Rising misery as Ethiopia struggles to stem tensions

More than a year after his house in southern Ethiopia was razed to the ground, his coffee plantation destroyed and cattle stolen, Teketel Memheru is still too terrified to return home.
The 22-year-old is one of hundreds of thousands of people uprooted from their homes by ethnic clashes in a burgeoning domestic crisis the Ethiopian government is battling to contain.
“I witnessed a neighbour of mine hacked to death and another neighbour was burnt alive in his house. I’m scared to go to farm my agricultural plot for fear of attacks,” said Teketel, an ethnic Gedeo who says he came under attack by Oromos — the country’s largest ethnic group. Officials insist that what became the world’s biggest internal displacement crisis in 2018 is under control, and that more than a million people have returned to their homes.
However those working on the ground — speaking anonymously to avoid a government backlash — say the displaced are being forcibly returned. They warn that the dire humanitarian conditions are only set to get worse.
“Peace is not restored, I didn’t meet a single person who wants to return under these conditions. People are really scared. It will get more difficult,” an aid worker said.
The worker said that in May local officials and soldiers had entered the camps and ordered people to leave. Most people however had just disappeared once again into a fatigued host community and were living in utter “misery”.
In addition, hunger levels had become a “catastrophe”.
“We believe levels of violence and displacement will continue,” said the worker. Since coming to power in April 2018 after two years of anti-government unrest, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — himself an Oromo — has been hailed for his efforts to end the iron-fisted rule of his predecessors. He has embarked on economic reforms, allowed dissident groups back into the country, and an easing of control has seen Ethiopia jump 40 points in the 2019 press freedom index.
But the loosening of the reins has had a far darker side, as years of tensions between ethnic groups who are divided into nine autonomous regions, have boiled over — usually over land and resources — leading to deadly violence in the country of over 100 million people.
One of the hotspots is along the borders of the Gedeo district — which is part of the vast Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region — and West Guji in Oromia.
The verdant, rolling hills of this southern region, are where some of the world’s best coffee is grown. It is also the most densely populated part of the country, with residents facing a critical shortage of farmland.
Tensions have long existed between the groups, but last year the Oromo of West Guji attacked the Gedeo living on their side. — AFP