Latest News in Ethiopia (October 22)

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By William Davison

Addis Ababa – Near a sacred volcanic lake for the Oromo people in the Ethiopian town of Bishoftu, a boisterous crowd seized an unusual opportunity to chant anti-government slogans during their annual Irreecha cultural celebration.

Disregarding the Oromo officials and traditional leaders at the 2 October ceremony, the youthful protesters crossed their arms in a symbol of defiance and edged forward towards police armed with batons. In a defining moment for the Oromo resistance, one man got on stage, grabbed the microphone and sent the thousands in the audience into fever pitch as he led a chant.

“Down, down, Woyane! Down, down, TPLF!” he yelled, referring to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front party, which opponents say has controlled the strategically vital Horn of Africa nation for 25 years.

Minutes later, as demonstrators threatened to take over the stage, Oromia police triggered a deadly stampede by firing tear gas. The crackle of gunfire followed from armed officers and an armoured vehicle sped into action, exacerbating the panic. People fell into a deep ditch and were crushed. Others drowned in the lake, contributing to an official death toll of 52, while rights groups estimate that more than 100 died.

Social media activists characterised the bungled dispersal as a “massacre”, falsely accusing soldiers of shooting people from a helicopter, and called for “five days of rage”. A week later, the government announced a state of emergency after protesters rampaged across Oromia, burning government buildings, and torching farms and factories.

The events may mark a turning point in the 11-month uprising by the Oromo, Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group, who cite frustrations over political and economic marginalisation. The movement, along with a series of violent demonstrations occurring since late July in the historically powerful Amhara region, had already threatened the authority of the government, a favouredpartner of the UK and other donors that provide close to $4bn (£3.2bn) in aid a year.

The state of emergency is likely to mean the increased use of federal security forces, including the military, to quell unrest at the expense of regional states’ autonomy, as well as occasional curfews and suspensions of due process. The US Department of State said the move could “further enshrine” the repression that has contributed to the crisis.

The government has killed about 500 Oromo demonstrators so far during the crisis, while detaining tens of thousands more in an effort to discourage civil resistance. The message from those efforts and the latest round of unrest, however, is that it will be hard to subdue protesters, who see the government as discredited and embattled. That means the possibility of escalating violence in Africa’s second-most populous nation.

“If the government persists with the current stand, Ethiopia may be in for long-term instability,” said Hassen Hussein, a US-based regional analyst who has written sympathetically about the Oromo struggle.

The Bishoftu violence was preceded by a two-month lull, as new Oromo ruling party leaders emerged and pledged reforms. Before that, on 6 August, activists called for a day of “grand Oromo protests”, which resulted in about 70 deaths and included a rare demonstration in Addis Ababa, the capital. Federal police dispersed that rally, scattering attendees with batons and boots.

Among those subsequently detained was an educated young man calling himself Gudina Jalata. He’d previously stayed away from protests out of fear, but felt compelled to participate by witnessing continuing injustice across the sprawling region that encircles the capital. “First you have to be respected for your dignity – that is why I got involved. There is a lot of discrimination against the Oromo,” he said.

Before the government came to power in 1991 by removing a socialist junta, Ethiopia was a unitary state. A 1995 federal constitution ensured self-rule for minorities and promoted local languages in schools and government. However, Oromo allege the state is controlled by Tigrayans, who comprise 6% of the country’s almost 100 million-strong population, and say farmers are being unfairly evicted by investors tied to ruling elites.

The divergent narratives feed a furious debate. Far from being oppressors, TPLF elites say their community made huge sacrifices during a 16-year struggle that liberated the Oromo and other groups from Amhara domination. They add that ethnic federalism now protects those hard-won rights, and power is shared equitably within government, while the statist development model pushed byMeles Zenawi, the former TPLF chairman and prime minister who died in 2012, helped Ethiopia advance.

For Gudina and the other detainees, such claims seem fanciful. After time in a cramped cell, his group was driven to a federal police facility in the Awash area; some were held for a week and then released, others were held for up to two weeks. There were no showers or toilets and they were given only small amounts of bread and water. The camp had three components: gruelling barefoot exercises on gravel under a scorching sun, political lessons and bouts of investigation.

The workouts included being forced to hop forwards with hands behind their head. Even the injured had to participate; if there was any slacking off, they were beaten. “It was really inhuman,” Gudina said.

Tigrayan officers, the interviewed detainees claimed, gave lessons on federalism and ruling coalition doctrines. While they felt contempt for their instructors, the prisoners were compliant, although one bucked the trend and was severely beaten. “The constitution they are teaching us is not broken by us – they themselves break the law. For example, it’s our right to protest,” one explained.

Mass detention is not a new tactic for a government that has largely failed to move Ethiopia on from an authoritarian past. There have been similar initiatives during these Oromo protests, Human Rights Watch said in June, while thousands have also been detained in Amhara. After the disputed elections in 2005, when Ethiopia faced its last major political crisis, the US state department said up to 18,000 youths were kept at a military camp for longer than a month.

