The ‘Ethiopian Spring’: “Killing is not an answer to our grievances”

The ‘Ethiopian Spring’: “Killing is not an answer to our grievances”

There is every sign that Ethiopia is plunging into a crisis whose scale, intensity, and multiple and interdependent drivers are unprecedented since the founding of the regime in 1991.

Ethiopian PM, Hailemariam Desalegn attends African Summit in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa January 2016. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene). All rights reserved.The Ethiopian leadership remains in denial. The long meetings of its ruling bodies have culminated in a report on 15 years of national “rebirth”, in which it awards itself good marks, while acknowledging the existence of a few problems here and there.

Nonetheless, the odd warning signal may be heard – though very seldom – in counterpoint to the general complacency. Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister and chairman of what is essentially the single party, has gone so far as to warn that the issues facing the regime are a matter of “life or death”,[1] and that Ethiopia is “sliding towards ethnic conflict similar to that in neighbouring countries”.[2]

Well, these neighbouring countries include Somalia, epitome of the ‘failed state’, and Sudan, which has split in two and where civil war is raging in the new Southern State. In this, unusually, he is in agreement with Merera Gudina, head of one of the main opposition parties still permitted to operate, who speaks of the probability of “civil war […] if the government continues to repress”.[3] There is every sign that Ethiopia is plunging into a crisis whose scale, intensity, and multiple and interdependent drivers are unprecedented since the founding of the regime in 1991, although the impossibility of field research precludes any in-depth and conclusive assessment.

The first, very discreet signs of this crisis appeared in the spring of 2014 in a part of the country where they were probably least expected: in Tigray, where the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), pillar of the quadri-ethnic party ruling coalition – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – seemed both unopposed and unopposable.

Yet the Tigreans loudly and clearly accused “their” Front of neglecting them by only looking after its own interests or, as Hailemariam Desalegn expressed it, of using “public authority for personal gain at all levels”.[4]

The crisis erupted into the open a few weeks later in Oromya, with additional grievances. In the most populous of the nine states and two municipalities that make up federal Ethiopia, a state that is also the country’s economic powerhouse, students took to the streets to protest against the Addis Ababa Master Plan. Their suspicion was that this would inevitably lead to a transfer of sovereignty from the Oromo region to central government and be accompanied by “land grabbing”, the expulsion and dispossession of the local peasant farmers. Protests resumed in November 2015 and continue today at a larger scale that now includes the general population and almost the whole of Oromo State.

Read more at Open Democracy

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