Death toll mounts in Ethiopian violence

Protests have continued among Ethiopia’s Oromo community, and while the government is still insisting that only five people have been killed, independent estimates have put the rising death toll at somewhere around 75 people. The State Department interjected itself into the situation on Friday, expressing its “concern” over the deaths and “urg[ing] the government of Ethiopia to permit peaceful protest and commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances.”

The Ethiopian government has been displacing local farmers, many of them Oromo, from their land in favor of foreign investors for some time now, so its announced plan to expand Addis Ababa’s urban footprint into Oromian territory was in some respects the last straw. But Ethiopia expert Yohannes Woldemariam argues that the leased farmland and urban expansion issues are masking much deeper anger at Ethiopia’s one-party rule:

[Former Prime Minister Meles] Zenawi’s violent crackdown on the 2005 demonstrations protesting the widely believed rigged election was a clear indication of his determination to hang on to power. In the 2010 elections, the EPRDF [the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front] won 499 out of 547 parliamentary seats — with all but two others going to EPRDF-allied parties — and all but one of 1,904 council seats in regional elections. Despite the semblance of parliamentary rule, those elected were irrelevant to the governance of the country, since the TPLF [the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front, which dominated the EPRDF] and PM Zenawi maintained near absolute control over the country’s politics.

If there was any doubt in 2005, in the 2010 and 2015 elections, it became clear that this was a one-party rule with a vengeance, ensuring the triumph of repression, the squashing of dissenting voices and the shutting down of independent media. Elections in Ethiopia are shenanigans to show complete EPRDF control rather than engagement in democracy. There is a clampdown on internet access, and the arrest and sentencing of political opponents and journalists. Even two Swedish journalists reporting in the Ogaden were imprisoned on terrorism charges.

The current Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, though not a Tigrayan, has largely stuck to the TPLF party line, while the TPLF itself seems rudderless since Zenawi’s death in 2012. Except, of course, when it comes to stifling opposition, which they do very well and pretty ruthlessly.

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