At least 50 people have been killed in Ethiopia in protests over the death of singer-activist Hachalu Hundessa, a well-known advocate of the Oromo ethnic group who was shot in his car Monday night in the capital Addis Ababa. The 34-year-old musician dedicated his career and life fighting for his people through his political songs.
His songs became anthems during the peak of protests held in 2018 that led to the toppling of the then prime minister. It is unclear the motive for Hundessa’s killing but he had received death threats throughout his activism. The police are still investigating the incident.
The Addis Ababa police commissioner disclosed that some suspects in the shooting have been arrested, state broadcaster EBC reports.
Many flocked to the hospital where his remains had been taken to mourn the “voice of their generation” who protested for decades against government oppression. To them, he was more than just a musician and an entertainer.
“He was a symbol for the Oromo people who spoke up about the political and economic marginalisation that they had suffered under consecutive Ethiopian regimes,” BBC reported.
He believed in taking the necessary action to effect change little as it may be and that led to his imprisonment at 17 for five years for participating in protests.
That did not slow him down although many who began like him went into exile for fear of their lives. One of his popular songs that speaks to his ‘life’s mission’ was, “Do not wait for help to come from outside, a dream that doesn’t come true. Rise, make your horse ready and fight, you are the one close to the palace.”
The protests were not confined to the capital, Addis Ababa, where police threw tear gas to disperse the crowds at the hospital. Five people were killed during protests in Adama some 90km from the capital.
According to hospital chief executive Dr. Mekonnin Feyisa, 75 people have also been injured and in the neighboring town of Dera, 19 more people have been injured while two people have also died in the eastern town of Chiro.
Authorities shut down the internet on Tuesday in parts of the country as the protests spread across the Oromia region.
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said the police must organize a “prompt, thorough, impartial, independent and effective” investigations into the sudden demise of the singer.
She added that “the authorities should immediately lift the countrywide blanket internet shutdown and allow people to access information and to freely mourn the musician.”
The death of the singer-activist comes as Ethiopia’s political scenery heats up amid the postponement of the August elections indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, an Oromo himself, who has made efforts to transform Ethiopia with sustainable reforms, has expressed his condolences via Twitter.
He described the singer as “marvelous” and said Ethiopia “lost a precious life today.” He extended his condolences to Hundessa’s family and friends and urged the people to remain calm as there are ongoing investigations into the incident.