Exiled Opposition Groups Return Amid Peace Reforms

On 5th October 2018, the ruling party Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition voted to extend the chairmanship of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, allowing him to continue leading the ruling party.. Abiy was named Prime Minister in April 2018 after his predecessor resigned following years of unrest. He has since introduced sweeping reforms, including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, unbanning several political groups, establishing a Ministry of Peace, and making peace with Eritrea after years of rivalry.

On 15th September 2018, the leadership of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) returned to Addis Ababa from a 26 year exile in Eritrea. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Ethiopian Parliament removed the OLF from a list of banned terrorist organisations amid reforms, as the group declared a unilateral ceasefire and announced their intentions to run in future elections. Some 1500 OLF fighters also returned with them.

Similarly, nearly 2000 Ethiopian rebels with the Tigray People's Democratic Movement (TPDM) returned from Eritrea in October to pursue a peaceful political struggle.

In addition, in early September, Prime Minister Abiy announced that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops would withdraw from the border, several months after the two former rivals officially opened the border following two decades of tensions.

Despite these improvements, Ethiopia’s relaxing of authoritarian control has also been accompanied by renewed ethnic tensions. In mid-September ethnic Oromos youths around Addis Ababa were involved in violent clashes that killed 23 people over a single weekend. Federal Police reported that at least 600 people involved in the violence were arrested. The clashes reportedly erupted during preparations for the welcoming celebrations of the OLF group, after a disagreement ensued between ethnic Oromo and Addis Ababa youths. The clashes were sparked by objections to OLF supporters displaying the flag and colours of their movement.

Peaceful Assembly

On 14th September 2018, police fired tear gas in Addis Ababa to disperse crowds in the wake of clashes between OLF supporters and some residents of Addis Ababa. Police also confirmed that five people were killed on 17th September during clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Addis Ababa who were protesting against the killings and violence of the prior two days. The Oromo are the largest ethnic group in the country and were at the centre of massive protests that began in 2016 amid claims that the central government had politically and socially disenfranchised them for decades.

On 15th September 2018, despite ongoing clashes, hundreds of thousands of people gathered at Addis Ababa’s Meskel square, waving OLF flags, to welcome the OLF leader and others who had returned to the country after years of exile in Eritrea.