By Nélida Tello
Protests erupted in the capital city of Addis Ababa and the surrounding Oromia region of Ethiopia, as people protested the June 29 murder of 36-year-old Oromo activist and musician Hachalu Hundessa. 225 protesters have been killed by police forces since the initial protests.
Hundessa belongs to the Oromo ethnic group, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. The Oromo have historically been oppressed by the ruling class of Ethiopia, facing forced assimilation, displacement, occupation, and lack of political power within the country.
In 2014, Oromo students staged an uprising against the expansion of Addis Ababa onto the surrounding Oromia region. The expansion project was halted, and at least 11 students were killed.
Hundessa’s music spoke of Oromo oppression and the need to rebel, and his music was influential during the 2014 uprising and following rebellions. Hundessa’s murder along with the postponed national elections have fueled the anger behind the protests and the Oromo’s demand for self-rule in the Oromia region.
Repressive measures to suppress the protests were ordered by Prime Minister Ahmed, himself Oromo, who last year was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The military was deployed to repress protesters, and as a result 5,000 people were arrested and hundreds brutalized. The initial death toll increased from 155 to 225 between June 29 and July 8. Critics of Prime Minister Ahmed and opposition leaders were also arrested.
Protesters retaliated and killed 9 police officers and 5 militia members during the protests. Initial news of the protests was suppressed due to censorship and an internet shut down that is entering its third week.
In London, Ethiopians gathered outside of the Ethiopian embassy and took down the flag, replacing it with the Oromo flag. In Minneapolis, 1,500 people shut down the Interstate 35W bridge in solidarity with the struggles of the Oromo.
Initially and without any evidence, Prime Minister Ahmed looked to blame Egyptian security forces for the murder of Hundessa, stemming from a dispute between the two countries over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River. Since then, five high ranking members of the Oromo Liberation Front have been arrested in connection with the murder, despite lack of evidence.
As repression against critics and popular resistance increases, many believe the government murdered Hundessa to make an example of those who dare to rebel, but the people have shown they will boldly face death in their struggle for liberation.