Oromo protests: Why US must stop enabling Ethiopia

August 9th, 2016
Oromo protests: Why US must stop enabling Ethiopia

Oromo protests: Why US must stop enabling Ethiopia

By Awol K. Allo, Special to CNN

London (CNN) Ethiopia is facing a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, yet its government and Western enablers refuse to acknowledge and recognize the depth of the crisis.

The nationwide protest held on Saturday by the Oromo people, the single largest ethnic group both in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, is clear evidence of a crisis that is threatening to degenerate into a full-scale social explosion.

The protests are the most unprecedented and absolutely extraordinary display of defiance by the Oromo people and it is by far the most significant political developments in the country since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the strongman who ruled the country for over two decades.

The protests took place in more than 200 towns and villages across Oromia, Ethiopia's largest region, and were attended by hundreds of thousands of people. According to Oromia media Network, security forces used live bullets against peaceful protestors, killing over 100 protestors

Annexation

Oromos have been staging protest rallies across the country since April of 2014 against systematic marginalization and persecution of ethnic Oromos. The immediate trigger of the protest was a development plan that sought to expand the territorial limits of Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, into neighbouring Oromo villages and towns.

Oromos saw the proposed master plan as a blueprint for annexation which would further accelerate the eviction of Oromo farmers from their ancestral lands

When the protest resumed in November of 2015, the government dismissed the protestors as anti-peace elements and accused them of acting in unison with terrorist groups -- a common tactic used by the government to crackdown on dissent and opposition.

The government used overwhelming force to crush the protest, killing hundreds of protestors and arresting thousands. In its recent report titled "Such a Brutal Crack Down", Human Rights Watch criticized the "excessive and lethal force" used by security forces against "largely peaceful protestors" and puts the number of deaths at over 400.

The figure from the activist group is considerably higher.

Historic Injustices

The Oromo make up well over a third of Ethiopia's 100 million people. Historically, Oromos have been pushed to the margin of the country's political and social life and rendered unworthy of respect and consideration.

Oromo culture and language have been banned and their identity stigmatized, becoming invisible and unnoticeable within mainstream perspectives.

Oromos saw themselves as parts of no part -- those who belong to the country but have no say in it, those who can speak but whose voices are heard as a noise, not a discourse.

When the current government came into power a quarter of a century ago, it pursued a strategy of divide and rule in which the Oromos and Amharas, the two largest ethnic groups in the country, are presented as eternal adversaries.

Oromos are blamed as secessionists to justify the continued monitoring, control, and policing of Oromo intellectuals, politicians, artists and activists.

By depicting Oromo demands for equal representation and autonomy as extremist and exclusionary, it tried to drive a wedge between them and other ethnic groups, particularly the Amharas.

This allowed the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front and Tigrayan elites to present themselves as the only political movement in the country that could provide the stability and continuity sought by regional and global powers with vested interest in the region.

Although these protests are triggered by more recent events, they are microcosms [of] a more enduring and deeper crisis of political representation and systematic marginalization suffered by the Oromo people.

In its 2015 comprehensive country report titled "Because I am Oromo", Amnesty International found evidence of systematic and widespread patterns of indiscriminate and disproportionate attack against the Oromo simply because they are Oromos.

US Influence

The United States see the Ethiopian government as a critical partner on the Global War on Terror.

This led administration officials to go out of their way to create fantasy stories which cast Ethiopia as democratic and its leaders as progressive. In 2012, then US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, described Meles Zenawi, the architect of the current system, as "uncommonly wise" and someone "able to see the big picture and the long game, even when others would allow immediate pressures to overwhelm sound judgment."

In 2015, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman praised Ethiopia as "a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair, credible, open and inclusive." She further added, ""Every time there is an election, it gets better and better." That election ended with the ruling party winning 100% of the seats in parliament by wiping out the one opposition in the previous parliament.

In 2016, President Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Ethiopia amid widespread opposition by human rights groups. Obama doubled down on previous endorsements by administration officials by describing the government as 'democratically-elected."

