Tag Archive | "Ethiopia"

Seeds of change in Ethiopia

Ethiopian protest

By Graham Peebles 

The people of Ethiopia have been suppressed and controlled for generations. Under the current Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government, freedom of expression has been curtailed and an atmosphere of fear and intimidation fostered. Peaceful assembly has not been allowed, even though it is guaranteed under the constitution, and all political dissent is suppressed.

In 2005, after parliamentary elections that many, including the European observers, deemed to be unfair, students took to the streets in the capital, Addis Ababa, to demonstrate against what they saw as electoral fraud. The regime responded by deploying armed security personnel who, according to Human Rights Watch, killed “dozens of protesters and arbitrarily detained thousands of people across the country”. Some estimate that up to 200 people were killed by government forces.

“We call for respect of the constitution”

Unsurprisingly, since then the streets of Addis Ababa and other major towns and cities have been quiet, and people have felt unable to protest – until 2 June 2013, when the relatively new Smayawi (Blue) Party organized demonstrations at various sites across the capital. Reuters news agency report that around 10,000 people participated, although local people put the figure much higher. Throngs of mainly young people marched through the city, demanding the release of political leaders and journalists, and serious measures to address corruption and economic problems. Protesters carried banners reading “Justice! Justice! Justice!” Some held pictures of imprisoned opposition figures, while others chanted: “We call for respect of the constitution.”

Members of opposition parties and journalists critical of the government are among those who have been arrested and charged under the universally condemned Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Human Rights Watch reports that 30 journalists and opposition members were convicted in 2012 under the “vague” law introduced in 2009, granting the Ethiopian authorities what Amnesty International described as “unnecessarily far-reaching powers”. They went on to make clear that the legislation “restrict[s] freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to fair trial”. It contains an easily distorted, ambiguous definition of terrorism, covering legitimate political dissent and “damage to property and disruption to any public service, for which an individual could be sentenced to 15 years in prison or even the death penalty”.

According to Human Rights Watch, this draconian law is being used “to target perceived opponents, stifle dissent and silence journalists”, and to restrict freedom of expression, assembly and association”. In addition, human rights workers have been forced to flee the country, and rights groups have been closed down or forced to “scaled-down” their operations to exclude the human rights aspect from their work. Independent media have also been effected: “more journalists have fled Ethiopia than any other country in the world due to threats and intimidation in the last decade – at least 79, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists”.

The time for change is now

The year 2011 saw the rise of pragmatic, peaceful expression of people power, as mainly young people across North Africa rose up against injustice and to demand freedom. It was the year in which Time magazine named “The Protestor” as its person of the year. People, it said, “dissented; they demanded… they embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change”. Since what became known as the “Arab Spring”, Greece, Spain, Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iran have all seen popular uprisings against injustice, corruption and suppression. Unified actions, consistently spearheaded by young people, the Occupy movement in America, Britain and elsewhere, called for economic justice, sharing and social equality.

The old structures, built on divisive foundations, are worn out and inadequate, and they do not serve the needs of the vast majority of people. Governments such as Ethiopia’s which reinforce injustice, violate human rights and deny their citizens freedoms are out of step with the times and must be swept aside.

With over 65 per cent of the population of Ethiopia under 25 years of age, and a median age of just 17, the young are the great hope for the country. They know well that sharing and justice are the keys to peace and freedom, commonsense truths that the men of the past, acting from narrow ideological positions that distort and corrupt, do not understand. They cling to power and privilege, fearful of the changes that the people demand.

Unity is the key

The need for unity is a worldwide need. In Ethiopia, where over 70 different ethnic tribal groups speaking dozens of dialects make up the country’s population of 85 million, unity is essential if there is to be fundamental social change.

A single demonstration as seen in Addis Ababa on 2 June will have little effect unless it serves as the beginning of a coordinated, strategic movement. Dictatorships such as the one enthroned in Addis Ababa do not suddenly renounce brutality and embrace democratic ideals of freedom and participation. Relentless, orchestrated peaceful calls for liberty, justice and the observance of human rights need to be made by the people of Ethiopia, establishing an unstoppable movement, a people’s tsunami that will wash away all opposition to change.

