News of Ethiopia

Ethiopian News Summary

complied by Barry Hillenbrand

The Ethiopian Election — and its aftermath

In May, Ethiopia held its long anticipated elections. The results were a great disappointment for everyone except for Prime Minister Meles and his ruling party. Ethiopia’s 2005 elections were a significant victory for democracy and the opposition politicians who won major victories in the National Assembly and even swept local elections in places like Addis. The result in 2005 were a great shock to Meles and his party members who replied with a crackdown on the opposition and a rebuilding of their own political base into an awesome machine.

The result of all this was that there was no hope of an opposition victory in the 2010 elections. Election observers from the European Union and elsewhere did not report massive ballot box stuffing. Meles’ party did not need to do that. Thijs Berman, the EU’s chief observer, said election observers had received numerous complaints of violence and harassment. “The sheer volume and consistency of these complaints is a matter of concern,” Berman said. He noted that Ethiopia lacked a national voter list. “These shortcomings lead us to the conclusion that this electoral process falls short of certain international commitments,” he said. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch also criticized the vote, saying voters were told they could lose food assistance, public-sector jobs, loans and educational opportunities if they voted against the ruling party. [For more details from the BBC and Reuter see: http://bbc.in/9E3mOK and http://bit.ly/9VpFxB]

When the results were published, Meles won a victory worthy of North Korea or Cuba. Meles’ Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front — and its allied parties — won 545 out of the 547 seats in Parliment.  Many observers fear that the country is heading back to a single party era for the next five years. Only one seat went to the major opposition grouping, the Ethiopia Federal Democratic Unity Forum, a loss of more than 100 seats from what the opposition held after the 2005 election. And one seat went to an independent candidate, Dr. Ashebir Woldegiorgis, the erstwhile president of the Ethiopian Football Federation. The rest of the seats were taken the government party or their allies.

The United States expressed disappointment — but not condemnation — with pro-incumbent trends leading up to the elections that favored Meles’s party. “A number of laws, regulations and procedures implemented since the previous parliamentary elections in 2005 created a clear and decisive advantage for the ruling party throughout the electoral process,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. But the U.S. did not condemn the results. Meles rejected criticism of his ruling party’s sweep of 99 percent of  the announced parliamentary seats and compared the country’s political system to that of Sweden and Japan. Right after the election, he noted that in Sweden the socialists ruled for 40 years.

Meles at the G8

In a speech in Ontario to the G8 Summit in August, Meles said, “Ethiopia is not moving towards a single-party system. It can, with some credence, be said that it is a dominant party system, but there is a fundamental distinction between a dominant party system and a single-party system.  The democratic system in Japan has been a dominant party system for half a century, but it has not been a single-party system.”

As opposed to 2005 when street demonstrations erupted after the elections, the post election period has been calm. Opposition Party objections to the elections went nowhere. The country’s biggest opposition coalition demanded a rerun of the election, alleging pre-poll intimidation and some vote rigging. But the National Electoral Board however, rejected the call, saying the party had  no evidence. The Supreme Court backed the Election Board and threw out a case the opposition had mounted asking that the NEB ruling be overturned. End of protest.

Having gained complete political control of the country Meles and his allies moved to improve his image internationally and to ease up on political control. In a major move just days after Meles was sworn in for his fourth five-year term,

Birkutan

Birtukan Mideksa, a charismatic former judge who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of provoking demonstrations protesting the government’s victory in the last national elections in 2005, was released from prison. Meles could afford to be magnanimous. Birtukan returned to her family’s home in Addis Ababa after her release, where residents welcomed her with flowers and jubilant singing. She told journalists she had sought a pardon, but she did not say whether she would resume her political career or challenge the ruling party. “Those issues are for another time and place,” she said.

In another important move the government signed a peace agreement with leaders of the Ogaden National Liberation Front which has fought for the eastern region’s right to self-determination. This ends the Ogaden Front’s 25 year-long insurgency. The agreement includes an amnesty for jailed leaders and members of the group. The group will also turn itself into a legal political group and continue a peaceful struggle.  “Our group has come to understand the destructive nature of war and believed war is not the only option to the problem” said Saladin Abdurrahman, a Front official. “The peace agreement is crucial for lasting peace and to bring sustainable development to the Ogaden region.”

