Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

Nation at the crossroads

Tensions remain high as protests have escalated since fatalities occurred on October 2 after the celebration of the Irrecha religious festival of the Oromo people at Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), 40km south east of the capital. Although the exact number of fatality has been disputed, the fact that scores of people were crushed to death or drowned after tear gas was fired on a crowd has apparently caused an already volatile situation in the country to escalate.

Protesters who appear to be disorganized, previously, destroyed facilities, vehicles and business property during the past year in Oromia and last few months in Amhara regions. The unrest that occurred this week has been more violent, according to observers who are closely looking into the situation.

This week several protests have been observed in the Oromia region including in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Anger over the incident at the Irrecha festival has served as a catalyst for the destruction of several government owned and private facilities and several fatalities, in most parts of the country.

In recent months, unrest in the nation’s two biggest regions, Oromia and Amhara, has been observed followed by fatal accidents and property damage, affecting business activity and public transportation. However, in the past week there has been more destruction than all the damage that occurred over the last several months of protest, according to observers.

When PM Hailemariam Desalegn and President Ismael Omar Guelleh of Djibouti attended the new railway line inauguration ceremony at Lebu on Wednesday October 5, a Capital reporter witnessed fire in a neighborhood near the event, at Sebeta town, 25km west of Addis Ababa.

According to factory owners at Sebeta they have stopped their usual activity and some of them have suspended production including one of the major breweries Meta Abo, which is owned by the world’s largest distiller, Diageo. Five Meta Abo Brewery agent trucks were burned by the protesters, according to the information that the paper obtained.

Eleven factories in Sebeta and other facilities have been burned this week. Business has come to a halt at government facilities and private business in other parts of the region.

On Friday October 7 officials from a sister company of S. A. Bageresh, which owns the well known Bishangari Lodge, told media that the lodge was completely destroyed by residents from the surrounding area located in Western Arsi Zone of Oromia region.

The company said that it will be difficult for them to return to business during this insecure situation.

During the press conference held at Hilton Hotel on Friday October 7 Omar Bageresh, shareholder of the lodge, told journalists that the lodge which was established 17 years ago and began operating in 2001 has been expanding over the last decade and a half.

The company was attempting to partake in eco-tourism and was established by a family, who engaged in many businesses. They say they worked to benefit the community and all 60 staff they hired came from the village nearby. They strived to have a positive relationship with the community and they were a victim of the widespread unrest that occurred in the region this week, they told the media.

Bishangari Lodge is located 230km south of Addis Ababa on the eastern beach of Langano Lake which is a popular destination for bird watchers coming from around the world. The lodge provided service for about 4,000 visitors 90 percent of which are foreigners. They report losing 50 million birr worth of assets at the facility, which covers 100,000 square meters.

“We knew that our facility was not affected by the previous protest as we were working together with the community surrounding the lodge, but it has happened now,” he added

A few months ago during the protest that erupted in Oromia, several facilities were damaged, including other lodges at Langano.

Since Wednesday mobile Internet connection has been cut and social media blocked, according to people Capital interviewed.

Capital learned that business activities in the western outskirts of the capital and towns along the western edge of Addis Ababa were closed, and a large number of federal police have been observed in the streets throughout the city.

During the latest incident businesses owned by foreign companies have been affected, and one US citizen, a PHD Candidate researching agriculture, was killed when a rock was thrown through her car window in Holeta town.

The government’s description, according to the spokesperson, is that the public is frustrated by bureaucracy, corruption and lack of good governance.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn recently announced imminent changes to the cabinet and the executive body of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has ruled the country for the past quarter of a century. Experts expressed their hope that when the second year of this parliament begins its session tomorrow it will bring new adjustments into the political field including reshuffling of some top government officials.

Recently PM Hailemariam Dessalegn told the state media that his government will include merit based non party members in the cabinet, which has rarely occurred in the last 25 years.

However opposition leaders who have spoken or written publicly want the ruling party to step-down and form a transitional government that includes people from all political persuasions.

“The government should start having discussions with the public, not just party wing groups such as the leagues which EPRDF commonly refer to for “public discussions”. It should also consult with the opposition parties about how to proceed,” an individual who commented on Capital’s facebook page said.

The writer added that it should also take the responsibility for all the causalities which occurred at the hands of law enforcement.

“Then the next step should be the establishment of a transitional government involving all national and Diaspora. A dialogue on national reconciliation especially between the Amhara, the Oromo and the Tigray must be handled with elders and intellectuals,” he added.

People that Capital interviewed in the general population expressed fear and grave concern. Anxiety has been observed in the capital as security remains tight in the city primarily along the outskirts.

“Our heart is broken. It will be difficult for us to re-invest in the place,” Bishangari Lodge’s Omar said sadly.