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East Oromia in turmoil

Many who come out to the streets and later clashed with Ethiopian Security Forces are reportedly among victims in the latest unrest in the Oromia Region State of Ethiopia, according to health professionals working in various facilities around the eastern part of Ethiopia, who spoke to The Reporter on condition of anonymity, on Thursday.

The health facilities were overwhelmed with patients with various injuries including gunshot wounds, most from the City of Awoday, as they also faces demands for sudden services needed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing number of patients, the same health professionals working for health institutions in the area, say in a phone interview.

Known for its gigantic khat export market that very few benefit from, little infrastructures, high youth unemployment and poverty, the town has been prone to unrest from young people who feel left out of the khat transaction that has meant little on the ground.

Earlier this month, hundreds of youth blocked the road to block the transportation of Khat, which is a source of forex for the government, and demanded to be heard, which instigated the arrival of hundreds of security personnel on the scene and to take over the situation.

The rise of the conflict, the tension begun after the execution-style killing of artist Hacalu Hundessa last month and has continued since. The days after the incident, there have been killings; properties damaged and ethnic strife in many neighbors across the nation.

The 36-year old was credited for his iconic music that called for a popular uprising against what many then saw as a totalitarian rule that excluded them from a new Ethiopia, which was changing from an aid dependent society to one that is the fastest growing economies in the region under the previous rule.

In the latest protest, many citizens blamed the government for not protecting civilians, properties and investments that perhaps forced the government to take strong measures, far from the realities of the past two years, following the ascent to power of Ethiopia’s lone Nobel Peace Laureate, Abiy Ahmed (PhD), who promised a new era of peaceful transition to democracy, co-existence and respect of human rights.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission which is run by one-time prisoner-of-conscious, Daniel Bekele (PhD), advised authorities to stop what is happening in the region, now a battleground that is mostly unsafe to travel, to invest in, in the midst of unemployment, land-grabbing and poverty.

"Authorities should ensure that the right to peaceful protest can be exercised, and law enforcement measures should not exceed proportion, '' said Aaron Maasho, its Spokesperson said in a statement to deaf ears.

To the government of Abiy, there has been much promise at the start of his term to accommodate the youth of Oromo, but it has taken a downturn in the last year.

The election that was to have been a referendum to his rule has been postponed to an unforeseen future there has been little economical progress within the region, except few foreign investment that created vital employment.

According to the human rights authority, cities affected are in Asasa, Asebot, Awoday, Bale Robe, Chiro, Dengego, Dire Teyara, Dodola, Gelemso, Ginir, Haromaya, Hirna and Shashemene.

In Shashemene, there has also been various damages done to the city and many lives have also been lost.

When The Reporter visited the now ghost-like city of history which attracted tourists, among others hosted once rich Rastafarian communities there was a large presence of security forces. This came about after killings that much of the population blamed on youth, most whom came from outside the city, orchestrated and well-funded and the security force has since started to use force, including killing, harassing and jailing hundreds of young people with no due process, many have alleged.

The Oromia Regional State Communication Bureau on its part is adamant about the measures taken in different parts of the region, where it said organized and targeted attacks on public and civilian facilities and lives were rampant in the past few days.

Making specific reference to the an organized campaign called “12/12/12,” a date taken from Ethiopian calendar, where Oromia-wide protest was called by social media activists, the Bureau maintained that the scale of movement in different part of the region were far more than a protest, and targeted various officials of region and security services and property.

Apart from that, the statement claimed that “The movement was a deliberate attempt to instigate ethnic and religious strife in Oromia and pressure the state to release political figures under custody; as such members of security forces took the necessary measures under the framework of accountability to foil these plots.” The Bureau also insisted that the assessment of EHRC and subsequent statement was not in tune with the facts on the ground and that it rejected the conclusion that disproportionate force was used to quell the protest in the region.

Daniel Bekele, Chief Commissioner of EHRC, on his part, went on national broadcaster end of the week to set the recode straight. He said, the commission since it has not yet concluded its investigation has not yet released any numbers and claims that it has is false. Furthermore, he said the statement issued reflected only the concern that the commission has with the measures taken in various parts of Oromia and mainly advised for restraint on part of the authorities, regardless of the cause or the identity of the protestors.