14 January 2016: Ethiopia has seen impressive economic development in recent years. However, important questions need to be asked about freedom, democracy and human rights. Martin Home discusses how the situation has led to outbreaks of violence recently.

Adidis Ababa. Image credit: Laika ac Adidis Ababa. Image credit: Laika ac

The Ethiopian government has followed a state-driven development model, and argues democracy must come gradually. But the political marginalization of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and poor local governance, have combined with widespread hunger to create volatile tensions, which have manifested as widespread protests, riots, killings and towns under martial law.

The government’s immediate suppression of the protests by military force mirrored previous crises, and has been followed by a purge of local pro-regime leadership. But despite a last minute climb down, a militarily strong, instinctively repressive regime with western backing, and a large, furious majority, both perceiving a zero-sum political standoff, give reason to worry that the underlying triggers and grievances may re-ignite unrest.

For a decade – since a disastrous flirt with elections – the government’s instinct has been increasingly controlling and forceful.
For a decade – since a disastrous flirt with elections – the government’s instinct has been increasingly controlling and forceful. In the 2010 elections just one opposition MP was permitted a seat (out of 547). In 2015’s that was deemed over-generous. The regime - dominated by an ethnicity that is 6% of Ethiopia's population - with its allies won 100% of the seats, and strictly controls the economy. So called socialist policies have not saved the vast majority from dependence on rain fed agriculture.

The UK and Ethiopia had elections at around the same time this year, and the contrast, for all the UK’s failings, was stark. While the debate in the UK was riotous, with the conclusion forgone in Ethiopia the election rarely made conversation.

On top of this political foundation add drought – 20 million in need of emergency food assistance – and now widespread riots, razing of government buildings, imprisonment and torture, and the killing of around 140 protesters and five security officials, each side claims.

The flash point that triggered the protests and riots was the formal expansion of Addis Ababa into land of the Oromo ethnicity, that is particularly repressed because, being 40% of the population, it is the regime’s most serious threat. Locals complain they have been turfed off land their grandparents died for under previous regimes, their language replaced, and corrupt officials involved have made fortunes. The regime’s pro-poor development rhetoric, lapped up by international donors, adds insult to injury.

After a month of violence, the government has retracted the plans. Yet Addis Ababa’s expansion will only accelerate – it’s population is fewer than 4 million in a country of 100 million, half of whom are children. And to these grievances have been added local ones, such as domination of business and reservation of jobs for outsiders, corrupt governance and oppressive surveillance.

In towns during protests, political discussions are being had openly, contrasting with the silence of before. Into this febrile environment have entered more radical activists – local and diaspora – for some of whom nothing short of independence will suffice, which is tantamount to regime change.

The regime is not known for its restraint, and Ethiopia’s regime is of sufficient interest, in this war torn region, to retain international support. The opposition’s only foreign backer is Eritrea, who funds diaspora groups spreading misinformation intended to stir ethnic tensions, and is itself backed by Qatar, but it has little leverage.

So Ethiopia’s immediate stability is probably not in doubt. But relying on the state’s ability to suppress its citizens is hardly a recipe for long-term stability, let alone the changes needed to rescue the millions disenfranchised and perennially left hungry. The key question seems to be whether the regime will register the grievances, and then be willing and able to do something about it, in a context where negotiations and concessions will be seen as signs of weakness by some protagonists.

This would be a reversal of trends. Opposition parties are kept in disarray with detention, surveillance and tight restrictions, and a Tiananmen Square seems more likely than a blossoming of pluralism. But the regime’s cack-handed public relations – at one point they seemed to suggest the riots simply required better awareness of the benevolence of the regime’s plans – can mask a more adept handling of crises than is apparent.

Some killing on either side, razed buildings and martial law are not going to resolve the conflict, or any of the issues triggering it. They will only embolden discontent, deepen anger and further divide the country. The cancelation of the plans is an encouraging sign, but Addis Ababa’s expansion is a flash point the government will be unable to postpone indefinitely.

