Oromos have been staging protest rallies across the vast Oromia regional state of Ethiopia since April of 2014. The protests are against the systematic marginalization and persecution of the Oromo people by the federal government of Ethiopia.
The immediate trigger of the protest was a development plan that sought to expand the territorial limits of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, into neighboring Oromo villages and towns. Oromos saw the proposed master plan as a land grab, a blueprint for annexation which would further accelerate the eviction of Oromo farmers from their ancestral lands.
What is driving the protests?
By depicting Oromo demands for equal representation and autonomy as extremist and exclusionary, it tried to drive a wedge between them and other ethnic groups, particularly the Amharas. This allowed the ruling ERPDR and Tigrayan elites to present themselves as the only political movement in the country that could provide the stability and continuity sought by regional and global powers with vested interest in the region.
Although these protests are triggered by more recent events, they are microcosms [of] a more enduring and deeper crisis of political representation and systematic marginalization suffered by the Oromo people.
Response of Ethiopian Government
The worst of the atrocities perpetrated by the govt? security forces took place during the annual Irreecha (Oromo Thanksgiving) Celebration. On Sunday October 2 2016 a crowd of 2 million festival goers descended on Hora Harsadi, a lake outside Bishoftu, 30 kms south of the capital. The govt militarized the area to intimidate the spectators, but the celebrations and protests against the heavy handed policies of the govt continued.
The govt security forced fired tear gas and live bullet to the crowd congregating on s tight plot of land encircled by a ditch on one side and a lake on the other.
What is in a symbol?
Protesters cross their hands above their head forming an X mark to show their opposition to the way the federal government treats the Oromo. This gesture was brought to the attention of a worldwide audience when Olympic Silver medalist displayed the gesture at the finish line of a marathon event at Rio Olympics.
The government went as far as labeling this harmless gesture as a criminal act when it declared a 10 month long state of emergency in October 2016.
A Police State
However, consistent reports by the US government itself and other human rights organizations depict an image of a police state whose apparatus of surveillance and control permeates the entire society down to household levels.
The US led ‘war on terror’, started by President George Bush, provided the government with a political and legal instrument with which the government justified severe restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association. The 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, one of the most draconian pieces of anti-terrorism legislation in the world, enabled the government to stretch its power of prosecution and punishment beyond what is permissible under standard criminal and constitutional law rules.
In recent years, terrorism trials have become the most significant legal instrument frequently used by the authorities to secure and consolidate the prevailing relationship of power between the ruling ethnic Tigrayan elites and other ethnic groups in the country.
Under the pretext of ‘fighting terrorism’, the regime exiled, prosecuted and convicted several opposition leaders, community leaders, journalists, bloggers, and activists; paralyzing criticisms of any type.
In its 2015 report titled Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent, the Oakland Institute details the ways in which Ethiopian authorities systematically appropriate the anti-terrorism law to annihilate dissent and opposition to the policies of the ruling party.