While the regime undertakes another mass roundup of suspects, the efforts to indoctrinate Oromo youth are increasingly futile, Hassen believes. “If anything, it makes people even more defiant,” he said. “It’s exposing how empty the regime is, making it more vulnerable.”

In Denkaka, Kebele, on 3 October, women mourn during the funeral of Tesfu Tadese Biru, a construction engineer who died during the stampede after police fired warning shots at an anti-government protest in Bishoftu. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters
Ethiopia’s crisis developed after only one opposition lawmaker won a federal parliamentary seat in 2010 and last year’s election produced no opposition representative. The multi-ethnic ruling coalition emphasises its success in building infrastructure, improving social services, and helping millions out of extreme poverty, while acknowledging the democratic deficit.

Donor support for the government, which is also a security ally in Somalia andSouth Sudan, is unwavering. That relationship gives officials leeway to reject western criticism of abuses as a neocolonial attempt to impose liberal norms. Ethiopia’s leaders believe democratic pluralism is the product of development, not a means to achieve it.

When parliament reconvened, the largely ceremonial president, Mulatu Teshome, an Oromo, promised to create jobs and introduce some proportional representation at elections. And using familiar refrains, the government blamedEgypt and Eritrea for stoking the violence by backing a weakened, fragmented Oromo rebel group.

But the primary threat to Ethiopia is that a portion of its population is now committed to liberating regime change, rather than campaigning for reforms – including the young Oromo the police tried to re-educate. “Until we get our freedom, our self-determination as Oromo, I will continue struggling. I will continue to death,” said one.

By Dr Aklog Birara

When a government takes a deliberate and dangerous step to segregate itself and its ethnic base from the rest, the implications are far bigger, deeper and more dangerous than the State of Emergency the TPLF dominated government declared on October 9, 2016. This segregation confirms what the majority of the Ethiopian people have been saying for the past quarter century. The TPLF’s imposition of ethnic-federalism whose sole and primary purpose has been to facilitate state capture of politics and economics has undermined Ethiopia’s remarkable history of independence, territorial integrity and the bonds and unity of its diverse population. Ethiopia’s decline and potential regression towards a failed state like Somalia is a direct consequence of the centrality and supremacy of ethnicity over citizenship and shared prosperity, separatedness (ክልል) over a multinational state called Ethiopia. The State of Emergency manifests this tragic division.

The United States and Europe are not Helping Ethiopia or Ethiopians

Dictators survive because they have allies. They have allies because they serve someone else’s national interest as a policeman at enormous costs to their own societies. State level thieves receive billions from their allies, siphon-off billions in the process, squander hundreds of millions in projects that are not well studied and do not add value to the society, hide their stolen billions, kill hundreds etc. with impunity. They hide billions in illicit outflow because there are places to hide them; or to invest them in clever ways such as houses, real and make-believe businesses and other non-traceable assets often under pseudonyms and family members. These billions enable them to repress citizens. Ethiopia has lost billions of dollars in illicit outflow; and will continue to bleed until and unless there is a regime change.

Ethiopia’s so called remarkable growth over the past decade is not self-generated. It is not the creative and imaginative outcome of a caring and prudent regime. The TPLF elite captured the state and imposed a Constitution with the façade of democratizing the country. Among other things, it declared itself as the champions of oppressed nations, nationalities and peoples. It offered the “oppressed” self-administration while ensuring that one party, the TPLF controlled the levers of power. This party became a king-maker, creating ethnic and other parties obedient to it; and decimating independent parties, free media and civil society. The institutions it created deliberately and systematically became instruments of the one party state. Pretenses of multiparty democracy, a free and independent press and civil society in the first few years of the current regime notwithstanding, the TPLF and its ethnic allies within the EPRDF had never wanted to yield political power to anyone else. Why?

Don’t expect the TPLF/EPRDF to reform itself

The TPLF determined far in advance that its ability to capture the state and the economy depended on applying the military discipline of “command, control, communications, and increasingly, computer systems.” This doctrine is defined as an “Integrated systems of doctrine, procedures, organizational structures, personnel, equipment, facilities, and communications designed to support a commander's exercise of command and control across the range of military operations.” For the past quarter century, the TPLF has applied this well-tested technique for the benefit of its members. The merger of party, state and government is therefore natural; and those who question this model considered inimical. For this reason the TPLF and its allies in the EPRDF have never been nor will ever be democratic. When political capture endows you with an unexpected enormous wealth, the chances that you will share power through peaceful means is almost nil.

Statistics and the alarming disparity in wealth and income show that the TPLF/EPRDF regime is one of the worst rent-seeking regimes in the world. It is the worst in Ethiopian history! This is why it has a high proclivity to create its own parties and undermine those it can’t control or buy. This is also why it established a party and state media that serves as its mouth piece while undermining the public good. It criminalized free and independent media; bars access to social media such as Facebook; and dismantles television and radio dishes so that people do not watch ESAT and OMN; and disallows peaceful protests. Why are ESAT and OMN feared and barred? Because they enable ordinary people to express their voices without fear; and transmit information that regime media does not dare to present.

