Socialist Worker

Western-backed regime in Ethiopia cracks down after protests topple prime minister

Issue No. 2592

Former Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who resigned after protests

Former Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who resigned after protests (Pic: Unido/creative commons)

Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned last week following nearly three years of protests.

A rising wave of strikes and demonstrations hit areas around the capital Addis Ababa in the run-up to Hailemariam’s fall.

But any thought that the regime was letting up its repression was banished the next day as it imposed a six-month state of emergency. Displaying signs “which could stir up violence” is also prohibited.

In August last year, the government lifted a ten-month state of emergency that had seen 29,000 people detained.

It had been imposed after hundreds of people were killed in anti-government protests demanding political freedoms.

The country’s Oromo and Amhara people—who make up about 61 percent of the population of 105 million—have staged mass demonstrations since 2015.

They demand greater political inclusion and an end to human rights abuses.

Economic issues have also been at the centre of the revolt. The regime has launched land grabs that displace small peasant producers while benefiting the small clique at the head of the government.

Workers face low wages and strict labour discipline enforced to attract foreign investors in industries such as footwear.

Thousands of graduates have no jobs and little prospect of finding one. Western powers praise Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia and its pro-market economic policies.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said last year, “A warm friendship connects the Ethiopian and American people.”

But the US and European Union are unnerved by the failure to defeat protests and the regime’s inability to stop refugees coming to Europe.

The new state of emergency is unlikely to end the resistance.

Mulatu Gemechu, a senior member of opposition party the Oromo Federalist Congress, has demanded “real change”.

“We need free elections, adherence to the constitution and a judiciary that is not a tool of the regime,” he said. “But this regime cannot introduce real change if it wants to survive because it would lose power.”

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