Why Ethiopia is Under a State of Emergency

Ethiopian soldiers try to stop protesters Oct. 2 in Bishoftu, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Photo: Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — One of Africa’s best-performing economies, Ethiopia, has declared a state of emergency, its first in a quarter-century, after months of widespread, often deadly, protests demanding greater freedoms. On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn during a three-nation tour of Africa and said her country has offered to help mediate in the troubled region. Here’s a look at why this East African country, a security ally of the West, is now a target of its criticism.


Anger Over Land Turns to Anger Over Rights

Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, rose up in protest almost a year ago when the government proposed annexing some of their land into the capital, Addis Ababa, as part of a drive to transform this largely agricultural nation into a regional manufacturing power. While the government later gave up the idea, the protests broadened into a demand for more rights and for the release of detained activists, opposition figures and journalists. The anti-government anger caught fire in other parts of the country.


Hundreds of Deaths, and a Stampede

More than 500 people have been killed in the protests, according to Human Rights Watch, and some in the international community, including the United States, have called on the government to use restraint. Last week, the protests landed in the global spotlight when more than 50 people were crushed to death in a stampede after security forces tried to disperse protesters during a massive religious festival. The government blamed the stampede on what it called “the action of some hooligans.”


The New State of Emergency

Pressure has grown on Ethiopia since the stampede, and further protests last week targeted both local and foreign businesses suspected of having ties to the government. An American woman was killed in a rock attack by protesters on the outskirts of the capital. On Sunday, after the week of unrest, the government declared a six-month state of emergency, citing “enormous” damage to property. “The recent developments in Ethiopia have put the integrity of the nation at risk,” the prime minister said.


No Internet … Again

The six-month state of emergency is the maximum allowed, though it can be renewed. A government spokesman saidEthiopia’s security forces will be reorganized during this time to better respond to the protests. The government says the state of emergency may include a curfew in some locations, arrests and search-and-seizures without a court order, restrictions on the right to assembly and a ban on some communications. Opposition figures say an informal state of emergency has been in place for some time, and the country’s most recent internet blackout has been in place almost continuously since last week.

Story: Elias Meseret