Let Meskel Square in Addis Ababa become the Ethiopian Tahrir Square of Egypt’s protests. A unified, inspired response to the impulse for change is needed, led by the young people of Ethiopia, organized and determined, uniting under the banner of justice, freedom and peace for all.

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Ethiopia: Final days of the ruling regime

Ethiopian unrest 2018

By Graham Peebles

Under relentless popular pressure the Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has been forced to resign, and other members of the government are expected to follow. The ruling party responded with panic, and instead of entering into talks with opposition groups, imposed another state of emergency – this follows on from the previous one, which lasted 10 months (from October 2016), and achieved nothing. It is another mistake in a long line of errors by the government, which will do anything, it seems, to hang on to power.

In his resignation speech Hailemariam Desalegn acknowledged that, ”unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many”, Reuters reports. That is, “loss of lives” of innocent Ethiopians at the hands of Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) security personnel. “I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy,” he added.

This is a highly significant step in what may prove to be the total collapse of the ruling party. It has been brought about by the peaceful movement for democratic change that has swept across the country since late 2005. Protests began in Oromia, triggered by an issue over land and political influence and spread throughout the country.

A little over a month ago, Hailemariam Desalegn announced that the government would release “some political prisoners”, Aljazeera reported, “to improve the national consensus and widen the democratic space”. Since then a relatively small number of falsely imprisoned people (some Western media claim 6,000 but this is unconfirmed – nobody knows the exact number, probably hundreds, not thousands) have been released, including some high profile figures (Merera Gudina, the chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, Journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage, for example). Many of those set free are in extremely poor health due to the ill treatment and, in some cases, torture suffered in prison.

Despite these positive moves and the ex-Prime minister’s liberal sounding rhetoric, the methodology of the ruling party has not fundamentally changed: the TPLF-dominated government continues to trample on human rights and to kill, beat and arrest innocent Ethiopians as they exercise their right to public assembly and peaceful protest.

The total number killed by regime forces since protests erupted in November 2015 is unclear: hundreds definitely (the government itself admits to 900 deaths), tens of thousands probably. A million people (Oromo/Somali groups), according to the United Nations, have been displaced – due to government-engineered ethnic conflict – and are now in internal displacement camps or are simply homeless. Tens of thousands have been falsely imprisoned without due process; their “crime” to stand up to the ruling party, to dissent, to cry out for democracy, for freedom, for justice and an end to tyranny.

All “political” prisoners, including opposition party members (British citizen Andergachew Tsige, for example) and journalists, should, as Amnesty International states, “be freed immediately and unconditionally… as they did nothing wrong and should never have been arrested in the first place”. Not only should all political prisoners be released forthwith, but the laws utilised to arrest and imprison them need to be dismantled, and the judicial system — currently nothing more that an arm of the TPLF – freed from political control.

The primary weapons of suppression are the 2009 Anti-Terrorist Proclamation and the Charities and Societies Proclamation. North are draconian laws, allowing the ruling party to detain anyone expressing political dissent in any form, and to use torture and information elicited during torture to be used in evidence — all of which is illegal under the UN Convention against Torture, which the Ethiopian government signed, and ratified in 1994.

Unstoppable movement for change

The release of a small number (relative to the total) of political prisoners and the resignation of the prime minister does not alter the approach of the government or its brutal method of governance. It is simply a cynical attempt by the TPLF to subdue the movement for change and to appease international voices demanding human rights be upheld.

Arrests and killings by TPLF security personnel continue unabated. Reports are numerous, the situation on the ground changing daily, hourly. At the end of January soldiers from the Agazi force arrested an estimated 500 people in northern Ethiopia reports ESAT News. In Woldia (also in the north), TPLF soldiers forced “detainees [to] walk on their knees over cobblestones. They [TPLF soldiers] have also reportedly beaten residents, including children and pregnant women.” These arrests follow the killing of 13 people in the town; “several others were killed in Mersa, Kobo and Sirinka”. Moreover, the BBC Amharic Service relates that six people were killed at the Hamaressa camp for internally displaced people (IDPs). According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA ), Hamaressa IDP camp was home to over 4,000 people internally displaced by the Oromo-Somali disputes in Eastern Ethiopia. The victims were protesting against the appalling conditions in the camp and demanding they be allowed to go back to their villages when they were shot.

