Ethiopia finds itself battling another ethnic conflict and anti-government protest following the assassination of popular singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa on June 29th, at the country’s capital – Addis Ababa. The widespread violent demonstrations have claimed the lives of at least 239 people so far, while over 5000 people have been arrested by the police, including opponent politicians, activists, and journalists. The government has deployed national security troops in the capital and has cut off access to internet connections across the country, causing social unrest and hampering the democratic transition in Ethiopia.
“Due to the unrest that occurred in the region, nine police officers, five militia members, and 215 civilians have lost their lives,” acting Oromia police commissioner said on state television.
Haacaaluu Hundeessaa – a renowned singer, songwriter, and activist, hailing from the Oromo Ethnic group, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in the Galan Condominium area of the capital city Addis Ababa. His songs and activism exemplified the social and political oppression faced by the marginalized Oromo community, who – despite making up more than 50% of Ethiopia’s population of 110 million – still largely endures repression from other ethnic groups.
Hundeessaa played a vital role in the 2015-2018 anti-government protests terminating the reign of Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, in 2018 – which was then taken over by the current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, also from the Oromo community.
His death fueled a nation-wide protest in Addis Ababa and spread to the surrounding Oromia region, by the Oromo group against other ethnic groups and the police. The neighborhood streets reverberated of gunshots, and gangs armed with sticks and machetes roamed the streets, vandalizing properties of other ethnic groups, and damaging several government buildings, as well as hundreds of cars.
“We had a meeting with the community, and we were told to arm ourselves with anything we have, including machetes and sticks. We no longer trust the police to protect us so we have to prepare ourselves,” said one of the protesters.
Hundeessaa was laid to rest in his hometown, Ambo, on 2 July, which was broadcasted on National Television.
The Ethiopian authorities announced the arrest of two suspects – an attacker and an accomplice with a third one still at large. “We have arrested those who killed him, and those who collaborated in the killing. We will continue to ensure the rule of law,” reported a General Attorney in a televised statement.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, claimed that the killing of Hundeessaa and subsequent protests are “coordinated attempts” to spark unrest in the country. The demonstration poses a domestic test for PM Ahmed who introduced political, economic, and social overhauls, restarted peace with neighboring Eritrea, and legalized once-banned exile groups in Ethiopia since 2018.
PM Ahmed drew heavy condemnation from the Oromo community over Hundeessaa’s death and the ongoing marginalization of the community. Human Rights also criticized the government for cutting off internet access in the country which is believed to be a strategic attempt to limit telecommunication for the protests. Numerous government opponent figures were arrested, including prominent opponents and ex-ally of Abiy, Oromo media mogul Jawar Mohammed.
“Rather than restoring calm, the authorities’ internet shutdown, apparent excessive use of force, and arrest of political opposition figures could make a volatile situation even worse,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement.
The protests disseminated to Washington DC, London, Minnesota, and Seattle by diasporic Ethiopians who were enraged by the killing of Hundeessaa.
Feature Image Via Canva