The inhabitants of Addis Ababa have been under constant attack by narrow Oromo nationalists leading to ethnic violences and mass displacement since the coming of the reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power, says the Addis Ababa International Movement (AIM), a civic advocacy group founded in 2018. AIm has released the following chronological catalogue of Human Rights Abuses and Gross Negligence of Duty on the part of the Ethiopian government under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
“We have compiled this list as an informative reference to call attention to what seem to be potential red flags indicating further violence, displacement, ethnic cleansing and even genocide in Ethiopia. AIM has exercised all due diligence in ensuring that all events included in this report have been supported by credible sources. We invite all parties to further corroborate this report and have included a complete list of the sources we have employed toward this end,” said the statement sent to the media.
I. The Irregular Appointment of a Mayor in Addis Ababa and its Fallout
According to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (hereafter ‘FDRE’) Constitution, the municipality of Addis Ababa is granted self-administration. Article 49(2) of this Constitution provides that “the residents of Addis Ababa shall have a full measure of selfgovernment”. As such, the City Administration has been governed by a City Charter which has effectively been serving as its Constitution.
In April 2018, the House of People’s Representatives of Ethiopia adopted by majority vote a Resolution postponing the regular election of Addis Ababa City Administration Council citing unrest and the State of Emergency in effect at the time. According to reports at the time the resolution postponed the elections by at least a year although no specific date was set. In spite of questions as to the constitutionality of this move, the House went on to endorse an amendment to the Addis Ababa City Charter. Accordingly Article 13(2(f)) of the Addis Ababa City Administration’s Revised Charter (Proclamation No. 361/2003) – which provided for the City Council to “elect its City Mayor and Deputy from among its members” – was revised to allow Council members to elect a Deputy Mayor who is not a member of the Council, and hence, not elected by A.A. residents.
This move was particularly controversial for the following two fundamental reasons:
a. A credible or legitimate reason that mandated this revision which intrinsically alters the A.A. residents’ constitutional right to self-administration and the urgency by which it was applied without giving City residents to weigh in is yet to be presented.
b. Procedural irregularities in the amendment process have been ignored. The A.A. City Charter under its Article 65 provides for procedures of Charter amendments:
“Amendment proposals on this Charter may be initiated by the City Council or by the appropriate organ of the Federal Government. The Prime Minister shall, subject to bringing such proposals before the Council of Ministers and approval thereof, forward the matter to the House of Peoples’ Representatives for its decision thereon.”
It needs to be noted that all attempts to raise and discuss these irregularities have been persistently ignored. Following this irregular amendment Engineer Takele Uma, who is not a member of the Addis Ababa City Council was appointed Deputy Mayor, with all the responsibilities and rights of an acting Mayor.
As a consequence, the non-elected Deputy Mayor became the de-facto Mayor of the city. In addition to the potential illegality of this appointment the selection of this particular person to fill this post has all rightly raised several questions. First, why was the previous Mayor (Deriba Kuma) not allowed to stay on along with the rest of the members of the Council whose terms had been extended as a result of the resolution passed by the House of Representatives. Second, why was a replacement Mayor, in the eventuality that the exMayor opted not to extend his term, not elected from the existing City Council.
Although these questions have been persistently raised for the last year no reasonable explanation for these questions has been offered by the City or Federal Administration. Moreover Takele Uma, as a long-term official of the Oromia Regional State, has a conflict of interest in terms of representing the rights of the residents of Addis Ababa in light of the heavily contested and controversial claims of ‘special’ rights made by the Oromia Regional State. These claims are mainly located in the opaque statement discovered in Article 49 (5) of the FDRE constitution:
“The special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Ababa, regarding the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as
joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Ababa within the State of Oromia, shall be respected. Particulars shall be determined by law.”
As the Constitution left the issue of “special interest” open to the negotiation between parties representing A.A.’s interest, on the one hand, and that of Oromia Regional State, on the
other, representatives of these two administrations are legal opponents. The natural consequence of this arrangement is that no one single person can be a representative of both
A.A. residents and Oromia Regional State without experiencing a conflict of interest.