Better protection of citizens from investment projects – a lucrative priority for the government that brings in much needed foreign currency – fairer local politics and a more consultative model of development are necessary
Few expect the government to start respecting the constitution, but better protection of citizens from investment projects – a lucrative priority for the government that brings in much needed foreign currency – fairer local politics and a more consultative model of development are necessary. The Ethiopian government’s track record and direction of travel suggest pessimism. But however fiercely you oppose the regime, the alternative would be immeasurably worse.


oromo on Jan. 15, 2016, 6:29 a.m.

The alternative is better further for all citizens regarding less of who comes to power or run nation. There is a proverbs about a TPLF. TPLF left the jungle, but the jungle did not leave TPLF.

Urga Bilisumma on Jan. 15, 2016, 11:53 a.m.

as TPLF rises their killing oromoo, oromoo need freedom or Bilisumma . let world hear these action of dictator government . I thank u!!!!

Dandii on Jan. 15, 2016, 12:05 p.m.

TPLF he have to stop killing oromo ppl.

Jeldu on Jan. 15, 2016, 1:08 p.m.

TPLF, the bandits who started as secessionist group and separated Eritrea and that made Ethiopia a landlocked country, is now massacring and terrorizing all Ethiopians. TPLF should be overthrown and replaced by a government that represent all Ethiopians.

Haso on Jan. 15, 2016, 1:33 p.m.

We don't want TPLF they have to leave or this can lead a clash between promo and tigree living in oromya

yaballo on Jan. 15, 2016, 2:13 p.m.

You claimed that “Ethiopia has seen impressive economic development in recent years"? What is your evidence to support that statement in a country being smothered by an ethnic apartheid junta that has banned all free media outlets & is one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world? Most Ethiopians don't even think that they have a government but are enduring an alien army of occupation forcefully imposed on them by Eritrean rebels, with the blessing of the West. Despite all the abuses it has been committing, the regime remains the darling of the US & EU governments in return for its services as their deputy sheriff in the volatile Horn of Africa. The flip side of this self-serving backing of a brutal regime is the risk of ending up with a huge failed state in the region in addition to Somalia & Sudan. It is far more economical for the US & EU governments to switch their support back to the people of Ethiopia now before it fails in a Syria-style chaos.

Oromo Wallagga on Jan. 15, 2016, 3:04 p.m.

IT is the government that is miss informing the puplic not the disporas..mind you writer be impartial what you write to be a good writer.

Oumar on Jan. 15, 2016, 3:29 p.m.

As long as the TPLF is in power, our linguistic, cultural, economic, historical, spiriitual and physical existences are at stake. Oromo nationalism is tied to land. If we lose our land, our nationalism dies. Land is the only resource man must die for; Land is adiamond.The Tgreans are forcing us to buy a grave yard from them to bury our dead brothers and sisters. Imagine, our own land. The only solution is uprooting this cancerous regime - no more or less.

Didaa on Jan. 15, 2016, 3:30 p.m.

Poor local governance is what the minority led dictatorial regime of TPLF has been working on 4 over two decade to keep the majority under its control. The main problems are: 1. The pillars of democracy is broken in Ethiopian empire. i.e., 'Majority rule & minority right' is replaced by 'minority rule & majority right'. 2. TPLF is a group of gangs that believes in killing. If there is fair play in politics, they know that they can't hold the decisive positions and abuse all the resources they have absolute control over it now. 3. The current & previous rulers of the empire don't want to address the century long major causes and deep rooted problems of the people's of Ethiopia. They rather divert attention and address symptoms. Structure and formation of Ethiopian empire should be questioned & changed by any means possible!!! 4. The tendency of externalizing the tangible problems in the country to external forces like Eritrea, like you are shamelessly putting, ' ....The opposition’s only foreign backer is Eritrea, who funds diaspora groups spreading misinformation intended to stir ethnic tensions...'. This a white lie and has its source in TPLF package of propaganda. For exam. Oromo movement is a home grown, home led anti oppression revolt to get ride of colonial style empire and minority dictatorship! 5. Minority group can't democratize an empire state in its current form and structure.

