On October 9, 2016, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn declared a state of emergency in Ethiopia that will remain in effect for six months. The state of emergency, the first one issued by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) during their 25 years in power, is set to respond to the growing civil unrest throughout the country, particularly in the Oromia Regional State, the largest of Ethiopia’s nine regional states. Pursuant to Ethiopia’s constitution, the Prime Minister must now take the declaration to the Parliament within 14 days in order for it to be valid.
The state of emergency comes following months of anti-government protests and unrest in the country, which began in November 2015 in the Oromia region and have spread to the Amhara region. The situation recently took a more serious turn in August when dozens of government critics were killed in a protest, and earlier this month when 52 people were killed by security forces during Irreechaa, an Oromo holy festival. Government crackdowns on protesters has exacerbated in the past few months, with an estimated 500 people killed since November 2015.
The protests are mainly being conducted by the Oromos and the Amhara, two ethnic groups that make up nearly 60% of the country’s population. The groups, which have been marginalised for decades, accuse the ruling Tigrean elite of having a monopoly over power and economic benefits. Yet, the Ethiopian government blames foreign enemies as the root cause of the protests. Government officials have stated that the protests have destroyed the country’s infrastructure and harmed foreign investments, potentially affecting Ethiopia’s economy and development. The country’s Minister of Justice, Getachew Ambaye, also claimed that Egypt was influencing the protests and allegedly training and financing the rebel Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which the government regards as a terrorist group. According to him, Egypt is behind the protests because of Ethiopia and Egypt’s dispute over the construction of a hydropower dam on the Nile, which could affect Egypt’s access to the Nile for resources.
The Oromo people’s plight grabbed international headlines during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. There, Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa protested what he considered unfair persecution of the Oromo people by the Ethiopian government. Soon after, the United Nations proposed sending observers over to Ethiopia. The country denied the proposal, arguing that the Ethiopian government alone is responsible for the security of its citizens.
Additional research by: Frank R. Smith
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