Killing of Muslim imams by government security forces is causing anger in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Muslims are boiling with rage at a series of killings of religious leaders across Oromia. The involvement of government security forces in the killing has left many to wonder the motives behind targeting innocent civilians.

Sheik Omar Suleyman was a 70 years old man. He provides for his large family of 17 members. He was an imam of a mosque in Asassa, a small town in West Arsi Zone of the Oromia region.

Sheik Omar and his wife were killed at their home by government security forces. Their three-months old infant who sustained an injury at the time also died the next day.

Sheik Qassim Rashad is another religious leader in Asassa. He was also shot in front of his mosque, and now is receiving medical treatment at Asella Hospital. A young man who tried to help Sheik Rashad was killed by government forces.

Similar attacks against Muslims have been reported in different parts of Ethiopia. In recent days alone, there were attacks on Muslims and their mosques in towns such as Badessa, Asassa, Adaba, Shashemene, and Kofale.

The Ethiopian Muslims have been complaining about political, economic, and social marginalization under all past regimes. Although they comprise more than 40% of the country’s population, their participation in the government has been limited. Muslim scholars say Ethiopia, which has been introducing itself to the world as an “Island of Christian,” has never had a place for them.

Many Muslims have been grateful to Abiy Ahmed for taking some bold steps to address some of their centuries-old demands. They were thankful to the prime minister for allowing them to open the first Islamic Bank in the country. They also praised the Ethiopian parliament for passing a law that grants Majlis, the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs General Council, a legal recognition, a privilege enjoyed by the Ethiopian Tewahdo Orthodox Church for centuries.

However, the ongoing attacks on mosques and imams have left many Muslims wondering the motives behind the unexplainable attacks. What is beyond comprehension is the reports that the killings are conducted by government security forces who were supposed to protect them.

Some politicians say the attacks on Muslim leaders and their places of worship have to do with the government tactics of divid-and-rule in the face of a growing protests in Oromia and South Nations and Nationalities Region, especially Wolaytta zone. According to them, security agents incite religious and ethnic-based conflicts to weaken the protests. For this, they point to how government-owned media framed the killings in Shashemene almost two months ago following the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa. They accuse the media of falsely characterizing the killings as a “massacre” that targeted Christians and ethnic Amharas.

Some Muslims also believe that Abiy Ahmed is trying to repeat what Meles Zenawi did to them. The late Ethiopian prime minister is remembered as a leader who falsely linked Ethiopian Muslims to terrorist groups in Somalia in order to get financial and diplomatic support from the United States and other western countries.

The Ethiopian Muslims who accused successive Ethiopian governments of following hostile policies against them hoped for a better treatment under the government of Abiy Ahmed. But for many, it seems those hopes are fading now!


Ethiopians Joined the International Community in Dismantling Statues of Leaders Who “Symbolize” Racism, Injustices, and Inequality

June 29, on the night Hachalu Hundessa, a popular Ethiopian Oromo singer and activist, was assassinated, “Qeerroos” (young people) from the Oromo ethnic group headed straight to Emperor Menelik’s statue which is found at the center of Addis Ababa. They started throwing stones at the statue of the 19th century emperor.

The night was very tense in Addis Ababa and many parts of Oromia region. Reports indicate the death of more than 167 people from different ethnic groups and the destruction of businesses in several cities and towns.

The intention of the Qeerroos in Addis Ababa was to dismantle the statue of the emperor, but they couldn’t because they were dispersed by security forces who arrived immediately. However, young Oromos who live in London dismantled the bust of King Haile Selassie while those in the city of Harar in East Ethiopia destroyed the statue of Ras Mekonnen.

One may wonder what explains the motives behind the destruction of statues in Ethiopia. But the answer could be found by looking at what’s happening recently around the world, especially after the murder of George Floyd in the United States.

Generally, people link the widespread racism, injustices, and inequalities of today to the past. The past becomes an enemy if it has negative impact on the politics and justice system of the present. So, past leaders who instituted such a system are blamed.

Many Ethiopians believe that Hachalu was assassinated due to the remarks he made in his interview with Oromia Media Network just a few weeks earlier. In the interview, Hachalu suggested that Emperor Menelik’s statue should be removed saying he was responsible for more than a century-long subjugation of the Oromo people and other nations and nationalities in Ethiopia.

Public memories have always been subjects of controversies which arise mainly from differences in understanding of what they represent and the values they stand for. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, monuments, statues, and artifacts which symbolize Communism were removed in many countries including Ethiopia. In 2015, ISIS destroyed the historical city of Palmyra in Syria. The death of George Floyd in the United States months ago has led to a renewed campaign to dismantle statues of confederate leaders and past slave owners.

In Ethiopia, too, the war on statues is not the war on statues themselves; it is a war on the idea they represent and the values they symbolize.

Emperor Menelik II, was the father of modern Ethiopia and considered by some, especially the Amhara ethnic group, as a “unifier” of the country. However, this claim is rejected mainly by the Oromos and other nations and nationalities in South Ethiopia. For these group, the emperor was an invader who conquered independent nations which had their own governing system. They blame him for instituting a system that favored the Amharas and Christians but marginalized all other religious and ethnic groups.

Now, the war on statues is becoming an international movement. With ubiquitous influence of social media, it’s a matter of time before people in every country question the values monuments in their public space represent and if they deserve to be there!