Destruction, Looting Mare Popular Oromia Protests

The attacks, predominantly by youth, have come at a great cost to businesses, with several likely to shut up shop

Simbo Beach Resort Langano, formerly Bekele Molla Langano, is the latest property to face the wrath of angry protestors, mainly composed of youth, who wreaked havoc in Oromia Regional State last week, attacking, looting and setting fire to public and private properties.

Simbo joined no less than 13 factories and flower farms that were damaged, as well as two resorts that were looted and destroyed by protestors last week. On top of this, more than 60 trucks owned by the Derba and Dangote cement plants, as well as many other companies, were the victims of arson attacks.

No casualties were reported from the incident at Simbo Beach Resort in Langano, up until our press time on Saturday afternoon.

The more than half-century-old resort was established by the hospitality guru, the late Bekele Molla, in Arsi Negele Wereda, 195km south of Addis Abeba. Used as a collateral against a loan, his survivors lost the property when the state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) foreclosed it in the late 2000s. Mulugeta Tesfakiros, a prominent businessman and a real estate mogul, acquired the property in 2011 for 80 million Br. The facility, after rigorous renovations estimated to cost 20 million Br, reopened its doors to customers just two years ago.

Though the extent of the damage is yet to be determined, two of the bungalows were set on fire and all the rooms were fully looted. Major infrastructure, including heavy-duty generators and laundry facilities, were also set on fire, eyewitnesses told Fortune.

Another property across Simbo on Lake Langano was looted and destroyed two days earlier. The 14-year-old Bishangari Lodge, a luxury retreat founded on a 100,000 sqm plot is “no more”, according to Omar Bagarish, a major shareholder of Ecological Plc., parent company of Bishangari.

“The nature of the attack was straight looting and destruction,” he told Fortune last week from his office in Addis Abeba. “It wasn’t any form of retaliation for unfairly distributed land.”

Omar, asserting that there is also no hope in the future, says three days of ordeal, including attempts of looting amid resistance by community elders, women and the staff, only managed to delay the attack by two days, from Monday to Wednesday last week.

“It was unfortunate that the local police left the matter to us,” Zelalem Bekuma, operations manager of Bishangari, told Fortune. “We were told to handle the matter along with the elders, and that was that.”

The wave of attacks at different levels kicked off on Monday across many zones of Oromia Regional State, after a large number of deaths occurred at a traditional thanksgiving event in the town of Bishoftu (Debrezeit) on October 2, 2016. A reported 55 people died after a stampede triggered by tear gas shots fired by the region’s law enforcement force. There are people who claim the number to be much higher, although this has not been verified by independent sources.

Protesters in the Sebeta, Alemgena and Furi woredas of Oromia took to the streets in the early morning on Monday, attacking close to five factories and farms in the neighbouring areas. Properties were damaged, looted and some personnel who tried to resist were beaten up by the protesters.

The indiscriminate attacks on both foreign and local companies and farms affected Selam, Highland Flora, Sheba and the African Juices Fruit & Vegetable Farm, owned by foreign investors and located in the Awash Valley.

Factories in the Sebeta area, owned by Turkish investors, including SAYGIN DIMA Textile Factory, Bmet Cables and Kumtek Plc – both PVC and plastic processing companies – were also attacked. SAIGN DIMA has reported the highest degree of damage, with a third of its factory blocks completely burned down and huge property damage to the remaining office blocks. Personnel have also been physically attacked,

“Both are now in better condition,” said Kelem Abdi, general services head at Sygindima, speaking of the wellbeing of his Turkish staff, many of whom have since left, while the local manager is getting care at home.

The company was established through a joint venture agreement signed between the Ethiopian government (represented by the then Privatisation Agency, which has been upgraded to a Ministry) and Turkish investors in 2008. It was two years ago that the company took full ownership, yet it has already been foreclosed for failing to repay loans to the state-owned Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE).

The general service head now estimates the cost of the damage to have reached 75pc of the 1.2 billion Br in investment. This figure has not, however, been verified by independent experts.

Kumtek Plc, on the other hand, has just finalised the commissioning of the factory, and has ben piloting the production of PVC. The official launch and full scale operation was scheduled to commence in two months’ time.

“The damage is relatively modest, in our case,” Sindu Habtemariam, assistant general manager of the company, told Fortune. “But three security personnel have been hospitalised after being beaten heavily by the intruders. We had to face every hit alone, while our plea to local police was dropped for lack of a force to deploy.”

It was a federal special force that contained the fire and got things under control, after two hours of burning and looting of the factory, she said.

The two cement plants, operating on the outskirts of Addis Abeba, had their trucks and trailers burned to ashes; Derba lost five trucks and the Nigerian investment, Dangote, lost three, according to eyewitnesses. East Africa Bottling, the local Coca Cola bottler, too lost a truck on the streets of Sebeta, after the driver was told to stop the car and run for his life, on Tuesday, a company source told Fortune.

“They slapped him on the face before he run away,” said a person close to the company.

Teka Gebreyesus, deputy commissioner at the Ethiopian Investment Commission, said his agency was trying to coordinate with regional and federal police forces in protecting these investments, but is currently only facilitating communications. He is in charge of a committee the federal government has established to assess damage to these businesses for the purpose of compensation.

“This is overwhelming for the country’s resources and a disservice to the achievements so far,” Teka told Fortune. “Efforts so far have been in piecemeal, which is inefficient. A concerted collaboration needs to be put in place to be efficient in tackling the wave of attacks.”

An American citizen was also attacked and killed inside a vehicle driving outside of the capital on Monday, October 4, 2016. The incident reportedly happened in the town of Holleta, 38km west of Addis Abeba, when angry protesters threw rocks at passing vehicles. The violent protests on Monday also included attacks on individual residences in Alem Gena town, where protesters reportedly torched homes, eyewitnesses said. The trouble has reached the edge of the capital, where federal police disbursed angry protesters in the Jemo condo site.

Reports of similar incidents in different parts of Oromia continued to service as we went to press on Saturday. These involved violent confrontations between armed groups and members of the Defence Force. Officials from the Oromia Police Commission declined to comment when approached by Fortune last week.

By Samrawit Tassew
Fortune Staff Writer

Published on Oct 11,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 858]



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