Violent protests by the majority Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups began last November over the government’s unjust acquisition of Oromo land, but have expanded to a call for an end to ethnic marginalization. A few days ago, the government—dominated by the minority Tigray ethnic group—declared a state of emergency to shut down protesters’ efforts to be heard.
In November 2015, Oromos began protesting over the government-sponsored Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan which enlarged capital city claims into Oromo territory. Fertile land in Oromia and Amhara territory powers Ethiopia’s economy, but the Oromo and Amhara people have not reaped from these benefits. The government “took 90 percent of the payment and gave 10 percent to the people” said a local resident.
Over the next year, the Oromo and Amhara joined together to protest the government’s violation of their rights, iconicized in the crossed wrists displayed by Oromo Olympian Feyisa Lilesa in Brazil last month. Ethiopia’s constitution grants self-determination and protection of all ethnic groups’ cultural rights; Oromos and Amharas together constitute 60% of the Ethiopian population, but the Tigrayan government—Tigrays constituting 6% of the population—has shut them out of political proceedings and economic prosperity.
The Ethiopian government claims that the lockdown is meant to protect foreign diplomats and staunch the violence, but has made steps to silence the people. The lockdown has illegalized the use of social media such as the U.S.-based Oromo Media Network in an effort to halt opposition communication and organization. Government officials arrested Seyoum Teshome a few weeks ago for speaking too boldly on the oppressive government regime. He was often quoted by international media and began the blogging site ethiothinkthank.com, which elucidates the ideal of government described in Ethiopia’s constitution where “freedom of choice and non-discrimination…maintain a system together.”
The Ethiopian government does not mean to piece together a solution that mutually benefits the Oromo, Amhara, and the Tigray. The government refuses to acknowledge systemic violence against the Oromo and the Amhara and calls the Oromo and Amhara “anti-peace conspirators” aligned with “foreign enemies.” Over the past year, government troops have fired into crowds of protesters, killing hundreds. Foreign journalists were forbidden from covering the recent state of emergency, and the government has even rejected the U.N.’s offer of assistance.
The Oromo and Amhara experience systemic discrimination in their everyday lives. The Oromos do not speak their native Oromiffa in public for fear of being arrested as members of the Oromo Liberation Front, an organization that promotes Oromo self-determination and which the Ethiopian government has labeled as a terrorist organization.