NAIROBI — Insisting the demonstrations in Ethiopia’s Oromia region during the past year are a mass movement, not just two or three protest groups, Merera Gudina, the chairman of Ethiopia’s opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, is calling for the government to listen to the people’s demands.
“Our struggle, until a democratic state is created in the country, a political system that accommodates for all the citizens in the country, is created, we continue our struggle,” said Gudina. “Whatever the cost may be.”
He says the government has been using “carrot and stick” tactics. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has promised political reforms, which Gudina says are “too little, too late.” Desalegn also announced a six-month national state of emergency to restore order.
Recent violent protests have targeted mostly foreign-owned businesses, burning and damaging almost a dozen factories and flower farms, and an estimated 60 vehicles across the Oromia region. An American researcher was killed near Addis Ababa when her car was attacked.
Rights groups such as Amnesty International have accused security forces of using excessive force to put down the protests.
During the recent thanksgiving celebration in early October at least 55 people were killed in a stampede when police fired tear gas and shots into the air. In August, protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions left dozens dead and hundreds injured after Ethiopian security forces allegedly opened fire on unarmed anti-government protesters.
Several requests by VOA for a response from the Ethiopian communications minister were not answered.
Disagreement on credibility
Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group, says violence is counterproductive to the protest movement.
“Yes, I think, in these kind of protests, you know, more militant elements tend to take actions necessary without the interests of others, and I think the turn of events in probably the last three weeks, has really dented the image of the protest movement and undermined their credibility,” said Abdi.
“I don’t think that it is losing credibility. It is probably the fabrication of the government and some Western media. Otherwise, really, it is a popular movement; across the country people are refusing to be ruled in the old way,” said Gudina. “I don’t think it is losing any credibility in the eyes of the people of Ethiopia.”
Elise Dufief is the research and monitoring manager at transparency group Publish What You Fund, who did her PhD work on Ethiopia. Dufief said political and opposition parties have a role to play in turning frustrations into a constructive political force.
“Because whenever violence occurs in that way, it gives another reason to the government to say, ‘You see, these are distracting forces. We cannot really have a discussion or a dialogue with them. We cannot have a constructive discussion to see how we can identify the way forward. All we can do is reassert our authority and make sure that these people do not have a voice in the political sphere of the country.’ So that is not helping their case,” said Dufief.
Dufief added the protesters are trying these different tactics in an attempt to make their voices heard.
But regardless of tactics, Gudina said protesters know what they want in the end.
“Now people want real change, you know, real change on the ground, real change in the tangible things, but not empty promises,” said Gudina.
The protests began in November 2015 over a government plan to expand the boundaries of the capital, Addis Ababa. Issues have since expanded to include human rights, political representation, and political participation.