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Friday, December 11, 2015

Activists claim security forces have killed at least seven students in more than two weeks across Ethiopia’s Oromia state, where students have been protesting a government plan to expand the area of the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia.
Oromia police have confirmed three fatalities in what it termed provocations by “anti-peace elements.”
Images of severely injured students have been posted on social media, and hundreds of other protesters have reportedly been rounded up in a crackdown on those demonstrating against several state-led development projects.
Oromo students, the opposition and diaspora activists liken the proposed Addis Ababa and the Surrounding Oromia Special Zone Integrated Development Plan, or the Master Plan, to a land grab. They fear that it will displace Oromo farmers and undermine Oromia’s interests by expanding Addis Ababa’s boundaries.
Addis Ababa is in the state of Oromia and serves as the regional and federal capital. In theory, the Ethiopian constitution protects Oromia’s “special interest” in Addis Ababa in the provision of social services and use of natural resources and on joint administrative matters.
While the city, home to 4 million people, has experienced massive growth over the last decade, Oromo activists have long decried the lack of social facilities for its Afaan Oromo speakers, including schools, hospitals and cultural institutions.
The protests broke out in November Ginci, a town about 50 miles west of Addis Ababa. Students from universities, high schools and even some primary schools continue to stage sit-ins and demonstrations around the country.
Oromia, the largest of Ethiopia’s nine ethnically based states, is home to close to half the country’s population of 100 million. The Oromo people have long had a contentious relationship with the national government.
“Many Oromos have felt marginalized and discriminated against by successive Ethiopian governments and have often felt unable to voice their concerns over government policies,” Felix Horne, the Horn of Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, wrote in a Dec. 5 blog post.
He called for an immediate halt to the excessive use of force by security personnel, an independent and impartial investigation into the killings and the prosecution of security forces involved in the violent crackdown.

‘Long-simmering grievance’