The Ethiopian people have a common foe, a unified cause, a shared purpose. The TPLF is the foe, the cause is its removal and the purpose is to bring lasting democratic change to Ethiopia, and no matter what the regime does, this time they will not be stopped.

No matter how many people are killed, falsely imprisoned and beaten, the movement for lasting democratic change will not be put down. The principal target of protesters and activists is the dominant faction within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, the TPLF, or Woyane (relating to men from the Tigray region), as it is known. This small group took power in 1991 and has controlled all aspects of life in the country, including the judiciary, the army, the media and the sole telecommunication supplier (enabling the regime to limit internet access and monitor usage) ever since. The issues driving the protests are broad, interconnected and fundamental: the fact that Ethiopia is a single party state in all but name; the wholesale abuse of human rights; the lack of freedoms of all kinds; the partisan distribution of employment, businesses and aid; the regime’s dishonesty and corruption; state-orchestrated violence false imprisonment and torture.

The people will no longer live under the suffocating blanket of intimidation that has stifled them for the last 27 years, and are demanding fundamental change, calling on the government to step down and for fair and open democratic elections. Until now the regime’s response has been crude and predictable. Rooted in force, shrouded in arrogance and unwilling to respond to the demands of the people, the government consistently falls back on the only strategy it knows: violence and intimidation. As the people march in unison, the regime unleashes its uniformed thugs. But whereas in the past fear kept people silent, now they are filled with the fire of freedom and justice; they may well be frightened, but in spite of the threats more and more people are acting, engaging in organised acts of civil disobedience (stay-at-home protests) and taking to the streets in demonstration against the regime – gatherings of thousands of people, innocent men and women, young and old, who refuse any longer to cower to the bully enthroned in Addis Ababa. And with every protester the regime kills, beats and imprisons, the light of unity glows a little brighter; the resolution of the people strengthens, social cohesion grows.

The demand for change is of course not limited to Ethiopia. Throughout the world large groups are coming together demanding freedom and social justice, cooperation and unity. The reactionary forces resist, but it is a global movement which, while it may be denied for a time, cannot be stopped. The TPLF is in chaos, its tyranny is coming to an end. It may cling on to power for a while yet, a few months, a year or two perhaps, but even if it remains in office it no longer has a hold over the population. The Ethiopian people have a common foe, a unified cause, a shared purpose. The TPLF is the foe, the cause is its removal and the purpose is to bring lasting democratic change to Ethiopia, and no matter what the regime does, this time they will not be stopped.

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Ethiopia: Collective punishment by Internet clampdown

