Seattle Oromos denounce “killer” Ethiopian government, demand investigation

Mergitu Argo, who helped organize a march on Thursday in support of Oromo student protestors in Ethiopia. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh)
Mergitu Argo, who helped organize a march on Thursday in support of Oromo student protestors in Ethiopia. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh)

Oromos from the Seattle area gathered downtown yesterday to condemned the Ethiopian government’s lethal response to student protests sparked around the south of the country this week.

The protests of high school and university students were in response to the government’s “master plan” that will integrate the capital and surrounding areas now belonging to the Oromo Region, which protestors say will displace farmers.

I believe people should have the right to protest without feeling like they are gonna be beaten, or killed or jailed.” said Sartu Adem, 18, who was among about 200 solidarity protesters who gathered in front of the Federal Building on 2nd Avenue. “But I feel like the people should have a say whether they want [the development plan] or not — not just the government saying ‘oh we are developing the country!'”

The action was coordinated by Oromo Community Services of Seattle, and began in the rainy noon hour with march from Yesler Community Center.

Despite being the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Oromo people have historically been politically and economically marginalized. In 1991 a federal constitution was instituted to address the issue, but some Oromo elites remain unconvinced that the region or the people are as autonomous as they should be.

Oromia, which physically includes Addis Ababa (knowns as “Finfine” in the Oromo language), is the largest region in Ethiopia.

Muktar Kedir, the administrator of Oromia Regional State, explained in a press conference earlier today that the development plan will not be implemented before public discussions and agreement.

But Abubeker Ali, one of the organizers of the Seattle protest, said displacement is already happening.

“The extent that we know so far is, in Finfine/Addis Ababa area, thousands of people have been displaced already. Homes have been demolished, people have been arrested,” Ali said.

Ali said he opposed the master plan, which he referred to as “master killer.” He called it a “land grab” designed to displace millions of farmers without any compensation.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Federal Building asking the U.S. government to apply diplomatic pressure on Ethiopia to end the crackdown on protests. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh)
Demonstrators gathered outside the Federal Building asking the U.S. government to apply diplomatic pressure on Ethiopia to end the crackdown on protests. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh)

There are conflicting accounts of the number of students that were killed. Bloomberg reported 10 Oromo students have been killed by security forces, quoting Bekele Nega a leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress, an opposition party. On Wednesday, Horn Affairs reported it was able to confirm five deaths but officials only acknowledged four fatalities.

The protesters in Seattle also delivered a letter to Senators Murray and Cantwell requesting that the U.S. urge the Ethiopian government to stop violent response against peaceful student protesters and conduct independent investigation into the deaths.

The U.S. has a longstanding military relationship with Ethiopia to fight terrorism. At the rally protestors could be heard chanting for the U.S. to stop “supporting the Ethiopian government” and “funding a terrorist government.”

The protesters included some ethnic Somalis from the Ogaden region in eastern Ethiopia who were there in solidarity.

While the “master plan” has not been officially implemented yet, Addis Ababa has been fast expanding already for several years.

Naboni Amenu who was at the rally with her husband said the farmers that had already been displaced are now stranded on the streets without resources.

FBC, a media outlet affiliated with the government, reported that Muktar Kedir, the administrator of Oromia, said “the violence had occurred due to limitation to clarify the master plan and this has created uncertainty among the community as well as led the public to raise question[sic].”

According to Ethiopia-based blogger Daniel Berhane, protests around the Oromia region are ongoing, with many businesses and public institutions closed. The situation is still fragile.

“I feel like in Ethiopia people only care about which region they’re from,” Adem said yesterday, decrying the regionalism that she sees hurting the country. “Everyone should care about each other. Everyone should think about ‘Has this person eaten?’ ‘How’s this person living?‘”

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for the Report. it is very nice of you that you have I have explained well what happened back home and the solidarity protist here . I appreciate that! However the number off people killed by if y’all can government violent crackdown has reached 25 . I hope you would follow up and reports in the future too.

