Oromo People protest for against the expansion of the capital, 2015-2016

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
Ethnic Region
To stop the expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, and to fight for equality for the Oromo people.

In Ethiopia, nine ethnic groups each inhabit their own land. The Oromo people are one of the largest groups and inhabit Oromia which is located on the border between South Sudan and Kenya and spreads into the center of Ethiopia. Populations of the Oromo people also live within the borders of South Sudan and Kenya, but the population is most concentrated within Ethiopia. The Oromo people of Ethiopia began conducting small scale street protests including marches and pickets in April, 2014 in response to their persecution and marginalization by the Ethiopian government. The Ethiopian government systematically pushed the Oromo people out from their land and tried to oppress or wash away their cultural identity through government-run housing and education programs.

A larger, more intense round of protests emerged in late 2015 triggered by the government’s proposed plan to expand the limits of the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia territory. This plan had the possibility of displacing many farms and villages that had been in those locations for generations. With the help of leaders like Bekele Gerba, the people of Oromia rose up and took action against the government.

The first wave of protests began on 12 November 2015, in Ginchi, Oromia, a small town located about 80 Kilometers outside Addis Ababa. Local students and farmers lead to protests during these early phases. The large protests of November 12th remained widely nonviolent, but that did not stop the government from taking violent actions against the peaceful protestors. As people marched through the streets with signs and hands outstretched above their heads in an “x” shape, the government ordered the police to open fire into the crowds. On that day, the police murdered at least 75 nonviolent protesters and wounded many more. Despite the large number of people killed, the government only acknowledged 5 deaths and claimed the majority of the protesters engaged in violent action. This would be only the beginning of the protests and the police brutality.

After the government’s repressive violence on November 12th, 2015, protests spread in solidarity across Oromia. Human Rights Watch reported protests in the Shewa and Wollega areas, both of which police met with extreme violence, killing many. Another report by Human Rights Watch, detailed the horrors and human rights violations that the government of Ethiopia committed during the peaceful protests by the state sponsored police. The report read that after each protest the bodies of the murdered remained lying in the streets. As the protests continued and spread, police began arresting and beating protesters at their homes often during the night. The Ethiopian government instituted a militarized police presence throughout Oromia in an attempt to inhibit protests from occurring, but the protestors did not back down. During this time, state employees abandoned a few local government buildings, which protestors overtook. Despite growing relatively large in a short amount of time, these protests remained widely nonviolent with only a few reports of vandalization or backlash against the attacking police forces. On 23 December, 2015, after continuing protests, the government arrested many of the leaders, including Bekele Gerba. At this point, Gerba served as the chair of the Oromo Federalist Conference, Oromia’s largest registered political party. Bekele had been a spokesperson for nonviolent protests since the smaller ones emerged in 2014. He advocated staunchly for nonviolence, even in the face of extreme harm. State sponsored police arrested twenty-one others along with Gerba, many of whom held positions in the Oromo Federalist Conference.

Despite the crackdown by the government, large protests continued. Finally, on January 12th, 2016, the Ethiopian government called off the plans for expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, but the Oromo people remained skeptical. Tired of being systematically marginalized by the Ethiopian government, the Oromo people decided not to end their fight. The Oromo people including a large population of students and farmers continued to take to the streets and march, but this time they adopted a new goal of achieving a more equal society and representation in the workings of the government. As the widespread nonviolent protests continued, the government scrambled to decide what to do. On 22 April 22 2016 the judicial system of Ethiopia charged the arrested opposition leaders, including Bekele Gerba, with terrorism against the Ethiopian government, nevertheless, protesters persisted.

Nonviolent and widespread protests across the Oromia region and now the surrounding regions continued but so did police violence. On August 10th, 2016, Human Rights Watch reported that, in the regions of Amhara and Oromia, militarized police forces killed over 100 peaceful protesters. Most likely, there were more deaths that could not be reported due to the repression conducted by the government. In response to the growing death toll, the UN called for an investigation into the Ethiopian government for human rights violations, but unfortunately this investigation did not get far and stalled.

As protests continued, the military presence in Oromia and the surrounding regions grew rapidly. By the Irreecha Cultural Festival on 2 October 2 2016, a full military guard occupied these regions. This festival was the most important festival of the year for the Oromo people, and because of continuing protests, there a large military presence at it. Tensions ran high, and when a protester went up on stage and started chanting anti-government sentiments, the police turned violent. A few gunshots were heard resulting in a full-fledged stampede away from the festival. Many people were injured and many more killed underneath the feet of the terrified civilians. The origin of the gunshots was unclear. In response to this, the government of Ethiopia began blocking the internet and mobile signals in the protesting regions, and shortly after, on October 9th, 2016, the government declared a state of emergency, revoked the right to assemble, continued to block internet and mobile signals, and used extreme measures, such as arresting and torturing known protesters, to stop protests. Shortly after this, by early December of that same year, all protest activity ceased.

Research Notes
Human Rights Watch. 2016. “Timeline of Ethiopian Protests.” Human Rights Watch. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/save/https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2016/11/09/timeline-ethiopian-protests).

Human Rights Watch. 2016. “Q&A: Recent Events and Deaths at the Irreecha Festival in Ethiopia.” Human Rights Watch. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170322213325/https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/08/qa-recent-events-and-deaths-irreecha-festival-ethiopia).

Human Rights Watch. 2016. “Ethiopia: Lethal Force Against Protesters.” Human Rights Watch. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170322213529/https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/18/ethiopia-lethal-force-against-protesters).

Human Rights Watch. 2016. “Dispatches: Government Backs Down, But Will Protests End in Ethiopia?” Human Rights Watch. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170322213651/https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/15/dispatches-government-backs-down-will-protests-end-ethiopia).

Human Rights Watch. 2016. “Ethiopian Forces Kill 'Up to 100' Protesters.” Human Rights Watch. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170322213757/https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/13/ethiopian-forces-kill-100-protesters).

Awol K. Allo. 2016. “Why US must stop enabling Ethiopia over Oromo.” CNN. Retrieved March 22, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170322213857/http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/09/africa/ethiopia-oromo-protest/).

Yibeltal, Kalkidan. 2017. “Ethiopia: Ethnic nationalism and the Gondar protests.” Ethiopia | Al Jazeera. Retrieved April 19, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170419231636/http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/01/ethiopia-ethnic-nationalism-gondar-protests-170102081805528.html).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Madison Shoraka 22/03/2017