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Ethiopia must Address the Oromia Crisis now or Pay Later

The government of Ethiopia has continued to repress the Oromo people. Silent atrocities continue to go unabated since late last year. Indeed the Human Rights Watch reports indicate that there are numerous cases of killings by the security agencies which cannot be termed isolated. If they aren't isolated cases of murder, it can only mean one thing; it is systematic state elimination of those perceived opposed to the regime's actions. It has continued for way too long. None seems to really speak up because the police state in Ethiopia is very good in cover up and Public Relations (PR). After all, the only other tool that could unearth this is the media but then how is the fourth estate like in Ethiopia? The demonstrations began in November 2015. In towns and villages all over Ethiopia’s vast Oromia province, people gathered to voice their frustration at the government because government intends to annex part of their land to expand  and "develop the city.

The Oromo people are particularly opposed to the Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan. Through this plan the capital city will systematically suck more land from the province for industrial parks, commercial and residential construction in a bid to expand and modernize the capital city.  At first it could appear foolish that people are opposed to such wonderful initiative by their government but there are few other issues at stake. One; the Oromo people were not consulted or involved in the expansion master plan and two; government is giving very minimal compensation.

But that is not enough there are historical developments upon which this issue must be juxtaposed and evaluated; the secessionist ideology. The Oromo people are equally protesting a long history of oppression and marginalisation of their community. The Oromo, despite being Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group are largely excluded from positions of power and have historically been last to access rights and benefits from the state. The scale of these protests – the wide geographical spread, and the sheer numbers of people who turned out – scared the government who responded with force. The force with which a genuinely scared government responded has led to trails of pain and anguish.

Supposed ringleaders were detained; curfews imposed in several towns and security forces were called in to “deal” with the angry Oromo crowds. Things soon got ugly even though protesters were largely peaceful (although not always – several government buildings were stormed and looted). The same cannot be said for the police, however, who reacted with tear gas, grenades and bullets. By the end of the year, an estimated 150 people had been killed. And this year many more continue to be killed, tortured and detained by state security apparatus.

In an apparent concession, the government announced this January that it had scrapped the Addis Ababa Master Plan, saying it had heard and heeded the voice of the Oromia. But this was a PR stance since it is clear that the expansion of Addis will continue anyway with even less direction or regulation. The state has also not expressed any known interest in addressing the Oromia grievances, some of which are genuine. Furthermore, the brutality of the state against largely peaceful protesters only proved the protesters’ point, and reinforced their grievances. It remains too expensive for the government to ignore the genuine grievances of the Oromia but it appears determined to ignore them anyway. This portends a future crisis for Ethiopia. Human Rights Actors especially Human Rights Watch have persistently and consistently maintained that the state has been continuously carrying out killings, arbitrary detentions and torture of the perceived dissenting voices, claims that the Addis administration vigorously protests. 

Whereas the state is reluctant to acknowledge them, there’s no doubt that the Oromo protests are real and that they pose a grave danger to Ethiopia’s long term stability. It is also clear that the government’s usual tactics for dealing with opposition movements through police brutality and targeted detentions and a slick PR machine is not making the protests go away any time soon.

In addition, the government risks a more complicated and widespread problem if it does not handle the current situation carefully and comprehensively. The Oromo are far from the only disaffected community in Ethiopia and there’s a real danger that the unrest could spread, particularly to the large Muslim minority, who have a recent history of large-scale anti-government demonstrations themselves. This would not only threaten the government’s authority, but also undermine or even reverse its impressive development statistics.  The government has to decide now; whether to continue with its repression and greased PR or to sit down and comprehensively tackle the Oromia grievances. While the former is easier to do by the police state, the latter is painstaking and expensive but more rewarding.

Ethiopia must Address the Oromia Crisis now or Pay Later Ethiopia must Address the Oromia Crisis now or Pay Later Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on February 26, 2016 Rating: 5

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