Unrest between the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and the Ethiopian government over the last year has precipitated into anti-government protests within the last few weeks, causing the government to declare a state of emergency on Oct. 9, expected to last for six months. The Oromo and Amhara feel that they are being marginalized by a Tigrayan elite who rule the country, claiming a lack of economic and political, and wishing to regain land ownership rights. Paradoxically, Ethiopia has made strides economically by encouraging foreign investment, which has led to dissent toward the government by the Oromo and Amhara, who themselves feel their land is being given to other countries. Plans to take farmland from the Oromo to expand the capital city of Addis Ababa due to economic develop had already begun to take shape. The government has since halted these operations but weariness over this issue persists. Accusations that the government has acted like an authoritarian regime, granting little in the way of freedom of speech or association have also spread both within and outside of Ethiopia.
Government opposition reached its zenith in October when 52 people died at a protest during the Oromo’s holy festival, Ireechaa. Activists felt the government was influenced to inaccurately report what happened and that in fact, over 500 people died at the hands of heavily armed security forces that fired guns and tear gas into crowds. However, the government refutes this account, stating the unrest was caused by “troublemakers” and deny firing at protesters.
After sustained losses of life and property, the government decided to declare a state of emergency and to enforce stringent measures, including shutting down mobile Internet services and blocking social media in parts of Oromia, the largest of Ethiopia’s nine regional states. This is the first state of emergency in 25 years. Diplomats have also not been allowed to travel more than 25 miles outside of the city of Addis Ababa without official permission. Citizens are banned people from having contact with those individuals and groups labeled as terrorists as well as watching certain media outlets such as Oromia Media Network and Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio. In addition, Ethiopians are also not allowed to post links from organizations that are deemed terrorist on social media platforms and if they do, it will be declared a “criminal activity.” People are forbidden from watching the television channels Esat and OMN that are based outside the country and have been labeled as being affiliated with terrorist organizations by the government.
There is a ban on organizing demonstrations at schools and universities because university campuses were the location of many of the first anti-government protests. No visible signs of dissent or political messages may be communicated to the public including the crossing of the arms above the head (a prolific symbol of solidarity among protestors) without permission. Additionally, a curfew was established that does not allow citizens between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. to visit a factory, farm or governmental institution, because government buildings and private businesses have been targeted by protesters. Furthermore, citizens are not allowed to carry a gun within 25 kilometers of the country’s main roads out of Addis Ababa and within 50 kilometers of the country’s borders.
Since declaring the state of emergency, the Ethiopian government has been able to arrest people without warrant. Under these conditions, over 1,600 people have been detained as of Oct. 20.
The Oromo and Ethiopian government have clashed for many years as the government has sought to oppress the Oromo. Many still remember how the Oromo language was not allowed in public until two decades ago. The political and economic marginalization of these ethnic groups has finally reached its head and the future of Ethiopia looks uncertain. Moving forward, foreign investment and governmental legitimacy are in jeopardy. As it currently stands, the international community can only wait to see how effective the state of emergency will be in reestablishing order.