• Fears grow Ethiopian emergency laws will stifle dissent

Normal life is returning to Sebeta a week after violent protests rocked the burgeoning industrial town, located some 24 kilometers (14.9 miles) west of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Angry protesters attacked factories during demonstrations but now the area is teeming with activity; schools, banks, roads and markets are all open.

After Oct. 2 protests in the south-central town of Bushoftu saw scores killed in a stampede when security forces fired bullets and teargas to disperse protesters, many towns in Oromia -- the largest and most populous regional state in Ethiopia -- witnessed violent protests.

The government declared a state of emergency, alleging foreign intervention lay behind violence in the area.

There is now heavy military presence in Oromia, including Sebeta.

Leaders of opposition political parties and some foreign governments fear the Ethiopian leadership may use the recently imposed emergency laws to further clamp down on dissent and stifle popular demands.

Merera Gudina, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), told said: “The center of the problem is that their [government’s] ideology doesn’t allow for any independent institution.”

Hinting at widespread cronyism, Merera said: “Institutions like the judiciary and media are controlled by the ruling party. Privatization of institutions works in the interest of one group.

“Public outrage started in 2014 due to the displacement and eviction of farmers from their land. The displaced are paid only $2,500 in compensation but the government sells the land at $2.5 million. The government pays in peanuts and resells the land in millions,” he said.

“Investors should know how the local farmers are displaced and their livelihoods are at stake,” Merera added. “People are not against development, but investment should not be at the destruction of their livelihoods.”

Gebru Gebremariam, vice-chairman of Medrek, a coalition of four parties, said: “We have been repeatedly appealing to the [ruling] EPRDF to allow us to stage a peaceful demonstration; unfortunately, we were denied [the right] to do so.

“The cumulative effect of the denial ended up in public outrage and now everything is in disarray. In five days alone, we lost over 700 young people.”

However, the government has claimed the opposition and international rights groups have exaggerated casualty figures from the Bushoftu violence.

“If the world cannot see this properly who shall we appeal to? What is the United Nations there for?” Gebru asked.

The U.S. has asked the government of Ethiopia to explain the necessity for a state of emergency.

 

14.10.2016 17:55
Category Politics