Daily Digest of News on Ethiopia - February 17, 2018



Major News of the Day

The day is marked by press release by the Defense Minister, Obbo Siraj Fagessa. The other one was the statement from US Embassy in Addis Ababa strongly disagreeing with the declaration of State of Emergency that limits the fundamental rights such as assembly and express when what is really needed. The statement suggests best addressing the challenges in the country through inclusive discourse and political processes, rather than through the imposition of restrictions.

Complete statement of US Embassy Addis Ababa:

Here is another post by Addis Standard about the statement from US Embassy in Addis Ababa.


VOA Amharic

Addis Standard: Analysis of State of Emergency declared in October of 2016

In what looks like a copy paste of the 2016 state of emergency, the defense minister told local journalists that the new state of emergency will include provisions that prohibit “preparing, printing and circulating via media writings that could cause disturbance and suspicion among people as well as displaying or publicizing signs which could stir up violence.”

It also provided the security, which will be in charge of implementing the decree via a command post set up for this purpose, that citizens can be subjected to confiscations of materials suspected of being “utilized or could be used to commit crimes”; the army could also “search houses, neighborhoods and vehicles as well as stop, ask and search a person without a court warrant.”

It also allows the military or law enforcement bodies “to detain without court warrant” individuals suspected of “orchestrating, leading and organizing” as well as “taking part in suspected criminal activities against the constitution and constitutional order”.

WaPo: Ethiopia vows no military takeover amid latest emergency

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia’s defense minister on Saturday ruled out a military takeover a day after the East African nation declared a new state of emergency amid the worst anti-government protests in a quarter-century.

The United States said it “strongly disagrees” with the new declaration that effectively bans protests, with a U.S. Embassy statement saying the answer to Ethiopia’s sometimes violent unrest is “greater freedom, not less.”

The state of emergency will last for six months with a possible four-month extension, similar to one lifted in August, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa said.

He also ruled out a transitional government. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn remains in the post for now after making the surprise announcement Thursday that he had submitted a resignation letter to help planned political reforms in one of Africa’s best-performing economies succeed.

The state of emergency will be presented for lawmakers’ approval within 15 days, Siraj said. Security forces have been instructed to take “measures” against those disturbing the country’s functioning, with a new special court established to try them.
Ethiopia’s cabinet on Friday cited deaths, ethnic attacks and mass displacement as reasons for the latest state of emergency. The announcement followed crippling protests in towns across the restive Oromia region on Monday and Tuesday that called for the release of political prisoners and urged the government to carry out rapid reforms.

Similar protests have taken place across Ethiopia since late 2015, leading the government to declare a state of emergency in October 2016 after hundreds of people reportedly had been killed. A stampede at a religious event southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, that month claimed the lives of several dozen people.

That state of emergency led to the arrest of more than 22,000 people and severely affected business.

Rights groups alleged that people were beaten and subjected to arbitrary detentions. The government said those arrested by mistake were released and those who unwillingly took part in the unrest were released after what it described as “trainings.”

Riots and protests have picked up again in Ethiopia since the end of the previous 10-month state of emergency, according to data compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

The United States is now warning its embassy personnel to suspend all travel outside of the capital. Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting corporate reported that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, discussed current political issues with Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu in New York.


Reuters: U.S. says it ‘strongly disagrees’ with Ethiopia’s state of emergency. Ethiopia says state of emergency will last six months

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The U.S. embassy in Ethiopia said on Saturday it disagreed with the government’s decision to impose a state of emergency to calm potential unrest the day after the prime minister’s surprise resignation.

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A state of emergency imposed in Ethiopia a day after the prime minister resigned will last for six months, the defense minister said on Saturday, as authorities sought to tamp down unrest in Africa’s second most populous nation.

The United States, a major aid donor, said it “strongly disagreed” with the decision to call for emergency rule.

“We recognize and share concerns expressed by the government about incidents of violence and loss of life, but firmly believe that the answer is greater freedom, not less,” the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa said in statement.

“The declaration of a state of emergency undermines recent positive steps toward creating a more inclusive political space, including the release of thousands of prisoners,” it added.

