On December 2019, 18 students from Dembi Dolo University in western Ethiopia were abducted, allegedly by the Oromo Liberty Front (OLF) while travelling to the capital Addis Ababa through Gambella. 14 women and 4 male, mostly ethnic Amharas students were feeling from ethnic violence and threats in their university located in Oromia region. Only one student, Asmira Shumiye managed to escape from her captives. After her escape, it took months for the Ethiopian government to act on the issue. Organized protests and social media campaign, “#BringBackOurStudents,” had little effect. On January 11, the prime minister’s office said that 21 students were released while 6 were still missing. According to BBC News, there is no clarity on why there is a huge disparity of numbers. Contrary to the office’s statement students’ families say they have not heard from them, which fueled more anti-governmental protests and more pressure on the government to take action to bring the students back their homes.
Asmira, who escaped from her captors, said that they were selected and forced to leave the bus by men “looked like gangsters.” According to her, they were speaking in Afaan Oromo language and told them that their problem was with the government, which made the allegations against OLF stronger, even though the group denies any ties to the event. A family member of one of the students, Mare Abebe to BBC said, “We don’t know whether they are alive or not, but we can’t do anything unless the government return our children or lets us know what happened to them.” Another parent Yeneneh Adugnam told the AP news “We are living in an anguish every day… We want to know whether they are alive or dead. No one is giving us any information.” Similarly, the activist, Meti Shewaye Yilma, through Twitter, asked the government if there were any news or progress made on the case. In January, the former deputy president of Amhara region, Lake Ayalew admitted that there was little effort made to release the students which led it to become long term problem. It has been months since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with worried parents and assured them that their children would return safely. According to BBC, the Prime Minister seemed to be at a loss when no one took responsibility for the kidnappings. In February he said, “If we could say something bad happened to the students, there is no evidence to show that,” to keep the hopes high.
Ethiopian people appear to be suffering from inter-ethnic division and tension between Oromo and Amhara people. This tension sparked with the foundation of OLF in 1973 and still goes on. Regardless, if OFL is responsible for the kidnapping of the students or not, what Asmira said about her captors may indicate that this event was fueled by the ethnical tension. The unclarity of the numbers announced by the government and their claims of the majority of students being freed despite parents’ concern of not hearing back from these supposedly freed students are concerning and shows us how the government is lacking control on the situation. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed should take more action in collecting information on the incident and locate the location of the captives. Many families and friends are suffering from this tragic event and not having heard from their loved ones diminish their hope every day. These people need their government to provide information on the situation of their loved ones to either keep their hopes on or mourn. Hopefully, Mr. Ahmed will listen to his people and successfully bring back their loved ones.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who himself from Oromo ethnicity, took the office in 2017. He was praised for having a gender-equal cabinet and ending a two-decade-long conflict with Eritrea which led him to be awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. His policy to open up the political space under which he invited several opposition leaders to Ethiopia in 2018, and loosening of state controls, according to Deutsche Welle, reignited the ethnic conflicts. In Ethiopia’s south, there is the unresolved conflict between the Oromo, one of the largest ethnic group with the population of 100 million, and ethnic Somalis over land which displaced hundreds of thousands of people. In the west of the country, many were killed in the clashes between armed groups and the army. And this ongoing violence and insecurity led to increasing criticism of the government. While the public criticized the government for failing to protect its people, Oromos were accusing the officials of discriminating against them. The clashes between Amhara and Oromos people was spread to the Dembi Dolo University campus. In the past few months, clashes resulted in the killing of 12 students and 35,000 dropping out of university.
It has been three months since the kidnapping of these students, hopefully soon the government can be able to answer the questions families have. It seems if the group responsible for the instance announce their reasons, who they are and what they want this can give families hope and required intelligence to the government. For a long-term solution to prevent events like this happening, the Ethiopian government should work to end this inter-ethnic conflict going on.