What Is Behind Ethiopian Protests?

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For decades, discontent with the government has been abundant in Ethiopia. The Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups make up the majority of Ethiopia’s population and they have long claimed that they are discriminated against in favour of Tigrayans. They argue that it is Tigrayans that populate the key jobs in government and it is the Oromo who are unjustly treated by the police.  

November 2015 saw the beginnings of anti-government demonstrations erupt across the nation. Initially in response to government plans to expand the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa to develop infrastructure in surrounding towns, the demonstrations transformed when activist claim that excessive force was used against them by the police and security forces.

It is thought that collectively, the protests have seen up to 300 people killed and many more unlawfully arrested since November. More troubling, many of those arrested have been children. This is because it was students in Oromia – South of Addis Ababa – that were among the first to protest. The government has even closed down schools and arrested teachers in attempts to curb the protests. One report even claims that security forces ‘walked into a compound and shot three students at point-blank range’ during a demonstration. However, this report and others similar to it have been dismissed by the government with the Communications Minister, Getachew Reda telling the BBC News Monday that these reports were an ‘absolute lie’.

The government’s response to the protests only angered the people further. A couple of weeks ago, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that there would be a ban on protests which ‘threaten national unity’, and called on the police to do anything in their power to prevent them from occurring. It was perhaps this that was the catalyst for the most recent, and most bloodiest protest thus far.

Several thousand people gathered in Bahir Dar on Sunday to protest against the political and economic exclusion of the Oromo and Amhara. The government had quickly labelled the demonstration as illegal and sent police and security forces to break it up, creating a violent clash which saw at least 100 people killed; including members of the security forces.

Following the demonstration, the UN has asked for Ethiopia to allow international observers to investigate the killing of protesters by security forces. UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon had stressed how important it was to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to life were and are protected by taking the necessary lawful measures in investigating the killings.

However, the request was quickly denied by the Ethiopian government. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Getachew Reda said that the UN was entitled to its opinion but the government of Ethiopia was responsible for the safety of its own people. This was then followed by a statement by the US embassy in Addis Ababa that reads; ‘We reaffirm our call to respect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens, including those with oppositional views, to gather peacefully and to express their opinions’.

With the refusal to allow the UN to deploy international observers to investigate the killings, many are worried that the government is taking an almost draconian attitude to two-thirds of its population. This, political analysts have warned, is likely to only heighten tensions and increase the isolation the Oromo and Amhara population already feel; the consequence of which is likely to be more violent protests.

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