By SAMSON BERHANE
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER
Disputes between factory workers are frequent, but a recent incident in Ziway has left the town in a state of shock and insecurity. Things got out of control when one of the individuals involved in the disagreement lost his life, and his family sought revenge. The shockwaves of the violence have spread over the floriculture investments of the town where many workers did not turn up at work for over two weeks and production was ceased. The unrests just add to the ongoing violence in neighbouring towns of the Oromia and SNNP regional states, reports SAMSON BERHANE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
The past three weeks have been tough for Seara Abnet, and thousands of individuals working in various factories at Ziway after a disagreement between two daily labourers turned violent and led to the loss of lives.
Moving around the town and performing the usual tasks were becoming difficult for Seara and her family after the incident she encountered on November 12, 2017.
On that day, Seara and her family were attacked by a group of individuals who came to her house seeking revenge for the physical injury of their loved one who, they believed, was assaulted by one of her relatives living in the area where she resides- known as Chereka Sefer.
“We were bullied, attacked and some of my neighbours were gravely injured,” said Seara.
A month and a half ago, a fight between two individuals belonging to two different areas occurred after a chat between two people, who were having a drink together, turned ugly- where one of the individuals hit the other on his chest and broke his legs.
After a few days, the victim, who could not sustain the injuries, was taken to the hospital but was later pronounced dead.
His death, however, had not been without consequences. When his funeral was held at the outskirts of the town, a quarrel between the relatives of the victims and families arose and ended in a violent conflict between the two groups.
This was unprecedented for Seara who was rushing from her workplace- Sher Ethiopia- to her home. Her family, who at the time had gathered to have a coffee, hurried to the scene too.
Investments in Batu town, a.k.a Ziway, are having a hard time over the past couple of weeks after the violence that took the lives of three individuals.
While I was travelling back home, I saw no less than two dozen people marching towards us. Then, I immediately ran to save my children and family said Seara- who hid her son and daughter in a water container fearing people would attack them.
But, thanks to individuals living nearby, they were all saved from the attacks.
“Had the people not known the attackers, I, my husband and children would have been killed,” she recounted the horrifying moment of her life.
Following incidences of violent protests, she and her family have started to look for places to move out of the town for security reasons.
“I never encountered such an insecure moment in my entire life,” said Seara, who sent her children to her family living in Southern Nations and Nationalities & People’s regional state (SNNP). “But, since I need the salary to feed my family, I must stay.”
Nonetheless, many others who fear they will be attacked travelled outside the town and have temporarily stopped coming to their workplace. As a result, activities at investments located in the town were at a standstill for almost a week.
Ziway, home to over 70,000 people, is located in East Shoa Zone, Adami Tulu Jiddo wereda, at a distance of 160Km from Addis Abeba.
Being a junction of the Oromia and SNNP regional states, the town is known for the high concentration of floriculture and horticulture owing to its water resources- Lake Ziway (a.k.a Batu), which is a part of the Great East African Rift Valley covering a total area of 440sqkm.
The recent problem had a severe impact on floriculture investments such as Harburg Rose, AQ Rose, Bram Rose, Ziway Rose and Sher Ethiopia, which account for over half the country’s flower production.
People who take care of flowers planted inside the greenhouse were hardly noticeable for over a week, contrary to what had been before the violence.
Commenced operation 12 years ago, Sher- the largest producer and exporter of horticultural products- is amongst investments whose production was affected by the absence of its employees. It was tedious for the flower farming company- which recently endured a strike of 4,000 workers at the farm for delayed salary payments.
For Sher- which has over 15,000 employees- the effects are more impacting than other investments with a similar challenge.
Harburg Rose, AQ Rose, Bram Rose, Ziway Rose and Sher Ethiopia are flower producing companies whose production was affected by the recent dispute in Ziway.
“The effects could have been worse had it been the hot season- a time when production hits high,” said Kemal Hussien, public relations head of Sher Ethiopia- a producer of over a billion flowers.
Having close to 8,000 labourers in its plant at Ziway, around half of the employees were not undertaking their usual tasks for almost two weeks, according to employees working in Sher, becoming a big headache for the company that is expected to export on a daily basis.
Not only Sher but also Harburg Rose is severely affected by the dispute.
“Although the problem is abating now, such drainage of staff will affect the flower growth,” said Mohammed Seid, human resource manager of the Company having 1,200 employees. “As the growth of flower needs close supervision, the absence of a single employee will affect production.”
Even though some employees abandoned their work in a search for better security, the Town’s Peace Keeping Bureau has already started an effort to bring peace and stability to the town.
“Everything is returning to normal right now,” said Zewge Belay, who is a member of a committee formed by the Bureau to solve the ongoing problem.
Many factories began to return to their regular production schedule since the past week after the unrest lasted for 15 days.
The labour dispute appeared at a time when nearby towns located in Oromia Regional State are engulfed in unrest.
Recently, a ranch owned by the subsidiary of Midroc Group- Elfora Agro-Industry Plc, ransacked and vandalised by protestors in Bishan Guaracha, located within a 90Km radius from the town of Ziway.
Despite all these challenges, the Oromia Regional State still aims to attract over a thousand investments a year.
For her part, Seara believes that the town and regional states should give a maximum attention and take precaution, instead of regretting the violence and dispute.
“The town’s officials must ensure that we are protected and not attacked,” Seara, who has seen such disputes recurring for the past three years.
In a bid to solve the violence, the Town’s Police Commission has arrested over hundred individuals, of which 36 were hauled to court.