A police state

However, consistent reports by the US government itself and other human rights organizations depict an image of a police state whose apparatus of surveillance and control permeates the entire society down to household levels.

The US led 'war on terror', started by President George Bush, provided the government with a political and legal instrument with which the government justified severe restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

The 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, one of the most draconian pieces of anti-terrorism legislations in the world, enabled the government to stretch its power of prosecution and punishment beyond what is permissible under standard criminal and constitutional law rules.

In recent years, terrorism trials have become the most significant legal instrument frequently used by the authorities to secure and consolidate the prevailing relationship of power between the ruling ethnic Tigrayan elites and other ethnic groups in the country.

Under the pretext of 'fighting terrorism', the regime exiled, prosecuted and convicted several opposition leaders, community leaders, journalists, bloggers, and activists; paralyzing criticisms of any type.

In its 2015 report titled Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent, the Oakland Institute details the ways in which Ethiopian authorities systematically appropriate the anti-terrorism law to annihilate dissent and opposition to the policies of the ruling party.

Denial

As of July, the protests have been spreading into the Amhara region, home to the second largest ethnic group in the country.
The Amharas and Oromos, which constitute well over two-third of the country's population, are seen as 'historical antagonists'. The ruling party transformed this antagonism between the two ethnic groups into a productive political tool.

According to the governing narrative, Oromos are narrow-minded and exclusionary people who seek to disintegrate Ethiopia into smaller republics while Amharas are chauvinists who seek to restore the old feudal order, leaving the ruling party as the only political force that can rescue Ethiopia from both threats.

These governing narratives are being exposed as the two groups begun to see how these narratives were crafted and are expressing solidarity towards each other as victims of the same system.

The Ethiopian government is in denial and making the same promises of restoring 'law and order' through further repression and crackdown.
However, this can only exacerbate the situation and throws the country into chaos in an already volatile region.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author

A year after Obama’s visit, Ethiopia is in turmoil

August 9th, 2016
A year after Obama’s visit, Ethiopia is in turmoil

A year after Obama’s visit, Ethiopia is in turmoil

By Paul Schemm

Source: Washington Post

ADDIS ABABA, Ethi­o­pia — The shoes lay scattered on the sidewalk as the detained protesters walked barefoot through the rain, escorted by grim-faced police officers who casually beat them with batons to keep them moving.

In nearby Meskel Square here in the heart of the Ethio­pian capital, police kicked around the remnants of protest signs. Just 10 minutes earlier, 500 people had gathered at the site, shouting slogans against the government — before being beaten, rounded up and carted off by police.

In Ethiopia’s countryside, however, it was a bloodier story. Rights groups and opposition figures estimate that dozens were killed in a weekend of protests that shook this key U.S. ally in the Horn of Africa.

The government had switched off the Internet over the weekend, apparently to prevent demonstrators from organizing, so it was only by Monday that word spread of the extent of the violence across the Oromia and Amhara regions.

Just a year ago, Ethiopia was basking in the world’s spotlight after a visit from President Obama and global accolades for its decade of double-digit growth and enviable stability in a dangerous region.

Since then, however, this country of nearly 100 million has been hit by a widespread drought that has halved growth, and anti-government protests have spread across two of its most populous regions.

The local weekly Addis Standard estimated that at least 50 people were killed over the weekend — based on phone calls to protest hot spots. Amnesty International put the toll at about 100, citing sources across the country.

On Monday, the government announced that the situation was under control and that “the attempted demonstrations were orchestrated by foreign enemies from near and far in partnership with local forces.”

Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, told The Washington Post that an estimated 50 people died in the Oromia region Saturday and 27 were killed Sunday in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region and a major tourist destination.

“The government is responding in the same way it has responded to such incidents for the last quarter of the century,” he said by phone from Washington during a visit with the Ethio­pian community there. “They want to rule in the old way, and people are refusing to be ruled in the old way.”

