Oromo people protests have forced the government to abandon its plans to displace thousands of people in order to implement uits Great Addis extension plans. But the toll was high with over 100 victims of the repression and thousands in custody.
After months of protests and more than 100 deaths, the Ethiopian government abandoned on the last 13 January its Great Addis Master Plan consisting in pushing back the borders of the surrounding Oromia province, which is justified by the demographic growth of the capital. The crisis was Ethiopia’s worse since the repression that followed the 2005 elections, which caused over 200 victims, is not entirely over. It was caused by the opponent’s fear of a repetition of the past decade scenario of forced displacement of 150,000 peasants without compensations.
These grievances add to the frustrations of the local Oromo people who represent with a total of 30 million, the first ethnic group of the country. Indeed, there is a widespread feeling among the Oromos that they have been marginalised under the Negus and later on by the DERG and the now ruling Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (ERFDF). The movement against the Master Plan was started last November in the town of Ginchi, 80 km to the South of Addis by students as peaceful demonstrations initially. The protest movement spread to 80 towns and in some occasions took brutal form, according to the Addis Standard, when the police opened fire in the student dormitories of the Adama campus. By end December according to the legally registered Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), over 70 people had been killed by the police and 500 people were arrested including the party’s deputy chairman Bekele Gerba and other senior OFC leaders.
The authorities dispute the figure of 140 victims announced by the US-based organisation Human Rights Watch, and only admitted the deaths of dozens of people as well as 12 members of the security forces. The only consensus between the government and the Oromo activists is the land issue is not the only cause of the protest. In an interview to the BBC, Abiy Berhane, minister counsellor at the Ethiopian embassy in London said the violence in some parts of Oromia was instigated by foreign-based opposition groups who are determined to overthrow the constitutional order in the country. On the 17 December, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn blamed in a statement “destructive forces” that were masterminding the violence.
EU, Ethiopia’s first partner
Since official drop of the Master Plan by the government, which they think is a tactical temporary move, Oromos’ main claim has become the release of thousands of people arrests, tells SouthWorld Dr Oli Muluneh during a demonstration of Oromo diaspora organisations in front of the European Parliament in Brussels on the lat 14 January. According to the demonstrators, the EU should indeed stop financing Ethiopia’s regime, which shot on peaceful demonstrations. But Eurocrats are not keen to move the curser towards the sanctions position. In December, an EU Commission spokesperson reminded that the parties should refrain from violence and presented condolences to the victims but did not condemn the Addis government.
On the last 13 January, after her meeting with the Ethiopian foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, only stressed in a communiqué that “the importance of a strong civil society, freedom of expression and association and inclusive politics was also discussed, as well as the measures taken by the Ethiopian government related to the recent unrest in Oromia and Amhara regions”. Accordingly, the EU wants to remain Ethiopia’s first partner, said Mogherini who announce that it would continue its cooperation programs and intensify its humanitarian assistance to the people who are affected by drought and the El Niño phenomenon. Ethiopia is indeed suffering its worst drought in 50 years with over 10 million people in need of food and aid, including 400,000 children who are expected to suffer severe malnutrition this year. Some communities have not seen rain in more than two years and according FAO Under the current El Niño, crop production in Ethiopia has dropped by 50 to 90 percent in some regions and failed completely in the east. At the same time, the global $US1.4 billion drought appeal is only about a third funded, warns the World Food Program.
At the same time, Federica Mogherini reminded that Ethiopia was one of the countries which signed at the last November EU-Africa summit in Valetta a bilateral agreement on the fight against illegal migration, including readmission provisions. Besides, the head of EU’s diplomacy, praised Ethiopia’s “crucial role” for peace and security in the Horn of Africa.
To speak freely
In a resolution voted on the last 21 January, the European Parliament took a much tougher stand It strongly condemned “the recent use of excessive force by the security forces in Oromia and in all Ethiopian regions”, and called for a credible, transparent and independent investigation into the killings of protesters.
The EU MPs also called for “an immediate inclusive and transparent political dialogue which includes the government, opposition parties, civil society representatives and the local population, to prevent any further violence”. The resolution also urged the EU, as Ethiopia’s largest donor, to monitor programmes and policies effectively to ensure that EU development assistance is not contributing to human rights violations in Ethiopia, particularly through programmes linked to the displacement of farmers and pastoralists, and to develop strategies to minimise any negative impact of displacement within EU-funded development projects. The EU lawmakers further stressed that the EU should measure its financial support according to the country’s human rights record and the degree to which the Ethiopian Government promotes reforms towards democratisation. Beyond, the EU MPs called on the Addis authorities to include local communities in a dialogue on the implementation of any large-scale development projects. It also reminded that Article 40 of Ethiopia’s constitution guarantees.
Ethiopian pastoralists the right to free land for grazing and cultivation and the right not to be displaced from their own lands.
Cautious criticism was heard in Washington DC, through a statement from the US Department of the 14 January, expressing “increasing concern” for “the continued stifling of independent voices in Ethiopia, including the detention of Oromo political party leaders”. The State Department also called the Ethiopian Government to refrain from silencing dissent and to protect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens, including the right to gather peacefully, to write, and to speak freely as voices of a diverse nation. The release of imprisoned political party leaders and journalists such as the Editor-in-Chief of Negere Ethiopia, Getachew Shiferaw, of the online activist Yonathan Teressa and of Fikadu Mirkana from Oromia Radio and TV, asked by the US Department, would help to defuse tensions raised by the Master Plan debate and its consequences.