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Ethiopian Activists Fight U.S.-Backed Land Seizures

Oromo protesters demanding an end to land seizures and oppression of their people

By Hilary Matfess,

Yehun and Miriam have little hope for the future. "We didn't do anything and they destroyed our house," Miriam told me. "We are appealing to the mayor but there have been no answers. The government does not know where we live now, so it is not possible for them to compensate us even if they wanted."

Like the other residents of Legetafo-a small, rural town about 20 kilometers from Addis Ababa-Yehun and Miriam are subsistence farmers. Or rather, they were, before government bulldozers demolished their home and the authorities confiscated their land. The government demolished 15 houses in Legetafo last July.

The farmers in the community stood in the streets, attempting to prevent the demolitions, but the protests were met with swift and harsh government repression. Many other Oromo families on the outskirts of Ethiopia's bustling capital are now wondering whether their communities could be next.

These homes were demolished in order to implement what's being called Ethiopia's "Integrated Master Plan," or IMP. The IMP has been heralded by its advocates as a bold modernization plan for the "Capital of Africa."

The plan intends to integrate Addis Ababa with the surrounding towns in Oromia, one of the largest states in Ethiopia and home to the Oromo ethnic group-which, with about a third of the country's population, is its largest single ethnic community. While the plan's proponents consider the territorial expansion of the capital to be another example of what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the country's "terrific efforts"
towards development, others argue that the plan favors a narrow group of ethnic elites while repressing the citizens of Oromia.

"At least two people were shot and injured," according to Miriam, a 28-year-old Legetafo farmer whose home was demolished that day. "The situation is very upsetting. We asked to get our property before the demolition, but they refused. Some people were shot. Many were beaten and arrested. My husband was beaten repeatedly with a stick by the police while in jail."

Yehun, a 20-year-old farmer from the town, says that the community was given no warning about the demolitions. "I didn't even have time to change my clothes," he says sheepishly. Yehun and his family walked 20 kilometers barefoot to Sendafa, where his extended family could take them in.

The Price of Resistance 

Opponents of the plan have been met with fierce repression. "The Integrated Master Plan is a threat to Oromia as a nation and as a people," Fasil states as a matter of fact, leaning forward in a scuffed hotel armchair. Reading from notes scribbled on a sheet of loose-leaf notebook paper, the hardened student activist continues: "The plan would take away territory from Oromia," depriving the region of tax revenue and political representation, "and is a cultural threat to the Oromo people living there."

A small scar above Fasil's eye, his deafness in one ear, and a lingering gastrointestinal disease picked up in prison testify to Fasil's commitment to the cause. His injuries come courtesy of the police brutality he encountered during the four-year prison sentence he served after he was arrested for protesting for Oromo rights in high school and, more recently, against the Integrated Master Plan at Addis Ababa University.

Fasil is just one of the estimated thousands of students that were detained during university protests against the Integrated Master Plan. Though Fasil was beaten, electrocuted, and harassed while he was imprisoned last May, he considers himself lucky. "We know that 62 students were killed and 125 are still missing," he confides in a low voice.

The students ground their protests in Ethiopia's federal constitution. "We are merely asking that the government abide by the constitution," Fasil explains, arguing that the plan violates at least eight constitutional provisions. In particular, the students claim that the plan violates Article 49(5), which protects "the special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Ababa" and gives the district the right to resist federal incursions into
"administrative manners."

Moreover, the plan presents a tangible threat to the people living in Oromia. Fasil and other student protestors claimed that the Integrated Master Plan "would allow the city to expand to a size that would completely cut off West Oromia from East Oromia." When the plan is fully implemented, an estimated 2 million farmers will be displaced. "These farmers will have no other opportunities," Fasil tells me. "We have seen this before when the city grew. When they lose their land, the farmers will become day laborers or beggars."

Winners and Losers 

The controversy highlights the disruptive and often violent processes that can accompany economic growth. "What is development, after all?" Fasil asks me.

Ethiopia's growth statistics are some of the most impressive in the region. Backed by aid from the U.S. government, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the country's ruling coalition, is committed to modernizing agricultural production and upgrading the country's economy. Yet there is a lack of consensus about which processes should be considered developmental.

Oromo activists allege that their community has borne a disproportionate share of the costs of development. Advocates like Fasil argue that the "development" programs of the EPRDF are simply a means of marginalizing the Oromo people to consolidate political power within the ruling coalition.

