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Delayed Elections, Social Media Shut Down – What’s Happening In Ethiopia Right Now?

With everything that’s going on in the world right now, you can be forgiven for not knowing that Ethiopia’s democracy is currently under threat.

Last year, the Essential Millennial covered a number of stories on the conflict in the Tigray region between the Ethiopian military and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) group in Ethiopia. Recently, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for peaceful forces from Eritrea and the Ahmarah region to take control of the Tigray region after accusing the occupying forces of conducting ongoing “ethnic cleansing”. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has categorically denied the allegations, saying it “vehemently opposes such accusations”.

“The United States is gravely concerned by the increasing number of confirmed cases of military forces blocking humanitarian access to parts of the Tigray region.”

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken

A spokesman for Ethiopia’s Amhara region has also dismissed the charge as “propaganda”, as reported by Al Jazeeera.

So what’s happening now?

Amidst months of uncertainty and danger in Ethiopia, without even taking the Covid-19 pandemic into the equation, the nation’s Nobel Peace Prize winning head of state, Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed, and the Prosperity Party are facing their first real electoral challenge since he assumed office in 2018. Those elections were postponed from the original election date planned, which was August last year. And having postponed the election until 5 June 2021, which opposition parties planned to boycott the vote after describing the elections as a “farce”, the 6th General Election has been put on the back-burner again.

Elections postponed

Birtukan Mideksa, chairperson of The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), has said that logistical delays, such as finalising voter registration, training electoral staff, printing and distributing ballot papers have made holding the election of June 5 “impossible” and that the election will once again be postponed… indefinitely.

“[He] indicated that delays in opening polling stations and voter registration have pushed the voting day”, state news agency Fana reported on Saturday.

“We will let everybody [know] soon as to how many additional weeks or days to complete the delayed tasks … Wouldn’t be more than three weeks,” she added. “Practically, it became impossible to deliver all these at the originally slated dates,” she said.

With no new date set for the elections, Ethiopia’s democracy may be under threat and it could lead to a further escalation of the violence in the Tigray region.

Social media restritions

Access to social media platforms Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram was restricted by the government early on Monday – something that has been a fairly regular occurrence in the past during periods of political unrest.

However, according to internet blockage observatory, NetBlocks, the restrictions have been lifted.

“Service to impacted online platforms in Ethiopia has been restored as of Monday mid-morning,” NetBlocks said, according to Reuters. “We continue to monitor.”

What’s next?

Ethiopia is no stranger to hardship and has had to endure far worse over the course of its history. However, given the nature of the conflicts in the region, the government’s tendency to compromise freedom for control and stability as well as what seems to be an attitude of indifference from the rest of the world towards Ethiopia and it’s people, this could become a real political and humanitarian disaster. The world needs to start focussing on this now and prepare to take peaceful, preventative action… before it’s too late.

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