Letter from Ethiopia: election overview: What the Diaspora could do in election 2010 Eskinder Nega (Addis Ababa)

March 26th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Even I sense it from the great distance I am at from America; home to the largest, richest and most vocal Ethiopian Diaspora in the world. (more…)

Even I sense it from the great distance I am at from America; home to the largest, richest and most vocal Ethiopian Diaspora in the world. Call it what you think is best: disillusionment; disappointment; withdrawal; anger; or even, on an optimistic note, the calm before the storm. But there is no dispute that a considerable element of the Diaspora, many of the very people who came out screaming enthusiastically to welcome CUD’s leaders at Reagan National irport in 2007, are now visibly smaller at political gatherings, less generous in their contribution, are harder to mobilize, and generally exhibit all the signs of atigue.

Regardless of the diversity of opinion in the Diaspora, a consensus of unambiguous support for the democratization of Ethiopia as it is understood in the West has been a superseding facet for the past two decades. And that is no small feat. Between the mid 60s and the fall of the Derg at the beginning of the 90s, what was then a small Diaspora, but with a disproportionately powerful voice in politics, had mitigated the rhetoric of public discourse to the far left of Marxist thought. I still remember reading, in total amazement, old Ethiopian publications from the 60s and 70s, pioneered by intelligent young people like Hagos GebreYesus, Desalegn Rahemato and Endrias Eshete , as they ranted against perceived exploitation of innocent Ethiopians by Western capitalists; how vital Ethiopia was as a dumping ground for the excess goods produced by imperialists; and how great dictatorship of the proletariat really is. (Endrias Eshete’s passion for dictatorship—though not that of the working class anymore—still endures, by the way.) It took about two decades before the Diaspora was able to move beyond this false start; and it took the infusion of a new generation in the 80s, more decisively in the 90s, for the long delayed overhaul in both methodology and substance to take hold. The intellectual rebirth is now best embodied by the weekly articles of the brilliant Professor from LA, Almeayehu GebreMariam. In short, the Diaspora is now positively ingrained in mainstream political thought; far away from—to borrow a phrase from Lenin—infantile extremism.

The 2005 elections was the culmination of the Diaspora’s renaissance in the 90’s and 2000’s, when it was able to entrench itself as a strong and united voice in the CUD; both before and after the elections. It is implausible to envisage the success of the CUD’s last minute offensive in the countryside without the financial backing of the Diaspora; which impacted heavily on the outcome of the election.

Ethiopian political dynamics is now very different than it was in 2005 of course, but there is an important last minute role for the Diaspora to play; yes, even at this late stage of the elections.

Here are some possibilities:


Endorsements are an integral part of modern elections throughout the world. Whatever pundits may say about their power to sway votes, they are passionately sought by politicians; which is a mark of their symbolic power. And in politics image is half the bankable asset.

Swaying votes by mere endorsement is too ambitious an undertaking, but doubt not that endorsements will not only help to strengthen the beleaguered opposition in this difficult election year(just how difficult is amply shown by the new HRW report) but will also help to single out the viable ones( or the viable one) in a crowded field where up to twelve candidates are competing for a single seat in Addis.

Not too many people may have been swayed by Oprah’s endorsement of Obama, but the amount of news and excitement it generated was a huge boost for his campaign. And the pundits who seriously wonder if his presidency would at all have been possible without the stirring effect of her endorsement are not few in numbers. But celebrity endorsements are not possible for those who live in Ethiopia for obvious reasons, yet is something that should be considered seriously by those who have opted for exile. Exiled artists have a large following in Ethiopia, and their predominantly young followers—who constitute the majority in Ethiopia—are predisposed to at least listen to their views. This is power that must not be abused, taken for granted; nor, at a time when the national issue is as important as it is now, must it be wasted.

The kind of endorsement common to Iranian politics, in which exiled groups of academics, scientists and public figures publicly endorse the party or candidate of their choice, could potentially be important in the Ethiopian context, too. The Diaspora has an ample reservoir from Ethiopia’s Who’s Who in every conceivable field, and many voters in Ethiopia—including the undecided ones—would be fascinated to learn of their endorsements.

The idea of civic responsibility will hardly be new to this group, nor the fact that in this wired world their access to voters in Ethiopia seriously curtailed by place of residence. What is probably lacking so far is someone who will take the initiative.

2: CYBER ACTIVISM— The court of world opinion.

