Anxiety in the diplomatic camp
For the second time in two years, Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency to try to control the violent unrest that has been rocking the country. The declaration on February 16 came a day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn tendered his resignation. Now, Ethiopia is undergoing an unexpected government transition and all eyes are on the ruling coalition as it deals with the prime minister’s resignation and attempt to fill his position. Things are changing quickly in Ethiopia and it is difficult to predict what the ruling coalition will do next. Following the resignation of the PM and the declaration of state of emergency, embassies and international organizations are expressing their concerns. Some have even gone further and criticized the government, write Brook Abdu and Neamin Ashenafi.
The political development in the eventful week of the February 12-18 was surprising both to the local and international followers. The week that broke out with a three-days stay-home stay strike in Oromia, which was followed by the release of prominent imprisoned politicians and the resignation of the country’s top political appointee, concluded with the announcement of a state of emergency.
Although the major political development of the past two months – the release of prisoners – received much acclaim from foreign missions and international organizations as well as local politicians, the declaration of the state of emergency was not welcomed. The statements issued by these organs were embroidered with strong words and phrases. This especially holds true for the US Embassy and the European Union’s statements.
Issued immediately after the decree of the state of emergency, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa opposed the state of emergency using strong words.
“We strongly disagree with the Ethiopian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency that includes restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression,” the US Embassy in Addis Ababa stated.
The embassy issued this statement after Siraj Fegessa, the chair of the secretariat of the command post, which was established to facilitate the implementation of the state of emergency, indicated that the Embassy understands the challenges the country is facing as expressed by the government and “shares” the concerns. But, the measure taken regarding this was “less freedom” than “more freedom” when the later should have been the case, the statement indicated.
Appreciating the initiative taken in releasing thousands of prisoners, which is meant to widen the political space and create inclusiveness in the country’s politics, the statement indicated that the state of emergency undermines this step.
“We strongly urge the government to rethink this approach and identify other means to protect lives and property while preserving, and indeed expanding, the space for meaningful dialogue and political participation that can pave the way to a lasting democracy,” the embassy stated.
However, government officials in the country, according to sources, did not take this statement by the US Embassy positively. Sources told The Reporter that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called the US Ambassador demanding explanation in regards to the statement issued by the Embassy.
“The officials at the Ministry told the ambassador that the statement was not supportive and they did not understand the importance of issuing a statement while the Embassy and the government could have worked on the issue,” sources said.
Defending his statement, the newly appointed Ambassador of the United States Michael Raynor said that he did not mean to cause any harm and he will commit to closely work with the government in the future, according to sources.
The European Union’s statement indicated that the resignation of the prime minister “opens a period of uncertainty” and urges the government to pursue the path of the Prime Minister to bring change and reform in the country’s politics.
“The announced reinstatement of the State of Emergency risks undermining this very objective. It is therefore of the outmost importance that it should be as limited in time as possible and respectful of human rights and fundamental freedoms, notably those enshrined in the Ethiopian Constitution. Violence should also be avoided,” the statement by the EU asserted, promising that the Union will work towards bringing about a “democratic and stable Ethiopia.”
Another statement with strong words came from the United Kingdom. Reminding that Ethiopia is a friend and partner of the UK, the statement pointed out that the UK is “concerned and disappointed by the decision to impose a new state of emergency.”
“It sends a discouraging signal to the international community and foreign investors. We strongly hope that the announcement does not signal a reversal in Ethiopia’s move towards reform, and that it will be in place for as short a time as possible,” the UK stated.
Although issued after the decree of the state of emergency and the resignation of the prime minister, the African Union Commission’s statement was the only statement issued in support of the Ethiopian government. The statement of chairperson of the commission stated that the chair is following the situation in Ethiopia closely and acknowledged Ethiopia as not only the seat of the AU headquarters but also an important member of the continental body.
The chairperson expressed that he is confident in the ability of the Ethiopian authorities and people to overcome the challenges at hand and to consolidate the remarkable progress made in the socio-economic development of the country. Last month he welcomed the steps taken by the Ethiopian authorities to widen the political and democratic space.
He also encouraged the government to pursue the path of widening the political space.
A recent unclassified Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community released to the public on February 13, 2018 recorded that “the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments are likely to face opposition from the public agitating for redness of political grievances.”
Though foreign missions and the international community are expressing their concern over the recent state of emergency and prescribed to the peaceful and smooth transition of power following the resignation of the PM, Workneh Gebeyhu (PhD) minister of Foreign Affairs assured members of the diplomatic corps residing in Addis that things are under control and that they should conduct their business as usual.
In his briefing to the diplomatic community on Tuesday, he blatantly stated that the country is peaceful from corner to the corner, the institutions in the country are working without any problem and the selection of the new prime minister is being conducted without any problem in accordance with the law of the country and the bylaws of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
During the meeting, deputy chairperson of the AUC said that the reform measures taken by the government of Ethiopia is supported by the AU and calls on Ethiopians to stand with this reform agenda so as to restore peace and stability in the country.
The AU’s support to the reform and measures taken by the Ethiopian government is due to Ethiopia’s role both in the region and the whole continent in promoting peace and stability. Many viewed Ethiopia as the island peace and stability in the war torn Horn of Africa region, and any problem in Ethiopia might affect the entire region that in turn will affect the trade and commercial activity on the Red Sea.
An article, which appeared on Geopolitics Future, forecasted that the unrest and turmoil in Ethiopia will pave the way for the competition of global powers under the guise of protecting their interests in the region “Ethiopia is by far the largest country – by area and population – in the Horn of Africa. And the Horn of Africa is coveted real estate for major powers, both because of its location next to valuable oil-dominated maritime routes and its ability to function as a base from which to project power into the Middle East. Ethiopia’s turmoil paves the way for this competition,” the article stated.
A geopolitical analyst working in one of the embassies, who requested anonymity, also agreed with such an argument and stated that it is obvious that Ethiopia is an ally of the US in fighting extremists and in the region. By the same token, though it has not been successful, Ethiopia is also playing great role in bringing together the fragile countries in the region so as to ensure peace and security, the analyst said.
Therefore, the concern and the criticisms are not merely for the sake of criticizing the Ethiopian government and the measures it took; rather, when many of the countries expressed their concerns, their concern emanates from their national interest, the geopolitical analyst explained.
Though many have raised their concern in regards to the declaration of the state of emergency, there are others who reject the criticism. Leulsehed Girma a geopolitical analyst is among those who stand against the criticisms.
“There is nothing wrong in declaring a state of emergency; however, the issue here is that countries are not considering the matter in a balanced way. Many countries have declared a state of emergency, for example the US has declared the state of emergency after the 9/11 incident and some of the provisions of the declaration are extended every year until today. Therefore, they have to accept that the state of emergency is applicable in every country as well.”
Nevertheless, Leulseged argued that the countries that expressed their concerns over the declaration of the state of emergency should instead focus on pushing the reinstatement of normal conditions after the expiry of the declaration.
With all these concerns and reactions from the diplomatic community, the minister during his briefing confirmed that the current situation in the country will be controlled and law and order will be restored soon. He also assured members of the diplomatic corps that they do not have to worry about the situation.
Though Workneh promised that order will be restored soon, many in the diplomatic community are skeptical and are in a “let’s wait and see” mode.