Key U.S. Africa Ally Faces More Unrest After Scores Killed

William Davison
August 11, 2016 — 1:01 AM CEST Updated on August 11, 2016 — 4:34 PM CEST

Ethiopia, a key U.S. ally in the fight against Islamist militants in East Africa, faces the prospect of further unrest after a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations held by its two largest communities over the weekend that Amnesty International said left 97 people dead.

Security forces opened fire on protesters in the country’s Amhara region, with the worst bloodshed in the northern city of Bahir Dar where at least 30 people were killed in a day, the London-based rights group said Monday. Deaths were reported in at least nine towns in the Oromia region, where demonstrations by Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group began in November, according to Amnesty. Communications Minister Getachew Reda acknowledged there’d been fatalities, without being specific, and said the protests were illegal.

The unrest signals an increasing challenge to the government in Ethiopia, which the U.S. considers a bulwark in the Horn of Africa, a region troubled by failing states, and has used as a base for military drones. With Africa’s fastest-growing economy, Ethiopia is part of an internationally funded African force battling al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia and also has peacekeeping troops in South Sudan and Sudan.

“This is a precarious time for the ruling party,” Michael Woldemariam, an assistant professor of political science at Boston University, said, citing the size and spread of the protests and the violence that has accompanied them.

Farmer Evictions

Under the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, security forces have killed more than 400 people and arrested tens of thousands in Oromia since protests began in November over the eviction of farmers for infrastructure and investment, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in June. Oromo complaints include the killings and arrests of demonstrators and federal control of the region’s security.

The government is unlikely to change its strategy, according to Harry Verhoeven, who teaches African politics at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar. “Many inside the cabinet and security services fear reforms would encourage even more radical protests aiming to overthrow the regime,” he said by phone from Doha.

The U.S. Embassy in the country on Monday expressed concern over the crackdown, urging the government to respect the rights of citizens to gather peacefully.

‘Excessive Force’

Mulatu Gemechu, the deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, said that the government’s actions may worsen the violence. His organization said 86 Oromo protesters were killed by security forces on Aug. 6.
“If the government goes on like this and uses excessive force, to defend themselves people will probably take another action,” he said by phone from the capital, Addis Ababa. No deaths were reported in that city, although videos show police beating protesters with batons in the main square, Amnesty said.
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Under the EPRDF, a former rebel movement that took power in 1991 after overthrowing a military regime, Ethiopia is a federal state designed to give autonomy to ethnic groups. The Oromo and Amhara communities together make up more than half of Ethiopia’s 100 million population, Africa’s second-largest after Nigeria. Activists from both groups claim that ethnic Tigrayans, who comprise 6 percent, dominate an authoritarian government.

Government officials say that four regional parties jointly run a ruling coalition, which controls all 547 parliamentary seats along with allied groups, while cabinet positions are apportioned on population size. Ethiopia’s last major political crisis was in 2005 after an opposition coalition claimed victory in a disputed election and police shot dead almost 200 protesters in the capital.

Businesses Attacked

Tigrayans and their businesses were attacked on Friday and Saturday in Gondar city and people from that group were told to leave Amhara, said Berhe Hagos, a resident.
“They think if you’re from that ethnic group you benefit from the government,” he said. “People are being humiliated based on race.”

Protests spurred by claims from activists that Tigray state annexed Amhara territory over two decades ago are a threat to the federal system, according to Verhoeven. Wolkait district became part of Tigray when boundaries were drawn along ethno-linguistic lines for a 1994 constitution.

“It’s quite explosive as the perception risks being that of a Tigrayan elite abusing its power,” Verhoeven said. “Claiming the bankruptcy of ethnic federalism is potentially a banner under which many Ethiopians can unite.”

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Posted by on August 12, 2016. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Key U.S. Africa Ally Faces More Unrest After Scores Killed

  1. sam

    August 12, 2016 at 7:52 PM

    No country in the world chose ethnic federalism to be its governing doctrine with a legitimate reason in fact. The TPLF politicos who read a book or two about Stalin, however, believed they to be more enlightened than any politicians who came before them any where in the world. My statement might seem hyperbole, but it clearly defines the TPLF politicos who have wielded power. But any sane Ethiopian, who even did not read a newspaper about politics leave alone a book, knows the TPLF political strategy is a buried time bomb, waiting its time to explode. Many enlightened Ethiopians warned that TPLF was taking a risk politicians should like to not have. Now, after twenty-five years of ethnic politics, TPLF seems to have perceived the new oppressor by other ethnic groups. The TPLF politicos might downplay the significance of it putting the blame on Eritrea and the diaspora politicians. This self cheating could not help. Rightly or wrongly there are significant number of Ethiopians who believe that Tigryans have benefited more from ethnic federalism than any other. The former statement might be baseless. But when a government is structured based on ethnicity, the potential for one group to be singled out having the lion share of the country’s pie is more likely than not, especially when that group exclusively controls the military leadership and security. That begs the question if the TPLF politicians believe the twenty-five years exercise of ethnic federalism brought a perfect unity among ethnic groups in Ethiopia, why not they allow the Amharas and oromos and others share the military high rank and the security in proportion to their number? Because they exactly know the opposite is happening. Ethnic federalism made Ethiopians to be sensitized of ethnicity. To reverse the damage that the politics of ethnic federalism brought about to the country requires a real soul searching. That soul searching should include Ethiopians who have detested ethnic politics from the outset. As the TPLF ethnic politics is proved to be worthless, the demagogue of those who chose to single out the whole population of an ethnic group as a culprit deserves an outright condemnation.