Ethiopia Brutally Cracking Down On Months Of Protests
Above: A demonstrator holds a sign while demonstrating opposite United Nations Headquarters. Several hundred Ethiopian-American demonstrators from around the U.S. gathered opposite United Nations Headquarters in New York City on January 15, 2016 to express their anger over the recent deaths of over 140 protesters in Ethiopia at the hands of government security forces sent to contain the protests over the Addis Abba “master plan.” Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Human rights groups say at least 140 people have been killed in protests over a land expansion plan.
Anger Mounts In Oromia In The Fall Of 2015.
In November 2015, discontent intensified in Ethiopia’s Oromia region over a government plan to expand the borders of the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, into the surrounding rural areas. Protesters marched to voice their opposition, fearing that the state’s Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan, as the proposal is called, would seize land from the Oromia region’s marginalized Oromo ethnic group, which makes up around 35 percent of Ethiopia’s population. The area of Oromia that the city seeks to incorporate is already home to two million people, according to Human Rights Watch. The protesters’ fears were informed by years of deep discontent with the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front. Though the nation’s capital of Addis Ababa is surrounded by the ethnic Oromia region, the city was established by the Amhara people, The Washington Post notes. As the city expanded, there have been clashes over forcible evictions, as well as ethnic and linguistic identity. Furthermore, the authoritarian government has a history of attempting to stamp out dissent, especially among ethnic groups it views as being in opposition to its ruling coalition. Over 5,000 Oromos have been arrested on charges relating to protests and dissent in the past five years, according to an Amnesty International report. Oromos who were detained were sometimes subject to horrific abuse, including rape, torture and beatings.
Security Forces Respond Forcefully
Demonstrations spread throughout the Oromia region over the course of November, as groups including farmers and students rallied against the government. Ethiopian authorities responded to the largely peaceful protests with force, seeking to quash the growing dissent. Police used live ammunition to disperse protesters at rallies, activists and rights groups say, killing dozens of people in separate incidents in the areas around Addis Ababa. As the unrest continued through December, rights groups also reported widespread arrests, beatings and torture at the hands of security services. Even senior members of opposition parties, including Bekele Gerba, a prominent member of the Oromo Federalist Congress — the largest Oromo political party — did not escape the crackdown.
And The Protests Escalate.
While the protests met their initial goal of stopping the urban expansion, demonstrators have been invigorated by the crackdown and have continued to rally against the government. “The complaints of the protesters have now expanded to include the killing of peaceful protesters and decades of marginalization,” Human Rights Watch Horn of Africa researcher Felix Horne told The WorldPost over email. What began as a protest over land rights is now representative of a number of grievances with the government and ruling EPRDF. Ethiopia has seen a period of rapid economic growth in the past 10 years, but its urban and industrial expansion has also resulted in land disputes, corruption and authoritarian crackdowns on opposition groups. As demonstrators increasingly demand solutions for Ethiopia’s many social and political problems, rights groups worry that the unrest and violence will continue. “Human Rights Watch continues to receive reports daily about excessive force being used by security forces in Oromia,” Horne said. “The death toll continues to rise and the arrests continue.”