The Ethiopian and Djibouti protests; people don’t live on bread and wine alone, they need sweet lies too

Oromo students from the Addis Ababa Science and Technology University stage a silent protest in the dining room recently. (Photo/SMNE).30 DEC 2015

Silly for Djibouti to stop a sheikh using 100 square metres of tree shade, then allow Americans a base of 360,000 square metres a stone’s throw away

IN recent years, it seemed everything the Horn of Africa nations of Ethiopia and Djibouti touched turned into gold of some sort.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second largest country by population after Nigeria, and has notched up Africa’s fastest growth – nearly 10%, according to the International Monetary Fund.

It’s also a regional military power, and has troops keeping the peace in neighbour Somalia as part of the African Union force AMISOM.

Djibouti is one of Africa’s smallest countries, with a population of about 880,000 people. But few countries in Africa are as ambitious or punch above their weight as Djibouti.

Thanks to having some of the continent’s most competent governments, and the advantage of the authoritarian ruling parties having near total monopoly of power and thus less distracted by the noise of opponents or the constraints of liberal democracy, they are among Africa’s infrastructure kings.

In June 2015, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh launched a 752-kilometre (481-mile) railway linking their two capitals, Addis Ababa and Djibouti City, respectively.

The new line is partly the resurrection of an old one, built in 1917 by the Franco-Ethiopian Railway Company, but decades later it fell into disrepair and only worked erratically.

The two countries envision the railway as a step towards a trans-continental line reaching all the way to the Gulf of Guinea, in West Africa.

In addition, Djibouti is building six new ports and two airports in the hope of becoming the commercial hub of East Africa.

For its part, in September 2015, Ethiopia inaugurated the country’s first, and sub-Saharan Africa’s second, first light rail system.

With a price tag of  $474 million, it can carry 15,000 people per hour in one direction, a big relief for Addis Ababa’s population of nearly 4 million.

No confetti for the chiefs

When a government in a poor country logs in these kinds of record, one would expect citizens would be lining to spray their leaders with confetti.

However for Ethiopia and Djibouti, the roots of growing internal tension lies exactly in these successes – especially the method in which they have been achieved.

The protests in Djibouti in 2011 ultimately ended without regime change. Now the government is tempting fate with a heavy hand. (Photo/AFP).

In November and early December, Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth clashed with hard political reality pitting the government against members of its largest ethnic group, the Oromo, more than 80 of whom have allegedly been killed in recent protests.

Demonstrations by Oromo residents against plans for the expansion of Addis Ababa have rocked at least 30 towns and prompted more than 500 arrests since Nov. 19, said the Oromo Federalist Congress, an opposition group.

The rare unrest highlights the conflict between Ethiopia’s authoritarian development model and its system of federalism, which guarantees the rights of more than 80 ethnicities.

Planners estimate the population of Addis Ababa and five Oromo satellite towns will more than double to 8.1 million by 2040 and require developing an area 20 times the current boundaries of the capital.

Addis Ababa was an Oromo village before it was conquered by Emperor Menelik II in 1886, who then imposed the Amharic language.

Ever since, the city has expanded to displace Oromo farmers, sometimes violently. And the Oromo complain they are not adequately compensated.

One of biggest challenges

The confrontation with the Oromo is one of the biggest challenges the ruling coalition has faced since it came to power after unseating a military regime 25 years ago, according to Milkessa Midega, a doctoral candidate at the Center for Federal Studies at Addis Ababa University.

“The party looks to have neither developed the society—we are begging food aid now—nor democratised the state- society relationships in Ethiopia,” he said.

In neighbouring Djibouti, seven people were killed last week after what on the surface looked to be a “small” incident. The deaths came after police tried to move worshipers gathered to mark a religious holiday to a new site.

It should be remembered that Djibouti’s $1.5 billion economy is home to the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa at Camp Lemonnier, along with French and Japanese military deployments. The Chinese are also in negotiation to set up a military there.

Citizens of small countries tend to feel a greater sense of pride when they are circling the same orbit with big world powers. Not so everyone in Djibouti, it would seem.

In this regard, the clashes in Ethiopia and Djibouti are both over space – land, and political space.

Political space is constricted in both countries. In Ethiopia’s election in May, there were 546 parliamentary seats up for grabs, and the ruling

Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) held all but one.

A more liberal-minded ruling party would have allowed the opposition to win a few seats, if only to keep up the cynical lie of a democracy. However, the EPRDF muscled the opposition even out of that sole seat, and took everything in a campaign that  was often punctuated by violence against rivals.

In Oromia, Ethiopia’s federalist logic has run into its limits. It grants ethnic and regional rights, but strips them away when they clash with the agenda of a powerful centre.

Manufacturing consensus, illusion of consent

The problem is not so much that Ethiopia is not a free-wheeling democracy. Rather that the EPRDF seems not to care about manufacturing consensus, or the illusion of consent.

In Kenya, a noisy polity where power changes hands regularly at elections, the ruling Jubilee coalition has been able to push ahead with a controversial standard gauge railway project, that critics say is an overpriced white elephant, partly precisely because it’s able to work the democratic tools in its hands.