Georges Gobet/AFP
Shutting down and criminalizing use of the internet has become a weapon in the government’s cyber warfare strategy against the Ethiopian people, particularly the youth. The internet is making it exceedingly difficult for dictatorships to cling to power and rule tyrannically. It has created a walless, borderless, wireless, seamless, restless and fearless world.
Last week, for the third time in the past year, the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) unplugged the internet.
The reasons are a bit fuzzy. Some T-TPLF officials say the shutdown aims to prevent “student cheating on national exams”.  During a similar clampdown last year, a T-TPLF spokesman said the internet was unplugged because “social media have proven to be a distraction for students.”
Shutting down and criminalizing use of the internet has become a weapon in T-TPLF’s cyber warfare strategy against the Ethiopian people, particularly the youth.
In 2012, the T-TPLF enacted the so-called “Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences” criminalizing use of third-party Internet VOIP services (Skype, and Google Talk) to “limit the free flow of information”.
In 2012, the T-TPLF also enacted the so-called Telecom Fraud Offence Proclamation No. 761/2012, which cleverly reinvented the 2009 “anti-terrorism law” and sought to punish, intimidate, harass and jail those who use computers and the internet to express  dissent.
The recent shutdown raises some questions.
First, the students are said to “cheat” on the national “exams” because they allegedly obtained illicit copies by theft or other means. If the “exams” were “stolen” from the vaults of the T-TPLF test makers,  who conducted the theft? If they were hacked out of T-TPLF servers, why weren’t the servers robustly secured?
Second, assuming a single illicit or stolen exam existed,  does the T-TPLF really believe duplicating and disseminating that copy by non-internet means would be a challenge to Ethiopian students? Does the T-TPLF actually believe Ethiopian students are so dumb and unimaginative that they will have no other way of disseminating “stolen” exams but Facebook and Twitter?
It is doubtful and illogical to believe the “exams” were “stolen” by students and disseminated. It is highly unlikely any students would be allowed any access to the exams before administration.
It is highly likely that a T-TPLF operative with access to the “exams” stole and sold them to a buyer for the equivalent of a king’s ransom, or made it accessible to T-TPLF cronies who in turn leaked it publicly for conceivably a variety of reasons. That would smack of corruption.
It is also highly likely that the T-TPLF itself calculatedly leaked the exam so that it can use it as a pretext to clampdown the internet and disrupt whatever level of youth digital activism is taking on social media today. Certainly, there was enormous digital activism last year when the T-TPLF shutdown the internet.
Could it be a situation of “monkey-see, monkey-do”?
In mid-May 2016, the Iraqi government successively shut down the country’s internet system to prevent students from “cheating” on their exams. In the Iraqi case, the blackout was limited to three hours on three exam dates. The T-TPLF clampdown occurred in mid-July 2016 and continued for days as it did in 2017.
It is no secret that the T-TPLF is obsessed with social media and would go to any lengths to block and prevent access to it. Political commentators on social media are at great risk of getting locked up.
Last month, Yonatan Tesfaye, spokesperson for the Blue Party, was sentenced to six and one-half years on “trumped up charges” of “inciting violence on his Facebook wall”.  Getachew Shiferaw, editor-in-chief of Blue Party’s Negere-Ethiopia was also jailed for 18 months in May on trumped up charges of incitement and secretly working with a foreign government.
The great Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, recipient of the prestigious Pen America’s Freedom to Write prize, the 2017 International Press Institute (IPI)’s 69th World Press Freedom Hero award and so many others, was sentenced in 2012 to 18 years in prison for blogging on the internet.
It would be adding insult to the intelligence of Ethiopia’s youth and inflicting injury on their integrity to paint them all with a broad brush as “cheaters”.  Since no investigation has been conducted to establish if the “exams” were actually stolen by student(s) or disseminated by them, the T-TPLF’s not-so-subtle scapegoating of Ethiopian students as “cheats” is unwarranted and patently unfair. What is indisputable is the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that a “student(s)” stole and disseminated the exams on social media.
Assuming for the sake of argument that an illicit copy of an exam had been  willfully obtained by crooked student(s), there would be infinite ways of disseminating it without the need of social media or the internet. Young people are far more resourceful and clever than the older generation may think when it comes to application of technology in general. If they need to, they can and will revert to other low-tech modes of communication to get the job done.
I believe the allegations of  “stolen exams” are bogus. Standardized tests are given throughout the world every year to millions of students without breach of security. With proper high-level security protocols and administrative procedures, unauthorized leaks are minimized to near zero.
I must confess that I find the T-TPLF’s crocodile tears over “stolen” exams,  “cheating prevention” and preserving the integrity of the “national exams” laughable.