Protests began in November in the Oromia region, a sprawling state the size of Nevada that is home to the Oromos, the largest ethnic group in the country. It is also home to the capital.

As a booming Addis Ababa expanded and Ethiopia brought in foreign investors, more and more land from the surrounding Oromia region was confiscated. People also complained of corrupt administrators and, with little recourse to justice, began to stage demonstrations.

The government response was harsh. Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 400 people were killed in protests over the next several months. The official Ethiopian human rights council put the figure at 173.

In the face of the repression, the protests slowly quieted in Oromia, only to erupt last month in the neighboring region of Amhara, the historical ethnic center of the Ethiopian state and home to spectacular rock-cut churches and medieval castles that attract tourists.

A botched government attempt to arrest activists in the northern city of Gondar in mid-July led to two days of rioting that left 11 members of the security forces and five civilians dead. Two weeks later, tens of thousands held a peaceful demonstration over land issues and government repression.

Protesters in Amhara declared solidarity with the Oromo people and their opposition to the government, which many say is dominated by the minority Tigrayan ethnic group.

Activists abroad then called for demonstrations across the two regions this past weekend — a call to which thousands responded despite the Internet shutdown.

“It is clear Ethiopia has a potentially serious and destabilizing unrest on its hands,” said Rashid Abdi, the Horn of Africa project director at the International Crisis Group. “What started off as isolated and localized protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions has now morphed into a much broader movement covering a large swath of the country.”

He said the government has to move swiftly to defuse the crisis by engaging in talks with the communities and addressing the root causes of the dissatisfaction. Despite Ethiopia’s impressive economic gains, the growth has not been enough to “keep pace with rising social inequality” and unemployment, he said.

Opening these lines of communication, however, may be difficult because of a lack of leadership. Opposition parties have been repressed — the ruling coalition won 100 percent of the parliamentary seats in elections last year — and local officials are often mistrusted or viewed as corrupt.

Seyoum Teshome, a university lecturer in Woliso, a town in Oromia where protests also occurred, said people have taken to the streets because they do not feel they have any other choice.

“They have no other option other than protests to explain their grievances,” he said. “They have nothing.”

Gudina, the opposition leader, said his party has been so curtailed by authorities that it has little control over what has been happening in Oromia. Most of the party’s leadership was imprisoned when the protests began last year.

He said that unless the government eased its repression, the violence would worsen.

“These protests are at the level of an intifada — people in their own ways are resisting the government pressure and demanding their rights,” he said, using an Arabic term that means uprising. “I don’t think it’s going to die down.”

Opposition Leader: Deadly Violence in Ethiopia Likely to Get Worse

August 8th, 2016
Opposition Leader: Deadly Violence in Ethiopia Likely to Get Worse

Opposition Leader: Deadly Violence in Ethiopia Likely to Get Worse

by Daniel A. Medina and Corky Siemaszko

NBC News

An Ethiopian opposition party leader warned Monday "the situation will get worse" after a weekend of violence in the African nation that left nearly 100 anti-government demonstrators dead.

"People are desperate and the government is not respecting the demands of the protesters," Mulatu Gemechu of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress Party told NBC News in a telephone interview.

Most of the bloodshed was in the Oromia region, the most populated part of the country, and in the Amhara region.

"In Oromia, you see so much tension," said Gemechu. "Military troops everywhere and for any little thing, opposition and student protesters are imprisoned, beaten or killed."

While the protesters have been demanding for months an end to human rights abuses by the country's government in Addis Ababa and the release of political prisoners, the new demonstrations have also been fueled by widespread discontent with the eroding quality of life in the country.

"Inflation is going up, electricity, water, infrastructure systems are all collapsing," said Gemechu. "Daily life here has become so difficult and the people refuse to be silent any longer."

Mohammed Ademo, founder of Opride.com, said what's happening in Ethiopia could potentially bring down the government, which is why it is cracking down so hard.

