Things are actually happening outside the US, you guys!
by Siobhan Donohue
Co-editor in Chief
To many, Ethiopia is known as the subject of the cringeworthy 1980’s charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. However, Ethiopia is home to over ninety-nine million people from more than eighty different ethnic groups. And right now, the government has declared a six-month state of emergency for the first time in twenty-five years.
This latest wave of protests began last November, although smaller acts of dissent have been happening around the country since 2005. The Oromo people, who make up 34.5% of the country’s populous, along with the Amhara people, who make up about 27%, say that they are being oppressed by the Tigre people, who make up only 6.1% of the population. This sentiment led to anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara region of Ethiopia. In fact, during the Rio Olympics, a male long-distance runner from Ethiopia named Feyisa Lelisa made an anti-government gesture as he crossed the finish line to claim his silver medal. Lelisa has since stated he is afraid to return home due to fear of government backlash, and is currently staying in the US.
The roots of these ethnic issues go back to 150 years of bloodshed in the region. Before Ethiopia’s new constitution in 1991, the country was ruled by an ethnically Amhara dictator. However, ever since the overthrow of the military dictatorship, Ethiopia has been functioning via a “decentralised system of ethnic federalism”. Recently, the government had plans to expand the boundaries of the capital city of Addis Ababa, which furthered ethnic tensions.
On the protestor side, activists and human rights groups claim that the government has killed over 500 protestors since November. The government is notoriously suppressive and severely limits freedoms of speech and press. Some of the dissatisfaction stems from the fact that certain ethnic groups feel that the government has failed to give them all of their rights guaranteed by the constitution.
The government on the other hand, has characterized protestors as “organized gangs” and has disputed the figures claiming hundreds have been killed. On October 2nd, an anti-government demonstration at a religious festival turned deadly as government forces intervened. The government claimed only 55 people died, despite the opposition saying more than a hundred died. After the October 2nd demonstration fallout, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said, “A state of emergency has been declared because the situation posed a threat against the people of the country.” Later on, state run media agencies reported that the government has to “deal with anti-peace elements that have allied with foreign forces and are jeopardising the peace and security of the country.” Essentially, the protestors are being accused of being a security threat.
According to NPR, the United States “has expressed concern about excessive use of force against demonstrators in months of deadly protests in Ethiopia.” However, the U.S. still sees Ethiopia as a strategic regional ally, especially in concern to combating terrorism. Meanwhile, Ethiopia depends on the U.S. for aid. So far, while the U.S. has spoken out against the Ethiopian government and relations are overall strained, formal diplomatic ties have not changed.
Economically speaking, the instability in the Oromia region can severely impact the global market. 60% of Ethiopia’s GDP is due to the Oromo people. If Ethiopia falls, not only will there be economic fall out in an already impoverished region, but it will add on to the volatile situation that countries in the Horn of Africa already face.