"Ethiopia has a federalism based on identity and language," a political science professor that works on human rights explains. Nine distinct regions are divided along ethnic lines and are theoretically granted significant autonomy from the central government under the 1994 constitution. In practice, however, the regions are highly dependent upon the central government for revenue transfers and food security, development, and health programs. Since the inception of Ethiopia's ethno-regional federalism, the Oromo have been resistant to incorporation in the broader Ethiopian state and suspicious of the intentions of the Tigray ethnic group-the country's second-largest-which dominates the EPRDF.

As the 2015 elections approach, the Integrated Master Plan may provide a significant source of political mobilization. "The IMP is part of a broader conflict in Ethiopia," the professor explains, "over identity, power, and political freedoms."

U.S. Support 

Standing in Gullele Botanic Park last May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was effusive about the partnership between the United States and Ethiopia, praising the Ethiopian government's "terrific support in efforts not just with our development challenges and the challenges of Ethiopia itself, but also.the challenges of leadership on the continent and beyond."

Kerry's rhetoric is matched by a significant amount of American financial support. In 2013, the United States allocated over $619 million in foreign assistance in the country, making it one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid on the continent. According to USAID, Ethiopia is "the linchpin to stability in the Horn of Africa and the Global War on Terrorism."

Kerry asserted that "the United States could be a vital catalyst in this continent's continued transformation." Yet if "transformation" entails land seizures, home demolitions, and political repression, then it's worth questioning just what kind of development American taxpayers are subsidizing.

The American people must wrestle with the implications of U.S. "development assistance" programs and the thin line between modernization and marginalization in countries like Ethiopia. Though the U.S. government has occasionally expressed concern about the oppressive tendencies of the Ethiopian regime, few demands for reform have accompanied the aid levied.

For the EPRDF, the process of expanding Addis Ababa is integral to the modernization of Ethiopia and the opportunities inherent to development. For the Oromo people, the Integrated Master Plan represents a political and cultural threat. For the residents of Legetafo, the demolition of their homes demonstrates the uncertainty of life in a rapidly changing country.

Hilary Matfess is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she focuses on politics, development, and security in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Ethiopian Activists Fight U.S.-Backed Land Seizures Reviewed by Admin on 1:22 AM Rating: 5


  1. Your comments fits well with your country Ethiopia whether you like it or not.

    Who are the protesters?

    Why are they protesting?

    Are Oromo people Ethiopian citizens?

    Why don't have the same right as others ethnic groups?

    Why are they internally displaced?

    Who is displacing them from their own precious land?

    Why were murdered and imprisoned while protesting against woyane?

    Why are they calling USA to drawback food aid?

    When is Ethiopia going to be destabilize?

    What is the future of Oromo ethnic citizen of Ethiopia?

    Ethiopia and home to the Oromo ethnic group-which, with about a third of the country's population, is its largest single ethnic community. How you will deal their problem?

  2. Good or bad protesting is a way of citizens expressing themselves the way their country is governed. In our Eritrea protesting is NOT allowed unless supporting the regime. So, for us to even write/talk about the protesting of other nations is brainless.

  3. Zeragi is Protest allowed in Eritrea?
    Oromos are practicing a Constitutional right, and it is good!
    As long as it is done in accordance with the law, no problem.

  4. "Tigray ethnic group the country's second-largest-which dominates the EPRDF."

    This statement is false; the truth is only about six percent of the population are ethnic Tigrayans,
    closer look reveals; Tigrayans have been distancing themselves from the mafia regime that has turned many of its politburo members into instant millionaires and billionaires

  5. Hahaha, Shaebia help put this so called minority according to you in power, now they act as if they care how Ethiopia is ruled. Why don't you forget about them and focus how you are being run. Eritrea after the worst civil war for independence " Nasenet" we don't even have a constitution when our struggle included all the ethnic make up of all Eritrean society, we are ruled by one man dictatorship. They importing some bs Chinese Moest ideology to oppress and control the population. Why don't we develop our own fare democratic system. The way this so called people for democratic and justice, wow left with just a title, very sad to sell your soul for illusive power. Thank God is the true leader and will bring order sooner or later all the dictators DEAD!

