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Unheard Voices of Addis Abebans during OLF Reception

Conflicts ensued Thursday afternoon as youth carrying the OLF flag in preparatory celebrations for the return of Daoud Ibsa on Saturday 15th Sept, fought with youth of the neighborhood around Kuas Meda, a neighborhood in Addis Abeba.

Press releases by famous politicians, activists and leaders followed suite, as expected. Jawar Mohammed, once self exiled activist, stated that while the youth who entered Addis Abeba to welcome Daoud were extremely disciplined, structured and abiding to the law, the youth who were fighting with them were not “representatives of Addis Abeba’s youth” in the way they conducted themselves. He proceeded to label them “Werobeloch”, hooligans and “dureyes”. He added that it was people paid by a certain force that created the incentive to lift arms against the OLF welcomers.

Prime Minister Abiy demanded all involved to think before engaging in such embarrassing acts over symbols and signs, and stated that the whole fiasco was the result of a system that has yet to change fundamentally.

Recently returned leaders of Patriotic Ginbot 7 have also stated in their press release that the conflict between the two groups does not represent their organization’s motives. And reprimanded all involved in the conflict.

The Federal Police Commission Commissioner Zeynu Jemal’s comments about the conflict around Pastor neighborhood were the following: “on one hand, no one has given the right to Addis Abeba’s youth to prevent anyone from carrying their symbols, while on the other hand, OLF’s supporters should be disciplined in their activities.”

News reporters, activists, politicians and leading figures all assumed a directly advising tone to both sides of the conflict. However, what was obvious was that while the qeerroo had representatives speaking on behalf of them, i.e., such as Jawar Mohammed, the youth from the neighborhoods of Kuas Meda, Autobis Tera, Merkato, Piassa, Arada, were all made voiceless regarding the conflict. In addition, if they were addressed, it was simply to paint an image of the urban ‘dureye’; a term increasingly being used to alienate and denigrate the Addis Abeba urban youth. This highlighting of a segment of urban Ethiopia’s youth as vagabonds who do not know what they’re doing and as actors on behalf of a force that wants to disrupt the on-going peace reforms entirely disregards the reasons, and questions they may have had. Such acts only work towards creating an image of the urban youth as well as alienating Addis Abeba’s youth from political discussions.

To this effect, Addis Zeybe interviewed neighborhood members of Autobis Tera and Kuas Meda who primarily wanted to show that they were still until today, forced to remain in their houses since Thursday afternoon by federal police who wanted to minimize the conflict. Moreover, one source, Baya Tedros, stated, “the conflict began as young men carrying paint and paint brushes, approached our homes and started taking down our already hoisted Ethiopian flags from our gates and threw them into gutters. They then continued to put up the OLF flag on the gates of people’s homes. We told them, ‘you will not put down our flags and you will not put yours up either’”. There is a direct link to the breach of the right to private property. What is interesting is that he added the Amharic quote, “ባለቤቱን ካልናቁ አጥሩን አይነቀንቁ” ‘You’ll only touch a man’s gates if you disrespect him already’.

His neighbor repeated a similar thing, “some young boys tried to paint our house’s gates with the colors of the OLF flags. I do not care about the flag colors, but this is my gate. Who gives anyone the right to paint my gates for me without my permission? So I got angry. It is one thing if they asked permission.”

A young boy who joined his friends to carry the Ethiopian flag and join the standoff with the qeerroo stated a different thing. He (wanting to remain anonymous) said, “they have no right to throw the Ethiopian flag and replace it with theirs. Our neighborhood does not support the OLF. Why should our streets show it?”

These individuals, who took to the streets angry at a certain level of disrespect, are part of the constituency, which had already put up the star-less Ethiopian flag in their neighborhoods. This was in support of the Patriotic Ginbot 7’s return to Addis Abeba last week. The return of the Patriotic Ginbot 7 and its leaders, particularly of Berhanu Nega (who was in 2005 elected Mayor of the city, though he never was able to carry out his duties as such) was received with extreme valor and with the starless Ethiopian flag being hoisted across the capital city. It is not to mean that there are no OLF supporters with in the capital, but that quite clearly, the majority of Ethiopia’s urban population and especially the youth is a supporter of Berhanu’s party. Moreover, from among those who posed resistance to OLF supporters this weekend, not-a-few stated that their political support was with Ginbot 7 and not OLF, and thus did not want their homes and streets represented by OLF flag colors. It is one thing to prevent others from carrying their symbols and flags, another to demand one’s private property, or collective neighborhood properties to represent what one only believes in. This group does not have a certain ethnicity to be represented by activists, politicians and powerful groups, but it is a major constituency nonetheless. Thus, pinning Addis Abeba’s youth and residents who fought with the young Oromo as recruits sent by anti-peace forces, or identification of these same residents as “werobola” and “dureye”, again, only does the job of silencing and alienating their voices.