It should be noted that Takele Uma has on the record asserted his favorable assessment of the so-called special interest of Oromia which makes it almost impossible to except that he can represent the interests of Addis Ababa in his tenure as de-facto mayor.
II. The Burayu Massacre and its Fallouts
On September 15, 2018, a mob attacked the residents of Burayu, a locality found on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. This attack led to the massacre of 27 people, according to official government reports, although this number is estimated to be as high as 58 by Amnesty International. This massacre, which is alleged to have been a targeted attempt at ethnic cleansing of non-Oromo’s – particularly the Gamo and Gurage minorities – living in this locality of the Oromia Regional state followed a rally in the capital city celebrating the return of the OLF (Oromo Liberation Front), a separatist rebel group that was formerly outlawed.
These allegations are supported by records that demonstrate prominent Oromo activists who took to social medial to call upon the Qerro (loose term used to refer to Oromo Youth) to take measures against these minority groups for allegedly prohibiting OLF flags from being flown in Addis Ababa.
On September 17, 2018 Amnesty International reported it “observed that social media was awash with hate speech against non-Oromo groups in the three days preceding the rally.
However, the security forces did nothing to stop the incitement to violence, or to protect targeted communities despite their repeated pleas for help.”
The next day security and law enforcement shot and killed seven unarmed protestors when Addis Ababa residents who took to the streets to peacefully denounce this ethnically motivated attack. To date, there has not been an independent investigation conducted into these killings. In addition, more than 3000 young Addis Ababans were arbitrarily detained, and 1200 were taken for ‘rehabilitation’ to a military camp – Tolay – and were denied their basic rights to legal representation and access to family visits. In an additional breach of their legal rights as per the Ethiopian constitution which stipulates detainees will be brought before a court within 48 hours of detention these young people were incarcerated for thirty days without any due process and for the express purpose of ‘brainwashing’ to use the exact terms used by the former policechief Zeyinu Jemal at the time.
III. Imprisonment of Individuals Seeking to Establish a Civic Advocacy Group in Addis Ababa
On October 17, 2018, national and international news outlets reported that a human rights lawyer and an activist practicing in Addis Ababa were arrested by the Federal Government. Henok Hailu, a lawyer known for his representation of ‘political and/or prisoners of conscience prisoners,’ was reported to have been taken from his Office in Piazza (Addis Ababa). Further, his Office was searched by the Police leading to the seizure of personal belongings, including his laptop, without a court warrant.
At the same time Michael Melak, a human rights activist who was working with Henok to establish a civic advocacy group in Addis Ababa was also arrested. Both of them were accused of questioning the legitimacy of the new mayor as an outsider, while Michael Melak was further and strangely accused of having contact with the Palestinian Consul in Addis Ababa – a Consul that has had legal existence in Ethiopia for a long time.
The arrest of these human rights activists was met with widespread condemnation both from Ethiopian nationals – like the well-known human rights defender and journalist Eskinder Nega – and international organization including Amnesty International which expressed immediate concern as to the continued stifling of freedom of speech and association in Ethiopia. Henok and Michael were released on Saturday October
20, 2018 without any charges or explanation.
IV. The A.A. Residents Identity Card scandal
On February 5, 2019 Sheger 102.1 – a radio station in Addis Ababa – broadcast a report on questionable issue of Identification cards by the Bole Sub city woreda 1 offices of the Addis Ababa City administration. A city official name Ms Senait expressed her concern at the illegal issue of ID cards to non-residents in an interview on this broadcast. She noted that an estimated 2000 ID cards had been issued to individuals who have not gone through the formal channels and processes including establishing proof of residence in the Woreda. The very next day after giving this interview, February 6th Ms Senait was dismissed from her position. A video of her subsequent interview with Abay Media is available for view on YouTube.
