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Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime

Under relentless popular pressure the Ethiopian Prime-Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has been forced to resign, other members of the government are expected to follow. In his resignation speech he acknowledged that, ”unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Reuters reports. ‘Loss of lives’ of innocent Ethiopians at the hands of TPLF security personnel to be clear. “I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.”

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, former Prime-Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced that the government would release ‘some political prisoners’, in order, Al Jazeera 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, 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 (IDP’s) 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 e.g.), and journalists, should, as Amnesty International rightly 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 utilized to arrest and imprison 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. Draconian legislation both, allowing the ruling party to detain anyone expressing political dissent in any form, 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 their 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 independent broadcaster, 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.” And the BBC Amharic service relates that six people were killed at the Hamaressa IDP camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) (according to 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.

No matter how many people are killed, falsely imprisoned and beaten, the movement for lasting democratic change will not be put down. The principle target of protestors and activists is the dominant faction within the 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 organized 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 protestor 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 that, while it may be denied for a time, cannot be stopped. The TPLF is in chaos, their tyranny is coming to an end, they may cling on to power for a while yet, a few months, a year or two perhaps, but even if they remain in office their hold over the population is at an end. The Ethiopian people have a common foe, a unified cause, a shared purpose. The TPLF is the foe, the cause is their 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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Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India. 

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