By John Aglionby, East Africa Correspondent
Ethiopia has introduced a ban on protests and publications that incite violence as part of a six-month state of emergency to quell almost three years of anti-government protests in one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest-growing economies.
Hailemariam Desalegn resigned as Ethiopia’s prime minister on Thursday, citing the need to secure peace and guarantee democracy in the country. No successor has yet been announced.
But after a marathon meeting of the council of ministers on Friday, the regime announced the state of emergency, the second in 18 months, in a bid to contain the unrest.
Siraj Fegessa, the defence minister, told a press conference on Saturday the restrictions, which could be extended for a further four months, would include a ban on protests and publications that incite violence. The full list of measures would be announced later, he added.
Mr Siraj did not discuss potential replacements for Mr Hailemariam but he insisted that the state of emergency was not the prelude to either a military takeover or a transitional government.
The Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, the state broadcaster, said on Friday a council of ministers decided the state of emergency was required because of “violations of the security of the state that are a threat to the common good of the people, the government, the private sector and the rule of law”.
It added that the economy, which has been one of the fastest growing in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade, was “hurting”.
It is the second time the authoritarian Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ruled the country for 26 years, has imposed a state of emergency since protests erupted in 2015. The previous restrictions lasted from October 2016 until August 2017.
Last month the government appeared to accept that repression was not stopping the protesters, who are demanding greater democracy, adherence to the rule of law and an end to ethnic marginalisation by the ruling Tigrayan elite.
More than 6,000 prisoners have been released since early January, including some prominent politicians and journalists. Ministers had promised to open up the “democratic landscape” and launch a national dialogue that would include the freed opposition political leaders.
But analysts and diplomats said the imposition of a state of emergency suggested the hardliners within the EPRDF, a four-party coalition with Marxist roots, retained the upper hand.
In recent months two of the junior parties in the EPRDF, representing the restless Oromia and Amhara regions, had started to demand greater openness and democracy.
Many analysts predicted the new state of emergency would not succeed in stopping demands for greater democracy.
“The protests will continue because the people have fundamental questions and they’re not being answered,” said Betele Molla, a social sciences lecturer at Addis Ababa university. “The state of emergency might terrorise some people for a short time but not in the long term.”
The protests began in Oromia before spreading to Amhara and, in recent weeks, to the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region in the south of the country. Oromia and Amhara account for some 60 per cent of the population.
A government-sanctioned inquiry last year concluded that almost 700 people had been killed in the protests but activists say the number is much higher. Tens of thousands of people have been detained, although most were freed after a few weeks.