The tragedy that left Adama in shock
"I don't know if I can ever stand on my own feet,” Wegayehu Bizuwork cried as he attempted to make sense of the sudden loss of his youngest son in Adama. “I should be anticipating his high school graduation, not his funeral,” he explained as family members and friends streamed past him weeping and screaming the name of the 16-year-old inside his residence.
His son, Fitsum Wegayehu was due to celebrate his 17th birthday this week was among dozens of people killed randomly with a knife and was left to bleed to death.
When the violence began, the father had called to check on his children, from Shirka, Arsi Zone, where he works as a government employee but was told all was fine. However, he was called back in mere minutes and was asked to rush back to Adama immediately. By then, his son, a grade 10 student in a nearby high school had died.
"A father’s instinct, I called to check on my kids and was told they were all ok. Approximately 20 minutes later, I was called back, to be told my son was knifed to death,” he said. “He should have been the one burying me. Not me burying him,” the father of one of the youngest victims told The Reporter.
Adama, or Adaamii in Oromiffa meaning “cactus-like tree” is a city of almost 400,000 found 100km east of the capital has been known as a transportation city of trucks heading to Djibouti. Its diverse population has grown considerably and was once named Nazareth, during the era of Emperor Haile Selassie I, before it reverted to its current name when it was named the capital of Oromia in 2000.
In the last decade, the city has had noted civil unrests, causing loss of lives, properties damaged, including factories that is responsible for hiring hundreds of people and these happenings have added the burden of accommodating a society overwhelmed hundreds of thousands of people on limited resources as it faces large unemployment, displacement of people from other regions who have suddenly shown up in the city with little infrastructures.
At Selam Mini Mall, near the old Adama Bus Station, was where most of the conflicts took place last week.
In total, 28 uniform like stores perished, leaving the once proud businesspeople to depend on the generosity of strangers to survive and make the most of their destroyed livelihoods.
'We were almost stoned to death on Wednesday night and forced to abandon our stores. When we returned, we found our stores and goods burned and turned into ashes,” a shopkeeper cried. “We support a whole family and our employees depended on us. Our lifetime effort has been lost," he continued as friends attempted to raise funds for him and others to rebuild.
His other colleague was also unlucky.
“I used to wake up each morning, anticipating good business, supporting a family and sending my children to school but I now stand on a shaky ground. All the goods that were inside my stores were on borrowed resources, I have a huge loan to pay, now my entire store, belongings in ruins, I can barely feed my children. I have neither insurance, nor money in the bank. At 51 years old, I am back to where I was at 16, with no money and dependent on others. Except now, I have a family I need to support,” he wept.
“I feel less of a person, a man and I have suddenly come to a dead-end,” he added.
The riot began the night the controversial activist and executive director of the Oromo Media Network (OMN), Jawar Mohammed, accused the government of making him vulnerable by withdrawing his security details. According to eyewitnesses The Reporter spoke to, there were many battles wedged between local residents and those who came from nearby towns.
Kule Omar lost her 42-year-old husband in the midst of the conflict. He had come to Adama, from Detroit, Michigan in the United States to see her and his children. With him, she had two children. In total, he was a father of 10 with others.
She still has not been told how he died, but somehow located him at a local hospital as he was near death.
“Up until now, I have not been told or made aware how he may have died. I just found him in a vegetative state, hurt, beaten up and on his deathbed. I am devastated and I am not sure how I could go on with life without him,” she told The Reporter.
The Oromo protestors have had more specific demands, such as greater Oromo control of Addis Ababa, the autonomous federal capital that is surrounded by Oromia region, and for the Oromo language to be given the same status as Amharic, which is the working language of the federal government.
William Davison, Senior Analyst for Ethiopia at the International Crises Group is convinced what occurred shows the kind of influence Jawar has among young people.
“The chaos stems from unmet Oromo demands and Ethiopia’s broader political challenges,” he said. “Jawar and his followers want a strong, autonomous Oromia, and, at the minimum, a fair share of power in the federal government. He made a defiant statement against the government, acted as a hub to disseminate reports from the ground to his millions of followers and issues instruction to hold strikes or protests.”
Once credited with being the face of the Oromo Protest using social media to advocate for political change from his base in the United States, the rumored American citizen has become a much larger than life personality and local influencer. This comes, as he is reportedly thinking of running in the upcoming national election in 2020. This is in a nation that does not allow or recognize dual citizenship.
Back at Selam Mini Mall, the scene was devastating to say the least and the impact of the violence was most visible.
"I always had something to look forward to, but my hope has become a nightmare,” a shopkeeper declared as he surveyed his damaged store and made-in-China products that netted him enough to support his wife and children, giving them opportunities he was had not experienced growing up poor and assumed the fate of his children would be different that his.
Nearby, his other friend, who sold khat, was killed when he got himself in the midst of a fight to help save his rented store from ruins.
He had tried to prevent his friend’s bajaj taxi from being torched and attempted to plead with rioters intent on destroying lies but instead they killed him. “I feel lucky to be alive, but look at me, I have nothing. I am just a dead-man walking, with much responsibility yet little means. I now wonder who the lucky one is, my dead friend or myself", he wondered.