Resistance and revolution that the party can’t control

Unlike episodes of resistance in the past that were led by elites, this time the TPLF/EPRDF is fighting a losing battle. It is fighting the very people, especially youth that it had said it serves. When millions of Ethiopians say, “Enough to the TPLF! Enough to the EPRDF!” they mean they want regime change. When the people of Gondar in the heart of Amhara land -- in their tens of thousands say “Do not kill our Oromo brothers! Bekele Gerba is our hero! And their fellow Oromo reciprocate, this phenomenon is transformative. Millions of Ethiopians are denying the TPLF/EPRDF the ethnic card it used so adeptly and systematically. The people of Gondar went further than any other group. They rejected the TPLF/EPRDF flag and replaced it with Ethiopia’s recognizable flag. They accepted their core identity as Amhara while placing Ethiopia as central for their future. They called on others to unify their forces as Ethiopians. This is not because they sympathize with the Dergue. Many Gondaries died fighting it. This is not because they want to restore the Imperial system. Gondaries gained literally nothing under the old Imperial regime. They gained literally nothing to speak of under the TPLF/EPRDF. On the contrary, they lost their lands, honor, dignity, identity and more. When you lose everything, you have nothing more to give. The same is true in Oromia. Oromia gives more to the TPLF/EPRDF than it receives. The regime continues to deny these root causes.

Ethiopia is more dependent than ever

The TPLF/EPRDF regime is unfair and unjust in pronounced ways. Ethiopia’s inequitable growth is entirely a result of billions of dollars in foreign aid, billions in remittances, billions in foreign direct investment and billions in soft and low interest commercial loans from China. I don’t think it will be farfetched if an impartial observer would argue that Ethiopians do not own their country or their natural resources or their lives. The country is trapped by a plundering ethnic elite with a voracious appetite and globalization over which citizens have no say. Ethiopians are also at the mercy of a surveillance, repressive and costly state and have been for the past quarter century! This enormously costly state that deploys one spy for every 5 Ethiopian has to go! Its value-added to the society is nil. This is because, by all accounts, it consumes without producing a dime!

Free and independent media is anathema to the regime. The TPLF dominated regime repeats mistake after mistake. It has never learned and won’t ever learn that failed policies never lead to viable solutions. It is crushing the economy because enormous resources that the country cannot afford are being channeled to what I call the “war front.” Economic transactions have stalled. Hotels and other establishments in Bahir Dar and other towns are “closed” to customers. There are no customers. More and more businesses will shut down in the months and years ahead. The recovery from the adventurist and irrational polices and activities of the TPLF/EPRDF state and government against its own citizens will be felt for years to come. Poverty will deepen further. This ill-conceived State of Emergency will never address and resolve the root causes of the resistance or revolution. On the contrary it will worsen the situation in multiple ways: social, spiritual and psychological, economic, political, regional security and environmental. Restoring faith in government and its institutions will take decades. Why? Because of the massive bloodshed and the destruction it has caused. Foreign investors are unlikely to flood Ethiopia. As I highlighted in a previous commentary, the new State of Emergency is not new at all. De facto state repression, killings, enforced disappearances and jailing is a common practice under the regime. The State of Emergency gives this de facto activity a legal status (de jure) in the form of a proclamation!

I ask myself this question. “What is the end game of the TPLF dominated regime?” How many innocent Konso, Amhara, Oromo and other young Ethiopians must die or go to jail etc. in order to halt the hemorrhaging? Is the intent what people suspect, namely, if the TPLF does not continue its hegemony it would care less about the destruction of Ethiopia? That will be stupid!

Given the danger I see, I argue that no sane leadership of any country wages war and applies a reign of “terror” against 96 million people and expect to survive. Why 96 million? The State of Emergency does not apply to the chosen Tigray region. This gives the impression that Tigray is like a separate country! The state’s military might is housed here, out of sight from the rest of Ethiopia. The resources to support this might come from the rest of Ethiopia. What is scary and dangerous for Ethiopia and its millions is this. The State of Emergency defines and depicts the danger zone, Red, to apply to all of Ethiopia except the coveted and protected region of Tigray. The contrasts between this region and the rest depict the danger the country faces. Think of the situation at a human level. Mothers in the Red Zone spend sleepless nights because their sons and daughters face danger each and every day. You will find that for a family in Addis Ababa, Amhara, Oromia, Gambella, the Omo Valley and other locations grief is and will continue to be a daily occurrence. Ordinary Tigreans should reject this phenomenon now! This is because an Apartheid system of separation will worsen the situation.

