Reports of co-ordinated protests across the restive Oromia and Amhara regions suggested that resistance to the regime ran far deeper and was much better co-ordinated than the government was willing to admit.

By Simon Allison (Mail & Guardian) |

For the past four years, ever since the first serious rumblings of discontent began, it has been difficult to appreciate the scale of the political crisis in Ethiopia.

Africa’s second-most populous country maintains an extraordinarily tight grip on information. Local journalists are routinely harassed, intimidated and censored, and foreign journalists are closely watched and prevented from going anywhere too sensitive. Local nongovernmental organizations and opposition parties operate under similar restrictions: under draconian laws, NGOs must tow the government line or risk losing their operating licenses; opposition sympathizers are locked up in their thousands.

The international NGOs and think-tanks that operate in Ethiopia are complicit in maintaining the veil of silence. Many agree to refrain from any criticism of the Ethiopian regime in exchange for unfettered access to the African Union, which is based in Addis Ababa. Others turn a blind eye to the government’s routine human rights abuses because of its relatively good record on delivering socioeconomic development — although that record has been called into question by the sheer volume of protest action over the past few years.

In this climate, building an accurate picture of the unrest — and getting any of the usual suspects in the international community to raise the alarm — becomes nearly impossible.

There were plenty of clues, however, that not all was right. The odd massacre made international headlines — such as the dozens, perhaps hundreds, mowed down by security forces at an Oromo religious festival in October 2016. Reports of co-ordinated protests across the restive Oromia and Amhara regions suggested that resistance to the regime ran far deeper and was much better co-ordinated than the government was willing to admit.

Now, the political crisis has exploded into the open, with the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn — always little more than temporary successor to Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012 — and the imposition of Ethiopia’s second state of emergency in under two years.

Continue reading this story at Mail & Guardian
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