wegene on Jan. 15, 2016, 4:17 p.m.

what is development? You mentioned femine in your write. This famine exist before.If you asked people of addis ababa they can't feed themselves ones a day.The price of goods is increasing daily but the in come of community decrease daily.Even before 3years the cost of one enjera was .50 cents know one of enjera is 5birr.Look the difference. Who can buy the goods is those in power and their relatives.We can say our community is not living.

wegene on Jan. 15, 2016, 4:22 p.m.

where there is no democracy there no development.Where there is minority rule there is no democracy.Where there is no free media there is no democracy.Where there is killer gov't there is no democracy.Stability is where there is stable gov't.Democracy is majority rule minority right.Democracy is rule of people no ruled people.We can say Ethiopia gov't monarcy.

Biqilla on Jan. 15, 2016, 4:25 p.m.

We oromo people had enough with all Abashas rules we are in slavery for more than 135 years unde all Abashas rules our questions is not just master plan, it's about our language idintity culture and land. Let me tell you one of example it's hard to hear , if you go to Amhara regions all Amhara people speak their own language from country side to the city if you go to Tigray the one who is ruling country right now, they are speak from country side to their city Tigragna, so what 50million oromo people forcing to speak other language when we have own #Afaanoromo language just think about it. If we haven't Amhara or Abasha's name and speak Amhara we can have a job, if we have oromo name we can't have a job this is going for a centurys, that's what our resisting and strong continue and that's what all oromo people become nationalist than ever , no one stopping us until our resource and our country back to the Oromo's , we lost by ever single regimes targeting our intellectual and famous oromo people apart of silencing our nations that's why our niversty student face massacred from 2014-2016 now the Tigre government even go far by killing infant children and 7 month pregnant I just a week a go and this what happing right now. No oromo people dialog with this government any more until they are leaving the power. They are controlling Ethiopia economy for them self. If you come to Ethiopian economy it's fake growth people just seeing Addis Ababa bulging and infrustracture if you go west oromiya and East no investment have been seen for 30years people are poor and unable to even sevive that's why people face hunger right now if its real grow Ethiopia economy Ethiopia will feed them self and that's show us its fake and The government lying western apart of access to IMF and world bank for stealing. The ruling party officials become billinares most of them when oromo busyness people no allowing to have their own busyness. They never allowing to have a usyness in Ethiopia and that's why Oromo people standing for their right and injustice this will contune until their own freedom will be achieved . Is not easy but through blood shade .

Dessalegn Alemayehu on Jan. 15, 2016, 4:40 p.m.


Freedom on Jan. 15, 2016, 5:01 p.m.

We have a federalism based on ethnic. So with ethnic federalism if the minority group start leading the leader need to be dictator. Do not expect democracy from minority lead government with in ethinuc federalism country. If there is free election in ethinuc federation country those that has major ethnic will take the power. At least the Oromo and Amara can have significant number of position. Because of this if the minority group want to stay in power they should be dectator and divide the major ethnic groups. That is how TPLF naturally behave since they are minority they will never been democrat and they will also try to divide the major ethnic groups. To be free from this minority lead government we need to unity specially the major ethnic groups need to fight TPLF together

Bilisomne on Jan. 15, 2016, 6:26 p.m.

The death toll is not 140 most of the students and locals that were arrested were killed and thrown to ditch. some killed and buried in prisons, some killed and hyena ate them so much more. those who are bitten and some are in hospital on their way to death... so many amputations and disabilities, blindness... the army killed, 4 of them were killed by car accident no body touched them. No media coverage but people are trying to take pictures and videos...

Bilisomne on Jan. 15, 2016, 6:38 p.m.