Since January, Ethiopia has released more than 6,000 prisoners charged with a variety of offences, including taking part in mass protests and crimes against the state. It has also closed down a jail where activists alleged torture took place.

Aljazeera: Ethiopia’s state of emergency to last six months

A state of emergency declared in Ethiopia after the resignation of the country’s prime minister will last for six months, the minister of defence has said, as the government seeks to stem political unrest amid long-standing demands for greater freedoms.

The measure, which was first announced by state media after a cabinet meeting on Friday, includes a ban on protests and the dissemination of publications “that could incite and sow discord”, Siraj Fegessa told reporters on Saturday.

“The government has previously made several efforts to curtail violence, but lives have continued to be lost, many have been displaced and economic infrastructure has been damaged,” Fegessa said, as quoted by Reuters news agency.

The state of emergency order will be sent to Ethiopia’s parliament within 15 days for ratification, the minister also said.

It will give law enforcement officers the power to detain anyone suspected of violating “the constitutional order” and the ability to search houses, cars and individuals, all without a court warrant, state broadcaster FANA reported.

Displaying signs “which could stir up violence” is also prohibited, FANA said.

Hailemariam, who has sat at the helm of the Ethiopian government since 2012, said he will stay on as prime minister in a caretaker capacity until the EPRDF and the parliament accept his resignation and appoint his successor.

This is the second state of emergency to be declared in Ethiopia in the last two years.

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.

In January, Ethiopia promised to free all political detainees in an effort to “foster national reconciliation”. More than 6,000 prisoners have been released so far, news agencies have reported.

On Saturday, the US embassy in Ethiopia said the state of emergency “undermines recent positive steps toward creating a more inclusive political space, including the release of thousands of prisoners”.

“Restrictions on the ability of the Ethiopian people to express themselves peacefully sends a message that they are not being heard,” the embassy said in a statement.

WaPo: Why is Ethiopia in upheaval? This brief history explains a lot.

By Lovise Aalen February 17 at 6:00 AM

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced Thursday that he has submitted a resignation letter. (AP)
In the latest twist in Ethiopia’s current political dramas, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn formally submitted his resignation from his position as the nation’s premier and as chairman of the ruling EPRDF coalition. That’s a dramatic development — and no one knows where it will lead. Dessalegn was elected as a compromise candidate who could balance the interests of various factions within the ruling coalition and maintain the status quo. He appeared to manage this well — until recently.

So how did autocratic Ethiopia, a U.S. ally and Africa’s second most populous country, end up in its current tumult? Here’s what you need to know.

This brief history explains why Ethiopia has been in upheaval since 2015.

In 1991, years of civil war came to an end and Ethiopia’s previous communist dictatorship toppled. Meles Zenawi stepped in as strongman, backed by his ethnic guerrilla organization, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, and ruled for years as part of the multi-ethnic coalition called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). While the coalition included parties who represented three other ethnic groups, the Amhara, Oromo and the Southern nationalities, the minority Tigrayan ethnic group was firmly in control.

EPRDF set up a relatively inclusive system of ethnic federalism to manage the country’s more than 80 different ethnic groups, which I describe in my latest book (co-authored with Ragnhild Muriaas), as an inclusive autocracy. Africa’s inclusive autocrats have strategically used decentralization processes and reforms to strengthen their power. They use decentralization as a means of co-opting elites and crushing political adversaries.

Zenawi and other Tigrayan leaders controlled this system carefully, ensuring that no other groups managed to challenge central power. After attempts of liberalization in the 1990s and early 2000s, controversial national elections in 2005 resulted in the opposition taking one-third of the seats in the national legislative assembly. But the opposition accused the EPRDF of election fraud and protests resulted.

In response, the Zenawi and EPRDF government became more authoritarian, attempting to control resistance to the regime by passing new restrictive laws; intimidating and imprisoning the opposition, independent media and civil society leaders; and developing a finely masked system of control at the grassroots. Zenawi died in 2012 — but to observers’ surprise, that was followed by a peaceful succession in which Dessalegn took power. Dessalegn, an ethnic Wolayta, represented the conglomerate of groups from southern Ethiopia that had never been represented at the center of Ethiopian politics before.

