A return to business as usual in Ethiopia

Recent arrests of journalists and politicians is a step back for Ethiopia.
Photo Vbzi/CC BY 2.0/ Flickr

The Ethiopian government is under fire from human rights and pro-democracy groups after it rearrested several prominent bloggers and members of the opposition that had been released just a few weeks ago.

According to the Financial Times, former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn released the eight politicians and journalists in an attempt to “widen the democratic space”.

The move was celebrated among human rights activists, prompting many to believe the political situation in Ethiopia was turning a corner. However, as the men gathered to celebrate their release, security forces rearrested them under charges of violating the state of emergency and displaying a prohibited national flag, says Africa News.

A descent back into business as usual

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn released 6,000 political prisoners between January and his resignation on the 15th of February. This seemingly represented progress. But the re-arrest of prominent members of the opposition, like politician Andualem Aragie and journalist Eskinder Nega indicates a slide back into business as usual.

This demonstrates that the government is out of ideas. It has re-imposed a state of emergency and now rearrested prominent figures of the opposition. These are both well-trodden routes in Ethiopia, yet in the past, none of them has brought an end to nationwide protests.

A breach of trust

The rearrests are another broken promise from the ruling Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF). It promised to close Maekelawi prison in January, yet those arrested last weekend found themselves back in the appalling conditions of Maekelawi, the main federal police investigation centre. It promised to provide a more open democratic space, but failed.

Based on these events, there is little suggestion that the promised dialogue with opposition parties will materialise. These repeated breaches of trust and empty promises from the ruling party will only serve to further anger the people and spark more protests.

Another wave of arrests

This is likely just the beginning. In Oromia state, O Pride reported hundreds of members of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) have been arrested in recent weeks. There will no doubt be further targeting of prominent opposition members, journalists, and academics in the coming weeks as the government tries to cement its grip on power.

This crackdown on the opposition, suggests that the next leader will not be from the Oromo people. The government has still not appointed Desalegn’s successor. Oromo protestors have been calling for more representation within government, says CNN, but their calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Ethiopia has seen this before. With the government sliding back into old habits, the opposition and their members will too. Rather than bring an end to protests, the arrests will fuel them.

The opposition has seen what progress looks like. It saw its prominent members freed. This will only further motivate the protestors. The people will respond to EPRDF repression with more protests. By dangling the carrot of political reform then taking it away, the government has only made its position at the top more precarious. Rather than end the crisis, it has spurred protestors on and made its opponents more determined.

Human Rights
Mehari Fisseha

Mehari has PhD in Social Policy and Social Work, Masters in Government and Public Policy. Mehari has been an advocate for refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland. Mehari is a passionate champion on Human Rights and Development issues, with a focus in Ethiopia and Eritrea. He is also interested in the reform of the United Nations. His academic work is driven by his commitment to empowerment and ‘betterment’ of the powerless (people, communities), often invisible in the eyes of policy makers, that policies ignore their very ‘realities’. Mehari is a recipient of European Academy of Diplomacy award for the best candidate in the European diplomacy and Foreign policy workshop.
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