It is an open secret for a long time that T-TPLF (operating under the front organization EPRDF) supporters and cronies get a free pass to university admission and post-graduation government jobs if they pledge allegiance. They don’t need to take any tests. They just show their party cards and get enrolled. In this regard, the U.S. state Department Human Rights Report stated,
“According to multiple credible sources, teachers and high school students in grade 10 and above were required to attend training at their schools on the subject of revolutionary democracy and EPRDF policies on economic development, land, and education. After the training attendees reportedly were routinely provided with EPRDF membership forms; as a result, some students were under the impression that they needed EPRDF membership to gain admission to university in the future.”
Indeed, all of the clampdown of the internet and censorship of the media flies in the face of T-TPLF’s “Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation No. 590/2008 which provides, “Freedom of the mass media is constitutionally guaranteed.”
The T-TPLF talking about accountability and integrity is like the wolf-priest praying amidst a flock of sheep.
But most importantly, the T-TPLF’s clampdown on the media and internet must not be looked at in isolation. There is a long practice and pattern that must be considered.
The T-TPLF has a long history of shuttering newspapers and mass media, jamming radio broadcasts and clamping down on the internet.
In 2010, the late T-TPLF thugmaster Meles Zenawi threatened and made good on his threat to jam VOA broadcasts in Ethiopia. Zenawi preposterously claimed that VOA was promoting genocide, or as he put it, “VOA has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.”
In 2011, Zenawi secretly tried to silence and censor his critics by having them permanently banned from appearing on any VOA broadcasts. In a 42-page “complaint”, T-TPLF catalogued a bizarre and comical set of allegations which he believes represent a pattern and practice of VOA reporting that showed bias, distortions, lies and impartiality.
In 2014, Voice of America Board of Directors, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, France 24, Al Jazeera and others condemnedthe T-TPLF’s “flagrant violation of the clearly established international procedures on operating satellite equipment” by jamming transmissions.
The T-TPLF has also jammed transmissions of the Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT) over 20 times in the last 7 years
The T-TPLF has used Deep Packet Inspection technology to censor and block news outlets, websites related to opposition groups, and circumvention software tools like Tor.
The T-TPLF has used spyware to monitor U.S.-based journalists in violation of U.S. law. According to Motherboard, a leading technology online magazine, “It’s clear that the government of Ethiopia is one of the most aggressive purchasers of surveillance technology out there. They are building mass surveillance capabilities to monitor everyone in the country, and using hacking tools to spy on dissidents and journalists at home and abroad.”
But the broader question is what the recurrent blanket clampdown on the internet will do to the country’s economy and role as a diplomatic hub of the African Union and various international organizations.
The blanket shutdown is the equivalent of taking a sledgehammer to a gnat or a flea.
It is ridiculous to totally clampdown on the internet because a few allegedly crooked individuals stole copies of the national exam.
What are the economic consequences of an internet clampdown in Ethiopia?
The internet clampdown in October 2016 cost Ethiopia at least $500,000 per day in lost GDP.
In 2016, the T-TPLF reported  foreign direct investment in Ethiopia dropped by a fifth in the first half of 2016 after violent anti-government protests which targeted a few  foreign-owned businesses. (That is based on data cooked in the T-TPLF’s statistics office.)
In 2015, Mozambique and Ethiopia were the only two countries in the top 10 to witness a decline in foreign direct investment by number of projects.
Ethiopia’s creditworthiness on Moody’s is a dismal “B+” (speculative and are subject to high credit risk) and “B” on the S&P and Fitch.
On January 18, 2017, the T-TPLF in a “Memorandum of Understanding” agreed to pay SGR Government Relations, Lobbying (Washington, D.C) $150,000 per month to “strengthen U.S-Ethiopia business outreach and grow foreign direct investment in Ethiopia.”
What a joke?!
What kind of an investor would pour millions of dollars in a country wracked by corruption, teetering on massive civil strife and poor internet infrastructure, service and disruptions to boot?
Can Ethiopia afford repeated and random loss of internet connection given the fact it has “extremely poor telecommunications services and a largely disconnected population”?
Despite the T-TPLF’s claims of “double-digit” economic growth over the past decade (with loud hallelujahs from the chorus of international poverty pimps), Ethiopia is at the bottom in terms of internet penetration and infrastructure development. “Ethiopia, the second most populated country in sub-Saharan Africa, has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile phone connectivity in the world.”  It is “hampered by slow speeds and the state’s tight grip on the telecom sector.”
In 2006, Ethiopia became the first African country to censor the internet when it began filtering critical websites and opposition blogs.
