Security Update: Ethiopia Riots
August 10, 2016
The East African nation of Ethiopia has long been regarded as a standard for economic growth in Africa. Political stability has allowed tourism in Ethiopia to grow steadily along with the introduction of a metro rail system in its capital of Addis Ababa, one of the only public rail transit systems on the continent. As a result of its booming economy and infrastructure investments, Addis Ababa has become the hub for many NGO's that have projects in neighboring Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, and Sudan. However, all of Ethiopia's progress was threatened on August 6th of this year when protests turned violent and led to the deaths of almost 100 citizens. The protests have severely damaged the reputation of the current government, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and have the potential to slow Ethiopia's development; it has been 25 years since the country has seen unrest at this scale.
The protests took place in towns and cities in the Amhara and Oromia regions of the country. Officially, the protests in each region have no connection. The demonstrators in Oromia protested against political and economic policies that have excluded the ethnic majority, the Oromo, from the political process. The Oromo make up about 30% of the country's population and have only 1 seat of 547 for representation in government affairs. The country is ruled by an ethnic minority, the Tigrayan, who control parliament with 500 seats and make up 99% of the police and military forces. In Amhara, the ethnic Amharic gathered in protest of the government's control of land historically belonging to Amhara. In both cases, the initially non-violent protests were deemed illegal gatherings by the government. Police and military forces reacted swiftly, and the protests quickly turned violent as demonstrators attacked police attempting to make arrests.
The protests were widespread but the largest and most violent gatherings took place in Amhara's capital, Bahir Dar and the country's capital, Addis Ababa which lies in Oromia. While there are no further scheduled gatherings, the protests are expected to continue. It is unlikely that Ethiopia's political stability will deteriorate to a dangerous level in the short term, but long-term effects are unknown.
Travel to Ethiopia is still possible but travelers must take precautions when traveling in the affected areas. Large protests may block roads and shut down public transportation, including taxis, buses, and trains. All large crowds should be avoided. If in a vehicle, travelers should turn around if a demonstration is in progress. If a demonstration occurs near a traveler's hotel, particularly in Addis Ababa, the traveler should shelter in place and close all windows, blinds, and doors. Travelers should not attempt to photograph or join the demonstrations. Travelers should check with their tour provider and ensure a transportation plan is in place.