Nearly 70 people have been killed in Ethiopia's central Oromia region following a week of unrest and ethnic violence. The eruption began after Jawar Mohammed, director of the Oromia Media Network and prominent advocate for the Oromo people, posted on social media Oct. 23 that security forces had surrounded his house, implying an imminent attempt on his life. Supporters surrounded his house and police retreated, but violence quickly spread, and the army has now been deployed to put down the protests.
Dozens of members of Ethiopia's National Movement of Amhara (NaMa) have been arrested in the week since the ethnic-based opposition party apparently attempted to seize power in Amhara state in a regional coup. In the June 23 uprising, the regional president and three officials were killed in Amhara's capital, Bahir Dar. The army's chief of staff, Gen. Seare Mekonnen, was also killed by his own bodyguards in the national capital, Addis Ababa. NaMa has denied any link to the violence, and says 250 of its followers have been detained in the sweeps, both in Ahmara and neighboring Oromia. Established a year ago, NaMa has quickly come to challenge Amhara regional state's ruling Amhara Democratic Party, which is aligned with the national ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The Amhara people, traditionally dominant in Ethiopia before the 1974 revolution, are growing increasingly restive under the rule of the EPRDF, which they perceive as dominated by the Tigray people. (Borkena, France24, Al Jazeera, The Reporter Ethiopia, DefenceWeb, BBC News)
Following peace talks hosted by Eritrea, the government of Ethiopia announced a peace deal with the Oromo Liberation Front rebels Aug. 7. The deal guarantees rebel leaders the right to participate in Ethiopia's political process in exchange for laying down arms. The OLF has long been backed by Eritrea, and the pact comes one month after a formal end was declared to the two-decade state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with Ethiopia ceding its claim to the contested border town of Badme. This points to a softening of positions under Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. The Badme deal was also said to have been quietly brokered by the United Arab Emirates, which has emerged as politically isolated Eritrea's most significant foreign patron, part of an apparent design to encircle Yemen.
Oromo activists in Ethiopia have launched a "fuel blockade," occupying roadways to halt the shipment of oil and gasoline through the country. The action was called following a massacre at the village of Moyale, near the Kenyan border. Troops gunned down nine unarmed residents March 10, apparently mistaking them for militants of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Nearly 5,000 have fled across the border to Kenya—some having directly run from gunfire. Ethiopia last year imposed a state of emergency in response to mounting Oromo protests. Roadblocks were reported from several points around the country March 13, so far without violence. (Africa News, OPride, AFP, Addis Standard via UNPO)
Tens of thousands from Ethiopia's Amhara ethnic group marched in the northern city of Gondar—the largest demonstration yet in a wave of recent protests. Amhara are angered by the government’s decision to place a local district called Welkait (Wolkayit) under the administration of neighboring Tigray region. In videos shared on social media, protesters are seen carrying signs reading: "Stop mass killing of Amhara people" and "Restore the historic border." The demonstration—staged in defiance of a government order—also expressed solidarity with the Oromia protests held between November and March in opposition to a government development plan in the region that could affect poor farmers.
Ethiopian security forces have killed more than 400 since November, and arrested tens of thousands more, in hopes of quashing protests in the Oromia region, according to a report by Human Rights Watch June 17. The report calls the killings "the latest in a series of abuses against those who express real or perceived dissent in Oromia." It also discusses Ethiopian government efforts to restrict media freedom and access to information in Oromia. Most notably, the government has restricted access to social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and any "diaspora-run television stations." HRW called for the government to drop charges and release all those detained in protests, as well as a "credible, independent and transparent investigation into the use of excessive force by its security forces."
Another battle for control over urban space is heating up in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa—concerning plans to expand the city's municipal boundaries and absorb several smaller outlying towns where the traditionally excluded Oromo people are still dominant. The "Integrated Development Master Plan" has sparked a wave of protests, principally by Oromo students. Official figures say seven have been killed by police in the protests since late April, but independent reports claim the death toll is more than 20.
We are heartened to learn that President Obama is staying away from the funeral of Ethiopia's late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose death was announced last week, instead sending a comparatively low-level delegation led by the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. (Nazret, Sept. 2) This may indicate a long-overdue distancing of Washington from Meles' odious regime, which we fear may change little with his passing. Meles, who ruled (either as president or prime minister) since 1991, made himself very useful to Washington, "renditioning" terror suspects for brutal "interrogations" in his prisons, and even now providing a military proxy force in Somalia. After Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 (with a US "green light," and probably military advisors), Meles' forces were shortly accused of war crimes by international human rights groups. (NYT, Aug. 16, 2007) Yet this now gets virtually no play in the overwhelmingly and sickeningly favorable media coverage of his legacy—contrary to Julius Ceasar, the evil Meles did is being interred with his bones.