By ADAM WOOD / Staff Writer
Ethiopia is a country of deep divisions; recently there has been a series of violent demonstrations against the government stretching back to November of last year, revealing a sharp disconnect between the government and the people it governs. Many allege that the Tigray, one of the many ethnic groups in the country, has monopolized political power in Ethiopia. The Tigray constitute around 6% of the Ethiopian population while the ruling party of country, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, governs with 500 of Ethiopia’s 547 seats in the House of People’s Representatives – Ethiopia’s lower house. This legislative body selects the President and Prime Minister, the latter of which operates as the head of government. The people protesting are of the Oromo and the Amhara ethnic groups, together they make up over sixty percent of the country’s population. These political issues are further compounded with the Ethiopian government’s discriminatory economic practice of appropriating Oromo farmland for industrial development, often doing so with little monetary compensation.
Tensions reached a boiling point on October 3rd, when a protest was violently put down in Bishoftu, leading to to the death of fifty-two people. Merera Gudina, the chairman of the Oromo People’s Congress stated that “the people gathered refused to listen to speeches of the ruling party. In that confrontation the security forces started to shoot and use tear gas. Some claimed that 120 people died from the ensuing stampede. Another activist by the name of Jawar Mohamed, claimed that the Ethiopian security forces not only fired into the crowd but also made use of a helicopter gunship – forcing the protesters over the cliff. Mohammed puts the death toll at over 300. Of course, there was a discrepancy between civilian reports and those of the government. According to the Communications Minister Getachew Reda, “Of the people’s bodies who were collected, they do not have any bullet wounds whatsoever” even going on to deny the security force’s use of force. Instead, he pins the blame on the Ethiopian diaspora, claiming that they used the event to “take advantage to promote a political agenda.”
On October 8th, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency with the Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, citing “the loss of lives and property damages occurring in the country” as many take to violence, attacking government owned buildings alongside foreign own factories. The government has instituted an internet blackout in the region of Oromia – even barring access to social media sites. Three days after on the 11th, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Prime Minister Desalegn to discuss the crackdown, offering aid. “We are already working in Oromia to de-escalate the situation there by offering mediation between groups.” During the meeting, Merkel maintained that the freedom of speech and constructive dialogue is vital to democracy, “after all, a democratic experience shows that out of these discussions good solutions usually come.” Desalegn, however, maintained that “Ethiopia is committed to having a multi-party democracy as per our constitution. And Ethiopia is committed to have human rights observed … but Ethiopia is also against any violent extremist armed struggling groups.” Thus far there have been over five hundred deaths since November, as of now protests are banned. Getachew Reda, the same minister who blamed the Ethiopian diaspora and denied that the Ethiopian security forces use of force on protestors, accused Egypt and Eritrea of fomenting sectarian dissent among the more violent elements of the protestors. Amidst all this uncertainty, it is clear that Ethiopia is facing quite the quagmire.