Eyewitnesses report that Ethiopia’s Federal Police have stormed campuses across the Oromia regional state and have used excessive force against protesters the past few days.
The protesters reportedly oppose a proposed Masterplan for the Addis Ababa city.
The city has three different stakeholders: the residents of the city, the federal government, and the Oromia regional state, the home of the largest ethnic group, the Oromo.
The city serves as a capital city for both the regional state and the country. It is also Africa’s political and diplomatic capital, hosting the African Union and various UN agencies and other international organizations.
The proposed Masterplan to expand the city, which aims to double its size in the next 20 years, incorporates nearby towns, villages that are part of the Oromia regional state. The residents of those places are predominantly poor peasants.
The government argues the plan will help both the city and the surrounding areas grow and achieve economic progress, creating new job opportunities for the residents. But the plan’s opponents see it as an act of land grab that will leave the peasants landless and impoverished, only benefiting corrupt officials, foreign corporations and local moguls. They believe the plan will displace the poor farmers without fair compensations.
The Haramaya University, located in the eastern part of the country, has been the most affected protest site, according to the reports coming from Ethiopian social media.
Eyewitnesses at the University have reported that several students were brutally beaten up, and there were also reports of death, but the details have yet to be fully verified.
As the Ethiopian government restricts independent reporting and has complete control over the country’s media, it will be very difficult to get verifiable information from the protest sites. Currently, the main sources of information are social media outlets.
It should be noted that many young lives were injured and lost due to similar protests last year.
The government claims that it is working hard to bring all stakeholders together to resolve the Masterplan issues, and blames opposition groups, particularly those in diaspora, for exploiting the situation to incite violence in the country.
Opposition groups, however, deny the government’s accusation and criticize its failures to take responsibility for the Masterplan and other related political problems.
It is obvious that any issue concerning the city is very complex and requires cool-headed handling.
What have Ethiopian or foreign media outlets said about the protests?
Here are some takeaways:
For a detailed guide why Oromo students dominate the protests and what their core questions are, here is a perspective from OPride.com, an Oromo nationalist website based in diaspora. Though written in 2014, it is still relevant.
This opinion titled “Ethnic politics and the Addis Ababa masterplan” was posted last year on ECADForum.com and other similar websites that denounce ethnic nationalism. The writer, also diaspora based, opposes the exclusive nature of the protests and doubts the real intentions of the students. Though he reviles the ruling party, he believes the protesters are also a threat to his vision of Ethiopia. He thinks they have a hidden political agenda, more than just a genuine concern for the poor farmers. He argues separatist propaganda is driving their cause, questioning why they are only concerned about their “tribe” and “region,” while other Ethiopians face similar problems. His writing style and one-sided argument may be reactionary and offensive to many, however, it does echo the views of the majority of “anti ethnic nationalism” hardliners. The hardliners fail to fully understand and sympathize with the grievances of the protesters, who have legitimate concerns, despite the fact political forces may use them to push an agenda.
Here is a more nuanced analysis from Bloomberg that looks at the issue from a wide angle.
This final piece from Addis Standard presents four constitutional-legal arguments against the Masterplan.