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Ethiopia Is Keeping Its State of Emergency in Place


Freelance journalist and WPR contributor William Davison gives an update on the crisis following protests in Oromia & Amhara regions, the government’s response and the extended state of emergency.

In late March, lawmakers in Ethiopia voted unanimously to extend the country’s state of emergency for four more months. The emergency was first imposed last October as violence escalated following more than a year of anti-government protests. The protests have largely occurred in the Oromia and Amhara regions, the homelands of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups who complain of being marginalized by the central government. In an email interview, William Davison, an Addis Ababa-based freelance journalist and WPR contributor, gives an update on the crisis and the government’s response.

WPR: How has the crisis in Ethiopia evolved since last October, and did the decision to extend the state of emergency come as a surprise?

William Davison: Since the state of emergency was declared by Ethiopia’s government on Oct. 9, there haven’t been any significant protests. The biggest direct challenge for the authorities appears to have been clashes with armed groups in the north of Amhara region, although the extent of the fighting there is unclear.

Despite the relative calm, it isn’t a surprise that the state of emergency has been extended. Last month the government suspended some of the more draconian measures, such as authorizing police to detain and search people without court proceedings. The government also revoked a dawn-to-dusk curfew near installations including infrastructure facilities and factories.

Extending the emergency means that it will be straightforward for the authorities to reintroduce such measures if protests reoccur, which is a possibility. Activists say there has been little substantive response to their demands. Moreover, the nature of the crackdown—in which 25,000 people were detained—has only exacerbated popular discontent. If they had removed the emergency decree entirely, it’s unclear how the government would have responded in the event of renewed demonstrations.

There is also a perception that the state of emergency handed greater power to an already influential security apparatus. This apparatus includes one of Africa’s most powerful militaries, which may be reluctant to relinquish its new authority.