Few people know what Twitter is in Ethiopia .But those tasked by the government to make sure that what information goes out to the world is highly regulated, particularly in the event of street protests (which are unlikely and not desirable), have nightmares about the possibilities of Twitter. What was casually launched as one more addition to social media by three innovative Americans in 2006, less than a year after the 2005 elections in Ethiopia, has been inadvertently catapulted by the last Iranian election in to a powerful weapon of peaceful political activism.

Tweets go over two networks, the cyber world and text messages of mobiles (cell phones). They are charmingly easy to use, are specifically designed to to spread fast because they are apt to be picked and retransmitted by other Twitters; unlike other social medias, like email, which are neither public nor broadcast like Twitter does. In other words, Twitter is within reach of the vast majority of the Diaspora, and for the first time ever will directly link it with tens of millions of people throughout the world—the court of world opinion. The monopoly of media organizations, who habitually ignore most stories about Ethiopia, could now be overturned for the first time.

Potential Twitters from Ethiopia during the elections, who will be few in numbers but could easily overcome their disadvantage in numbers by sheer force of will, face an overpowering predicament. The government will most probably tamper with the internet and SMS during the elections, as did the Iranian government, which will severely limit their ability to transmit. But the evidence is that the mass of Tweets came from Diaspora Iranians who relayed information they collected from family, friends, embassies, NGOs and political organizations. A similar mass of information, in case the need arises, by the Ethiopian Diaspora that overwhelms the cyber world will reinforce the confidence of Ethiopians that they are not alone and involve tens of millions around the world in an intimate, urgent way with events in Ethiopia. A sufficiently outraged Westerners—if there is due cause—wiil instinctively reach out to their elcected representatives in large numbers; which could change—at long last—Western policy towards Ethiopia by bringing forth the issue of human rights; something the Diaspora had fought for almost two decades now.

But none of these will be possible without a determined minority taking the lead; some working in groups, others alone in the cyber world—the new weapon of the oppressed.



Azeb Mesfin to face Welay Aschalew.

PM Meles Zenawi’s wife will face an electoral opponent fielded by Mederek in this year’s elections. Medrek’s candidate is Welay Aschalew, who is broadly thought to be sufficiently credible to make this at least an interesting contest; assuming of course a level playing field. Azeb is running as an incumbent in her Welqaiyt constituency, where many residents are apprehensive of a settlement scheme by the regional government which they fear will eventually alter the demographics of the area. Azeb is chair of an important parliamentary committee, which was supposed to have pushed her out of her husband’s shadow; but which has not happened so far. Gebru Asrat is challenging Addisalem Balema(PhD), a long time Ethiopian Ambassador to China who returned from Beijing to Mekele to work in EFFORT, the mysterious business empire of the TPLF. Addisalem is not the grassroots campaigner type, and foreign observers are expected to be visibly present in Mekele, an opening that Gebru is apt to maximize.

Security cameras to be installed on main roads.

The installation of federal police commissioned security cameras in underway on Addis Ababa’s main thoroughfares. The cameras are being installed as part of the government’s extensive preparation against possible post election riots after the May elections.

An undisclosed amount of cameras have been imported from China; much to the irritant of some countries that had hoped(not for commercial reasons) to provide the hardware as well as the expertise to run and maintain them; according to sources.

The cameras have so far been installed on Bole road; but because they will be too provocative few expect them to be installed in Merkato, hub of post election protests in 2005.It will be interesting to see if the government thinks otherwise.

  1. Anonymous
    | #1

    Eskinder is more than Alistair Cooke.He writes his elegant missives not from a secure and comfortable place but from Meles’s Ethiopia where independent journalists are hounded like criminals.

    Eskinder has suffered so much because he wants to tell the truth impartially.

    He still insists to live his journalistic life with courage.

  2. Anonymous
    | #2

    Eskinder’s trail blazer ideas must seriously be considered by the Diaspora.We need to think in technologically savvy and creative ways that help our peoples’ struggle for freedom and democracy.

  3. selamawi
    | #3

    p/s always think or have a good willing about peace, unity of our country & the people,… don’t pul-up a single thiny mistek and bold it for your personal Or for those Evilish thinker leaders interest.
    Just do what you can do to you mam Ethiopia as wide thinker

  4. aha!
    | #4

    I dis agree with the premise of the progress made in Ethiopia in the Diaspora as he puts it, as movement away from marxist-Lennisist ideology to democracy in contrast to the ideology during the dergue regime, which upheld the territorial integrity, sovreignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

