Ethiopia – At the Precipice

EPRDF should reconsider the decision to declare a state of emergency

Ethiopia summons US envoy over state of emergency comments

Ethiopia State of Emergency

Police officers patrol along a road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The Ethiopian government has summoned the US ambassador to the country over a statement the embassy issued regarding the state of emergency imposed last week, privately owned The Reporter newspaper reports.

“US Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Raynor was on 12 Yekatit 2010 (19 February 2018) summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explain his comments regarding the state of emergency, sources revealed to The Reporter,” said the paper.

“We have learnt that officials of the ministry said the opinion of the ambassador was not useful and helpful, and told him that, if at all, there was a problem, it could have been solved through discussions and exchange of views, but the issuing of the statement was not of any help to the two countries,” the report added.

The embassy said in the statement it issued last week that it “strongly” disagrees with the imposition of the state of emergency which it said would send a message that Ethiopians “are not being heard”.

The government imposed the state of emergency on 16 February following renewed deadly anti-government protests.
Source: The Reporter, Addis Ababa, in Amharic 1243 gmt, February 21, 2018
© 2018 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Ethiopia – At the Precipice

Ethiopia’s declaration of a state of emergency (SOE) in the wake of widespread protests earlier this week suspends the few democratic rights that Ethiopian citizens enjoy and effectively empowers military decision-making above the civilian leadership of the country. As the ruling party has seesawed between peaceful and authoritarian gestures – first releasing dozens of important political opponents, and then establishing martial law – it has become clear that Ethiopia’s political leadership is perilously divided and in the midst of its own internal crisis. Critics of the regime are describing the SOE as a military coup.

A previous state of emergency was declared in October 2016 and lasted for ten months. That SOE failed miserably to achieve the ruling party’s objectives. It did not stem the tide of popular protests: public uprisings have not only continued, but have spread across the Oromo state and beyond to the Amhara regions of the country, and they have become coupled with growing ethnic conflicts that further threaten the stability of the state. The SOE did not discourage the government’s opponents: instead the brutal crackdown, which involved the arrest of nearly 20,000 people, many of them minors, succeeded only in persuading many previously nonviolent protestors that peaceful demonstration against the regime is futile, and that there is no recourse but the violent overthrow of the state. The last SOE has also fatally undermined the international standing of the ruling party, diminishing its political capital abroad, leading to calls for United Nations investigations into the regime’s human rights abuses, and causing experts and policymakers to question – albeit thus far behind closed doors – the wisdom of ongoing intelligence and security cooperation with the Ethiopian state.

The Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) must recognize the danger and futility of the declaration of a new state of emergency. To the protestors, some of whom have peacefully campaigned for many years for democracy and who were both encouraged and emboldened by the release, the declaration of martial law will be perceived as an abandonment of the government’s promises to engage in dialogue and reform. It may be regarded as a declaration of war on the people of Ethiopia. It will escalate, not mitigate, the intense political and security crisis that Ethiopia faces today.

It is not too late for the EPRDF to reconsider the decision to declare a state of emergency in Ethiopia. Moderate voices within the ruling coalition have wisely called for the appointment of a prime minister who can represent the aspirations of the Oromo population and translate their demands into real reforms. The wisdom of such an appointment, and the cancellation of the SOE, would be universally applauded and would dramatically enhance the EPRDF’s credibility, both at home and abroad.

To that end, Ethiopia’s partner nations should act rapidly to express support for the EPRDF’s previous steps towards reconciliation, and their condemnation of the declaration of martial law. Ethiopia’s political unrest has reached its crisis point: inaction now will lead to disaster.

Bronwyn Bruton is deputy director and director of programs and studies at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
Source: Bronwyn Bruton, Atlantic Council Africa Center, February 21,  2018
© 2018 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved


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