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Without reform Ethiopia risks a deepening crisis

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AFP

Faced with its most serious challenge yet, the Ethiopian regime, a crucial Western ally in the fight against terrorism, risks a deepening crisis if promised reforms do not come, researchers and analysts warn.

A nationwide state of emergency since October 9 combined with the mass arrest of more than 2,500 people has suppressed months of widespread and sometimes deadly anti-government protests.

On Monday state media reported that the majority of those rounded up had been released, but mobile internet and the social networks used to mobilise protesters remain blocked as the government seeks a decisive end to the unrest.

“Violence has been controlled,” government spokesman Getachew Reda said last week. “What we have is a more or less stable situation.”

The challenge to the government has been strongest in the Oromo and Amhara regions — which together account for over 60 per cent of the population — and these areas are now in a siege-like state.

“The government wants to show its strength. The state of emergency has a psychological impact by increasing the feeling of fear and insecurity among the population,” said Rene Lefort, an independent Horn of Africa researcher.

But force alone will not solve the underlying problems and Lefort said he is “sceptical about the ability and willingness of the regime to open up” raising fears that in the absence of concessions to the protesters, the situation will worsen.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has offered to reform the winner-takes-all electoral system which has allowed his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition to win every seat in parliament in the 2015 poll.

But even if reforms come, they will not take effect until the next election due in 2020, while a proposed government reshuffle has yet to be carried out.

Jean-Nicolas Bach, an Ethiopia specialist and director of Sudan’s Centre for Social, Legal and Economic Studies and Documentation (CEDEJ-Khartoum) said the EPRDF is committed to its own continuity and may not be capable of adequate change, citing its “hegemonic ambitions and authoritarian mode of government”.

“The goals of the EPRDF have always been clear: maintain power to take the country on the path of development. As for democracy, it will come when it comes,” Bach said.

ZENAWI’S ERA
The regime, led by former rebel commander and strongman Meles Zenawi from 1991 until his death in 2012, is credited with real economic progress that saw a decade of around 10 per cent annual growth.

Infant mortality and malnutrition was halved over the same period, according to figures from the World Bank.

But development has been accompanied by a squeezing of political space, disregard for human rights and a growing outcry at alleged government corruption.

“We need to change the rules that give impunity to local officials and better checks on officials,” said Daniel Berhane, founder and editor of Horn Affairs, an online magazine.

He suggested that every “kebele”, or neighbourhood, hold meetings “to gather public grievances” at the grassroots level which can be relayed to central government “without any editing”.

Berhane said the EPRDF’s total victory in the May 2015 election left some feeling “disenfranchised”, especially in parts of the northern Amhara region and central-western Oromo region where the opposition had hoped to win seats and some power.

“Not surprisingly, these two areas are the epicentres of the protests,” he said.

The brutal repression of the protest movement — human rights organisations say several hundred have been killed by security forces — combined with lack of any political change triggered an explosion of violence in recent weeks, seriously undermining Ethiopia’s reputation as a stable country.

The image of foreign farms and business going up in flames after being set alight by protesters has put off investors.

“The protests have significantly undermined the ruling coalition and genuine stability will take years to recover,” said Emma Gordon, an analyst at Maplecroft Verisk, a risk management firm.

“Until then, further divestments, particularly by Western agribusiness firms, are likely to be announced.”

The most likely scenario, said Gordon, is a continuing weak but persistent challenge to government authority because, the “proposed reforms are unlikely to fully satisfy” opponents.

Protesters want “more sweeping concessions” to reduce the dominance of the minority Tigrayan leaders in the EPRDF and for security forces to be reined in.

But none of this is on the table — meaning, Gordon said, another eruption of protests is likely “in relation to military deployments or evidence of continued restrictions on the political opposition.”

AFP

Ethiopia

U.S. Embassy Statement on the Ethiopian Government’s Declared State of Emergency

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We strongly disagree with the Ethiopian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency that includes restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression.

We recognize and share concerns expressed by the government about incidents of violence and loss of life, but firmly believe that the answer is greater freedom, not less.

The challenges facing Ethiopia, whether to democratic reform, economic growth, or lasting stability, are best addressed through inclusive discourse and political processes, rather than through the imposition of restrictions.

The declaration of a 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.

