Editor's Note: This is a two-part analysis of Hachalu Hundessa, a well-known Oromo musician whose death sparked ethno-religious violence exacerbated by misinformation online. Here you can read the second part.
The iconic Ethiopian musician Hachalu Hundessa rose to prominence for using his creative talents to sensitize the Oromo people; he was assassinated on June 29 in a suburb of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
That night, around 9:30 p.m., as Hachalu was getting out of his car, it was reported that Tilanuh Yami approached and shot him in the chest. They took him to the nearest hospital where he was officially declared dead. It was later determined that the bullet had seriously damaged his internal organs.
The Addis Ababa Police Chief reported that two suspects were arrested. A few days later, the authorities charged an alleged murderer along with two accomplices.
After his death, the country struggled to accept the violence that followed. The truth about the killing remains unclear, and speculation began to emerge as politicians and activists fueled long-standing tensions between the Oromo and Amahara elites, two of Ethiopia's largest ethnic groups.
That day, the bereaved took to the streets of Addis Ababa and the cities and towns throughout the state of Oromia. The next morning, the Oromia Media Network (OMN) satellite television, in which Hachalu had his last controversial interview, reported online and on television when the coffin was transferred from Addis Ababa to Ambo, Hachalu's hometown. .
The slow televised journey turned into a deadly battle between government authorities and opposition politicians over where Hachalu should be buried, so the OMN halted its coverage when the hearse was forced to return to Addis Ababa. At least 10 people died there, and many were injured.
The confrontation led to the arrest of several opposition politicians, such as Jawar Mohammed, a WHO figure, and Bekele Gerba, both accused of instigating chaos.
The confusion increased after government authorities finally brought Halachu's body back to Ambo by helicopter, where the warring parties continued to clash, denying the heartbroken family members a proper burial.
Meanwhile, unrest and violence continued. A three-day riot gripped parts of Oromia and Addis Ababa at a rather high cost: 239 people were killed, hundreds more were injured and more than 7,000 were detained for violence and property damage worth millions of Ethiopian Birr.
On June 30, the government imposed an internet blackout to try to stop calls for violence circulating on social media that lasted three weeks.
Several people were shot and killed by government security forces, but several news outlets such as Voices of America and Addis Standard reported that angry mobs from the Oromo ethnic group attacked multi-ethnic and interfaith towns and cities in southeast Oromia, mostly families. non-Oromo and non-Muslim from the region.
Most of the violence occurred in the context of the Amahara-Oromo ethnic group, but it is possible that religion played a more central role due to an intricate and localized understanding of ethnicity: the ethnic identity markers of the community of Southwestern Oromo often combine the Islamic religion and the Afa-Oromo language. A local farmer reportedly said: “We thought Hachalu was Oromo” after watching Hachalu's televised funeral rites that followed the traditions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Most of the victims of the appalling violence were reportedly from the Amhara, Oromo and Gurage Christian minorities. Eyewitnesses say that the mobs destroyed and burned property, lynched, beheaded and dismembered the victims.
When the first news of Hachalu's killing broke, Oromo media abroad focused on Hachalu's fateful interview with OMN host Guyo Wariyo, which aired the week before Halachu was assassinated.
During the interview, Guyo repeatedly asked Hachalu provocative questions about his alleged sympathy for the ruling party, interrupting him several times to question his answers.
Hachalu firmly denied any sympathy for the ruling party, but he also condemned the discordant and split Oromo political parties, demonstrating his staunch independence as a thinker and musician, a quality that made him a target of cyberbullying until the day of his assassination.
However, at one point, Guyo asked Hachalu about the historical injustices allegedly committed against the Oromo people by Menelik II, the 19th century Ethiopian emperor who shaped modern Ethiopia.
Hachalu surprised several listeners when he replied that the horse immortalized in Menelik's equestrian statue in Addis Ababa belongs to an Oromo farmer named Sida Debelle, and that Menelik stole that horse.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERAHOGwogCg (/ embed)
This exchange drew applause and criticism from commenters on Facebook and Twitter.
When Hachalu was assassinated a week later, many members of the Oromo community abroad immediately speculated that Hachalu's criticism of the Menelik II statue angered supporters of imperial Ethiopia, which may have led to his assassination.
On social media, Oromo netizens obsessively focused on Hachalu's remarks related to Menelik, leading many down a winding path to an insidious disinformation campaign. The rest of the interview contained other themes fraught with divisions and contradictions within the Oromo community.
Throughout the interview, Guyo questioned Hachalu about the country's current political reforms, sharpening anti-government sentiment with questions about Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is Oromo, and whether or not the government had complied with the people's requests. Oromo after the prime minister came to power in 2018.
Hachalu reiterated that he does not engage in rabid partisanship of Oromo politics, while criticizing those who question Abiy's Oromo identity.
He defended his stance against top Oromo political leaders seeking an alliance with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), once a ruling party with historical ties to the now-dissolved Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDRPE). The FDRPE was dissolved by order of Abiy, and the TPLF became an opposition party.
Hachalu also addressed the issue of political violence in the Oromia region, blaming both government authorities and the militant militia group of the right-wing Oromo Liberation Front (OLF and informally known as OLF-Shane).
After Hachalu's death, the government was able to acquire and publish the full 71-minute interview. The missing tape included Hachalu's accounts of death threats he received from parts of eastern Oromia, where the radical OLF-Shane militia is active. Hachalu said he believed he would not have been attacked on social media if he had praised the OLF-Shane.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQtk3leaC_Q (/ embed)
He also addressed the direct conflict he had with Getachew Assefa, Ethiopia's chief of security and intelligence during the period in which the TPLF ruled.
Guyo, who promoted this interview on Facebook as “must have” in the days leading up to its broadcast, has been arrested and the Government is investigating the entire 71 minutes of the interview tape for more clues that may help determine the facts. to the murder of Hachalu.
Read more about the consequences of the murder of Hachalu Hundessa in the second part of the series.