(Audio) Shining a spotlight on government repression in Ethiopia

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.”