Protesters say the central government is trying to evict Oromo farmers from their land under the auspices of urban development, with little or no compensation, essentially turning them into street beggars and daily laborers.
The government says its plan is mutually beneficial, will enhance cooperation and will make the area globally competitive by remedying its disorganized spatial growth.
Addis Ababa serves as landlocked Ethiopia’s primary gateway to the outside world. Last year the New York–based consultancy A.T. Kearney named Addis Ababa “the third-most-likely city to advance its global positioning,” adding, “the Ethiopian capital is also among the cities closing in fastest on the world leaders.”
Modest economic growth and the lack of opportunities in rural areas have fueled massive rural-to-urban migration. The Master Plan is part of an effort to mitigate the city’s resulting rapid expansion. But critics contend that the proposal focuses mostly on attracting investors and will ensure the continued erasure of Oromos’ historical and cultural values from the city.
The Oromo students’ protests are not new. They been demonstrating against the central state for most of the last two decades.
In April and May 2014, Ethiopian security forces fired live ammunition at unarmed protesters, killing dozens of students and wounding many others. Hundreds of students were arrested and charged under Ethiopia’ssweeping anti-terrorism law, and many remain incarcerated.
A federal court last week convicted five students for participating in those protests. In the early 2000s, Ethiopia saw similar protests and violence over a government plan to move Oromia’s capital from Addis Ababa. The decision was reversed in 2005 amid a public outcry.
There has been limited media coverage of the ongoing protests. There are strong restrictions on the free press in Ethiopia, one of the most censored countries in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Government critics and the independent press face increased scrutiny.
Analysts warn that continued violent responses to peaceful protesters could bode ill for Ethiopia’s future.
“The Oromo have long been humiliated with their still marginal status in Ethiopia’s power arrangement,” said Hassen Hussein, an Ethiopian-born university professor in Minnesota. “These almost annual student protests give voice to these long-simmering grievance and perhaps a harbinger of what is to come. The authorities cannot forever count on an aggrieved nation remaining docile.”
Oromo activists and community leaders in North America, Western Europe and Australia are planning solidarity rallies for next week, when more violence is anticipated.
Bonnie Holcomb, an author and anthropologist based in Washington, D.C., said the current situation mirrors the violence of 2014. “The international media were silent when Ethiopian police opened fire into crowds, killing 68, permanently disabling hundreds and arresting thousands. Now the next stage of the Master Plan is being implemented,” she said.
“Ethiopian police have moved in to suppress this united demonstration of protest.  Government sharpshooters are firing into crowds and killing students again,” she said. 
(The report originally appeared on Aljazeera )
mojjo hawasa express roadThe construction of the first phase of the Modjo-Hawassa Expressway project, stretching from Modjo to Meki begins today, December, 10, 2015, Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported.
The road construction requires 3.6 billion Birr investment, according to Samson Wondimu, Public Relations Director at the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA).
The Modjo-Hawassa Expressway road construction secures finance from African Development Bank, Exim Banks of Korea, China and World Bank.
The road construction project begins in the presence of high government officials and invited guests.
FILE - A general view shows part of the capital Addis Ababa at night, Ethiopia.
photo from VOA
Clashes between police and protesters in Ethiopia's Oromia region have left several people dead, according to officials and regional opposition leaders.
Oromia has seen three weeks of protests over a government plan to integrate parts of the region with the capital, Addis Ababa. Critics say the plan will undermine local rule and cause local farmers to lose their land.
Witnesses say police have used force to contain or shut down protests, including one that took place Thursday in the town of Bako.  
"Today in Bako city when the students came out to protest, people joined them and they started firing live rounds and hit some students," a witness told VOA's Horn of Africa Service. There was no word on whether anyone was killed.
Bloomberg news quotes a prominent opposition leader, Bekele Nega, as saying police have killed 10 students taking part in the ongoing protests.  
Ethiopia's communications minister, Getachew Reda, put the number of dead at four, and said security forces have been exercising restraint in the face of violence.
Sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are unusually warm, due to El Nino. (NOAA)El Niño is making life very difficult for people in Ethiopia. The U.N. warned in late November that as many as 100,000 people could be displaced by flooding in the northern part of the country. Meanwhile, drought to the south will leave more than 10 million people in need of food aid, Save the Children has warned. In total, more than 15 million people in Ethiopia may need some sort of assistance in 2016.
“The worst drought in Ethiopia for 50 years is happening right now … world leaders … must take the opportunity to wake up and act before it’s too late,” said John Graham, Save the Children’s Ethiopia country director, in a statement. “We know that if we take the right steps together we can prevent the suffering of millions, as well as alleviating the overwhelming and enduring poverty that these kinds of acute emergencies tend to leave in their wake.”
Estimates from just a few weeks ago projected that 8 million Ethiopians would need food assistance. The jump to 10 million is leading outlets and aid groups to elicit the memory of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Warmer sea-surface temperatures caused by El Niño, and the associated global weather impacts, are set to peak right around now. The World Meteorological Organization says it is the biggest in 15 years and may be one of the strongest on record.
“Right now we say we think it’s really going to be one of the three strongest ones, it may be one of the two, that we don’t know yet. But definitely it’s already a very strong one,” Michel Jarraud, World Meteorological Organization secretary-general, said to the media in mid-November. “However, this event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change, the general trend towards a warmer global ocean, the loss of Arctic sea ice and of over a million square kilometers of summer snow cover in the northern hemisphere.”
There has been low rainfall in Ethiopia and it is expected to remain sparse in the south of the country. But a lot has changed in the 30 years since a massive drought led to the famine. Ethiopia is in a much better position to handle drought, as is the rest of the world to respond more quickly. Though in 2011, tens of thousands of people died in nearby Somalia after a severe drought brought famine.
The lower mortality rate experienced by Ethiopia as compared to Somalia during the drought was heralded as a success for the country. And it supports the well-regarded theory by Indian economist Amartya Sen that famine is the result of politics, not weather. The $142.95 million already spent by Ethiopia to address the current crisis is evidence of its ability to respond and understanding that it must take proactive steps to support the estimated 400,000 children at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
“The structure of the economy has changed. It has become diversified now,” said Abraham Tekeste, deputy head of the National Planning Commission, to Reuters. “The economy has become resilient to shocks now.”
Ethiopia is confident that its more diverse economy, which relies less on agriculture, and projected 10 percent GDP growth positions it to deal with the effects of El Niño. Groups like Save the Children and the U.N. are rallying to meet the estimated $600 million needed to respond to the crisis. Acting immediately can save money and lives.
“According to recent reports combining U.N. data on the cost of providing life-saving support with evidence on the economic impact of drought, an early response could save an estimated $8 million per day. Money isn’t wasted by investing early, in fact it helps to ensure investments in resilience and risk reduction are maintained. We simply cannot sit back and wait until the situation has reached crisis point this time,” said Graham.
Photo from Global voices
Over the past two weeks, students in Ethiopia’s largest regional state, Oromia, have been protesting against a government plan to expand the area of the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia. Reports suggest security forces used violence including live ammunition to disperse crowds of peaceful demonstrators in the compounds of universities in Oromia.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least three students were killed and hundreds were injured across the region as security forces used excessive force to disperse student protesters. Other reports put the number of students killed up to ten. Although protesters are primarily university students, in some instances, high school and primary school children were also reportedly involved in intense confrontations with government forces.
At least nine students were killed by government forces in May 2014 while protesting over the same issue.