The Tigres (ruling party) are everywhere. Jobs, executive positions, land, social welfare, education, investment opportunities, everything is for Tigres. For instance, most of the athletes are oromo so they fired the oromo coaches and made the Tigres coach. Ethiopian airlines hires only tigres, goverment house should be for people with low income but only Tigres. If you are Tigre you have a life time opportunity to have a lot of money which you can't handle it. Tax collected from Oromiya for example Aweday about 2 million birr a day (from Khat) goes to the widow of Meles and to Tigres. I can't list all them. all the building and business in ethiopia belongs to them. Ask me what happens to Oromo investors, they are all jailed so that the tigres won't have competition. the reason for imprisonment is they are named a member of opposing parties well then only Tigres are living the others dying that is why everybody is protesting you think it is the master plan only much more...

Bilisomne on Jan. 15, 2016, 6:41 p.m.

Tigres sell fertilizers with monopoly and all farmers are forced to buy them with high prices by force. The farmers sell all the grain they have to pay it back. No development just a cycle of poverty...... I am done with Ethiopian Govt. I am praying to God to shake their foundation and throw them to jail so that they can realize what they have done to Ethiopians.

Free My Sheger on Jan. 15, 2016, 8:39 p.m.

Ethiopians endured unimaginable repression throughout the last 25 years. The TPLF leaders are thieves, murderers and pathological liars. The so called "master plan" is a tipping point. They need to go now!

Bek Nag on Jan. 15, 2016, 9:08 p.m.

The Oromo people are now more self-conscious than any other time. TPLF regime has clearly understood its number one enemy. There is no going back, the people have been shouldering them for long time and now they are saying enough is enough. The struggle continues!! Clearly the country is already unstable. How many people should be killed, arrested and tortured to call a country unstable? is there anything more than this ti define instability?

Debisa on Jan. 15, 2016, 9:52 p.m.

I have read all carefully and found out that the bloggers and the authors a bit lack sufficient information to address the situation. Here is what one should know about the so called economic growth or sky scripers been erected at all corners of the city. Majority of them are directly or indirectly owned by the governing elite namely TPLF junta's. The factories spread all over the country are the same owned by these group. Hence, the Ethiopian people in general and Oromos specifically have never given these juntas a chance to hord the resources of the country to be a billioners, never over thrown previous regime to be ruled by arm feast, never thought of making an other kingdom called TPLF's kingdom but to have fair and equatable distribution of wealth and power sharing in that land. TPLF has nothing in its blood to stand and die for Ethiopia but TPLF. If we let our selve to think and wait for this juntas to change their behaviour that I think is fooling oneself for something won't happen. They will be there to the last drop of their blood just to protect all they have accumulated at the account of Other Ethiopians suffering, death, and torture and expelition from the land they claim that is their own. The remedy to these isn't what comes from abroad but Ethiopians stand united against the regime to say enough is enough and wage to put an end to it.

Martin Home on Jan. 15, 2016, 10:37 p.m.

Thank you for the comments, I am honoured that people are engaging. There seems to be two points I should respond to. Firstly the 140 estimate comes from the Human Rights Watch estimate at the time of publishing, and I specify that this is not independently corroborated. Secondly, on Eritrea's role, I mean to portray them as, at most, potential supporters of an element of the conflict, with "little leverage".

Ibsa on Jan. 15, 2016, 11:08 p.m.

