Ethiopia’s Ongoing Struggle

March 31, 2017

Earlier this month, some of the Ethiopia’s state of emergency (SOE) restrictions were eased by their federal government. This is a welcome development in the ongoing struggle between disaffected Oromo and Amhara tribes and the national leadership. Obtaining an accurate or thorough description of political, economic, and cultural news remains a challenge. Naturally, those writing articles and stories do so from a personal perspective. In addition, one of the consistent arguments of protesters has been the government’s silencing of dissenting voices through arrests and other threats. Some of the more dire updates come from Ethiopians writing from the safety of a foreign country where they reside. But these reports are always produced with second hand sources raising questions about their validity among objective observers.

In January, we visited with our partners to learn how our programs have been affected and what, if any changes are being made to adapt to the conditions on the ground. As usual, we were met with some good and some not so good news. Sadly, we received word that some of the deadliest events during the season of protest occurred in towns where our partners work and we have visited Self Help Groups in the past. This created a tense environment for our partners and brought the reality of the situation home for us.

One of the original terms of the state of emergency was the restriction of large or small public gatherings. The public protests were the most potent environments prior to the state of emergency and the government sought to eliminate any such gathering altogether for the time being. From an American perspective, this sort of prohibition seems unsustainable, unjust, and foreign to our way of life. But it’s something our friends have dealt with nonetheless. In particular, the weekly meetings of West Arsi Self Help (Savings) Groups were limited during the first few months of the SOE. Facilitators weren’t allowed to meet with the groups during this time. Thankfully, the groups found ways to continue meeting and saving, albeit unofficially. As the restrictions were eased, they regrouped and continued their progression toward maturity. The scheduled transition to complete local ownership of the program this year is on track.

Our discipleship emphasis is ongoing as well with our partner Horn of Africa Evangelical Mission Engagers. Towards the end of 2016, several training sessions scheduled in the Bale region were postponed because travel was restricted in this area. That being said, many people responded the the message of God’s love and participated in a Discovery Bible Study. Travel restrictions have eased now and the work is moving forward. Trainings planned for 2017 are going ahead as scheduled.

One area where the unrest and SOE has had a detrimental effect is in our Post-Harvest Thresher program. Machine ownership groups were originally restricted from traveling into the countryside because of a ban on transporting fuel to these areas. Machines require refueling several times a day and owners typically carry small fuel containers on their cart. Even after special permits were provided to allow owners to carry fuel into restricted areas, the owners were still fearful of unfriendly sources attacking them for their fuel. Unfortunately, this occurred during the large harvest season last fall and owners were unable to provide their service or produce income threshing. We now await the small harvest season of late spring, early summer hoping conditions stabilize sufficiently for the threshing service to continue. Our partners, Ethiopia Full Gospel Believers Church Community Development Organization, continue to support the owners, providing storage for the machines and maintaining communication with government officials regarding security in the area.

Ethiopia is undergoing considerable transformation. Global industrial and technological advances seem to have swept the nation as highrises fill the capital skies and mobile phones fill the countryside. The past 40 years alone have seen a long-standing monarchy violently overthrown by Soviet-backed communists, an oppressive regime that caused tremendous suffering, only to be toppled by rebel forces through guerrilla warfare, and then a brutal war with neighboring Eritrea. And as the country has rode a wave of development during the last decade, citizens have become frustrated with what is seen as inequitable distribution in the benefits of progress, leading to the current struggle.

Meanwhile, the slow pace of rural life and relative distance from the rapidly changing urban landscape affords Discovering Light the opportunity to empower individuals and families in their own development. We’ve long believed that changing mindsets and cultivating a hope-filled outlook on life is the key to flourishing Arsi Oromo communities, above and beyond attempts to modernize their lifestyle. We hope and pray that the political turmoil minimally impacts our programs and partners while such profound change takes place among them. We’ll share more from the field in the coming months as events unfold.