Monthly Archives: December 2015

Ethiopia Censors Satellite TV Channels as Oromo Student Protests Draw Global Media Attention

Protesters in the Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa demand TPLF  stop killing Oromo students. Photo by Gadaa via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Protesters in the Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa demand TPLF stop killing Oromo students. Photo be Gadaa via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Ethiopian government is reportedly undertaking a massive clampdown on dissenting citizen voices in relation with the ongoing Oromo student protests in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest administrative region.

The regional political party known as the Oromo Federalist Congress reports that upwards of 80 people have been killed over the past four weeks by government forces. The government has yet to release its own updated numbers, but said on December 15 that five people had died.

Alongside increasing tensions around protests, security forces have arrested two opposition politicians, two journalists, and summoned five bloggers — all members of the Zone9 collective, who were acquitted of baseless terrorism charges just two months ago — to appear in court on December 30.

The government has also reinforced censorship campaigns against US-based Ethiopian satellite TV channels as well as protest songs that were produced in solidarity with Oromo protesters.

Torture marks on musician Hawi Tezera after she was arrested for supporting Oromo student protesters with music. Photo shared on Facebook by Jawar Mohammed.

Torture marks on musician Hawi Tezera after she was arrested for supporting Oromo student protesters with music. Photo shared on Facebook by Jawar Mohammed.

Protesters of the “Master Plan” to expand the capital city, Addis Ababa, into Oromia fear that the proposed development will displace large numbers of farmers mostly belonging to the Oromo ethnic group. Since demonstrations across the region began, the Ethiopian government has tried hard to stifle any kind of information about the outcry.

However, photos, videos and audio materials captured on mobile phones of the protests and of police brutality have made their way out of the country and are widely shared on the US-based satellite TV channels ESAT and Oromia Media Network (OMN).

These two channels reach tens of millions of Ethiopians who don’t have access to the Internet but who do have satellite dishes and depend on the two channels for news, analysis and views about the protest in Amharic and Afan Oromo, two of Ethiopia’s major languages.

Executives from the satellite channels report that Ethiopian authorities attempted to prohibit their broadcasting services. Jawar Mohammed, executive director of OMN, wrote on his Facebook page:

Notice: OMN is NOT back on satellite yet. It was NOT jammed either. Transmission was discontinued by the service provider under duress. The satellite we were on Eutelsat 8WB is still not jammable. Stay tune for details as soon as piece it together.And the promise remains the same; OMN will be back on air very soon one way or another!

Meanwhile, ESAT posted the following on their website:

The management of the Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT) said the regime in Ethiopia has jammed one of its two satellites, Eutelsat E8WB @ 8West starting the morning of Saturday December 19, 2015. .This latest move by the regime came at a time when ESAT has been widely covering the growing protest against the tyrannical regime in Ethiopia. Ethiopians rely on ESAT for news and information about their country. The regime, known for muzzling press freedom and one of the top jailers of journalists in the world, is spending millions of dollars on jamming equipment to deny people access to information.

Citizen reports on Facebook indicate that Ethiopian authorities have started to frantically send security forces around to remove satellite dish receivers from the rooftops of residents particularly in Oromia region.

Photo taken from Facebook page of Getachew Shiferaw

Photo taken from Facebook page of Getachew Shiferaw

Getachew Shiferaw, editor-in-chief of the online newspaper Negere Ethiopia, wasarrested. Two days earlier, he had shared a photo showing satellite dish receivers on rooftops (above) with the following note on Facebook:

They [Ethiopian government] are wrong if they think all these satellite dish receivers are set up to watch their tired propaganda.

Again, Jawar Mohammed wrote on his Facebook page:

The War on Satellite Dishes Continue. If the regime thinks it can cut our audience off from receiving OMN news and programs, they are too dumb to understand what we are made off. Just as we beat them time and again during their 10 jamming in the last 18 months, we will beat them again by staying several steps a head of them. Even if they take down every dish in the country, we will still find a way to reach our audience. Time for them to give up and face up to the truth!

Both ESAT and OMN say that in the past, they have moved their signals to other satellites that are harder for the Ethiopian government to jam. They both frequently notify their audiences in Ethiopia and advise them to re-position their dishes accordingly.