It is true that the flash point that triggered the protests and riots was the "Master Plan" or the expansion of Addis Ababa. However, there was no real development that was geared to wards the public. Development was only a pretext that the TPLF used it to acquire more land for its won business expansion at the expense of the poor. Look the many high rise building in Addis Ababa, who owns them other than the TLF officials, TPLF war general? God knows why the Ethiopian people have remained so silent while the TPLF officials are looting the country for party and personal interest yet vocal at deceiving-through talk of development and democracy? What type of development are they talking when 15 millions are dying of starvation? What type of democracy are they talking while still the government security forces shoot to kill unarmed students for peacefully protesting? To put it simply, the Oromo question has past the issue of the "Master Plan". The question know is a demand for true self-rule. The Oromo people, along with all the peoples in Ethiopia, are rising in unison to demand abuse of justice and all forms of domination. They are demanding to take care of their own affairs. TPLF has lost legitimacy to rule over Oromia. OPDO, the extended arm of the TPLF has been humiliated by its creator, the TPLF. By humiliating OPDO, the TPLF has burnt the bridge it used to infiltrate and divide the Oromo. Now the fight is between the Oromo people and the TPLF, the brut. OPDO cannot execute the cancelation of the "Master Plan". It should be done so by the same body that created it first, the fake Federation Assembly. That is only the start of the conversation. TPLF should unconditionally release all protesters and all Oromo opposition political leaders and supporters. Should bring those who killed and injured protesters to justice, withdraw its security forces from all areas of Oromia, allow freedom of expression including freedom of assembly, protest and petitioning the government etc. Until these demands are satisfied, the Oromo people will continue demanding their legitimate right.

Martin Home on Jan. 15, 2016, 11:32 p.m.

On the other issues raised in the comments, I am not informed enough to add anything useful but I welcome the insights.

Martin Home on Jan. 15, 2016, 11:37 p.m.

Ibsa do you see it as positive that the government has said it was the OPDO that negotiated the cancelation of the plans, rather than doing it unilaterally? When the government tried to downplay the extent of the emergency food needs last year, I was worried it would take a famine before people could respond. When they dismissed the protesters' grievances, I was worried it would take even more suffering and bloodshed before Ethiopia could know peace. In the opening up - of the discussion of emergency food needs, and in admitting the master plan was not fair - I see reason for huge optimism about Ethiopia's future, and baby steps towards the freedoms you call for. I believe these are the baby steps needed, each building on the last, to create a space for the open, consensual politics and development that works for every Ethiopian.

Beka on Jan. 16, 2016, 2:26 a.m.

"impressive economic development in recent years". Historically, any development that do not participate the local people won't be sustainable. This "impressive economic development in recent years" is no participatory and not a development but is land grabbing from the land owners. Erecting buildings by force everywhere without the will of the people and non-inclusive shouldn't be considered as development while more than 20 million citizens are dying of lack of food. The "Master Plan" is not the core question of the Oromo people; it is just a trigger. The question is about survival, human rights, and freedom at large. The inhuman action by this terrorist government on empty handed Oromo protesters is a clue for the international communities why the Oromo nation is protesting. This government is trying even still to lie in 21 century where there is no secret anymore like they used to hide after they committed crimes. They are still denying the number of deaths they committed while the social media is exposing their crimes second by second and is being documented for evidence including the name of the killer.

Dursaa on Jan. 16, 2016, 2:58 a.m.

Thank you for the time wise article...I encourage the writer to search a lot about the history of Oromo people and the authoritarian gov't of Ethiopia for the future insightful contribution. The morons group TPLF with no moral codes has been creating the so called Addis Ababa master killer, ain't-terrorism proclaimation and civic Society law to name few are not egalitarian( not for everyone). That are representing ethnic group's (Tigrean) socio-economical, political, and educational structures in that empire. It is creating few billionaires with democracy of oligarchy in 21c. For all these massive killings, injustices, forceful colonism and terrorizing innocent civilians using draconian laws, and evicting indigenous people, the Oromo people will continue protestibg and struggling until get self-rule!! #OromoProtests

Kumala on Jan. 16, 2016, 6:18 a.m.

