Addis Abeba, January 27/2021 – In the aftermath of the June 29th assassination of Artist Hachalu Hundesa, the city of Shashemene like few others in Arsi and West Arsi zones of the Oromia Regional State witnessed a series of events that saw the death of at least 166 dead and scores of injured. As a result, 4700 individuals were arrested in relations to the violence that wreaked havoc across the region leading to loss of life and damage of property.
Forty government officials, including then mayor of the city Temam Hussein, and 20 members of the regional security apparatus were arrested by the Oromia Regional State Police, in an apparent acknowledgement of failure to protect civilians on the part of these officials.
Shashemene’s reputation as being an economic hub, a cultural and religious melting pot was affected by reports and conversations that came subsequent to Addis Standard’s own report on June 29th events. The city is the capital of the West Arsi Zone of the Oromia Regional State as well as a commercial center where traders from nine zones in three regional states (Oromia, Sidama and SNNPR) came to trade in mostly agricultural produce.
Sunday markets were legendary where silent deals on major agricultural products needed in urban centers like Addis Abeba, Hawasa and Bale-Robe were made. Goods coming from Kenyan ports destined to Addis Abeba found their way in the mega storage units, placed all over the city as it is a major stop on the intercontinental corridor (Addis Abeba – Nairobi – Mombasa).
Over the decades since it has begun to grow as a city, Shashemene has become a melting pot where people with different religious and cultural background coexist.
“THERE WERE UNFOUNDED ALLEGATIONS THAT ONLY CHRISTIANS WERE ATTACKED WHILE THE OTHERS SAY ALL NON-OROMOS WERE THE TARGET OF THE VIOLENCE.”
The city also hosts the Rastafari Community that is estimated to be numbered in the hundreds. Shashemene suffered from social media conversations and media reports that had opposing camps engaged in debates that have painted the city as a place of extreme religious views from the different faiths.
There were unfounded allegations that only Christians were attacked while the others say all non-Oromos were the target of the violence. While the government reports of arrests are floating, the question of who was behind these events remains unanswered.
The uncertainty has seen many residents leave the city creating a feeling of insecurity among local tourists whose contribution to the local economy is of great significance, prompting many to choose Hawassa, a half an hour drive from Shashemene as a stay destination, leaving the hospitality industry devastated.
The once crowded and busy market of the city is recovering slowly. “The social fabric remains strong and unaltered,” insisted Ammaruddin, a shop owner who participated in community efforts to provide basic commodities like food, blankets and water to sheltered communities (in churches and mosques). Addis Standard team took a trip to the city to report from the ground on how the city was finding its way back to normalcy and the efforts that have been made both by resident communities and regional government to help bring about the desired results of returning to normal.
Social Fabric Barely Damaged, City Residents Resilient And Determined To Stay And Fight For Its Recovery
Ammaruddin, a resident of the city, a business owner and a father of one insists that, “With all the difficulties me and others are facing, there’s relative peace and people to people relations is slowly coming back to normal.”
“THE ATTEMPTS TO DESTROY THIS CITY’S IMAGE IN THE HEARTS OF ITS RESIDENTS, DID NOT SUCCEED.”
Roba Nigussie, a native of the city and a driver, told Addis Standard, “Although some communities are hesitant to be open with each other again, the relations of the youth in these communities are back to normal.” he continues, “The attempts to destroy this city’s image in the hearts of its residents, did not succeed.”
Wubshet Wolde, a 30 years old father, resident of Shashemene and a shop owner in Aposto (The rather busy city center that was badly damaged on June 29) told Addis Standard, “The people-to-people relations are fine, communities work with each other but to be honest many who felt the city is not a safe place to live anymore, left the city to other places.”
Special Asha, a member of the Rastafari community and a resident of the city for 6 years said, “This is the land of God, Allah, Jah whatever you want to call it, people will always find ways to heal and reconnect in such a land.” he continues, “Different communities were nothing but helpful during the tragic events, I don’t think this will change.”
Reports of people leaving Shashemene to settle elsewhere in the country flooded the news, something Abdul Jabbar Ali says, “Is true” but he adds, “The news circle was so harsh and unfair to the Arsi Oromo community, rumors that were going around about a second wave of attacks made so many leave for fear of their personal safety.” he argued, “The way they framed it, Oromos were killing Non-Oromos but the matter of the fact is, we don’t know who staged the attacks and who was behind it plus everyone even Oromos themselves were affected and that’s according to the government.” He concludes, “Most of the communities who stayed and didn’t leave the city were supported by all sectors of society in the city which should tell you that our social fabric is intact although I won’t deny that people are still a little wary of each other.” he concludes, “I credit media with that.”
“DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES WERE NOTHING BUT HELPFUL DURING THE TRAGIC EVENTS, I DON’T THINK THIS WILL CHANGE.”
Special Asha, a member of the Rastafari Community in Shashemene
We spoke to Jawar Aman, an 80 years old resident of the city who gave his testimony to Addis Standard after the unrest who said, “My son although in good health is with permanent disability. I won’t leave this place with all the scars that I have, it is my chosen home.”
The movement in and around the city is back to normal as well as travel in and out of the city, schools are open and students have resumed classes. The city market, which once was one of the busiest markets in Oromia and the country as a whole, famous for trading in agricultural and other goods is slowly getting back normal.
In Spite Of The Huge Economic Loss, Those Affected Are Resilient And Moving Forward
Shashemene, an economic hub where people from across nine zones in 3 regional states (Oromia. Sidama and SNNPR) came to trade, has suffered a great deal from both the events and the coverage that followed the events in terms of human lives lost and economic loss.
According to residents Addis Standard spoke to, influential businessmen and women closed down their business, most famously, the Haile resort Shashemene branch owned by renowned athlete Haile Gebreselasie is yet to be reopened.
Goods are not flowing into the city as it used to before and small business owners who suffered a loss during the events are finding it difficult to recover in the absence of assistance from the regional government and the hassle they get from the insurance companies.
One such person is Ammaruddin, whose shop was destroyed alongside his merchandise in the now damaged downtown business center “Aposto”. Ammaruddin told Addis Standard, “I had a thriving business and it was destroyed. We heard promises that the government will help communities get back to their normal to this moment not one government office contacted me and insurance companies kept stalling me.” When asked how he is surviving now, he said, “All the merchandise you see is bought by the help of family and friends in the merchants’ community. The shop as you see is burned to the ground, I sell in front of it as it is.”
Wubshet who as well owns a shop in Aposto tells the same story, “The city didn’t gain its stamina back. Influential members of the business community left the city and some decided to never do business in it again. I reopened my business after peace returned to the city and I can tell you, business is recovering but slowly.”
The tragic events left a trail of destruction in the neighborhood. Shamsu Busair, a longtime resident of the city told Addis standard, “We used to have shops, cars and the three-wheeler taxis, usually known as “bajaj” now we have nothing. Even back then when I couldn’t get work, I would take my bajaj out and earn what was enough for me and my children. There you see my property is destroyed and I don’t have a bajaj to get my daily needs.”
According to Shamsu, the worst about it is facing the community, something Sabir Langoba shares with him, “We used to have everything and now we are beggars. We wait for help from the community and the government.” Sabir continues, “Insurance companies are stalling us and we can’t get loans from banks. How are we supposed to put our lives back together? “
Abdul Jabbar Ali, a native of the city and businessman told Addis Standard, “All the promises they made about rebuilding Shashemene are not realized. Most of the money they gathered in the name of victims and their families, hasn’t reached.” He adds, “All the people that you see back on their feet came as a result of help from the community and families living elsewhere in the country.”
What Could Be The Solution?
It is important to note that the government has dispatched an investigation team five days after the events and a total of 4700 individuals in different parts of Oromia in relations to the violence that wreaked havoc across the region. Among the arrested are prominent Oromo politicians Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, Eskinder Nega and Lidetu Ayalew (recently released on bail.)
“THE MONEY THAT WAS PROMISED FOR THE REHABILITATION OF THE CITY SHOULD FIND ITS WAY. THE RHETORIC THAT IS DAMAGING THE CITY’S REPUTATION HAS TO STOP AND PEOPLE WHO LOST PROPERTIES SHOULD BE COMPENSATED PROPERLY.”
These measures seem to offer less counsel to Abdul Jabbar who argued, “Bringing the real people responsible to justice would provide closure and could ensure investors that the security situation is under control.” Roba thinks that, “The money that was promised for the rehabilitation of the city should find its way. The rhetoric that is damaging the city’s reputation has to stop and people who lost properties should be compensated properly.” Roba’s sentiments are shared by many residents of the city, these sentiments empower the long held belief that “Only with peace comes prosperity.”
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission published a report that presented details about the violence in Shashemene and elsewhere in Oromia regional state, in a presser held to present the findings to the public, the EHRC among other points raised with different stakeholders called on the Federal and Regional attorney general offices to identify and hold accountable the perpetrators of the human rights violations that occurred during the widespread security crisis and to regularly update the public on the process, In accordance with international human rights law. It also called on the Oromia regional council to set up a national rehabilitation and compensation fund that would allow for a harmonized and sufficient compensation for victims of human rights violations as per international human rights standards. AS