Authorities Say Ethiopian Investments Are Safe. Citizens’ Access To Information? Not So Safe

By Dana Sanchez Published: October 27, 2016, 3:12 pm
Ethiopian investments are safeUnder a state of emergency: Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Oct. 10, 2016. Photo: Mulugeta Ayene/AP

Ethiopian authorities say the Oct. 8 state of emergency is helping restore stability after a year of deadly protests. Many “investments and factories are back in business,” and people can go about their normal lives, the government said, according to a report in Africa Review.

“The violence has been controlled and we have created a situation where people are in a position to go about their normal lives without fear of being attacked,” said communications Minister Getachew Reda. “Many investments and factories are back in business and security and stability have been restored in parts of the country.”

But observers say the mobile internet shutdown imposed since the state of emergency will drain the economy and undermine citizens’ rights to share and seek information.

Mobile internet is down across the country since the government announced a
six-month state of emergency, including banning social media such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate or document ongoing unrest in the country, Quartz reported. Access to fixed internet lines has since been relaxed for businesses, but mobile internet is still off.

Thirty days of Internet disruption between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, cost Ethiopia’s economy over $8.5 million, according to a recent Brookings Institution report.

Changes are coming in response to citizens’ grievances, the government promised, but it has ruled out early elections to address the unrest ahead of the next scheduled regional and national elections in 2020.

The opposition says the changes the government is undertaking are not good enough, Voice of America reported.

The parliament plans to convene and endorse a proposal from the prime minister to reorganize the Cabinet, government spokesman Getachew Reda said Wednesday. No date was provided.

“This government does not have the slightest of intention to all of sudden change the law and call for a vote based on a changed law,” Reda said. “We are here for the long haul.”

The crisis can only be solved with new elections, opposition leader Merera Gudina of the Oromo People’s Congress told VOA.

“They are still playing their own game with the reshuffling of their own personnel which for us it is nothing when people are asking fundamental basic change of policies and in fact the resignation of the ruling party, and demanding for new elections,” Gudina said.

More than 500 people have died since November 2015 in protests in the Amhara and Oromia regions, according to human rights groups — 55 of died Oct. 2 during a religious festival.

The government thinks shutting down the Internet will cut the flow of information
about the unrest, said Endalk Chala, a co-founder of the Zone 9 blog in Ethiopia, and a doctoral candidate in media studies at the University of Oregon, Quartz reported.

Some bloggers have left Ethiopia to live in exile. They’ve been arrested and arraigned in court in Ethiopia almost 40 times since April 2014, and have gained international recognition.

Ethiopian state media often report that the government blames foreign and “diaspora elements” for the unrest, African Review reported.

The government mainly believes the crisis arose because the youth have a legitimate unmet expectations, an agenda that had been hijacked by diaspora elements.

(It also points) a finger at foreign countries such as Egypt and Eritrea.

“This is a typical textbook example of repression. You shut down media, you arrest
dissidents and try to use propaganda to co-opt,” Chala told Quartz.

In 2005, Ethiopia blocked text messaging via mobile phones for two years after accusing the opposition of using it to organize anti-government protests following the elections.

The move will be unsustainable in the long run, Chala said. The state-owned Ethio
Telecom is the only internet provider; 3G is widely available in the country but few people can afford it.

“Internet shutdowns do not restore order,” said Ephraim Percy Kenyanito, a sub-Saharan Africa policy analyst at New York City-based rights group Access Now. “They hamper journalism, obscure the truth or what is happening on the ground, and stop people from getting the information they need to keep safe.”

Ethiopia has been run by the same political coalition led by the Tigrayan ethnic minority since 1991, VOA reported. The Oromia regional government appointed new leaders earlier this week — all from within an ethnic Oromo faction within the ruling coalition — the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, OPDO.

The government has promised to restore mobile data services and social media after it decides the situation is under control, VOA reported.

About 1,500 people have been arrested in the state of emergency, and they will be rehabilitated, Reda said. That includes “lecturing the detainees on the constitution as well as engaging them in physical exercises.

“The rehabilitation could take a week or weeks,” Reda said. “What we have now is more or less a stable situation. Yes, arrests have been made. People who were involved in killings; who were involved in destruction of property; who have been suspected of committing all sorts of crimes have been handing themselves in.

“Those people who have handed themselves over within the prescribed time will benefit from the kind of amnesty that was given them. We can roughly say the number of people who have been arrested as a result of their involvement in destruction of properties has been very significant. And this will continue.”

 

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