Over 200 people were killed and over 3500 arrested in the widespread violent clashes that erupted following the murder of protest singer/song-writer Hachalu Hundessa.
The musician was an influential public figure and powerful political voice for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, who have long felt economically and politically side-lined in the country. His music identified and expressed what the Oromo describe as their historic exclusion from political power.
Indeed, his songs became the melody of protest movements that led to the downfall of Ethiopia’s government in 2018, and culminated with Ahmed Abiy becoming the first Oromo to take the post of Prime Minister the same year.
Hundessa was shot dead on June 29th while driving his car through the suburbs of Addis Ababa. His assassination tapped into grievances fuelled by decades of government repression, and has exacerbated ever-present ethnic and religious tensions in the country.
The violence and deaths that followed has been attributed to a combination of lethal force by security officers and interethnic violence. Widespread reports of door-to-door looting, arson, and brutal murders have come from the Oromia region, where Oromo youth has allegedly targeted people of other ethnicities with clubs and machetes.
Prior to these events, ethnic tensions had already posed a major challenge to Prime Minister Abiy, whose efforts to distance himself from the totalitarian practices of his predecessors and open up the democratic space have led to struggles for power and influence. Abiy has now been accused of reverting to the tactics of his predecessors: his decision on April the 8th to postpone free and fair elections to prevent the spread of COVID19; the government internet ban introduced to avoid it being used as a means to fuel ethnic hatred; and a wave of arrests of prominent opposition politicians during the Hundessa protests has raised concerns that the process of democratization will be reverted.
As the internet ban was finally lifted on July 23rd, and the civil unrest temporarily quelled, a spike in COVID19 cases was registered on July 30th, caused by the difficulty of imposing social distancing during the protests.