Ethiopia: Murder of star singer wakes up ethnic tensions

Ethiopia is presented as an economically promising country, but ethnic tensions could be right for the optimism displayed for this country which is experiencing a delicate political transition led by its Prime Minister, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Abiy Ahmed. This afternoon, as for several days, Firaol Ajema and his friends gathered in Legetafo, near Addis Ababa, to listen together to the songs of Hachalu Hundessa, Ethiopian star singer recently murdered. They all wore black T-shirts adorned with the singer’s portrait and the slogan “I am also Hachalu” to celebrate the memory of the star whose murder, unresolved, caused an outbreak of violence that left over a hundred dead. An unknown number of these victims have been killed by the security forces and others have been killed in clashes between members of various communities.

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Members of the Oromo community pray for the memory of Hachalu Hundessa in Minneapolis on July 4.
© Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Ethnic federalism put to the test

Violence that highlights the growing ethnic tensions in Ethiopia. Since coming to power, Abiy Ahmed has worked to reform a system that had previously been very authoritarian. But in doing so, it opened the door to inter-communal violence which tests the Ethiopian system of ethnic federalism. “We couldn’t mourn as we would have liked,” says student Firaol. “The murder (of Hachalu) deeply saddened us, but the way the government managed it made matters worse,” agrees one of his friends, Birhanu Gadis. “It is totally unacceptable. “

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Singer, Hachalu Hundessa was also and above all one of the most heard Oromo voices. Here, an Oromo brandishes their symbol flag.
© Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

The Oromo question like embers under the ashes

Although appreciated by Ethiopians of various origins, Hachalu Hundessa was especially the voice of the Oromos, who had denounced their economic and political marginalization during the anti-government demonstrations which led in 2018 to the coming to power of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a member of this community. His very political texts expressed the frustrations of this ethnic group, the largest in number, but which has long felt marginalized economically and politically. Today, many Oromo nationalists feel betrayed by the Prime Minister, whom they accuse of not doing enough to defend the interests of his community, and of having let the security forces open fire on the demonstrators, to Addis Ababa and the Oromia region, the largest of the Ethiopian federated states, which surrounds the capital.

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Members of the Oromo community in Minneapolis celebrate singer Hachalu Hundessa.
© Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Addis Ababa as burial place of singer Hachalu, the other issue

Because Addis Ababa, which the Oromos call Finfinne, from the name of the territory of the city before its creation at the end of the XIXe century by the emperor Menelik II, is at the heart of the current crisis: located in Oromo territory, it has a special status, and the Oromos believe they have been displaced throughout history. It is also a plan of the federal government providing for the extension of the capital towards Oromia which had started, in 2015, the anti-government demonstrations.

This week, it was the desire of the Oromo nationalists to see Hachalu being buried in Addis Ababa, and not in his hometown of Ambo, 100 km west of the capital, which set fire to the powder. “Hachalu was to be buried in Addis Ababa. Finfinne belongs to the Oromo people, ”insists Firaol. According to federal authorities, Oromo nationalists including a popular opposition leader, Jawar Mohammed, intercepted the remains of Hachalu between Addis Ababa, where the singer was murdered, and Ambo, where he was to be buried, on Tuesday. , to bring her back to the capital, causing a confrontation with the police and the arrest of Jawar Mohammed, who further aggravated the tensions. And Thursday, at the funeral in Ambo, soldiers opened fire on a group wishing to attend the funeral, killing two people.

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The statue of Menelik II as a bone of contention

Last month, Hachalu had called for the removal of the prominent statue of Emperor Menelik II in the Piasa district of the capital, now under police protection. If Menelik is respected by many as the founder of modern Ethiopia, it is from his reign that the Oromo nationalists date the beginning of the marginalization that they denounce. For Firaol, the death of Hachalu on the one hand, the police protection around the statue of Menelik on the other testify to the priorities set by the government. “When they should have protected Hachalu, they were protecting a statue. Hachalu was not just an individual, he was like the eyes of the Oromo people. Now they have blinded us. ”

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