The persecution of Oromo people

The students argue that the controversial plan, known as “the Master Plan”, to expand Addis Ababa into Oromia state would result in mass evictions of farmers mostly belonging to the Oromo ethnic group.
It wouldn't be the first time the government has uprooted members of an ethnic group. Thousands of ethnic Amharas in western Ethiopia were expelled from the country's Benishangul Gumuz region in 2013 in what critics called “ethnic cleansing”.
The students have other demands such as making Oromo a federal language. Oromo, the language of the Oromo people, is the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia and the fourth largest African language. However, it is not the working language of the federal government.
According to Ethiopian Constitution, Oromia is one of the nine ethnically based and politically autonomous regional states in Ethiopia. Oromo people make up the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. However, the group has been systematically marginalized and persecuted for the last 24 years. By some estimates, there were as many as 20,000 Oromo political prisoners in Ethiopia as of March 2014.
A 2014 Amnesty International report on repression in the Oromia region noted:
Between 2011 and 2014, at least 5000 Oromos have been arrested based on their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government. These include thousands of peaceful protestors and hundreds of opposition political party members. The government anticipates a high level of opposition in Oromia, and signs of dissent are sought out and regularly, sometimes pre-emptively, suppressed. In numerous cases, actual or suspected dissenters have been detained without charge or trial, killed by security services during protests, arrests and in detention.
The ruling elite of Ethiopia are mostly from the Tigray region, which is located in the northern part of the country.

