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Industrial and Econimic Development Meets Land Politics in Ethiopia

Violence in Ethiopia

Recently Ethiopia has witnessed a wave of violence in which the death toll is not easy to determine given the securitisation of politics in the horn of Africa’s power house. But unconfirmed figure given by the major opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) is 87 deaths. According to the police 5 people had died during the protests, but casualties could be higher but they are yet to announce an updated number since early December.

Police Crackdown 

Following the violence, Ethiopian police are reported to have arrested unknown number of people including some opposition personalities. The senior opposition politicians arrested have been accused by the police of inciting the public but they have not been produced in court. One of the key opposition figures, the Chairperson of the OFC reported on Saturday that the police rounded up the deputy of his party Bekele Gerba and the Assistant Secretary Dejene Tafa on Thursday 24th December 2015. He further argued that the police accused the OFC and its members of being part of the protest movement that rocked the country for several weeks. However, he maintained that the OFC has never incited any violence. Hard for us to determine who is telling the truth between the opposition and the police, meanwhile since those arrested have not been charged in a court of law, our lot remains mere speculations.

 Economic Zone

Underlying the protests is the expansive economic plans by the government of Ethiopia. The government plans to develop and economic zone near Addis Ababa as part of its mega industrial and economic advancement of the capital and the economy. This is the so called Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan aimed at creating an investment and industrial zone near the capital. This plan entails an eviction of a number of residents to create room for the projected expansion, a move that the affected community is said to be against hence the opposition, protest and deadly violence that has been witnessed.

The Oromiya Issue

The planned expansion is set to be carried out in the Oromia territory. It should not be lost in mind that historically the Oromo people have held a secessionist ideology hence making the situation even more complicated. This is perhaps the major reason that the Addis Ababa administration accuses the secessionist Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and opposition group Ginbot 7 of involvement in the protests. It labels both groups as terrorist organisations.

Oromiya is Ethiopia’s largest region by size and population. Dissident groups such as the OLF, which is waging a low-key rebellion, accuse the ruling EPRDF coalition of marginalizing ethnic Oromos. Plans to annex their territory to expand the economic zone of the city remains largely unwelcome. Whereas the heavy hand of government has quelled the violence, it is unlikely that the dispute has been resolved and the impact could be bigger than the information that we are able to access.

The Land Question

In Ethiopia land is an emotive issue. Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous nation after Nigeria. The country has more than 90 million people. Majority of the people depend on subsistence farming and pastoralism for survival. Reallocating land for new uses is a thorny issue in a country where the vast majority of the population still survives on smallholder farm plots. According to the opposition farmers have often been forced off land and poorly compensated. Getting the Oromo people to vacate part of their territory is not going to be an easy venture given the community’s secessionist ideology, the current political landscape and the nature of their life and relation with the state. The question of land remains thorny and majority of the Oromo people are ready to fight and die in defense of their land. How the government is going to handle this issue without exacerbating the already volatile situation remains a balancing act yet to be seen.

The Prime Minister’s Take

Speaking about the protests in Parliament on Friday, 25th December, the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn argued that the protests are isolated incidences of anti-peace terror elements which have been contained. He held that the “anti-peace forces” had incited violence by spreading false information.” He said members of “terrorist groups” had infiltrated protesters and that the government would take “unflinching measures” against them. Such utterances puts him and his government at loggerheads with the opposition which insists that those arrested are innocent opposition figures who have not in any way been involved in incitement of the public to violence.  


Well this incident of weeks of violence is a demonstration of a situation where the economic and industrial ambitions of Ethiopia have met the secessionist Oromiya region, the politics of opposition and a highly militaristic state. The political outcome of it remains to be seen as time goes. Unfortunately the price may be higher for the population in the territory in question. 
Industrial and Econimic Development Meets Land Politics in Ethiopia Industrial and Econimic Development Meets Land Politics in Ethiopia Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on December 27, 2015 Rating: 5

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