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A rough patch for Ethiopia’s reform
Protestors gather in Ambo demanding to be part of a meeting held by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD).

A rough patch for Ethiopia’s reform

Last week’s turn of events in Ethiopia was probably a big sign of the problems surrounding the so-called political reform. Many still fear that the country is still on the brink of major ethnic and religion induced conflicts.   

The government has admitted that 78 individuals were killed in towns and villages across Oromia, Dire Dawa and Harar. These killings, since last year, are not new for Ethiopia and Ethiopians. In fact, the nature of the killings has become more complex and it is no longer people vs government security forces; rather, it has also become civilians vs civilians divided along ethnic, religious or political lines.

The government has recently announced that more than 2,000 people were killed since last year. Moreover, millions were internally displaced from their homes.

The latest protests against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) the first opposing the PM ever since he came to power back in April 2018. Ironically, the protests were largely demonstrated in Oromia, a region which helped Abiy and co assume office.

October 23’s incident began following activist, media director, and an influential political figure, Jawar Mohammed’s social media post around midnight, on Tuesday. In his post, Jawar said that his house was surrounded by police officers and that they tried to withdraw his security guards from their posts. His VIP security detail was assigned to him by the government once he arrived from the US.

This post triggered his followers to rush to his house in Addis, and offered the media mogul their protection, whereas, in most parts of Oromia, public protests turned violent where many were killed; properties were destroyed. In Oromia alone, towns like Ambo, which was a breeding ground for public protests against the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s administration back in 2015/16 was hit by similar protests. Moreover, similar protests were seen in Jimma, Shashamene, Dodola, Bale Robe, Adama as well as Harar.

To the dismay of Abiy and his party, the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), the public expressed its opposition against the government and accused the government that “they tried to kill Jawar.”

Panicked by the protest in their political constituency, Abiy went to town in Oromia just days after the tragic incident though he was welcomed by an angry public. Case in point: Abiy along with his comrades went to Ambo to hold a public consultation.

However, this did not turn out in his favor where the youth and residents of Ambo protested outside a hotel where Abiy was holding a meeting with elders and cadres from Ambo and the surrounding towns.

Jawar Mohammed addressing protestors gathered around his house
Jawar Mohammed addressing protestors gathered around his house


A group of youths first demanded to be part of the meeting and were denied access. That was when they began to chant anti-government slogans.

Thousands of protestors chanted; “Down, down Abiy and “we stand with Jawar”. According to sources, following the meeting, Abiy and his entourage used a door at the back of the hotel where the meeting was taking place and was airlifted.

The tragic incident also raised public outcry from another segment where many criticize the government for failing to protect citizens for such religious and ethnic induced attacks. The Ethiopia Orthodox Church has already raised its voice where it says its followers were targeted.  

In an opinion piece entitled, “Is Ethiopia a Rwandan genocide in the making?” and published on TRT World an author by the name, Teshome M. Borago, who was a member of the former Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), argues that there is a high chance that the country might see a genocide like the one in Rwanda.

“It will get worse as more ethnic elites rise up and become impatient with the harsh reality that ethnic-federalism on paper is unrealistic and impractical on the ground, claims the author. Just like Rwanda's tribal warlords, the Ethiopian "activists" and intellectuals representing various tribes have stirred up the country like never before.”

Contrary to this, scholars like René Lefort, seems optimistic about the future also hopeful about Abiy’s approach.

In a recent article from him which was published on Ethiopia Insight he said, the future is bright.

“Beyond the recent tragic events, perhaps the first signs of a light at the end of tunnel are emerging – weakly flickering in the gloom,” Lefort said.

“A strong push by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to create a new party from the ashes of the ruling coalition could set in motion a process to exit the current crisis. Yet, it is highly unlikely to be a peaceful one,” he said.

In this regard, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) said it is “gravely concerned.”

“Those protests have spiraled into clashes amongst civilians and between civilians and security forces and they are increasingly being fanned by ethnic and religious under-currents, with groups being mobilized to attack minority ethnic communities and churches,” said in its statement. “The Commission wishes to remind the Government that it is obligated to take measures for restoring peace and reassuring the country. It should ensure that its security forces take appropriate measures to protect civilians and that they do not use indiscriminate force in this regard. It should investigate arising human rights violations, prosecute perpetrators and provide effective remedies to victims.”

Contrary to this, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which was being criticized for being silent or passive about the recent conflicts across Ethiopia, issued a statement which critiques said the stand from the commission was not bold enough.

“Those who were involved in the violence should be brought before law and held accountable,” the commission said.

 Most of them were killed in a brutal way; beaten by stick and sharp materials, and stoned.

The commission also calls upon everyone “to cooperate to any prospective criminal investigation” and also asks to wait for the results.”

"What happened on October 2019 puts the basic human rights of the people in a grave danger” added the commission.

In its statement the commission didn’t mention if it is planning to launch its independent inquiry.

In his exclusive interview with The Reporter, Daniel Bekele, chief of the Commission and also a former researcher at Human Rights Watch said his Commission is working to address complaints regarding human rights violations.

Responding to why his commission was silent about similar unrests in Benishangul Gumuz, Gedeo to Guji and Qimant, Daniel argues that “It has only been just a few months since the Commission got a new Chief Commissioner and started a process of reform and restructuring.”

“The reform is key to make the institution fit for purpose. Although the Commission is not yet in its full capacity, there is good effort underway, among other things, to handle wide range of complaints, monitoring of prisons and detainees, and responding to emergency human rights situations,” he said.

Yet, a head of the upcoming election many are saying that these conflicts and violence might be an indication for bigger and full-scale causality in Ethiopia.

“We hope the Commission will make progress on the reform and restricting work sooner than later and be ready to design and implement a proper human rights strategy around the elections to contribute towards and peaceful and credible electoral process and ensuring the respect and protection of all human rights before, during and in the post-election period,” Daniel told The Reporter.