The Ethiopian authorities see these channels as mouthpieces of outlawed oppositions groups engaged in destabilizing the country. Although the government usually denies jamming satellites services, media outlets such as France24, Deutsche Welle and BBC have all condemned Ethiopian authorities for interfering with their broadcasting abilities.

Ethiopian authorities’ satellite jamming is similar to Internet censorship, whereby the government blocks access to websites, blogs and online radios, which are mostly set up by journalists and activists living in exile. Ethiopia tops the list of countries forcing journalists to flee into exile for fear of persecution.



#OromoProtests-Global Solidarity with Oromo Protesters

By Oromia Youth Association

Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) statement regarding to the current situation in Oromia, Ethiopia.

To: Members of the Diplomatic Community:

We, the Executive Committee Members of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), a legally registered political party, make an urgent appeal to members of the diplomatic community on behalf of the Oromo students and the larger Oromo population.
The Ethiopian government is committing an atrocious act of brutality against Oromo students and the larger population, who are peacefully protesting across Oromia for their rights. Consequently, most universities, colleges, high schools as well as elementary sections across Oromia are also closed. Far worse, for the last four weeks, over 85 students and ordinary citizens have been mercilessly killed; thousands have been wounded while several thousands have been detained. Moreover, the government security personnel have targeted our members who were candidates and observers during the 2015 elections. None of the imprisoned persons are charged with any crime and brought to the court of law as the Ethiopian law requires. We think, the arrogance of the Ethiopian regime comes partly from the lack of serious pressure from the international community, especially from countries such as the US and the African Union, which watches the senseless drama silently.
As you might aware, the Oromo youth and the larger Oromo population are demonstrating against the so-called Addis Ababa and the surrounding Oromia towns Integrated Development Plan (Master Plan), which was done without the consultation of the local population whose livelihood, depends on land. Similar opposition to the same plan in 2014 claimed not less than 78 students’lives in Ambo town and other Oromo areas. No one was made accountable for that vicious act.
The Ethiopian government that shelved the plan for one year arrogantly revived it recently, provoking a fresh unrest. During this interregnum, except in few limited areas, at that under a controlled environment, the government did not conduct any discussion with the Oromo population on the Master Plan and its effect on poor Oromo farmers. Furthermore, none of the opposition parties and independent civil organizations was consulted as stakeholders. Sadly, for its brutal killing of students in 2014, the Ethiopian regime did not face any condemnation from the donor governments which prop up the regime except the western-based human right organizations, which did a good job. Thus, encouraged by the silence from the diplomatic corps and their foreign governments, it is now repeating the same act with a new vigor and sense of impunity.
Contrary to the claim of the Ethiopia government, the Oromo students and population are not against development per se. The Oromo students are protesting against massive land grabbing and the displacement of Oromo farmers from their ancestral land under the guise of development in several places. For your information, we have evidence that shows – after the 2005 elections alone more than 150,000 farmers were displaced with their families from the environs of Addis Ababa and nobody knows as to where about of these farmers and their children. Land is not just a material possession for the Oromo. It is intimately tied to their way of life and who they are. Thus, the Oromo students are also protesting against the systematic destruction of their traditions, values, language and other distinct Oromo traits that follow the loss of their ancestral land. Moreover, students are protesting the de facto annexation of Oromian territory that follows the implementation of the Master Plan that envisages encompassing nearly 3 times the current boundaries of the city. This is not only land grab, but also power grab, dismantling of the federal system and an existential threat for the Oromo.
Even before the implementation of the Master Plan, the City of Addis Ababa had exponentially grown horizontally into the peripheral Oromia territory. As a result of this, hundred thousands of farmers have continued to be disposed of their land, the only basis of their livelihoods. As indicated above, thousands who were disposed of their land at a nominal compensation have left their ancestral land and some of them moved to the harsh and unforgiving city life in Addis Ababa where they have become either homeless, daily laborers or beggars. The Master Plan is the continuation of the massive land grabbing across the country in such places like Gambella, Beni-Shangul, Afar and Oromia. Far worse, the corrupt government officials and cadres are recklessly displacing poor farmers for their own personal enrichment.
We strongly believe that looking away from the crimes of the Ethiopian regime and allowing it to terrorize millions of its citizens under the guise of fighting international terrorism is both morally as well as politically wrong. And partnership in fighting international terrorism should not be taken as a license to kill innocent citizens by authoritarian regimes such as that of Ethiopia. As we write this appeal to you, the Oromia region is under a practical state of emergency where the army, the federal police and other armed units of the regime have become the law of the land by themselves. Therefore, we urge you to put an utmost pressure on the Ethiopia government to stop its senseless killings and cease to use excessive force. We further request you to support the legitimate question of the Oromo students and ask the Ethiopian government to immediately stop the implementation of the Master Plan, release imprisoned students and other citizens as well as bring to justice those who have used excessive force against the peaceful demonstrators. As this is also a delayed reaction to the total robbery of the May 2015 elections by the EPRDF regime, we urge you to advise the regime to engage the country’s democratic forces by opening up the political space for all the concerned stakeholders so as to find a durable solution through a national dialogue.
For the OFC Executive Committee, Merera Gudina (PhD) & Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations,
Chairman, Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC)
Vice – Chairman & Head of Foreign Affairs of MEDREK

