Ethiopia Files Terrorism Charges Against Opposition Leaders

A file photo of a court gavel.

 

 

Ethiopia announced Saturday it was charging leading opposition politicians Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba with crimes including terrorism and incitement to violence, a move that risks further inflaming tensions in the restive Oromia region.

The charges — which could bring life imprisonment — relate to violence that erupted after the shooting death in June of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group who gave voice to Oromo feelings of political and economic marginalisation.

In the days that followed Hachalu’s June 29 killing, up to 239 people died in inter-ethnic violence and clashes with soldiers and police that underscored security challenges facing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Jawar and Bekele were among more than 9,000 people caught up in subsequent mass arrests that have stoked criticism that Abiy is seizing on the unrest to silence political opponents and critics.

The attorney general’s office announced charges against 24 suspects in a Facebook post-Saturday.

These include “trying to incite ethnic and religious-based conflict to cause citizens to turn on their fellow citizens”.

Among the other suspects are several high-profile Abiy critics living abroad like prominent Oromo activist Tesgaye Regassa and former Abiy ally-turned-critic Berhanemeskel Abebe.

Jawar’s lawyer, Tuli Bayyisa, told AFP Saturday that he had not been informed of the charges but dismissed them as baseless.

“It’s very astonishing. I’m 100 percent sure that, it might take years and years and years, but they will not prove these allegations if the law really works,” Tuli said.

– Risk of further violence –

The attorney general’s statement did not provide details about the charges, but Tuli said in Jawar’s case they seemed to concern a scuffle over Hachalu’s dead body that resulted in the death of a police officer.

“No single witness has consistently spoken about any crime… by either Mr Jawar or Mr Bekele,” he said.

Jawar played a central role in anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018.

Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo leader, but he faces intense criticism from Oromo nationalists like Jawar who accuse him of being a poor advocate for their interests and behaving like a dictator.

Putting Jawar on trial risks fuelling violence in Addis Ababa and in Oromia, the country’s most populous region which surrounds the capital.

Last month security forces shot dead at least five people in a crackdown on demonstrations against Jawar’s detention triggered by reports he was not receiving proper medical care.

And last October scores were killed after Jawar accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him.

Jawar and Bekele, both members of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, are expected to appear in court Monday.

AFP

Ethiopia Says Rising Waters At Mega-Dam A ‘Natural’ Part Of Construction

In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

 

Ethiopia on Wednesday acknowledged that water levels behind its mega-dam on the Blue Nile River were increasing, though officials said this was a natural part of the construction process. 

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011, with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan worried it will restrict vital water supplies.

Addis Ababa has long intended to begin filling the dam’s reservoir this month, in the middle of its rainy season, though it has not said exactly when.

Cairo and Khartoum are pushing for the three countries to first reach an agreement on how it will be operated.

The latest round of tripartite talks overseen by the African Union has so far failed to resolve the dispute.

“The GERD water filling is being done in line with the dam’s natural construction process,” Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water minister, was quoted by state media as saying Wednesday.

He did not, however, say whether Ethiopia had taken steps to store the water in the reservoir, which has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres.

Ethiopia is in the middle of its rainy season, and an official at the dam site told AFP this week that heavy rains meant the flow of the Blue Nile was exceeding the capacity of the dam’s culverts to push water downstream.

“We didn’t close and nothing is done. It looks like, when you see some photos, it looks like the river is getting higher and higher because of the amount of water coming from upstream, which is above the charging capacity of the culverts,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A separate official, an adviser at the water ministry who also insisted on anonymity, stressed that water continued to flow downstream.

“As the construction progresses, the water level behind the dam also will rise, so that’s what’s happening, nothing more,” said the adviser.

Ethiopia has long insisted it must start filling the dam’s reservoir this year as part of the construction process, though filling will occur in stages.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reiterated the point in an address to parliament earlier this month.

“If Ethiopia doesn’t fill the dam, it means Ethiopia has agreed to demolish the dam,” he said.

“On other points we can reach an agreement slowly over time, but for the filling of the dam we can reach and sign an agreement this year.”

Ethiopia Partially Restores Internet After Two Weeks Shutdown Over Protests

Members of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Lebanon take part in a demonstration to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Beirut on July 5, 2020. ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Members of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Lebanon take part in a demonstration to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Beirut on July 5, 2020. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

Ethiopia on Tuesday partially restored internet connectivity two weeks after taking the entire country offline in response to protests and ethnic violence prompted by the murder of a pop singer.

