For the past couple of weeks, the Ethiopian government has been killing dozens of people, many of them students and farmers, protesting a plan to expand the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, into surrounding rural areas of the country’s Oromia region. The Oromo, who inhabit Oromia and are the largest of Ethiopia’s almost innumerable (seriously, there are more than 80 of them) ethnic groups, are concerned that any expansion of the city will inevitably lead to the seizure of Oromo farmland and settlements by the state. They may have a point, or at least reason to be suspicious, given that their community has been systematically marginalized and abused by the Ethiopian government since the 1990s. And that’s “marginalized” by Ethiopian standards, in a country where, despite a rapidly growing economy, the median per capita income is still among the lowest in the world.
For Ethiopia, a country that’s better known for its relative absence of protest movements, this three-week long Oromo protest is being called “unprecedented” by Hallelujah Lulie, a researcher at Ethiopia’s Institute of Security Studies. The government claims that five people have been killed in the protests, but human rights groups are putting the figure closer to 50. Naturally, the government, including Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, has been trying to discredit the protesters by positing links between them and unspecified “proven terrorist parties” who are trying to “destabilize the state.” They’re probably referring to the Oromo Liberation Front, which has allegedly committed terrorist acts in the past but seems to have been pretty peaceable for a few years now–heck, in 2012 they even stopped agitating for Oromo independence and now just focus on Oromo rights. And anyway, whatever ties the protesters may have, the fact is that the only violence that’s been committed with respect to these protests so far has been by the Ethiopian government.
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