Ethiopia's State of Emergency: ‘The Last Sequence of a Brutal Authoritarian Regime'?

Students at Haromaya University displaying what has become the official anti-government gesture. Photo shared widely on social media.

Students at Haromaya University displaying what has become the official anti-government gesture. Photo shared widely on social media.

The Ethiopian Council of Ministers has declared a six-month state of emergency following a series of deadly anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions, a move that some Ethiopians online have characterized as dangerous and desperate.

Demonstrations have regularly taken place in Oromia since November 2015. They originally began as a response to a government plan to expand the capital city Addis Ababa into Oromia's surrounding farmlands. But the protests soon grew to demand greater self-rule, freedom and respect for the ethnic identity of the Oromo people, who have experienced systematic marginalization and persecution over the last quarter century.

Authorities have used deadly force against protesters. At least 52 people were killed recently at a gathering for the Irreecha holiday in Oromia, after security forces firing smoke bombs and live bullets triggered a stampede.

A similar movement is also happening in Amhara. Both represent a challenge to the dominance of the Tigray ethnic group in Ethiopia's politics. The Tigray make up 6% of the population, but have an overwhelming hold on power in the country, while the Oromos, who are the country's largest ethnic group, representing 34%, and the Amharas at 27% have very little representation in key government positions.

The declaration of a state of emergency came around the same time as a shutdown of all mobile internet services in the country lasting at least seven days. The movements have relied on social media to organize protests and to bring their message to international audiences.

The state of emergency has been widely condemned. The Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia has asked the Ethiopian government to stop using the state of emergency as a pretext to the escalating human rights violations in the country. However, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has said the state of emergency “will not breach basic human rights enshrined under the Ethiopian constitution and won't also affect diplomatic rights listed under the Vienna Convention.”

Reacting to the declaration, Ethiopian human rights activist Soleyana noted:

Hallelujah Lulie, a postgraduate student, observed:

On Facebook, a Kenyan citizen, Elphas Odegu, asked:

Where is that useless club of criminals calling itself AU [African Union]?sadly its based in the capital of that despot.

The African Union headquarters is based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Writing on one of the oldest Ethiopian blogs, Nazret, Alem Mamo said the Ethiopian regime is in a state of self-deception. He compared the situation in Ethiopia to that of Libya under the late Muhammar Gaddafi:

In 2011, during the Libyan uprising, Muammar Gaddafi was asked about the rebellion engulfing the country to get rid of his regime. Gaddafi’s response was pure self-deception. He said “I am loved by all my people, and there are no protests in Tripoli.” He also said true Libyans had not demonstrated but those who had come on to the streets were under the influence of drugs supplied by al-Qaeda and they are thugs and mercenaries.

At a news conference on Monday, October 10, 2016, the TPLF [Tigrayan People's Liberation Front] regime’s spokesperson, Getachew Reda, denied there was a locally organized uprising in the country. Instead, he singled out Eritrea and Egypt as sources of backing for “armed gangs

Mamo called the state of emergency a “comical show” and pointed out that this is the last card of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF):

There is nothing the regime was not doing before the declaration of the state of emergency that it is going to do now. It is well documented by credible human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, that the regime arbitrarily arrests, search homes with out a warrant, exercises extrajudicial killings, torture and a whole host of human rights violations. So, what is left? What different authority or power would be given to the security forces? The declaration of the ‘state of emergency’ is a comedy, except we can’t laugh!

TPLF is a regime that has overstayed a welcome that it didn’t have in the first place. Twenty-five years of repression, polarization and institutional terror is the only mechanism that kept it in power. Now, the people of Ethiopia from all corners, age, religion, and identity have spoken in one chorus: Enough! The declaration of a state of emergency is the last card all authoritarian regimes play while they are being shown they way out. In essence, the state of the emergency is the last gasp of a dying regime to feed their own self-deception and denial.

In the end, neither the self-deception nor the glowing words of their external supports can save authoritarian regimes from their demise. Any government can only govern with the consent and mandate of the people. A regime that absurdly claims that have won 100% of the vote has neither the consent nor the mandate to govern. In Ethiopia we are witnessing the last sequence of a brutal authoritarian regime, state of emergency and the end!

However, commenting on the article, Abay Rebel disagreed with those who are calling for democracy in the country:

Right now Ethiopia needs pure dictatorial regime like North Korea, China, Russia. No need for anarchy in the name of fake democracy.

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