MN Oromos rally to protest student deaths in Ethiopia

 Mukhtar Ibrahim · · Dec 24, 2015

Ethiopia security forces kill up to 50 people in crackdown on peaceful protests

Attempted land grab by Ethiopian government has led to violence against ethnic group.

The violence-torn Horn of Africa is seeing a fresh wave of repression as Ethiopian authorities crack down on protests by the country’s largest ethnic minority.

Human rights groups say an attempted land grab by the federal government has seen violence flare in the Oromia region, with up to 50 protesters killed by security forces so far this month.

Campaigners from the Oromo ethnic group say they have been labelled “terrorists” by Ethiopian authorities as they fight the government’s plan to integrate parts of Oromia into the capital Addis Ababa.

Some Oromo protesters fear that they will be forcibly evicted from their land as part of the rapid expansion of the capital, which they call a federal “master plan”.

The government has claimed that the protesters are planning to “destabilise the country” and that some of them have a “direct link with a group that has been collaborating with other proven terrorist parties”.

International observer groups have condemned the violent crackdown on protest movements, however.

“Instead of condemning the unlawful killings by the security forces, which have seen the deaths of more than 40 people in the last three weeks, this statement in effect authorises excessive use of force against peaceful protesters,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“The suggestion that these Oromo – protesting against a real threat to their livelihoods – are aligned to terrorists will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression for rights activists,” he said.

The latest round of protests, now in their third week, has seen the federal government mobilise its Special Paramilitary Police units from other states, as well as army units, against the ethnic Oromo people, Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group of about 25 million people out of a population of approximately 74 million.

The protests began last month in Ginci, a small town about 50 miles west of Addis Ababa. Initially, campaigners’ demands were limited and concerned the fate of a local stadium and the clearing of nearby forest for development by foreign investors.

The uprising spread quickly, however, to more than 130 towns across Oromia. And gruesome images of protesters wounded, or killed by security forces appeared on social media sites despite deliberate power blackouts and disruption of internet services.

The Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said on state television on Wednesday evening that the government knew that “destructive forces are masterminding the violence from the front and from behind”. He said he would take “merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilising the area”. The government said that the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was involved.

Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism legislation permits the government to use unrestrained force against suspected terrorists, including pre-trial detention of up to four months.

People that have been subject to pre-trial detention under the anti-terrorism law have reported widespread use of torture and ill-treatment. All claims of torture and ill-treatment should be promptly and independently investigated by the authorities.

“The government should desist from using draconian anti-terrorism measures to quell protests and instead protect its citizen’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Ms Wanyeki.

Since moving into Ethiopia’s highlands in the 1600s, the Oromos have been discriminated against by the ruling Tigray and Amhara classes, who often saw them as “uncivilised”, according to the historian John Markakis.


Protesters rally to end ‘genocide’ in Oromia

A crowd of supporters of the Oromo people in Ethiopia staged a loud protest in front of the Gene Snyder U.S. Courthouse at Sixth and Broadway near noon Wednesday, saying the government is killing farmers and displacing them from their land to expand the capital city of Addis Ababa.


Caption: Sima Ahamed holds the Oromian flag as she chants along with fellow protesters outside the Federal Building on West Broadway Wednesday afternoon as they denounce US support of the Ethiopian government. Dec. 23, 2015

They also said students and others who are peacefully demonstrating against government policies are being imprisoned, tortured and killed.

