Clashes Threaten Ethiopia’s Delicate Ethnic Balance ― AFP

Clashes Threaten Ethiopia’s Delicate Ethnic Balance ― AFP Clashes Threaten Ethiopia’s Delicate Ethnic Balance ― AFP

The unrest raises questions about the future of Ethiopia’s “ethnic federalism” system of governance, which is supposed to offer a degree of self-determination to the country’s diverse peoples but which critics say is often overruled by the federal government.

(AFP)―She was not one of them, but Saada Youssef had lived alongside the Somali people of eastern Ethiopia for years. Then came the day local officials told her to leave or die.

“Even on the truck, people were throwing stones at us,” Saada said, recalling her escape in a vehicle sent to rescue people of Oromo ethnicity living in the Somali region where tit-for-tat ethnic violence killed hundreds last month.

Saada found refuge in a collection of abandoned buildings in Adama, a city far from her home in the eastern town of Wachale, one of several areas in Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regions that have seen fighting between two of the country’s largest ethnic groups.

The bloody clashes threaten to upset the delicate ethnic balance of Africa’s second most populous country, where the all-powerful ruling party last year declared a state of emergency to end months of sometimes deadly anti-government protests spearheaded by the Oromos.

The unrest raises questions about the future of Ethiopia’s “ethnic federalism” system of governance, which is supposed to offer a degree of self-determination to the country’s diverse peoples but which critics say is often overruled by the federal government.

– A permanent rupture? –

What triggered September’s violence is unclear, but its results are not.

A government spokesman said hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks and a local official in the eastern city of Harar said that more than 67,800 Oromos alone have fled, not to mention the Somalis who have moved in the opposite direction.

Survivors of the ethnic fighting blamed the government for not doing more to stop the bloodshed. They are worried it might lead to a permanent rift between the country’s Somali and Oromo communities.

“This could be ethnic cleansing,” said Molu Wario, an Oromo who fled fighting in Moyale in the south along the border of the Somali and Oromia regions, after a land dispute turned ugly.

“It has led to hostility, and the relationship between us will never be the same as before,” he said.

The logic of ethnic federalism sees different communities running their own affairs, so Somalis are in charge of the Somali region while Oromos run Oromia, but communities mix in all nine of Ethiopia’s regions and squabbles over land and resources are common, though not always so violent.

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