By Belén Fernández |
Events in Oromia have been described as the worst civil unrest in a decade.
“This government is at least better than previous ones,” remarked a 74-year-old Eritrean man to me last month in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, his longtime residence. Clad in a tattered grey suit and speaking to me in Italian, the man was peddling a book of useful Amharic phrases he had compiled for the foreign visitor, proceeds of which would go toward the purchase of a second-hand comforter for his bed.
As it turned out, his assessment of the relative superiority of the current Ethiopian administration was for good reason: two of his children had been killed by a previous ruling outfit, the Derg military junta that took power in 1974 and began eliminating suspected opponents in droves.
Although that particularly bloody epoch came to an end in 1991, many a resident of Ethiopia might nowadays still have cause to complain about homicidal activity by the state. In the Oromia region surrounding Addis Ababa, for example, there are claims that more than 200 people have been killed by Ethiopian security forces since November 2015, when protests broke out in response to the government’s so-called “Master Plan” to expand the boundaries of the capital by a factor of 20.
As a Newsweek article explains, the Oromo inhabitants of the region viewed the plan as “an attempted land grab that could result in the forced eviction of Oromo farmers and the loss of valuable arable land in a country regularly plagued by drought.”
This was no doubt a valid concern given the government’s established tradition of wantonly displacing Ethiopians in the interest of “development” – that handy euphemism for removing human obstacles to the whims of international and domestic investment capital.
Comprising some 35 percent of the population, the Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group and have regularly decried discrimination by the ruling coalition party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front or EPRDF, which is dominated by ethnic Tigrayan interests. Politically motivated detention, incarceration, and other abuses have long characterized the landscape in Oromia, and the current protests have seen children as young as eight arrested.
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