In central Piassa, around Arada and Doro Maneqia, heavy conflict was witnessed yesterday afternoon. A resident around Doro Maneqia claimed, “we took sticks and run towards Menelik II Square because we heard some people wanted to destroy the statue. When I got there, there was a stand-off with federal police in between us”. Discussing the right to show one’s symbols and flags should also consider the responsibility to honor and respect residents’ properties, symbols and signs as well. The dureye of the capital city, youth, took arms to defend their symbols in light of a group of other youth who wanted to show their attachments to their own symbols.

Further, shifting our focus to the border between Addis Abeba and Oromia might illuminate another side to this narration. Residents from Ashewa Meda in Kolfe Keranyo Sub-City, across from Lekuanda to the border between Addis Abeba and Oromia have told Addis Zeybe that they have fled for their lives Friday morning 9 a.m. to central Addis Abeba. An old man who wanted to remain anonymous and, who saw the park and neighboring houses engulfed in fire told Addis Zeybe that, youth from Oromia were making targeted attacks, and looting and burning anything they could find. He added “we could not even travel directly to Addis Abeba, we had to go via Soramba to get to central Addis Abeba. I left everything, let them burn it.”

Another source, Ato Abdi Kemal, a resident around Lekuanda, stated “we had no idea what was going on. We were told friday morning by youth carrying sticks and machetes to leave our property and flee. Which we did. We saw federal police coming to the area but by the bridge around the border Oromia Regional Police forced them to return. We have not heard anything from the state since”. One may hear that these actors are again agents of forces that want to hinder the peace process. However, primarily, leaders should at least identify these forces, if at all there exists a certain group. The problem of using vague languages in political discourse is that people can always scapegoat someone under the umbrella of terms such as ‘forces’. Second, it is the role of the government to protect citizens from anyone, pre-emptively, regardless of forces too powerful for individuals, or youth from Addis Abeba and outside. PM Abiy’s role is not to respond to attacks on a certain group of people a day later. In fact, his advices and comments only help as far as everyone believes police and security are there to safeguard everyone equally.

It might even appear that media outlets such as the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromo Media Network (OMN), are less interested in echoing further suffering. State and state affiliated media are busy with protecting and praising the fruits of ‘reform’ since PM Abiy’s rise to power. Social Media is the only place where people are heard sharing mishaps around them. Ayenew Tigabu (whose name has been changed) who has been actively criticizing both the old and new administration, is uncomfortable with the warnings and trolling he has received whenever he writes anything that criticizes youth. “I have been labeled as Oromophobic. I don’t fear the Oromo people. What I fear is the anarchy reigning in Ethiopia,” Ayenew said.  He is not the only person who is agitated by the gullibility of some of the youth. Many residents we have approached are in fear of the mob justice they have seen in other parts of the country and which they think is looming in the capital.

Three months ago, Addis Abeba’s youth flooded the streets of the city carrying the photographs of the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assuming he spoke their mind, and hoping he had a clear way forward. Recent events have cast a shadow on this thought, uncertainty reigns for them, at least in deciding the fate of their multinational identity in the only place they call home.

This means that more than ever, their voices have to also make it to the news, to the social media platforms and relayed by all who are striving to build a democratic Ethiopia. Addis Abeba’s youth represent a constituency that is broadly multi-ethnic, multi-religious; a melting pot par-excellence, a pure example of the Ethiopia the PM has stated he wants to achieve. It is necessary to also voice their concerns, and also important in paying attention equally as it is only when acknowledged that all actors can thus be held accountable. If not, this will generate social relations that naturalize rife suffering of Ethiopians at the expense of one another and make certain groups of our society invisible by objectifying them (i.e., urban youth), while simultaneously making others visible by presenting them as liberators and as being capable to doing anything in their will and power. The society will give up its collective cultural insight and compass and cripple its capacity to conceive a democratic future as a country as such.

(Source፡ Gobena street)

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