  6. You are right , we should pamp democracy from ethipia to eritrea.
    I think Anay Tigray is long time dead with rat face meles.

  7. The way things are going, Woyane stolen properties will be returned and the 4th grader Generals will be going back to selling beles, if tthey're lucky

  8. Korchach and Elsa Churum touring Eroupe and North America.

  9. How many times does the Eritrean government bulldozed poor people's houses in Massawa and Keren? People didn't even dare to speak let alone to demonstrate.
    If you care for Eritreans cry for them not for Ethiopia because they are thousands times better than us.

  10. You got it all wrong bro. They are prospering while we are going backward.

    One example is they have grown their airline industry in the last 23yrs. They have 81 airplain to our zero.

    90,000 Eritreans are in refugee camps in Ethiopia. How many Ethiopians are in refugee camps in Eritrea?

  11. God might be the true leader but he despises forked tongued twisted nations & people like you, just read the Bible / Quran or what ever you rat believe in and he calls you in his own words hypocrites. if as you say they are better than us, then what are you doing in an Eritrean page, go to where its better. unless you have such a low view of yourself that you can't aspire to be better - totally un-Eritrean characteristic? clearly even if you've Eritrean blood you are not Eritrean for no true Eritrean bows down to any man (nation), its genetically impossible, which clearly means that you are not an Eritrean but true to your inferior blood you are bowing down, true Agame

  12. onlygodistrue leader, your inferiority complex is destroying you before you could destroy Eritrea!!

  13. If ther are forked tongued people in the world it must be you and your likes, i bet you know why but to give a hint your likes stands with the "mad dog" while our people are hungry, thirsty for water, justice and mass exodes in thousands.
    What God dislike is i guess it must be people like you cowards.
    P.s- What i always don't understand is why should people want to be Eritrean if they are Ethiopians already?
    Fyi i am "wilad may felega" alete minabe zeray iye (might be more Eritrean than you if you know the place).

  14. well the only way you could be more Eritrean is if you died for it, so you must be dead if not physically, you sure are mentally & spiritually dead / stagnant.... "why should people want to be Eritrean if they are Ethiopians already?" ask your self, your mother, your father in fact your whole blood line its a question we have a problem in understanding is well, just to give you an example for my personal life' there is a friend of a friend - who've know for more than 5 years, her name is SABA, she lives in shepherd bush, London and i know she's AGAME Ethiopian but she lies to everyone including even to her best friends claiming to be Eritrean and all she does is talk bullshit about my country, so i ask you, like i've asked her why do you claim to be Eritrean if you hate what it mean to be Eritrean? i mean its a total contradiction to love everything about Eritrean, even claim to be Eritrean yet hate what it stand / mean to be Eritrean - twisted hearts Agame - p.s. she's not claiming to be Eritrean to get papers, like those millions of her kins, it's just where she get her pride from - so i call her Sababullshit

  15. F*** i did not even know i was talking to you sorry ass traitor. MADOTE why do names change? ..... not the first time .....

  16. This woy'ane cyber militia are everywhere on Eritrean websites. trying to mislead us, while their government(the woy'ane) killing and raping the Oromo, Ogaden And the Gambella and so on. The woy'ane they use rape and food Aid as Weapon of War in Ogaden. When the Oromo students protest and demanded the TPLF Ethiopian regime to stop evicting Oromo farmers and grabbing their land in the name of “development.” they got massacre by the TPLF Ethiopian regime. and the US knows everything that happen in ogaden b/c human rights investigators say that the Security Council is ignoring Ethiopia’s own genocide in the Ogaden Basin, and that the West is funding it. All that genocide happening in Ethiopia and the US is pointing its finger at Eritrea. If u say why? b/c Eritrea doesn't do anything for US interest. b/c US interest means killing displacing people from their home and sending ur soldiers dying all in the name of US interest and that is not the Eritrean way we don't serve NO BODDy!.

  17. How is that possible a country with only one party claiming to be a democratic?.. the dictator leader has already labeled Gnbot 7, OLF and ONEG as terrorists. b/c they are against the TPLF Ethiopian regime (Woy'ane/ Agame).

  18. Brother Alec:
    Tplf is no angel either. I am not claiming they are democratic, but out of the two evil regimes (EPLF & TPLF) TPLF is two steps ahead of us .

