A WORRYING WAVE OF ARREST IN OROMIA-COVID 19 PANDEMIC AS A TOOL FOR POLITICAL SUPPRESSION IN ETHIOPIA
By Worku Burayu (Ph.D.), April 24, 2020
Summary: The PM Abiy’s government is using COVID-19 responses as a tool for political repression and authoritarian purposes as it has been evidenced by a worrying wave of arrest in the entire Oromia. Abiy’s Prosperity Party top officials including the President of Oromia Regional State held large gatherings in Oromia even without proper precautions despite banning its competitors from doing so. Such actions are creating doubts on the country’s willingness and genuinely to fight against the pandemic. On the top of large gatherings for political purposes, the government already started misusing the declaration and election delay to clutch more power and strengthen tactical advantages ahead of the uncertain future election. Rather than losing the mass arrest, Ethiopian authorities intensify the crackdown on dissenting political views ahead of the uncertain general elections. To see the resumption of mass custodies of opposition activists and supporters is a worrying signal in Ethiopia. These extensive arrests not only open conducive environment for the dissemination of viruses at alarming rate but also risk the rights to freedom of expression and association. Government increases risk of COVID-19 infection in a country, country already devastated by unemployment rises, economic crises and security issues.
While the attention of the people across the board in the world, the UN, AU, and international human rights are towards the overwhelming task of stopping the virus from spreading, Abiy’s administration is very busy to the mass arrest of its citizens in Oromia and use the assistance for political proposes. Ethiopia has delayed elections scheduled for August and declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While the federal and regional governments announced measures such as suspending large gatherings and inter-city public transport, Oromia’s top authorities including the president of Oromia Reginal State (ORS) have not refrained the mass gathering and mass arrest of opposition supporters in a very crowded place. There is a credible fear how Abiy, as a prime minister, manage the issue of pandemic COVID-19 and the country’s hesitating move to multi-party democracy. Even before the declaration of a state of emergency, security forces refused permission to Abiy’s opponents to hold a small gathering in any place let alone with an excuse to COVID-19. Abiy’s government see the pandemic and delay of election as a blessing in disguise: In one hand he wanted to get huge amounts of aids from China, Russia and the Western in general, because of the pandemic and divert the cash assistance for political benefits. On the other hand, he wanted to use the situations to suppress the activities of opposition parties and activists in the country while his party is practicing political propaganda and activities at worrying condition.
Amnesty International released a report that has confirmed at least 75 supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) were arrested from various places in different parts of Oromia. After this report, the authorities intensified the crack down on opposition supporters with mass arrests in Hararghe, Borana, Wollo and all Zones of Shoa on the top of zones already under the command post such as Guji, Wollega Jimma, and Illuabbabora Zones of Oromia accused of being supporting ABO Shane Organization. Among those arrested were farmers, students, youngsters, prominent political leaders, activists, and supporters of OLF who were previously spent more than five years in prison. The recent arrests accused of being a member or supporter of the Oromo Liberation Front are the latest in a long line of mass arrests of opposition leaders, activists, and supporters. The noticeable conflict between the Oromo Liberation Front and Abiy Ahmed’s administration started soon after OLF officials returned home and welcomed by unprecedented millions of Oromian’s in the center of Oromia, Finfinne-Shagar. Abiy administration was frustrated when he saw more than six million Oromos welcoming their vanguard organization, the OLF and immediately started campaigning against the members of OLF by labeling and calling them “ABO Shane” (the arbitrary nickname coined to describe Oromo Liberation Front /Oromo Liberation Army by anti OLF groups). But, there is no organization called by the name ABO Shane or Shane. None of them (OLF or OLA), or no organization exist by the name ABO Shane. It is a brand to justify the campaign led to the arrest and abuse of many Oromo all over Ethiopia. As Derg and Woyyanne used to call OLF narrowest, the extension of Woyyanne, Abiy government call Oromo nationalist ABO Shane. They create names to use for the purpose of hunting opposition groups. In short, it is a name given to destroy Oromo nationalist. There is OLF. There is OLA, the Oromo Army that Abiy and his crew scare to call. There is no organization named as ABO Shane. Full stop. In response, Oromo, particularly Oromo intellectuals and activists started to discredit Abiy’s rule and are now calling the prime minister, “Colonel Abiy,” dropping the often-used title of “Dr. Abiy” from his name.
Conclusion: The culture of the people in Ethiopia is known for living together in crowded inter-generational households that often lack running water and others such as wealth, comfort, material goods, and necessities. On top of that, allowing mass arrest to continue unrestrained could lead to millions of infections within months with serious cases quickly overwhelming an already weak health system that has only a few numbers of ventilators and fewer intensive care units. The COVID-19 pandemic has already taken upsurge in the country and the worst may be yet to come. Abiy’s mismanagement this situation coupled with the low standard of living and the bad working conditions in Ethiopia are highly conducive for transmission of diseases including Novel COVID-19 that cause vast public health risks. Before such dangerous situation lead Ethiopia to social and economic destabilization, it is the responsibility of Abiy to rethink how to stop a worrying wave of arrest in Oromia and stop using COVID-19 pandemic as a tool for political suppression.
Happy Easter to Everyone!