Ethiopia signs deal with Oromo

 

Ethiopia's government has signed an agreement to end hostilities with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which it had previously labeled a "terrorist movement". 

 

Background 

Ethiopia is a landlocked nation in eastern Africa, with a population of over 100 million: the second highest in Africa. Over 70% of the population is dependent on agriculture for livelihood  and 80% of the population lives in rural areas.Ethiopia avoided colonial rule until the 20th century, when it was invaded by fascist Italy in 1935. The occupation lasted 6 years. A revolt returned the former Emperor Selassie to power only to be overthrown by Soviet-backed dissidents in 1974. The Marxist Derg and its leader Colonel Mariam, who was responsible for the “red terror”, ruled for almost two decades, during which time the country saw severe droughts and famines. 

In 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) captured the capital from the Derg. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was formed. The EPRDF is Ethiopia’s current ruling coalition comprising of four parties. These parties are reflective of Ethiopia’s ethnic diversity. The Omoro (34 .4%) and the Amhara people (27%) are the main ethnic groups in the country, and the official national language is Amharic. Egypt’s old ruling elite were Amhara. The Omoro have not held any high positions of power in modern history. Other important minorities include Tigrayans, SNNPR, and Somalis. 

Ethiopia has been home to growing unrest since 2014, when peaceful protests against a development project in Oromo were met with violence from the state. These protests grew into a call for political and economic reform, largely from the regions of Omoro and Amhara, whose people claimed a lack of representation. Hundreds of people were killed during these protests, and over 10 thousand arrested. A 10-month state of emergency was instituted in October 2016. A year later, protests erupted again, with a continued demand for political change and the release of political prisoners. 

 

Analysis 

Ethiopia’s government has signed an agreement to end hostilities with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).The agreement appeared to be another step in a drive by PM Abiy Ahmed to reform institutions, open parts of the state-controlled economy and improve security and diplomatic relations.

Since the 1970s, the Oromo rebels have fought a low-level insurgency for self-determination for the Oromiya region, which is Ethiopia's largest and home to the Oromo ethnic group.The OLF was initially part of a transitional government set up in 1991 by rebels from the EPRDF coalition who had driven Mengistu Haile Mariam from power. But they soon fell out with the coalition.The group declared a unilateral ceasefire last month after parliament removed it from a list of banned terrorist groups that it had been part of since 2008.

On Tuesday, the federal government delegation comprising Foreign Affairs chief Workneh Gebeyehu and president of Oromia region Lemma Megerssa met with Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki and and OLF leader Dawud Ibsa.This move comes as PM Abiy who is Ethiopia’s first Oromo PM ,in his tenure, has been keen on extending an olive branch to dissidents overseas. He has also acknowledged abuses by security services and ended a military stalemate with Eritrea that followed a 1998-2000 border war in which 80,000 people are thought to have died.

The OLF till now was one of the foreign-based armed opposition groups that had not accepted an overture by PM Abiy Ahmed to return to pursue peaceful struggle in the country.Having fought for self-determination, the rebel group has championed anti-government protests. Their attempts were so wide and ceaseless that at a point the protests were tagged as ‘Oromo protests’. Political watchers admit it was crucial to political reforms that have since changed the country’s democratic field.

According to the Eritrean Information Minister, the terms of the agreement included the termination of hostilities and that OLF will conduct its political activities in Ethiopia through peaceful means. Furthermore, a Joint Committee would be established to implement the agreement.

Assessment

Our assessment is that, this deal was successfully carried out as it was in the interest of both the OLF and the government. We feel that having a rebel group from his own community fighting against his government, would have been counterproductive for PM Abiy’s raft of reforms. We believe that OLF  agreed to sign the reconciliation because support from the Eritrean government was not forthcoming due to recent normalization of ties between Ethiopia and Eritrea.