Daily Archives: May 30, 2014

Ambo Protests: Spying the Spy?

This account of events that took place in early May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was originally posted on the blog Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience

As the authors note in their first post in their series about the Oromo student protests, they are no longer Peace Corps Volunteers. In their first post in the series, Ambo Protests: A Personal Account, Jen and Josh describe in gripping detail what they saw and heard from April 25 to May 1: Students and others in the town of Ambo began to protest against the Ethiopian government’s “master plan” to expand the territory of Addis Ababa and annex lands belonging to the state of Oromia.

Federal police hunted down Jen and Josh’s two young neighbors, who were university students, and shot and killed them in their own home, far away from the student protests. Jen and Josh decided to flee, witnessing hundreds of demonstrators packed into the prison at the Ambo police compound, many showing signs of having been beaten. With the intervention of the U.S. Embassy, the Ambo police authorities allowed Jen and Josh to leave. This post takes up their story from there.

After the protests and violence in Ambo, we fled to the capital city of Addis Ababa and stayed at a little hotel called Yilma. Immediately, we started telling everyone about what happened in Ambo. We called and texted our friends, we talked to anyone at the hotel that would listen, and we posted things on Facebook. If we tell everyone about the protesters in Ambo being imprisoned and killed, surely it will stop, we reasoned.

The next day, two strange men – one tall with dark skin, the other short with lighter skin – struck up a conversation with us in the hotel restaurant.

“We’re from Minnesota, here to visit our family in Wollega,” they said.
“Oh, we’re from St. Paul!” we replied, excited.
“Oh, we’re from St. Paul, too!” they said, pulling out a fake-looking Minnesota driver’s license.

The address said Worthington, not St. Paul.

“How long have you lived in St. Paul?’ we asked.
“Yes.” the tall man said, nervously.
“I mean…how long have you lived in St. Paul?” we said, slower.
“Just 2 weeks.”
“And you’re already back in Ethiopia. And you just drove through Ambo, past all the protests and the police, to visit your family in Wollega?” we asked, thinking about the single paved road that heads west through Ambo.
“Yes.” he replied.
“You must be very brave,” we said, thinking about how the road was closed due to the violence.
“Why?” he asked, baiting us with a stoic face.

We froze, afraid to speak further. At that moment, after 20 months in Ethiopia, we finally understood why so many people in Oromia are afraid of spies. When we first arrived in Ambo, people thought WE were C.I.A. spies, which we found amusing…spies who couldn’t even speak the language? If we had been spies, we certainly weren’t very good at our job. But now, the tables were turned.

The two men began following us around the hotel area, sitting next to us whenever possible, walking slowly past our table, then returning slowly past our table – sometimes up to 10 times per hour. A different man followed us to a restaurant about a mile from the hotel, then sat at the closest table to ours, rudely joining a young couple’s romantic dinner.

For the next three days, we stopped telling people about the protests and the imprisonments and the killings in Ambo. We were afraid that the two men would be listening. We were afraid that someone was monitoring our communications on the government-controlled cell phone service and the government-controlled internet. Were we just paranoid? Were we really being monitored? Maybe we had just integrated too much, to the point where we had become Oromo, afraid of government spies and afraid of speaking out and being put in jail. While being ferenji (foreigners) gave us some level of protection, thoughts of the Swedish journalists thrown into an Ethiopian jail in 2011 lingered in the backs of our minds. The journalists “were only doing their jobs, and human rights group Amnesty International said the journalists had been prosecuted for doing legitimate work.” Did we seem just as suspicious to the government as those Swedish journalists? We didn’t want to find out.

Peace Corps gave all the volunteers strict instructions NOT to blog or post on Facebook about the protests or killings across Oromia. It is just too dangerous to say anything about the Ethiopian government, they pointed out.

That’s when we decided to leave Ethiopia. For us, staying in Ambo, not ruffling any feathers, was not an option. How could we go back and pretend that our neighbors, students, and and fellow residents didn’t die or didn’t end up in prison?

To read more from the authors, or to share your appreciation, please visit their blog,Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience.

More posts about the crisis in Ethiopia:

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review

Ambo Protests: A Personal Account (reposted from Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience)

Australia’s Oromo people rally in Canberra, Australia

(A4O, 30 May 2014) More than 400 Oromo across Victoria, NSW, QLD, TAS, SA and WA will be gathering at Canberra’s Parliament house in a bid to expose the Ethiopian government’s recent human rights violations dubbed “Oromo Protests”.

logo2Since April 25, leaked photographs and videos show Ethiopian security forces shooting live ammunition at unarmed students in universities across Oromia. Reports of 85 students are confirmed as dead, 500 protestors wounded and over 5000 people detained in unknown camp locations as the Ethiopian government restriction of public media is in full force.

In response, more than 30 international cities including Washington, Oslo, Tel Aviv and London have staged mass peace protests, picking up interest globally and trending heavily on social media. US Congress members have also released legislature on May 9 to publicly condemn the violence perpetrated by the Ethiopian government against its people as well as publicly acknowledge and urge the Ethiopian government to respect human rights and democratic processes.

The government violence in Ethiopia continues to escalate in a bid to silence dissent for the proposed land grabbing in the capital city Finfinne (Addis Ababa). The “Master Plan expansion” seeks to dispossess Oromo farmers and displace 1.1 million hectares of land.

Ethiopia’s human rights abuses are well documented by human rights watch and US state departments and the current Oromo protests has renewed support to launch an international investigation to bring the responsible perpetrators to justice.

Federal Melbourne MP, Adam Bandt called for support of the Oromo people during Oromo protests held at Victoria’s State Parliament House.

On Monday, Australian Oromo communities will call on the Australian government to set an example by using its influence in the United Nations to put political, economic and diplomatic pressures upon the Ethiopian government to stop its continued attack on Oromo lives, their political organisations, educational establishments and the right to self-determination.

400 people from Australian Oromo communities Victoria, NSW, QLD, TAS, SA and WA will be gathering at Parliament Drive in Canberra on Monday 2nd June at 10am.

For more information Australia’s Oromo people rally in Canberra, Australia