After two months of protests left 150 people dead, the Ethiopian government may have abandoned a development plan for Addis Ababa into neighboring Oromia state, but the problem hasn’t gone away.
Now the government must pick a site for its latest mega project — an airport with the world’s largest passenger capacity, ChristianScienceMonitor reports.
Although a $350-million expansion is under way at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, a whole new airport is planned on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, according to FTNNews.
The new airport will position Ethiopian Airlines to consolidate market share, benefiting from increased passenger traffic and air freight. Addis Ababa could become the main aviation hub in East Africa, overtaking Nairobi over the next decade as passenger traffic surges, AFKInsider reported.
Human rights groups say that at least 150 protesters died and another 5,000 have been arrested by security forces, according to TesfaNews. Similar protests in May 2014 left dozens of protesters dead.
Rejecting official plans is unprecedented and historic in Ethiopia, suggesting that the government acknowledges the legitimacy of the protests, TesfaNews reported.
However there is precedent in Ethiopia for protests including up to 10 domestic armed rebellions, mainly in the Oromia, Tigray Amhara and Gambella regions.
Several sites became flashpoints for public anger during the protests of the last two months. These included the China-Africa Overseas Leather Factory in Sululta north of Addis Ababa, a India-owned flower company, and a Nigerian cement plant, CSM reported.
Widespread opposition will continue against developments built without regard for the welfare and wishes of locals, said Oromo leader Merera Gudina, ChristianScienceMonitor reports.
Up to 40 million people live on Oromo land. The Oromo people – Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group – led the demonstrations. They were angered by a joint strategy between Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, and the Oromia regional state that would have allowed the capital to expand into Oromo land. This was an official attempt to harmonize development of the capital with surrounding Oromo towns such as Sululta, CSM reported.
Hundreds of protesters overran the $27-million Chinese-owned tannery chanting “Oromia belongs to us,” according to the company’s guard.
The land for the leather factory had been “taken from the farmers and they benefited nothing,” said Aberash Gore, an Oromo farmer, CSM reported.
The International Monetary Fund estimates Ethiopia’s economy will grow 8.7 percent this year. The tannery represents that rapid development.
Protesters see it as land grabbing — an effort by a federal government controlled by the minority Tigray ethnic group to take land from Oromo farmers and lease it to investors without enough local input or compensation.
“When both national and international investors come and farmers are pushed away for very small compensation, people see their livelihoods have been destroyed and are reacting to it,” Gudina told CSM.
The leather industry is a priority of the Ethiopian government. It’s an opportunity to create high-value goods for export from the huge livestock population. But the local community is angered by new companies that pay poorly, loss of grazing land and release of toxic waste into nearby waterways, according to CSM.
Among the properties allegedly attacked in Sululta was the foundation of late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a Tigrayan who worked to move Ethiopian productivity beyond subsistence farming. The attack suggests that the land grab grievances are tinged with political and ethnic nuances, CSM reported.
Zenawi focused on offering cheap land and water for flower farms so Ethiopia could compete with neighboring Kenya for the European export market. It worked, creating an industry that earned more than $250 million in 2014 from greenhouses within a 100-mile radius of Addis Ababa. This made the Indian-owned Suprafloritech an easy target for protesters, CSM reported.
Angered by the master plan and reports that a nearby forest had been leased out, a group of about 50 young people burned down parts of Suprafloritech last month. Complaints focused on low wages of $1.27 a day, and farmers being offered lower compensation than the rent paid by the company.
“The government took 90 percent of payment and gave 10 percent to the people,” said Solomon Gemeda, a local resident, CSM reported.
A Dutch agricultural company and Nigerian cement plant are among other international companies that were attacked.