In mid- April 2014, the Ethiopian government announced a plan to undertake what it called the “Addis Ababa Integrated Regional Development Plan”, the “Master Plan” for short which was basically a proposal to annex most of the city’s surrounding areas which belong to the National state of Oromia. It provoked quite a response from university students across Oromia who immediately began protesting the plan. The government involved security forces in its response to quell the protest via strict, violent means. A series of campus-based and street protests barely lasting two weeks saw a number of Oromos loosing their lives, jailed or charged under the country’s infamous anti-terrorism proclamation.
Ethiopia runs on a system of Federalism which guarantees the rights of over 80 ethnic groups. An attempt to carry out the expansion according to Bekele Gerba, deputy leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress who was among those fighting the expansion would mean evicting hundreds of farmers without skills or any other means of subsistence other than their lands.
It would seem that after almost two months of equally serious protests by the Oromos and rebuttals by the government, the master plan is set to die a slow historic death. In a statement issued on Friday, the Ethiopian government announced that it has abandoned the controversial master plan. This was after the Oromo Peoples’ democratic Organization (OPDO) party, a regional ally of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) on Wednesday the 13th, decided to withdraw its support of the expansion plan. The government in its statement, attributed the reversal to its huge respect for the Oromo people and said the unrest has been due to a simple misunderstanding.
The decision which was heartily welcomed by Oromo residents still carries with it a modicum of doubt as Oromo’s largest opposition group, Oromo Peoples Congress party (OPC) airs its doubts that the government would stick to its concession. The party’s chairman, Professor Merrara Gudina told the Sudan Tribune “A year and half ago, the government similarly announced halting the master plan but didn’t keep its promise. Instead, it renewed its intention to push forward with the plan”. He demands that the decision be incorporated into a proclamation to give the government less twisting room to reverse in the future. Other Oromo opposition activists also say the governments decision is only meant to calm the unrest and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the country.
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The move to reverse its decision is an unprecedented one in the Ethiopian government and could be seen as an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the protests, we can only regret that it couldn’t have been acknowledged earlier before the loss of countless opposition lives and continue to watch to see if the government keeps its word.