Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, came to power in April 2018 on a platform of national unity. He implemented a raft of reforms to strengthen institutions and to increase political inclusivity and freedoms. Abiy was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea after a devastating two-decade conflict alongside his domestic reforms. Many western powers welcomed the new approach of Abiy, hoping for deep reform in an emerging economic power that plays a key strategic role in a region increasingly contested by Middle Eastern powers and by China.
Now, just one year on, the Ethiopian leader has a very different reputation. Several experts have voiced their concerns that not only has he failed to live up to his early promises but has unleashed a wave of repression, locking up those he once freed, advancing a dangerous form of nationalism and indefinitely postponing elections.
The most vocal unrest was in the Ethiopian state of Oromia, where there have been waves of protests since the killing of a popular Oromo artist and activist Hachalu Hundessa in Addis Ababa, the capital. An estimated 180 people died in the violence—some murdered by mobs, others shot by security forces. Private property and government offices were set alight or damaged and several thousand people, including opposition leaders, were arrested. The government says that Hachalu was murdered by Oromo nationalist militants as part of a wider plot to derail its reform agenda, an accusation rejected by the Oromo community. These same Oromo nationalists have since joined the opposition, accusing the Prime Minister of planning to replace the ethnic based federal system with a more centralised state. Tragically, with all this unrest, Ethiopians are experiencing a turbulent transition.
Australia has long been an ally of Ethiopia, and my constituency in Adelaide comprises growing numbers of concerned citizens regarding the political situation in Oromia. The Oromo members of my community have asked me to request communication between the Australian government and the Ethiopian government to ensure the safety of all Australian citizens currently in Ethiopia. They request that the Australian government: firstly, formally condemn state-sanctioned military and police violence against innocent civilians and protesters; secondly, demand the immediate release of all political prisoners and an end to unlawful imprisonment; thirdly, demand an immediate end of illegal military command posts in western and southern Oromia; fourthly, call for democracy through the timely administration of free and fair elections in 2020; and, fifthly, call on the international community to impose sanctions if the above demands are not met. We must stand for democracy and real political freedom in Ethiopia.