The state of emergency makes citizens captives in their own homes! Imagine that. You dare not show any movement out of your home during curfew unless you want to be killed by a sharpshooter, at minimum arrested. The state has criminalized foreign and independent media such as ESAT and OMN. You dare not open these two unless you want your satellite dish snatched and your life threatened. Security goes house to house dismantling satellite dishes, entering homes to pick up “agitators.” In the Amhara region, especially Gondar, the TPLF army and federal police launched a campaign to disarm peasant farmers. The might of the state against citizens is so overwhelming that one would think that the region is a “war zone.” In Oromia, the state of emergency has been used to arrest thousands of Oromo suspected of “insurrection” and destruction of property. As the epicenters of the popular grassroots level resistance, the two regions bear the burden of the TPLF assault. None of the human rights conventions---the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Conventions against Genocide--- is respected.

Most observers feel strongly that the single most important issue that should be resolved is political and economic capture by the TPLF; and its determination to maintain the status quo at any cost. The cost may even mean the Balkanization of Ethiopia in line with Article 39 of the Constitution. I repeat, the destruction of Ethiopia will cost each and every Kilil including Tigray! The flow of massive aid, investment and remittances will stop overnight.

Thus far at least, evidence shows that the regime and the country are heavily dependent on foreign benefactors that care more for regional stability and profits and less if citizens are dispossessed or massacred by their own government. To them, the deaths are mere statistics as much as they are to the regime that kills, maims, wounds and incarcerates without let up. These entrapments must go.

One of the least understood and appreciated aspects of the TPLF that makes and dictates policy, investments and the dealings with ordinary citizens is this. Unlike its predecessor, the Socialist Military Dictatorship or the Dergue that killed or facilitated killings of an entire generation in broad day light and for political reasons, the TPLF is much more secretive and conscious of its international public image. It carries out silent killings, maiming, wounding and “enforced disappearances” under cover. No one really knows how many political civic, professional, religious and other dissidents are killed and buried in the country. These are routinely done out of sight by the most trusted agents of the party. The State of Emergency will strengthen the capacity to kill and maim etc.

In effect, Ethiopia has been under a state of siege and under a state of emergency at least since the election of 2005. Simply ask yourself how many leaders and activists of multiethnic parties and others have been selected and killed, wounded, tortured, jailed, forced to flee or “enforced to disappear?” How many spouses, mothers, sisters, aunts and uncles have been crying or wondering where their beloved ones are buried or held. These episodes have intensified over the past 11 months. Grieving has become a norm. It is a consequence of a quarter of a century of relentless assaults by the surveillance state and government of the TPLF/EPRDF. The response is the current popular resistance and revolution that show a determination to bring down the system that criminalizes dissent of any kind.

To my knowledge, neither the leaders of the Dergue nor the TPLF/EPRDF felt obligated to ask themselves what the end game is! Does anyone know the end game? Is it to kill more; if so how many? Is it to destroy the country? If so, for whose benefit? Is it to stimulate ethnic conflict? If so why preach to us that the country is at “risk” when the regime is the very one that causes it? Who is responsible for the risk? It certainly is not the youth who sacrifice their lives for freedom, justice and the rule of law. Is there anyone within the ruling party who has the courage and stamina to challenge the dangerous assumptions, prescriptions, scenarios and unintended consequences? The conference held in Addis Ababa recently does not offer hope. While dissenters offered a plethora of solutions, the governing party failed to produce anything new or constructive that offers confidence to the very people who brought the regime to its knees. It is because of them that the State of Emergency was declared.

In my estimation, the TPLF/EPRDF is not only anathema to Ethiopia’s durability and the peaceful coexistence of its 102 million people; it is also its own worst enemy. First and foremost, it does not believe in democracy. It does not entertain differences in ideology, world view and alternative governance. Its ideology and values are dated to the point of irrelevance. The leadership is delusional. It believes that nearly 96 million people will succumb to its will. At one point, its foreign benefactors will abandon it if and when they are assured of a better and saner alternative. The regime created, promoted and institutionalized ethnic antagonism (kilil) as an instrument of longevity. In the process, it implanted the seeds of its own destruction. The State of Emergency shows that the regime’s leaders are incapable and unwilling to learn from their own mistakes, the mistakes of their predecessor and the failures of other dictatorial regimes. In my estimation, brute force is never a rationale response to public anger and grievances. It did not serve former dictators in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, the Philippines and Syria etc. It won’t serve the TPLF/EPRDF regardless of the human cost and the use of force to subdue millions of Ethiopians.

The TPLF/EPRDF leadership should question itself

I say to the rulers “Don’t blame the current crisis you created on Egypt, Eritrea, the Diaspora, and ESAT OMN or anyone else. Ethiopians are fiercely independent and won’t allow any foreign power to dictate to them. The leadership should now accept the hard reality that the vast majority of Ethiopians do not want their government or leadership! This is why millions have been fighting for freedom, justice, the rule of law and democracy. I do not believe any force would stop the current resistance except through dialogue and negotiation to share power. “

In a commentary CNN’s Farai Svenzo showed the massive Irreecha on October 2, 2016 and its aftermath. He commented that human rights abuses of the Oromo have persisted under various regimes and have reached their limit. In his own words, protests have “snowballed.” A wise government leadership would have allowed the celebration to go on without interference regardless of whether activists protested or not. They did not harm any person. They did not throw stones let alone shoot at anyone. The quarrelsome regime reverted to the tool it uses routinely. It began to shoot to kill and caused a stampede. The stampede caused by the regime itself tells us the story. People do not trust the regime’s security, federal police or military. They perceive it as killing machine! Why? Because the regime has done this over and over and over again. In other words, the regime sees the citizens it rules as its enemies in every situation regardless of ethnicity or religion. Its proclivity to kill is well established. Dissenters and protestors alike see it as a killing machine. For this reason alone, it cannot survive. Because it can’t kill millions and get away with it this time. Millions of Ethiopians are saying that 25 years of brutality, savagery and plunder is enough!

