Ethiopia’s cabinet has approved a draft law that would lift a nationwide state of emergency two months ahead of schedule, citing improved security conditions across the country.
The council of ministers sanctioned the decision on Saturday (June 2) after noting that “law and order has been restored,” prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, said on Twitter. The parliament, where all 547 members belong to the ruling party, was expected to rubber-stamp the order, even though it is unclear when that would take place.
The controversial, six-month emergency decree was imposed in mid-February, a day after former premier Hailemariam Desalegn resigned. It came amid growing anti-government protests by the country’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and the Amhara, against the Tigray-dominated government.
For over two years, Oromo and the Amhara communities agitated for social change, economic equality, and political inclusion. The government’s crackdown has been brutal, with more than 1,000 people dead and tens of thousands of people put behind bars, according to advocacy groups. Ethiopia’s authorities also imposed emergency rule between Oct. 2016 and Aug. 2017, following deadly demonstrations.
Calling time on the emergency order marks a significant moment for Abiy’s nascent administration, which has promised and undertaken reforms since coming to power in April. Besides releasing thousands of political prisoners and journalists, the government has ended an internet blackout, started talks with exiled opposition members, and dismissed charges against diaspora-based media outlets. Yet despite the improvements, many observers and critics awaited the end of the state of emergency—the last one was extended for four months at the end of its term—as a signal that Abiy was truly walking the talk.
“The meaningless state of emergency is going away,” Befeqadu Hailu, a journalist who was arrested by previous administrations for his critical reporting, wrote on Twitter. “I hope we will not see it in Ethiopia again.”