Over 80 people have been killed in clashes with security forces in Ethiopia following the murder of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa. The musician was shot Monday night by unidentified assailants in the Galan Condominium area of capital city Addis Ababa. The motive for the murder remains unclear. The local police has arrested some individuals in connection with the case.
A Human Rights Watch report stated the government cut internet services across the country on Tuesday morning, making it difficult to access information on those who were killed and injured in the protests.
Significantly, just before his death, on June 22, Hundessa gave an interview to the Oromia Media Network (OMN), which had sparked outrage on social media. During the interview, he criticised the government and spoke out against the marginalisation faced by his community, the Oromos. Following his death, OMN was raided by the police and several journalists were detained. Jawar Mohammed, who owns the network, was also taken into custody.
Hundessa was buried in his hometown Ambo on Thursday.
Hundessa, 34, was a musician and activist. Born into the Oromo community, he sang about their struggle for freedom. The Oromo community is the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, making up more than 50 per cent of the country’s population.
In an interview to the BBC in 2017, Hundessa said he starting writing songs when he was imprisoned for political activities between 2003 and 2008. “I did not know how to write lyrics and melodies until I was put behind bars. It is there that I learned,” he said.
Hundessa gave voice to the anti-government protests that emerged in 2014 and culminated in the resignation of prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn in 2018.
The protests began after the government announced a plan to expand the boundaries of the capital into the Oromia region. The community was concerned that the expansion would displace farmers living in the outskirts.
While the plan, called the “Addis Ababa Master Plan”, was eventually dropped, the protests continued, signalling the growing frustration of the ethnic group that felt marginalised by the government.
Separately, anti-government protests also emerged in the Amhara region, home to another ethnic community called the Amharas. Tensions in Oromia and Amhara escalated after October 2, 2016 when, during the Oromo thanksgiving holiday, over 55 people were killed in a stampede.
After fresh protests broke out following the incident, the government declared a state of emergency and established a special unit to “rehabilitate” those who had been arrested for participating in violence or unrest in the past year.
According to Amnesty International, following the events of October 2016, the government security forces arrested tens of thousands of people in Amhara and Oromia among other regions. Those arrested included political activists, protesters, journalists and members of the Human Rights Council among others.
In 2018, Desalegn was succeeded by Abiy Ahmed to become the first prime minister from the Oromo community. Ahmed won the Nobel peace prize in 2019 for his efforts towards resolving the border dispute with neighbouring Eritrea.
A recent report published by Amnesty claims that despite reforms that led to the release of thousands of detainees following Ahmed’s prime ministership, Ethiopian security forces have committed “grave” violations between December 2018 and December 2019. The report claims that since March 2019, security officers have forcefully evicted over 60 families from Oromia’s East and West Guji zones. It adds that in order to mobilise support ahead of the now postponed elections, politicians have been trying to stir up ethnic and religious animosities, “sparking inter-communal violence and armed attacks in five of the country’s nine regional states.”