My conclusion in this commentary is this. The state of emergency is not declared to protect citizens from the state and government. It is declared to protect the governing party, its members and supporters as well as its investments from Ethiopians citizens. People do not wake one morning and say “We are going to demonstrate and die doing it! We are going to destroy this property today and that tomorrow!” They must have a cause built over time. The TPLF/EPRDF abused human rights before the latest emergency; and will intensify this abuse. This time, it will do the assault without let up under the guise of a proclamation that licenses it to kill, arrest, “enforce massive disappearances” and force people either to flee or to fight to the bitter end. How sad for the country! How sad for the Ethiopian people! How shameful for the TPLF/EPRDF! Why not opt for the least cost way of accommodation, peace and reconciliation! Allow freedom of choice! Dare to compete in the open market of ideas!

The Governments of the United States and Europe have a choice

On October 12, 2016, an editorial comment in the Washington Post put the matter clearly and questioned America’s and Europe’s position and policy towards the regime in Ethiopia. In “State of Emergency: Ethiopia’s rulers answer protests with bullets,” it opined thus. “Ethiopia’s rulers have redoubled a repressive policy that is failing. Instead of looking for ways to alleviate the pent-up frustrations of the ethnic Oromo and Amhara populations that spilled out in demonstrations over the past 11 months, Ethiopia’s authorities on Sunday announced a six-month state of emergency, allowing the deployment of troops and bans on demonstrations….the state of emergency will bottle up the pressures even more, increasing the likelihood they will explode anew.” Incidentally, my commentary last week under the title “Ethiopia Faces Imminent Danger” asserted an identical view. Repeating a failed policy over and over again worsens a bad situation. The current State of Emergency of hunting for those who advance freedom, justice and the rule of law is a far cry from responding to the systemic crisis in a responsible and accountable manner.

This time, the TPLFs/EPRDF’s make-believe story of a failing state and government crashed before landing. According to the Post’s timely commentary, “Attempts to point to foes abroad masks the truth that unrest is being fueled by a deep sense of anger at home…the EPRDF, the target of the rage, would do better to confront the root causes than answer with bullets and tear gas.” As indicated in my last commentary, “The violence threatens to shake foreign investment that has been the pillar of Ethiopia’s development” and the source of wealth for members of the ruling party and its loyalists. Who in the world trusts a regime that is rejected by tens of millions of Ethiopians?

The root cause of the current crisis that the ruling party is unable to face includes land grab and annexation, identity, gross human rights abuses, relentless suppression and oppression, incalculable atrocities and crimes against humanity, bribery, corruption, insatiable appetite to use power and the acquisition and illicit transfers of undeserved wealth. Enough is not in the regime’s vocabulary! Compromise, disclosure, accountability to the public, free and independent media including Facebook, competitive parties, an open and competitive economy deter rent-seeking, corruption and ethnic favoritism. These are enemies of the party, state and government.

In light of the truth that the TPLF/EPRDF has demonstrated amply its failure and illegitimacy to govern by crushing dissent and by making the country unstable and a potential breeding ground for future terrorism, the governments of the United States, the UK and rest of Europe as well as the UN, AU and others must now accept responsibility and side with the Ethiopian people. “Ethiopia’s human rights abuses and political repression must be addressed frontally by the United States and Europe, no longer shunned to the backburner because of cooperation fighting terrorism.” A regime that terrorizes its citizens and declares a state of emergency to do more harm can’t justify its existence by serving as a policeman or by giving itself the legal authority to kill, harass, incarcerate, forcibly evict and enforce disappearances. The remedy is change in the system and government. The regime itself needs policing and global attention. “With the state of emergency, Ethiopia’s leaders are borrowing a brutal and counterproductive tactic from dictators the world over who have tried to put a cork in genuine popular dissent. It won’t work.”

In her recent state visit to Ethiopia, Chancellor Merkel of Germany refused to address the timid and unrepresentative Ethiopian Parliament; and urged the regime to change its ways. Germany should refrain from training Ethiopian security or other forces for now. The United States should now consider the real and moral hazards it faces in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa.

In summary, it is now time for the U.S. and the EU, together, to stop bankrolling one of the most repressive and corrupt regimes on the planet. When they do, the Ethiopian people together can and shall advance their collective welfare and deter terrorism. Ethiopians together possess the potential to transform their country’s poor and backward economy into a prosperous one.

