Jijjiira bikka fi guyyaa walgahii
Guyyaa: Saturday, June 14, 2014
Bikka: Central High School of Saint Paul,
275 Lexington Parkway North, St Paul, MN 55105
Haala Qabsoo Bilisummaa Oromoo, Sochii yeroo ammaa Oromoonni biyyaa keessaa itti jiranii fi fuul-dura Qabsoo Bilisummaa Oromoo irratti marii bal’a geggeessuuf ADO/ODF Waamicha walgahii kabajaan isini goodha.
Kerry misses chance to press Addis Ababa on political liberalization
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Thursday in the first leg of his three-nation trip to Africa “to encourage democratic development.” He came to a country rocked by mounting student protests against the government and vicious military crackdowns that left scores dead and wounded, as well as the troubling imprisonment of dissident journalists and bloggers.
To his credit, Kerry raised concerns about the tightening of press freedom in Ethiopia. “I made clear to Ethiopian officials that they need to create greater opportunities for citizens to be able to engage with their fellow citizens and with their government by opening up more space for civil society,” Kerry told reporters in Addis Ababa.
However, his discussions with Ethiopia’s leaders were overshadowed by South Sudan’s implosion — with continuing fragility in next-door Somalia, and souring Egypt-Ethiopia relations stirred by Ethiopia’s construction of the Great Renaissance Dam over the Nile, in the background.
This focus was unfortunate but hardly surprising. For over two decades, despite fleeting statements expressing “concern,” Washington has shied away from seriously engaging Ethiopian authorities on the need for genuine democratization. Without the latter, the country’s extended prosperity is in danger. “To support economic growth for the long term, the free marketplace of ideas matters just as much as free markets,” Kerry noted in his remarks. But he failed to underscore how rising instability could erode Ethiopia’s standing as a linchpin to the otherwise volatile Horn of Africa region’s stability and damage its newly minted image as an emerging economic powerhouse.
Reports of the number of dead vary, but in clashes with security forces over the last few days, locals say at least 20 protesters have been killed and many others wounded in Ambo and Robe towns. The government acknowledged 11 deaths, adding at least 70 students were wounded in a bomb blast at Haramaya University in Eastern Oromia. Swedish and U.K. embassies in Addis Ababa updated travel warnings for their nationals urging those in Ethiopia to avoid visiting the area.
Ethnic Oromo students are protesting against a new urban development plan unveiled in April by the Addis Ababa city administration. Protesters say the city’s master plan, devised by ruling party functionaries without public input, would allow the sprawling metropolis to swallow up surrounding Oromo towns and rural villages.
Protesters fear the new plan would facilitate the eviction of thousands of farmers from their ancestral lands without proper compensation — an unjust process that has been happening since the city’s founding a century ago. Their land would be sold at dirt-cheap prices to foreign and domestic investors, exacerbating the country’s growing income inequality and diluting the Oromo national identity. In addition, the plan would condemn the Oromo, Ethiopia’s single largest ethnic group, to being an agrarian population in a fast-urbanizing country and balkanize their homeland into an eastern and western half — in a manner reminiscent of occupied Palestinian territories — leaving the state of Oromia with only nominal control.
The ongoing protests and crackdown on freedom of expression are the latest signs of growing discontent and Addis Ababa’s increasing authoritarianism. The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report, released by Kerry on Feb. 27, details Ethiopia’s worsening human rights situation. In recent years, the country’s adoption of a spate of draconian laws, including its Charities and Societies Proclamation and Anti-Terrorism Law, has given security and intelligence forces and the vengeful judiciary carte blanche to criminalize all forms of dissent and to arrest opposition leaders.
While the student protests have so far been confined to college campuses, they echo a long-simmering popular grievance. The Oromo make up close to 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population of 94 million, but are conspicuously marginalized in that country’s political, economic and social life. The government’s refusal to address their complaints is a major bottleneck on the country’s democratization.
Ethnic Oromo students in Ethiopia are ratcheting up opposition to the territorial expansion of the Horn of Africa nation’s capital, Addis Ababa. Thousands of students at all eight regional universities in Oromia, the largest of Ethiopia’s federal states, turned in recent days to demand an immediate halt to the city’s so-called “Integrated Development Master Plan,” unveiled earlier this month.
Today, Tuesday 29 April, an estimated 25,000 people, including residents of Ambo town in central Oromia, participated in a city wide demonstration, in the largest show of opposition to the government’s plans to date. A handful of students have been injured and others arrested in protests at the campuses of Jimma, Haromaya, Ambo, Wollega, Metu, Bolu Hora, Adama and Maddawalabu universities, according to local reports.
Once dubbed a “sleeping beauty,” by Emperor Haile Selassie, Addis Ababa is an awakening city on the move. Vertically, buoyed by a growing economy and rural to urban migration, there is construction almost on every block — so much so that locals refer to it as “a city under construction.” The country’s first light rail transit which will connect several inner city neighbourhoods, being constructed with the help of the China Railway Group Ltd, is reported to be 60% complete. Horizontally, over the last decade, not least due to an uptick in investment from returning Ethiopian expats from the U.S. and Western Europe, the city has expanded at a breakneck pace to swallow many surrounding towns.
Addis Ababa’s rapid urban sprawl is also getting noticed abroad. In 2013, it’s the only African city to make the Lonely Planet’s annual list of “top 10 cities to visit.” In April 2014, in its annual Global Cities Index, New York-based consultancy A.T. Kearney named Addis Ababa, “the third most likely city to advance its global positioning” in sub-Saharan Africa, only after Johannesburg and Nairobi. If it maintains the pace of development seen over the last five years, Kearney added, “the Ethiopian capital is also among the cities closing in fastest on the world leaders.”
