Ethiopia could be headed for largescale ethnic strife that would have negative repercussions to the region despite the state of emergency and top government officials saying the grievances are being addressed.
Thousands of ethnic Tigrayans belonging to the ruling class are being evicted in the northwestern Amhara region in the protests that began in November 2015 in Oromiya region over land boundaries. The protests have assumed a political dimension and are spreading to Amhara region.
The biggest concern is that Ethiopia’s instability will kill counter terrorism programmes against al-Shabaab. The country is not only a major player in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), but the leading Western ally in the war against terror in The Horn.
Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya, Dina Mufti Sid, conceded in an interview with The EastAfrican that instability in Ethiopia is a threat to peace and security in the region but insisted the government has identified and is addressing the grievances.
“The main factors behind the protests are issues of governance, border issues and corruption, which have been compounded by youth unemployment,” said Mr Dina, who added that the protests have reached their climax and will not escalate.
Ethiopia has contributed troops in Somalia, South Sudan, Darfur and the disputed region of Abyei. Ethiopia is also expected to provide the bulk of the proposed regional protection force to be deployed in South Sudan under the umbrella of the United Nations.
Kenya is likely to feel the impact in the form of refugees and an increase in illegal migrants who already use the country as a stop on their way to South Africa, Europe and the US.
Also likely to be affected is Kenya’s Special Status Agreement with Ethiopia, signed in 2012 which covers trade, investment and security, as well as Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) Corridor project. Kenyan companies have been seeking greater market access into Africa’s second most populous country with one of the fastest growing economies in the region.
Beyond the region, Europe and the US are watching the developments keenly. While Ethiopia is their biggest ally in the war against terror in the region, it is also the source of the majority of the illegal immigrants destined to the West.
Close to 500 Ethiopians have been killed by security forces in the weekly protests forcing Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to declare a six-month state of emergency on October 9.
The state of emergency prohibits protests, gatherings, making political gestures such as crossing the arms above the head that has become the symbol of the Oromo protests, posting messages on social media, and bans people from listening and watching radio and TV progammes at the Ethiopian satellite service (Esat) and the Oromia Media Network. Foreign diplomats are also not allowed to travel more than 40km outside of the capital Addis Ababa.
Amnesty International issued a statement on Tuesday saying that heavy-handed measures by the Ethiopian government will only escalate the crisis.
“These measures will deepen, not mitigate, the underlying causes of the sustained protests we have seen throughout the year, which have been driven by deep-seated human rights grievances. These grievances must be properly addressed by the authorities,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
But Mr Dina maintained it is the nature of the state of emergency that citizens might forgo some civil liberties, but added that the emergency may not last six months because the majority of Ethiopians want reforms that can only be addressed in a peaceful atmosphere.