Death toll hits 166 following violent protests in Ethiopia as police arrest hundreds
ADDIS ABABA - At least 166 people have been confirmed dead following violent protests in Ethiopia last week, which were triggered by the death of Hachalu Hundesa, a prominent musician from ethnic Oromo, who was also popular across the Horn of Africa nation.
Hundesa, 34, was buried on Thursday in Ambo under strict supervision by authorities, following demands by hundreds of youths to have him buried within heroes shrines in the capital Addis Ababa. Dozens of people have been arrested in connection with Monday's fatal shooting.
But it's the aftermath of demonstrations which could worry authorities in Addis Ababa after it was established that hundreds died in streets during running battles with the police, a move which also raises questions about excessive use of force by security forces.
In total, state-owned Fana reported, three blasts were reported in Addis Ababa, as angry demonstrators demanded justice for the youthful musician, whose revolutionary songs had rattled the government of Dr. Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year after his laudable efforts in instituting democracy within Ethiopia.
Police statistics indicate that 145 civilians were killed during the melee with 11 security officers also succumbing to their injuries after running battles. A further 167 sustained serious injuries during the chaos, Girma Gelam, a senior police officer said.
“In the aftermath of Haacaaluu’s death, 145 civilians and 11 security forces have lost their lives in the unrest in the region,” said Girma Gelam, deputy police commissioner of Oromia region, in a statement on the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.
But of more disturbing is the fact that 1,084 people were arrested during the chaos which was also attributed to the use of force by the police and inter-ethnic violence. Girma added that the violent unrest had now “completely stopped”.
Among those arrested include media magnate Jawar Mohamed, the owner of the Oromo Media Networks. Jawar, 36, who also hails from the Oromo region, has been at loggerheads with Dr. Ahmed, his fellow tribesman, and a one-time close ally in Ethiopian politics.
Jawar was arrested for mobilizing youths with an aim of "blocking" ferrying of Hachalu's body to Ambo. The media entrepreneur has been accusing Abiy of "betraying" the "spirit" of Oromo people, adding that the region still remains marginalized despite being in power.
Haacaaluu’s music gave voice to Oromos’ widespread sense of economic and political marginalization during years of anti-government protests that swept the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to power in 2018. Just like Jawar, he'd also started criticizing the current administration.
Last year, similar ethnic protests erupted in the Oromo region, but pundits associated it with sweeping reforms in Ahmed, which allowed communities to express their dissatisfaction with the government more freely than in the past. Oromo region was significantly affected by the deadly protests.
According to police records, over 80 people died during the skirmishes, a move which saw Dr. Ahmed refusing to take questions from reporters after he picked the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. The protests in Oromo were triggered by the withdrawal of guards attached to Jawar Mohammed.
To foster unity among all Ethiopians, Ahmed had folded the legendary Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front [EPRDF] for Prosperity Party, a move which was opposed by the Tigray People's Liberation Front [TPLF]. The party will face first democratic elections next year after it was postponed due to raging Coronavirus pandemic.
Comfort Ero, a director at the International Crisis Group, opines that for the country to curb the latest protests, federal authorities and opposition leaders ought to call for calm and back down from confrontational stances. All sides, she says, should commit themselves towards tackling the differences peacefully.
"Preventing repeated cycles of violence requires PM to be more consultative; opposition parties’ leaders should commit to pursuing their goals through the political process and restrain supporters," she says, noting the ripple effect of the ethnic violence.
"Before dialogue takes shape and to create conditions conducive for healing these divides, authorities should release detained opposition figures," she adds, in reference to the arrest of Jawar, who enjoys support from Dr. Ahmed's Oromo backyard.
For decades, Ethiopia had struggled with misrule which was perpetuated by ruling elites who never gave chance for criticism. Dr. Ahmed has been facing internal criticism with pundits accusing him of borrowing from his predecessors by stifling democracy especially through censorship of media and threatening his critics.