students, Tufa realised the teaching resources were woeful.
“Dad imported some Oromo books from Ethiopia after the ban had lifted but they were written in tiny print and had these crude black-and-white drawings,” she said.
“Many of the previous education materials were destroyed during the ban and the republishing of books was all managed by the government, who didn’t consult with Oromo speakers and qualified people to print them, and sometimes the spelling was wrong. There was nothing for children. There wasn’t even a single Oromo alphabet poster in Ethiopia.”
Ethiopia scraps Addis Ababa ‘master plan’ after protests kill 140
Tufa decided to create posters and worksheets for her father’s students, using her own money to get them printed. One of the first things she produced was a series of alphabet posters.
“The first thing I made that I showed to my dad was a poster I made for the Oromo letter ‘A’,” she said.
“He just cried and cried. He was sobbing. He wasn’t really anticipating me doing this. And he said to me, ‘It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.’”
Three other small Oromo schools that had opened in Victoria by then heard about the materials and all of them wanted copies. Tufa realised that if there was a demand for Oromo child education materials in Australia, there must be other communities around the world where resources were also needed. She booked a plane ticket and travelled to nine different countries to find them.
“I was born and raised in Australia, so I’m very privileged compared to a lot of brown people and I didn’t go through what a lot of Oromo people went through,” Tufa said. “So I thought, rather than trying to claim these Oromo materials as my own, I needed to talk to people and show them my blueprints and get their feedback. I interviewed children, adults and new Oromo migrants in places like Kenya, Norway, Germany and the US, and I videoed a lot of the feedback as well.”
The response was overwhelming, she said. Word of her project spread and, when she returned to Australia, she launched a crowdfunding campaign so she could print Oromo learning materials and send them back to the communities she had visited. By the end of 2014, in just six weeks, she had raised almost $125,000.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Tufa said. “People began writing to me from around the world, these emotional and long letters about how they were punished and jailed for speaking their own language. One man gave me $10,000 from his retirement savings, saying ‘They tried to kill me, but they didn’t. I want to leave something in my legacy for other refugees like me.’”
Last year, Tufa flew to the communities that had supported her projects most to thank them and provide them with children’s books and posters. Even Oromo speakers who had no money helped her, she said, by editing her books and offering feedback.
While her market is all over the world, the largest Oromo community outside Africa is in the US state of Minnesota, she said. Her resources have also found their way to Ethiopia, with people sending copies to family members who still live there. This year, she plans to launch an online store for her publishing company, Afaan Publications.
Demand is also solid in Australia. According to the latest available census data, the top ancestry responses that Ethiopia-born people reported were Ethiopian (5,297 people), followed by Oromo (821 people).
Meanwhile, the troubles for Oromo people in Ethiopia are far from over. The current government has announced an urban planning strategy that aims to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, by occupying surrounding Oromo towns and land in Oromiya, the largest and most populous state in Ethiopia. The move would require closing Oromo schools and occupying homes to make way for infrastructure.
In November, people, predominantly students, from 100 towns of the Oromiya region began protesting the move, with the government reacting by killing, maiming and imprisoning them. A series of violent clashes between protesters and the government left the country reeling.
Last month, after 140 lives were estimated to have been lost in the protests, the Ethiopian government announced it would scrap the land expansion project. But protesters and activists feel it is too little too late and there is continuing unrest.
“I had planned to take my children’s books to Oromiya this year but I just don’t think it’s safe to do so at the moment,” Tufa said. “The Oromo in Ethiopia are still trying to find their way.”
* Tufa’s father, who frequently travels to Ethiopia, could not be named in this story for his own protection.
In Ethiopia, anger over corruption and farmland development runs deep Despite the government ending plans to build on Oromo land around the capital, clashes continue, as lack of transparency and maladministration fuel dissent
William Davison, The Guardian, Global Development, 18 January 2016
Protesters block the road in Wolenkomi, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia
Protesters block the road in Wolenkomi, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. All photographs by William Davison
Two years ago, on the edge of Chitu in Ethiopia’s unsettled Oromia region, local officials told Chamara Mamoye his farmland might be developed when the small town expanded. He hasn’t heard anything since.
“Losing the land would be a big problem for me, but if the government forces us, we can’t do anything,” the father-of-five says outside his compound.
Last month, Chamara, 45, saw the bodies of two protesters lying on the road after demonstrations rocked Chito. The dead were among up to 140 people killed by security forces during region-wide protests triggered by claims of injustice and marginalisation from the nation’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo.
Bolstered by US-based social media activists, the protest movement coalesced around opposition to a government plan to integrate the capital, Addis Ababa, with surrounding Oromo towns. After weeks of protests, the ruling coalition in the Oromia region said last week that it was cancelling the planned expansion.
