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Ethiopia: Abiy Ahmed struggles to contain latest violence

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed struggles to contain violence following the latest unrest that was triggered by the killing of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa.

Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed struggles to contain latest violence
Hachalu Hundessa’s songs focused on the rights of the Oromo ethnic group.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – At least 81 people have so far died following spontaneous protests which were triggered by the death of a famous musician in Addis Ababa, an incident that threatens to erode gains made by Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, whose administration is gradually facing challenges similar to those of his predecessors.

Three bomb blasts were heard in the Horn of Africa nation, with the police insisting that the number of those who died remain “scanty”. Several others were injured, as thousands thronged into streets to demand justice for slain revolutionary musician Hachalu Hundesa, who was killed on Monday night.

Endeshaw Tasew, the Federal Police Commissioner, blamed the explosions on protestors, adding that many of those who died were part of the team which planted them, with a number of innocent civilians also succumbing during the melee.

“Some of those who planted the bomb were killed as well as innocent civilians,” the police boss told state-owned Fana, adding that a police officer had also been killed during the standoff, with unrest also reported in several parts of the country.

Preliminary investigations, the police boss claimed, shows that the singer and songwriter were gunned down inside his car after temporarily stepping out. The assailants followed him and entered his car where they shot him, he noted, adding that, “It was “well organized & sophisticated.”

The aim of the assassination, he said, was a plot to “plunge” the country into unprecedented “chaos” as part of the agenda of tainting the administration of Dr. Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize award winner, and one of the highly-rated leader across the world due to his sweeping reforms in Ethiopia.

To quell the emerging violence, a joint task force between Addis Ababa and the federal police has been established to handle the investigations over the death of the musician, adding that police were also looking into the alleged looting and damaging of properties in the capital.

Police also insist that some suspects in connection to Hundesa’s death have been nabbed, but no names or number was issued. The musician was aged 36 at the time of his death and is celebrated not only in his Oromo backyard but also across the country.

Hachalu, a former political prisoner, rose to prominence during prolonged anti-government protests which propelled Abiy into office in 2018. Dr. Abiy took over from Hailemariam Desalegn, who was forced to step down by the defunct Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Angry youths lit bonfires across Ethiopia on Tuesday, with dozens calling for the immediate resignation of Ahmed, who they accused of stifling democracy besides “discriminating” Oromo region, which happens to be his political stronghold.

And Jawar Mohammed, the media mogul who has been critical of Ahmed, was arrested by the police after hours of internet shutdown, with reports indicating that his guards defied orders to surrender firearms. Jawar, an erstwhile ally of Abiy and owner of Oromo Media Network, became a vocal critic after he accused the prime minister of not protecting the interests of the Oromo

On Facebook, the youthful entrepreneur pointed an accusing finger to the government over Hachalu’s death and went on to name four others who have died under unclear circumstances since Dr. Ahmed took over in 2018.

“They did not just kill Hachalu. They shot at the heart of the Oromo Nation, once again !! It was Tadesse Biru, Haile Fida, Elemo Qilxuu, Eebbisaa Addunyaa…now Hacaaluu! You can kill us, all of us, you can never ever stop us!! NEVER,” he wrote.

On his Twitter, PM Dr. Ahmed, who also hails from the Oromia region, condemned the death, adding that investigative agencies were trying to unravel the puzzle on the death, adding that the assassins will be brought to book.

“I express my condolences to all those who are grieving the loss of this incredible shining young artist Hachalu. We are expecting a conclusive report on his death any time from now. This is completely unacceptable,” he noted.

“We are keenly paying attention to events happening in the country. Let’s express our grievances while taking care of ourselves and preventing additional crimes,” added the Nobel laureate, who is likely to face a backlash at his Oromia home.

This is not the first time Abiy is facing pressure from his political backyard, something that has always culminated in deadly protests and loss of lives. The events could erode his gains as a democrat, a label he got after releasing political prisoners and expanding democratic space in Ethiopia.

Last year, violent protests broke out in the Oromo region after his guards were reportedly withdrawn by the government. At least 80 people died with locals accusing the regime of using excessive force against unarmed protestors, a claim which Addis Ababa denied.

Ethnic clashes are also common in Ethiopia after he took over, something which analysts link to sweeping reforms which now allow people to express their grievances freely. In July 2018, close to 59 people were killed in the Somali region over power struggles.

In the political arena, Dr. Ahmed is also under pressure from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF], which wants elections to be held in August as earlier scheduled by the National Elections Board of Ethiopia [NEBE], which has since postponed them due to Coronavirus. The party refused to fold up to pave way for Abiy’s Prosperity Party.

On foreign policy, the Ethiopian PM is facing grave allegations from a section of Somalia’s federal states, who accuse him of deploying non-AMISOM contingent. The contingent, sections of the opposition, and Jubaland leaders argue, is helping the federal government of Somalia to “overthrow” regional leaders who do not subscribe to Mogadishu ideology.

It’s Abiy’s Oromo region which has borne the brunt of ongoing protests, further subjecting him to nationwide condemnation, a move which could sabotage his reform agenda and probably erode respect that comes with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Johnny Mapesa

Written by Johnny Mapesa

Johnny Mapesa is an award-winning Kenyan journalist who is driven with passion and has worked for several media brands both locally and internationally and currently working with African Stand.

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