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Implications of peasant protests in Ethiopia

By Daniel Teferra (PhD)

The peasant protests in the Oromo regions started over two months ago. It is foolhardy to think that the protestors are simply opposed to the Addis Ababa Master Plan only.

The government has suspended the Plan, but the protests are still continuing. The problem facing the country is therefore deeper than a mere master plan.

First of all, the Oromo protest is not a democracy movement. It is a nationalist movement. Oromo activists are saying that the land of “Oromia,” which includes Addis Ababa (“Finfine”), belongs to the Oromo. They evoke Article 40 of the 1995 Constitution, which reads:

“The rights to ownership of rural and urban land, as well as, of all natural resources are exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia. Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or other means of exchange.”

Another clause under the same Article says, “Without prejudice to the right of Ethiopian Nations, Nationalities and Peoples to ownership of land, government shall ensure the right of private investors to the use of land on the basis of payment arrangements by law.”

Article 40 makes the government and “nations/nationalities” co-owners of land. Therefore the conflict between the two entities over land emanates from this Article. At the moment, the government does not seem to know what to do about the problem other than to blame it on bad governance.

If the Oromo protest continues, other ethnic groups may want to protest too. The country could disintegrate as a result. Most of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups are not educated and do not have statehood experiences.

Some politicians and intellectuals argue that the Oromo protest should be joined by the other groups. Such an argument sounds naïve and favors a political expediency. A movement by one ethnic group, threatens the interests of other ethnic groups, thereby igniting an outbreak of a civil war (e.g. Somalia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, etc.).

Ethiopia needs a democracy movement, not an ethnic uprising. Democracy can benefit all groups and interests of the society because it is based on the natural rights of people as individuals—life, liberty and ownership of property. Ethnic nationalism cannot provide these rights.

Furthermore, if the natural rights of the individual can be guaranteed, it is in the best interests of all groups in Ethiopia to participate in a federal system of government. No one group can dominate government under a federal arrangement.

Protests by themselves cannot bring about a democratic change. Ethiopia’s intellectuals and politicians have to carefully analyze the problems facing Ethiopia today and provide a democratic vision for the country. That is the least they owe the people of Ethiopia.

*Emeritus Professor of Economics, FSU; UW-Whitewater, teferrad@uww.edu.

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