Unprecedented regional protests in Ethiopia are far from over

Regional protests that began last year in Ethiopia have spread across the country, and despite successive crackdowns analysts say dissatisfaction with the government is driving ever greater unrest.

Demonstrations began popping up in November 2015 in the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital, due to a government plan to expand the boundaries of Addis Ababa.

The region’s Oromo people feared their farmland would be seized, and though the authorities soon dropped the urban enlargement project and brutally suppressed the protests, they badly misjudged the anger it triggered.

Protests have since swept other parts of Oromia, and more recently to the northern Amhara region, causing disquiet in the corridors of power of a key US ally and crucial partner in east Africa’s fight against terrorism.

“Since it came to power in 1991, the regime has never witnessed such a bad stretch Ethiopia resembles a plane going through a zone of extreme turbulence,” independent Horn of Africa researcher Rene Lafort said.

Despite what he described as the “state of siege” imposed on the Oromia region in recent weeks, the protests have refused to die down, and demonstrators have been challenging government more and more openly. One rally was even held in Addis Ababa on Saturday, a rare event for the seat of power of a nation ruled by a regime considered among the most repressive in Africa. More than 140 people were killed when security forces put down the original Oromia land protests, shot or tortured to death, according to rights groups.

A fresh crackdown over the weekend led to the deaths of almost 100 more, according to an Amnesty International toll, with live fire used on the crowds.

“This crisis is systemic because it shakes the foundations of the model of government put into place 25 years ago, which is authoritarian and centralised,” Lafort explained.

The protesters have different grievances but are united by their disaffection with the country’s leaders, who largely hail from the northern Tigray region and represent less than 10 per cent of the population.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn heads the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which won all the seats in parliament in elections last year.

Although he comes from the minority Wolayta people, he is surrounded in government by Tigreans, who also dominate the security forces and positions of economic power.

Source: DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine