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.”


British envoy denies Iran summons over tanker attacks claim

Updated 16 June 2019
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British envoy denies Iran summons over tanker attacks claim

  • “I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’,” he said
  • Iran’s foreign ministry said the head of its European affairs Mahmoud Barimani met Macaire on Saturday

TEHRAN: Britain’s ambassador to Iran on Sunday denied he was summoned by the Iranian foreign ministry after London accused Tehran of “almost certainly” being responsible for tanker attacks in the Gulf.
“Interesting. And news to me,” ambassador Rob Macaire said in a tweet a day after the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement that it had summoned the envoy over his government’s accusations.
“I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’. Of course if formally summoned I would always respond, as would all Ambassadors,” Macaire wrote.
Iran’s foreign ministry said the head of its European affairs Mahmoud Barimani met Macaire on Saturday and “strongly protested against the unacceptable and anti-Iranian positions of the British government.”
On Friday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said London had concluded Iran was “almost certainly” responsible for Thursday’s tanker attacks.
He was echoing remarks by US President Donald Trump who said Thursday’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman had Iran “written all over it.”
Iran has denied any involvement in the twin attacks.
It dismissed Hunt’s accusations as “false” and chided London for its “blind and precipitous alignment” with US views, according to the foreign ministry.
The latest incident comes as ties between Tehran and London have been strained in recent months, namely over the fate of a British-Iranian mother jailed in Iran on sedition charges.
London has repeatedly called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in April 2016 as she was leaving Iran after taking their infant daughter to visit her family.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government, has begun a hunger strike in protest at her detention, her husband said on Saturday.
She previously went on hunger strike in January.
Richard Ratcliffe urged the Iranian authorities to immediately release his wife and to allow the British embassy to check on her health, and also asked they grant him a visa to visit her.
On Saturday he also stood outside Iran’s London embassy and said he would maintain his own hunger strike and vigil for as long as his wife refused food.