Ethiopia is currently witnessing the worst public unrest in nearly 25 years.
The East African nation’s biggest ethnic group, the Oromos — who make up one-third of the country’s 100 million population — initially started a protest over land rights in November 2015 after the government drafted a plan to expand the boundaries of the capital into tribal lands. They argued the “Addis Ababa master plan” would result in a forced eviction of Oromo farmers and would be a danger to their culture.
The protest spread to Amhara, the second most populous ethnic group in Ethiopia, after members of the Welkait Tegede community demanded their lands be governed by the Amhara region, instead of the Tigray state.
Both groups, the Oromo and Amhara, have severe reservations against the Tigray ethnic group, which dominates a multi-cultural ruling coalition and the security forces despite making up only 6 percent of the population.
The two groups are now calling for self-rule, economic and cultural rights, liberation of political prisoner and the end to the authoritarian regime in the region, including an end to the reported crackdown on unarmed, peaceful farmers and students.
No less than 500 people were killed in the protests that began last year. Authorities have disputed the figure and official records claim there have only been 52 deaths. However, activists claim they saw security forces gun down hundreds of protesters during a religious festival in Bishoftu. At least 1,000 people have been arrested as well.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have claimed government security forces killed at least 100 people in the Amhara Region during a protest over the administration of disputed territories held in August, but the government has denied these allegations as well.
Now, after a week of intense protests that resulted in the destruction of business and government property, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has declared an emergency on Oct. 9 for the next six months.
The emergency is growing more oppressive by the day.
Posting updates of the situation in the country has been declared a crime. Citizens are banned from using Facebook and Twitter or to have any contact with, what the government calls, “outside forces,” or “terrorist organizations and anti-peace groups designated as terrorists.”
Oromia Media Network and Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio, the anti-government broadcasters based outside of the country, are also illegal to watch because the state claims they belong to “terrorists.” Listening to Voice of America and German Radio has also been banned.
University campuses have been among the first to be hit by the absurd crackdown. Students have been prohibited from organizing demonstrations or becoming involved in political parties that are “likely to cause disturbances, violence, hatred and distrust among the people.”
Under the emergency, the famous anti-government gesture of raised hands, crossed at the wrists has also been banned.
Foreign diplomats have been barred from traveling more than 25 miles outside the capital without permission from the authorities, a move that the government says is for its “own safety.”
A 6 p.m. curfew has been placed around farms, factories and government organizations, which have been targeted by the protesters. Non-compliance may lead the authorities to “take the necessary action.”
Even if a person has a permit to carry a gun, he cannot take it within 15.5 miles of the country’s main road out of the capital city Addis Ababa and within 31 miles of the country’s borders.
Last week, in a bid to pacify the protesters, the government also announced plans to reform the election process to allow a greater percentage of representation from different ethnic groups; however, since the state is not known to keep its promises, this proposal isn’t likely to ease tensions.
The protests have raised valid questions about the efficiency of the government, unemployment, displacement of farmers and ethnic groups and problems in policy implementation. But the Ethiopian government is in a state of constant denial. It instead blames the chaos on “organized gangs” and outside forces (namely, Egypt and Eritrea which are involved in border conflict with the state) bent on dismantling Ethiopia in its entirety.