In this interview she asserts that:
– The number of ID’s issued illegally were more than the 2000 she had stated previously on the radio interview
– These ID’s were being issued to non-residents and that instead of being 3 -month temporary papers they were actually valid for two years
– City administrators had ignored questions from her and other concerned officials in the days preceding her interview.
Although claims have been made that Ms Senait has been returned to her position through the intervention of the Mayor we can confirm that she has only been offered her position back on the condition that she admits culpability and asks for a pardon from the municipality.
V. “Legetafo” Government Displacement
On February 20th, 2019 Legetafo Legedadi City Administration’s Land Development & Management Agency, a suburb of Addis Ababa, began demolishing homes designated ‘illegal’. Over the next week, more than 3000 homes (3685 as per news reports) were demolished and residents were left without shelter. The municipality strongly defended this move as a lawful act intended to rectify the illegal possession of land and the construction of homes on land zoned for other uses.
In spite of this justification, however, this move is concerning on several fronts. To start off, simply on a matter of procedure, residents were only informed of the proposed action which would in effect leave them homeless no more than seven days before it was executed.
As a result, and in the absence of any alternative housing or humanitarian aid extended to them, many thousands of people – including infants and elderly people -were left homeless and vulnerable to all attending risks. Second, displaced residents have publicly stated that they encountered discrimination – as it relates to receiving guidance and humane consideration – from government authorities because they were unable to speak Oromiffa, and by implication because they were not Oromo.
This indicates that demolishing of homes and the displacement of people in Legetafo was motivated by ethnic consideration. Third, a reporter – Fasil Aregay – and a cameraman – Habtamu Oda – were first detained by police and then violently attacked by a mob that appeared in front of the police station, while attempting to cover the plight of the displaced people in Legetafo. Finally, it bears nothing that no branch of the Ethiopian government, federal or regional, has stepped in to redress the very clear breach of
the very basic human rights of the people displaced in Legetafo.
VI. The Addis Ababa Question
A crucial and increasingly tense question as it relates to the government of Prime Minister Abiy is the so called ‘ownership’ of Addis Ababa. Activists and residents of Addis Ababa
have increasingly sought to highlight their concern as to the views and threats expressed by radical Oromo activists – for example represented by Mr Jawar Mohammed and his US based Oromo Media Network. Human Rights Activist Eskinder Nega has been at the forefront of organizing Addis Ababa residents to advocate for their rights of self-administration and proper political representation.
In contradiction to previous political attempts at presenting itself as a moderate voice in this debate the PM’s party – the Oromo Democratic Party – publicly came out in support of the claims of exclusive ownership over Addis Ababa made by radical Oromo politicians in March 2019.
VII. Demographic Engineering
Closely related to the ‘Addis Ababa Question,’ the illegal issuing of ID’s and displacement of people in the suburbs of Addis Ababa are concerns of intentional demographic engineering to forcibly change the composition of the population of the city. The validity of this concern was established after a speech given by Mr Lemma Megresa, the regional president of Oromia, surfaced in early March 2019.
In this speech given in Afaan Oromo Lemma categorically states that his party – Oromo Democratic Party – is working to bring about demographic change in the Addis Ababa. As examples to support this claim he points to the re-settlement of 500, 000 Oromo’s displaced from the Somalia in Addis Ababa and its environs. He notes that although these IDPs may have preferred to return to their previous locales the party perceived this to be a ‘blessing in disguise’ to control ‘city politics’ which dictates the national political discourse.
At the same time, he noted that the Oromia Regional Government was settling thousands of its officials in Addis Ababa towards the same end. It needs to be noted that Prime Minister Abiy was in attendance and noted that issues related to Addis Ababa had been adequately addressed by Mr Lemma revealing his support of these moves.
Concerned citizens of Addis Ababa congregated on March 9th, 2019 in a meeting called by Eskinder Nega to discussing these worrying developments. After this peaceful gathering some attendees were arrested en masse for seeming to have the intention to rob – a curious and legally indefensible charge. According to Police Commissioner Endasha Tassew, all detainees were released the next day.