We strongly urge the government to rethink this approach and identify other means to protect lives and property while preserving, and indeed expanding, the space for meaningful dialogue and political participation that can pave the way to a lasting democracy.

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KENYA

Suspected Al-Shabaab militants kill 3 in Kenyan school attack

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FILE

WAJIR, Kenya, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) — Suspected Al-Shabaab militants killed three Kenyan teachers and injured one other in an attack Friday on a school in the country’s northeastern county of Wajir, officials said.

The militants in early morning attacked the Qarsa primary school near the borders with Somalia and Ethiopia, in a town about 70 km from Wajir town, the capital of the county, killing three non-local teachers, said Mohamud Saleh, coordinator of Kenya’s northeastern region.

Authorities have been working to find another teacher who was allegedly shot in the hand and escaped with injuries.

Saleh said that ongoing efforts have been made to trace the killers, who escaped soon after the incident.

“This is (a) very unfortunate incident and the first of its kind in Wajir County,” he said, noting that the militants had planted improvised explosive devices (IED) along the route to the school.

Police said the militants seemed to have planted enough IED on roads leading to the school, making it extremely hard for ambulances and reinforcement teams to get to the site on time.

“One of our vehicles that was responding to the attack was partly hit by an IED … but all our officers are in good condition,” said Mohamed Sheikh, Wajir Administration Police commandant.

Local residents said tension and uncertainty remains high in the entire county.

Northeastern Kenya has suffered grenade and gun attacks in recent years since Kenya took its troops to Somalia to fight the Al-Shabaab militia group in October 2011.

Several attacks believed to have been carried out by Al-Shabaab have occurred in Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa and Dadaab districts of northeastern Kenya even as the military reports gains against the Islamist group by capturing their military bases and killing scores of them.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia declares state of emergency after PM quits

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AL JAZEERA — Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency, a day after the country’s prime minister abruptly resigned.

The measure was announced on Friday by the Council of Ministers, the Ethiopian government’s cabinet, according to state broadcaster EBC.

Local media said the measure is effective as of Friday, but it was not immediately clear how long it would last.

Quoting an unnamed source “close to the government”, the Addis Standard newspaper reported that the Council was debating whether to make the measure span three or six months.

In August 2017, Ethiopia lifted a 10-month state of emergency imposed after hundreds of people were killed in anti-government protests demanding wider political freedoms.

Ethiopia’s Oromo and Amhara people – who make up about 61 percent of the country’s population – have staged mass demonstrations since 2015 demanding greater political inclusion and an end to human rights abuses.

Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo rights activist and head of the Oromia Media Network, said the state of emergency declaration was “unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise”.

“The best way to ensure stability at this time is not to declare state of emergency that was tested and failed,” Mohammed wrote on Facebook earlier on Friday.

Felix Horne, a Human Rights Watch researcher on Ethiopia, said during the last state of emergency – the first in 25 years – more than 20,000 people were arrested.

“Those released speak about how it has only angered them further. It didn’t work then, what does [the government] hope to achieve now?” Horne wrote on Twitter.

Political uncertainty

Hailemariam, who has sat at the helm of the Ethiopian government since 2012, announced on Thursday he would be stepping down as prime minister and head of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.

He cited ongoing “unrest and a political crisis” in the country as major factors in his resignation, which he described as “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy”.

Hailemariam said he will stay on as prime minister in a caretaker capacity, until the EPRDF and the country’s parliament accept his resignation and name a replacement.

The executive committees of both the EPRDF and his own party within the coalition, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, have so far accepted his decision to step down.

Tsedale Lemma, editor-in-chief of Addis Standard, said there has been a political struggle within the ruling party since the death of former prime minister, Meles Zenawi, in 2012.

Appointing a new prime minister from within the Oromo community would be “a conciliatory gesture”, Lemma said.

But whomever replaces Hailemariam, she said Ethiopia “needs a very serious political surgery to heal it from its structural [disfunction]”, which would include dismantling repressive laws and strengthening the independence of the judiciary.

Mulatu Gemechu, deputy secretary of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, said earlier on Friday that Ethiopia needs a new political system after years of unrest.

“Ethiopians now need a government that respects their rights, not one that keeps beating and killing them,” he told Reuters news agency.

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