Ethiopia State of Emergency Grants Broad Power to Government

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Ethiopian troops monitor protesting crowd. Photo courtesy of CNBC.

ADDIA ADABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopia is currently in a state of emergency following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. According to Human Rights Watch, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced the restriction, which brings concerns of potential government abuse,

“On February 17, 2018, following Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced a countrywide six-month state of emergency. The Directive of the State of Emergency contains overly broad restrictions and vague language that will facilitate government abuses.”

This is the latest state of emergency following a subsequent period that lasted for a year beginning in 2017.

“During Ethiopia’s previous countrywide state of emergency, from October 2016 until August 2017, security forces arrested more than 20,000 people and committed widespread rights violations.”

Al Jazeera elaborates further on the nature of the previous state of emergency and continued unrest;

“In August 2017, Ethiopia lifted a 10-month state of emergency imposed after hundreds of people were killed in anti-government protests demanding wider political freedoms. The country’s Oromo and Amhara people – who make up about 61 percent of the population – have staged mass demonstrations since 2015 demanding greater political inclusion and an end to human rights abuses. The protests have continued this month, with many people expressing frustration over a perceived slow government release of political prisoners.”

The fear is that the state of emergency gives the government broad authority to quell the rights of its citizens. The United Nations has cautioned against the potential for human rights violations under the state of emergency.

“The United Nations also takes note of the recent declaration of a state of emergency and stresses the importance of avoiding actions that would infringe on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens, the peace, security and stability of the country, or impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

CNBC explains the nature and aim of the state of emergency;

“A six-month long state of emergency was imposed by the government the next day, with the intention of quelling civil unrest. The state of emergency prohibits, among other things, the distribution of potentially sensitive material and unauthorized demonstrations or meetings.”

The state of emergency is aimed to bring the civil unrest to an end by controlling the methods by which it came about. The underlying factors that contributed to the unrest are political and economic,

“The factors that have driven the protests — namely the ethnic federal system, the influence of the military and intelligence services, and the interplay between the political elites and the business sector.”

Ethiopia is essentially run by one party that is made up of many coalitions. Desalegn’s party, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, is one of the weaker parties who has faced challenges from other coalitions,

“Tension has been bristling between the powerful Tigray People’s Liberation front, which represents just 6 percent of Ethiopians, and its counterparts representing the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups.”

The interest in the outcome of Ethiopia’s political future is tied to an economic interest by China.

“Ethiopia is a key partner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure spending push to resurrect ancient trading routes centred on China. This is partly because of its strategic location neighboring the tiny port state Djibouti, at which China has a naval base. A maritime presence in the region enables access to European markets via the Suez Canal. Ethiopia is also attractive because of its low cost labor, transport links and a vast consumer market — with its population of over 100 million making it Africa’s second largest.”

The selection of the next Prime Minster will be closely watched given Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth. Whoever is chosen, however, will be a complicated matter that involves many ethnic considerations and balance,

“As leading Ethiopian commentators speculate as to who might fill the leadership position, much hangs in the balance.  The challenge is multifold.  The Government must appoint a leader whom a dissatisfied population will accept.  It is an appointment which must offer other ethnicities than the dominant Tigrayan leadership .  This is also important given the current Tigrayan-heavy cabinet and security apparatus… Notwithstanding the significant role Tigrayans played in overthrowing the former military dictator and spear-heading the development of the EPRDF, Tigray represents only 6 percent of the population.   It must demonstrate to the public that its declared state of emergency will not result in a heavy-handed approach to security which undermines the constitutional right to express freely and peacefully.  It must press on with reforms and initiate the neutrally-chaired national political dialogue process which it has mooted.   Most importantly, it must abandon the tired, hidebound ideological construct of the 1990s which has little place in a more democratic and inclusive playing field.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — “Ethiopia’s state of emergency to last six months” — 18 February 2018

CNBC — “Chinese investment hotspot and a state of emergency: What’s going on in Ethiopia” — 23 February 2018

Human Rights Watch — “Ethiopia: New State of Emergency Risks Renewed Abuses” — 23 February 2018

The London Economic — “Ethiopia in peril: Africa’s development jewel faces crisis” — 23 February 2018

UN News — “Ethiopia: UN welcomes steps towards governance reforms and increased political participation” — 23 February 2018

Author: Adam King

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *