Tags: #OromoProtests, Africa, Amhara Protests, Ethiopia, Ethiopia: state of emergency, Genocide Against Oromo People, IRIN, IRIN News, Oromia, Oromo
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The Ethiopian government has extended a nationwide state of emergency for four months, hailing it as successful in restoring stability after almost a year of popular protests and crackdowns that cost hundreds of lives.
But while parts of Amhara, one of the hotbeds of the recent unrest, may be calm on the surface, IRIN found that major grievances remain unaddressed and discontent appears to be festering: There are even widespread reports that farmers in the northern region are engaged in a new, armed rebellion.
Human rights organisations and others have voiced concern at months of draconian government measures – some 20,000 people have reportedly been detained under the state of emergency, which also led to curfews, bans on public assembly, and media and internet restrictions.
“The regime has imprisoned, tortured and abused 20,000-plus young people and killed hundreds more in order to restore a semblance of order,” said Alemante Selassie, emeritus law professor at the College of William & Mary in the US state of Virginia. “Repression is the least effective means of creating real order in any society where there is a fundamental breach of trust between people and their rulers.”
The government line is far rosier.
“There’s been no negative effects,” Zadig Abrha, Ethiopia’s state minister for government communication affairs, told IRIN shortly before the measures were extended by four months, on 30 March.
“The state of emergency enabled us to focus on repairing the economic situation, compensating investors, and further democratising the nation… [and] allowed us to normalise the situation to how it was before, by enabling us to better coordinate security and increase its effectiveness.”
On 7 August 2016, in the wake of protests in the neighbouring Oromia region, tens of thousands of people gathered in the centre of Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara. They had come to express their frustration at perceived marginalisation and the annexation of part of their territory by Tigray – the region from which the dominant force in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition is drawn.
Accounts vary as to what prompted security forces to open fire on the demonstration – some say a protestor tried to replace a federal flag outside a government building with its now-banned precursor – but by the end of the day, 27 people were dead.
That toll climbed to 52 by the end of the week. In all, some 227 civilians died during weeks of unrest in the Amhara region, according to the government. Others claim the real figure is much higher.
A six-month state of emergency was declared nationally on 9 October. Military personnel, under the coordination of a new entity known as the “Command Post”, flooded into cities across the country.
“Someone will come and say they are with the Command Post and just tell you to go with them – you have no option but to obey,” explained Dawit, who works in the tourism industry in the Amhara city of Gondar. “No one has any insurance of life.”
Local people told IRIN that the Command Post also took control of the city’s courts and did away with due process. Everyday life ground to a halt as traders closed shops and businesses in a gesture of passive resistance.
In Bahir Dar and Gondar, both popular historical stop-offs, tourism, an economic mainstay, tanked.
“In 2015, Ethiopia was voted by the likes of The New York Times and National Geographic as one of the best destinations,” said Stefanos, another Gondar resident who works in the tourism sector. “Then this happened and everything collapsed.”
Before it was renewed, the state of emergency was modified, officially reinstating the requirement of search warrants and doing away with detention without trial.
Prominent blogger and Ethiopian political analyst Daniel Berhane said the state of emergency extension might maintain calm in Amhara.
It “isn’t just about security,” he said. “There is a political package with it: Since two weeks ago, the government has been conducting meetings across the region at grassroots levels to address people’s economic and administrative grievances, which are what most people are most concerned about.”
But bitterness remains.
“We have no sovereignty. The government took our land,” a bar owner in Gondar who gave his name only as Kidus explained. “That’s why we shouted Amharaneut Akbiru! Respect Amhara-ness!” during the protests, he added.
Others still feel marginalised and are angry at the government’s heavy-handed response.
“If you kill your own people, how are you a soldier? You are a terrorist,” 32-year old Tesfaye, who recently left the Ethiopian army after seven years, a large scar marking his left cheek, told IRIN in Gondar. “I became a soldier to protect my people. This government has forgotten me since I left. I’ve been trying to get a job for five months.”
A tour guide in Gondar, speaking on condition of anonymity, was also critical of the response: “The government has a chance for peace, but they don’t have the mental skills to achieve it. If protests happen again, they will be worse.”
However, some do believe the authorities have to take a tough line.
“This government has kept the country together. If they disappeared, we would be like Somalia,” said Joseph, who is half-Amharan, half-Tigrayan. “All the opposition does is protest, protest. They can’t do anything else.”
Even as calm has been restored in some areas, a new form of serious opposition to the government has taken shape: Organised militia made up of local Amhara farmers have reportedly been conducting hit-and-run attacks on soldiers in the mountainous countryside.
