Kumlachew Getu Salilew
In the fateful day of 20th September 2016, Taddese was in a hurry riding a bicycle to make it home early and see his girlfriend. But the Ethiopian government security forces known as Agazi soldiers gunned him down. The date was the 4th year commemoration of the previous strongman of the country, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. On the same date, there was a protest in the historical city of Gonder in Ethiopia, where Taddese used to reside and make a living through photography. The people in the city were wearing a white cloth as a sign of protest to the recent killings and crackdown on demonstrations by the government, mainly in Amhara and Oromia regional state. Taddese, completely unaware of the protest and out of sheer coincidence, as the writer of this article learned from an exchange with his girlfriend and told by other insiders, had put up a cultural white dress perceived by the infamous government security forces as a proof that he is also taking part in the protest. And, this very act constituted the ultimate crime he committed to get shot in the streets on a broad day light.
Since August 2014, Ethiopia is swept by an unprecedented political crisis since the coming to power of the current regime in 1991. The range of public discontent is wide and complex but mainly related to the marginalization and persecution of the two dominant ethnic groups – Amhara and Oromo, which combined constituted more than 70% of the country’s population- by the authoritarian Tigrie minority regime.
The stifling of civil liberties and rights by a draconian proclamation such as the 2009 anti-terrorism, as well as the civil society law that criminalizes any form of political engagement by anyone other than the ruling political junta, are further fueling the public grievance. Any form of civil society space and free media including social media in the country has been completely shut down by the ethnic coalition governing party, especially in the period ensued 2015 national election in which it claims 100% victory. This frustration of the Amhara and Oromo youth, who are now protesting, is basically linked to the absolute dominance of the minority ethnic group Tigre in the socio economic, political, and military and security arenas.
However, the immediate cause for the series of public demonstrations and resistance differ. While a master plan that aims to advance the capital city at the expense of poor farmers triggered the Oromo protest, the Amhara resistance finds its impetus in the forceful annexation of the wolekayit Amhara land by the Tigray ethnic and an imposition of Tigrayan identity. Thus, the potent identity politics is behind the current widespread movements that heighten the danger Ethiopia is currently facing, unless resolved with utmost care and civility.
The government has maimed thousands of peaceful protestors and jailed hundreds of thousands and is still employing brutal forces against its own citizens with legitimate public grievances, according to latest reports by Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch. The government is using heinous mechanisms to disparage the engulfing dissent. It is killing hundreds within a day. It is jailing youth in dangerous concentration camps, making them vulnerable to yellow fever and epidemic diseases. It is deliberately instigating fire accidents in prisons, such as the infamous Kilinto, and infiltrating arsonists in markets to kill the protest leaders and the spirit of the protest. The culprit behind the recent bombing of civil institutions in the capital of the country is also the same irresponsible junta in power, while blaming the militant terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
In short, instead of finding a peaceful and long lasting solution to the legitimate public demands, the government is perpetrating acts that amount to crimes against humanity and advancing state terrorism.
In the next articles in this series, I will try to outline the role and response of western governments, mainly European Union and United States, which are the main partners of the Ethiopian government, and the international mainstream media to the political crisis in Ethiopia and the general expectation of the Ethiopian public from the free world.
Kumlachew Getu Salilew
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.