Locking of powers, land grabbing, youth despair … The regime is trying to silence the protests that multiply eight months at a cost of hundreds of lives.
By Célian Mace, BIG, August 19, 2016 – Google translation from French
Paris — Cracks have appeared on the beautiful facade of Ethiopia, long touted as a model of economic development and a pillar of regional stability. Despite fierce repression – Human Rights Watch has documented over 400 deaths and tens of thousands of arrests since the beginning of the dispute, in November – the regime in Addis Ababa is unable to prevent riots burst at irregular intervals in the Oromia and Amhara regions. The weekend of August 6 and 7, nearly 100 more people died under the bullets of the police, according to Amnesty International. But nothing seems to calm the anger of the protesters, who reached a level not seen for twenty-five years and the fall of the military-Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Most of those who marched, week after week, raising their fists crossed a sign of pacifism, are young people fed up with the authoritarian regime, which was never released, in two decades, his iron hand stifling Ethiopian society .
The spark in November, was a land dispute. “As often in Ethiopia, the land issue is central. This is a subject on which one scarf for centuries, explains Alain Gascon, geographer, professor emeritus at the University of geopolitical French Institute of Paris-VIII. Population pressure is such that the pieces of land decrease. In 2008, the average farm size was 0.8 hectares. “The extension project of the capital and the expulsion of tens of thousands of Oromo farmers set fire to the powder. “An Ethiopian farmer who are taking his land, he is always ready to fight, continues the researcher. Especially when he sees build on the buildings in which he can never live, or when the land is sold to large investors. “Given the scale of the uprising, the government of Prime Minister Haile Mariam Dessalegna announced in January, the cancellation of the expansion plan of Addis Ababa. A rare back, but did not end so far the protests.
The movement’s claims are now much wider. “Ethiopia is experiencing a crisis of regime. The revolt is directed against the authoritarianism of the State, against the oligarchy that has benefited from the economic, ethnic exclusivity against key positions of power, explains René Lefort, independent researcher, specialist in Horn of Africa . This is actually quite comparable at the beginning of the revolution in Syria. ”
Since the overthrow of Mengistu in 1991, the levers of power, especially security, military and economic, are in the hands Tigrayans. For it is this ethnic minority (6% of the population) who, through the People’s Liberation Front Tigray (TPLF), ousted the dictator. Since then, this organization dominates the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling party who holds … 100% of the seats in Parliament. Protests nurtures resentment of the Oromo people (35% of the population) and Amhara (27%) against the Tigray caste who fiercely cling to their privileges.
“In this crisis, ethnic reading of the grid is not enough, however, warns Jean-Nicolas Bach, a political scientist at the Laboratory of Africas in the world, at Sciences-Po Bordeaux. Even if the stairs are built, of course, depending on the identity links. This is not the ethno-federal framework peculiar to Ethiopia which is challenged. Protesters are also often referred to the Constitution and demand that it be applied. The extension plan Addis Ababa is considered unconstitutional by the Oromos, because it calls into question the territorial balances provided for in the basic text. ”
As for Amhara, “their claims were originally on a piece of their territory that was annexed in 1991 to the Tigray region,” explains historian Ezekiel Gebissa of the Kettering University, Michigan (United States ). “Again, it is at the intersection of two crucial themes for Ethiopia: Land and regional identity. It is impossible to separate the two issues. ”
For the first time this summer, the Oromos historically oppressed, and the Amhara, old elite of Ethiopia, therefore manifested simultaneously in their respective regions, the two largest in the country. This show of solidarity is unprecedented. “Clearing the Amhara-Oromo antagonism is something fundamental, insists René Lefort. That is why the regime is so afraid. He is well aware that the revolt is moving beyond the simple regional context and threaten its foundations. ”
The repression was particularly brutal. Not only the security forces opened fire on the crowd, but they hunt down Oromo students’ home, in schools and even in hospitals, “noted Human Rights Watch in a report published in June. “I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen that. Every family has at least one of her children who was arrested, testified in this document an Oromo farmer of 52 years. This generation is being decimated. My four son disappeared, my 12 year old daughter is too afraid to go to school. Myself, I am afraid of being arrested at any time. “Many cases of extrajudicial arrests, torture and forced disappearances have been documented by the NGO.
Last week, the Office of the United Nations for Human Rights said he was “very worried” about the situation and asked Addis Ababa to allow access for international observers to Oromia and Amhara regions. But Paris, Washington and Brussels have not bothered to condemn the brutality of the regime unleashed. “There is an extraordinary blindness to Ethiopia, advanced René Lefort. Everyone is obsessed with growth [officially 10% in ten years, but certainly closer to 7%, note] and its development at a rapid pace. “This is real. The construction of the gigantic Renaissance Dam, the largest in the continent, on the Blue Nile, is the most famous national symbol of this appetite for modern infrastructure. But the expansion of the transport network – with a brand new metro in Addis Ababa, a railway line to Djibouti renovated, a new highway, one of the strongest airlines in Africa – is also shown. “The path is impressive, recalls Alain Gascon. Today there are 30 universities in Ethiopia, buildings permanently out of the ground, progress is still undeniable. ”
“The risk is that the crisis stopped the investments that the regime needs to continue the development, analysis Jean-Nicolas Bach. Ethiopia is a huge market of 100 million people. Repressing so hard, the government made a bad economic and political calculation. It will soon no longer have a choice: it urgently needs to share power and establish an economic redistribution system. ”
The boom did not however accompanied by a liberalization of the country, which remains highly interventionist, according to a model “Chinese.” The hegemonic party remains inescapable, omnipresent at all levels of the Ethiopian society. An unbearable situation for a party of youth, increasingly educated and connected, and strongly affected by unemployment.
The failure of power
The second reason for the silence of Western governments on the current repression is sacrosanct regional stability. To the west, Somalia plunged into an endless conflict; to the east, South Sudan torn by civil war; north, rival Eritrea which regularly rekindled the fires of the war of independence … The powerful Ethiopian army is useful when it comes to expel the Union of Islamic Courts of Somalia (2006) or troop mission peace of the African Union (of which it is the largest contributor). This strategic partnership in the fight against jihad in East Africa explains the indulgence of the international community towards Addis Ababa.
The event-repression cycle gripping the country for eight months could yet worsen. “The opposition movements do not control the rebellion. It feeds on the violence of the ruling party now openly challenged in slogans, singing, public speaking, describes Ezekiel Gebissa. The government’s plan, which is to lead the country through a totally locked out, no power-sharing between ethnic and political groups, has definitely failed. The problem is that there is not, for now, an alternative to this system in Ethiopia. “Because the regime has been careful to prepare a transition. He even carefully prevented any possibility. At the risk of turning rebellion into revolution.