The following cable was created on Feb. 22, 2010 from the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, and was released by Wikileaks on Aug. 30, 2011. It’s titled: “ENVIRONMENTAL ALLEGATIONS GENERATE PROTESTS, MASS ARRESTS”, and it shows the high-level economic and environmental plights imposed upon the Oromo, the largest nation in the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia, but a nation politically and economically marginalized and repressed for the last 120 years in its own homeland, Oromia.
For further background on the Guji Zone protests, click here.
SUBJECT: ENVIRONMENTAL ALLEGATIONS GENERATE PROTESTS, MASS ARRESTS
1. (SBU) Residents of Shakiso Wereda accuse Laga Dembi Mine, owned by billionaire Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, of releasing toxic chemical waste into a nearby river, causing illness to people and animals in the area. Local residents and students submitted a petition to the local government arguing that a second gold mine should not be given to MIDROC before it cleans the toxic waste that it has released from Lega Dembi, and the company brings benefits to the community. Local government officials, who were allegedly instructed by federal authorities to halt an ongoing investigation into the toxic dumping, resorted to mass arrests of the protesters. According to Members of Parliament (MPs) from Guji and Borena Zones of Oromiya region, over 100 people remain detained in Yabello prison awaiting trial, and opposition political party members and candidates were specifically targeted. According to Human Rights groups and MPs, the whereabouts of three university students and two political leaders is unknown. End Summary.
Local Residents Accuse MIDROC of Dumping Toxic Chemicals at Mine
2. (U) Beginning in December 2009, residents of Shakiso Wereda (Oromiya Region) accused Laga Dembi Mine of releasing toxic chemical waste into a nearby river, causing illness to people and animals in the area. (Note: According to Demboba Boku, Member of Parliament for the area, several local experts found evidence of dangerously high mercury levels in the water. However, Post has not reviewed scientific or medical analysis examining the correlation between chemicals from the mine and human and animal health. End note.) On December 3, 2009 students from Shakiso town submitted a petition to Wereda officials detailing the adverse effects of noxious chemicals released by the gold mine on the health of the community. They further protested that the mine owner harvested gold from their land, but did not invest in the development of the community. Most of the mine’s employees are brought in from other regions, while employment from the local community is minimal.
3. (SBU) Guji Zone and Shakiso Wereda administrators told the students they would study the situation and respond on December 16. According to parliamentarian Demboba (of the opposition Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) party), officials of the federal and regional governments pressured local officials to nip the budding dissent. Students and residents who went to hear the response from their local leaders on December 16 were surrounded by federal and local police. Demboba said a student “planted” by local officials stood up from the crowd and said, “We residents of Shakiso Wereda are sick and tired of officials of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic organization (OPDO). The current local officials should hand over office to more capable groups that could bring development to our Wereda.” Immediately after the inflammatory statement by the student, police reportedly started beating people gathered there and arrested Assefa Arure, Guji Zone OFDM coordinator, and Dulecha Robe, OFDM member. The whereabouts of the two are still not known. According to Demboba, the arrests continued and on December 18, over 100 OFDM and Oromo Peoples’ Congress members and sympathizers were arrested.
Background on Sheikh Al Amoudi’s Lega Dembi Gold Mine
4. (U) Lega Dembi Gold Mine is owned by Mohammed International Development, Research Companies (MIDROC), a company owned by billionaire Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, believed to be the largest foreign investor in Ethiopia. It is the only active industrial gold mine in Ethiopia. On November 24, 2009 MIDROC signed a 10-year agreement with the Ministry of Mines and Energy for the extraction of 20,483 kg. of gold from the Sakaro area, three kilometers from the existing Lega Dembi gold belt in the Guji Zone of the Oromiya Regional State. Gold is Ethiopia’s major mineral, and the government is counting on a six-fold increase in production. MIDROC has reportedly earned USD 466 million from Lega Dembi mine since 1998. The granting of Sakaro Gold Mines to MIDROC in the midst of allegations of pollution and lack of community involvement at Laga Dembi angered residents of Shakiso Wereda.
