A pregnant woman has been killed in Ethiopia’s Oromia regional state, the Addis Standard news portal and a leading activist based in the United States reported on Monday. The incident took place in the town of Qobo in Oromia’s East Hararghe Zone.
The Addis Standard cited neighbours of Ayantu Mohammed Sa’idoo, as confirming her death. She was reportedly ‘abducted’ on Sunday evening, killed for unknown reasons and her body dumped this morning.
The deceased, a mother of one, was said to be a trader in ‘khat’ – a narcotic leaf widely used in the area. A military officer believed to be behind the incident, one Chala Ibrahim Bakaree, has since been placed under police custody, the report added.
Another anonymous source told Addis Standard that there is heightened security in the town ahead of Ayantu’s burial on Tuesday. Residents are afraid that possible protests during the funeral could lead to violence.
The portal’s report came hours after a known pro-democracy activists and Chief Executive Officer of U.S.-based Oromia Media Network, Jawar Mohammed, tweeted about the incident.
According to his version of the incident, soldiers had attempted to rape her but shot her after she screamed for help.
Ayantu Mohammed who was killed in Qobo last night eas pregnant. Soldiers attempted to rape her and when screamed for help they shot her in the head and killed her.
Jawar also reported protests over the incident sharing a video on Facebook. It however showed scores of people in what seemed like a peaceful gathering.
The activist has been keeping count of casualties since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn into office a little over a week ago. As at Monday afternoon, his count indicated that five people had been killed under Abiy Ahmed, the first ethnic Oromo to become premier under the ruling EPRDF.
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s prime minister-elect Abiye Ahmed will be sworn in on Monday, its parliament said, after the ruling coalition chose him to succeed Hailemariam Desalegn as its chairperson
Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country and has had the fastest growing economy on the continent for the past decade, but protests that began in 2015 have caused the biggest threat to the EPRDF since it took power in 1991.
“The House of People’s Representatives will hold an extraordinary session on April 2 to swear in Dr. Abiye Ahmed,” the body said in a statement.
His predecessor Hailemariam, from the small Wollayta ethnic group, resigned last month after sustained protests in the Oromiya and Ahmara regions where people say they are politically and economically marginalized.
Abiye will now face pressure to appeal to legions of disaffected youth and to push through promised reforms.
The event was initially scheduled for Saturday. The statement did not give a reason for the postponement.
Ethiopians on Twitter are reacting to the news on Thursday that a top official of the Oromia regional state had been detained by authorities for criticizing the army over recent killings in the town of Molaye.
Taye Dendea, a lawyer and head of the Oromia regional state justice bureau’s communication and PR department told the VOA Amharic service that he did not believe that the army’s killing of civilians in Moyale was a mistake.
Local media and online activists confirmed his arrest, stressing that he was not a stranger to jails. He has previously served three and seven years on charges that he belonged to the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) during his varsity years between 2003 and 2016.
Ethiopian tweeps, meanwhile, continue to laud him for his firm stance on the security crisis that has rocked Oromia state amid a controversial February 16 nationwide state of emergency imposed ostensibly to quell spreading violence.
#TayeDendea has the heart of a lion. He spent a third of his life in prison but that didn’t stop him from speaking truth to power. He will not be cowed into silence. Release him and bring the perpetrators of the #MoyaleMassacre to justice. #Ethiopia
Taye Dendea, head PR for #Oromia justice bureau, is reportedly arrested. He was a show case of OPDO reforming. Taye had been arrested twice, suspected of being OLF member and served 3yrs & 7 yrs prison terms previously. #SOE in action in #Ethiopia.
Freedom struggle obviously has prices like death, imprisonment & exile. But it is heart bleeding to see individuals like #TayeDendea pay unfair toll of the price. 10+ yrs imprisonment & going back again?… Hey freedom I hope you really worth this.
You know this federal republic is terminally ill when the Oromia region’s (the republic’s biggest bloc) justice bureau PR head is picked up by fed. security under the guise of SoE & the Oromia Media Network can’t say a beep in its mid day bulletin. Read #TayeDendea‘s lips
The Addis Standard portal in its report on the arrest noted that this is the third time Taye has been detained.“It took Taye a total of 16 years to graduate with his first degree in Law before he joined the Oromia justice bureau in 2017,” the report added.
Under the rules of the Command Post, it is illegal to criticize the SOE. He is not the first Oromia state official to be picked. Reports indicate that deputy police commissioner of the state, chief administrator of East Hararghe and Mayor of the town of Nekemt, among others are in detention.
Another prominent person held by the authorities is blogger and lecturer, Seyoum Teshome, whose writings criticized the SOE. He is currently held at the Maekelawi prison in Addis Ababa – after a court gave police two weeks to establish a case against him.
The Moyale incident has led to a humanitarian situation in the border town with Kenya. Over 8,000 people – mostly women and children have fled to Kenya. The state-run EBCalso confirmed that 39,000 people had been displaced.
Qeerroo – young Oromo activists – drove the mass strike that helped topple the prime minister of one of Africa’s most autocratic governments
Today, Desalegn is a banker. But once he was a Qeerroo: a young, energetic and unmarried man from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, bound by what he calls a “responsibility to defend the people”.
Twelve years ago he helped organise mass protests against an election result he and many others believed the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had rigged. This landed him in prison, along with thousands of others, on terrorism charges.
Since then he has married and, like many of his generation in Ethiopia, mostly avoided politics. That was until 12 February, when he joined almost everyone in the town of Adama, and in many others cities across the region of Oromia, in a strike calling for the release of opposition leaders and an end to authoritarianism.