Wifi connections returned in the early evening, though mobile data connections were not available and certain social media programmes like Facebook and Instagram were not accessible without use of a virtual private network (VPN).

A live tracker produced by NetBlocks, a civil society group that promotes digital rights, showed connectivity approaching half the level recorded before the internet was switched off on June 30.

Ethio Telecom, Ethiopia’s monopoly telecoms provider, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hachalu Hundessa, the slain singer, was a hero to many members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, especially during years of anti-government protests that swept Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018.

Members of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Lebanon take part in a demonstration to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Beirut on July 5, 2020. ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Members of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Lebanon take part in a demonstration to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Beirut on July 5, 2020. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

His shooting death in Addis Ababa on June 29 — which remains unsolved — sparked days of protests and ethnic violence in the capital and the Oromia region which surrounds it.

Police officials have provided death tolls ranging from 179 to 239 in recent days, with most fatalities occurring in Oromia.

Calm has returned to most of the country despite widespread rumours that protests would pick up again last weekend.

Ethio Telecom, which is state-owned, has a history of shutdowns during periods of unrest and during more innocuous events like national exams, though the latest nationwide shutdown was the first in about a year.

Abiy’s government is preparing to issue two new telecoms licences that would break up Ethio Telecom’s monopoly, and officials want to eventually sell a 40-percent stake in Ethio Telecom, a move they hope will make the firm more efficient.

 

 

AFP

Ethiopia Says Suspects Confessed To Killing Popular Singer

Members of the Oromo community march in protest after the death of musician and revolutionary Hachalu Hundessa on July 8, 2020 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The protesters called for Internet service to be restored in Ethiopia that was shut down on June 30. Community leaders also urged the U.S. to aid in the release of Oromian and American prisoners. This latest protest follows the death of Hundessa, who was murdered in Ethiopia on June 29. His death has sparked ongoing protests around the world. Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP
The protesters called for Internet service to be restored in Ethiopia that was shut down on June 30. Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP

 

 

Ethiopia’s attorney general said Friday that two men had confessed to killing a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group as part of a plot to topple Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.

Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018.

His shooting death last week sparked days of protests and ethnic violence that killed 239 people, according to police figures.

“The assassination was intended to be a cover to take power from the incumbent by force,” attorney general Abebech Abbebe said in a statement Friday aired on state television, without providing details.

Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office, a complaint echoed by many protesters last week.

Abebech said that along with the two men who have allegedly confessed to the crime, the government has identified a third suspect who remains on the run.

One of the men in custody identified the masterminds of the alleged plot as members of a rebel group the government believes is affiliated with the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) political party, Abebech said.

The OLF, a former rebel movement, returned to Ethiopia from exile after Abiy took office and has repeatedly disavowed any links to armed insurgents.

The internet remained shut off Friday for an 11th consecutive day, though Addis Ababa remains calm and Abiy’s office issued a statement saying the surrounding Oromia  region had “returned to calm and citizens have resumed normal activities”.

In her statement, however, Abebech said unnamed agitators were calling for additional protests and road blockages in the coming days.

“There are those that have hidden themselves in nice places but are calling on Ethiopian youth to fight each other, close roads and to cease working as part of a rebellion call,” Abebech said.

“Above all we call on our people to disobey this rebellion call and to thwart it.”

 

 

AFP

Nile Dam Dispute Spills Onto Social Media

 In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

As Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s mega-dam project on the Nile, some of their citizens are sparring online over their rights to the mighty waterway.

For nearly a decade, multiple rounds of talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Anxiety has mounted in downstream Sudan and Egypt, which fear for their vital water supplies after upstream Ethiopia declared plans to start filling Africa’s largest dam reservoir in July.

As tensions have run high in the political arena, they have also amped up online.

In one widely viewed video originally shared on TikTok, an Ethiopian woman pours water from a pitcher into two cups representing Egypt and Sudan.

She fills Sudan’s cup to the brim but only pours a trickle of water into Egypt’s, before emptying the water back into the pitcher.

“This is my water. When I give you water, it’s my call, not yours,” she says.

