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State of emergency declared in Ethiopia as ruling coalition and the Oromo people battle for power

In August 2017, the ruling political coalition in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, lifted a 10-month-long state of emergency, imposed after protests broke out in 2016. Now a new state of emergency has been declared after the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.



The departure of Prime Minister Hailemariam, who resigned recently “to allow for reforms”, has opened up a succession struggle in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has governed Ethiopia since it seized power in 1991.  The coalition is made up of four ethnically-based parties: the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which represents Tigrayans; the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), which represents the largest ethnic group in the coalition; the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM).

Under Lemma Megersa, the OPDO’s charismatic new leader, the party has rebranded itself as a quasi-opposition party that wants to take over the reins. The OPDO, backed by the belief among the Oromo people that it is their turn to have one of their own in charge, is suspected of encouraging street demonstrations to strengthen its hand in the succession struggle.

Read: Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn second African leader to resign in 12 hours

These demonstrations have attempted to force the ruling coalition to release more political prisoners, in addition to the thousands freed since the start of the year. Reports from Ethiopia indicate that among those who had been detained by federal security forces in the west of the country but who have since been released are leading opposition chiefs of the Oromo Federalists Congress (OFC), Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba.


Speaking about their detention, Addisu Bulala, the OFC’s youth league secretary, told the Addis Standard portal, “After addressing our supporters in other small cities on our way to Nekemt, when we reached Gute, a few kilometers outside of Nekemt, we were stopped by federal security forces.”

Emergency measures against demonstrations and to counter civil unrest have been set. They include: a prohibition on the hampering of activities of law enforcement bodies and on the staging of unauthorised demonstrations and meetings; refraining from disseminating any information deemed critical of the state of emergency; standing permission for security forces to enter schools and universities to “arrest and stop mobs” and to search houses without a warrant; and a ban on various forms of peaceful protest, including stay-at-home strikes, closing shops and blocking roads. These measures will allegedly give the ruling coalition time to agree on a new prime minister and implement reforms.

“Ethiopia’s new state of emergency threatens to block the peaceful expression of views on critical issues facing the country,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Banning public protest and handing the army sweeping new powers to crack down on demonstrators, media and political parties violates rights and crushes the potential for meaningful dialogue on the way forward.”

Human Rights Watch has also said it is unclear how the state of emergency will impact on the upcoming countrywide local elections, which are scheduled to take place in May, as these new restrictions raise serious concerns about whether candidates, particularly from opposition parties, will be able to campaign fully and freely.