Simmon Allison

The Daily Maverick , 4 October, 2016

849x493q70Simon Ethiopia bishoftu Ethiopia mourns – but mourns what, exactly? | Daily Maverick

The official death toll from the Bishoftu disaster stands at 52. This is an extraordinary number. Even taken at face value, this makes the deadly stampede one of modern Ethiopia’s bloodiest episodes. But we can’t take anything at face value. This is a country where information is tightly controlled, and where casualty counts are routinely underplayed by government spin doctors.

Other reports, from rights groups, suggest we should take that official death toll and double it. Still others, from activist organisations, say we should multiply it by 10. Whatever the truth – and we may never have an exact reckoning – far too many people died in Bishoftu on Sunday when an ordinary religious festival turned into a bloodbath.

Again, the accounts of what happened are contested. The government’s version is that violent protesters causing “pre-planned mayhem” – the Prime Minister’s words – forced worshippers to flee the scene; the fleeing turned into a stampede, with people crushed to death or falling to their deaths when they were forced over the edge of a deep ditch.

Eyewitnesses and opposition spokespeople describe a very different incident. In their version, peaceful protests at the festival were met by a violent police response, with tear gas and live ammunition being used against unarmed civilians. This sparked the stampede.

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