Discourse of the Day, Meanwhile in Countries not called America

Meanwhile in Countries Not Called America: A State of Emergency in Ethiopia

Africa’s second largest nation is no stranger to political unrest but the surprise resignation of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on February 15th has the potential to escalate an already volatile situation. Mr. Desalegn’s resignation comes after his failure to stem the tide of violent anti-government protests that have plagued the East African nation for years. To understand the current state of affairs it is important that I provide you with a little context.
Ethiopia is ostensibly a federal parliamentary republic with a prime minister and a bicameral parliament. However, since this form of governance was first adopted in 1994 it has operated in practice as an authoritarian regime ruled over by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front or EPRDF. This singular ruling party is composed primarily of the Tigrayan ethnic group, who make up approximately six percent of Ethiopia’s population, to the exclusion of Ethiopia’s forty other ethnic groups particularly the Oromo and the Amhara, who combined make up over sixty percent of all Ethiopians. It is the Oromo and Amhara peoples who have been leading the current wave of protests. They are seeking greater political freedoms and wish to have a larger say in Ethiopia’s governance.
Upon his resignation, Mr. Desalegn indicated that the EPRDF might finally be willing to give into some of the protester’s demands stating that Ethiopia’s path forward required “development, democracy, and good governance” and that he resigned in an effort to be “part of the solution”. However, the very next day Siraj Fegessa, the Ethiopian Minister of Defense, announced through state media that a state of emergency was being declared and would last six months. “State of Emergency” in this context means that the Ethiopian government will grant its police and military broad powers to conduct a crackdown on protesters and dissidents, including allowing for warrantless searches and detain suspects under the unspecified crime of “disrupting the constitutional order” which basically means whatever the arresting officer wants it to mean. A similar “State of Emergency” was enacted for ten months last year and did little to quell the swelling numbers of political protesters taking to the streets.
In addition to declaring a state of emergency, Minister Fegessa declared that the military would not be stepping in to take over the government at this time. For the people of Ethiopia the qualifier “at this time” can hardly be comforting when discussing the possibility of a military coup.
All in all, it seems safe to assume the situation in Ethiopia will continue to be a dangerous one, with the two most likely outcomes being a brutal crackdown on dissidents or a full-fledged civil war. Personally, I can only hope that the EPRDF sees the futility of their position and partners with their opposition to create real democratic change in the country.

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