Activists in the country’s Oromia region has been holding demonstrations since last November, and protesters from the Amhara region have also joined in. The deaths of at least 55 people at an Oromo religious festival on 2 October triggered fresh unrest, including the targeting of some foreign-owned businesses.
Rights groups say that at least 500 people have died during the protests overall and last week Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that could be an accurate estimate. The emergency was announced earlier this month but the government has now made clear what this means in practical terms.
The crackdown highlights the downside of authoritarian development, The Economist notes:
The Oromos are not the only ones with grievances. Many others have been driven off their land to make way for commercial farms and factories. And the Amharans, who have historically been Ethiopia’s dominant ethnic group, resent the leadership of the much smaller Tigrayan group (who make up around 6% of the population) at the heart of the ruling EPRDF. The comparative quiescence of Addis Ababa’s citizens has further fuelled resentment. Angry farmers in parts of the country have been choking the movement of goods towards the city. The opposition calls for political prisoners (who are reckoned to number in the thousands) to be freed, but the government is in no mood to oblige. However, on October 10th the president promised to introduce some form of proportional representation in elections, which would allow all groups a share of power.
Social media are among the things that are restricted, the BBC adds, along with making a political gesture, such as crossing your arms above your head – as Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa (right) did during the Brazil Olympics – or communicating a political message to the public “without permission”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled support for protesters demanding wider freedoms in Ethiopia during a visit to the country last week, saying “a vibrant civil society is part and parcel of a developing country.”
While Ethiopia is nominally a democracy, the ruling party and its allies hold every seat in parliament, and it is described by the Committee to Protect Journalists as one of the most censored countries in the world and a top jailer of journalists, The Washington Post reports:
Now, however, with the Internet and the technologies it has spawned — which the government has spent millions developing the necessary infrastructure for — more and more dissident voices are being heard, but often without the restraint or commitment to accuracy of more mainstream media.
“I am fairly certain the restrictions they have put in place now are less about silencing Ethiopians and more about restricting the influence of the diaspora,” said Nicholas Benequista, a former journalist who worked in Ethiopia and is now the research manager for the U.S.-based Center for International Media Assistance.
“Ethiopia is more vulnerable to the rumor, misinformation and provocation coming out of the diaspora because it has prevented an independent, professional and ethical media from growing inside the country,” he added. “I actually think they are beginning to realize that.”
Former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, Lily Mengesha discusses political prisoners and the human rights situation in Ethiopia in an interview with the World Movement for Democracy (above).