In November 2015, protest broke out Oromia state, one of the largest provinces in Ethiopia. Earlier in the protest university students in Oromia clashed with ant-riot police as they rejected plans by the government to expand the capital city Addis Ababa into the state.
The protest quickly turned violent as more people joined the students in the riots. Human Rights Watch (HRW), a global rights agency, estimated that hundreds of people have been killed during the on-and-off protests, but the Ethiopian government denied this.
The same government clumped down on media reports about the protest and only a few details and images managed to get out through social media. The protests have continued to spread and get worse even after the government scrapped its plans to expand Addis Ababa.
Here are eight things you should know about the Oromia protests;
This piece was first published on Feb. 17, 2016
The Oromo is the largest tribe in Ethiopia and live in the Oromia region which is home to at least 30 million people. This is one-third of Ethiopia’s population.
Since the demonstrations started in the Oromia towns of Western Welega and Ginchi, they were led by university students, primary and secondary schools pupils. They started at Haromaya University. Locals later joined.
Plans by the Federal government of Ethiopia to extend the administrative boundaries of Addis Ababa triggered the protests. Locals felt that the plan, called the Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan, would weaken the leadership mandate of their leaders and also drive farmers off their land. The Oromo community has for long been socially and economically marginalized by successive regimes and this fuelled the resentment towards the plan.
In 2014, similar protests occurred in the Ambo and Tokeekutayu regions of the Oromia state. Unknown number students from the Ambo and Meda Welabu universities, who led the protests, were killed by Ethiopian security forces.
The protests started off peacefully as demonstrators engaged in silent matches that included boycotting meals. They only turned violent after government security forces started attacking the students with tear gas and live bullets.
The Federal government in its efforts to control the demonstrations took up administration of the entire Oromia region, and a special force of the Ethiopian military took control of the state’s security. In a rare move, protesters successfully took up administration of two towns.
The protests drew worldwide support as Ethiopians across the world united in solidarity with the Oromia people. The hashtag, #OromoProtests was used to unite people on social media. Ethiopians in Berlin, Germany, demonstrated outside the German chancellery.
The protests, which started off as peaceful, have turned into a bloody affair after the police responded with force. HRW reported numerous incidents of live ammunition being used against the protesters. At least 500 people are estimated to have been killed, according to the rights group, while several other people have alleged mysterious disappeared.
Oromia region and other parts that have seen increased protests have for several months of this year been without internet messaging application Whatsapp and Twitter after the government asked state-owned monopoly Ethio Telecom to shut them off. The Ethiopian government has however denied restricting internet access in Oromia over the bloody protest.
Ethiopian runner and Olympic silver medalist, Feyisa Lilesa, flashed a protest sign against his government’s crackdown on his Oromo community. He later failed to return home from the Rio Olympics and sought asylum in the U.S, on concern that his life was in danger. Another athlete repeated the gesture during the Paralympics games in Rio.
Ethiopian protesters have in recent months started attacking foreign owned factories and farms. In September that attacked foreign-owned plantations run by Israelis, Italians, Belgians and Indians in the Amhara region. They also attacked Dangote Cement factory that’s owned by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote.
Ethiopia’s status as one of Africa’s fast growing economies has in recent month come to question as protests persist. Economists have questioned if the stellar growth the horn of Africa nation has posted is inclusive enough and whether it translates to better living standards for its citizens. The country has had an average growth of over 10 percent over that last decade, according to World Bank data.