Ethiopia: Behind the Current Escalating Waves of Protest

Ethiopia is suffering from a deep rooted national consensus problem related with ethnic cleavages despite its years of statehood. Nowadays, there exists a deep rooted contradictory interpretation of the country‘s history as well as its future paths by the existing political forces. The modes of political organization and mobilizations are a direct reflection of this apparatus.

More than the unity forces– i.e. political elites who advocate the national integration of state–dominating the Ethiopian political atmosphere are ethno-nationalist political forces and ideologies. The incumbent government itself (TPLF/Tigray People Liberation Front led EPRDF/Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front regime) is part of the ethno-nationalists, who come to power in 1991 after 17 years of guerilla warfare against the Dergue regime. The Tigrayans–who are the politically dominant ethnic group–only cover 6.07 % of the nation’s 99 million total population. Surprisingly, the two marginalized–and largest–ethnic groups (Oromo 34.49% and Amhara 27%) who are now protesting against the government constitute more than 61% of the country’s total population size.

The TPLF/EPRDF and other opposition ethnic-based political elites like the Oromo elites applaud the narratives of the historical “unjust relationships” amongst the country’s groups. The Amharas are allegedly the beneficiaries of the socio-political  system of the past while the rest consider themselves a marginalized group who have long suffered political and cultural domination. This narrative is by far a modus operandi of the ruling party TPLF/EPRDF. In the name of rectifying this alleged historical injustice the TPLF/EPRDF adopted a system of rule which tilted towards an extreme right to self-determination of ethno-national groups over the very national integration of the state. In considering the political context of the country, in order to achieve a sound political framework there should be a balanced national integration of the state and right to self determination of ethno-national groups.

The surprising realty is that the TPLF/EPRDF, despite its coming to power through armed struggle mainly for  the right to self determination, accept the rhetoric  echoing of the notion of rights of nations and nationality. Moreover, it uses the notion as means of divide and rule policy by exploiting the existing ethnic differences.

It is the argument of analysts that the current waves of protests by the Oromo and Amhara ethnics are fundamentally rooted not only in this undemocratic domination but also a curse which undermine the future sovereign integrity of the state and the peaceful co-existences of people. The Oromo began their protest since November 2015 in opposing “Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan,” which sought to expand the capital in to the Oromo inhabited towns and villages. The threat of displacement of farmers and hindrance to  the growth of their culture and identity is the immediate reason why the Oromo protest against the Master plan. The Amhara’s initial cause for the protest is similarly related with land and identity matters. Districts of Welkait, Telemt and Tsegede are now under Tigray regional administration since 1991. The Amhara wanted these districts to be re-integrated with their own regional administrations.  Members of a group known as the Welkait committee also identify as ethnic Amhara and want to be part of the Amhara Region administration.

The government is not only intolerable to the waves of protest, but are also seriously accused of indiscriminate killing of hundreds of civilian demonstrators and imprisonment of tens of thousands more. According to a Human Rights Watch report, more than 400 Oromo protesters has been shot dead by government security forces. In the first week weekends of August 2016 alone, over 100 civilian protesters were killed in Oromia and Amhara regional states.

Activists and analysts have argued that the ongoing protests could only be handled by

“a genuine political reforms aimed at an equitable reorganisation and overhauling of existing frameworks and arrangements of power in the country”.

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