ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The shooting death of a popular singer has thrown Ethiopia into turmoil. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest, and more than 80 have died in clashes with security forces as NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAACAALUU HUNDEESSAA SONG, "MAALAN JIRA")
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Back in 2015, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa wrote a song lamenting how Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, the Oromos, were pushed out of the capital Addis Ababa. Shortly after, protests erupted across the country, and they didn't stop until the prime minister was toppled.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAALAN JIRA")
HAACAALUU HUNDEESSAA: (Singing in non-English language).
PERALTA: With his music, Haacaaluu captured the moment and became the consciousness of the uprising. But on Monday, Haacaaluu was gunned down by unknown assailants, and his killing coincided with a falling-out between the reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the young people who helped bring him to power. Thousands took to the streets. They burnt down buildings and faced off with security forces. Merera Gudina, an Oromo elder statesman, says this is a dangerous time for Ethiopia because the country has not managed to settle its differences.
MERERA GUDINA: There is no, what we call, national dialogue, national consensus over the basic issues.
PERALTA: When Abiy came into power, young Oromos thought they had an ally. But Abiy has taken a pragmatic approach, and many huge issues in Ethiopia remain unresolved. There is no consensus on whether Ethiopia should continue being an ethnic federation or what the national language should be or whether the capital should remain federal territory or be returned to the Oromo state.
GUDINA: The basic problem is that we are at a dead end - dead end.
PERALTA: A dead end. An election in August was supposed to settle many of these issues, but that was canceled because of the pandemic. And now the government has reacted to protests by arresting opposition leaders, shutting down the Internet and unleashing the military on the streets.
Is the new Ethiopia looking like the old Ethiopia?
BILLENE SEYOUM: Absolutely not.
PERALTA: That is Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for the prime minister. She insists all those measures are not to stifle dissent, but to keep people safe and uphold the rule of law. The government, she says, is still committed to elections and reforms and to getting justice for singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. He was buried today in his hometown outside of the capital.
Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.