Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Ethiopia has delayed elections slated for August and declared a state of emergency. Authorities should now consult with the opposition on how to manage the period ahead in order to smooth the country’s stuttering transition to multi-party democracy.
Originally published in The Africa Report
Ethnic violence broke out in north west, armed groups continued to launch attacks against civilians in Oromia region and govt declared nationwide state of emergency amid COVID-19 pandemic. In Benishangul-Gumuz region in north west, armed group 3 April launched attack, reportedly ethnically motivated, on Gilgel Beles town leaving at least eight dead. In western Oromia, suspected members of armed opposition faction Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) 9 April killed three civilians in Genji town. After COVID-19 pandemic late March prompted electoral board to delay general elections planned for Aug, opposition parties Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) 2 April said postponement offers opportunity to address “mistakes that have been threatening to derail Ethiopia’s transition to democracy”. Political party Tigray People’s Liberation Front late April said elections should proceed as planned. In response to COVID-19, govt 8 April declared five-month nationwide state of emergency, including ban on gatherings of more than four people. COVID-19 restrictions sparked isolated incidents: in capital Addis Ababa, police mid-to-late April arrested some 50 individuals for violating state of emergency, including at least one opposition leader; four individuals mid-April reportedly beat to death man, who urged them to adhere to social distancing, in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ region. Amid stalemate in negotiations with Egypt and Sudan on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile River, PM Abiy 1 April said dam would be filled during rainy season (June-Sept). In meeting in Sudan’s capital Khartoum 10 April, army chief of staff, Sudanese counterpart and head of Sovereign Council Abdel-Fattah Burhan reportedly agreed to coordinate border security operations following spate of criminal violence and clashes between militias on border between Amhara region and Sudan’s Al-Qadarif state.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and his rivals in Tigray are on a collision course over the latter’s plan to hold regional elections in defiance of federal authority. If Tigray proceeds, Abiy’s government is ready to consider any new regional administration illegitimate.
Ethiopia’s political opening under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has won well-deserved accolades but also uncorked dangerous centrifugal forces, among them ethnic strife. With international partners’ diplomatic and financial support, the government should proceed more cautiously – and consultatively – with reforms that could exacerbate tensions.
Southern Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Sidama, is set to declare a new regional state on 18 July. To reduce conflict risks, the Sidama should resolve sensitive issues before forming the entity, while the government should urgently organise a constitutionally mandated referendum on the question.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Ethiopia’s charismatic new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has generated great excitement with initiatives breaking with the past. But he faces challenges as formidable as his promises are bold: he urgently needs to halt communal strife, smooth the road to elections and boost the ailing economy.
Ethiopia’s struggle with domestic religious radicalisation has shifted toward top-down intervention, a policy that has contained violence but is generating new risks. Political accommodation and compromise are vital to defuse faith-based radicals’ opposition to what they perceive as overly secular rule by the dominant party.
[En Ethiopie] le parti au pouvoir fait face à d’énormes défis électoraux et il semble répondre à ceux-ci avec les mêmes tactiques que l’ancien parti, c’est-à-dire les arrestations et la violence.
While [declaring a state of emergency in Ethiopia] is understandable given the situation, it is critical that there is transparency over the government's extra powers.
It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for the [Ethiopian] electoral board [...] to organize this election in time for the 29th of August.
Ethiopia feels that the international community is, in some way, set up to rule against it... and that's why they have been reticent about having third party involvement [in Ethiopia's Nile dam project].
This is an encouraging sign that the [Ethiopian] government is prioritizing reconciliation rather than punishment. For the approach to be successful, all actors need to adopt similarly conciliatory stances.
[In Ethiopia] as political space has opened and [the majority's] control has weakened all sorts of latent disputes over power, resources, identity and territory have surfaced.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy has implemented important reforms but the changes have uncorked social tensions long bottled up by an authoritarian state. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to bolster efforts to prevent violence around the elections and support the government’s reforms.
Egypt and Ethiopia are exchanging harsh words over the dam the latter is building on the Blue Nile. At issue is how fast the Horn nation will fill its reservoir once construction is complete. The two countries’ leaders should cool the rhetoric and seek compromise.
High-profile assassinations, intercommunal violence and the question of Sidama statehood have endangered Ethiopia’s transition to a multi-party democracy. In this excerpt from its Watch List 2019 – Second Update, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to support a parliamentary vote and assist with economic reforms.