    Why is demonstration not allowed in Eritrea Alec? And please don 't blame Weyane/agames/CIA

  19. you say "US is pointing its finger at Eritrea. If u say why? b/c Eritrea doesn't do anything for US interest." your are wrong, the real reason is

    ነዳቓይ ፕረዚደንት

    ኢሳይያስ ናብቲ ኣብ ዓዲ ሓሎ ዝብሃል ከባቢ ዝስራሕ ዘሎ ዲጋ መዓልታዊ ብምኻድ ቴንዳ ዘርጊሑ ይውዕል ምህላው ዘስደመሞ ህዝቢ፣ ‘ኣመሓዳሪ ተሳኢኑ ኩሉ ነገር ፋሕ ክብለና ደኣ ሓቁ እንድዩ፣ ፕረዚደንትና ቤትጽሕፈቱ ዓጽዩ ነዳቓይ ተቐይሩ’ እናበለ ይጨርቕ ኣሎ። ኢሳይያስ ኣብዚ ሳልስቲ ናብ ግብጺ ገይሽሉ ኣብ ዘሎ እዋን ጥራይ እዩ ካብ ዲጋ ዓዲ ሓሎ ዘይተራእየ። ኢሳይያስ ፣ ‘ሓጋዚ ስኢኑ እምበር ንሱ ደኣ ይሰርሕ ኣሎ’ ተባሂሉ ሓላዪ ህዝቢ ተመሲሉ ሰብ ከደናግር ዝገብሮ ፈተነ ”ኳ እንተኾነ፣ ነዚ ኣረጊት ሽጣራ ኢሳይያስ ህዝቢ ተገንዚቡዎ ‘ሎ።

    i hope you get it now.

  20. " closer look reveals; Tigrayans have been distancing themselves from the mafia regime that has turned many of its politburo members "

    This is NOT true either, which is why western observers and genocide watch groups are sounding of an alarm! They are are bed with woyane & stand to FACE a long running racism & plight from other ethics. They have no one to blame, but themselves on this one.

  21. why you get twisted and go directly to the point? say it briefly, we didn't get your point

  22. But the way you comment normally look like you want the destruction of Eritrea's freedom and sovereignty.

  23. we're like russians, we take an opportunity from a problem, we become stronger and face the obstacle in face , sure we never wait laying our hand to white god like many afrikians dear tegegne haile kabissa.

  24. Alec:
    There is US travel warning to your Eritrea. Some of the concerns:
    * because of economic hardship crime is up
    * Weyane attack deep into eritrean territory three times DIA could not do shit.
    * fuel shortage in the country is huge.

    Jehara Gidef, when are you moving back to Eritrea?

  25. Wedi Agame,
    Isayas ab dig gedifu ab golgol Adu inte Hadere intay aHmemeka ? natka gber ! LOL

  26. "wilad may felega" alete minabe zeray iye"

    The above exposed who you are AGAMINO LOL

  27. Korchach is playing Elsa Churum, he is Shaebia send messenger LOL

  28. We know what we are doing, you shouldn't dictate us what we should do, mind your lawless disintegrated Ethiopia.

  29. Cane nebsi...i want destruction of the totalitarian regim HIGDEF and save Eritrea from destruction!
    Btw teach people like kirkir history and orginity of the Eritrean people, they seem to lack it.

  30. Rora come on, if you're real Eritrean you can't tell me this, we have a declared enemy: weyine (the fox), all the hassawi western alem as well, itni nay weshtena ne guana kenehbo aynekelen ina, if Eritrea at heart other thing is subjective. If I have an issue with a secretary of a certain embassy, doesn't mean for no reason i have to dismantle the all country and people, you know. Mis hade seb sheger endeher alleni, personal problem iyu..Iti mian neger, Ne Eritra ab kidmit nesra guhilatat expose aynegbera iyu abahahelay..

  31. You have to implant a constitution in order a democracy to work. So, the government currently works to implant a new constitution. but remember Eritrea will not going to allow Ethnic-Based Federalism, b/c that means conflict, chaos and easy way to ur enemy, like the so called opposition groups are divided against themselves by tribalism, regionalism, and religious. Well our martyrs they didn't die for one and individual. That ain't gonna happen. and that demonstration u dream of it will happen b/c shaebia is not monsters they just have a lots of enemy that wish Eritrea to be divided.
    Can i ask, do u believe that Weyane are enemies of Eritrea?

