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Ethiopians are having a tense debate over who really owns Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa skyline

Nine months into a state-of-emergency imposed to quell popular unrest, Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has unveiled its first significant political concession. But the furor surrounding the draft bill presented to parliament last week reveals just how deep tensions in Africa’s second most populous country still run. At stake is the answer to a highly charged question: who owns Addis Ababa?

For Oromos, who make up at least a third of the population and formed the backbone of last year’s mobilization against the central government, the answer is simple: the federal capital, which they call Finfinne, belongs to Oromia. They recount a long history of grievance which casts Oromos as colonial subjects violently displaced from their land and alienated from their culture.

This anger became especially acute in the past decade as Addis Ababa expanded rapidly and when, in April 2014, the authorities published a new master plan which proposed further eviction of Oromo residents and farmers in the name of development. “The issue of Finfinne is the heart of our politics,” says Gemechis, an Oromo resident of the city. “It is where we lost everything.” The master plan was dropped in January 2016 but demonstrations continued unabated until October.

Addis Ababa, with a population approaching four million people, is also home to the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa and is widely regarded as Africa’s diplomatic capital—and indeed the world’s third largest diplomatic hub.

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