Opposition allows people to vent. When people can’t vent, they take their anger to the streets or it ferments and will blow up with fury in the years ahead.

But also at another level, opposition is useful for the government of the day as a mechanism of co-option. At the minimum, it tells the government who the real leaders of the opposition are, enabling them to buy them with favours or even the prestige of being taken seriously enough to be talked to, even if in the end the original plan proceeds unaltered.

No, a lie won’t get you to heaven, but a white lie has been known to smooth paths in politics.

In Djibouti’s case, it seems it is beginning to deal with a problem that all countries that allow foreign nations to have military bases on their soil face – there always get nationalist or anti-militarisation opposition.

Ordinarily, preventing a sheikh from holding prayers under a tree would not spark violent protests. But it becomes an emotional and politically-charged matter if a sheikh can’t be allowed to use 100 square metres of shade, when the Americans have 360,000 square metres a stone’s throw away in Camp Lemonnier.

The Ethiopian and Djiboutian people, clearly are happy to get bread and wine, but then they now also need a table on which to sit and eat and drink it. Or soothing words in their ears.

-Additional reporting by Bloomberg and AFP.

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Posted by on December 30, 2015. 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 The Ethiopian and Djibouti protests; people don’t live on bread and wine alone, they need sweet lies too

  1. Melaku Kebede Biru

    January 3, 2016 at 6:59 PM

    The ongoing popular revolution should continue. This time is a decisive moment for the Oromo. More than any time in our history, the Oromo people have demonstrated their strong desire for freedom and rose up from every corner to do away with tyranny and dictatorship and bring about freedom, democracy and human dignity. We call on all Oromo nationals in and outside of Oromia to strengthen their Revolution to Culminate Slavery until the oppressive regime is completely uprooted.
    The Oromo people should put economic sanction on the regime. The TPLF led Ethiopian regime has declared war and is committing indiscriminate massacre on the Oromo. We should put economic sanctions on the regime: not paying taxes, isolating and socially punishing those who pay taxes and cooperate with the regime, boycott buying products affiliated with the regime, refusing selling of our products and services of the regime and its affiliates, and boycotting all meetings of all levels called by the regime.
    All roads in Oromia should be closed persistently and continually. Hereafter, the forces of the regime must be stopped from moving in and out of Oromia as they like and terrorize our people and exploit our resources. Therefore, we call on all Oromo nationals, young, old, men, women to close roads continuously and deny all vehicles of the regime access and movement in Oromia
    All attempts of “negotiation” must be rejected. One of the tactics of the regime to put down the inflaming revolution is to send surrogates and puppets of the regime called OPDO and tell our people a promise they cannot keep and promises that are beyond their power and send elders to several locations in an attempt to pacify the protest while at the same time the regime is dispatching its armed forces and continue arresting, beating, torturing and killing people. The regime uses “negotiation” to disperse the movement and then arrest leaders of the protests and all that are involved in the movement by making house-to-house search once everything is settled. Therefore, the Oromo people should not be deceived and listen to any call for negotiation until all forces of the regime get out of Oromia and the Oromo people erect their own administration.
    Oromo and non-Oromo intellectuals and lawyers should work on bringing this regime to International Criminal Court (ICC). All human rights activists, lawyers and intellectuals should work together and bring the current Ethiopian regime for the crimes of mass and unlawful killings, torturing, abduction and disappearances perpetrated on the Oromo and other peoples of Ethiopia to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
    TPLF/EPRDF/OPDO government must go. Hereafter, the Oromo people cannot and should not live under the TPLF/EPRDF/OPDO government. This government has massacred the Oromo people; it has Oromo blood on its hands. TPLF/EPRDF regime is a criminal and bloody regime. We call on all Oromo people to refuse living with a regime that is the killers of their children.
    We call on all Independent Oromo Political groups to form alliance and be united. This is a critical and decisive time for the Oromo people. In order to foil the divide and rule sabotage of the regime and maintain the unity of our people towards the common enemy, it is essential that all independent political groups narrow their differences and form alliance to support the popular revolution. We call on all Oromo political groups who are not working for the enemy to stand in unison, form alliance and work shoulder to shoulder and hamper the divisive objective of the enemy.
    We call on all Oromo nationals who are in the armed forces not to disarm their weapon and also to protect their people. We have seen that the regime is engaged in disarming the Oromian police and other Oromos working in federal police, the army, militia, and dispatch them barehanded while non-Oromos are carrying lethal weapons. You should ask why. Why is that you are denied to carry weapon in your own people and in your own country and aliens who have no mercy for your people are allowed to carry weapon and allowed to shoot and kill? This is what slavery is all about. Not only the Oromo people, but you are enslaved as well. When the Oromo people get their freedom, you will have your freedom. Do not disarm yourself. Do not shoot your people. Do not allow aliens shoot and kill your people. This time will pass and that time will come when you will be praised or blamed and responsible for your actions. Who are billionaires in Ethiopia? There are hundreds of Tigreans origins who became millionaires overnight. Here in California , USA we are organized to provide any financial and moral support to make sure the East African WAR LORDS applying for US citizenship in mass currently do not escape justice.