It has come far from a surprise. The officialdom has been hyping the public up, hoping to make the inevitable decision to extend the state of emergency declared in October 2016 a rather less of a shock.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, appearing before Parliament a couple of weeks ago, said to have commissioned a public opinion poll that shows no less than “82pc of Ethiopians” are in favour of its extension. However, the Prime Minister remained mute over important issues as his claims brought more questions of transparency, which is a weakness the ruling party struggles with for so long.
When was the poll carried out? Where was it done, on what demography, and which agency has done it?
To claim such a high number of the public wants to remain under strict and inconvenient circumstances needs to be supported with something that can persuade members of the public.
His claim, nonetheless, was followed by a press briefing by Siraj Fegessa, who had announced an amendment to the emergency decree.
Chaired by the Prime Minister, the Command Post comprised the most powerful individuals in the country today, including Samora Yenus (Gen.), chief of staff of the army; Getachew Assefa, chief of the security; Getachew Ambaye, attorney general; Assefa Biyou; commissioner general of the Federal Police Commission; and Siraj, minister of Defense and chief of the secretariat of the Command Post.
The amended decree has parts of the five-month old state of emergency partially lifted, stripping the Command Post off the right to detain suspects incommunicado. It has also lifted the curfew imposed on citizens to have presence near public infrastructure facilities, mega projects and plants after 6:00pm. Apparently, it was a follow-up to the lifting of travel restriction imposed on diplomats outside of the capital.
Members of Parliament (MPs), all from the ruling EPRDF and its affiliates, have echoed the official intent, some of them claiming they have their constituencies urging them to extend the emergency decree. It is bizarre to see elected politicians making a case for it, though. There is no pleasure in calling 911 for an ambulance unless there is an emergency. But to make ambulance vehicle calls to homes at normal state of life borders to folly.
Expectedly, MPs voted on Thursday, March 29, 2017, to prolong the state of emergency for another four months. Although not a full house, Parliament voted on the extension albeit unanimously.
Ironically, such unanimity seen in the legislative body reflects little of the unity within the ruling party. EPRDFites are divided over the issue where some of its leaders would have wanted to lift the emergency decree much earlier than its original deadline, April 9. Their concerns with the collateral damage the decree brought to the nation’s global standing as a preferred destination for international capital, and tourists from overseas are not without a ground.
During the five months under such a pervasive law that gives people of the executive a carte-blanche power, tens of thousands were rounded up and detained in camps. Civil liberties, otherwise under a precarious state, were frozen. Bar provisions on fundamental human rights, the constitution is abrogated. The country suffered the many drawbacks as a consequence.
In an environment of political uncertainty, it is business confidence that takes the first casualty. Capital flight was so ubiquitous, the value of the Birr lost its face against the Dollar in the parallel market; in the few days after the declaration of the state of emergency, a Dollar’s worth picked up to a historic 27 Br.
Tourism is another sector hit hard. It has grossed an average of 1.68 billion dollars in revenues annually, earned from no less than 910,000 tourists. The decline in tourist numbers since the decree has been a huge blow to the tourism sector, following travel alerts issued by countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom and Ireland, cautioning their citizens planning to visit Ethiopia.
The six-month report from the Ministry of Culture & Tourism reflected the impact. Earnings from the tourism sector have dropped by 12.5pc and the number of tourists by 8.2pc.
If this causes panic and anxiety among many in the private sector, there should be little surprise. Hotel owners have for instance filed complaints to the Prime Minister’s Office showing their frustrations. They felt that they could not sustain their businesses if the government fails to ease up the restrictions, as it is a repellent to tourists.
Those who want to see the decree lifted as early as possible fear that the longer it stays in force, the more it brings adverse effect on the country’s economy and promise. The development gains the country desperately craves and has invested heavily on will take a hit; infrastructure, manufacturing, and export are bound to feel the burnt. Prolonging the state of emergency no doubt affects the perception of the outside world of a country that has been considered an oasis of stability in an otherwise troubled region.
A nation besieged by an extended sense of emergency and uncertainty can only have its prospect for hope take a back seat to the ongoing political saga.
The state of emergency was declared following widespread unrest in the country that reached a boiling point in Oromia, Amhara and Southern regional states. It was enforced to put a lid on the protests and suffocate the public rage, often characterized by violent destruction of lives and properties. It has achieved its immediate and short terms goals; the widespread unrest has died down.
Yet, the Administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam wanted to extend the decree to reinforce “the peace and stability which is gained after Parliament declared the state of emergency.”
The flip-side just shows that there are lingering problems the political establishment has failed to address, thus profound fear by the Administration that the violent unrest may recur. Evidently, the signs are written all over the wall. The very reasons that have provoked public rage are there unaddressed, despite responses from the political establishment that are skin deep in their impact.
Forcing the public to stay under a terminal state of emergency will do little to solve the problems that started the riots and unrest in the first place. The issues that need responses from the political elite are still lurking under the decree. As long as they are not dealt with boldly and courageously, they are bound to pose a threat to public order. The longer the decree is in force, the more questions pop up on human rights abuses and further deteriorate the civil order.
The Administration already has a laundry list of goals it has set to achieve in development. Regrettably, issues of upholding painful but crucial political concessions appear to be missing.
The public wants to see the political process be competitive so that the embarrassing results of the past elections do not repeat. The ruling party and its affiliates control 100pc of seats in the federal and regional legislative bodies, contrary to the diversity of views and interests across the country.
The public wants to see those entrusted to public offices carry themselves in a transparent manner, thus held accountable when they fall short of its expectations. There should be a limit to official incompetence, mismanagement and corruption. It wants to see those in breach of the law and abuse their offices to advance personal gains prosecuted and justice served. It wants to see no Big Men who are above the law. To ensure this, political parties of various shades and colors need to be represented both in the legislative and executive bodies of not only the federal level but also in all regional states.
There needs to come a healthy and constructive politics, away from the ruling party’s hegemonic aspiration and the opposition’s toxic political culture. It is the EPRDF that has the heaviest burden on its shoulder to see a managed reform to this end than the disorderly, chaotic and destructive changes imposed by violent uprisings.
In the absence of such responses, those who argue the extension would only aggravate the situations are justified of their fears. The Administration cannot simply keep extending the state of emergency while delaying or unable to reform. Staying under the presumed shade of safety imposed by brute force would lead the current political order to be lost. It will be a tragic mistake to let this go on for another round.
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