On Sunday, the Ethiopian government proclaimed a state of emergency because of the continuing protests in the country. Several weeks ago, the first reports emerged about Dutch greenhouse companies in Ethiopia that were being attacked by the protesting population. Just last week, a company was almost lost in flames. The Dutch management had already fled to the capital Addis Ababa by then. What is happening in Africa’s fastest growing economy?
The protests started almost one year ago in the Oromia region, in November 2015. The riot police intervened with a heavy hand. According to Human Rights Watch, the protests have already claimed more than 400 lives, and thousands of people have been injured. In addition, tens of thousands of arrests have been made, and several hundred people have disappeared, the NGO writes in a report. According to reports, there were one hundred casualties during demonstrations last week.
The immediate cause of the protests last year was the government’s decision to sacrifice a forest and a football field for foreign investments. In response, the population of the region, mostly members of the Oromo tribe, took to the streets. The Amhara joined the protests later. Both groups are calling for political reforms. These two tribes are the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia. According to the protesters, the government is dominated too much by the Tigray, a third ethnic group.
It therefore seems that underlying tensions, now coming to the surface, account for some of protests. In recent years various NGOs have published reports accusing the mostly Tigray government in Addis Ababa of systematically oppressing the Oromos. Although the country is officially a democracy, there is little evidence of it in practice.
In addition, there is another problem. Because of the economic growth, the capital is growing. The city is right in the middle of the Oromo area. Although these plans were halted earlier this year, the protests continued. An additional problem is that the government brings in foreign investors, but the population is often not informed. The population hardly benefits from these investments and situations came to light in which the local population was forced to move.
However, it’s not just agricultural and horticultural projects in the country that are the target of the anger. Factories of multinationals have also been destroyed. For example, a Turkish textile factory and an energy plant that has Turkish investors were also attacked. A mining company of Africa’s richest man was attacked as well. The Ethiopian government needs these foreign investors for the economy to grow. By attacking these investors, the protesters undermine the government’s position. The IMF has already downgraded the country’s economic growth. Last year, an estimation of 10.2 per cent growth was made. This year, that estimate is at 4.5 per cent.