Several people were killed during protests in the Oromia region of Ethiopia on Tuesday, according to media reports. The protests were in response to the government’s plan to develop farmland into a new business zone.
The protests are the most recent clash between members of the Oromo ethnic group and the Ethiopian government. Since November several demonstrations exploded across 30 cities in the country leading to more than 500 arrests according to the opposition group the Oromo Federalist Congress.
The violence started when security forces opened fire into a crowd of protesters. According to the Ethiopian government, 5 people were left killed. However, Amnesty International, as well as the Oromo Federalist Congress, claim the death toll to be as high as 40.
“The party [Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front] looks to have neither developed the society -- we are begging food aid now -- nor democratized the state-society relationships in Ethiopia.”
“The Oromo protest movement burns out of the general socio-economic and political marginalization and exclusionary features of the current regime,” doctoral student Milkessa Midega told Bloomberg News.
Yet, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Ethiopia is set to be Africa’s fastest growing economy. The government claims it desires to use the economic momentum to enact a master plan of “Rational Development”.
Communications Minister, Getachew Reda, stressed that the development plan would focus on real change and not ethnic favoritism.
“If there is still a need for further discussion with communities that is the path the government will definitely take,” Getachew said. “It will do everything to explain why the master-plan is not an attempt to expand the territory of Addis Ababa.”
However, the master plan has been met with consistent opposition from Oromo groups. In April of 2014, similar protests erupted in the region leading to the deaths of scores of marchers.
The Ethiopian government has already begun to use harsh language to condemn the protesters labeling them “terrorists”. According to Amnesty International, the intelligence services claimed that the Oromo protesters wished to “destabilize” the country.
Such accusations carry particularly negative connotations in Ethiopia due to the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation 652/2009, which allows the government to use any method necessary against suspected terrorists including pre-trial detentions lasting up to four months.
Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, Muthoni Wanyeki, expressed her concerns with the current situation.
“The government should desist from using draconian anti-terrorism measures to quell protests and instead protect its citizen's rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” the Amnesty International director said.