Ethiopia has long been considered a model for other African nations. The country’s unique style of federalism has up until now been successful at keeping ethnic tensions from dividing the nation, and this is in large part due to Ethiopia’s robust constitution. However, ongoing tensions between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the Oromo people, the country’s largest ethnic group, are now threatening to send Africa’s diplomatic capital into chaos.
Addis Ababa or Finfinne?
Despite being its own special administrative region, Addis Ababa is technically located within the state of Oromia. Consequently, the Ethiopian constitution was written in a way to guarantee Oromia a ‘special interest’ in the capital, which the Oromo refer to as Finfinne. However, this special interest was never fully defined and the Oromo people have long protested and sought more control and say in how the capital is run. The dispute has grown especially heated over the past decade due to Addis Ababa’s rapid expansion and reached a boiling point in 2014 after the federal government announced a plan to expand the city even further. Under this plan, an increased number of Oromo farmers and residents would have been forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands. The Oromo already see themselves as victims of colonial aggression who were forced off their lands in order to make way for the capital. Hence, the government is only continuing the pattern of oppression against the Oromos that began during colonial times.
The Oromos still believe that Finfinne belongs to them, and this belief aided in fueling massive anti-government protests in 2015 that eventually resulted in the death of 669 Oromo protestors due to a government crackdown. After continual anti-government protests, the Ethiopian government eventually decided to declare a state of emergency late last year that is still mostly in effect today.
Making Concessions: How Much is Too Much/Enough?
In order to attempt to finally quell the protests, the country’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) recently announced a new draft bill that would guarantee the Oromo people certain rights and privileges. As part of this bill, the capital would be renamed to Finfinne/Addis Ababa and Afan Oromo would be made an official language along with Amharic, which would hopefully make it easier for Oromos to attain government jobs.
The original version of the bill actually granted many more privileges to the Oromo, but many inside the ruling party rejected surrendering so much power and control. However, the newest version of the bill was met with skepticism by most Oromo, who feel that they should still have a much greater say in how the capital is run despite the fact that Oromos only make up around 20% of the population of Addis Ababa.