Ethiopian election a campaign of intimidation – Geoffrey york (Globe and Mail)

November 17th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

After the last election, 30,000 people were arrested in a crackdown on dissent. This time, the governing party is taking no chances. (more…)

After the last election, 30,000 people were arrested in a crackdown on dissent. This time, the governing party is taking no chances.

Six months before a crucial election, one of Ethiopia’s small band of opposition MPs has a simple question: How can he campaign for votes when he cannot even hold a public meeting or meet voters freely?

Negaso Gidada, a former president of Ethiopia and now an independent MP, tried to visit his constituents in southern Ethiopia recently. It was an arduous journey.

He was not permitted to hold any meetings in public places. He was kept under surveillance, and his hosts were interrogated. Those who met him were questioned by police. He was given no coverage in the media.

“People are so intimidated that they are afraid even to speak to me on the phone,” he says. “Campaigning is totally impossible. How can it be a fair election?”

Four years ago, foreign election observers concluded that the last Ethiopian election had been rigged. Opposition supporters took to the streets, and an estimated 30,000 people were arrested in a crackdown on dissent. Nearly 200 people were killed when Ethiopia’s police opened fire on the protesters. Dozens of opposition leaders and activists were jailed.

This time, with an election scheduled for May, the ruling party is taking no chances. Ethiopia is sliding deeper into authoritarian controls. Police agents and informers are keeping a close eye on the population, with harsh restrictions imposed on opposition leaders and civil society groups.

The election matters because Ethiopia is strategically important. It is the second most populous country in sub-Saharan African, and a key U.S. ally in the Horn of Africa, where Ethiopian troops have repeatedly intervened in Somalia. And it is one of the biggest recipients of Canadian foreign aid, with $90-million donated by Canada in 2007 alone.

Mr. Negaso, who was president of Ethiopia from 1995 to 2001 but later split from the ruling party of autocratic Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has managed to hold only a few public meetings as he travelled around the country in the past year.

One meeting in August was broken up by dozens of thugs, including some whom he recognized from the ranks of the ruling party. They shouted, whistled, grabbed the microphone and prevented people from speaking. “We were chased out,” Mr. Negaso said.

In another district, he said, the police told opposition leaders that they needed a special permit if they wanted to use a megaphone.

Even his e-mail messages and phone calls are monitored, he said. But he refuses to be intimidated. “If you are afraid,” he says, “you can’t do anything.”

Another opposition leader, Seeye Abraha, is a former close ally of Mr. Meles from the early 1970s when they were both young revolutionaries fighting the military junta known as the Derg, which they finally overthrew in 1991. He became the defence minister but was jailed for six years on corruption allegations after a falling out with Mr. Meles. Now he says he is under constant surveillance, his phones and e-mails monitored, his movements constantly followed by security agents.

Seeye Abraha, an opposition leader in Ethiopia, is a former defence minister and was once a close ally of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. He says he is under constant surveillance by government agents who follow him and his children.

“In restaurants, spies sit close to me, and you can’t ask them to leave,” he says. “There is no private life, no private property. And there is nowhere you can complain. You can go to the police, but they will do nothing.”

In a desperate effort to communicate with voters, the opposition sometimes tries to distribute cellphones to its supporters. If it sends campaign letters to voters, the letters must be kept hidden from security agents. “Families are afraid to pass the letters from one to another,” said Bulcha Demeksa, an MP who heads an opposition party.

Earlier this year, eight of Ethiopia’s opposition parties formed a coalition with Mr. Negaso and Mr. Seeye in a bid to defeat the ruling party, but the move has been little help. “If tomorrow I go to my constituency and speak to people under a tree, the police will disrupt it,” Mr. Bulcha said.

The International Crisis Group, an independent think tank based in Brussels, says the Ethiopian government is controlling its population with neighbourhood committees, informers, media controls and high-tech surveillance.

“Thanks to Chinese electronic monitoring-and-control software, the government is able to block most opposition electronic communications when it desires,” the group said in a recent report.

“Few journalists, academics, human-rights advocates and intellectuals dare to publicly criticize the government. While self-censorship existed before the 2005 elections, it has now become widespread.”

