Hachalu Hundessa: Popular Ethiopian protest singer shot dead

The 34-year-old’s songs focused on the rights of his Oromo people

Demonstrations have broken out in Ethiopia following the shooting dead of musician Hachalu Hundessa, well known for his political songs.

Two people have died during protests in one town, a doctor told the BBC.

Hachalu’s songs often focused on the rights of the country’s Oromo ethnic group and became anthems in a wave of protests that led to the downfall of the previous prime minister in 2018.

The 34-year-old had said that he had received death threats.

The police are now investigating the killing, which took place on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Thousands of his fans headed to the hospital in the city where the body of the singer was taken on Monday night, BBC Afaan Oromo’s Bekele Atoma reports.

Crowds of people came out to mourn the singer in Addis Ababa

To them, he was a voice of his generation that protested against decades of government repression, he says.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Gunshots have been heard in Addis Ababa and people set fire to tyres.

Map

In the eastern town of Chiro, two people were shot dead during protests, a medic at the local hospital told BBC Afaan Oromo.

In another town – Adama – one person was injured and government buildings have been set ablaze.

The internet has also been shut down in parts of the country as the protests spread in Oromia regional state.

‘More than an entertainer’

By Bekele Atoma, BBC Afaan Oromo

Hachalu Hundessa

Hachalu was more than just a singer and entertainer.

He was a symbol for the Oromo people who spoke up about the political and economic marginalisation that they had suffered under consecutive Ethiopian regimes.

In one of his most famous songs, he sang: “Do not wait for help to come from outside, a dream that doesn’t come true. Rise, make your horse ready and fight, you are the one close to the palace.”

The musician had also been imprisoned for five years when he was 17 for taking part in protests.

Many like him fled into exile fearing persecution but he remained in the country and encouraged the youth to struggle.

Hachalu’s body was being taken to his hometown, Ambo, about 100km (62 miles) west of the capital, but protesters have insisted that he is buried in Addis Ababa.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has expressed his condolences saying in a tweet that Ethiopia “lost a precious life today” and describing the singer as “marvellous”.

The musician’s death and the protests comes as political tensions are rising following the indefinite postponement of elections, on account of the coronavirus pandemic, that were due in August.

They would have been the first electoral test for Mr Abiy after he came to power in April 2018.

What were the Oromo protests about?

The Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, have long complained of being side-lined.

Demonstrations erupted in 2016 and pressure built on the government.

In 2016 and 2017 there was a wave of demonstrations in defiance of the government

The ruling coalition eventually replaced then-Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn with Mr Abiy, who is Oromo himself.

He has brought in a series of reforms which has transformed what was considered a very oppressive state.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 primarily for making peace with long-time foe Eritrea, but his efforts in transforming Ethiopia were also recognised.