Social media fills in the gaps

Even as the Ethiopian drought and impending food crisis makes a rare appearance in local—and some international—headlines, little attention is being paid to the student protests in Ethiopian media. But despite Ethiopia’s highly controlled online environment and the government’s firm grip on communications infrastructure, social media users are reporting on the issue, particularly on Facebook, with additional coverage coming from diaspora-based media.
Photo widely circulated on social media, taken from the Facebook page of Jawar Mohammed.
One Facebook user, for example, hopedfor the world to hear stories of the student protesters’ inspiring actions:
The silence has truly been deafening. We need to see and hear the inspiring actions undertaken by huge numbers of ‪#‎Oromo‬ in ‪#‎Ethiopia‬. Tell their story, enable the world to be swept up in their story.Considering the complete absence of freedom to criticize the government or report opposition stories from within the country, people around the world reading about it can help greatly by doing everything possible to amplify this story.
Another Facebook user, Aga Teshome,took note of the political power of Oromo youth:
…‪#‎OromoProtests‬ a call for all oppressed people in ‪#‎Ethiopia‬ to support the ongoing protest against ‪#‎landgrabing‬
….the Oromo youth are a powerful political entity capable of shaking mountains. This powerful political entity is hell bent on exposing the [ruling party] EPRDF government’s atrocious human rights record and all round discriminatory practices.
While Desu Tefera said:
We call upon the media to investigate the conditions that these students died trying to expose and resist, to draw attention to these concerns. Oromia needs a new kind of reporting by the international media, which gives voice to the voiceless Oromo people, who for a very long time have been killed, mistreated, abused, neglected and repressed in Ethiopia. Going forward with the current plan, which ends up displacing tens of thousands of poor farmers, destroying their livelihood and depriving their identity, is a tragedy. It deserves attention. These students put their lives on the line to draw attention to the farmers’ plight.‪#‎OromoProtests‬
Although social media reports are pivotal in letting the world know about the protests, they miss a huge chunk of nuance that would help observers understand how this dispute is unfolding. Notably, the fact that the student protests combine delicate ethnic politics, urban land grabbing and Ethiopia’s diaspora community’s involvement in home country politics.
Given Ethiopia’s highly controlIed environment, one might wonder how the students managed to get organized to express their grievance in the mid of highly controlled environment. Despite the firm grip on communication infrastructure there are constant update on Facebook and Twitter about the protest.

Dubious development practices

The story is unpleasantly familiar, as students are protesting for the second time in less than two years.
In April and May 2014, the protests began in response to the government’s plan to implement the “Integrated Masterplan for Addis Ababa”. As Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is an enclave within Oromia regional state, students primarily from Oromia state accused the Ethiopian government of attempting to take over land owned by local farmers in the name of integrating adjacent Oromia towns into the sprawling city of Addis. The students further alleged that if implemented, the Masterplan would result in Addis Ababa further encroaching into the territory of Oromia. 
The government rejected the accusation, claiming that the Masterplan was intended only to facilitate the development of infrastructure such as transportation, utilities, and recreation centers.
When the protests began the students’ main demand was the complete halting of the Masterplan. In May 2014, the government did momentarily halt the plan in order to abate the protests after at least nine were killed and hundreds of ethnic Oromo students were imprisoned. But when the government decided to resume plans to implement the Masterplan in November this year resentment boiled over again, resulting in the currently two-week-old student protest leaving at least ten people dead and many injured.
Since the highly contested 2005 national election, forceful evictions and urban land grabbing have become frequent in Addis Ababa. The capital city’s rapid growth has resulted in increasing pressure to convert rural land for industrial, housing, infrastructure, or other urban use.
Diaspora-based advocates say the unrest in Oromia is just a part of the general unhappiness that prevails in the country. They accuse the government of working for the benefit of a few people at the expense of others. They even suggest that the Ethiopian government covertly encouraged informal settlement on the outskirts of Addis Ababa so that they could later find a way to intervene under the guise of rebuilding the slums and lease the land to real estate developers.
Ermias Legesse, a high profile government defector, traces the cause of the Oromo student protest to events that took place 15 years ago. In his book, “Addis Ababa: The Abandoned City”, Ermias notes that since 2000 the Addis Ababa city municipality, with the support of the federal government, enacted five different pieces of legislation to “legalize” the informal settlements, and then sold the “legalized” lands to private property developers.
Most informal settlers on the outskirts of Addis Ababa manage to establish themselves for a period of time until they are displaced by government. “Sometimes the informal settlers are given only a few days’ notices before bulldozers arrive on the scene to tear down their shabby houses and lay foundations for new investors,” Ermias said in an interview with a diaspora-based television channel.