In response, an Egyptian woman created a compilation of the video and one of her own in which she knocks down a dam-shaped block structure with the Ethiopian flag superimposed on it before triumphantly downing a cup of water.

The video had been viewed more than 55,000 times on Instagram by Wednesday.

Social media “platforms are powerful,” said Wubalem Fekade, communications head at the intergovernmental ENTRO-Nile Basin Initiative.

“People on the social media platforms aren’t accountable, so it’s easy to disseminate unverified, incorrect, false, even conspiracy theories,” he said.

But, he added hopefully, “when used creatively and judiciously, they can help defuse tensions”.

-‘Psychological war’-
The online row over the dam has been particularly heated between Egyptian and Ethiopian social media users.

Egypt has long enjoyed the lion’s share of the Nile water under decades-old agreements that were largely viewed by other Nile basin countries as unfair.

On Twitter, Egyptians echoed authorities’ fears that Ethiopia’s dam would severely cut their country’s supply of water from the Nile, which provides 97 percent of the arid nation’s water needs.

“We will never allow any country to starve us” of water, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter.

“If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we, the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he threatened.

Egyptian cartoonist Ahmed Diab has weighed in with a drawing of an outsized Egyptian soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, facing a diminutive Ethiopian man with the dam in the background.

“You idiot, try to understand that I care for you… ever heard about the Bar Lev Line?” the soldier tells the Ethiopian, alluding to Egypt’s military strength in referring to the Egyptian destruction of an Israeli defence line along the Suez canal in 1973.

Diab called the cartoon part of a “psychological war”.

“Besides a show of military might and strong media discourse, arts can boost people’s morale,” he said.

For their part, Ethiopians have rallied behind their country’s mega project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation.

On social media, they have rejected any conditions of reaching a deal before filling the dam.

Filling the dam should not be held “hostage” to an agreement with Cairo, Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohamed wrote on Twitter.

“If agreement is reached before the filling begins in the coming days, it’s great. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation shall continue,” he said.

Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, insists the dam will not affect the onward flow of water and sees the project as indispensible for its national development and electrification.

– ‘Healthy discussions’ –
Khartoum hopes the dam will help regulate flooding, but in June it warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council, Sudan raised concerns that water discharged from the GERD could “compromise the safety” of its own Roseires Dam by overwhelming it and causing flooding.

Omar Dafallah, a Sudanese artist, depicted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overseeing the water flowing from the dam through a faucet to fill a jug held by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The drawing also shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with a large water container, waiting in line.

Last month, Egypt also appealed to the UNSC to intervene in the crisis — a move Sisi said underlined his country’s committment to a political solution.

Egyptian lawmaker Mohamed Fouad views the online debate as a way to “break the stalemate” in the diplomatic talks, “so long as they remain within the boundaries of healthy discussions”.

 

AFP

Ethiopia Makes Arrests After Protest That Claimed At Least 166 Lives

Members of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Lebanon take part in a demonstration to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Beirut on July 5, 2020. ANWAR AMRO / AFP
Members of the Oromo Ethiopian community in Lebanon take part in a demonstration to protest the death of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa, in the capital Beirut on July 5, 2020. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

 

A leading opposition party representing Ethiopia’s Oromo ethnic group said Monday that five senior members had been detained following violence last week that claimed at least 166 lives.

The political crackdown deepens fears of a large-scale roundup of government critics as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to maintain control and keep a lid on simmering ethnic tensions and resentments.

The opposition politicians from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) were seized by security forces in the capital, Addis Ababa, party chairman Dawud Ibsa told AFP. They include Chaltu Takkele and Gemmechu Ayana, senior political officers, and Kennesa Ayana, a member of the party’s central committee.

“We don’t know why they were taken,” Dawud said. “They were just simply sitting in their rooms and doing their jobs.”

Protests broke out in Addis Ababa and the surrounding Oromia region following the fatal shooting on June 29 of Hachalu Hundessa, a pop star whose songs channelled marginalisation among his Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest.

An Oromia police official said late Saturday that 156 people had been killed across the region in the ensuing violence, including 11 members of the security forces. Ten additional deaths have been reported in Addis Ababa.

Officials have attributed the deaths to a combination of lethal force by security officers and inter-ethnic violence.

The situation in the capital has been calm since Friday, though a nationwide internet blackout remained in effect Monday for a seventh consecutive day.

