Clashes between protesters and security forces resulting in several deaths have forced the government of Ethiopia to declare a state of emergency. The violence follows months of anti-government protests by the Oromos, the country’s largest ethnic group. They claim the government’s attempts to promote development is encroaching on many of their farmlands. While the Oromos make up the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, they state they have been marginalized by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.
On October 2nd, a large protest took place in Bishoftu, near the capital of Addis Ababa, in conjunction with the Irreechaa ceremony to celebrate the Oromo New Year. According to Oromo activists, security forces fired both tear gas and live ammunition at the protesters. This resulted in a stampede that killed or injured a large number of people. The government said 52 people died in the incident. Oromo activists claim the number of deaths is around 500. An EPRDF spokesman said the deaths were caused by the stampede and that the mostly unarmed security personnel in Bishoftu did not use any kind of force on the protesters. He also claimed none of the bodies recovered from the scene had any gunshot wounds.
As part of the six-month state of emergency, the Ethiopian government has blocked internet service and social media throughout much of Oromia region. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said steps are being taken to restore order throughout the country and to prevent further loss of life and property damage.
Along with political marginalization and government takeover of land, many Oromos have complained about human rights abuses, mass arrests, and mass killings by government forces. In 2005, 193 people were killed and 763 injured in and around Addis Ababa by police during protests following elections. More than a hundred people were reportedly killed by police during protests in Oromia last November and December. Hundreds more were arrested. At another protest on August 5th, 90 protesters were reportedly shot and killed by security forces. Officials with the EPRDF, which has ruled Ethiopia for a quarter-century, have blamed the governments of Egypt and Eritrea for inciting unrest.
The International Monetary Fund has listed Ethiopia as one of the world’s fastest growing economies since 2004. But according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 Democracy Index, Ethiopia is ranked 123 out of 167 countries, making it an authoritarian regime.