The rest of us should not be mired by a cycle of unproductive competition for power and glory. Instead, the historical demand is for each and all of us to do what is required. This is to work together for the common cause of ushering in a new era of genuine democracy; and a transitional arrangement that will get us there.

By Charlie Ensor

For this week’s podcast, Humanosphere takes a look at the current situation in Ethiopia with our guest, Hallelujah Lulie, a postgraduate at the London School of Economics and former journalist covering the political and security situation in the country.

During the summer, the plight of the Oromo people came onto our screens when Ethiopian athlete, Feyisa Lilesa, took silver in the men’s marathon at the Rio Olympics. But the protests have been going on for much longer, unearthing deeply rooted ethnic inequality and causing the worst protests the country has ever seen.

For nearly a year now, the Oromo people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia, have protested against government oppression, with little international media focus given to their oppression.

Since protests began last year, another ethnic group, the Amhara, have started to show their discontent at the status quo as the government stands accused of land grabs that have seen farmers’ land taken away while the government builds the capital, Addis Ababa outward.

Together these two groups make up more than 60 percent of the country’s nearly 100 million population.

Since then, Human Rights Watch estimates that around 1,000 campaigners have been rounded up and 500 people killed.

While the international community has long looked upon impressive growth levels and the country’s presence as a bulwark against al-Shabab terrorism in the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopian government has systematically deprived other ethnic groups a political say in decision-making.

Our guest for the podcast, Lulie, explains the context of the protests, which have been called some of the worst in Ethiopia for 25 years. He tells us that the international community has not done enough to put pressure on the Ethiopian government.

Lulie tells me how the government, ruled predominantly by the Tigray ethnic group, which make up only 7 percent of the total population of Ethiopia, has come to completely control the country’s political and economic sphere. The system, he argues, “favors political nepotism and corruption.”

This is unsustainable, he carries on, unless Ethiopia becomes a fully functioning democracy where all groups share the country’s economic prosperity.

“It can only sustain its development when it has a just government that distributes the benefits of growth fairly to the population,” Lulie tells me.

As the government declares a new six-month state of emergency aimed at curbing political dissent, Lulie said that he expects the situation to remain tumultuous for the time being, with little hope for change in the immediate future.

The government, he argues, will use the state of emergency to legitimize further violence against the Ethiopian people, while the international community continues to turn a blind eye.

“So far there hasn’t been any meaningful pressure being put on the Ethiopian regime – on its human rights and democratic records – from the major allies, beyond expressing concern,” Lulie says.

“Something more must be done.”

It was in 1978 the Provisional Military Administration known as the Derg declared what it called “red terror” in Ethiopia.[1] What followed was hard to comprehend; it was a grotesque demonstration of inhumanity against fellow human beings. Streets were littered with bodies of young men and women with placards displayed on them reading “red terror.” For the survivors and their families this period is a particularly painful one, which they wish didn’t happen. Whatever the context, the use of the term “red,” especially coming from the government policy makers, has a chilling psychological and emotional effect on the people of Ethiopia. It brings back that dark period and pokes the terrible memories of those who endured so much under the official campaign of “red terror” (1978-1979). The declaration of a “state of emergency” by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is a sad repeat of the “red terror” from which citizens are still trying to recover.

The regime’s state of emergency, announced this month, has legitimated two things. The first one is that it formalized the regime’s implicit desire and behaviour of being a military dictatorship. The establishment of the so called “command post” is indisputable evidence that the country is effectively run by the senior military officers of a minority group that represents less than 6% of the country’s population. Secondly, it made it official that the slow motion mass murder the regime has been undertaking for the last 25 years could be carried out with full scale and coordinated order of the “command post” with much bigger causalities than the “red terror” of 1978-79.

Here are some key parts of the “state of emergency”

“Members of the diplomatic community are not allowed to venture outside 40 KM radius of the capital Addis Ababa with out a permission.” The argument the regime is making for restricting diplomats’ movement is “safety” of the diplomats. Does this mean all places outside forty km are considered part of a war zone? If they are, then the issue is not just the “safety” of members of the diplomatic community, but also the government doesn’t want diplomats to witness possible atrocities committed by forces loyal to the regime. Furthermore, the problem with restricting diplomats is that Article 26 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations stipulates that “receiving State shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory.” Hence, the regime is in loggerheads with the Vienna Convention of 1961, and it could raise some serious problems under international law as it relates to the responsibility of the host nation.

The second and most troubling part of the state of emergency is the power accorded to security guards and members of security forces. It says “to take measures on those who violated the 6:00PM- 6:00AM curfew around factories, large-scale farm sites and others. This in particular is disturbing as it is a reinstatement of “red terror” of 1978- 79 which gave “shoot to kill” authority to the so-called “revolutionary guard,” which comprises of militias and cadres of the military junta. After four decades later, the current regime is recalling the same brutal measures and strategies to brutalize innocent unarmed civilians.

