Ethiopia: Federal parliament votes to lift three month-old state of emergency

By Fred Harter
Posted on Tuesday, 15 February 2022 11:39

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrives before addressing the legislators on the current situation of the country inside the Parliament buildings in Addis Ababa
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrives before addressing the legislators on the current situation of the country inside the Parliament buildings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

On Tuesday, Ethiopia's federal parliament voted to end the nationwide state of emergency that has been in effect for three months. It comes as mediation efforts to end the civil war in the north are still on-going.

The decision to end the state of emergency was made three weeks ago at a Council of Ministers meeting that was chaired by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Parliament approved the resolution by a majority vote, with 63 lawmakers objecting and another 21 abstaining.

The emergency measure, which was initially intended to last six months, was imposed in November as rebel forces – led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its ally the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) – captured two major cities on the highway to the capital, Addis Ababa.

Since then, the TPLF has been forced to withdraw to its Northern Tigray region after its advance to the south was repelled by an Abiy-led offensive that featured militias, drones and trips that were widely broadcast by state media.

Under state of emergency

A range of civil liberties were suspended, while the police were granted powers to detain, without charge, anyone accused of supporting “terrorist” groups. Thousands of ethnic Tigrayans were arrested and held in detention centres, prompting accusations of ethnic profiling from activists and rights groups.

The state of emergency was put in place when the armed opposition was threatening to march on Addis to try and achieve regime change…

It is not clear how many remain in detention, but a source at the attorney general’s office tells The Africa Report that “more than half” of those held in Addis Ababa have been released following the TPLF’s retreat in December.

Help revive the economy

Tuesday’s vote took place a day after parliament’s advisory committee discussed lifting the state of emergency. At the meeting, House Speaker Tagesse Chafo said ending the emergency measures would help revive the economy and boost diplomatic efforts.

Tagesse also said he believes that security concerns can now be addressed through normal law enforcement channels and that Abiy could make an address to parliament soon, according to Addis Standard.

Government spokespersons Selamawit Kassa and Legesse Tulu were not immediately available for comment.

Over a year of fighting

The conflict in Northern Ethiopia erupted in November 2020 after the federal government accused the TPLF of attacking an army base in Tigray. The group claimed it launched the attack to pre-empt a government strike.

Abiy initially promised a brief offensive, but the conflict dragged on for 15 months and spread to other parts of Ethiopia, amid accusations of widespread human rights abuses. Tigray has mostly been cut off from humanitarian aid since the TPLF retook control of much of the region in June. The UN estimates that 400,000 people are facing famine in the affected region.

That has resulted in this decision, which is partly aimed at creating the impression that the security situation is improving, both for domestic and foreign audiences.

The government has launched a national dialogue aimed at healing rifts exposed by the conflict, but the process does not currently include the TPLF or the OLA. At the same time, the military has stepped up its air campaign against Tigray, killing dozens of civilians.

It is not clear whether the state of emergency will be immediately lifted following parliament’s vote. William Davison, a senior analyst for Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group, says parliament’s vote is not likely to be a “game changer” in terms of ending the conflict since instability persists in several parts of the country, including Oromia and Tigray.

“The state of emergency was put in place when the armed opposition was threatening to march on Addis to try and achieve regime change,” says Davison. “There is no longer that immediate threat, even though great instability remains. That has resulted in this decision, which is partly aimed at creating the impression that the security situation is improving, both for domestic and foreign audiences.”

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