  1. Anonymous
    | #1

    Woyane is buying airbus as a thank you gesture to its European backers (Germany, England and France) and to annoy USA for the cool diplomatic situation. Ethiopian Airlines has always purchased its planes from Boeing. Why do you think woyane switched now? This is a thank you note for the Euro diplomats in Addis who are currently bullying the opposition into submission. Ethiopians must start to accuse these people as an accomplice to genocide. And make it clear that any agreements made between woyane and any third party may not be honoured in the future democratic Ethiopia.

  2. Chris
    | #2

    Woyane is buying airbus as a thank you gesture to its European backers (Germany, England and France) and to annoy USA for the cool diplomatic situation. Ethiopian Airlines has always purchased its planes from Boeing. Why do you think woyane switched now? This is a thank you note for the Euro diplomats in Addis who are currently bullying the opposition into submission. Ethiopians must start to accuse these people as an accomplice to genocide. And make it clear that any agreements made between woyane and any third party may not be honoured in the future democratic Ethiopia.

  3. ደምስ
    | #3

    The signed fake election code between the Kehadi Engineer and the dictator was some kind of power sharing in the back room. No chance for MEDRK to compete and outcast by two evil camps.

    They will be harrassed because they did not sign the election code. The dictator will tell every one, MEDRK is a terrorest group. The fake oppostion group will join the dictator too.

    The Kehadi Engineer will be allowed to win certain part of the country to look like a real one. For his betrayal the Ethiopian people; he will be rewarded with some kind of gov’t post. It could be defence or foreign. Who ever ready to leave the gov’t post next year.

    Our country not blessed with a good leader. Some kind of God intervention is needed ASAP.

  4. ሁሉ ያልፋል
    | #4

    እር ባሉ ጎበዝ

  5. mateos
    | #5

    There are only two warranteed growth develoment at a rate of 10 or 12%taken place each year in modern Ethiopia: 1-the killing develoment by Meles and his agazis gangho; 2- the lying of the British bull dog looking Meles’s boss Bereket Simon. As long as you have the killing and lying invention by the Meles and his Bereket then you can forget about Ethiopia’s or Ethiopians election. Ethiopians are heading back to the feature where the colonials use the divide-and-rule method, and when they used ethnic division as the main tool to loot Africans for many generations tocome; and the weyane mafia families must copied the ancient evil doers of Africa to bring it to Ethiopia and implemented it in the past 18 years or so. After all there is a guaranttee to all Ethiopians: Meles and his boss will serve time in the same cell with in Ethiopia; their crime and time is up!

  6. tewbel
    | #6

    Don’t forget that there is also a large commission for the Meles gang,
    brcause there is no deal; made in Ethiopia without the gang getting a good chunk of money especially with billion dollars deals.

  7. peace
    | #7


    This is the reason you need to write article and distribute it within the U.S so the officials will notice and support opposition groups rather than Weyane. Ethiopians take advantage of what Chris said against Weyane to bring U.S support to the opposition groups rather than Weyane.

  8. Guest
    | #8

    you are right. That is what Meles is trying to do. But it is not only thanking the Europeans, he is also trying to annoy USA. A week ago he brought the issue of climate change and the economic crisis to black mail America. The arrogance has flowed beyond the limit. He has started to play with fire.

  9. JIGSA
    | #9

    now woyane TPLF agree on main issue to participate in a fare and free election.the opposition has to move quickly right now open offices and get ready for an election.AEUP as an opposition party has to give press releases freely in a mass media and in news paper starting now.And other opposition parties must do the same as long as they want to participate go all over the country starting now and organize the ethiopian people.This is the time to see woyane TPLF willingness to participate in a free and fare election.we know from excepriance many times the oppsition try every avenue to bring democracy every time woyane tplf didnt honer it’s word agreement.we know the TPLF WOYANE leader can not be trusted,but it is better try one more time to show the ethiopian people hunger for change to bring democracy in ethiopia.the ethiopian people struggle for democracy will prevail!!!!!!!!!!