Oromia is a regional state in the vicinity of the capital, and protesters said most of the people at the rally were either refugees from the killings, immigrants from Oromia or in the U.S. as students, with many living in the vicinity of the former Americana Apartments in south Louisville.

Men, women and children shouted for “justice” and held banners and signs calling for “Justice and Freedom for the Oromo People” and “Justice for Massacred Oromo Students” and condemning “state terrorism.”

“We’re here to demand that the American government stop supporting the Ethiopian government,” Fanta Ketu, an organizer from Columbus, Ohio, said. When farmers’ land is seized, “they don’t give them anything,” Ketu said.

Amnesty International reported in October 2014 that “Thousands of members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, are being ruthlessly targeted by the state based solely on their perceived opposition to the government.

The report “exposes how Oromos have been regularly subjected to arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without charge, enforced disappearance, repeated torture and unlawful state killings as part of the government’s incessant attempts to crush dissent,” according to Amnesty International.

At the Louisville rally, Waago Chaama wore a red T-shirt reading: “In Holy Memory of My Fallen Oromo Heroes.”  He said he “stands in solidarity” with those in his native country.

The Oromo people makeup about a third of the population but protester Abdala Ali said they don’t have any representation in the government. Protesters have talked to representatives of U. S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in the federal building, he said.

Andrew Condia of McConnell’s office said he and others were aware of Wednesday’s protest and that he would supply a comment to The Courier-Journal, after checking with Washington staff members.

“We need the U.S.A. to help us,” Ali said. “We need the world to hear.”

Reporter Martha Elson can be reached at (502) 582-7061 and  Follow her on Twitter at @MarthaElson_cj.


Famous Oromo female singer Hawi Tezera feared to be under another torture


Report shows Hawi Tezera's bruised and swollen body from last week's torture

Report shows Hawi Tezera’s bruised and swollen body from last week’s torture; activists fear she could be tortured again

Report shows Hawi Tezera's bruised and swollen body from last week's torture

Report shows Hawi Tezera’s bruised and swollen body from last week’s torture; activists fear she could be tortured again

The famous Oromo female singer Hawi Tezera was detained and tortured last week by the Ethiopian Federal police after releasing an Afan Oromo single music that’s critical of the Ethiopian government’s affairs, i.e. the Master Plan and the killings following the protests against the Master Plan, in the Federal State of Oromia.

The single, which was released on December 15, 2015, was produced using the traditional Oromo protest genre called Geerarsa. Photos of the singer’s tortured body, showing the bruised and swollen areas, are shown here.

Upon the intervention of the Oromian State police, the report adds, Hawi was released from her ordeal only to be imprisoned again over the last few days. Activists fear that she could be tortured again; the Ethiopian government has a record of detaining and torturing dissidents (prisoners of conscience) who oppose its policies using peaceful and Constitutional means.

In addition to Hawi, thousands of Oromos, including a journalist, have been imprisoned across Oromia and Ethiopia over the last week – accused of expressing protests against the Addis Ababa Master Plan.

According to the protesters, who are using peaceful (nonviolent) means to demonstrate their opposition, millions of Oromo farmers will be evicted from their homesteads, and thousands have already been evicted and have become homeless, through the government’s large-scale land-grab project called the Addis Ababa Master Plan.

During the recent wave of arrests, the government has especially targeted Oromo singers and their families/relatives for imprisonment and harassment.

It is to be remembered that Oromo male singers Jireenyaa Shifarraa and Bilisummaa Dinquu were reportedly abducted last week by the government forces – after being accused of releasing music that’s critical of the government’s policy in Oromia; photos of Jireenyaa Shifarraa in handcuffs were circulating on social media last week (attached below).

Oromo artist Jireenyaa Shifarraa detained by the Ethiopian government

Oromo artist Jireenyaa Shifarraa detained by the Ethiopian government

Revolt in an African Stasi State

Revolt in an African Stasi State

Ethiopia is hailed as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. For the last decade, the East African nation has averaged around 10 percent annual GDP growth, far outpacing most of its neighbors on the continent. It recently launched a new light-rail system in the capital of Addis Ababa, the first of its kind in Africa, and the government is aggressively pushing several Chinese-funded hydroelectric and infrastructure projects to reduce agricultural dependence and accelerate manufacturing growth. Many experts — including those at the African Development Bank — expect the country’s upward trajectory to continue in 2016.

