Affront Against the People

Jul 10 , 2020
By Christian Tesfaye

Monday was a sad day. Hachalu Hundessa, a singer and songwriter as well as political activist, was shot dead, according to police. A father, a husband and one of the symbols that came to represent the movement that led to the change of administration in 2018, it was an unfortunate event to have happened to such a vibrant individual.

By virtue of his political activism, it was an event that was bound to be momentous in Ethiopia's politics, one of many in this past couple of years. Within a day of his passing, shops and offices closed, the movement of people and vehicles ceased and Addis Abeba came to a standstill on Tuesday. It was in part an expectation of what was inevitable - the response to the trauma that Hachalu's death caused to the movement he represented.

The result was demonstrations reminiscent of the first several months before and following Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) rise to the premiership. Youth gathered in the city to make their voices heard. They were angry and forceful. It was the only way they felt they could express how momentous this event was, how it made them feel and how - whatever had led to the death of Hachalu – what had happened was unacceptable.

Following the reports of his passing, it was easy realising the futility of calling for sobriety and introspection. This could be asked of the political elite - which, as always, disappointed here too - but is much harder to ask of the many Ethiopians to whom the movement mattered. In the early period of his passing, it was evident that what had actually occurred would not matter that much. It was unlikely that this was not going to feel like an affront against the people themselves.

Their expression of anger and resentment at the loss of such a figure led to the lockdown of Addis Abeba. To businesses and people, this was a great deal of inconvenience. People could not go to offices, and those that had already made it out of their homes on Tuesday were stranded.

There is also the usual apprehension. Such emotionally charged protests meant to residents in Addis Abeba the possibility of violence: perhaps not one inspired by the protestors themselves but a consequence of the response it might lead to and the conflicts that may erupt as a result. It is an all too evident possibility in a country with a political history that is awash with violence. And in the end, there was distraction of property and the unfortunate loss of lives.

But what is still not evident is how such an emotionally charged issue will play out in the political arena, how much it will fuel partisanship in the long term and the form in which such trauma and the demonstrations that followed inspires contending parties within Ethiopia’s politics.

Tact is unheard of in the national discourse, and it was unavoidable that it would not be utilised here as well. And this is because of two kinds of people.

On one hand are those that will fail to understand the anger that the death of such a figure invokes in people associated with the movement he was considered to be a voice for. On the other are those who will be unable to consider the violence such anger and resentment leads to if it is allowed to be expressed without care. Such people should hold their piece, but there is virtually no chance of this. They will instead be the loudest in the coming weeks and months.

What we should instead strive for is to expend positive energy. Hachalu was a voice and a symbol of strength and resistance for many across the country. The expression of anger and frustration at his passing should be understood. The demand for accountability should be echoed firmly and consistently, not only by those associated with the movement that brought him to the public’s attention but by every Ethiopian who believes in justice.

In the same token, the emotion his passing invokes should not be weaponised for the purposes of scoring political points. This will only lead to a further devolvement of our current state. Few will benefit out of such an outcome. It is a zero-sum game that will leave many blind. If the nation is ever going to get past this, the end will not fill like instant victory. It will only be bittersweet, and we have to learn to live with this likelihood.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 10,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1054]

Christian Tesfaye ( is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture.

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