“The topography around here is tough, but they’ve spent their lives on it and know it,” said Henok, a student nurse who took part in the protests. “They’re like snipers with their guns.”
“The government controls the urban but not the rural areas,” he said. “[The farmers] are hiding in the landscape and forests. No one knows how many there are,” he said, adding that he’d seen “dozens of soldiers at Gondar’s hospital with bullet and knife wounds.”
Young Gondar men like Henok talk passionately of Colonel Demeke Zewudud, who led Amhara activism for the restoration of [the annexed] Wolkite district until his arrest in 2016, and about Gobe Malke, allegedly a leader of the farmers’ armed struggle until his death in February – reportedly at the hands of a cousin on the government’s payroll.
“The farmers are ready to die,” a priest in Gondar told IRIN on condition of anonymity, stressing that the land is very important to them. “They have never been away from here,” he explained.
Without referring specifically to any organisation of armed farmers, Zadig, the government minister, said the state of emergency had been extended because of “agitators” still at large.
“There are still people who took part in the violence that are not in custody, and agitators and masterminds of the violence who need to be brought before the rule of law,” he said. “And there are arms in circulation that need to be controlled, and some armed groups not apprehended.”
Terrence Lyons, a professor at The School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in the United States, said the government must decentralise power to achieve longer-term stability.
“Grievances haven’t been addressed by the state of emergency or by the government’s commitment to tackle corruption and boost service delivery,” Lyons told IRIN. “There needs to be a reconsideration of the relationship between an ethnic federation and a strong centralised developmental state, involving a process that is participatory and transparent – but we aren’t seeing that under the state of emergency.”
In 1995, Ethiopia adopted a federal system of government, which in theory devolves considerable power to the country’s regions. But in practice, key decisions are still taken in Addis Ababa.
“If the government wants a true and real form of stabilisation, then it should allow for a true representative form of governance so all people have the representation they need and deserve,” said Tewodros Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America.
In a report presented to a US congressional hearing in early March, Tewodros said some 500 members of the security forces had been killed in the recent clashes in the Amhara region. “Deeper resentment and anger at the government is driving young people to the armed struggle,” he told IRIN.
But Zadig and the government insisted: “The public stood by us.”
“They said no to escalating violence. In a country of more than 90 million, if they’d wanted more escalation we couldn’t have stopped them.”
Lyons warns of complacency.
“As long as dissidents and those speaking about alternatives for Ethiopia are dealt with as terrorists, the underlying grievances will remain: governance, participation, and human rights,” he told IRIN.
“The very strength of the [ruling] EPRDF is its weakness. As an ex-insurgency movement, its discipline and top-down governance enabled it to keep a difficult country together for 25 years. Now, the success of its own developmental state means Ethiopia is very different, but the EPRDF is not into consultative dialogue and discussing the merits of policy.”
IRIN News: Ethiopia’s internet crackdown hurts everyone November 19, 2016Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests.
Tags: #OromoProtests, #OromoRevolution, Africa, Ethiopia, Ethiopia: enemies internet freedom, Genocide Against Oromo People, Internet Censorship, Internet Freedom, IRIN News, Oromia, Oromo
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IRIN, 17 November 2016
Ethiopia has never been an easy place to operate. But a six-month state of emergency, combined with internet and travel restrictions imposed in response to a wave of anti-government protests, means it just got a whole lot harder.
The government has targeted the mobile data connections that the majority of Ethiopians use to get online. Internet users have also been unable to access Facebook Messenger and Twitter, with a host of other services also rendered unreliable.
This has impacted everyone: from local businesses, to foreign embassies, to families, as well as the extensive and vital international aid community.
“Non-governmental organisations play crucial roles in developing countries, often with country offices in the capitals, satellite offices across remote regions, and parent organisations in foreign countries,” said Moses Karanja, an internet policy researcher at Strathmore University in Nairobi. “They need access to the internet if their operations are to be efficiently coordinated.”
A political decision
The Ethiopian government has been candid about the restrictions being in response to year-long anti-government protests in which hundreds of people have died.
It has singled out social media as a key factor in driving unrest. Since the beginning of October, there has been a spike in violence resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of damage to foreign-owned factories, government buildings and tourist lodges across Oromia Region, initially ground zero for the dissent.
“Mobile data will be permitted once the government assesses that it won’t threaten the implementation of the state of emergency,” government spokesman Getachew Reda – who has since been replaced – told a 26 October press conference in Addis Ababa.
The Oromo are the country’s largest ethnic group, constituting 35 percent of the country’s nearly 100 million population. They have historically felt ignored by successive regimes in Addis Ababa. In August, similar grassroots protest broke out among the Amhara, Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group. The ruling EPRDF is portrayed by opponents as a narrow, unrepresentative clique that refuses to share power.