According to Akamai’s (global operator of network services) 2015 “State of the Internet” report, Ethiopia has an average connection speed of 1.8 Mbps (compared to a global average of 3.9 Mbps).
Internet penetration in Ethiopia in 2014 was 2.9 percent, the lowest in Africa. Similarly, the Internet World Statistics reports that out of population of 104 million, there are only 11.5 million internet users in Ethiopia (11%). Ethiopia has 4.5 million Facebook subscribers.
The dismal state of the internet in Ethiopia can best be put in perspective when considered in light of its neighbors.
Kenya with a population of 45.5 million has 39.6 million internet users with an 82 percent penetration.
South Sudan, with population of 13 million, which gained its independence in 2011 and currently in the throes of a civil war has 2.1 million users with internet penetration of 17 percent.
Zimbabwe, with a population of 16 million and no national currency, has 6.7 million users with 41 percent internet penetration.
T-TPLF getting a taste of its own medicine?
T-TPLF may soon find itself on the receiving end.
Under a May 2017 proposal, regimes that arbitrarily cut off internet access to their citizens could find themselves refused new IP addresses.
In May 27, AFRINIC (African Network Information Center), the regional internet registry (RIR) for Africa put forth a proposal for sanctioning countries that arbitrarily clampdown on the internet. The proposals include denial of allocation of resources to the offending government for a period of 12 months following the end of the shutdown. The sanction will apply to all government owned entities and entities and other related entities.
Repeated clampdowns could result in severe sanctions. “In the event of a government performing three or more such shutdowns in a period of 10 years – all resources to the aforementioned entities shall be revoked and no allocations to said entities shall occur for a period of 5 years.”
The T-TPLF may delude itself into believing that it is invincible and accountable to no one. Of course, that is what the T-TPLF believed when I warned them not to engage in criminal activities in the United States by illegally selling unregistered bonds. The outcome of that criminal activity cost Ethiopia USD$6.5 million.
My concern is that the T-TPLF ignoramuses will throw out the internet baby with the bath water simply because they can’t handle the truth when young people stick it in their faces on Facebook.
Regardless of how the T-TPLF thinks about the internet, they will suffer the most from cutoff of services.
Nearly 90 percent of the Ethiopian population has no internet access. The T-TPLF will be the biggest loser if they insist on shutting down the internet for a prolonged period of time. The largest utilizers of the internet are T-TPLF administrative operations and the large business enterprises, hotels and other activities owned by the T-TPLF and the conglomerates they own and control. Since the T-TPLF and their cronies pretty much control and dominate the country’s entire economy, they will feel the pinch most acutely. With an internet shutdown, their offshore accounts containing billions in stolen loot will be difficult to access. Even if they could open an internet back channel for their administrative operations, their businesses will suffer tremendously from an internet shutdown.
Without IP addresses provided by AFRINIC, not only will Ethiopia be excluded from the global digital economy, but the T-TPLF itself will find it difficult to operate. The Good Book teaches, “If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. If you roll a stone, it will roll back on you. Those who dig a pit for others will fall into it.” The T-TPLF will fall in the trap it set for the multitudes of Ethiopians.
There is no way of putting the internet genies back in the bottle. China has tried and failed as have many dictatorships.
It is indisputable that the internet is making it exceedingly difficult for thugtatorships and dictatorships to cling to power and rule tyrannically. But there is no wall that can keep ideas whose time has come, out. The internet has created a walless, borderless, wireless, seamless, restless and fearless world.
That makes dictatorships and thugtatorships mightless, clueless, hopeless and lifeless.
The T-TPLF ignoramuses cannot understand why they are unable to maintain a closed society in a global community of openness.
But the T-TPLF and their ilk may not have the upper hand in the end. There are also private groups of internet guardian angels who have given dictatorships and thugtatorships a taste of their own medicine for clamping down on the internet.
In July 2016, Zimbabwe’s Government shutdown the internet. In response, Anonymous Africa  “launched a series of attacks targeting the government of Zimbabwe and its President for what they are calling systemic corruption.”
According to Hack Read, the attack “on Zimbabwean government website disrupted the online service of the country’s official portal (zim.gov.zw), ZANUPF – Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (zbc.co.zw).”
Unsolicited advice to the T-TPLF: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That is Newton’s third law. It means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.
In politics, that simply means when a regime exerts a force on the people, the people simultaneously exert a force equal in magnitude and opposite against the regime.
No emergency decree can ever outlaw this law!

