Ethiopia’s parliament is set to lift its six-month state of emergency two months early after the cabinet approved a draft law, asserting that tranquility has been restored to the country. Indeed, Fitsum Arega, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, stated in a post on Twitter on Saturday that “the Council of Ministers… reviewed the security situation of the county… [and] noted that law and order has been restored.” The authorities imposed the crisis rule in February when Hailemariam Desalegn resigned as PM after being unable to contain the widespread strikes and public unrest. After being selected by the ruling party and taking office in April, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has made great strides in addressing these issues, greatly contributing to stabilizing Ethiopia.
Since coming into power, opposition figures and experts have been cautiously hopeful that Ahmed is genuine in his rhetoric of bringing real democratic reform to the country. Atnafu Berhane, a blogger who had been jailed for his publications, was released and briefly detained once more under the state of emergency. His statement to the Washington Post maintained that “This measure is really encouraging, even though it should have been lifted earlier … [Ahmed] did the right thing; it’s a good sign.” BBC World Service Africa Editor, Mary Harper, echoed this sentiment by noting that the move to lift the state of emergency early shows how far Ethiopia has come under the leadership of the new Prime Minister.
Certainly, this latest action by the current PM should be applauded, but it is important to note that there are still considerable challenges ahead. Hallelujah Lulie, an analyst based in Addis Ababa, argued that these challenges mainly centre around the “deep-state” in the military and intelligence services. Speaking to the Financial Times, Lulie said, “All the promises of opening up the political space and a government that respects accountability and transparency and an inclusive state… will not materialise unless Ahmed reforms the military and the intelligence.” This is due to their strong stakes in the economy, along with the fact that they are undoubtedly very strong political forces. Still, this is a task that will take time, and in the interim, the PM has sought to rectify the issues of his predecessor by freeing thousands of prisoners, touring the country and listening to the grievances of the public as well as reaching out to opposition figures.
These actions taken by the new Prime Minister are highly significant, given the origins of the disaster act – the second declared in Ethiopia in just as many years. It began when mass protests erupted back in 2015, when anti-government demonstrations broke out among the two biggest ethnic groups in the country – the Oromo and the Amhara – which together comprise two thirds of the population. Initially, the prominent issue had revolved around land rights, but soon enough, the protests developed into calls for greater representation at the national levels after years of perceived marginalization. The leadership’s response was harsh, with BBC reporting widespread human rights violations, including hundreds of extrajudicial killings of political dissidents, reports of torture and tens of thousands imprisoned.
The draft law determining the end of the state of emergency will soon be sent to parliament for consideration. According to Reuters, Ethiopia’s 547-seat House of People’s Representatives holds its sessions on Mondays and its legislators, which are all members of the current ruling party, are expected to endorse the move. While tensions have dramatically declined in restive areas – especially Oromia – it is important that Ahmed follows through on his promises of an upcoming draft of reforms, strengthening political and civil rights in the country in order to address the underlying issues and prevent the need for a third state of emergency in the near future.