On February 16th, 2018, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his decision to step down from his position amid the continuing political crisis in the nation. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) coalition council, the nation’s ruling political coalition, “came to the conclusion that imposing emergency rule would be vital to safeguarding the constitutional order of our country.”
Since 2015, political unrest has been a constant in Ethiopia, with hundreds of individuals having died at the hands of violence which originally started over an urban development plan for Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. The unrest has continued to spread and encompass other concerns, such as the political restrictions within the nation and human rights abuses in Ethiopia. The government has been known to monitor their critics using online spyware, place restrictions on independent media, and restrict political freedom, as the EPRDF has maintained parliamentary control (holding one hundred percent of the seats) for an extended period of time. Furthermore, the nation has been criticized for the deaths and abuses carried out against citizens protesting peacefully by their police and security forces.
Opposition groups, such as the Oromo Federalist Congress, have been outspoken over the course of these protests, arguing that to combat these issues political reform reaching every level of the government must take place. Mulatu Gemechu, Deputy Secretary of the Oromo Federalist Congress, stated,“Ethiopians now need a government that respects their rights, not one that keeps beating and killing them.”
Hailemariam would seem to agree. In a televised address, he stated, “Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many. I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.” Furthermore, he has stated his decision is part of ongoing, comprehensive reform programs expected to be carried out in the future.
His resignation was accepted by the executive committee of his political party, The Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, as well the ruling coalition EPRDF. The Ethiopian embassy in London has gone on record saying Hailemariam will “continue to serve in his current capacity” until his successor is appointed at the next EPRDF congress.
The purpose of the state of emergency is to help curtail future violence, especially as the EPRDF works to find a replacement Prime Minister, while also being a reaction to the long-lasting violence and discord in the nation. In a statement made on February 17th, 2018, the nation’s Minister of Defense, Siraj Fegessa, announced that the state of emergency will last for a period of six months. Fegessa said, “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,” according to Reuters.
During this time, there will be a ban on protests and the publication of works that “could incite and sow discord.” Furthermore, during this time law enforcement will have the power to detain any individual suspected of violating this order, as well as the ability to search persons, houses, and cars without a court order in order to assist in maintaining the peace.
This is the second state of emergency to be declared in Ethiopia in the past two years. The first was lifted in August 2017 after a period of ten months and was imposed after hundreds were killed in an anti-government protest.
Members of the international community have shared their displeasure with the decision to declare another state of emergency. The United States Embassy in Ethiopia released a statement saying 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 state of emergency order is to be sent to Ethiopia’s parliament within fifteen days of ratification, according to Fegessa.
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