Ethiopia's Military Kills Over 30 Student Protesters in Ambo

Ethiopia's Military Kills Over 30 Student Protesters in Ambo 

Eye witness reported that Ethiopian military force opened live bullets killing more than 30 civilians in Ambo city, 80km west of Addis Ababa. A dozen more were injured. Similar situations were reported in many part of Oromia region. In Robe city, for instance, two people were killed by government force, eye witness reported. The death toll rises as news come to public. Many Diaspora Oromo’s attempt to contact their families in Ambo was fruitless. Telephone and internet communication system were shut down.

Tension grows every minute as the standoff between government special military forces and university students continues throughout Oromia region. For the last several weeks thousands of ethnic Oromo University students have been protesting the recently announced government "integrated development master plan" to expand Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia. Students accuse the plan as an extension of wide spread land grab observed in the country over the last two decades.

At the onset of this month, it is recalled that Ethiopian government announced this controversial master plan to expand Addis Ababa. This integrated master plan, if implemented, is expected to increase the current city size by 20 folds, from current 54000 to 1.1 million hectares. The plan is designed to include small cities and provinces around the outskirt of Addis Ababa, which otherwise were part of Oromia regional state. It is estimated that more two million peasants and farmers will be affected by the plan.

Soon after government announced the plan, several thousands of Oromo university students throughout Oromia regional state expressed their objections through peaceful protest. Ignited by Students at Jimma University, the protest immediately spread to the rest of Universities in the region. Today, students at Jimma, Aromaya, Ambo, Wallaga, Adama, Mada Walabu and other universities are crowding streets in their respective cities. The protest is not limited to university students. According to local sources, high school and elementary students along with local residents have joined the protest. Evidently, eye witness reported the biggest protest held in Ambo. Organized by Ambo university students, it is estimated that more than 25000 people have taken part in the protest. Grueling news continues to surface on social media. Sound recorded of women and children screaming and crying have circulated on social media. It is heart breaking to listen to it.

Despite peaceful protest, it was reported that government deployed special military force to every Oromia zones. Many accuse this sect of military force for their long reputation of arresting and slaughtering civilians.

Brief historical and political context will ameliorate understanding the resistance of Oromo students to the integrated master plan. Addis Ababa was founded at the down of last century by emperor Menelik-‖ and his wife Taytu conquering the indigenous Oromo people. Precedent to its foundation, Addis Ababa was home to Oromo’s, one of the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Prominent Oromo tribes like Gulleles and Galans were inhabitant of the land. Through time comes urbanization and industrialization whereby these indigenous people were pushed and replaced by new settlers. Robbed of their land, many of these people were fated to servitude and laborers. The grievance of Oromo people is not only losing their land but also their language and culture. Affaan Oromo, the Oromo language, was replaced with Amharic, the language spoken by conquerors. Close insight into Ethiopian political stability sustains around long poised questions of Oromos to regain their political and economic rights to their land and resources.

Current Ethiopian government is ethnic based federalism with about 14 regional states. Per the country’s constitution, these “autonomous” regional states are to govern their respective regions. Addis Ababa is a federal administrative city with special constitutional and historical tie to Oromia regional state. Before forced relocation to Adama in 2001, Oromia regional government, Caffe Oromia, was residing in Addis Ababa. The tie between Oromia regional state and Addis Ababa city administration goes beyond constitutional and historical dependency. Addis Ababa city is entirely dependent on Oromia regional state for other services. Today almost all electric power, water supply and other infrastructural raw materials come from Oromia region. Ethiopian constitution states that Oromia regional state is to “take part” in the city administrative decisions.

Despite these historical, constitutional and economic ties, Oromia regional government were devoid of any decision making process over Addis Ababa administration. Many Oromos argue that the TPLF (Tigray People Libration Front) lead government is impotent in respecting interests of Oromia regional state. The students accuse the plan is secretly developed for the last five years without involvement from Oromia regional government. More so are the major stake holders, the farmers, who were completely excluded in the decision making process. Many argue that even OPDO members, the infamous Oromo organization that was cherry picked by the ruling part to govern Oromo people, were kept in the dark.

Accused of nepotism, the ruling party and affiliate elites have engaged in extensive land grab for the last two decades. Under the pretext of developments and privatizations several thousands, if not millions of hectares of land were sold to investors without sufficient compensation for the farmers. Few government agents and affiliates become millioners over night while voiceless Oromo farmers face destitution of poverty. Extensive land grab is especially true in Oromia region. Without sufficient requital for the farmers, it has been reported that thousands of Oromo household have relinquished their land to foreign investors. The current paradoxical saying of the region goes “Oromia prosper while Oromos impoverish”.

Current student protest against the master plan is partly the extension of government involvement in extensive land grab. Student claims that the plan is a land grab disguised under development. If not, the students argue, there is no legal or social justification to include this small cities and provinces under Addis Ababa city administration for development.