But despite the outward veneer of progress, all is not well in Africa’s second-most populous nation. Weeks of student protests have roiled the Oromia region, which is home to the Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group and among its most marginalized. More than 80 people have been killed in a violent crackdown by security forces, according to opposition parties. Coupled with a devastating drought that will leave an estimated 20.3 million people in need of urgent assistance by January of next year, the mounting public discontent in Oromia offers the latest warning signal that the same top-down social and economic model that has powered Ethiopia’s rise could ultimately bring it crashing down.

Unlike most of its economic peers on the continent, Ethiopia follows a stringent growth model known as the “developmental state.” This model borrows heavily from the so-called Asian Tigers, whose state intervention in macroeconomic planning led to impressive economic growth in East Asia in the 1970s. Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the chief architect of the “developmental state” and the driving force behind its initial implementation, defended the decision to ditch the neoliberal paradigm in 2007: “[D]eveloping countries face formidable market failures and institutional inadequacies which create vicious circles and poverty traps, which can adequately be addressed only by an activist state,” he wrote.

But under Meles, the “activist state” became a euphemism for state repression — albeit under the guise of development

But under Meles, the “activist state” became a euphemism for state repression — albeit under the guise of development. The ongoing protests in Oromia reflect growing public dissatisfaction with this experiment, as well as outrage over the routine and callous brutality demonstrated by the country’s security forces.Until recently, many international observers — no doubt influenced by effective Ethiopian propaganda — assumed that the country’s development strategy was working just fine. As a result, donor countries eager for an aid success story — most notably, the United States — have largely ignored mounting concerns about the narrowing of democratic space and the unequal distribution of growth benefits. But such illusions have been shattered over the past month as the public protests in Oromia have burgeoned, creating the most significant challenge to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) since it came to power in 1991.

Oromia is the largest of Ethiopia’s nine ethnolinguistic-based states, and it is no stranger to state-driven violence. The Oromo, who represent around 40 percent of the country’s 100 million people, have long suffered the brunt of the central government’s repression. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the kingmaker in the loose EPRDF coalition, dominates the central government. TPLF leaders and their coterie control key government institutions, the military, and much of the economy, a fact deeply resented by the Oromo and other oppressed groups throughout the country.

In theory, Ethiopia is a federation based on decentralized ethno-national representation. But the EPRDF’s top-down approach to development — and its refusal to fully implement the ethno-federalist system laid out in its constitution — has contributed to the growing estrangement of a number of minority groups from the capital. The Oromo experience is a case in point: Time and again, Addis Ababa has responded to the group’s calls for greater autonomy with disinterest and, at times, brute force.

Oromo protests have become something of a ritual over the past decade, as have the government’s heavy-handed responses to them. In April and May of last year, for instance, security forces fired live ammunition at protesters in order to suppress a popular uprising against government encroachment on Oromo lands. Activists estimate that there are at least 20,000 Oromo political prisoners in Ethiopia today, meaning that roughly one out of every 1,400 Oromo nationals is currently in jail. According to Amnesty International, at least 5,000 Oromos were arrested solely based on their actual or suspected opposition to the government between 2011 and 2014.

Unsurprisingly, EPRDF leaders in Addis Ababa have blamed the latest unrest in Oromia on what they deem anti-development forces. (Communications Minister Getachew Reda went as far as to refer to protesters as “demonic” and “terrorists.”) This refrain has been employed often to violate constitutionally protected civil liberties and justify the use of disproportionate force against perceived domestic opponents. On Dec. 17, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn signaled his intention to continue the crackdown on demonstrators, threatening to use “merciless action” to disperse future crowds.

The current round of Oromo protests began on Nov. 12, when local students in Ginchi, a rural area 50 miles west of the capital, took to the streets to oppose a draft “master plan,” introduced by the central government, which aims to expand its administrative control over Oromia. Since then, the demands of the protesters have expanded to include calls for self-rule, more equitable development, and respect for the country’s ethnic-based federalist system, which in theory preserves the autonomy of regions like Oromia.

