World / East Africa
Tuesday, 04 Oct 2016 11:41 EATtmatalanga@kenyafreepress.com
Despite Ethiopia being on Kenya's border, the news from that country hardly makes it to the headlines in this country. So not many Kenyans know about the tensions building up in Ethiopia over the last couple of months, with increased crackdowns on dissenters, human rights campaigners and ethnic Oromo people who have waged a long and continuing struggle for self-determination.
International media is reporting that scores of people were killed in a stampede at an Oromo religious event on Sunday which turned chaotic after security forces charged on protesters. The people were killed near the Ethiopian capital after police fired tear gas at protesters.
Over one thousand Oromo people had gathered on the shores of Lake Harsadi which they consider sacred, to take part in the Irreecha ceremony, which marks the end of the rain season. Some of the participants crossed their wrists above their heads, a gesture that has become a symbol of Oromo anti-government protests. They said that they were tired of how unfairly the Ethiopian government treats them.
The event soon degenerated into chaos with the protesters throwing stones and bottles at the security forces who responded by using baton charges and teargas canisters. The teargas caused panic and at least 50 people fell on top of each other into a ditch.
“This government is dictatorial, there is no equality or freedom of speech. There is only TPLF. That’s why we must protest today,” protester named Mohamed said, referring to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front.
TPLF, then a rebel group, overthrew Mengitsu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship in 1991 and has ruled Ethiopia ever since. It is now a political party that has monopolised power. Ethiopia is facing its biggest anti-government protests in a decade.
The protests started in the central and western Oromo region in 2015 and have spread in recent months to the northern Amhara region. Together, Oromos and Amharas make up 60 per cent of the population and have become increasingly vocal in rejecting what they see as the disproportionate power wielded by the northern Tigrean minority in government and the security forces.
Protests in Oromiya province initially flared in 2014 over a development plan for the capital that would have expanded its boundaries, a move seen as threatening farmland. Scores have been killed since late 2015 and this year as protests gathered pace, although the government shelved the boundary plan earlier this year.
These protests which erupted in Oromiya in the last two years, were initially sparked off by a land row but increasingly turned into broad protest against the government. Since late 2015, scores of protesters have been killed in clashes with police.
The government communications office said in a statement without giving figures that as a result of the chaos lives were lost and that several people were injured and taken to hospital. The statement also reiterated that those responsible will face justice.
Matalanga is a student of journalism at the East Africa School of Media Studies and an intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.