A mysterious kidnapping of young students in Ethiopia have left families devastated and they have been awaiting answers from their government for months.
Their travails started last December 04 when an unknown group of armed men blocked a bus and kidnapped the students on board who were leaving for home from Dembi Dolo University in western Ethiopia.
A total of 18 students, mostly ethnic Amharas – 14 women and four men – were ordered out of the vehicle at Sudi near Gambela city, about 100km (60 miles) from Dembi Dolo located in Oromia region.
One of the students, Asmira Shumiye, managed to slip her abductors and it was her account of their kidnapping and her subsequent escape that brought the matter to the public’s attention.
Asmira said the young men who kidnapped them “looked like gangsters” and spoke in the Afaan Oromo language.
She said their captors repeatedly told them that they had no problem with them (the students). “Our problem is with the government,” she quoted them as having said.
Their intention, she noted, was for Ethiopians to hold demonstrations to pressure the government to come and speak to them.
Asmira escaped her captors while they were being forced to walk in in the forest.
“They made us walk for a long time. Some of the students were very tired. They stumbled and fell. While the abductors were trying to help some of them, I managed to run away. They didn’t notice when I left,” she told the BBC.
“Finally, I managed to go back to the city and reported to the federal police.”
It remains unclear why the students were abducted but it came at a time of rising ethnic tension in Ethiopia, especially in Oromia.
The Oromo people are the largest of the more than 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia, constituting more than a third of the country’s 100-million-strong population.
Many ethnic Oromos accuse the government of discriminating against them and there have been attacks on members of other ethnic groups in the area.
After Asmira’s escape, it took at least a month for the government to acknowledge the issue.
In the weeks and months after the initial incident, there were protests and a social media campaign to pressure the authorities to take action. But it had little effect.
On January 06, the eve of Ethiopian Christmas Day, Amhara regional security head Temesgen Tiruneh finally acknowledged the issue saying: “We are aware four students have been kidnapped.” Five days later, the prime minister’s office said 21 students who had been kidnapped had been released and only six were still missing.
It is not clear why there is such a disparity in the numbers.
When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met representatives of families of the missing students in late January, the parents had reason to hope that their children would be found.
He made assurances that something was being done to rescue the students from captivity.
But hope is now starting to run out. Families are unsure what is happening, more than three months after the kidnaps were first reported.
A relative of one of the students last week told the BBC that the response from the authorities since meeting the prime minister is not what they expected.
On Twitter, Meti Shewaye Yilma directed her anger at Mr. Abiy: “You woke up knowing the whereabouts & safety of your family but not families of abducted Dembi Dollo University students. God knows how the students woke up. @PMEthiopia, any news or progress on this case? #BringBackOurStudents (Source: BBC)