Abiy, who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize in part for opening up Ethiopia’s political space, lifted a ban on the OLF shortly after he assumed office in 2018.

But the OLF’s Dawud said some senior members of his party had been arrested numerous times since then and held for extended periods — several months in some cases — without ever seeing a courtroom, a tactic common under previous Ethiopian leaders.

“It’s the continuation of the past and we don’t know why it’s happening,” he said.

The OLF is not the only party to be targeted in recent days. During last week’s unrest officials also detained Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba from the Oromo Federalist Congress, as well as Eskinder Nega, a longtime government critic who has recently spoken out against government policies he argues favour Oromos.

All three men appeared briefly in court last week.

In addition, officials on Friday detained Yilkal Getnet, chairman of the opposition Ethiopian National Movement Party, for reasons that remain unclear, according to Girma Bekele, vice chairman of the Ethiopian Political Parties Joint Council, a consortium of more than 100 parties.

“I for one do not think Yilkal has any involvement with recent unrest. He believes in a peaceful, legal struggle,” Girma told AFP.

 

AFP

Ethiopia Taps Diaspora Doctors To Stay Ahead Of COVID-19

Workers wearing protective suits as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus pull passenger luggage. NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP.

 

Every weekday at noon, radio host Mehret Debebe heads to his studio for a live call-in show devoted to a single topic: what the coronavirus means for Ethiopia.

The questions come from across the country, as farmers in remote regions ask how they should prepare — and in some cases whether the virus is even real.

The answers come from even farther afield.

That’s because Mehret has taken to stacking his guest list with Ethiopian doctors based abroad, often in countries like the United States that have been hit much harder by the pandemic.

“We are still in the pre-crisis phase, so I think learning from them would help a lot,” Mehret, a US-trained psychiatrist, said of his diaspora guests.

“We don’t know what the crisis will be like.”

The World Bank says Ethiopia has just one doctor for every 10,000 people — a ratio that’s half of neighbouring Kenya’s, four times lower than Nigeria’s and nine times lower than South Africa’s.

But the global response to the pandemic has benefited from the work of Ethiopian doctors overseas, including aides to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — who is himself Ethiopian, though not a doctor — and emergency-room physicians in hotspots like New York.

Mehret’s show is part of a broader effort to enlist those doctors to help shape the local response.

READ ALSO: Virus Hope In US As WHO Hails Global Progress

Just 250 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have been confirmed so far in Ethiopia, but experts warn the health system could easily become overwhelmed by a major surge.

“That’s the worst-case scenario,” said Dr Wubrest Tesfaye, Mehret’s co-host.

“Having first-hand experience from a person who is at the front, responding to the highest outbreak crisis, would give us the right kind of information” on how to prepare.

– The view from New York –

It was late March when Tsion Firew, an Ethiopian emergency-room doctor based in Manhattan, realised the pandemic could be as bad as anything she’d seen in her years of responding to conflicts and humanitarian disasters.

Critical patients just kept coming, and the lack of information about the virus elevated fear and anxiety.

“I actually felt like I was back in Mosul,” she recalled, referring to her time in the Iraqi city after it was liberated from the Islamic State group in 2017.

She talked about her experiences on a recent episode of Mehret’s show — a segment Mehret said helped underscore the gravity of the virus for listeners.

Tsion’s time in New York, the worst-affected US city, has also informed her work on an Ethiopian government task force to fight the virus — which she does in the mornings before hospital shifts.

When she disagrees with Ethiopian officials, like when she thought they were moving too slowly to procure testing materials, she pushes back “forcefully”, she told AFP.

“After seeing what I saw every day, the amount of death I saw every day, my tone changed,” she said. “I became more pushy, even with the health minister.”

– ‘Time is of the essence’ –

Another recent guest on Mehret’s show was Dawd Siraj, an Ethiopian expert on infectious diseases at the University of Wisconsin.

He used his two appearances to break down the science behind the virus, shifting the conversation towards facts and away from what he described as “supranatural” narratives.

“The foundation of science and the methods of reaching conclusions are solid. I want to explain this to the public in an easy, understandable way,” he told AFP.

Mehret said it’s a welcome message in Ethiopia, a deeply religious country where many assume God will protect them from the disease, in part because there haven’t been many local cases so far.