"I have not seen anything of the sort happening now in my entire life," Ademo said. "The closest historical parallel is the revolution that saw the demise of Ethiopia's last emperor, Haile Selassie. Even in that case the protests were largely confined to urban centers. The current protests have swept an entire region - nearly half of the country — galvanizing two of the country's largest ethnic groups — the Oromo and Amhara."

There was no immediate comment from the Ethiopian government but the state-owned Ethiopian News Agency said "illegal protests" by "anti-peace forces" had been brought under control. It made no mention of casualties.

Amnesty International, however, said at least 97 protesters were killed by government forces firing live bullets. At least a third of the casualties were in the northern city of Bahir Dar.

The security forces' response was heavy-handed, but unsurprising" said Michelle Kagari, Amesty's Deputy Regional Director for East Africa. "Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices."

Ethiopia is a key U.S. ally in the war against Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia. And after the bloodshed, the State Department said it was "deeply concerned."

"We reaffirm our call to respect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens, including those with opposition views, to gather peacefully and to express their opinions," the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa said in a statement.

Ethiopian regime under pressure as protests escalate - FT

August 8th, 2016
Ethiopian regime under pressure as protests escalate - FT
Protesters on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, on Saturday

Ethiopian regime under pressure as protests escalate

Edith Honan in Nairobi

Source: Financial Times

Activists accuse government forces of firing on protesters as thousands take to the streets

A wave of anti-government protests is endangering the political stability of Ethiopia, one of Africa’s best-performing economies.

Thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate in Addis Ababa, the capital, in towns across Oromia, a restless region of central and southern Ethiopia, and in Bahir Dar in the country’s north over the weekend.

Activists accused government forces of firing on protesters, and Amnesty International said at least 67 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

The government has denied that live ammunition was used against the protesters.

“What we are seeing is very localised protests merging into a much larger political threat against the government,” said Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa project director at the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. “I think the government is fearful that these protests may actually engulf the whole country. That is why you are seeing this heavy-handed crackdown.”

The protests first erupted in Oromia in November last year over disputes about land and municipal boundary changes. But they have grown in intensity, spreading from Oromo areas to the northern towns, which are dominated by the Amhara ethnic group. A huge demonstration was held in the historic city of Gondar on July 31, which was followed by calls for nationwide protests at the weekend.

Michelle Kagari, a deputy regional director at Amnesty, said the security forces’ response “was heavy-handed but unsurprising.”

“Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices,” she said.

Ethiopia has been a darling of foreign investors as it makes the transition from a predominantly agrarian society plagued by food shortages to one of Africa’s star economic performers. It has repeatedly posted double-digit growth over the past decade, fuelled by rapid urbanisation and the government’s attempts to industrialise the nation.

But the autocratic ruling regime is criticised for clamping down on dissent, jailing journalists and failing to address stubborn inequality. After winning elections last year, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) — which has governed with an iron grip since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam — controls all the seats in parliament.

Human Rights Watch, the US-based group, said in June that at least 400 people, many of them younger than 18, have been killed and thousands more injured since the first protests last November. Hundreds more people who took part in the demonstrations are believed to have disappeared, the group said.

Protests against the government have been rare since the EPRDF came to power.

“There are no opposition voices in parliament or in local administration, there is barely an independent press. I think taking to the streets in such large numbers is the people finding a voice,” said Yoseph Badwaza, the programme officer for Ethiopia at the Washington-based Freedom House. “It is signalling that this model of governance is showing some cracks.”

Ethiopian regime under pressure as protests escalate - FT

Videos posted on social media showed protesters in Addis Ababa and in Oromia towns holding placards calling for the downfall of the government and chanting “Stop the Killing!” during the weekend’s protests. They also broadcast images of protesters clashing with security forces, suggesting a fierce government crackdown.

Getachew Reda, the communications minister, on Saturday denied that protesters had been killed. He accused “armed protesters” of “trying to arm-twist the security forces into shooting” and “destroying private and public property.”