The boycott, which lasted three days and brought much of central Ethiopia to a standstill, culminated on 13 February with the release of Bekele Gerba, a prominent Oromo politician who lives in Adama, and, within 48 hours, the sudden resignation of Ethiopia’s beleaguered prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. The shaken federal government then declared a nationwide state-of-emergency on 15 February, the second in as many years.
“It was a total shutdown,” says Desalegn, of the strike in Adama. “Almost everybody took part – including government offices. You wouldn’t have even been able to find a shoeshine boy here.”
For him and many other residents of Adama, about 90km south-east of the capital, Addis Ababa, there is only one explanation for how a normally quiescent town finally joined the uprising that has billowed across much of Oromia and other parts of Ethiopia since late 2014: the Qeerroo.
Who the Qeerroo are, and how they have helped bring one of Africa’s strongest and most autocratic governments to its knees, is only dimly understood.
In traditional Oromo culture the term denotes a young bachelor. But today it has broader connotations, symbolising both the Oromo movement – a struggle for more political freedom and for greater ethnic representation in federal structures – and an entire generation of newly assertive Ethiopian youth.
“They are the voice of the people,” explains Debela, a 32-year-old taxi driver in Adama who says he is too old to be one but that he supports their cause. “They are the vanguard of the Oromo revolution.”
The term’s resurgence also reflects the nature of Oromo identity today, which has grown much stronger since Ethiopia’s distinct model of ethnically based federalism was established by the EPRDF in 1994.
“In the past even to be seen as Oromo was a crime,” says Desalegn, of the ethnic assimilation policies pursued by the two preceding Ethiopian regimes, imperial and communist. “But now people are proud to be Oromo … So the Qeerroos are emboldened.”
As the Oromo movement has grown in confidence in recent years, so the role of the Qeerroo in orchestrating unrest has increasingly drawn the attention of officials.
At the start of the year police announced plans to investigate and crack down on the Qeerroo, arguing that it was a clandestine group bent on destabilising the country and seizing control of local government offices. Party sympathisers accused members of being terrorists.
Though many dispute this characterisation, few doubt the underground strength of the Qeerroo today.
Since the previous state of emergency was lifted last August, Qeerroo networks have been behind multiple strikes and protests in different parts of Oromia, despite obstacles like the total shutdown of mobile internet in all areas beyond the capital since the end of last year.
Bekele Gerba, the opposition leader, credits the Qeerroo with securing his release from prison, and for sending hundreds of well-wishers to his home in Adama in the aftermath. But like many older activists, he confesses to limited knowledge of how they organise themselves.
“I only became aware of them relatively recently,” he says. “We don’t know who the leadership is and we don’t know if they have a central command.”
But in a recent interview with the Guardian, two local leaders in Adama, Haile and Abiy (not their real names), shed light on their methods.
According to the two men, who are both in their late 20s, each district of the city has one Qeerroo leader, with at least 20 subordinates, all of whom are responsible for disseminating messages and information about upcoming strikes.
They say their networks have become better organised in recent months, explaining that there is now a hierarchical command chain and even a single leader for the whole of Oromia. “This gives us discipline and allows us to speak with one voice,” says Abiy.
Their job has become more difficult in the absence of the internet.
“With social media you can disseminate the message in seconds,” says Abiy. “Now it can take two weeks, going from door to door.” Instead of using WhatsApp and Facebook, they now distribute paper flyers, especially on university campuses.
The role of Oromo activists among the diaspora, especially those in the US, also remains crucial, despite the shutdown.
Zecharias Zelalem, an Ethiopian journalist based in Canada, argues that it is thanks to prominent social media activists that the Qeerroo have acquired the political heft that youth movements in other parts of the country still lack. He highlights in particular the work of Jawar Mohammed, the controversial founder of the Minnesota-based Oromia Media Network (which is banned in Ethiopia), in amplifying the voice of the Qeerroo even when internet is down.
“[Jawar] gives us political analyses and advice,” Haile explains. “He can get access to information even from inside the government, which he shares with the Qeerroos. We evaluate it and then decide whether to act on it.”
He and Abiy both dismiss the assumption, widespread in Ethiopia, that Jawar remote-controls the protests. “The Qeerroos are like a football team,” counters Haile. “Jawar may be the goalkeeper – helping and advising – but we are the strikers.”
The reimposition of the state-of-emergency has angered many Qeerroos in Adama and elsewhere in Oromia, where the move was widely seen as heavy-handed bid to reverse the protesters’ momentum.
Some analysts fear further repression will push members of a still mostly peaceful political movement towards violence and extremism.
Many in the government, as well as in other parts of the country, worry about a rise in ethnically motivated attacks, on people and property, and especially on ethnic Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of the population but are generally considered to dominate politics and business.
Late last year federal troops were dispatched to university campuses, in large part due to escalating ethnic violence, which included several deaths. There were reports of similar incidents during protests throughout the past month.
Jibril Ummar, a local businessman and activist, says that he and others tried to ensure the protests in Adama were peaceful, calming down overexcited young men who wanted to damage property and attack non-Oromos.
“It worries me,” he admits. “There’s a lack of maturity. When you are emotional you put the struggle in jeopardy.”
Gerba says he worries about violence, too, including of the ethnic kind. “We know for sure that Tigrayans are targeted most, across the country. This concerns me very much and it is something that has to be worked on.”