Protests, however, go on, and the roots of popular unease and anger in Oromia run much deeper.
Dissatisfaction with corruption, maladministration and inadequate consultations on investments are fuelling dissent. This patchwork of grievances presents a fundamental challenge to an authoritarian government aiming to rapidly transform Ethiopia from an agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse. And the discontent is a national issue.
Urban expansion is causing clashes across the country as investors, officials and farmers protect their interests, says Seyoum Teshome, a lecturer at Ambo University.
“The villagers who have been asking for basic services and infrastructure rush to sell their farmland at market rate before it is expropriated at low rates of compensation,” he says.
As all land is state-owned in Ethiopia, houses are rapidly built on the edge of towns without official permission, to give plots value, Seyoum says. Investors may bribe corrupt officials to formalise illegal transfers, causing anger among dispossessed farmers, he adds.
Workers near Chitu in the Oromia region
Chamara was not among the mostly youthful protesters who took to the streets in Chitu, but he shares their concerns about an unresponsive ruling system. He’s frustrated by repeatedly broken official promises to tarmac the main road that runs through Chitu. Although the area has electricity and a mobile-phone signal, he is disappointed with the rate of progress since the government came to power 25 years ago. “There is no big development considering the time they had,” he says.
He is also upset by a lack of information and consultation over land policies, as well as concerned by suspicions of corruption – though officials do not flaunt ill-gotten gains. “The corruption is done in a secret way. It’s a silent killer,” he said.
In elections last May, Ethiopia’s ruling coalition and allied parties won all 547 seats in the federal parliament and 100% of legislative positions in nine regional councils. Despite the result, the government acknowledged widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of public administration and levels of corruption.
“In many areas, personnel said to be involved in massive corruption that led to sudden outbursts of anger are being dismissed,” government spokesman Getachew Reda said in an interview last week.
One of the deadliest incidents last month took place in Woliso town, about113km south-west of Addis Ababa. Six protesters were killed by security forces after thousands of people from surrounding villages took to the streets to protest over planned expansion of the town.
A group of young Oromo, who had gathered next to the Walga river a few miles from Woliso, spoke of community fears of evictions and poor compensation. But nobody seemed to know anything specific about government plans. “The government does not discuss in detail. They do not have consent,” one said.
Ethiopia has long been a darling of the international donor community, which has appeared willing to ignore its poor record on human rights because high growth rates over the past decade have delivered some development goals. But the Oromo protests illustrate the vulnerabilities of this strategy.
To the north of Chitu, at Wenchi, which boasts a spectacular crater lake popular with tourists, grievances are almost tangible. Soldiers are still in town and, as elsewhere, the authorities have arrested people suspected of involvement in the protests. While some seem cowed by the crackdown, Rabuma Terefa is not.
His friend was shot in the leg on the edge of Chitu as he marched with other protesters from Wenchi.
When an elite military unit told elders the protesters must turn back, the group refused, arguing they had a constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate, said Rabuma. Within minutes, soldiers opened fire, killing people, including Birhanu Dinka, who was leading the crowd at that moment.
“They did not say anything, they just pointed the guns at us. We were begging them not to kill us,” Rabuma, 27, says. While abuses may have occurred, security forces are told to protect civilian lives, according to Getachew.
It is not only lives at stake: around the time of the protests in Wenchi, the property of a Dutch agricultural company, Solagrow, was torched by hundreds of people. Rabuma says the investment angered locals as it fenced off 100 hectares of prime communal grazing land, leased by the government. Solagrow says community relations were healthy and the valley was waterlogged until they drained it.
A cow on Solagrow land near property burnt down in a protest in Chitu
The project was collateral damage of the political dispute, according to manager Jan van de Haar. “[The protesters] became angry and they said there was only one way to continue, and that’s our farm, because we’re the only investment in that place,” he says. The attack destroyed $300,000-worth of machinery and potato seeds.
Rabuma had no sympathy for Solagrow, which he says was complicit in the government’s oppression of the Oromo. He is instead focused on the struggle ahead.
In Chitu, Chamara speaks for many Oromo as he implores the government to better manage investments and urban sprawl. “No one is opposing the development of the city, but it should not be at the expense of farmers’ lives,” he says.
This article was amended on 18 January 2016 to correct the spelling of Chitu.
The World Bank accepted a rap on the knuckles for the massive flaws in the PBS programme but did not cancel it. DfID re-routed funds to other programmes in Ethiopia, the aid flowed to the authoritarian regime as before. In late 2015 and early 2016, famine threatened. No one asked the obvious question: how much has Ethiopia’s brutal, donor funded, economic experiment contributed to the collapse in livelihoods?
