Ethiopia declared a state of emergency a day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned abruptly. The latter cast doubts on the prospects of the East African nation's stability after activists worried about who would replace him.
Hailemariam Desalegn, 52, took the mantle in 2012, after the notorious Meles Zenawi's demise. During his tenure, Mr. Desalegn was perceived as a puppet for the Tigrayan minority rulers -- Meles Zenawi's ethnic group. He announced on Feb. 15, 2018 that he is resigning.
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling party declared state of emergency after Council of Ministers meeting and cited Article 93 of the Constitution, which they said gave them the power to declare such an emergency "should an external invasion, a breakdown of law and order which endangers the constitutional order which cannot be controlled by the regular law enforcement agencies and personnel". The Council of Ministers consists about three dozen individuals selected by the Hailemariam Desalegn; the Prime Minister is also a member.
According to a statement read on Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, a government controlled television, the Council of Ministers said, "the current situation in the country has come to a point where it can’t be handled with normal peace protecting mechanisms."
Protests have been waged against EPRDF for the last three years, which claimed hundreds of lives. The protests carried out by a loosely organized group named "Qeerroo" in Oromia Region has been persistent and later gained an alliance from the youth from Amhara Region. "Qeerroo" is a term used to refer to unmarried young men in Afaan Oromoo language. The two regions are the most populous in the country. The groups' effort is often credited with pushing Prime Minister Desalegn's government to promise release of political prisoners to "facilitate an environment for dialogue." This is the second time in two years for Ethiopian government to declare a state of emergency. The one before this one ended in August 2017 and lasted 10 months.
After weeks of unrelenting pressure from the youth in Oromia and Amhara regions to keep its promise to release political prisoners, Ethiopia released 417 prisoners who were serving sentences for "terrorism and inciting violences". In early Jan., 2018, EPRDF officials announced political prisoners will be released, shocking the world. Prominent opposition leaders, Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba were among the released. Ethiopia also released Eskindir Nega, a journalist held in prison for years.
The newfound forte for a reform by a ruling party was in part a result of a crop of reformist individuals in Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO), a part of EPRDF coalition. The organization is regarded as a puppet organization for Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls political and economic power in Ethiopia. In the last six months, a new group in the organization seems to resist TPLF's influence. As a result, OPDO is gaining support from the Oromo people.
The new state of emergency declaration also followed a release of hundreds of political prisoners including prominent opposition leaders. While activists and opposition groups welcomed the release of prisoners, a regime change appeared to be within reach to some.