But the power vacuum left by Zenawi’s death and the increasing authoritarianism erupted into popular protests in 2015, and since then the ERPDF’s cohesion has been severely challenged. The two presidents of the largest regional states in the country, Amhara and Oromia — home to the two largest ethnic groups (the Oromo being the most populous, the Amhara the second) — this summer announced that they partly support the protests, and have demanded genuine regional self-rule and an end to Tigrayan dominance.

Since the last rounds of the protests in 2017, the EPRDF has gone through what it calls a “deep reform.” To try to relieve the pressure on the regime and aim for “national reconciliation,” over the past weeks Dessalegn released more than 6,000 political prisoners, including the Oromo opposition leader Merera Gudina. In doing so, however, the ruling party did not clearly admit that it had ever detained political prisoners at all. The delay and uncertainty about the party’s intentions prompted renewed protests across Oromia. In an attempt to calm the unrest, on February 13, ERPDF released new rounds of roughly 700 prisoners, including the journalists Eskinder Nega and Andualem Arage, and Oromo opposition leader Bekele Gerba.

Why did Dessalegn to resign — and who will replace him?

The ERPDF’s internal reform processes had already signaled displeasure with the central leadership of the EPRDF. A December 2017 statement from the party’s executive committee blamed the current leadership for a lack of good governance and for failing to protect civilians in the unrest. The statement encouraged the coalition’s four member parties to replace their leaders, something the TPLF did shortly. Similarly, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front has now asked its leaders to step down, including Dessalegn.

But who will replace him as prime minister? ERPDF’s central committee is currently meeting, discussing this question with what are surely heated ethnic debates. Given the protests in the Oromo region, home to Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group, it might seem natural to appoint an Oromo to lead the country. This will however require the support of the second largest ethnic group, the Amhara, the traditional elite of pre-EPRDF Ethiopia.

Members of the committee are surely motivated in their discussions by knowing that if they cannot unite behind the same candidate, the coalition risks a real split along ethnic lines and a battle over which faction will control the government. In order to avoid a split, they may end up selecting Dessalegn’s deputy in the Southern party, another compromise candidate, in a desperate attempt to keep the status quo.

There is still another alternative, which the Oromo regional leaders have suggested: allow in opposition parties from outside the ruling coalition, for a genuine national reconciliation. This could address protesters’ demands for more democracy and human rights. But given that the government introduced a new state of emergency on Friday, the ruling party appears to want to continue to hold the monopoly on power. Perhaps the government intends to take harsh preemptive measures to contain continuing protests throughout the country.

Lovise Aalen is research director at CMI, the Chr. Michelsen Institute for Science and Intellectual Freedom, in Norway.

Ethiopia’s Counterproductive State of Emergency

Following Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s sudden resignation on Thursday, Ethiopian authorities announced a six-month country-wide state of emergency (SOE), effective yesterday. This order, the country’s second in two years, imposes draconian restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, while granting extended powers to the country’s already powerful security services.

This decision is counterproductive to the government’s stated goals of political reform and inclusive governance. It undercuts Ethiopia’s security by emboldening those who believe that violence is the only way to achieve fundamental political reform in Ethiopia, but it also negates the national and international goodwill generated by the country’s unprecedented recent release of hundreds of high-profile political prisoners.

A rapid pivot is the best hope for the ruling coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to preserve prospects for long-term peace in Ethiopia.

The United States should urgently press Ethiopia to walk back this state of emergency and start good faith negotiations. This could include intra-party moderates like Lemma Megersa, the reform-minded, charismatic, and widely-adored president of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization—one of four ethnically-based regional parties that make up the EPRDF coalition. Lemma is widely considered the sole “acceptable” choice for the prime minister position. But this dialogue must also include credible, longtime political opponents, including the top tier of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, Dr. Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba (both of whom were recently released from prison).

