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Analysis: Unrest, violence in Addis schools ignite blames of “illegally enforcing” Oromia flag, anthem; leads to security crackdown

Picture posted by city police showing school property destruction due to clashes last week. Photo: Addis Abeba Police

By Getahun Legesse @Birmaduu2

Addis Abeba – On Monday 12 December, Lydia Girma, Head of the Addis Abeba City Peace and Security Administration Bureau, announced that security forces in the city detained 72 individuals on allegations that they “were working to instigate violence in and around schools” in the city.

Lidya, who has been appointed to the bureau in September this year, further accused the detained individuals of “having no connection with school communities,” but were bent on bringing “different agenda.” Security forces detained them to “to maintain the peace and security of the city,” a work Lidya said will continue. “The city administration will continue the law enforcement campaign.”

Throughout the last ten days, several schools in various districts in Addis Abeba have seen unrest, some outright violence, in connection with opposition against Oromia regional state anthem and regional flag being displayed in school compounds, according to teachers and students who spoke with Addis Standard.

Violence erupted On Thursday 01 December in Entoto Amba Secondary School, located in Gulelle Sub-city, when a group of students opposing the school’s decision to hoist Oromia regional state flag and play of the regional anthem in the school compound clashed with those who are in favor of the decision.

The following days saw similar Incidences of confrontation and violence between groups and at times involving school management and administrative staff; such confrontations were reported in schools including Addis Ketema secondary school in Addis Ketema sub-city, Medhanialem Preparatory school in Gullele sub-city, and Kefitegna 12 secondary school in Yeka sub-city among other schools, leading to brief suspension of the teaching-learning process.

A teacher at Medhanialem preparatory school who spoke with Addis Standard said that a group of students who opposed the hoisting of the flag and playing of the anthem went as far as tearing the Oromia region flag and disrupting the singing of Oromia anthem.

Others claim students who resisted the schools’ decision were subjected to harassment and abuse by those supporting the decision, as well as by security forces who are deployed in and around the schools where the confrontations and the clashes were serious.

The confrontations and the clashes have led to not only fierce public debates for and against, but the physical destruction of school properties in several schools. On 08 December, Addis Abeba Police announced that 97 individuals were detained suspected to instigating the unrest and the violence, pending investigations. Among the detainees are teachers and students.

The statement from the city police claimed that “some teachers and students with a mission from extremist forces misled majority of the students and carried out severe destruction on school properties,” adding that “a grave crime of tearing down Oromia regional flag and also that of the federal government were committed.”

As news of the killing of one student in Kefitenga 12 secondary school, in Yeka sub-city, began making rounds on social media, the city police issued another refuting the news and asserting that “it was fake.”

At the center of it all

At the heart of the violence is a decision by Addis Abeba City Administration’s Education Bureau to provide pupils with classes in their mother tongue, particularly Afaan Oromoo, in 403 schools in the city. The city’s education Bureau head, Zelalem Mulatu (PhD), told state broadcaster that students in these schools who wanted to learn in Afaan Oromoo were given the choices to do so in separate classrooms and the practice has been implemented for the last five years. The education curriculum for this arrangement was copied from the Oromia regional state, he said, which also stipulates regional flags to be hoisted and regional anthem to be played in these schools.

Zelalem Mulatu (PhD)

Zelalem blames the clashes and violence partially for lack of “multi-cultural school environment”, for the past many years, which, according to him, has resulted in hostilities against the decision to provide students classes in their mother tongue, as well as the regional flag and its anthem. He also accused that the agenda was picked by those who wanted to divert attentions from the government’s recently launched crusade against corruption.

The telltale signs of what was coming were already surfacing over the past few months. During the City Council’s regular session held in mid-July, Mayor Adanech was confronted by Amhara Posperity Party Council member, Sisay Mengiste (PhD). Sisay said he had “no problem” with the decision, nevertheless it will not only be a potential threat to security, but also lacked the legal framework and formidable assessment on its advantages and disadvantages. Addis Abeba is home to other nations and nationalities, he said, as well as the seat of the federal government.

His challenges did not sit well with Mayor Adanech, who stated the fact that unlike other regional states, the fact remains that Addis Abeba is the capital city of the Oromia regional state.

“It is true that Addis Abeba is the capital city of Ethiopia where different nations and nationalities live in…it is true. [But] unlike other regional states, [Addis Abeba] is the capital city of the Oromia regional state, it has served as the capital city of Oromia for the last 30 years. It is an issue in our constitution,” she said. Her remarks sparked a widespread uproar from multiple commenters and media personalities who dismissed her assertions as “out rightly unconstitutional.”

The teacher at Medhanialem preparatory school, who spoke to Addis Standard said some students and teachers were against this decision from the very beginning,and that there has been incidents where the regional flag was torn apart or hidden away by students long before the recent one.

Roba, an Oromo student at Medhanialem preparatory school, said that it is common to see group of students repeatedly arguing that Afaan Oromoo should be a medium of instruction only in the Oromia region, and using the language in schools in Addis Abeba is inappropriate.

“We will uphold the rule of law without hesitation against those who bring us an agenda of conflict and division.”

Mayor Adanech

But the issue went beyond and above confrontations between the two groups as political parties commented on it in the last few days.

The incident last week has drawn political parties, such as Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (Ezema) and the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA), both of whom have senior members within the ruling party’s cabinet. Both parties released statements accusing the the city administration’s decision as attempt to “illegally enforce” a flag and an anthem that belongs to one regional state in schools in Addis Abeba; they said that is what has triggered the clashes and the violence.

Led by the Minister for Education Berhanu Nega, Ezema listed 12 incidents where it said “illegal activities” to raise the Oromia regional flag and sing the anthem caused clashes between students and subsequent violence in various schools over the past one year alone.

NaMA, whose Chairperson Belete Molla (PhD) is the Minister of Innovation & Technology, on its part said that it strongly denounces the city administration’s effort to illegally enforce raising Oromia regional flag in schools in Addis Abeba and coerce students to sing regional anthem.

Addis Abeba City Administration officials however dismiss the claims by both parties.

Mayor of the city, Adanech Abiebie conferred with a group parents, teachers and students and doubled down on the City’s position that the decision to educate pupils whose mother tongue is Afaan Oromo in their own language was made five years ago as an attempt to answer a longstanding Oromo national quest to learn in their native language. The issue is being fanned by the media, extremist groups, and those who are bent on implementing foreign agenda to dismantle Ethiopia, Mayor Adanech says. “We will uphold the rule of law without hesitation against those who bring us an agenda of conflict and division.”

The mayor further accused those opposing the decision and said that they were “using it to cover up a different agenda”; it is inappropriate to present the issue as the government’s intention to impose the language on others forcefully, she said, adding that students who are currently raising the Oromia regional flag and singing the anthem are only those who are learning in Afaan Oromoo by choice. “We will uphold the rule of law without hesitation against those who bring us an agenda of conflict and division.”

According to the mayor similar experiments will be replicated on other languages and that the administration has finalized the governing guidelines and principles regarding the use of other languages in schools, such as the plans to add Af Somali, Af Sidamoo, and Gamo languages, among others. AS


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