You wrote an " impressive economic development?" wow! I think you are blindfolded by the mushrooms of building bubbles in the capital and other major urban centers. Do you think those properties belong to the 85 percent ultra poor who are subsistance farmers? Have you travelled to countryside to see how ordinary people live their lives and contrast with the ruling elites and their cronies who own those lavish popups? The writing remind me of the work of Robert Chambers' "urban-rural' bias. The work is excellent though but irritates me how forieghners are usually trapped into a destorted reality when writing about development in poor countries.

Ararsa on Jan. 16, 2016, 3:55 p.m.

Killing and jailing innocent people is not a political solution, rather it will tends to further turmoil.

Martin Home on Jan. 16, 2016, 4:25 p.m.

Kumala thank you very much for your kind words and correction. While the real number may not be double digit, the IMF's 8% figure is seen as fairly credible, and these days that is the envy of much of the world. I agree that the wealth is not evenly spread and try to allude to this in the commerce comment, but this is not entirely fair either - I get the impression that the ethno-economic picture is more complex than domination by one group, and that different ethnicities - perhaps not deliberately but following lines of social capital - end up dominating different business areas. I stand by the intro, as it only points to the high profile of Ethiopia at the moment and how it is presented, but within the article the economic angle is not a key part of the general point, so perhaps should not have been included.

Bekele on Jan. 16, 2016, 4:42 p.m.

This is a response to biqilla who in his comment instead of concentrating on the blog tried to marginalised and divide our people as habeshas. The Amharas had nothing to do with the monster minority government. The poor Amharas and the rest of our people are equally mistreated, abused, tortured and killed. We've to struggle and fight in unison and only in that way we can get rid of our common enemy.

DA on Jan. 16, 2016, 5:28 p.m.

The absolute deprivation of political and economic rigjts, goverment ownership of land, telecomunication and other industries combined with political suffocatilon are the triggers for a regime sole existence depends on dividing the people on ethnic lines and by keeping them at logger head and encouraging hate and antogonism. Now the people are realizing its evil scheme. Time this regime is forced to step down and a new transitional goverment representing all ethiopian is formed

yaballo on Jan. 17, 2016, 5:46 a.m.

Martin Home: many thanks for your article on the plight of Ethiopians at the hand of a minority ethnic junta that came to power violently & has been in power for a quarter of a century by instigating state-instigating violence. In character, the regime is identical to the minority Tutsi-dominated regimes in Rwanda & Burundi. The junta has been able to rule for this long because the Tigre tribe - which is an extension of the same dominant tribe in Eritrea & constitutes 5% of Ethiopia's population - has monopolistic control over the army, security forces, all land & financial resources of Ethiopia. Allow me to provide a link to a recent report from Ethiopia which helps illustrate how Ethiopians see the regime as an alien & fascist army of occupation, by comparing it to fascist Mussolini's 'black shirt' or 'carabinieri' paratroopers who invaded the then Abyssinia [Ethiopia], brutalised the people & massacred hundreds of thousands - if not millions. The report is titled: "A Mother’s Tears ...The Making of TPLF’s Paramilitary Death Squad: Agazi Murder Inc." & was posted on 15/1/2016. http://ecadforum.com/2016/01/15/the-making-of-tplfs-paramilitary-death-squad-agazi/

yaballo on Jan. 17, 2016, 5:52 a.m.

Sorry, the link to the report didn't print clearly in the above post. Here it is: "A Mother’s Tears ... The Making of TPLF’s Paramilitary Death Squad: Agazi Murder Inc." (15/1/2016). http://ecadforum.com/2016/01/15/the-making-of-tplfs-paramilitary-death-squad-agazi/

More from the blog

A new report by the Mandera Peacebuilding Programme and Interpeace presents the first-hand opinions of grassroots communities across Mandera County, Kenya, exploring the impediments to peace. Read more »

01 August 2017

Tomorrow's Peacebuilders are the only global awards for local peacebuilders. Find out more and apply today. Read more »

13 July 2017

G. M. Shoeb Ahmed discusses the potential of folk-based peacebuilding initiatives in Bangladesh. Read more »

07 August 2017

More from the blog