Ethnic clashes challenge Ethiopia PM’s reforms

In this photograph taken on August 1, 2018, displaced Gedeo people wait in line with their containers looking for water at Kercha site, West Guji in Ethiopia. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2018
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Ethnic clashes challenge Ethiopia PM’s reforms

  • Ethiopia is divided into nine ethnic federal regions
  • Nearly a million people were driven from their homes in the weeks of violence

KERCHA: Bedaso Bora danced alongside his neighbors in the streets of Ethiopia’s lush coffee-growing south after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April promising better days.
But just weeks later, Bedaso and hundreds of thousands of others of the Gedeo ethnic minority were on the run, fleeing those same neighbors from the Oromo ethnicity.
“I saw houses being burnt and people throwing stones,” said Bedaso. He abandoned an Easter meal of goat meat and fresh coffee and fled to a squalid camp in the town of Kercha, about 480 kilometers (300 miles) south of the capital Addis Ababa.
Nearly a million people were driven from their homes in the weeks of violence between the Oromos and Gedeos that followed Abiy’s inauguration.
Abiy’s aggressive reform agenda has won praise, but analysts warn that shaking up Ethiopia’s government risks exacerbating several long-simmering ethnic rivalries.
“The speed and magnitude of the change happening in Ethiopia equates to a revolution,” said Ethiopian political analyst Hallelujah Lulie.
“Whenever people think that there is a vacuum of power, they try to capitalize on that to pursue their interests. I think the violence comes from that.”


Ethiopia is divided into nine ethnic federal regions, but recently the borders between these regions have been the scene of multiple deadly confrontations.
Last year, long-running tensions between Oromos and neighboring Somali people over the ownership of farming land in southeast Ethiopia erupted into violence that killed hundreds and forced over a million to flee.
Similar tensions have existed between the Oromos — Ethiopia’s largest ethnicity whose region Oromia is the country’s biggest — and the Gedeos who make up part of the ethnically diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).
Many Gedeos farm coffee on the Oromia side of the border in towns such as Kercha, but complain that Oromo authorities discriminate against them.
A letter of complaint from the Gedeo community to a regional administrator earlier this year was misinterpreted as a bid to claim Oromo land, said Zinabu Wolde, head of the agricultural bureau in the Gedeo Zone of SNNPR.
Land is always a flashpoint, he said.
“Land has its own value, great value” and when disputes arise “it brings conflict,” he added.


The violence began soon after.
“This is not your region, this is not your country, you should leave,” Shiferaw Gedecho, a Gedeo who farmed coffee around Kercha, recalled being told by men with rocks and machetes who attacked his neighborhood.
Tit-for-tat, Gedeos targeted Oromos.
“We have no problem with the Gedeos, but they came and attacked us and they killed our sons and daughters,” said Lucho Bedacho, an Oromo who fled to a displacement camp after her 21-year-old nephew was killed on his way home from school.
The International Organization for Migration reports approximately 820,000 people have been uprooted in Gedeo and 150,000 in the West Guji zone of Oromia.
The government has given no death toll but Gedeos told AFP of dozens killed.
Two district administrators accused of inciting the violence have been removed from office and are being prosecuted, Zinabu said.
Meanwhile, aid workers warn of dire conditions and a shortage of shelter with the dispossessed seeking refuge from Ethiopia’s seasonal rains in half-built structures filled with smoke from open fires lit for warmth.


Abiy, himself an Oromo, took office after more than two years of anti-government unrest and has moved to placate protesters.
In his four months in office, he has won over many Ethiopians by touring the country preaching unity and criticizing heavy-handed tactics used by politicians and the security forces.
But despite the rhetoric, communal violence has flared nationwide.
A western diplomat in the capital Addis Ababa said Abiy’s apparent liberalism may have been interpreted as weakness and emboldened some to use violence to settle local scores.
“My sense is he has inadvertently exacerbated the situation,” the diplomat said.
While the fighting between the Gedeos and Oromos is the most serious crisis, recent weeks have seen bloody ethnic clashes in the western city of Assosa and the Somali regional capital Jijiga.
Gedeos and Oromos lived side-by-side for years. Many say they are willing to do so again, but only if there is accountability.
“The people who committed these crimes are still out there,” said Zeleke Gedo, 32, a displaced Gedeo farmer. “Unless they’re brought to justice, I won’t feel safe.”


Student gunman kills 17 at Crimea college

Updated 10 min 42 sec ago
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Student gunman kills 17 at Crimea college

MOSCOW: A student attacked a vocational college Wednesday in Crimea in a rampage that killed 18 other students and left more than 40 people wounded, before killing himself.
The attack took place at the Kerch Polytechnic College in the Black Sea city of Kerch.
Sergei Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea, said on television that the student, a local man acting alone, killed himself after the attack.
Russian officials at first reported a gas explosion, then said an explosive device ripped through the college canteen about lunchtime in a suspected terrorist attack. But witnesses, however, reported that at least some of the victims were killed in an attack by a gunman or gunmen.
The Investigative Committee identified the attacker as Vladislav Roslyakov, 18. It said he was caught on security cameras entering the college with a rifle and firing at students. The committee said all the victims have died of gunshot wounds.
After the attack, local officials declared a state of emergency on the Black Sea peninsula that they had annexed from Ukraine in 2014. They also beefed up security at a new 19-kilometer bridge that links the peninsula with Russia that opened earlier this year.
Military units were deployed around the college.
Earlier, Russia’s Investigative Committee, the nation’s top investigative agency, said an explosive device that went off at the college’s canteen was rigged with shrapnel. It was not immediately clear if the alleged attacker had detonated the explosive device.
Sergei Melikov, a deputy chief of the Russian National Guard, said the explosive device was homemade. Explosives experts were inspecting the college building for other possible bombs, according to Anti-Terrorism Committee spokesman Andrei Przhezdomsky.
Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that officials are looking into a possible terrorist attack. He did not elaborate. Peskov said Putin has instructed investigators and intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough probe and offered condolences to the families of the victims.
Witnesses did not speak of an explosion but said one or more armed men attacked the school.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper quoted student Semyon Gavrilov, who said he fell asleep during a lecture and woke up to the sound of shooting. He said he looked out and saw a young man with a rifle shooting at people.
“I locked the door, hoping he wouldn’t hear me,” the paper quoted Gavrilov as saying.
He said police arrived about 10 minutes later to evacuate people from the college and he saw dead bodies on the floor and charred walls, presumably from some fire or explosion.
Another student, Yuri Kerpek, told the state RIA Novosti news agency that the shooting went on for about 15 minutes.
Olga Grebennikova, director of the vocational college, told KerchNet TV that men armed with automatic rifles burst into the college and “killed everyone they saw.” Grebennikova, who said she had left the grounds shortly before the attack occurred, said students and staff were among victims.
Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova headed to the area to help coordinate assistance to the wounded and helicopters carrying emergency medical teams flew to the area.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine triggered Western sanctions. Russia has also supported separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has left at least 10,000 people dead since 2014.
Over the past few years, Russian security agencies have arrested several Ukrainians accused of plotting terror attacks in Crimea, but no attacks have occurred.