“When it comes to COVID,” he said, “people really think God will take care of it because they don’t see it.”

Like Tsion, Dawd is a member of the health ministry’s coronavirus task force.

He also serves on a diaspora advisory council established by Fitsum Arega, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s former chief of staff and Ethiopia’s current ambassador in Washington.

The council’s “action plan” explains how it will use “experiences learned from around the world” to help with everything from sourcing personal protective equipment to preparing for possible lockdowns should the situation in Ethiopia deteriorate.

“The key is to get ahead of the virus. Time is of the essence!!” the document reads.

– Staying vigilant –

Last week, Mehret aired an interview with Wondwossen G Tekle, an Ethiopian endovascular neurologist at the University of Texas who recently came down with, and recovered from, COVID-19.

Along with his symptoms — the aches, the chills, the loss of taste and smell — Wondwossen described the importance of prevention in keeping Ethiopia’s caseload under control.

Though the total remains low, there are now dozens of cases of community spread, and officials warn that complacency could undermine containment.

Mehret said he hoped listeners gleaned from Wondwossen’s story that “this thing can catch anyone, and you can recover”.

But he also wants them to understand the importance of continued vigilance.

“I think COVID is giving us time because maybe COVID knows we don’t have enough preparation,” Mehret said.

“But if we have all this time and we have done nothing and if the epidemic happens, I think shame on us.”

AFP

Ethiopia Opens Aid Transport Hub To Fight COVID-19

A worker pushes boxes containing mostly personal protective equipment (PPE) at Ethiopian Airlines’ cargo facility at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on April 14, 2020. Samuel HABTAB / AFP.

 

Ethiopia and the United Nations on Tuesday opened a humanitarian transport hub at Addis Ababa airport to move supplies and aid workers across Africa to fight coronavirus.

The arrangement, which relies on cargo services provided by Ethiopian Airlines, could also partially offset heavy losses Africa’s largest carrier is sustaining because of the pandemic.

An initial shipment of 3,000 cubic metres (106,000 cubic feet) of supplies — most of it personal protective equipment for health workers — will be distributed within the next week, said Steven Were Omamo, Ethiopia country director for the World Food Programme (WFP).

“This is a really important platform in the response to COVID-19, because what it does is it allows us to move with speed and efficiency to respond to the needs as they are unfolding,” Omamo said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Addis gateway is one of eight global humanitarian hubs set up to facilitate movement of aid to fight COVID-19, according to WFP.

In Africa, there are also hubs in Ghana and South Africa.

The continent has so far not been hit by the coronavirus as hard as other regions, but experts worry that weak health systems could quickly become overwhelmed by an influx of cases.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: IMF Approves Debt Relief For 25 Poor Countries

As of Tuesday there were 15,249 COVID-19 cases across the continent resulting in 816 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

African leaders are also worried about the economic toll on the continent.

An African Union study published last week warned that 20 million jobs in the formal and informal sectors were at risk.

The state-run Ethiopian Airlines announced last week that it was already bracing for revenue losses of $550 million (502 million euros) between January and April.

The airline is turning to cargo, maintenance and charter operations to help soften the blow.

Ethiopian Airlines plans to play “a major role” in Africa’s fight against COVID-19, and the humanitarian transportation hub inaugurated Tuesday will be operational at least through the end of May, said Fitsum Abadi, the company’s managing director of cargo and logistics services.

But Fitsum acknowledged that cargo operations would never make up for the loss of most of the airline’s passenger traffic.

“This division or this business unit is the second largest revenue-generating business unit, but it cannot offset the entire loss that the airline is facing,” he told AFP.

“So we are helping the airline to navigate this difficult time — not as healthy as we wanted but in a healthy situation.”

Ethiopia Declares State Of Emergency Over Coronavirus

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 01, 2019 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

Ethiopia on Wednesday declared a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far infected 55 people and resulted in two deaths there.

It is the first state of emergency announced under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 and won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize in part for expanding political freedoms in the authoritarian nation.

“Because the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse, the Ethiopian government has decided to declare a state of emergency under Article 93 of the constitution,” Abiy said in a statement.

“I call upon everybody to stand in line with government bodies and others that are trying to overcome this problem,” he added, warning of “grave legal measures” against anyone who undermines the fight against the pandemic.

It was not immediately clear how the state of emergency would affect day-to-day life in Ethiopia.