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Ethiopia: From peaceful protest to armed uprising

Rebels in northern Ethiopia

By Graham Peebles

What began as a regional protest movement in Ethiopia in November 2015 is in danger of becoming a fully-fledged armed uprising.

Angered and exasperated by the government’s intransigence and duplicity, small guerrilla groups made up of local armed people have formed in Amhara and elsewhere, and are conducting hit-and-run attacks on security forces. Fighting at the beginning of January in the north-western region of Benishangul Gumuz saw 51 regime soldiers killed, the independent news outlet ESAT News, based in Europe and the United States, reported, and in the Amhara region a spate of incidents has occurred, notably a grenade attack on a hotel in Gondar and an explosion in Bahir-Dah.

In what appears to be an escalation in violence, in Belesa, an area north of Gondar, a fire-fight between “freedom fighters”, as they are calling themselves, and the military resulted in deaths on both sides. There have also been incidents in Afar, where people are suffering the effects of drought: two people were recently killed by security personnel and others were arrested. The Afar Human Rights Organisation told ESAT that the government has stationed up to 6,000 troops in the region, which has heightened tensions and fuelled resentment.

Given the government’s obduracy, the troubling turn of events was perhaps to be expected. However, such developments do not bode well for stability in the country or the wider region, and enable the ruling regime to slander opposition groups as “terrorists”, and implement more extreme measures to clamp down on public assembly in the name of “national security”.

Until recently those calling for change had done so in a peaceful manner; security in the country – the security of the people – is threatened not by opposition groups demanding that human rights be observed and the constitution be upheld, but by acts of state terrorism, the real and pervasive menace in Ethiopia.

Oppressive state of emergency

Oromia and Amhara are homelands to the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, together comprising around 65 per cent of the population. Demonstrations began in Oromia: thousands took to the streets over a government scheme to expand Addis Ababa onto Oromo farmland (plans later dropped), and complaints that the Oromo people had been politically marginalised. Protests expanded into the Amhara region in July 2016, over the appropriation of fertile land in the region by the authorities in Tigray – a largely arid area.

The regime’s response has been consistently violent and has fuelled more protests, motivated more people to take part, and brought suppressed anger towards the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to the surface. Regional, issue-based actions quickly turned into a nationwide protest movement calling for the ruling party, which many view as a dictatorship, to step down, and for democratic elections to be held.

Unwilling to enter into dialogue with opposition groups, and unable to contain the movement that swept through the country, in October 2016 the government imposed a six-month state of emergency. This was necessary, the prime minister claimed, because “we want to put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centres, administration and justice buildings”. He added that “we put our citizens’ safety first”.

The extraordinary directive, which has dramatically increased tensions in the country, allows for even tighter restrictions to be applied (e.g. post an update on Facebook about the unrest and face five years imprisonment) and is further evidence of both the government’s resistance to reform and its disregard for the views of large sections of the population.

The directive places stifling restrictions on basic human rights, and, as Human Rights Watch states, goes “far beyond what is permissible under international law and signals an increased militarised response to the situation.”

Among the 31 articles of the directive, “Communication instigating protest and unrest” is banned. This includes using social media to organise public gatherings. Also banned is “Communication with terrorist groups”, which doesn’t mean the likes of Islamic State group but relates to any individual or group whom the regime define as “terrorists”, i.e. anyone who publicly disagrees with it.

Both ESAT and Oromia Media meet the terrorist criteria, as defined by the EPRDF, and are high up the excluded list. Public assembly without authorisation is not allowed. There is even a ban on making certain gestures “without permission”. Specifically, crossing arms above the head to form an X, which has become a sign of national unity against the regime, and was bravely displayed by Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa, at the Rio Olympics.

