The Ethiopian government on Sunday (10 October) declared a state of emergency, following a year-long spate of unrest which spiked in a week of deaths and attacks on buildings and foreign companies.
Demands by the Oromo and Amhara people for better representation in the government in Addis Ababa have left around 500 dead since November 2015, according to independent observers such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The country of around 100m in the Horn of Africa is a military ally of the West, and major recipient of EU aid and the recent ‘Emergency Trust Fund for Africa’, aimed at discouraging migration to Europe.
In a televised address on Sunday morning, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the state of emergency was declared because there has been “enormous” damage to property.
“We put our citizens’ safety first. Besides, we want to put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centers, administration and justice buildings,” said Desalegn on the state Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.
“The recent developments in Ethiopia have put the integrity of the nation at risk,” he said.
“The state of emergency will not breach basic human rights enshrined under the Ethiopian constitution and won’t also affect diplomatic rights listed under the Vienna Convention,” said Desalegn.
euractiv.com last week interviewed the Ethiopian Ambassador to the EU, to put specifically to him questions about both the death toll, and the grievances of the Oromia and Amhara regions.
Ambassador Teshome Toga acknowledged “gaps” in governance and economic progress for those regions, but also blamed “anti-peace elements” for hijacking the protests, and social media for organising “illegal” protests.
Asked today (10 October), if the EU Commission – ultimately in charge of both the aid budget through DG Devco, and creator of the Emergency Trust Fund – was “concerned” about the situation in Ethiopia, a spokeswoman told EURACTIV “Fundamental human rights must be respected at all times. The suspension of political and democratic rights should be avoided.
“Violence, whichever side it comes from, has no place in this endeavour. Now it is time for all forces, inside and outside Ethiopia, to restore calm and join in ensuring that Ethiopia can pursue the path of democracy and development.”
The government has blocked the internet for more than a week to prevent protesters from using social media to get supporters to attend demonstrations.
Some 50 people were killed on October 2 in a stampede triggered when police fired teargas and bullets to disperse protestors at the annual Irrecha thanksgiving celebration in Bishoftu town. Some reports put the death toll much higher.
— Lotte Leicht (@LotteLeicht1) October 9, 2016
An American woman was killed last week when she was hit by a rock thrown by protesters. Some businesses have been targeted because of suspected links to the government, which is promoting Ethiopia as one of Africa’s top-performing economies.
The state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said the attacks on factories in Sebeta town on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa, affected more than 40,000 workers. Textile, plastic, cement and bottled-water factories have been targeted.
Anti-government protests continued Sunday. Many roads into and out of the capital, Addis Ababa, are blocked by protesters.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due in Addis Ababa this week as part of her trip to Africa, with a meeting scheduled with the African Union, which is headquartered in the capital.