The Ethiopian government has reportedly ceased its plan to expand its capital, Addis Ababa, after protesters from Oromia demonstrated against the expansion plans over concerns that they would lose their homes.

According to BBC, “Oromia is Ethiopia’s largest region, surrounding the capital, Addis Ababa.” The Oromos are an ethnic group that make up over 40% of the population of Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch reported that the Master Plan’s objective is to expand the city of Addis Ababa. Oromo students and farmers have been demonstrating for months against the government’s Addis Ababa Master Plan.

Human Rights Watch also reported that since November, at least 140 activists have been killed by police and military forces in Ethiopia’s Oromia region and hundreds more have been injured or arrested.

Feliz Horne of Human Rights Watch wrote that “The generally peaceful protests were sparked by fears the expansion will displace ethnic Oromo farmers from their land, the latest in a long list of Oromo grievances against the government.”

Al-Jazeera reported that, to date, 150,000 Oromo farmers have already been exiled by military forces from their homes, with no rearrangements or reparations, to make room for Addis Ababa, “one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.”

This isn’t the first time activists have accused the Ethiopian government of ethnic cleansing in pursuit of its development agenda. OPride.com reported in 2013 on forest fires occurring in a region of Oromia, with many believing they were deforestation schemes to make way for development projects:

“Several diaspora-based activists have accused the government for setting the forest ablaze to make a way for its development projects. The state-run media ignored the fire, and instead reported on a new fertilizer factory being built near the area. Citing several ‘journalists working for the government TV and radio stations,’ New York-based political analyst Jawar Mohammed said, Ethiopian authorities have once again imposed a media blackout warning local reporters, including those working for state-run media houses, not to cover the story.

EPRDF, Ethiopia’s ruling party, now in power for 22 years, has been accused of setting forest reserves on fire in the past. For example, in 1999 and early 2000, a similar forest fire in Bale and Borana, also in the Oromia region, led to Oromia-wide student protests and the government’s slow response caused a strong public outcry. At the time, instead of putting out the fire, the government resorted to cracking down on students.”

The government reportedly took no action in stopping the fire in 2013 and barred journalists from reporting on it.

The surge of individuals joining the protest throughout the region led to arrests and reports of people being tortured for speaking out. Radio France Internationale reported that the government has repeated a push for a media blackout by seizing satellite dishes. RFI also reported that pictures have been spread on social media showing activists dead in ditches, hung from trees and brutally beaten.

The White House posted a statement from United States National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price regarding the arrest of journalists in Ethiopia, calling for “the Ethiopian Government to release journalists and all others imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression, to refrain from using its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation as a mechanism to silence dissent, and to protect the rights of journalists, bloggers, and dissidents to write and speak freely as voices of a diverse nation.”

This statement comes after government officials justified the arrests by calling the protesters terrorists. Al-Jazeera reported that “over the last decade, the government in Addis Ababa used the ‘war on terrorism’ and the rhetoric of development to silence independent voices and curtail democratic debate.”

Many activists believe that there are even deeper political issues that no one is addressing. Kulani Jalata, a vocal activist for Oromo and a third year law student at Harvard Law School, believes that mainstream coverage of the protests is missing two key points. She stated those points in an interview with Truth In Media:

“The first point regards the Ethiopian government’s illegitimacy. The Ethiopian government is entirely controlled by Tigrayan elites. The Tigrayan population is 4 million—Ethiopia’s population is 94 million. The Tigrayan-led government and its party won 100% of the parliamentary seats this year— if that doesn’t scream illegitimacy, I don’t know what does. Furthermore, the Tigrayan-led government is very much in the business of holding on to state power by terrorizing and killing the political opposition members and supporters, students, farmers, artists, etc. and enriching Tigrayan state elites and their domestic and international supporters by extracting resources and land from the Oromo and other groups. The Oromo, the largest ethno-national group, has been particularly targeted because of their rich economic resources, particularly their land, the size of their population and their determination to resist land grabbing policies–for example, the recent #OromoProtests movement. The Oromo Protests are against this government’s new “Master Plan.” The “Master Plan” is touted as a development plan, but as we know it essentially will evict millions of poor Oromo farmers and deprive them of their livelihoods. This plan is a simply a continuation of the Tigrayan-led Ethiopia government’s legacy of land grabbing, and thus, the grievances that the protesters are expressing have deep roots.

The second point regards the implications of the Tigrayan-led regime’s practices on national and regional stability and security. It is key to point out that the state apparatus is very much focused on terrorizing the largest ethnonational group in all of the Horn of Africa, the Oromo. This focus on oppressing such a large proportion of the population makes the state very unstable, illegitimate, and bound for self-destruction. Although Ethiopia is seen as an ally on the ‘War on Terror’, it is perpetuating a form of state-terrorism on the Oromo as well as other ethnic groups such as the Amhara, Gambella, Sidama, etc. The Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government’s mask of legitimacy has entirely worn out.”

So were these cases of corruption as the activists say, or an economic strategy? The U.S. State Department released a statement from United States State Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner’s about the situation which said, “We urge the government of Ethiopia to permit peaceful protest and commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances. We also urge those protesting to refrain from violence and to be open to dialogue. The government of Ethiopia has stated publicly that the disputed development plans will not be implemented without further public consultation. We support the government of Ethiopia’s stated commitment to those consultations and urge it to convene stakeholders to engage in dialogue as soon as possible.”

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