Things are not going well in Ethiopia.
The country is witnessing a malcontent and Ethiopians are pessimistic: things can only get worse before they get any better.
Graham Peebles, Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need, in his article ‘Ethiopians are crying out for Freedom and Justice’ writes that the movement for democratic change – composed of people from all walks of life – is constantly being crashed by violent means.
Peaceful protestors are being shot at, confined in stadiums, arrested, intimidated.
”Human Rights Watch (HRW) says they receive “daily accounts of killings and arbitrary arrests”, and estimate that up to 500 protestors have been killed since November 2015, although many inside the country put the figure higher.
Thousands have been arrested and falsely imprisoned; young people – who are leading the charge for democracy – are being specifically targeted. Torture is widespread in Ethiopian prisons, and for those detainees who have expressed political dissent, it is virtually guaranteed. Witnesses have told ESAT News (an independent broadcaster based in Europe and America) that some detained protestors have died as the result of torture, and are buried in the prison grounds.
The ruling EPRDF party (in power since 1991) was not democratically elected, and has remained in power by stealing one election after another. They demonstrate no concern for democratic principles or human rights, and like all dictatorships, will do anything to remain in power. They seem unable to grasp the severity of the current situation, or understand the feeling among the population, the vast majority of whom despise the regime and are desperate for fundamental change. Protestors are calling on the government to step down, and for real and honest democratic elections to be held.”
Demelew is a young man from Bahar Dar. A young and strong man who sells fruits and vegetables at the main market of the city. Although at first glance he may seem one of the many farmers coming from the countryside, as soon as he starts talking, Demelew shows a deep knowledge of the history of the Ethiopian people and seems quite precise on the subject, so much into it that we begin a conversation with very folkloric tones (a mixture of English-Italian-Amharic -Italian Genovese dialect).
We talk about anything, but we always end up there: what is happening these days around Ethiopia.
“A few months ago skirmishes and tensions broke out in the area south of Addis Ababa, where the Oromo ethnic group felt cheated by the new development plan of the Ethiopian government”.
The look of Demelew starts to become severe A grimace crosses his face and the lines of the skin tracing his face seem to be getting deeper. He is transforming.
“They have taken away large swaths of land from the Oromo in favour of the Shoah (the region of the capital), literally invading areas sitting on a vastitude of natural resources … But the game was obvious even before: we started having a clearer picture when in Addis itself an area as large area as the whole Bahar Dar was razed by Chinese bulldozers. Thousands of people lost their souks (local survival store), tucul, mud and corrugated iron shacks: abodes of men and women who found shelter there!!!”.
I am interested in what he has to say and I see that Demelew lives his words with anger and passion. His sincere empathy emerges in connection to the thick, unbreakable fog which is engulfing Ethiopia these days.
I realise he still wants to talk.
“Explosions of revolts and protests were drowned in the blood of hundreds, both civilian and military … But it was not enough. Five months ago the government decided to expand the ‘area of Tigray’ (northern Ethiopia) annexing a wide area of Gojam border up to a few kilometers from Gonder. To do so, however, it was necessary to neutralize organised social dissent which all converted in a Committee.”
”The Committee, for the rights of the Amhara people was headed by officers of the local army . One night, last June, teams of government federal police came to Gonder to arrest some members of the committee and its leader, who had sensed the danger and barricaded himself home. It simply took word of mouth to have Gonder people take to the streets to claim its pride and dignity … “
While talking, Demelew waves his clenched fists firmly, as if to give an additional punch to his speech. Then, outside the white blanket enveloping his body, his hands open and close rhythmically with his words.
“Inevitably there were more deaths and a wound difficult to heal. The confrontational path now will continue to expand and will not be solved in a short time. Because, you see, it seemed to end there, with a trace of a heavy silence enveloped by fatalism typical of my people, relying, at the end on God’s judgment and the good intentions of the Almighty .”
At this stage I I have a start ! For the first time in nearly two and a half years I hear a local uttering these words . I understand the depth and intellectual greatness of my interlocutor, a man who can see with clarity and foresight what is happening in this corner of the world. I light a cigarette, ask for a break, in order to scribble down some notes. “Cigher iellem …”, no problem, he utters quietly.
With a look of mutual understanding, we continue.
“But this time the Almighty God decided to show solidarity with the people of Gonder, having awakened the spirit of pride of Amahra people who felt cheated … and Sunday, August 7, a huge demonstration was announced. In solidarity with Gonder. On Friday 5 Gojam was disconnected from the internet … Bahar Dar, roughly at 9 am was invaded by thousands of people who travelled from South to North, until they all reached the bridge over the Nile, the only connection between the two parts of the city.”
He clears his voice.
”The procession headed towards the government building and people started throwing stones. The reply came from automatic weapons … then weapons appeared from all sides and the carnage started. Yet if you asked anyone about the situation, the candid answer would be ‘No, no problem. Everything is quiet.‘ Some would say they fired into the air to “disperse” the people ”
”The next day, one of those who had gone “missing” was delivered to my home. In a wooden box made of remainders of few pallets and nails. He was a young friend, 25, who was caught up in the middle of the unrest – a series of gunshots – while trying to escape. The city was deserted: offices closed, shops, banks … no means of transportation operating. Just a display of special security forces through the city .”
”Now Bahar Dar is besieged. You cannot cross the bridge over the Nile ; in the suburbs there have been episodes of citizens daring to express verbal protest against the police and in return they just receive beatings. “
Demelew stops talking . He wipes his swollen eyes regurgitating tears and continues: “They killed over a hundred people Sunday, August 7th … but do not believe for a second that this will stop us from claiming our pride and our dignity … “
Without contradiction there is no life.
Just a few months ago Ethiopia signed its adherence to the International Committee for the protection and recognition of human rights.
The Ethiopia of the majestic Blue Nile , of the grand mountain range of Rash Dashen. the Ethiopia of its mysterious monasteries on lake Tana, the sacred beholder of the ‘ark of the holy alliance’, the birthplace of Lucy, the eldest known daughter of humanity.
I invite Demelew to a beer, just to loosen a little the tension. He welcomes the idea and after a cool sip of lager starts talking again: “Maybe you have never realised, but I have a dream … I’m carrying a big dream for all peoples of the earth .. . that all may be custodians of their own destiny, the destiny of self-development and the peaceful pursuit of their dignity … “
By now the sun is about to fall, now is the time to return home. In the night only patrolling military vehicles are in action.
Getting up from the chair, Demelew accidentally stumbles upon the coffee table and many bottles of beer crash to the floor
He looks at me with a wink and cheerful eye, we embrace tight and he whispers in my ear: “Ayzoh Daniye … Ciger iellem …”, Do not worry Dear..No Problem
(The Government has, in the meantime, declared the State of Emergency and immediate arrest with 6 months detention for anyone crossing the arms in sign of protest)
Photos and reporting: Demelew