NAIROBI, Kenya — Hachalu Hundessa, a prominent Ethiopian singer, songwriter and activist, has been shot dead in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in a killing that risked heightening tensions in a nation taking stuttering steps toward establishing a multiparty democracy.
Mr. Hundessa, 34, was shot late on Monday night in the Gelan Condominiums area of Addis Ababa, the city’s police commissioner, Geta Argaw, told the state-affiliated broadcaster Fana on Tuesday. The singer was taken to a hospital after the attack, but died later of his wounds. It was not immediately known who was responsible for the shooting.
The killing drew condemnation from Ethiopian officials and citizens both inside and outside the country, with many pointing to how his protest lyrics and politically conscious music galvanized members of the country’s ethnic Oromo group to fight against repression. Even though they are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos have long complained of economic and political marginalization.
“Hachalu was the soundtrack of the Oromo revolution, a lyrical genius and an activist who embodied the hopes and aspirations of the Oromo public,” said Awol Allo, a senior law lecturer at Keele University in England who has written extensively about Mr. Hundessa’s music.
His songs, Mr. Allo said, were at the heart of a groundswell of antigovernment resistance that began in 2015 with street protests in the Oromia region that eventually led to the resignation of the prime minister at the time, Hailemariam Desalegn. Through ballads like “Maalan Jira” (“What existence is mine”) and “Jirraa” (“We are here”), Mr. Hundessa was credited for capturing not just the struggle and frustrations of Oromo protesters but also their dreams and hopes of a better future in Africa’s second-most populous nation.
“Hachalu was exceptionally courageous and a man of many great talents,” Mr. Allo said in an interview. “His songs mobilized millions of Oromos across Ethiopia.”
On Tuesday, news of Mr. Hundessa’s death led to protests in the capital and other parts of Ethiopia, with images and videos on social media showing hundreds congregating at the hospital where his body was taken.
Internet service across the country was shut down at approximately 9 a.m. local time, according to Berhan Taye, an analyst at the nonprofit Access Now. The move, she said, “is simply driving confusion and anxiety among Ethiopians and the diaspora” especially as they seek “credible, timely information” at such a time of crisis.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed condolences at the killing of Mr. Hundessa and called for calm. The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate faces the daunting task of limiting the spread of the coronavirus while sustaining economic growth and taming an uproar over elections that had been scheduled for August but were postponed because of the pandemic.
“We are waiting for the police to provide us with a full report about this heinous act,” Mr. Abiy said in a statement posted on Facebook. “We understand the gravity of the situation, and we are paying attention and monitoring activities in the country. We should express our condolences while protecting ourselves and by preventing further crimes.”