In essence, the protests have evolved into a full-scale revolt against Ethiopia’s highly centralized one-party state, which has closed off political space to the opposition, to religious groups, and to civil society. Not even individual households can escape the prying eyes of state authorities. In Oromia and a number of other regions, the government enforces a special hierarchical system of party informants, known as gott and garee, to monitor the everyday activities of Ethiopian citizens. This deeply ingrained spy network consists of one government informant for every five citizens.

Draconian national security laws have also become a cornerstone of the EPRDF’s efforts to keep citizens in check. For example, the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation includes overly vague language on the government’s powers of arrest, search, and seizure; allows courts to consider evidence obtained under torture; and enables authorities to detain citizens without charge for up to four months. Another key feature of this law defines terrorism as simply intending to “influence the government.”

Despite this track record of oppression, Ethiopia remains a veritable darling of the West. Nowhere is this more evident than in Washington, D.C., where Ethiopian autocrats have long been lauded, praised, eulogized, and rewarded with billions of dollars in foreign and development aid — of which less than 1 percent is currently allocated for human rights and democracy-related programming.

The capstone to Washington’s love fest with the EPRDF regime came in July, when President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Ethiopia. While there, Obama twice referred to the one-party government as “democratically elected,” a darkly comedic remark that came barely two months after the EPRDF claimed all 547 parliamentary seats in a national election.

The United States does occasionally raise human rights concerns and acknowledge the shrinking democratic space in Ethiopia. In a Dec. 18 statement responding to the latest crackdown in Oromia, for instance, the State Department called for “dialogue” while expressing “condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives.” But given Washington’s preoccupation with Islamic terrorism in the Horn of Africa, and its view that Ethiopia is a stable bulwark against extremism, it has routinely stopped short of condemnation. Leaders in Washington have also declined to apply any meaningful pressure on the regime to reform, conveniently forgetting that it has half a billion dollars in annual aid to use as potential leverage.

It is clear that the majority of Oromo people, like most other oppressedgroups in Ethiopia, are fed up with the EPRDF’s growing repression and its highly intrusive model of governance. Young people, especially, lack avenues to air their grievances, not to mention the basic democratic rights with which to demand a genuine platform to be heard. Instead of addressing their valid interests and concerns, Ethiopian authorities continue to respond with violence after their attempts to indoctrinate the youth fall short.

This cycle of violence will continue to tear at the fabric of Ethiopian society until the EPRDF regime allows genuine federalism to take root, thereby opening up the political environment and involving all of the country’s shareholders in the development process. The ongoing heavy-handed response to widespread discontent has already engendered a heightened ethnic self-awareness among Ethiopians and has contributed to a resurgent Oromo nationalism that is just now beginning to flex its collective muscle. Addressing the widening democratic deficit, as well as the country’s long-simmering ethnic grievances, remains the only sure way to safeguard Ethiopia’s stability and to sustain its recent economic trajectory.


Oromo protests set to continue in Oromia

In an interview with DW, a spokesman of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum accused the government of abusing the country’s constitution with its plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa.

A crowd of Oromo protesters

Violence and chaos gripped Ethiopia this week as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest against government plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa. Human Rights Watch said at least 75 people were killed in a bloody crackdown by heavily armed security forces. The demonstrations have spread to several towns since November, when students spoke out against plans to expand the capital into Oromia territory, a move the Oromo people consider a land grab. DW spoke to Merara Gundina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federal Congress, in Addis Ababa.

DW: What exactly are you demonstrating against?

Merara Gundina: The Addis Ababa Master Plan is part of a larger land grab by the Ethiopian government around Addis Ababa, which has displaced not less than 200,000 people. Secondly, under federalism all the boundaries are being eroded by the ruling party which is bent on taking the land. People are very angry with the government and people who wanted to see change are frustrated.

Under the Ethiopian constitution all land belongs to the state, with people living there legally considered tenants. Doesn’t this allow the government to carry out any developments that may serve the interests of all Ethiopians?

No, no, the government is misusing it. The constitution says the land belongs to the public so it doesn’t allow the government simply to tell the people “go away” and it takes the land. No, it says there are bonds of state in the name of the people and there are individuals owning the land. It is the ruling party that is misusing the constitution. In fact, the state itself is privatising the country.

We understand you have vowed to continue the demonstrations despite the killings and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared on television that the government would act without mercy. Is it not better to solve these issues through talks?

