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New Ethiopian clampdown

Eunice Wanjiru afp, ap
October 18, 2016

Ethiopia has curbed foreign diplomats' travel and banned access to foreign-based opposition media in latest provisions tacked on to the state of emergency, introduced in response to a wave of anti-government protests.

Infografik / Karte Protests and violence in Ethiopia,  2016

Diplomats are not permitted to travel more than 40 kilometers outside the capital, Addis Ababa. New restrictions published in local media on Sunday also include a 30-mile "red zone" adjacent to the country's borders in which it is illegal to carry firearms. The measures include a 6:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew around areas where factories and major government institutions are based, which have come under attack from protesters in recent weeks. These are just some of the new restrictions added to the state of emergency as part of the Ethiopian regime's response to an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests against its authoritarian rule which has left hundreds dead.

Ethiopia State of Emergency Merkel (picture alliance / AP Photo)
Ethiopia's government declared a six-month state of emergency shortly before the arrival of the German ChancellorImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Dr. Merara Gudina, head of the Oromo Federalist Congress, told DW that the Ethiopian regime sees the state of emergency in part as "legal cover" so it can continue with its present policies. "The regime is in its worst crisis since it took over in 1991. Across the country people are resisting the regime, that is why it declared a state of emergency," Gudina said. He remains optimistic and added that the opposition will continue with their peaceful struggle for change.

Media restrictions

Political parties are banned from giving press statements that "incite violence" and political leaders are banned from making political statements. It is also illegal to watch the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and the US-based Oromia Media Networt (OMN) television channels. These have been described as "belonging to terrorist organizations."

Private print media companies in Ethiopia have been brought to a standstill. "Because of the state of emergency most of the private media houses have cancelled their contract to print our newspaper," Getachew Worku, a journalist with Ethio Mehdar Newspaper, told DW. He said that private media companies using government printing houses were the only ones still functioning. The rest can only publish sports-related content, but no politics, economics or social issues. Tewodros Kassa, another journalist in Ethiopia told DW that private media companies were afraid of the new rules for the state of emergency, and therefore couldn't publish.

The use of social media has also been restricted. Posting of links from so-called "terrorists organizations" to various social media platforms has been declared a "criminal activity." Cellphone internet access has been cut for almost three weeks in most parts of the country, including the capital.

Impact on the economy?

"What is Ethiopia hiding?" asked Ulrich Delius from The Society for Threatened Peoples in Göttingen, Germany. He wondered whether it was necessary to impose such harsh restrictions on rights groups, journalists or people interested in the country's background. The country's Oromo and Amhara communities - which together make up 60 percent of the population - have been protesting for nearly a year against marginalisation by a government largely made up of minority Tigrayans, which has control of the country and the economy.

The anti-government demonstrations started in November last year among the Oromo, Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group, and later spread to the Amhara, the second most populous group. Although the protests were initially sparked by disputes over land rights, they later broadened into calls for more political, economic and cultural rights for the ethnic groups.

Delius told DW that some solidarity between the groups is emerging, especially in the Amhara region. He said that the new stringent rules were a sign that the government was afraid that protests might spread to other regions.

Deutschland Merkel in Äthiopien Empfang mit militärischen Ehren
German Chncellor Angela Merkel visited Ethiopia last week. It was the final leg of a three-nation African tour.Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Ayene

There were also broader economic concerns. "The investors are alarmed, they are even talking about leaving Ethiopia." Delius also said the economic impact of the unrest and crackdown could be huge "depending on the next steps the government takes."

Help from the international community 

International rights groups estimate that the crackdown has left more than 500 dead. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn promised last week to reform the electoral system and "open up political space." "For sure he [Hailemariam Desalegn] wanted to make  a good impression on German Chancellor and the international media which were present at that time," said Delius.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Ethiopia last week. Gudina from the Oromo Federalist Congress thinks that the international community should start to exert pressure on the country. "We talked to your Chancellor [Angela Merkel] and we told her that it's time for the international community to help us out of the situation by pressuring the regime to change," Gudina told DW.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging the Ethiopian government to ensure "the protection of fundamental human rights" following its imposition of stringent rules under its state of emergency.