The government has so far refrained from imposing a lockdown similar to those in effect elsewhere in the region, including in Rwanda, Uganda and Mauritius.

According to the country’s constitution, under a state of emergency the Council of Ministers has “all necessary power to protect the country’s peace and sovereignty” and can suspend some “political and democratic rights”.

The constitution also says lawmakers need to approve a state of emergency, which can last for six months and be extended every four months after that.

Wednesday’s decree is likely to “beef up security operations with a greater role for the federal government, including the military,” said William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organisation.

“While this approach is understandable given the situation, it is critical that there is transparency over the government’s extra powers and that there is adequate monitoring of implementation,” Davison said.
-Opposition challenges move-

Since reporting its first COVID-19 case on March 13, Ethiopia has closed land borders and schools, freed thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding, sprayed main streets in the capital with disinfectant, and discouraged large gatherings.

But Abiy said over the weekend that a harsher lockdown would be unrealistic given that there are “many citizens who don’t have homes” and “even those who have homes have to make ends meet daily.”

Jawar Mohammed, a leading opposition politician, said Wednesday this called into question why a state of emergency was necessary.

“Officials have been saying the country is too poor to stop population movement. So why do you need a state of emergency if you are not planning to impose stricter rules?” Jawar told AFP.

During consultations with Abiy earlier this week, the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) voiced worries that a state of emergency would lead to human rights abuses — a well-documented problem under previous states of emergency imposed during several years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power.

“We explained our concern that the state of emergency has been initiated several times and it has been abused to violate the rights of citizens and other political activists,” OLF chairman Dawud Ibsa told AFP.

It’s also unclear how the state of emergency might affect planning for hotly-anticipated general elections in Ethiopia.

The country’s electoral board announced last week that voting planned for August would need to be postponed because of the pandemic.

It did not provide a timeline for when the elections would ultimately be held, and lawmakers’ constitutional mandates expire in October.

Davison, with the International Crisis Group, said the state of emergency could be used “to formally postpone elections” past that deadline, though such a move risks sparking opposition backlash.

“It is therefore essential that the government works with opposition parties on managing this constitutionally sensitive period and making new electoral arrangements,” Davison said.

AFP

Ethiopia Shuts Land Borders To Fight Coronavirus

A cleaning staff waits in protective gear to disinfect a metro carriage for preventing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 20, 2020. – African countries have been among the last to be hit by the global COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic but as cases rise, many nations are now taking strict measures to block the deadly illness. Michael Tewelde / AFP.

 

Ethiopia on Monday shut its land borders to nearly all human traffic as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Africa’s second-most populous country has so far recorded just 11 infections and no deaths, but officials have struggled in recent days to enforce prevention measures including bans on large gatherings, raising fears the tally could climb.

The land border closure was part of a set of new measures announced Monday by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office.

Soldiers will be empowered “to halt the movement of people along all borders, with the exception of incoming essential goods to the country,” a statement said.

Security forces will also play a role in enforcing existing measures prohibiting large gatherings and meetings, it added.

Ethiopia has so far refrained from imposing the kind of shutdown seen in other East African countries like Rwanda and Mauritius.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Kills Two Senior Military Officers In Egypt 

But even its more limited measures have not been fully enforced, and Abiy’s Prosperity Party has been criticised on social media for holding large meetings in various parts of the country where attendees have sat close together.

Monday’s statement said political parties would “adhere to social distancing and preventative measures when convening meetings.”

Ethiopia has kept its main airport open for international flights, although Ethiopian Airlines has been forced to suspend services to destinations in nearly 40 countries, according to its website.

Monday marked the first day of a new rule requiring all passengers arriving in Ethiopia to be quarantined in hotels for two weeks at their own expense.

Ethiopia shares land borders with countries including Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia — all of which have confirmed coronavirus cases.

Djibouti announced its second case on Monday.

Eritrea, with one case, on Monday announced new measures of its own including a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

The country’s health ministry also urged residents to avoid public transportation and said Eritreans currently living abroad should refrain from returning.

Ethiopia’s refugee population of more than 735,000 includes large numbers from neighbouring South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has voiced concern about how border restrictions implemented to fight the coronavirus could affect the rights of asylum seekers.

