Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency in the country to help curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Home to nearly 110 million people, Ethiopia has recorded 55 cases of coronavirus and two deaths to date.
“Because the coronavirus pandemic is worsening, the Ethiopian government has decided to declare a state of emergency under article 93 of the constitution,” said the Prime Minister. Abiy ahmed said Wednesday in a statement.
“I call on everyone to get in touch with government agencies and others trying to overcome this problem,” he added, warning of “serious legal action” against anyone who undermines the fight against pandemic.
It was not immediately known how the state of emergency would affect daily life in Ethiopia.
Authorities have already taken a series of measures to stem the spread of the virus, including closing schools, banning public gatherings and requiring most employees to work from home.
So far, the government has refrained from imposing a lock similar to those in force elsewhere in the region, including Rwanda, Uganda and Mauritius.
William Davison, senior analyst in Ethiopia for the International Crisis Group, said: “There is a great deal of uncertainty as to the extent to which the coronavirus has so far spread to Ethiopia. “
“Not too many tests have been done, but the government has steadily increased this, accrediting other laboratories to do it,” he told Al Jazeera in the capital, Addis Ababa. “But certainly, there haven’t been a lot of tests going on – that may be part of the reason there isn’t a huge amount of infections. “
It is the first state of emergency announced under Abiy, who came to power in 2018 and won the Nobel Peace Prize last year in part for expanding political freedoms.
According to the country’s constitution, in a state of emergency, the Council of Ministers has “all the powers necessary to protect the peace and sovereignty of the country” and can suspend certain “political and democratic rights”.
The constitution also states that legislators must approve a state of emergency, which can last six months and be extended every four months thereafter.
“One of the things that the state of emergency does is give the federal government more authority and the ability to work in coordination with regional governments, including their security apparatus,” said Davison.
Since reporting its first case of coronavirus on March 13, Ethiopia, a major transportation hub, has closed land borders and schools, released thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding, and has sprayed the main streets of the capital of disinfectant and discouraged large gatherings.
But Abiy said over the weekend that more severe foreclosure would be unrealistic given that there are “many citizens who have no homes” and “even those who have homes have to make ends meet. daily ”.
Jawar Mohammed, a prominent opposition politician, questioned Abiy’s statement, saying it called into question the need for a state of emergency.
“Officials said the country was too poor to stop the population movements. So why do you need a state of emergency if you don’t plan to impose tougher rules? Jawar told the AFP news agency.
In consultations with Abiy earlier this week, the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) expressed concern that a state of emergency would lead to human rights violations – a problem well documented under previous states of emergency imposed during several years of anti-government protests that swept Ahmed to power.
“We explained that we were concerned that the state of emergency had been launched on several occasions and that it had been abused to violate the rights of citizens and other political activists,” said the official. AFP President of the OLF, Dawud Ibsa.
It is also unclear how the state of emergency could affect the planning of long-awaited general elections in Ethiopia.
The country’s electoral commission announced last week that the vote scheduled for August should be postponed due to the pandemic.
He has not provided a timetable for when the elections would finally be held, and the legislators’ constitutional terms expire in October.