5. (U) The office of the Chief Executive of MIDROC on its website advertizes its contribution to the development of the Lega Dembi Community by financing the Shakiso Clean Water Project, but residents of Shakiso disagree. Demboba Boku told PE FSN that the multi-million dollar company did not invest in the community.
Police Allegedly Refused to Respect
Bail Order from Court
6. (SBU) Demboba Boku told Poloff and P/E FSN that only eight of the over one hundred detainees appeared at Shakiso Wereda Court on Dec. 18. Police requested 14 days of investigation time, which the court granted. The eight detainees appeared in court for the second time on January 1. The police asked for a second 14-day extension to further investigate the case. The Court did not grant the extension. Instead, the court decided to release all eight detainees on bail. According to Demboba, police defied the court order and continued to keep the eight individuals in detention. Demboba added that the court had not taken any measures against the police who defied the court’s orders. In an interview with the international press, Government of Ethiopia (GoE) spokesman Shimelis Kemal dismissed the allegations that students and residents of Shakiso were unjustly detained. Shimelis said the disturbances were fomented by rebels from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and the innocence or guilt of the detainees would be decided by a court of law.
Over 100 Protestors Remain in Detention
7. (SBU) Dembela Halekie, Member of Parliament from OPC representing Hageremariam Wereda, Borena Zone of Oromiya Region told PE FSN the eight defendants whose right to bail was rejected by police and over 100 other detainees are currently jailed in Yabello Prison, Borena Zone. According to Dembela, all detainees will appear before a roving Supreme Court and will answer to charges of fomenting an uprising to disrupt peace and stability. Dembela did not know the trial date.
8. (SBU) According to Demboba, eight OFDM candidates for the Federal Parliament and four candidates for the Regional Council are among the 100 detained by police. OFDM reported the case to the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia, but received no response. OFDM was forced to register new candidates in place of those of those detained.
The Whereabouts of Three Students and Two Party Leaders is Unknown
9. (SBU) On January 8, Human Rights League for the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) reported that three students from Awassa University were arrested by the Federal Police on January 5 and January 6 in connection with the riot in Shakiso Wereda, Guji Zone of Oromiya Region. The three Awassa University students who are natives of Shakiso are: Nega Gezaw, Dhaba Gire and Jatani Wario. Demboba told Poloff and PE FSN that the three students were not physically present in Shakiso during the riot, but police picked them up from Awassa town for alleged involvement in the riot. According to HRLHA and Demboba, the whereabouts of the three students is unknown. Similarly, the whereabouts of Assefa Arure and Dulecha Robe, both members OFDM are still unknown.
Residents Not Impressed by Officials and Mine Owner Visit
10. (U) According to Demboba, Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, owner of MIDROC, Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Mines and Energy, and Aba Dula Gemeda, President of Oromiya Region visited Shakiso on January 20 to appease the community. Sheikh Al Amoudi granted 15 million Birr (USD 1,125,000) for the 15 Weredas in Guji Zone to be used for community development. According to Demboba, handpicked residents attended the meeting and thanked the visitors for the attention they gave to their community. Demboba said the majority of residents — who did not attend the meeting — were unimpressed by the visit and donation, and characterized it as “too little, too late.” According to Demboba, the community continues to demand the immediate release of their loved ones and the cleanup of toxic waste generated by Lega Dembi Gold Mine before MIDROC is granted rights to Sakaro Gold Mine.
11. (SBU) Genuine grass-roots opposition to hazardous pollution on the part of Ethiopia’s largest investor appears to have fomented in Shakiso Wereda. Local authorities’ willingness to launch an investigation into Lega Dembi’s environmental practices has clearly evaporated, and MP Demboba’s allegation that they have been ordered by federal officials to “make the problem go away” is entirely believable. While Demboba’s allegation that the arrest of protestors was a form of political party harassment is congruent with broader trends Post has observed, Demboba provided little evidence of his claims. Neither Demboba nor other community leaders appear to have developed a strategy for highlighting this issue. With community members rightfully frightened by the mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators, this case will only attract further attention if Demboba or other high-ranking officials make it their own. End comment.