Ethiopia is not alone in its approach to political unrest. Around the world, as countries become increasingly integrated with online technology, the more autocratic governments are blocking the internet whenever they deem it necessary.
“The trend appears to be growing because more people are going online and using the internet, often through the use of mobile connections,” said Deji Olukotun of Access Now, which campaigns for digital rights. In 2016, it documented 50 shutdowns, up from less than 20 in 2015.
“People are enjoying the freedom and opportunity that the internet provides, which enables them to organise themselves and advocate for what they want,” Olukotun told IRIN. “In response, governments are shutting down the net to stop this practice.”
An aid worker, who didn’t want to be identified as her agency needs to renew its government permit, explained how she relies on Skype to communicate with far-flung colleagues.
“Before, it was hard enough, but now Skype is even more unreliable,” she said. “People can’t connect with colleagues in the field; people miss invites to meetings, can’t arrange logistics.”
The squeeze comes at a particularly bad time for Ethiopia, beyond the impact of the protest movement. Ten million people are in need of food aid as a result of drought. The Oromia and Amhara regions, where most of the anti-government unrest is happening, have some of the largest numbers of people requiring assistance.
“Websites like the famine early warning system, FEWSNET, which provides detailed regional analysis and projections on food insecurity, cannot be accessed by most stakeholders,” said an international development official.
“Some modern software systems for things like pharmaceutical supply-chain management are not working to their full capacity – making it harder to accurately track inventory and deliveries.”
Many humanitarian organisations, including UN agencies, are heavily reliant on cash transfers to government organisations that conduct work on their behalf. They are finding it much harder to account for funds.
Another aid worker, again speaking to IRIN on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of operating in Ethiopia, said everything was getting delayed, including the rolling out of new programmes.
“If we can’t email or phone, we can’t find out how money has been spent, and if we can’t account and there’s no transparency, we can’t authorise new spending,” the aid worker said.
The importance of social media to people’s lives in Ethiopia is magnified because they so distrust mainstream media, largely controlled by the EPRDF.
“Many Ethiopians are fed up with local and state media and so they turn to diaspora news,” said Lidetu Ayele, founder of the opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party. “The problem is, a lot of things they’d view as gossip if heard by mouth, when they read about it on social media, they take as fact.”
The worst disaster during Ethiopia’s protests occurred at the beginning of October. After police and protesters clashed at a traditional Oromo festival beside a holy lake, a stampede ensued that left about 100 people drowned or crushed to death.
Social media didn’t hang around. It pulsed with claims a circling government helicopter had fired down into panicking crowds.
“My brother was telling me on the phone he was about to protest, and asking me how I couldn’t after the government had done something like that,” an Addis Ababa resident, who is half Oromo and half Amhara, recalled about the days following the stampede. “But I said to him, ‘Don’t be an idiot, it isn’t true.’”
Witnesses and journalists at the event had confirmed that the circling helicopter was in fact innocently dropping leaflets saying “Happy Irreecha”, the name of the festival.
Even before the state of emergency, Ethiopia was one of the most censored countries in the world and a top jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Independent media does exist in Ethiopia, but it struggles. Last month, the Addis Standard, a well-respected private magazine, announced it was stopping its print edition due to the latest round of restrictions.
“The government has created this problem for themselves,” remarked a freelance Ethiopian journalist.
The Ethiopian diaspora in the United States maintains a strong cyber presence and is rallying to the political reform movement. Jawar Mohammed, a particularly prominent US-based social media activist, has 500,000 followers on Facebook, and broadcasts information and footage from protests demanding an end to EPRDF rule.
“The diaspora do amplify what’s happening, but it didn’t start with us,” Jawar said in an interview earlier in 2016.
Internet shutdowns between mid-2015 and mid-2016 have lost the Ethiopian economy about $9 million, according to a recent report by the US-based Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.
“Internet disruption slows growth, costs governments tax revenue, weakens innovation, and undermines consumer and business confidence in a country’s economy,” said report author Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
“As internet-powered businesses and transactions continue to grow to represent an increasingly significant portion of global economic activity, the damage from connectivity disruptions will become more severe.”
Olukotun of Access Now said such blackouts were particularly damaging for developing countries “striving to embrace the digital economy and innovation”.
“We’ve seen juice sellers, online banks, courier services, and internet companies all lose drastic amounts of money during disruptions,” he said.
But for the ruling party in Ethiopia, a country that has known centralised authoritarian rule for millennia, the concept of ceding any of that control is anathema.
“Censoring the internet is not a solution to the protests or resistance,” said Karanja, the Kenyan researcher. “It is a blockage to the democratic trajectory of a country.”