Deadly unrest in Ethiopia hampers PM’s political reform attempts

3 Nov

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Nobel peace prize winner Abiy Ahmed’s fallout with former supporter sparked violence that killed scores

Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia who won the Nobel peace prize last month, is facing the most serious crisis of his term in office after the death of scores of people in a wave of violent disorder.

Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokesperson, blamed “a very senseless act of violence” and said the death toll of 78 could rise.

Seyoum said 409 people had been detained over the unrest and that this figure too could rise.

The violence began when political protests rapidly evolved into clashes fuelled by ethnicity and religion.

The unrest in the Oromia region – the heartland of the majority Oromo ethnic group – underlines the significant challenges for Abiy before next May’s scheduled elections.

Abiy is the country’s first leader from the Oromo community, who have long complained of economic, cultural and political marginalisation.

The 43-year-old was awarded the Nobel prize for the peace deal he concluded with neighbouring Eritrea last year, three months after coming to power. The agreement resolved nearly two decades of military stalemate following a border war that ended in 2000.

Abiy has also pushed through reforms at home, dramatically changing the atmosphere in what was regarded as a repressive state. Measures have included the lifting of a ban on political parties, the release of imprisoned journalists and the sacking of previously untouchable officials, some of them accused of torture.

The former military intelligence officer’s public renunciation of past abuses drew a line between his administration and those of his predecessors, as did the appointment of former dissidents and large numbers of women to senior roles.

The trigger for the recent violence was a Facebook post by Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo activist and media mogul, claiming that security forces had tried to orchestrate an attack against him.

Supporters took to the streets last week to protest. Crowds of young men from his Oromo ethnic group quickly turned their anger against Abiy, saying that he had betrayed them by mistreating Jawar.

Jawar is a polarising figure who is accused by critics of fomenting ethnic divisions. Though he helped Abiy come to power last year, he has recently criticised some of the new prime minister’s policies.

Officials have denied Jawar’s claim that he was targeted.

Abiy was booed by protesters on Thursday during a visit to Ambo, a site of earlier violence 50 miles (80km) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Analysts say Abiy’s reforms have lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions between the country’s many ethnic groups.

Temesgen Ababa, 17, described how security forces opened fire in Adama, a city of 300,000 people south-east of the capital, hitting an eight-year-old boy. When Temesgen rushed over to help the boy, he was shot in the chest.

“How can shooting at people like that become an appropriate response?” Temesgen asked from his hospital bed.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission estimates that 10 of the deaths last week were at the hands of security forces.

“Adama is a melting pot of Ethiopian ethnic and religious groups, with many different groups, so these incidents of violence rooted in religion and ethnicity can be very dangerous,” said Fisseha Tekle, a researcher with Amnesty International. “It can be a premonition for mass atrocities.”

Attacks on churches and at least one mosque were also reported during the clashes.

At Adama hospital, nearly 200 people sought treatment and 16 died – numbers hospital staff said were unprecedented. Medics described scrambling to find beds and supplies for patients who had been shot and beaten as protests erupted last Wednesday.

“Most of the people were under stress, even including the staff, because this was sudden and the first time like this in this town,” Dr Desalegn Fekadu, a surgeon, said.

Read the rest from The Guardian



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