Ethiopian police in the Oromia region have arrested 503 people on charges of plotting violence during the annual local Thanksgiving (known as Arricha) festival at the weekend, and police also seized firearms and grenades.
The government’s “Fana” Radio station said on Friday that police and intelligence services had foiled what it described as a plot to incite violence in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, and other parts of the country ahead of the Arricha holiday celebrated by the Oromo people, who make up the largest ethnic group in the country.
The authorities carried out the arrests about a week after the attorney general announced in September that 2,000 people were charged in connection with bloody acts of violence that followed the assassination of Hakalu Hondisa, who was a popular Oromo musician, in June.
The violence that followed the assassination of the musician saw the killing of more than 166 people and the arrest of about 9,000, among them politicians from Oromia, the country’s most populous province.
And last year, the celebration of Arricha Day in Addis Ababa passed peacefully amid tight security measures.
But in 2016, a stampede as a result of a clash between police and protesters during a celebration in the capital killed more than 50 people.
Oromia, one of the regions in Ethiopia’s ethnically constituted federation and the country’s most populated one, also happens to be the political constituency of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Unfortunately, the region is the country’s biggest security challenge.
\Ahmed’s efforts to address simmering ethnic conflict across Ethiopia have been mostly successful.
His government has managed to improve relations between the Oromo and Somali groups, which had previously clashed.
And ethnic Gedeos, who had been displaced from Oromia have by and large returned to the region.
The latest spurt of ethnic clashes was triggered by the murder in late June of Hachalu Hundessa in Addis Ababa.
He was a 34-year old Ethiopian singer and activist for the rights of the Oromo. Ethnic violence ensued around the capital and the regional state of Oromia. At least 166 citizens and security personnel have been killed.
The internet was also shut down across Ethiopia, a common tactic the government uses to prevent the spread of violence nationwide. It has now been partially restored.
The violence points to the need for Abiy to address the tensions around Oromia. Failure to do so will mean that ethnic tensions and violence in Ethiopia will continue.
Formation of Oromo-based ethno-nationalist movements that fought for freedom and equality began in the era of Haile Selassie who ruled as Emperor from 1930 to 1974. Oromo Liberation Front, the most famous of them, was established in 1973.
The political narratives exploited by ethno-nationalist Oromo groups were designed to pit one group against another. In particular, most ethno-nationalists wrongly accused the Amhara people, and the country’s imperial past, for what they refer to as their history of marginalization.
In fact, the Amhara people are not only Ethiopia’s poorest, but widely recognized as the poorest in the world. This despite being blamed for marginalizing the rest.