Ethiopia – Oromo Protests

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Government development plans spark protests as concerns mount over continued state repression.

Since November 2015 large scale protests have swept across Oromia, the largest region in Ethiopia, prompting a heavy handed response from the security services. Reports suggest that as many as 140 people have been killed and numerous opposition members arrested.

On January 12th the Ethiopian authorities announced the cancellation of its development master plan, which had been the catalyst for protests, although the unrest and state violence has continued. The master plan, proposed by the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and the Addis-Ababa authority, intended to expand the borders of the capital outwards into the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital.

Oromos, the largest ethnic group in the country, have felt marginalised and excluded from decisions on government policy. Those who do voice their opposition are arrested and accused of belonging to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which the Ethiopian authorities have declared to be a terrorist organisation, even though the group has long been largely inactive.

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According to independent reports as many as 140 people have been killed, although the Ethiopian government has disputed these figures. Abiy Berhane from Ethiopia’s London embassy said that the protests were hijacked “by people whose intention it was to induce violent confrontation”, reported BBC News. 

However a message on a Facebook page of a leading campaigner stated that Oromo activists have “dismissed” the government’s change of heart by cancelling the plans “as too little too late”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) commented that the protests could be the biggest political event in Ethiopia since elections in 2005 that led to a crackdown on protestors, with almost 200 killed and tens of thousands arrested.

According to one Oromo student, cited by HRW, “All we hear about is development. The new foreign-owned farms and roads is what the world knows, but that just benefits the government. For us [Oromos] it means we lose our land and then we can’t sustain ourselves anymore.”

Additionally, accessing information about incidents in the country is tricky, with Ethiopia one of the most restrictive environments for independent journalism. The last independent publishers closed down before the elections in May 2015.

State-run media has followed the government line, labelling the Oromo protestors terrorists who are “aiming to create havoc and chaos”. Even many ordinary people are scared to speak out, as those who have voiced their opinions to international media groups have also been arrested.

It is media outlets situated within the Ethiopian diaspora that play a key role in disseminating information, but in 2014 many people were arrested in the Oromia region for watching the diaspora-run Oromia Media Network (OMN). Social media has also played a big role in providing access to information, where people share photographic evidence of the ongoing state repression.

While the government has conceded to some degree by cancelling the development plan, there are concerns that the protests and violent state crackdown will continue until the government involves the Oromo communities in a meaningful way in the development process, claimed HRW.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

ETHIOPIA: Violent Repression of Oromo Protests
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.20828C–20829B

ETHIOPIA: Defection of Rebels
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.20720A–20720B

Ethiopia Oromo People Targeted?
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.51, Issue.11, Pp.20358B–20358C

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