The UN “requests that measures be put in place to take into account access to territory of asylum seekers for those fleeing persecution,” Ann Encontre, UNHCR’s Ethiopia representative, told AFP on Monday.

AFP

Group Of Canadian Charity Workers Detained In Ethiopia

 

Ottawa confirmed Saturday that a group of Canadians had been detained in Ethiopia after a humanitarian organization reported that 15 volunteers and workers, including 13 Canadian nationals, had been apprehended.

Global Affairs Canada, the foreign ministry, said it had “raised this case directly with the government of Ethiopia and officials are in contact with local authorities to gather further information.”

The charity, Canadian Humanitarian, said that the 15 detained individuals were medical professional volunteers, general volunteers, and staff members.

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All were Canadians except for two Ethiopian staff members, it said.

Canada’s foreign ministry said it was “aware that Canadian citizens are detained in Ethiopia.”

According to Canadian Humanitarian the detained “are being investigated on the allegations that they were practicing medicine without permission and had dispensed expired medication.”

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of the expiry of the medication, we can with confidence say that all medicine and care offered by our team was safe,” it said.

The organization added that all protocols had been followed to be properly permitted to provide medical support.

Canadian Humanitarian describes itself as a “non-political organization” that has worked in the country for 15 years providing educational, medical, dental and social-emotional support to youths.

Pompeo Closes Africa Tour With Warning About China’s ‘Empty Promises’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa on February 19, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / POOL / AFP.

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday closed a three-nation Africa tour with a thinly-veiled swipe at China as he talked up Washington’s ability to stimulate growth and entrepreneurship on the continent.

“Countries should be wary of authoritarian regimes with empty promises. They breed corruption, dependency,” Pompeo said in a speech to diplomats and business leaders at the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“They run the risk that the prosperity and sovereignty and progress that Africa so needs and desperately wants won’t happen.”

Pompeo in his remarks did not explicitly mention China — Africa’s largest trading partner — but analysts predicted ahead of his trip that he would attempt to pitch the US as an alternative source of investment.

On Wednesday Pompeo name-checked US companies operating in all three countries on his Africa tour, the first by a US cabinet-level official in 19 months: Bechtel in Senegal, Chevron in Angola and Coca-Cola in Ethiopia.

He also hailed the free market generally, blasting “failed socialist experiments of years past” in places like Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

And he criticised a proposed constitutional amendment in South Africa that would allow private property to be expropriated without compensation — a plan that seeks to overcome inequalities set down in the apartheid era.

The amendment would be “disastrous for that economy and most importantly for the South African people,” he said.

Pompeo left later for Riyadh.

Mixed messages

Pompeo’s attempt to lay out a positive vision for US cooperation with Africa has been undermined by President Donald Trump’s Africa policy so far, analysts say.

Critics are quick to cite Trump’s widely-reported remarks in 2018 when he used a profanity to describe African and poorer Western Hemisphere nations whose citizens migrate to the United States.

Washington is currently discussing military cuts in Africa, and the US recently announced tightened visa rules targeting Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, as well as Tanzania, Sudan and Eritrea.

“Pompeo is unlikely to undo the damage from the Trump administration’s travel bans, the proposed budget cuts, or the president’s disparaging comments about the region,” said Judd Devermont, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Washington.

But African leaders would nonetheless “welcome his long-overdue engagement and focus on the positives as much as possible,” Devermont said.

Even so, countries like Ethiopia have benefitted from Chinese engagement, rendering Pompeo’s message less effective, said Abel Abate Demissie, an Ethiopian political analyst.

“It is undeniable that Chinese investment was quite crucial in keeping Ethiopia on track as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies for many years,” Abel said.

He added that much Chinese money has gone toward tangible projects like roads and buildings, while American money is more often funnelled to “less visible” fields like education and health.

“The fact that Chinese loans and sometimes grants have less bureaucracy also makes it quite convenient for Ethiopia and Africa at large,” Abel said.

China has funnelled cash and loans into infrastructure projects across the continent.

However Beijing has faced accusations, which it denies, of saddling poor nations with debt, siphoning off mineral resources and leaving environmental damage.

Pompeo insisted Wednesday that Trump was eager to play a bigger role on the continent.

“If there’s one thing you should know about our president –- my boss –- you should know that he loves deals,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience.

“He wants more to happen between the United States and nations all across Africa.”