Thus a certain amount of political peace seems to have descended over Ethiopia. The price for this tranquility, many believe, is extremely high. Human Rights Watch issued a report  claiming that the Ethiopian government is using development aid to suppress political dissent by conditioning access to essential government programs on support for the ruling party. Human Rights Watch urged foreign donors to ensure that their aid is used in an accountable and transparent manner and does not support political repression. [To view the full report see: http://bit.ly/cure2X]

Great progress — and problems — in education

As Peace Crops plans to once again send teachers to Ethiopia, the United Nations and U.S. Agency for International Development has praised Ethiopia for its progress in education. In the last 15 years, according to a Voice of America report, enrollment in Ethiopia’s has exploded. Only 20 to 25 percent of school aged children attended school 15 years ago. Nowdays nearly 90 percent of youngsters go to school. Of course, dropout rates are unacceptably high and the quality of instruction is very uneven. The full story from VOA is at http://bit.ly/doCyaG

Ethiopian runners in the old style

Jeré Longman of the New York Times has spent a lifetime covering the Olympics and those sports, like track and field, that are ignored on most sports pages.  Recently Longman went back to writing about Ethiopian running. He did a lovely feature on Haile Gebrselassie who will be running in the New York Marathon on November 7. Jeré not only looks at Gebreselassie, but the running system Ethioia has created. [See the full and excellent NYTimes story at http://bit.ly/aXRZak]

Dam Problem

We all remember from the few hours of generator  electricity we had every night back when we were PCVs that power is a development problem. In Ethiopia where only 2% of the rural population has regular electric power, the government is working to solve this by building dams. But the dams cause environmental problems. One of Ethiopia’s — and Africa’s — biggest dam projects is the Gibe 3 dam on the Omo river, south of Addis, currently being built and financed by the Chinese. Because of the dislocation of people in valleys, international opposition to the dam is mounting. [For more details see: http://bit.ly/90X2bX and for a different view and set of facts, see: http://bit.ly/9NyH9V]

Adoptions of Ethiopian children increase dramatically

While Americans are adopting fewer children from overseas, adoptions of Ethiopian children have nonetheless steadily increased in recent years. Soon Ethiopia may surpass China as the top sources of adopted babies for Americans.  In 2004, the peak year of American foreign adoptions, 284 Ethiopians were among the 22,990 children adopted from overseas. In fiscal 2010, the total number of foreign adoptions dropped to 11,000, but Ethiopia’s share was around 2,500.  [For more details http://bit.ly/dDxbRn]

Free speaking PM

Once the election was over, Prime Minister Meles resumed his world travels where he worked the crowds as a representative of not only Ethiopia but of all of Africa as well.  He was at the G8 in Canada speaking for Africa.  Some think he is not the proper person to represent the continent, [For an interesting analysis of that view from Britain see: http://bit.ly/cNcv10]  He came to New York for the UN opening and then took on an audience of students at Columbia University for a very lively give and take. [for details see the Columbia Spectator report on the meeting at: http://bit.ly/cFaTCS]  And he also ruffled some establishment feathers at the Seventh African Development Forum where Meles said that November’s climate conference in Cacun, Mexico, “will be a total fraud.” Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Jean Ping, chairperson of the African Union Commission; Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana and Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, appeared stunned by Mr Zenawi’s words. The thousand strong audience however clapped in support of the frank assessment.  [For more on Meles clear speaking see: http://bit.ly/9AG0Ii]

Land Rush

One of the most remarkable developments in Ethiopia land development in the last year has been the sale of large parcels of farm land to foreign companies. The government’s plan is for these foreign companies to import equipment and capital to develop the land and get it to produce crops for export. Indian companies seem especially eager to buy Ethiopian land. For details on a recent purchase of 10,000 hectares in Gambella see: http://bit.ly/d3S6Nm or check out what Punjabi potato farmers think of Ethiopian farm land at http://bit.ly/aeayId.

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