What will Ethiopia be like after state of emergency?
Last week, Ethiopia voted to lift the state of emergency that had been in place since October last year. The status was held in place for a period of ten months after the initial six-month spell was extended and civil rights were restricted for a prolonged period.
Tens of thousands of people were arrested during sweeping operations – many of whom remain in detention.
The violent anti-government protests that prompted the state of emergency are long over. Now, people can expect their civil liberties to be mostly restored, but what will Ethiopia really be like after the state of emergency.
Can Ethiopia rewind the clock?
While the protests are over – at least for now – lifting the country’s state of emergency won’t be enough to ease the concerns of those who instigated them. Participants and supporters of the anti-government protests insist their issues haven’t been addressed. And, while the restrictions put in place by the state of emergency have been listed in principle, the day-to-day impact might not be so straightforward
Participants and supporters of the anti-government protests insist their issues haven’t been addressed. And, while the restrictions put in place by the state of emergency have been listed in principle, the day-to-day impact might not be so straightforward.
The impact on media
Social media was heavily restricted during the state of emergency and Ethiopia’s appears to have developed a taste for blocking it entirely – apparently to stop exam leaks. Insulting the wrong figure, making the wrong kind of online comment or even contacting the wrong person on social media is a risky game with Ethiopia’s “anti-terror” laws in full effect.
Posting images of police violence is a no-no, for example. More so now than ever.
Certain TV channels were also banned during the state of emergency and it’s not clear what kind of capacity they’ll be able to operate after the lift.
The impact on political opposition
The big impact of Ethiopia’s state of emergency was the banning of protests and any kind of meeting between political “terrorists”. The clampdown was emphatic and entirely successful. Those arrested were sent to rehabilitation camps before release – the ones lucky enough to have been released, that is.
One of the key questions now is: will the protests return after the state of emergency is lifted. We know the political dissent is still there but how much will there is to express it remains to be seen.
Even anti-government gestures were outlawed by the state of emergency and Olympic marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa made the world aware as he crossed the finish line with his arms crossed above his head. In Ethiopia, the state of emergency didn’t completely wipe out these gestures, but it greatly reduced them.
On a day-to-day basis, curfews were the main impact on people’s lives and these have now been fully lifted. People were also banned from visiting factories, farms and government institutions between 6pm and 6am after businesses were targeted by some rioters prior to the state emergency.
Gun owners were also restricted from carrying firearms within 25km of the country’s main roads out of Addis Ababa and within 50km of the country’s border.
Life after emergency
Even if Ethiopia remains protest-free after the state of emergency, it’s hard to see how life will return to normal. Tensions remain and the concerns of demonstrators are yet to be addressed. If anything, discontent is likely to be higher than ever, even if it is forcedly quieter.
The government has made its position clear on how it considers political opposition. It’s also shown how far it’s willing to go in terms of dealing with it, which only further contributed to the violent protests taking place. Clearly, something had to give and it was the government who hit hardest.
Whether the protesters will settle for political oppression or counterstrike remains to be seen.
Featured image: Twitter