The State of Emergency is Illegitimate, but what would the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) do?
By Caala Ibsa Oromo
27th February 2018
Unable to address the grievances of the people and unable to control the Qeerroo movement, on February 16, 2018, the Ethiopian government has declared another state of emergency for six months. The latest state of emergency is the second since the one imposed after the Irreechaa Massacre of October 2, 2016, which lasted for ten months. Although provided in the EPRDF constitution of 1995 (Art. 93), declaring state of emergency is supposed to be very rare action, to be considered only when extraordinary circumstances such as foreign invasion, natural and environmental crises happened. But for the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime, declaring a state of emergency has become a routine administrative action to avoid addressing serious political issues. Repressive and undemocratic, wildered by mass protests and lacking neither the competence nor the fortitude to carry out reforms, the regime has opted for a state of emergency to prolong its stay in power. Although counter-productive, government officials believe this gives them a license to suppress and criminalize legitimate dissent. With ministers hand-picked for their loyalty to the EPRDF regime rather professional competency, and a rubber-stamp federal parliament, it is very easy to declare and implement such extraordinary measure without legal justification
Contrary to the regime’s calculations, this martial law will not change the political turmoil the country is facing now. For the protesters, the state of emergency may not make much difference. With or without it, they are subjected to unlawful arrests, tortures, ‘disappearances’ and displacements. From their previous experiences, they have learned a lot how to adjust and survive extreme repression. They have experienced mass detentions during the first state of emergency when over 700 people died and no less than 30,000 imprisoned. As much as it is painful, protesters and activists are unlikely to be frightened; they will continue to organize and protest because they feel they have no other options except intensifying the protests. Popular support gives them the confidence to continue. Moreover, they also believe justice and history are on their side.
The most popular Qeerroo group has already condemned the EPRDF/TPLF state of emergency as a ‘declaration of war’ on the Oromo people. In a statement issued on February 20, 2018, Qeerroo argued that the state of emergency is part of EPRDF/TPLF’s last-ditch effort to support a crumbling regime with guns and create a favourable situation to unleash more violence and conduct a genocide on the people. For this reason, the group has vowed to fight back and prevent its implementation. To do so, the group has called upon, Abba Gadaa’s, elders, businessmen and women, religious and political leaders, community organizations and all Oromos to join the resistance to block the state emergency and fight for the total fall of the EPRDF regime. The Qeerroo group also called upon all Oromos in the armed forces to reject orders from their superiors and join their people. It also appealed to the members of parliament to reject the martial law imposed by the council of minister.
Instead of stabilizing the EPRDF regime, the state of emergency may even facilitate its immediate collapse; or the situation may lead to a prolonged turmoil that could destabilize the Horn of Africa region and lead to mass human displacement. Such scenario should be alarming even for ardent domestic supports of the regime and external backers. The initial response of the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States Embassy in Ethiopia indicate such concerns. They fear that the curtailment of civil liberties could lead to more crises. But whether they are prepared to act before the situation gets out of control is not yet evident.
But what would other stakeholders do to stop the regime from implementing this illegitimate state of emergency? First, if it decides to act, the Ethiopian parliament could reject the decision of the council of ministers. The constitution mandates it to review the decision within forty-eight hours or fifteen days. Of course, from previous experiences and the fact that the parliament itself is packed by loyal EPRDF members, it is naïve to expect the rejection of the decision of the council of ministers. However, the recent public interest between the Oromo and Amhara regional states to work together and challenge the TPLF dominance gives a vague hope that their representatives in parliament they may act differently this time. Secondly, although many Oromos still doubt their sincerity, some OPDO members and their leader, Lemma Megersa, have recently promised to challenge the TPLF abuses. However, they are surprisingly silent since the state of emergency came out five days ago. If they seriously want to challenge the TPLF and come out of the shadow of the TPLF and join the Oromo people openly, this is the time. Then, the question is: would they rise to the moment and block this unnecessary action? Would Lemma Megersa instruct the OPDO members of parliament to vote against the state of emergency? Would the members the OPDO in parliament, on their own, dare to walk out? Would other members of parliament from other ethnic groups support them? Would the Oromo in armed forces and the Oromia police refuse to obey order to implement this act? If they don’t, as the Qeerroo statement said, they could be legally and historically responsible for the consequences the illegal decision. This is a big test for the OPDO. If they fail this test, there is no need for them to pretend that they are on the side of the Oromo people. This is a historic moment. The opportunity not only to witness but also be on the side of justice is available to them. It is up to them to take and salvage their legacy or perish with a crumbling regime.