  10. መላው ቀለጠ!
    | #10

    JIGSA…you said it all. stop talking move with people, organize, and act.
    let us see if theory remains ruling party’s slogan or opposition parties
    they do not do their homework? Now is the time to Know who is who !

  11. Ewnetu
    | #11

    You know folks, europeans, the west in general do not wish to see a united nationalist Ethiopia. They still have the grudge that Ethiopians with spears and arrows chased out the mighty fascist Italian regime.

    So, no wonder the envoys of the european countries only act as messengers to Meles and not as true negotiators. But, we should let them know that
    we won’t sit down and accept to be fooled again like the 2005 election.

    We alone can bring change to our country! Not the ferenjis.

  12. Joseph
    | #12

    Words for Dr Negasso and Ato Siye,

    Right from day one, we (the active and educated Diaspora who learned from history) understood the wild/crocodile nature, and blunders that the evil dictator Meles and his cronies will commit. We understood the path these gangs will follow to ditch Ethiopia into misery. We also warned and continue to do so, to date, that Ethiopia will never ever democratize under TPLF Ethnocratic rule. No amount of “election code of conduct” will help the people to liberation.

    Tones of mass propaganda and foreign consultants’ tips, voracious attitudes of the uneducated (those who think in a primitive way in the 21st century) can’t bring any change. But rather will only add an insult to injury. The hypocrites such as Enjiran Hailu Shawel (together with his Son now), the Kihidetus, the Chamisos etc simply have fattened the enemies of Ethiopia encouraging the killing spree of innocent people.

    The bottom line is for the fight to continue against the core, to fight TPLF thugs (Meles and co) in all forms and available means and free the people of our Nation- Ethiopia. If Ato Siye, Dr Gidada etc bark like a dog now, we already have known the nature of TPLF/Meles and nothing new these opposition folks can tell us. It would rather be better if they boycott the election and join the fight for liberating the people. Siye in some of his past speeches tried to paint good picture of TPLF; a kind of defence for the TPLF. Like wise Dr Gidada etc. They don’t want to listen to some of us when they are advised. Still not too late to join the struggle, rather than walk in the peripheries with no or little substance.

    The day Meles and co arrested Birtukan Mideksa, people like Siye should have understood clearly that there won’t be justice under Meles. This should have been number 1 rallying point for them inside Ethiopia like we have done and continue to non-stop outside the country. Re. this is a young female who is also an educated Ethiopian, and a leader in her own right who has been incarcerated for nothing.

    Would the regime that commits such crimes refrain itself from harassing opposition etc? Come on! If Siye/Gidada/Gizachew/Gebru/Merera etc are still foolish, let them continue begging the Woyane/Meles (the Aiga King/s, the murderer, the dictator genocider) for re-negotiations and also be ready to accompany the already won Election (2010) to even more legitimize Woyane’s “victory”. Other wise the choice is clear! Boycott the election, nothing to negotiate, and be firm to continue the struggle whatever it takes!!

    Death for the Woyane clicks, thugs and their agents!
    We all know they don’t live 200 years!!

  13. Dawit
    | #13

    If one is hoping to see woyane’s removal by these old fart, he/she is delusional. We have seen that the only way poltical change comes is through the mobalization of the youth, the peasants or the army. The old heads who dubbed themselved “polticians” also know it but they know they are too old to bring any change, but since they crave the fame and fortune that comes from being psuedo-polticians, they were unwilling to come to the realization that there wont be fair election in Ethiopia unless woyane is depose.
    It is for the dormant youth to mobalize and led the nation in the right direction. Kinijit succeed in mobilizaing becouse it was able to mobilize the youth. The youth are eneregetic who fight for the cause and who usually have genuine desire to fight for thier country–unlike the old heads who are involved in poltics for personal gain.
    Meles is terrified of the youth. The diaspora needs to engineer away to mobilize the youth and male them more poltically concious thourgh music and aspirational success stories from other national movements such as the cuban revolution and the contemperary iranian student movement.
    Let the youths of Ethiopia raise and uplift the nation from poverty and despair.

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