  2. This is not an Oromo issue. It is a human rights issue. Those who try to present it as Oromo issue are in fact hurting the Oromo. This is ultimately about tyrannical rule. And for that we need to put the current situation in perspective.

    Tigrai People’s Liberation Front [Tplf] knew from the get-go that it will in no way be able to govern Ethiopia considering its minority status [6% of 92 million pop.]. Tplf therefore devised “ethnic federalism” to create a coalition of its own making. The coalition consisted of the Oromo [34% of pop.], Amhara [27% of pop.], and Southern nationalities [16%]. Tplf remained the core party. The party was named Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Party [Eprdf]. Tplf appointed the leadership for each “party” either from its own ranks or from another ethnic group. The “president” of the Southern nationalities was a Tplf; the party leader of the Amhara is a Tplf and so on.

    This arrangement created a sense of “regional autonomy” and a wedge between the regions. That gave the Tplf opportunity to govern with impunity. Tplf and its members could do business anywhere in the country; the rest are confined to their regions. None could do business in Tigray. Bids and “privatization” schemes were never transparent and invariably benefited Tplf members and their cronies. That is what is happening with investments of the Saudi billionaire Al Amoudi; he has disproportionate access to mining [gold], agri business and hotels, etc with a cut for Tplf members. The same is true with Bob Geldoff [who preached about “trade, not aid” a while back after teaming up with a Tplf member to own of a choice vineyard and specialty winery.

    Here is what has been developing in the current debate about the so-called “Addis Ababa masterplan.” Regional communities are finding out that in the guise of “equality” Tplf and its members were amassing wealth [especially in real estate] at the expense of marginal communities. In Gambela those in agri business are Arabs or Tplf members. In Benishangul-Gumuz those controlling gold trade, business in bamboo products are members of the Tplf. Those running Khat trade or livestock or trade in providing maids to Arabs are all Tplf and their cronies. The idea of expanding “development” in and around Addis Ababa is solely for security purposes. There is now fear that running big business projects by the Tplf far from the center may be less productive and insecure. Marginal groups are waking up to a new reality of the fox in charge of the hen house. Tplf knows the constitution does not allow it to violate regional autonomy. But what the heck; Tplf could use brute force to have its way every time. It did so in elections. It won by 100% in 2015; it was 99.6% in 2010 and so on. In February this year Abay Tsehaye [a rather cruel Tplf boss] in charge of the “Addis Ababa master plan” was secretly recorded threatening that any who got in the way of the “master plan” will receive their just deserts. That is what we are seeing now with 40 dead and several hundred injured. In other words, local communities have no say in the development of their own communities! It is similar to agri businesses run by Arabs – the products are for consumption in their own countries while Ethiopians are violently evicted to make way for “progress.” Ethiopians beg for food aid while their land shares its bounties with big business and the political elite.

    I want to thank SG for consistently standing with the underdog and remaining a staunch supporter of the voiceless. Tplf has been known for violating the constitution whenever it suited its plans; it is also the fact that citizens’ standing for their rights protected in the constitution are routinely jailed, murdered, tortured and exiled on charges of terrorism. The US and UK consistently have supported such tyrannical regimes undermining their own values of defending human freedoms. That is the tragedy.

    At present famine is claiming lives of children and the ruling party is denying and playing it down. I know expats are instructed to not sound the alarm bell on pain of getting de-registered or kicked out. They prefer to keep silent in order to protect their own bellies. The ruling party also has established “independent” press to feed the world lies [see The Ethiopian Reporter for example]. SG should request to be given access to update the world community on the situation in the country. Ethiopian rulers have told us every thing is going great with two-digit growth, poverty halved, education greatly improving, famine under control, the nation peaceful and stable, the people confident and happy [per election results 100 % approval rating] and the country becoming a middle-income in 10 years. Well, don’t you think it is good PR for all parties if these stories are indeed real and factual?

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