By Ashna Butani
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, abruptly resigned from office in a televised speech on Thursday. He said that he decided to step down because he wanted to smooth the way for reforms. The Prime Minister said that he will continue to do his duty in a caretaker capacity until the parliament accepts his resignation.
The next day the Council of Ministers, who are the Ethiopian government’s cabinet, announced the declaration of an emergency. The four-party ruling coalition has accepted his decision to resign. The defence minister said that the emergency will last for 6 months. There has been a political struggle in the ruling party since the death of Meles Zenawi in 2012, and the latest development only complicates the situation.
The cause of the political unrest
Ethiopia’s government has been accused of making mass arrests and giving long jail terms to journalists and activists. However, in 2017 a similar situation arose as a result of protests by thousands of people who were demanding that the government give them wider freedoms. A 10-month emergency was lifted only after many people were killed. Human rights researcher Felix Horne is of the opinion that another national emergency in this situation would do more harm than good. He claims that the previous emergency led to the imprisonment of 20,000 people.
Outbreaks of violence continue as people stage mass demonstrations. The Prime Minister’s resignation led to yet another wave of strikes and demonstrations as people call for the release of opposition leaders. Already around 6000 prisoners were freed in 2018. Opposition leaders believe that Ethiopians need a new government that protects their rights instead of infringes upon them.
What is a national emergency?
To the masses, an emergency would mean that their freedom of speech and access to information would be curtailed. The military is authorised to enforce security nationwide in this situation. A State of Emergency would mean that all protests would be banned. It would effectively bring an end to the anti-government protests.
The 2016 emergency gave rise to massive protests by the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, who represent around 61.4% of the nation. The government also shut down the internet for several days and arrested 1,646 people in the first two weeks. An Oromo rights activist, Jawar Mohammed said that the recent emergency declaration was unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise. He believed that this method was tried before and failed.
Reactions from around the globe
The opposition party is claiming that Ethiopia needs a new system of governance. Most political leaders are of the opinion that the new Prime Minister will have to make structural changes in the administration, such as tackling repressive policies and strengthening the judiciary.
The United States strongly opposes the emergency. A statement making this clear to the Ethiopians was issued by the US Embassy. The statement warns that the emergency is detrimental to all the progress that the country has made in recent months, referring in particular to a reduction in the use of torture on criminals.
The state of emergency has been presented for the approval of the country’s lawmakers, which must be given within 15 days. The cabinet has cited deadly ethnic attacks and the mass-displacement of people as the reasons for the declaration.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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