We continue to support the cause of our people. We continue our peaceful struggle. We cannot be intimidated as the government has done. We have popular support, we have millions of people behind us. The government cannot silence us easily. We are following the constitution but we are against the arbitrary misuse of the constitution by the ruling party. Our people will continue.

Is it true that your organization is getting support from outsiders?

The diaspora is far away. It’s school kids, high schools and universities and the government is simply accusing the left and the right. Probably the diaspora is very active in the media because the local media are totally controlled by the government. We have no access to the media and the diaspora have some media outlets and they report what is happening in the country. But a diaspora of a few thousand cannot move millions of people.


Blood and terror in Ethiopia as protests sweep the streets

Wolenkomi, (Oromia) (AFP) – Two lifeless bodies lay on the ground as the terrified crowd, armed only with sticks against gun-toting Ethiopian security forces, fled the fierce crackdown on protesters.

Blood and Terror in the street

Blood and terror on the streets as protests grip Ethiopia

Blood seeped through a sheet covering one of the bodies on the road outside Wolenkomi, a town just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa.

“That was my only son,” a woman sobbed. “They have killed me.”

Back at the family home of 20-year-old Kumsa Tafa, his younger sister Ababetch shook as she spoke. “He was a student. No one was violent. I do not understand why he is dead,” she said.

Human Rights Watch says at least 75 people have been killed in a bloody crackdown on protests by the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

Bekele Gerba, deputy president of the Oromo Federal Congress, puts the toll at more than 80 while the government says only five have been killed.

The demonstrations have spread to several towns since November, when students spoke out against plans to expand the capital into Oromia territory — a move the Oromo consider a land grab.

The sight of the protesters on the streets of towns like Wolenkomi — shouting “Stop the killings! This isn’t democracy!” — is rare in a country with little tolerance for expressions of discontent with the government.

Tree trunks and stones are strewn on the asphalt on the road west from Addis to Shewa zone, in Oromia territory, barricading the route for several kilometres.

Chaos broke out on a bus on the road when it emerged that the police were again clashing with demonstrators in Wolenkomi.

“My husband just called me,” said a woman clutching her phone, as others screamed and children burst into tears.

“He’s taking refuge in a church. Police shot at the protesters,” she said.

The man next to her cried in despair: “They’re taking our land, killing our children. Why don’t they just kill everyone now?”

The army raided Wolenkomi again the next day, the rattle of gunfire lasting for more than an hour.

“They grabbed me by the face and they told me, ‘Go home! If you come back here, we’ll kill you’,” said Kafani, a shopkeeper.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticised Ethiopia’s use of anti-terrorism legislation to stifle peaceful dissent, with the US expressing concern over the recent crackdown and urging the government to employ restraint.

But Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared on television that the government would act “without mercy in the fight against forces which are trying to destabilise the region.”

– ‘Land is everything’ –

Oromo leaders have vowed to keep up their resistance against proposals to extend Addis, and Human Rights Watch has warned of “a rapidly rising risk of greater bloodshed”.

“The government can continue to send security forces and act with violence — we will never give up,” said Gerba.

Land is at the heart of the problem. Under Ethiopia’s constitution, all land belongs to the state, with owners legally considered tenants — raising fears amongst the Oromo that a wave of dispossession is on its way.

“For farmers in Oromia and elsewhere in the country, their land is everything,” said Felix Horne, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s critical for their food supply, for their identity, for their culture,” he said.

“You cannot displace someone from their land with no consultation and then inadequately compensate them and not expect there to be any response,” Horne warned.

Some Oromo have already seen their lands confiscated.

Further west, in the town of Ambo, a woman named Turu was expropriated of her two hectares, receiving only 40,000 birr ($1,900, 1,700 euros) in compensation.

“We had a good life before,” she said.

Today she struggles to support her four children and her disabled husband with the 30 birr a day ($1.40, 1.30 euros) she earns working in a factory.

With their own language distinct from Ethiopia’s official Amharic tongue, the 27 million Oromo make up nearly 30 percent of the country’s population.

“The Oromos are seen as more of a threat by the government in part because they are by far the largest ethnic group,” said Horne.

The proposed expansion of Addis is part of a 25-year development plan to boost the city’s infrastructure and attract new investors.

It sparked demonstrations last year, but on a smaller scale.