Imagining Ethiopia Post-identity Politics

In the following article for Global Voices Endalk Chala highlights the recent Oromo Conference for National Consensus and Roadmap for Transition and Constitution Making in Ethiopia regarding the country's future.

Global Voices

By Endalk Chala

Ethiopia’s Regime Faces Precarious Times As Diaspora Plans for the Future

In November 2015, residents of a small town called Ginchi launched protests against a proposal by Ethiopia’s government to expand Addis Ababa, the capital, into the surrounding farmlands in the Oromia region. The protests have since grown into a movement demanding greater self-rule, freedom and respect for the ethnic identity of the Oromo people, who have experienced systematic marginalization and persecution over the last quarter-century.

In Amhara, the country’s second largest region, protests started in Gonder on July 31 this year, and rapidly devolved from addressing localized identity questions of the Welkait community into a region-wide movement that has spread into numerous other provinces in just four months. Though the large-scale July 31 incident in Gonder marked the first major confrontation between Amhara protest leaders and the Ethiopian government, the dispute between the Amharas and the regime can be traced back as far as the early 1990s, when the Tigrayan-dominated regime redrew the district boundaries of the Welkait community that belonged to ethnic Amharas into Tigray region. Some Amhara activists have described the ongoing Amhara protest as ‘25 years of anger unleashed’. The protesters in Gonder have also expressed slogans of solidarity for the protests in Oromia.

Although the protests in Oromia and Amhara started for different reasons, they both stem from Ethiopia’s complex identity politics. In both regions, demonstrators are challenging the dominance of elites from one group — the Tigray — in Ethiopian politics. The Tigray make up 6% of the population but dominate the ranks of the military and government, while the Oromo are at 34% and the Amhara represent 27% of the country’s population.

Since November, hundreds of protesters have been killed and thousands arrested. Early this month, at least 52 people were killed at a gathering for the Irreecha holiday in Oromia, after security forces triggered a stampede with smoke bombs and live bullets.

The protests’ amazing spread from Amhara to Oromia seemed to represent an important turning point in the year-old movement challenging the 25-year rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling political coalition, which is dominated by Tigrayan ethnic minority elites.

For observers and critics alike, these protests represent a watershed moment in modern Ethiopian political history. In mid-October, the government even declared a six-month state of emergency for the first time in 25 years…As the protests gradually eat away at Ethiopia’s basic political and economic structures, the regime appears more wobbly that ever before. Consequently, the Ethiopian diaspora has convened conferences to discuss regime change, constitutional reforms, and others transitional issues. The conferences are organized by a number of diasporic political groups and individuals who are nevertheless divided along various ethno-national and ideological lines.

Of the events happening now in the Ethiopian diaspora, two prominent conferences stand out.

[Oromo Conference for National Consensus, London, UK and Roadmap for Transition and Constitution Making in Ethiopia Washington, D.C.]

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