The Ethioipian government is using excessive force against peaceful protesters in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. The Oromo students and local residents are protesting against the so called Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone Integrated Master Plan that aims to expand the Capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Abeba, to its neibouring areas (36 towns and 17 woredas) in the Oromia regional states covering up to 1.1 millions of hectares of land.
The Oromos, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, oppose the Master Plan as the expansion of the city that will eventually evicts more than 4million Oromo farmers and destroy their ways of living, language, culture, identity and their political representation in the country.
Oromo Students @ Addis Abeba University Protesting Peacefully against the Master Plan
Addis Abeba, the capital city of Ethiopia, was founded in 1886 by Emeperor Tayitu, the wife of Emeperor Minilik II who by force conquered other states in the south and incorporated them to the Ethiopian Empire at the end of the 19th century. Since then, the city was expanding at the expenses of Oromo farmers pushing them to the corners and marginalizing them. A city that was a village of thatched and mud houses later grew up to become Ethiopia’s political, economic and cultural hub. As the city grew and expanded, millions of Oromos were evicted and pushed back from their ancestral land and made to live in poverty.
Once the Oromos were conquered and made part of the Ethiopian Empire, their land was taken by the conquerors and they were reduced to the level of tenants. For more than a century, they lived under repression and oppression of changing regimes that marginalized them politically and economically. In 1974 a revolution broke in Ethiopia resulting in the removal of Emperor Haile Silassie who ruled Ethiopia for more than half a century. After that The Dergue, the socialist government, that came to power made decrees that lands should be returned to the owners and landlords should be abolished. This time Oromos got their lands back into their hands. However, many questions of the Oromo people such as using ones language for education and work, developing ones culture and self determination remained answered by the military government. Along with other ethnic groups that were repressed by the military junta, the Oromo elites fought for the freedom of their people and in 1991 the Derg military regime was removed.
This time the regime change brought winds of hope for the Oromos and they celebrated it. Soon after, a transitional government of TGE was established by political organizations that opposed to the Military regime that represented different political parties. The transitional government of Ethiopia adopted a charter that was meant pave a way for creating a democratic state through elections. However, the Transitional government was dissolved within a year as TPLF that had the strongest military muscle and the support of external powers, pushed OLF to withdrawal from the TGE by killing and torturing its cadres and supporters. Since then, the Oromo’s had no genuine representative political party in the Ethiopian. OPDO, that makes part of EPRDF that is ruling the country since 1991 is a pseudo political organization that claims to represent the interest of the Oromo people and practically they don’t. OPDO was an organization created by TPLF who brought together the Derg soldiers who were caught during the war against the Derg to counter the rivalry they would face by the OLF. Since then OPDO faithfully served the interest of the TPLF leaders and they have very little support base in Oromia region that it rules.
After the demise of the Derg regime the Oromos were able gain some rights such as self determination, use of their language (Afaan Oromoo) as lanaguage of education and work, developing their culture and history. However, they still feel that they are politically, economically and socially marginalized by the TPLF led government of Ethiopia. As a result when they express their dissents, they would be tortured, killed and jailed by the government forces accused of being member of OLF that the Ethiopian parliament designated as a terrorist organization. The accusation of OLF support and arrest on that basis appears to be a pretext used to warn, control or punish signs of ‘political disobedience’ and people who have influence over others and are not members of the ruling political party. But the constant repetition of the allegation suggests the government continues to anticipate a level of sympathy for the OLF amongst the Oromo population at large. Further, the government appears to also believe that the OLF is behind many signs of peaceful dissent in the region.
In December 2014, the Ethiopian government came up with Integrated Master Plan that aims to expand the Capital city Addis Abeba to the neibouring towns and wored’s (counties). This new master plan is designed to incorporate 36 towns and 7 woreds (counties) that are under the administration of the Oromia Regional government and in the long run they are expected to be part of Addis Abeba Administration. When this master plan is implemented more than 4million Oromo farmers will be evicted with very meager compensation leaving them in extreme poverty and exposing them to psychological and social crisis. This master plan makes them lose everything: their land; their culture, their identity, their language and their family.
To oppose this master plan and other political, economic and social injustices that Oromos are facing, the Oromo students from elementary, high school and universities across the Oromia region staged peaceful protests to ask the government not to implement the Master Plan. This is for the second time Oromo students staged such protests having had the first one in May 2014. In 2014, there was a brutal crack down on Oromo students where the government army and police used excessive forces against unarmed and peacefully protesting students and killed more than 78 students in Ambo, a town located 100km to the west of the capital city. Moreover, thousands of students and people who the government said incited violence during the protests were jailed and they are still behind bar without trials.
.In 2015, instead of addressing the questions that students raised during the 2014 Master Plan protests, the government vowed to implement the plan without deliberation with the stakeholders on the Master Plan. The government is not listening though Oromo social activists, Oromo intellectuals, Oromo politicians and Oromo students warned that implementing the Master Plan would create a problem.
When convinced that things are not going to change Oromo students staged a peaceful protests beginning at the Primary school and high school in Ginci, a small town 80 kms west of the Capital. After that the protest swept the whole Oromia region like a wild fire. As usual the government responded to the peaceful protests with bullets, shooting and killing students. Human Rights Watch report shows that more than 85 have been shot dead and many more injured. The government forces are taking many hundreds of students and thousands of local residents to jail accusing them of mobilizing the protests. Moreover, Oromo university lecturers, Oromo artists and Oromo social media activists are taken by the security forces and their whereabouts are still not known.
People are not getting enough information about the protests as there are no independent media that follow the situation and inform the public. According to Commitee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 2015 report, Ethiopia is one of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted and it is number four on CPJ’s most censored list–the threat of imprisonment has contributed to a steep increase in the number of journalist exiles. The government owned media are keeping a blind eye to the situations and they don’t say anything about it. As a result, it is very difficult to make the exact assessment of human and material causalities. Most information about this dire situation in Oromia reaches the public via social media (facebook,twitter, soundcloud) and some diaspora owned TV broadcasts such as Oromia Media Network (OMN) and Ethiopian Satelite Television (ESAT).