AT least 33 people were shot dead by security forces in protests at the weekend in Ethiopia’s central Oromiya region.
The protests were linked to a government attempt, since abandoned, to seize local land for the extension of the capital Addis Ababa.
Though the plans were shelved in January, protests have flared again over the continued detention of opposition demonstrators.
The demonstrations erupted after a call from a spontaneous social media movement.
Ethiopian authorities had imposed a blanket internet blockade throughout the weekend.
Oromiya is the second region to be wracked by unrest in the past few days. In Amhara, at least two people were killed in the ancient city of Gonder in clashes over the status of a disputed territory.
Tensions have been running for many years over the status of Wolkayt district – an area that protesters from Amhara say was illegally incorporated into the neighbouring Tigray region to the north.
OROMO, AMHARA MILITANCY
The Oromo and Amhara are Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic communities, and their growing militancy will be unsettling to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
Critics of the EPRDF paint is an authoritarian regime dominated by Tigrayans, who comprise under 7% of Ethiopia’s population. Their Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is the main part of the ruling EPDRF coalition and holds 499 out of 547 seats in the country’s Parliament. It came to power in 1991 as a revolutionary movement, after its victory in the Ethiopian Civil War.
The EPRDF has presided over a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of a country once synonymous with famine and starvation. It has made impressive investments in infrastructure, and until recently was notching up the fastest economic growth rates in Africa.
Beside being an economic power in the Horn, Ethiopia has also emerged as an important centre of stability in a troubled region, a Reuters report noted.
The Oromo and Amhara troubles, however, might be indicate that the EPRDF’s “authoritarian development” model has finally run out of steam.
It is also showing the limits of the Ethiopia’s federalism model, in which 9 regional states, carved out along ethnic lines, were set up in 1995.
Opponents warned then that the move would balkanise the country, and further fan ethnic nationalism that could threaten Ethiopia’s unity.
The Tigrayan elite favoured it because it was popular with many of the smaller nationalities, long lorded over by the Amhara, and it was widely believed that the TPLF calculated it would create rivalries between states, and dampen opposition to it as the federal authority.
The Addis Ababa expansion demonstrated the Achilles heel in that idea – their lands could not be taken away without a fight, unless the EPRDF made room for them at the political table.
And in a system that privileges ethnicity, the argument for making the Amhara Wolkayt district part Tigray, would soon wear thin.
The distraction of a more open political space, and economic reform could shift the fault lines in Ethiopia’s politics, but they also threaten EPRDF’s domination of power.
There is a popular view emerging that the Tigranya elite, have now set out on a path to turn Ethiopia into the very thing they fought against for 16 years – and could end the same way as Amhara hegemony did with the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.