One of the great inventions of the 20th century is the advent of communication technology, particularly the internet. It eliminated geographic and economic barriers for accessing information. Anyone anywhere in the world have equal access to a bounty of information at his/her finger tips. Well, unless you live in Ethiopia. The regime has been periodically shutting the internet and phone communication, blaming social media for the popular uprising sweeping the country. Even the Prime Minister, Haile Mariam Desalegn, audaciously attempted to lecture the United Nations on how social media is fueling social discontent in Ethiopia. Soon after his speech before the international body, the regime completely blacked out access to the internet across the country except in the region of Tigray. In the 21st century, the internet and modern communication technology are part of the political, economic and social reality of life.

“This is a regime for the stone age operating in the 21st century,” one young man retorted with anger. “What is this? Why are they doing this? No one should have the right to deny me access to information. No one!” he repeated. The popular uprising that has been going on for more than ten months is largely, but not exclusively, youth led with heavy participation of those under thirty. They have shown tremendous resilience and unwavering discipline in their organization and leadership capacity of the movement. They believe their energy, creativity and imagination will help them adjust to any challenges including the closure of the internet and social media. If anything, they say it will harden their resolve and commitment to continue their struggle until democracy, freedom and justice are achieved. The shutting of internet service and social media, and its impact on the general public, members of the diplomatic community and the expatriates, is a serious. The Internet is the key tool in the 21st century communication and work. The regime’s strategy of unplugging the country from the rest of the world is unprecedented, and it should be challenged by members of the international community.

The regime is desperate, and it is taking desperate measures to see which one could prolong its hold on power. The truth is that neither a “state of emergency” nor the shutting of the internet can stop the public from demanding change, fundamental political, economic and transformative social change, including regime change. Often, under undemocratic regimes, states of emergency are not intended to provide safety and security for the general public. Instead, they are intended to stifle popular uprisings and extend the life of authoritarian rule. History tells us it never works. In the end, a state of emergency for dictators is the last gasp and that is what we are witnessing in Ethiopia.
The writer can be reached at

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ethiopia due to ongoing unrest that has led to hundreds of deaths, thousands of arrests, as well as injuries and extensive property damage, especially in Amhara and Oromia States. The U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services in many parts of the country is limited by the current security situation.

The Government of Ethiopia declared a State of Emergency effective October 8, 2016. An October 15 decree states that individuals may be arrested without a court order for activities they may otherwise consider routine, such as communication, consumption of media, attending gatherings, engaging with certain foreign governments or organizations, and violating curfews. The decree prohibits U.S. and other foreign diplomats from traveling farther than 40 kilometers outside of Addis Ababa without prior approval from the Government of Ethiopia, which severely affects the U.S. Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens. The full text of the decree implementing the State of Emergency is available on the U.S. Embassy’s website.

Internet, cellular data, and phone services have been periodically restricted or shut down throughout the country, impeding the U.S. Embassy’s ability to communicate with U.S. citizens in Ethiopia. You should have alternate communication plans in place, and let your family and friends know this may be an issue while you are in Ethiopia. See the information below on how to register with the U.S. Embassy to receive security messages.

Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, continuously assess your surroundings, and evaluate your personal level of safety. Remember that the government may use force and live fire in response to demonstrations, and that even gatherings intended to be peaceful can be met with a violent response or turn violent without warning. U.S. citizens in Ethiopia should monitor their security situation and have contingency plans in place in case you need to depart suddenly.

U.S. government personnel are restricted from personal travel to many regions in Ethiopia, including Oromia, Amhara, Somali and Gambella states, southern Ethiopia near the Ethiopian/Kenyan border, and the area near the Ethiopia/Eritrea border. Work-related travel is being approved on a case-by-case basis. U.S. government personnel may travel to and within Addis Ababa without restrictions. For additional information related to the regional al-Shabaab threat, banditry, and other security concerns, see the Safety and Security section of the Country Specific Information for Ethiopia.

Due to the unpredictability of communication in the country, the Department of State strongly advises U.S. citizens to register your mobile number with the U.S. Embassy to receive security information via text or SMS, in addition to enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Latest News in Ethiopia (October 18)

By ESAT News (October 18, 2016)

A think-tank said on Tuesday that corruption by ruling party officials and disproportionate benefits of the economy that has gone mainly to Tigrayans drove the people to rise up against the regime in Ethiopia.

London-based Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, said in a report that “perceptions are widespread that control of the EPRDF and a disproportionate share of the benefits of the growing economy have gone to ethnic Tigrayans, whose Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) formed the core of the EPRDF.”

“Over the last two-and-a-half decades, there has been a growing contradiction inherent in the expansion of the economy and provision of services, as it is outstripped by growth in expectations, especially among the youth,” the report further said.

“This anger is intensified because of corruption in the political system; the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), the EPRDF member party which controls Oromia Region, is seen as particularly corrupt. This has pitted the population against a party which is meant to represent its interests,”

Chatham House noted that declaring the state of emergency meant that the EPRDF “recognizes that it is has been unable to impose order.”