Of all the academic economists working on Ethiopia, I could not find one who was willing to speak on the record for this article. Much of the professional field of development studies is dependent on DfID research grants, with many academics serving on multimillion-pound study teams.
“If you challenge the consensus and make headlines, it is going to make your life harder,” said one economist at a London university, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Evaluations of PBS relied on figures supplied by the Ethiopian government; there were huge, unexamined risks of corruption in funnelling the money through the Ethiopian treasury, and the metrics used to measure success were simply the things purchased by the programme, such as schools built, wells dug, pupils enrolled or teachers hired. The donors had, in fact, no way of measuring whether those things actually benefitted the populations concerned.
Development in Ethiopia’s capital city. But at what cost?
Most more economically developed countries give aid to those that are less developed and this is almost always seen as a positive thing. However there have been cases when the aid provided has done more harm than good.
This article looks at the situation in Ethiopia. This country has been a major recipient of western aid since the 1980s and much of it seems to have been successful in helping the country to develop and to fend off the worst of the famines that ravaged the country in the past. Currently though the development drive in Ethiopia has been implicated in forcing people off their land and in to less fertile areas.
It is a long read but full of information that could really develop your essay writing.
Violent clashes in Ethiopia over ‘master plan’ to expand Addis
Extending capital into surrounding farmland is part of ongoing discrimination against Oromo people, say protesters. Global Voices reports
Endalk Chala for Global Voices, part of the Guardian Africa network
Friday 11 December 2015
At least 10 students are said to have been killed and hundreds injured during protests against the Ethiopian government’s plans to expand the capital city into surrounding farmland.
According to Human Rights Watch, the students were killed this week when security forces used excessive force and live ammunition to disperse the crowds.
The students were protesting against a controversial proposal, known as “the master plan”, to expand Addis Ababa into surrounding Oromia state, which they say will threaten local farmers with mass evictions.
According to the Ethiopian constitution, Oromia is one of the ninepolitically autonomous regional states in the country, and the region’s Oromo people make up the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
It’s not the first time the security forces have reacted violently to protests in support of the group. At least nine students were killed in May 2014 while defending the rights of famers in the region when the “master plan” was first announced.
In response to the violence, Amnesty International issued a report on government repression last year, noting that “between 2011 and 2014, at least 5,000 Oromos [were] arrested based on their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government.”
The human rights organisation found that in numerous cases “actual or suspected [Oromo] dissenters were detained without charge or trial, killed by security services during protests, arrests and in detention.”
The ruling elite and members of government are mostly from the Tigray region, which is located in the northern part of the country.
The Ethiopian media has paid little attention to the protests. Demonstrators have been taking to Facebook and Twitter to report the clashes, with additional coverage coming from diaspora media.
“The Oromo youth are a powerful political entity capable of shaking mountains,” one Facebook user, Aga Teshome, wrote in support of the protesters. “This powerful political entity is hell bent on exposing the [ruling party] EPRDF government’s atrocious human rights record and all round discriminatory practices.”
Another user said more should be done to shine light on the movement: “The silence has truly been deafening. We need to see and hear the inspiring actions undertaken by huge numbers of #Oromo in #Ethiopia.”
Desu Tefera echoed the calls for better media coverage: “We call upon the media to investigate the conditions that these students died trying to expose and resist,” he wrote.
“Oromia needs a new kind of reporting by the international media, which gives voice to the voiceless Oromo people, who for a very long time have been killed, mistreated, abused, neglected and repressed in Ethiopia.”
For many Ethiopians, this week’s clashes show that the issue of Oromo rights refuses to go away.
Protests against the master plan for expansion first began in April last year, when students from outside the capital argued that if the proposal was implemented, it would result in Addis further encroaching into the surrounding territory, allowing the capital to subsume surrounding towns and leaving informal settlements vulnerable to government redevelopment.
The government rejected the accusation, claiming that the plan was intended only to facilitate the development of infrastructure such as transportation, utilities and recreation centres.
The unrest halted the development until now, but in November resentment boiled over again when it became clear the government had resumed its plan.
Since the highly contested 2005 national election forceful evictions and urban land grabbing have become frequent in Addis and its environs, opposition groups say. The city’s rapid growth has resulted in increasing pressure to convert rural land for industrial, housing or other urban use.
The population of the capital is estimated to have grown at a rate of 3.8% per year since 2007, but the repurposing of land in order to accommodate the expansion has been a particularly contentious issue.
Ermias Legesse, a high profile government defector, has argued that since 2000 the Addis Ababa city municipality, with the support of the federal government, has enacted five different pieces of legislation to “legalise” informal settlements, allowing them to be sold on to private property developers.
“Sometimes the informal settlers are given only a few days’ notices before bulldozers arrive on the scene to tear down their shabby houses and lay foundations for new investors,” Legesse said in an interview last week.