The Ethiopian government first declared a state of emergency in 2016 after months of prolonged anti-government protests. Demonstrations began in a small town in the country’s largest region, Oromia, and quickly spread across the region and vast swathes of western Ethiopia, including the capital Addis Ababa. A complex cocktail of grievances against the government, including inequitable land distribution, uneven economic growth, corruption, ethnic marginalization, and harsh crackdowns by federal security forces, fueled the 2016 protests and have only increased in the past year. The protest movement turned out tens of thousands of primarily peaceful demonstrators, hundreds of whom died after violent confrontations with security forces.

More importantly, as demonstrations spread, competition between two extremes escalated. On one side are fierce advocates of non-violent protest and civil disobedience—Bekele, for example, spent his two stints in prison translating the works of Martin Luther King, Jr. into the Oromo language. His influence on demonstrations in Ethiopia in recent years is evidenced by the widespread use of a gesture—crossed wrists raised above one’s head in an X—of many demonstrators participating in peaceful marches, sit-ins, walk-outs, or commerce strikes. After his release from prison last week, he was welcomed by crowds of thousands, and he urged supporters to refrain from violent and destructive activities. He also called for Ethiopian unity across ethnic lines—an important gesture from an Oromo politician given a recent reported uptick in ethnically-motivated violence.

Advocates of peaceful change, like Bekele but including thousands of other local political leaders, activists, community organizers, and regular citizens, are Ethiopia’s best chance to reform in a way that makes the country more inclusive and, ultimately, more prosperous.

The alternative is far darker.

There are also less patient voices, who believe that the government’s regular and brutal crackdowns on peaceful protesters signaled that the opportunity for peaceful change is over. As the 2016 demonstrations escalated, worrying reports of attacks on ethnic minorities and looting or destruction of foreign-owned property (many of whom are perceived to be beneficiaries of the government’s inequitable land and development policies) spread.

It is the latter, more dangerous group which is bolstered by the new state of emergency. The EPRDF’s abandonment of its promise to negotiate lends credence to their argument that the only way to change Ethiopia is through another revolution—a prospect that should be ringing alarm bells from Addis Ababa to Washington.

The ruling coalition took power in 1991 after a devastating civil war, and its repression is the only style of governance that many of its 66 million citizens under twenty-four years old have ever known. Unlike their parents, these young people don’t remember Ethiopia’s Dergue dictatorship—a period called the “Red Terror” and marked by a chilling campaign of state-sponsored killing of real or perceived political opponents. Many of Ethiopia’s older generation benchmark the EPRDF’s repression in comparison to those darkest of times; their children, on the other hand, have escalating EPRDF repression as their only reference.

If these violent revolutionaries win out in the internal struggle of Ethiopian demonstrators, the results will be catastrophic. The only way to undercut their argument is for the EPRDF to show—through quick and decisive action—that the door is not yet closed to peaceful change.

Ethiopia’s recent release of a series of high-profile prisoners—many of whom were arrested on questionable terrorism grounds or for political activities considered unfriendly to the government—followed a promise last month by the country’s prime minister to do so. The move demonstrated to the Ethiopian public, some 105 million people spread across nine ethnically-diverse regional states, that the EPRDF intended to reform. Considering the near-absence of trust between the government and much of Ethiopia’s population, governmental follow-through was thoroughly welcomed and celebrated. These releases also generated massive goodwill toward a country that has at the same time been a darling of the West on security cooperation while simultaneously ranking as one of the most repressive countries in Africa. Lifting the state of emergency in addition to these prisoner releases could signal seriousness about reform, a goal shared by many US and international organizations who could offer financial and technical support to the country.

Ethiopia’s government is up against a ticking clock. Allowing the state of emergency to stay in place sends a clear signal to Ethiopians that the opportunity for negotiation is over, and that the prisoner releases were just a blip. The United States should telegraph both this danger—but also the dwindling opportunity to change direction—clearly and urgently to the highest levels of the EPRDF. To many in Ethiopia’s restive regions, the alternative is a revolution.

Kelsey Lilley is associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. She tweets @KelseyDegen.