Ephream Sileshi & Mahlet Fasil
Addis Abeba, October 23/2019 – Protests erupted in several cities and towns across Oromia regional state and various spots surrounding Addis Abeba after Jawar Mohammed, executive director Oromo Media Network (OMN) and prominent activist posted information in his Facebook page that his security detail were told “to pack their stuff and leave the compound quietly without alerting me.”
Jawar has been posting several messages throughout the night including an audio/video purportedly carrying a conversation between his security detail and a third person who Jawar said was a security official. In it, Jawar’s security can be heard saying they will not leave their post in the middle of the night without replacements.
The area where Jawar’s residence is located at, off Bole road, was quickly flooded by hundreds of his supporters. As of the publishing of this article, standoff continued between his supporters and the police who are trying to disperse the crowd, our reporter, Mahlet Fasil, said from the scene. Protesters are chanting “Jawar, Jawar” and “Down, Down Abiy.”
In a separate part of the city, in Kara Qore area in western Addis Abeba, a counter protest erupted when a group of youth began chanting “Jawar thief”. The Police quickly stepped in to disperse the standoff between his supporters and those protesting against him.
Elsewhere in Oromia, several spontaneous protests broke out including in Ambo, the hotbed of the four years’ Oromo protests prior to Prime Minister Abiy’s assent to power, Haramaya and Bale Robe, among other places. Roads in outskirt areas of the capital Addis Abeba were also blocked by the Oromo youth, Qeerroo.
Speaking a while ago, Endeshaw Tasew, Federal Police Commission Commissioner, denied the reports that there were attempts to remove Jawar’s security. “His message that the police were taking measures against him are false. Neither the government nor the police took any measure against him,” he said.
But he admitted that the government has assigned security details for activists and political leaders who returned home from abroad in order to guarantee their safety and security. However, recently, there has been measures to remove private security details based on evaluations and circumstances that indicate low threat levels and increasing stability, according Commissioner Endeshaw. He called for calm and an end to road closures in various places.
Tension started simmering since yesterday afternoon following Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s speech at the national parliament during a question and answer session with parliamentarians. An MP asked the prime Minister on what measures the government was planning to take to tame media organizations which are “fueling conflict.”
“The media wants to be free, but wanting to be free and managing to be free are different things’, the PM said, adding ethnic, religious and political entrepreneurs were to blame. He further said that the media, rather than trying to facilitate Ethiopia’s peace and democracy, have resorted to collecting funds from a people and ethnic groups they claim to represent and hinted at the broadcast authority to enforce the law without hindering the process of strengthening the media. “Owners of media who are foreign nationals, who do not have an Ethiopian passport, who can leave the country when things go south” should know that the government was practicing patience to broaden the space. “If [you] become a threat against Ethiopia’s peace and survival, whether or not you speak Amharic or Afaan Oromoo, it should be noted that we will take the necessary measures,” the PM said, adding, “we do not have another country we can flee to” and “those of you with [a second] country, if you are willing to help us with our peace, development and democracy then you are welcome”. In what many saw as an accusation directed at Jawar Mohammed, PM Abiy went on to warn that talk of democracy and freedom cannot be used to mask those that profit off of the media and that measures must be taken to control this.
A few minutes after the Prime Minister’s response at the parliament Jawar Mohammed wrote a direct response to PM Abiy, which was written in Afaan Oromo, and posted to his 1.7 million followers on Facebook.
He started off by saying he never fled the country, but left it to study and had to get a foreign passport because the government wouldn’t renew the one he had. “After Woyane was pushed out by the blood and bone of Qeerroo, you had elders to try and convince us not to come back. But we put our people above everything and came home to help you transition this country with the influence and knowledge we have,”he said. He reminded the PM of their meeting in Minnesota and then in Addis Abeba in which he said Oromia was his life and death from then on.
Speaking about his media,OMN, Jawar said they have always respected the laws of the countries in which they operated and kept on reporting the people’s protest despite the millions of dollars spent on lobbying and jamming the media. Respecting the laws and constitution of the country and putting into consideration the current situation of the people and nation would be what they will continue to do so, he further said.
In the last paragraph, Jawar countered the Prime Minister’s accusation saying he didn’t come home to run away when things go south, and he was “here to face all of it with my people” and signed off by saying his assurances were neither the government of Ethiopia nor an American passport, but God and the Oromo people.
Running for office?
On Saturday last week, a breaking news on The Finfinne Intercept, a Facebook page which quickly gained prominence for its inside information, said citing its sources that “activist and political analyst Jawar Mohammed has initiated the process to renounce his US citizenship.”It added that Jawar was “considering running for a seat in the regional or federal legislature in the upcoming election.” Ethiopian social media space was awash with subsequent speculations that he was indeed running for office, a claim he denied during several media interviews he gave in the past expressing his disinterest to participate in politics.
Jawar himself brushed the speculation with humor: “The story about me running for office is just speculation. I am running to [lose] weight,” he tweeted. But reliable sources close to him told Addis Standard that he in fact was considering to run for office. “He sees the Prime Minister’s move to merge EPRDF and create a unified party as a dangerous move that could potentially tip the country into a civil war,” one source said.
In an interview he gave to LTV and was aired last night, Jawar severely criticized PM Abiy’s move and called it a plot to “extend individual’s power” and a recipe to “disintegrate the country”. He also criticized “Medemer”, the book written by PM Abiy Ahmed.
One of the pictures that emerged from today’s protests show a group of people burning several copies of “Ida’amuu”, the Afaan Oromo equivalent of “Medemer. “