Outrage over the killing of popular Oromo singer and songwriter started a new wave of protests across the Oromia region and Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Oromia State officials reported that more than 80 people were killed since the protest started on Tuesday.
Hachalu Hundessa, 34-year-old artist was killed in Addis Ababa on Monday. The artist was known for his revolutionary songs relating to the oppression and political marginalisation experienced by the Oromo people.
Following the death of the artist, many cities in Ethiopia have seen massive demonstrations. Several statues of former Abyssinian leaders including Ras Mokonnen, the father of Haile Sellassie were toppled in Harar and other parts of Ethiopia. Many ethnic groups in Ethiopia, such as the Oromo and Somalis believe that the ancient Abyssinian monarch was responsible for the state’s illegal expansion, marginalisation and mass killing of their people.
According to Ethiopian Television, senior members of Oromo Federalist Party, Bekele Gerbe and the influential, media mogul, Jawar Mohamed were among 35 people arrested by the federal police. Eskinder Nega, activist and journalist, who advocates for the rights of Addis Ababa inhabitants of Ahmara origin, was also arrested by the federal police.
Adanech Ababe, the federal prosecutor general announced on state tv that the government has exercised a great deal of restraint on its part to allow for a smooth and democratic transition in Ethiopia; showing tolerance to other existing ideas and opinions even when some politicians and civilians have misused this freedom and manipulated the system.
She stated: “We have now reached the limit and we have to stop them and bring back the rule of law under any circumstances.”
Ethiopian authorities have taken heavy steps to counter the protesters by shutting down the internet across the country. It is not the first time that Abiy’s government took such measures. According to Human Rights Watch, back in January 2020, Ethiopian telecommunication disconnected mobile phones and internet services in part of Oromia region to combat armed wing of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) operatives in Wellega areas.
An Arab-Spring style of mass uprising, led by Qeero( youth) erupted in Ethiopia in 2016 against the plan of Tigrai dominated government to expand Addis Ababa city. In April 2018, after three years of persistent protest, and with heavy human and material cost, the uprising forced the resignation of former prime minister Dr Hailemariam Desalegn, paving the way for the subsequent appointment of Dr Abiy Ahmed belonging to the Oromo ethnic group. The new prime minister embarked on a swift reform agenda under his ‘MEDEMER’ philosophy; he dissolved the Tigrai dominated EPRDF and created its Prosperity Party (PP) counterpart, widened the political space, initiated the liberalization of the economy and signed a peace deal with Eritrea.
Meanwhile, the Oromo activists, politicians and the general public became sceptical about the little-known ‘MEDEMER’ philosophy and accused the PM of trying to undermine ethnic federalism and replace it with a Pan-Ethiopian unitary system. The PM’s decision to extend the term of the government by delaying elections beyond 2020 adds to the list of key concerns voiced by critics.
The political assassination of the young Oromo artist, coupled with the way the federal government has handled the situation, exacerbates an already perilous state of affairs in Ethiopia.