Founded in 1886 by emperor Menelik II and his wife Empress Taytu Betul, Addis Ababa sits at the heart of the Oromia Regional State. According to the country’s constitution, while semi-autonomous, Addis Ababa is treated as a federal district with special privileges granted to the Oromia region, for which it also serves as the capital.
The Addis Ababa City Administration, the official governing body, has its own police, city council, budget and other public functions overseen by a mayor. The overlapping, vague territorial jurisdictions have always been the subject of controversy. Now contentions threaten to plunge the country into further unrest.
Home to an estimated 4 million people, Addis Ababa offers Ethiopia one of the few gateways to the outside world. The state-run Ethiopian airlines, one of the most profitable in Africa, serves 80 international cities with daily flights from Addis to Europe, different parts of Africa, the United States, Canada, Asia and the Middle East.
In addition to being the seat of the continental African Union, the city hosts a number of United Nations regional offices, including the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. There are also more than 100 international missions and foreign embassies based in Addis, earning it the nickname of ‘Africa’s diplomatic capital.’ All these attributes require the city to continually grow to meet the needs and expectations of a global city.
City officials insist the new “master plan”, the 10th iteration since Addis Ababa began using modern city master plans in 1936, will mitigate the city’s disorganised growth and guide efforts to modernize it over the next 25 years.
According to leaked documents, the proposed plan will expand Addis Ababa’s boundaries to 1.1 million hectares, covering an area more than 20 times its current size. Under this plan, 36 surrounding Oromia towns and cities will come under Addis Ababa’s jurisdiction. Oromo students, opposition and activists say the plan will undermine Oromia’s constitutionally granted special interest.
A history of problematic growth
Addis Ababa’s spatial growth has always been contentious. The Oromo, original inhabitants of the land, have social, economic and historical ties to the city. Addis Ababa, which they call Finfinne, was conquered through invasion in 19th century. Since its founding, the city grew by leaps and bounds. But the expansion came at the expense of local farmers whose livelihoods and culture was uprooted in the process. At the time of its founding, the city grew “haphazardly” around the imperial palace, residences of other government officials and churches. Later, population and economic growth invited uncontrolled development of high-income, residential areas — still almost without any formal planning.
While the encroaching forces of urbanisation pushed out many Oromo farmers to surrounding towns and villages, those who remained behind were forced to learn a new language and embrace a city that did not value their existence. The city’s rulers then sought to erase the historical and cultural values of its indigenous people, including through the changing of original Oromo names.
Ultimately, this one-time bountiful farm and pasture land from which it draws the name Addis Ababa – meaning ‘new flower’ – where Oromos made laws under the shades of giant sycamore trees, grew foreign to them by the day. It is this traumatic sense of displacement that elicits deep passions, resentment and resistance from the Oromo community. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s single largest ethnic group, numbering over 25 million – around 35% of the total population – according to the 2007 census.
Ethiopia’s constitution makes a pivot to Addis Ababa’s unique place among the Oromo. Article 49 (5) of the constitution stipulates, “the special interest of the state of Oromia with respect to supply of services, the utilisation of resources and joint administrative matters.”
The Transitional Government of Ethiopia, which drafted the constitution, was fully cognisant of the potential conflicts of interest arising from Addis Ababa’s unbridled expansion, when it decided “to limit its expansion to the place where it was before 1991 and to give due attention to its vertical growth,” according to Feyera Abdissa, an urban researcher at Addis Ababa University.
But in the city’s 1997-2001 master plan, which has been in effect over the last decade, the city planners determined vertical growth posed key urbanisation challenges. In addition, most of Addis Ababa’s poor cannot afford to construct high-rise dwellings as per the new building standards. Officials also noted that the city’s relatively developed infrastructure and access to market attract the private investment necessary to bolster its coffers; the opening up to privatisation contributed to an upswing in investment. According to Abdissa, during this period, “54% of the total private investment applications submitted in the country requested to invest in and around Addis Ababa.” In order to meet the demand, city administration converted large tracts of forest and farmland in surrounding sub-cities into swelling urban dwellings, displacing local Oromo residents.
At least nine students have died during days of protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia state, the government has said.
However, a witness told the BBC that 47 were killed by the security forces.
She said the protests in Ambo, 125km (80 miles) west of Addis Ababa began last Friday over plans to expand the capital into Oromia state.
The government did not say how most of the deaths had been caused but the Ambo resident said she had seen the army firing live ammunition.
“I saw more than 20 bodies on the streets,” she said.
“I am hiding in my house because I am scared.”
The Ambo resident said that four students had been killed on Monday and another 43 in a huge security crackdown on Tuesday, after a huge demonstration including many non-students.
Since then, the town’s streets have been deserted, she said, with banks and shops closed and no transport.
She said teaching had been suspended at Ambo University, where the protests began, and students prevented from leaving.
In a statement, the government said eight people had died during violent protests led by “anti-peace forces” in the towns of Ambo and Tokeekutayu, as well as Meda Welabu University, also in Oromia state.
It said one person had been killed “in a related development” when a hand grenade was thrown at students watching a football match.
The statement blamed the protests on “baseless rumours” being spread about the “integrated development master plan” for the capital.
BBC Ethiopia analyst Hewete Haileselassie says some ethnic Oromos feel the government is dominated by members of the Tigre and Amhara communities and they would be loath to see the size of “their” territory diminish with the expansion of Addis Ababa, which is claimed by both Oromos and Amharas.
Here is a statement released by ODF regarding the killing and arresting of peaceful Oromo protesters on the issue of Finfinne (in Afaan Oromoo, English and Amharic versions).