In a similar vein, Dr. Aleksandra W. Gadzala, a political-risk consultant and political analyst on africa, wrote in National Interest magazine that Tigrayan domination after the fall of the Derg has been palpable. “The presidential office, the parliament, central government ministries and agencies—including public enterprises—and financial institutions have since 1991 all been controlled by the TPLF,” wrote the Oxford-educated expert, who studied the Chinese influence in Ethiopia for her PhD dissertation.

“Ninety-nine percent of Ethiopian National Defense Force [senior] officers are from Tigray; 97 percent are from the same village. Only the prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, is not Tigray: he is Wolayta, an ethnic group that forms the majority of the population in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR). His historically close ties to Meles, first while President of SNNPR, then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, have, however, effectively rendered him Tigray by association.”

Dr. Gadzala pointed out that submission to the Tigrians is the core of the so called revolutionary democracy, the ideology of the ruling elite. “The EPRDF’s governing ideology, “revolutionary democracy”—a curious concoction of Marxist, Maoist, and ethno-regionalist thought—demands Soviet-style submission to the Tigray-dominated state.”

She argued that TPLF is unwilling to compromise on monopoly control of the state power even under pressure from every direction. “In many respects the state-building question has gone unresolved; Ethiopia’s crisis is largely an existential one. In the coming weeks Hailemariam Desalegn will likely attempt peace by announcing a redistribution of government investments. Most, if not all, political and economic power will remain vested in the TPLF.”

But the expert indicated that even if this may quell the protests for a time, without genuine efforts to address the grievances, the crisis will only get worse.

According to her without “attention to the country’s conflicting institutional and ideological challenges, central to which is the dominance of the TPLF and the Tigray, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.”

“All that is at stake, is everything,” she concluded.

By Amnesty

Heavy-handed measures by the Ethiopian government will only escalate a deepening crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 800 protesters since protests began in November 2015, said Amnesty International today after the government issued a directive imposing wide-ranging restrictions as part of a state of emergency.

The directive authorises arrests without warrants, as well as rehabilitation measures. When such measures have been used in the past, they have led to arbitrary detention of protesters at remote military facilities without access to their families and lawyers.

“These emergency measures are extremely severe and so broad that they threaten basic human rights that must not be curtailed even under a state of emergency,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“These measures will deepen, not mitigate, the underlying causes of the sustained protests we have seen throughout the year, which have been driven by deep-seated human rights grievances. These grievances must be properly addressed by the authorities. Further crackdowns and human rights violations will only make the situation worse.”

In a public statement issued today Amnesty International recommends that instead of further curtailing human rights, the government should seize the moment and recommit itself to respecting, protecting and fulfilling them, in line with its regional and international obligations.

“It is the government’s failure to constructively engage with the protesters that continues to fuel these protests. It must now change course,” said Muthoni Wanyeki.

“The government must ensure an end to excessive and arbitrary use of force by the security forces against demonstrators and release all protesters, opposition leaders and supporters, as well as journalists and bloggers, arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

At least 600 protesters have been killed in Oromia and 200 in Amhara since November last year.


Protests began in November 2015 when ethnic Oromos took to the streets fearing possible land seizures under the government’s Addis Ababa Masterplan, which aimed to expand the capital’s administrative control into Oromia. The protests continued even after the Addis Ababa Masterplan was scrapped, evolving into demands for accountability for human rights violations, ethnic equality and the release of political prisoners.

Protests later spread to Amhara, a region that has long complained of marginalization.

The worst incident involved the death of possibly hundreds of protesters in a stampede on 2 October at Bishoftu, about 45 kilometres southeast of Addis Ababa, during the Irrecha religious festival. Protest groups say the stampede was caused by the security forces’ unnecessary and excessive use of force. The government has denied this, instead blaming the deaths on “anti-peace forces.”

Sen. Franken to Meet with Coalition of Community Leaders to Discuss Human Rights Crisis in Ethiopia

MINNESOTA [10/18/16]—On Wednesday, October 19, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) will meet with coalition of community leaders at his office in St. Paul to discuss the increasingly dire situation in Ethiopia—where the government is violently cracking down on, and in some cases killing, political protestors.

Earlier this year, Sen. Franken helped author a bipartisan resolution condemning the serious human rights violations of the Ethiopian government—including unprovoked arrests, torture, and oppression. He called on the Ethiopian government to halt its violent crackdowns, and called upon the Secretary of State to review security assistance to Ethiopia in light of allegations that Ethiopian security forces have killed civilians. During his trip to Ethiopia last year, Sen. Franken also met with civil society groups to discuss the ongoing human rights crisis.

At 10:30 a.m., Sen. Franken will meet with Minnesota Ethiopian community leaders to discuss the human rights crisis in Ethiopia. The discussion will be based on Ethiopian government killing protesters and others inside that country. The meeting is open to press.

WHO: U.S. Sen. Al Franken
WHAT: Meets with coalition of community leaders to discuss the human rights crisis in Ethiopia
WHEN: Wednesday, October 19, at 10:30 p.m.; Open Press
WHERE: Sen. Franken’s St. Paul Office, 60 East Plato Blvd, Suite 220