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.”


Journalist Lyra McKee killing: ‘New breed’ of terrorists in Northern Ireland

Updated 11 min 25 sec ago
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Journalist Lyra McKee killing: ‘New breed’ of terrorists in Northern Ireland

  • The riot followed a pattern familiar to those who lived through the worst years of violence in Northern Ireland
  • No police were struck by the bullets, but McKee — who had been trying to film the riot on her phone — was hit
LONDON: Police in Northern Ireland arrested two teenagers Saturday in connection with the fatal shooting of a young journalist during rioting in the city of Londonderry and warned of a “new breed” of terrorists threatening the peace.
The men, aged 18 and 19, were detained under anti-terrorism legislation and taken to Belfast for questioning, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said. The men have not been identified or charged.
Authorities believe one man pulled the trigger during the chaotic rioting that began Thursday night but had organizational support.
Lyra McKee, 29, a rising star of investigative journalism, was shot and killed, police say probably by a stray bullet aimed at police, during the rioting. Police said the New IRA dissident group was most likely responsible and called it a “terrorist act.”
The use of a firearm apparently aimed at police marks a dangerous escalation in sporadic violence that continues to plague Northern Ireland 21 years after the Good Friday peace agreement was signed. The New IRA group rejects the peace agreement.
Chief detective Jason Murphy warned Saturday that the situation on the ground has become more dangerous, even though community attitudes have changed since the peace agreement and the use of violence is viewed as abhorrent by the vast majority.
“What we are seeing is a new breed of terrorist coming through the ranks and that for me is a very worrying situation,” he said.
The riot followed a pattern familiar to those who lived through the worst years of violence in Northern Ireland. Police arrived in the city’s Creggan neighborhood to search for weapons and dissidents. They were barraged with gasoline bombs and other flying objects, then someone wearing a black mask appeared, fired some shots and fled.
No police were struck by the bullets, but McKee — who had been trying to film the riot on her phone — was hit. The journalist was rushed to a nearby hospital in a police car but still died.
Police on Friday night released closed-circuit TV footage showing the man suspected of firing the shots that killed McKee and appealed for help from the public in identifying him.
The killing was condemned by all the major political parties as well as the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland.
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the killing was “a reminder of how fragile peace still is in Northern Ireland” and called for work to preserve the Good Friday peace agreement.
Some politicians believe uncertainty over Britain’s impending departure from the EU and the possible re-introduction of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are stoking tensions in the region.
The victim was mourned by friends and the wider community. She rose to prominence in 2014 with a moving blog post — “Letter to my 14 year old self” — describing the struggle of growing up gay in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. She also had recently signed a contract to write two books.
Shortly before her death, McKee tweeted a photo of the rioting with the words: “Derry tonight. Absolute madness.”
Her partner, Sara Canning, told a vigil Friday that McKee’s amazing potential had been snuffed out. Canning said the senseless murder “has left me without the love of my life, the woman I was planning to grow old with.”
Catholic priest Joseph Gormley, who administered the last rites to McKee, told the BBC that the rioting was “clearly orchestrated” by a “small group of people who want to play political games with our lives.”
He said he and other community leaders had tried to talk to the dissidents without success.
The New IRA is a small group that rejects the 1998 Good Friday agreement that marked the Irish Republican Army’s embrace of a political solution to the long-running violence known as “The Troubles” that had claimed more than 3,700 lives.
The group is also blamed for a Londonderry car bombing in January and has been linked to several other killings in the past decade.