Protesting or Devastating? The Oromo protest and Ethiopian government’s response
By Sorse Bayisa
It was in early October 2016, two days after the death of hundreds of Oromo’s during Irecha celebration that the Oromo protest against the authoritarian government took a different shape in different parts of Oromia. Out of that, the serious one was occurred in Sebeta town which is located 25 Km to the South west of Addis Ababa.
The background for the protest is related to the death of hundreds of Oromo during Irecha celebration. The basic question of Oromo protest on land rights, what was called Addis Ababa Integrated Urban Development Plan (Master Plan), and lack of equal opportunities for the Oromo people to resources in the country. The government opted to coercive and merciless measures rather than addressing the questions through dialogue.
- The death of hundreds on Irecha Celebration.
Irecha is a cultural day of the Oromo people who are the largest ethnic group in the country. However, the October 2, 2016 Irecha celebration was the darkest day in modern history for the Oromo where hundreds were killed by the government. Over six hundred people lost their life during the incident, in which more than two happened to be from same family in most cases. As the result, the family, friends, neighbors and colleagues whose loved ones were either killed or detained couldn’t remain silent after the incident.
- Land rights, what called Master plan
As some scholars argue, the Master plan was planned to expand the city of Addis Ababa by hundreds of kilometers in every direction by grabbing the customary land of the Oromo. The expansion of the city and displacement of the Oromo farmers from their land started soon after the conquest of Oromia by the Ethiopian state in the late 19th century, and it continued across successive regimes until today. The planned territory was till Adama (Nathereth) by the East, Waliso to the South West, Ambo to the West and Fiche to North, though the official announced territory of current government was not till this.
People who were conscious about the systematic plan of government to take Oromo land, started to protest in early November 2015. The protest was in all part of Oromia region while in some part, it was very strong. Due to that, thousands were killed, thousands were jailed and the problem continues every day. Killing of innocent people became routine response of the government.
This makes the people to create other language of protesting against government. Even though, this type of activity cannot be good example for development of any country, it made changes in the country, especially in Oromia.
No government authority or security force was held accountable for the atrocities committed against the Oromo people for over the last two years. As a result, the Oromo youth opted to violent form of resistance by burning factories and companies they believe are associated to the government. The main theme of this paper is: why do the people burn the factories, and what would be the future of investment in Ethiopia?
- Lack of benefit from factories
Sebeta town as close to the capital city Addis Ababa. The town land it’s surrounding rural districts accommodate a number of foreign and domestic companies and their factories. The land was given to all these factories without any compensation for the Oromo peasants whose life was entirely based on agriculture.. In cases of compensation, it was extremely low. Despite false promises such as job opportunities and other social services for the expropriated Oromo peasants, nothing happened within the last over fifteen years. Local people were excluded, and deliberately discriminated even from low wage jobs.
As a result, the protesters in Sebeta burned factories and vehicles, which have been question of large society in the area. Even to my own knowledge, the vehicles burnt at Harojila Fullaso village, were the properties of the Stone factory that displaced hundreds of households. The local people had continuously been asking local government authorities to get benefit from the factory but there has never been positive reply both from the government and factory owners. That is why protester burned the machine (vehicles).
Another was the notorious flower factory that is environmentally destructive and health wise very much dangerous. The people raised questions of safety of the workers, compensation, and adequate wage and so on.
In general, the Oromo turned to violent form of resistance to weaken the authoritarian regime, and eventually forced the regime to declare state of emergency in late 2016, which is in effect until now. Although the situation in Oromia seems silent right now because of the state of emergency, there is high likely for similar protests to breakout in the near future unless the people’s fundamental questions of access to resources, land right, self-government, and other issues are properly and genuinely addressed by the government. It is also worth mentioning that the future of investment (foreign or domestic) in Ethiopia remains uncertain until these fundamental questions of the people, particularly issues related to land right are properly recognized.