Ethiopia Country Profile :

I came to the UK in 2016 as an asylum seeker. I am an Ethiopian from the Oromo ethnic group. Despite being the most populous ethnic group in the country Oromos have been marginalised from the political and economic aspects of the country. Oromos have a long history of oppression, land loss, and marginalization by the central government in Ethiopia, dating back more than a century. In the 1970s, this discontent gave birth to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), initially a student organization that evolved into an armed resistance and political advocacy group dedicated to the promotion of Oromo people’s self-determination.

When a controversial plan by the Ethiopian government to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, had been approved in 2014, it sparked deadly violence in the central-southern state of Oromia, which surrounds Addis Ababa. According to the BBC and other international media outlets, rights groups say that at least 150 protesters died and another 5,000 were arrested by the security forces. Similar protests in May 2014 left dozens of protesters dead.

As the protests intensified throughout the Oromia region and some other parts of the country, mainly in the Amhara region against the loss of innocent lives by the Ethiopian forces, the prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who had been in power since 2012, resigned from the post in February 2018. “Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Hailemariam said in a televised address to the nation, “I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.”

Following his resignation, a former army intelligence officer who is also from the Oromo ethnic group came to power in April 2018 as the new Ethiopian prime minister. At 42, Abiy Ahmed carved a path through Ethiopia's tense, ethnically divided landscape by becoming the first Oromo to lead his country.

In the first few months after he came to power, Abiy lifted the state of emergency, ordered the release of thousands of prisoners, allowed exiled dissidents to return home and unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels. He also ended the state of war with Eritrea by agreeing to give up disputed border territory, in the process of normalising relations with the long-time foe.

But not everyone is happy with the pace of change. In June 2018, Mr Abiy was targeted in an attack, with two people killed in an explosion at a rally held to show support for him, and there is some opposition to him in the Tigray province which used to dominate the country. Later that year, a group of soldiers, some of them armed, marched to his office to demand a pay rise. And after some of the state's tight controls were lifted, the simmering ethnic tensions in this diverse country boiled over into violence which contributed to the ongoing displacement of 2.5 million people from their homes. In June 2019, two of Mr Abiy's close allies were killed in what was described as an attempt to seize control of the Amhara region, a scene of some of the worst violence.

Despite being named as 2019 Nobel peace prize winner last month, Abiy Ahmed’s government is struggling to keep the country at peace. Just a few weeks ago, up to 80 people have been killed in recent violence in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, said the country’s human rights commissioner. Violence erupted in several places in Oromia, the most populous regional state, after a high-profile Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed signalled to his supporters that he was about to be arrested.

Abiy Ahmed is facing the most serious crisis of his term in office after the death of scores of people in a wave of violent disorder. The unrest in the Oromia region – the heartland of the majority Oromo ethnic group – underlines the significant challenges for Abiy before next May’s scheduled elections. Abiy is the country’s first leader from the Oromo community, who have long complained of economic, cultural and political marginalisation.

Written by A. from Ethiopia in November 2019

The Guardian