Mr Getachew told the Financial Times that the protests were “illegal” and that “scores” of people had been arrested.

The government has severely restricted access to the internet and social media in the Oromia region, making it hard to independently verify details of the protests.

The Oromo make up about 40 per cent of Ethiopia’s 90m people but they complain that they have been marginalised by the Tigrayan ethnic group, which dominates federal institutions despite comprising only about 6 per cent of the population.

The Amhara, who make up about a quarter of the population, also say that Tigrayans, who have dominated the EPRDF’s leadership after playing an important role in the conflict that toppled Mengistu, unfairly control political and economic activity.

“The dynamic has shifted and people are now calling for the downfall of the government,” said Jawar Mohammed, who runs the Oromia Media Network in the US state of Minnesota, adding that he was in regular contact with protesters in multiple cities.

“This is by far the biggest demonstration that Ethiopia has seen in terms of size and co-ordination across Oromia.”

Scores killed in Ethiopia protest crackdown - Al Jazeera

August 8th, 2016

Scores killed in Ethiopia protest crackdown - Al Jazeera
Protests accusing the government of unfairly distributing wealth have also hit the capital File: Reuters

Scores killed in Ethiopia protest crackdown - Al Jazeera

Source: Al Jazeera

Security forces accused of shooting dead people in Oromia and Amhara regions in attempt to suppress wave of protests.

Scores of people have been killed across Ethiopia's Oromia and Amhara regions at the weekend, as the authorities brutally suppressed a new wave of anti-government protests in two key regions.

Opposition leader told AFP news agency that up to 50 people were killed, while Amnesty International claimed more than 90 people were killed, many of them extrajudicially, in the protests linked to an aborted government attempt to commandeer local land.

"Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices"

Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East Africa

Police fired tear gas and blocked roads to several towns in the vast Oromia region as demonstrations erupted after a call from a spontaneous social media movement.

"We have reports of between 48 to 50 protesters killed in Oromia. This death toll might be higher because there were a lot of wounded," said Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition Oromo People's Congress.

A diplomat confirmed that 49 people were killed. Among the towns worst hit by the violence were Nekemte, a town in western Ethiopia where 15 people were killed, the diplomat said, while 27 died in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region.

"They appear to be low level, quite disorganised protests scattered all around...," the diplomat told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

"The brutal response of the government risks provoking more anger and making it worse."

Amnesty International put the death toll at 97, with 67 killed in Oromia and 30 in Amhara on Saturday and Sunday. The rights group said the bloodshed in Bahir Dar may amount to "extrajudicial killings".

"Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices," Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said.

Months of protests

Ethiopian authorities had imposed a blanket internet blockade over the weekend.

Oromia saw unrest for several months until early this year, sparked by plans to allocate farmland in the region surrounding the capital for development.

Authorities scrapped the land scheme in January, but protests have flared again over the continued detention of opposition demonstrators.

At the weekend, protesters chanted anti-government slogans and waved dissident flags. Some demanded the release of jailed opposition politicians.

The state-owned Ethiopian News Agency said "illegal protests" staged by "anti-peace forces" had been brought under control, but it did not mention casualties.

Oromia is the second region to be hit by unrest in the past few days. In Amhara region, at least two people were killed in the ancient city of Gonder in clashes over the status of a disputed territory.

The demonstrators accused the government of rights abuses and marginalisation of ethnic communities.

The Oromo are Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, constituting more than 30 percent of the population of 100 million. The Amhara are the second-largest group.

In the capital, Addis Ababa, which is located in Oromia, "many people were beaten," said a witness who did not want to be identified.

"I saw others getting arrested. The government was out with guns in town. They're moving with so-called special forces. There was lots of shooting," he told DPA news agency.

Tensions have been rumbling for two decades over the status of Wolkayt district - a stretch of land that protesters from Amhara say was illegally incorporated into the neighbouring Tigray region to the north.