UPDATE, MONDAY, 19 FEB—Since the post below, the state of emergency has been clarified. It will last six months, and could include a possible four month extension. Protests are banned, as are “publications that incite and sow discord.” Whether this clause will be used to further stifle journalists remains to be seen. So far, the situation hasn't yet impacted the internet.--For more about the state of emergency: http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201802190713-0025591
--For the strong U.S. reaction against the state of emergency: http://allafrica.com/stories/201802190383.html
Despite State of Emergency, I'm Fine
(Gondar, Ethiopia)—First, a brief message to my mom and wife: I’m fine.
That needs to be said, I suppose, when one is residing in a country where there is an official state of emergency, which was declared by the Ethiopian government yesterday. Details about what exactly this might entail, and how long it might last (reports say three or six months) are still to be announced.
News outlets are reporting that this state of emergency won’t be much different than the recent 13 month state of emergency that ended last August. If this is so, then some civil liberties could be suspended, and the military given more freedom to make arrests. The last state of emergency included periods where the internet was disconnected for the entire country, and other times where only social media were blocked. So far, the internet remains untouched by the authorities, as evidenced by this post.
The state of emergency follows the surprise resignation last week of the prime minister. Mass protests against the government have rocked Ethiopia since 2015.
Here in Gondar, locals have organized a three day protest and strike (stores closed, no transportation, etc.) slated to start on Monday. No one knows how large the protests will be, or how many will participate in the strike.
Seven Americans (Fulbrighters and their families and me) held a conference call with the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa this morning to get updated on the situation. Mostly, the message was that no one really knows the ramifications yet of the state of emergency, so sit tight.
We are certainly in no danger at this point. The compound where we live is extremely safe and well guarded, and our neighbors (other professors and their families, mostly) keep a close eye on us. We will hunker down here during the duration of the strike and protest period, however long that might last.
Today, my friend and colleague Tim and I had what he called a “guys shopping trip” to stock up on food and beverages in case the local grocery stores do stay closed longer than a few days. We are well provisioned now, having ample supplies of water, pasta, fruit, and of course, beer.
My classes next week at the University of Gondar may or may not be held, depending on how the situation unfolds. I’ll be in touch with my department chair Mustofa.
I was supposed to leave for a two-hour trip to Bahir Dar tomorrow to lecture at the university and meet with journalists. However, after consulting with the embassy, I’ve decided to postpone that trip. The concern wasn’t me getting there, but rather getting home Tuesday afternoon. If there are large protests, roads could be blocked. Better to stay safe at home, with my beer. Once things settle, I plan to go to Bahir Dar in March.
Before you beseech me to come home, please keep in mind that there is no place that is immune from violence, or from protests. The unrest in Baltimore, Maryland and Ferguson, Missouri (in my home state) wasn’t that long ago. Gun violence is everywhere, the Florida school shooting being the latest example. Would I really be safer lecturing in the U.S. than at the University of Gondar or the Gondar Community School, where I’m teaching an intro to journalism class for seventh graders?
Unless things change dramatically, I’m not leaving until May, when I’m scheduled to come home. I have too much left to accomplish here. Currently, I believe that the risk is manageable, and involves nothing more complex than keeping in touch with the embassy and my Ethiopian colleagues, and staying at home with my American colleagues and my beer.
I’ll be fine.
For more about the state of emergency in Ethiopia: