William Davison’s Witness from Southwest and West Shewa zones of Oromia
I was in Southwest and West Shewa zones of Oromia for two days last week. I drove the Addis-Woliso-Wenchi-Ambo-Addis loop that I last did on a tourist jaunt with my parents in early 2014. I intend to document the more interesting parts of what I found in a couple of pieces next week, so I’m not going to go into details here. Suffice to say there was considerable anger at the killing of unarmed Oromo protesters, fear over an ongoing extensive crackdown, and general dissatisfaction with an unresponsive government over poor public services and corruption.
The protests seemed to be focused on east Oromia last week. All we saw was a group of mostly teenagers running up and down Ambo town centre chanting at about 5pm on Christmas afternoon. They seemed to be generating quite a lot of excitement among onlookers, and I think the group had grown to over 100 by the time I last saw them. They were quickly tailed by a pick-up of armed Oromia regional forces, and then it started raining, so I think they gave up. The response of the authorities was to immediately dispatch a pick-up of Federal Police in riot gear and an EDF armored personnel carrier to patrol the same stretch of road. There were also dozens of Federal Police dotted along the side of the road. It was a way heavier security presence than we’d seen in Woliso, or any of the smaller towns.
We didn’t get detained over the two days and were only prevented from reporting by a pot-bellied kebele official in Dima next to Sebeta on our very first stop. It seemed like he’d been tipped off about our presence and so sidled over, pen in pocket, phone in hand, ignored the ferenjis, and started discussing the situation with out translator. I don’t think he looked at me once and definitely didn’t address me directly or engage in a conversation. I guess I saw him as a useful metaphor for a government that’s not very good at listening. His position seemed to be the usual claptrap about us needing specific permissions wherever we want to report, and the local authorities needing to be informed about our arrival as they are responsible for our security. (My stock response to that one these days is that, as I’m an adult, I’m responsible for my security – it doesn’t impress anyone.) The chap wanted us to stick around and presumably get acquainted with the local police commander, but we jumped in the car and drove off instead.