(TCDP) — Since April 25th, thousands of high school and university students across Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia, have turned out in peaceful protest against a government land grab that stands to displace millions of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands.
Even though the country’s constitution theoretically allows for peaceful demonstrations, the student protesters, along with local populations in many cities and towns, have faced a ruthless crackdown from Ethiopian Special Forces, known as the Agazi Commandos. These forces have used excessive violence by indiscriminately shooting into crowds in an attempt to quash the protests. Children as young as eleven years old have been killed, according to statement issued by Amnesty International on May 13, and reports of fatal injuries, torture, imprisonment, disappearances and killings have been coming out of Ethiopia since then.
The current Ethiopian government has evicted millions of indigenous peoples from their homelands at gunpoint under the pretext of “development” since it took power. In and around the capital of the country, Addis Ababa, over 200,000 of these residents have been removed from their lands without proper compensation since 2005. The newly-announced Integrated Development Master Plan for Addis Ababa (known simply as the “Master Plan”) seeks to legalize past land grab activities and to consolidate larger areas of territory displacing native peoples from their land. The Master Plan will expand the territory of Addis Ababa city administration to about 25 times its current size and is expected to forcefully remove another four to five million Oromo peasants from their lands within the coming years.
The current crisis cannot be understood apart from the ethnic dynamics at play in the policy of the Master Plan and in its response. In the Ethiopian political, social and economic system, ethnicity is probably the most important factor which influences policy preferences and choices of different sectors or communities in Ethiopia. Over eighty ethno-linguistic groups exist in Ethiopia. This ethno-linguistic diversity was not always recognized. The elites from Tigray and the Amhara dominated the politics of the country.
For a long time, the Ethiopian state policy on ethnic diversity was an involuntary violent incorporation of territories and involuntary assimilation of peoples into the dominant Abyssinian cultural core often called by some historians the Geez civilization. In response to the challenge of diversity (raised in the 1960s as the ‘Question of Nationalities’), ethnicity gained political salience in the process of restructuring the state since the current regime came into power in 1991. Consequently, a formal system of Ethnic Federalism, otherwise referred to as multinational federalism, has been instituted and written into the law as the centerpiece of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Oromia, where most Oromos reside, is legally recognized as one of the nine constituent states of the Ethiopian Federation.
Read the full article at: http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2014/06/06/community-voices-oromoprotests-perspective
*Ayantu Tibeso is a researcher and communications consultant based in North America. She can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @diasporiclife