By Adeyinka Makinde |

A political crisis of longstanding duration has been brought to the world’s attention by the actions of a competitor at the recently concluded Olympic Games. Marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa’s gesture of raising his arms aloft in the form of a cross as he was about to confirm his silver-medal position was a politically-motivated one intended to highlight the plight of the Oromo people of Ethiopia who vehemently claim to be perpetually marginalized by the country’s central government.

The Oromo also claim to be the primary victims of an escalating crackdown on public dissent. But while the Ethiopian government strenuously contests the facts and figures behind each repeated claim by local human rights groups and international non-governmental organizations of mass incarcerations, torture and extra-judicial killings, the picture emerges of a nation perennially at struggle in the quest towards achieving a genuine democracy and the rule of law. Whatever the merits of the arguments positing the clash of ethnic interests, ideological fractiousness and contestation of social policy, Ethiopia’s political history is one that is replete with episodes of ethnic or ideologically-motivated dissent which have typically been met by violent counter-reactions on the part of those wielding the levers of central power; whether by its overthrown monarchy or by its military and civilian successors.

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The iron-fisted approach to managing the affairs of state adopted by successive Ethiopian governments has always been predicated on the idea of preserving a multi-ethnic polity seemingly at any cost, much to the extent that the critics of the present administration accuse it of being insensitive to the genuine grievances of its citizens and of being unable to appropriately distinguish between protest and insurrection. This heavy-handed approach, some commentators contend risks plunging Ethiopia into a serious ethnic-based conflict that would not only mirror the violent transformations in its own recent history but which may also undertake the devastating features of conflicts as have occurred in neighboring Sudan and Somalia and even Rwanda.

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