If anyone is found to have violated any of the draconian articles they can be arrested without charge and imprisoned without due process. The ruling regime, which repeatedly blames so called “outside forces” for fuelling the uprising – Eritrea and Egypt are cited – says the new laws will be used to coordinate the security forces against what it ambiguously calls “anti-peace elements” that want to “destabilise the country”.

Shortly after the directive was passed, the government arrested 1,645 people, the New York Times reported, of which an astonishing 1,220 “were described as ringleaders, the rest coordinators, suspects and bandits.”

All of this is taking place in what the ruling regime and its international benefactors laughably describe as a democracy. Ethiopia is not, nor has it ever been, a democratic country. The ruling EPRDF, which, like the army, is dominated by men from the small northern Tigray region (6 per cent of the population), came to power in the traditional manner: by force. Since its assumption of power in 1992 it has stolen every “election”.

No party anywhere legitimately wins 100 per cent of the parliamentary seats in an election, but the EPRDF, knowing that its  principle donors – the USA and UK – would back the result anyway, claimed to do so in 2015. The European Union, also a major benefactor, did criticise the result. However, much to the fury of Ethiopians around the world, President  Barack Obama, speaking declared that the “elections put forward a democratically elected government”.

Government reaction

Since the start of the protests the government has responded with force. Nobody knows the exact number of people killed –  500, according to Human Rights Watch, possibly thousands. Tens of thousands have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, probably tortured, definitely mistreated; family members of protesters, journalists and opposition politicians are intimidated and routinely persecuted. And while 10,000 people have recently been released, local groups estimate a further 70,000 remain incarcerated and the government has initiated a new wave of arrests in which young people have been specifically targeted.

Among the list of violent state actions – none of which has been independently investigated – the incident at Bishoftu, which many Ethiopians describe as a massacre, stands out. On 2 October millions of ethnic Oromos gathered to celebrate at the annual Irreecha cultural festival. There was a heavy, intimidating military presence, including an army helicopter; anti-government chants broke out, people took to the stage and crossed their arms in unity. In response, the security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas into the crowd.

The number of casualties varies depending on the source; the government would have us believe that 55 people died, though local people and opposition groups claim 250 people were killed by the security forces. The ruling regime makes it impossible to independently investigate such incidences or to verify those killed and injured, but Human Rights Watch states that, “based on the information from witnesses and hospital staff… it is clear that the number of dead is much higher than government estimates”.

A week after the nightmare at Bishoftu, the ruling party imposed a state of emergency – another ill-judged pronouncement that has entrenched divisions, strengthened resolve and plunged the country into deeper chaos. Such actions reveal a level of paranoia, and a failure to understand the impact of repressive rule. With every controlling, violent action the government takes, with every innocent person that it kills or maims, opposition spreads, resistance intensifies and resolve grows stronger.


The Ethiopian revolt comes after over two decades of rule by the EPRDF, a party whose approach, despite its democratic pretensions, has been intensely autocratic. Human rights, mentioned in the liberally worded constitution, are totally ignored: dissent is not allowed nor is political debate or regional secession – a major issue for the Ogaden region, which is under military control.

There are no independent media – all media are state owned or controlled, as is access to the internet. Journalists who express any criticism of the ruling regime are routinely arrested, and the only truly autonomous media group, ESAT, is now classed as a terrorist organisation. Add to this list the displacement of indigenous people to make way for international industrial farms; the partisan distribution of aid, employment opportunities and higher education places; the promulgation of ethnic politics in schools; and the soaring cost of living, and a different, less polished Ethiopian picture begins to surface than the one painted by the regime and donor nations – benefactors who, by their silence and duplicity, are complicit in the actions of the EPRDF government.

People have had enough of such injustices. Inhibited and contained for so long, they have now found the strength to demand their rights and stand up to the bully enthroned in Addis Ababa. The hope must be that change can be brought about by peaceful means and not descend into a bloody conflict. For this to happen the government needs to adopt a more conciliatory position and listen to the people’s legitimate concerns.

This unprecedented uprising may be held at bay for a time, restrained by force and unjust legislation, but people rightly sense this is the moment for change. They will no longer cower and be silenced for too much has been sacrificed by too many.

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