  32. Bro, they're woy'ane cyber militia. forget them. they are here to spread crap. what do u expect from the hand of Agame. :)

  33. We are building our country without any hand out. unlike u Agametat liven by foreign aid, without the western Aid ur gone. Since after World War II, Ethiopia began to receive Aid from the Western countries. b/c ur a proud slave. so here u are bad mouthing the hard working self reliant Eritrean people.... So, its been said there is no hope for a proud slave.

    A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.....(Colin Powell)

  34. aa-choo!! [Sneezes] ...Oh, I'm sorry am allergic to BULLSHIT!!!

  35. did you see Eritrean government doing that?

  36. I had not had the need nor the desire to.reply to a such a low life as you, a listro or hashker nay geza could be mistaken for a compliment, .however, your rather moronic manifesto rather declaration of aygame malet merits no reply. That is why i just wanna say go hide yourself in yo mama skirt.

  37. The topic is about Ethiopia not Eritrea.

  38. the problem of Eritrean is they can not see from different direction that why Eritrea in the stage of collapse. try to understood it.

  39. you Eritrean number one beggar in the world but you always deny it.

  40. This have been told already not from ethiopia which is poor country but from those "rich, ignoble, unnamable", voila Eritrea is still standing, shining, resisting, despite against all odds..
    Aygeremen wedi agame arkey?

  41. At least you could learn that the above is all about Ethiopia and not ERITREA .....THANKS !
    So why you blabber about YOUR NIGHTMARE

  42. We UNDERSTOOD it Mr.Agame. Our eyes are more 3D than your Habal Ayni LOL

  43. OnlyGod, nay Haymanotka gber (Hasawi mesiH) LOL

    ISAYAS-Z-GREAT" you mean Isayas is great to destroy Eritrea? Lol ..... long leave wedi Afom.

  45. I wouldn't be that proud to love my enemy (who killed my blood brothers and sisters). You are shame of Eritrea or woyane on the flesh, praying and pretending to be loved by the confused silly and gullible youth, if there is any LOL

  46. Destroy or Build, why care ???? is my question that you have difficulties to reply LOL

  47. let me tell you what Weyanie doing only in Tgray .
    1. education, we have now 3 university and more than 40 colleges with a capacity of 60,000 students
    2. power. we have now 420MW from 5MW
    But still we tell to Weyanie this is not enough
    so can you tell me what Shabiya doing for you?

  48. are u sure you can see 3D

  49. weak people looking for same one to blame for their fail as you say "despite against all odds" why Eritrea have problems with the international community? because of self reliance policy? ahahahhahha don't fool your self

  50. Because Eritrea is truly NON ALIGNED country..
    ishi goytay, meshi selezeytebel..terediuka..ab kaleh africa ente rieka ko..yedenulom tsa adu. Eritreans don't. This is the reason..Yegerem iyu

  51. you can fool your self but not others. the problem of Eritrea is its own government.

  52. You can give opinion dear wedi a. but you can't know for us what better or not. Don't forget we're Eritreans..zewetseanan, ze etewenan nefelet ina andaehdiena.

  53. Buhahahahahahahahaha............

  54. To answer your questions, TPLF and EPLF are enemies of each other. The people of Tigray and the people of Eritrea are not enemies.

    Remember the two regimes use to sleep together.

  55. No body said about the tigray(Agame) people. I said Wey'ane. And EPLF

  56. Be it true or false I do not see any pride in you at all, with whatever you mentioned above. If you are proud enough for what you people have have, you would be here exposing your low self esteem. Have some dignity LOL

  57. አብካልእ፡አብ፡ኦሮሞ?አብ፡ሶማል?አብ፡ደቡብ .......???ስሪቅና፡ከምዚ፡ጌሪርና፡ክትብል፡ቁሩብ፡አይተሀፍርን።ሀቅካ፡ናይመን፡ክትወስድ፡ከም፡ጎይታካ፡ወያኔ?????

  58. ነዳቃይ፡ይሐይሽ፡ካብ፡ለማኒ !!!!!!!!!

  59. ይቅርታ፡አንድ፡ነገር፡ረሳሁት።
    ከሌባ፡ይሻላል፡ግንበኛ !!!!!!

  60. ትብለኒ፡ዘለካስ፡


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