    The problem stated as I look back into these movements from what I read in the last four years is from the wing of student movements, which I think includes EPLF and TPLF, that opted the route oppression of nationalities, contray to those movements which took the path to class struggle of all forms. The former, I believe gave way to ethnic and sessessionist politics and policies, which is master minded and sposored by TPLF to draft a constitution, supported by teltafi parties and some from the loyalist oppositon, I presume. The current set up of Medrek, a conglomerate of loyalist opposition parties, which bears the name fdd/efdr of the would be Tigrai-Harena/fdd/efdr is no different in basic tennet of ethnic agenda than TPLF/eprdf regime, although they promise to be kinder and gentler, more democratic than TPLF/eprdf regime which boasts of econmic growth and democracy. Nothing has changed there. What has changed there is a maintenance of status quo, with TPLF/eprdf tightening it gripp in every which way, and their alter ego implicitley sustaining it by gaining controll for more seats from TPLF/eprdf regime as well as from KAEUP, and EDP in the Amhara region through UDJP.

    Oblivious of these reality, the renowned journalist to talk about the movemnt of the diaspora in the USA from Marxist from Marxist-Lennist ideology to democracy does not rime with above reality that the silent majority of Ethiopians are grappling with. They are grappling with the lack of individual freedom (economic and political) of all sorts. They are grappling with Ethiopian Nationalism and Ethiopian interests and its territorial integrity is in tatters, they grappling with living in fears of extrajudicial killings and arrests. They are not getting from the Diaspora elites, whose party folded into the coalition with ethnic agenda, which are implicitley aligned with negative forces of disintegration. The delima and the dichotomy for Ethiopia and that of the Diaspora is that of aligning themeseves to the positive forces for integration that of unity, territororial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Those elements are apparent in KAUP, EDP, and other parties and EPRP and others not registerd as party in Ethiopia are the the torch bearers of the above goals/elements, and the class struggle during the dergue era, I presume. I belive politics in Ethiopia need to be looked at from the prism of ethnic and sessecionist politics and policies,(not from the vantage point of Marxism and Imperialism), which is at the base of the multi-layer, hierarchical political model of TPLF/eprdf regime, although it is part of the model structure, which gave way to ethnic dictatorship, eploitation and economic strangle hold of of the nation by TPLF affiliated enterprizes.

  5. Alelegn
    | #5

    Ya I agree with writer. Talking, writting and sharing idea is good tool for us to better understand one onther. After discussion and understanding comes the question of what to do to make a difference. So every ethiopian in the diaspora should think what to do with regard to the comming election to best make use of it. the points the writer mentioned are brilliant ones. If the majority think MEDREK may be better option, every one who shares this idea should endorse the party which will positively contribute to the groups future. Information tranmission through chat,facebook,twitter and other means is one thing we can contribute to compaign.

  6. Yoftahe
    | #6

    There was a very small video camera with a shape of a pen that was effectively used in iranian elections. It is easy to carry and conceal as well as use whenever the need arises. This camera was sent in thousands to the people of Iran by organized diaspora (US) Iranians. That was why the world have seen all those famous images in the aftermath and the regime has been exposed more than ever. Seeing is believing.

    By the way, this pen-shaped camera recorded 15 minutes good quality video. Is there a way that some from the US try to find the camera, organize themselves to fundraise and send few thousands to the cities in Ethiopia. This is still manageable with the time left before the election.

  7. Ababa
    | #7

    One thing that cannot be deined is that a moment is created back home.That moment is led by medrek which accepts the soverginity and territorial integritiy of Ethiopia.Taking this premises into consideration I contened that we should support them despite our differnces in ideology.As forces which seek power throught the mandet of the people they are bond by such mandate ,hence we can in the future change the arrengment of power through the same mandate;that is the source of their power being democratic they could not prevent anyone from challeging their idea democratically.It therofore can be seen that the differances we have on question of basis of federal admistration particularly part relating to arregment of powers in the federation is a matter of detail.The basics are clear ,which are ,The right of Ethiopians to elect government of their choice and the territorial integrity and soverginity of Ethiopia.I theirfore argue that a party like madrek which accepts both and any ethiopian which accepts these have nothing to argue about,and it is in our best intrest as a nation to help them to acheive their goal.

  8. Anonymous
    | #8

    ሁሉም በየፊናው የበኩሉን አስዋጽዖ ከፈጸመ ወያኔ አላማ የሌለው; በአደረጃጀት ደካማና በቂ የሰው ሃይል የሌለው ተራ ስብስብ ነው:: አንድ ነገር ማውቅ ያለብን organized መሆናችንን ነው::

    ሳምሶን ከዳላስ

  9. aha!
    | #9

    Ababa ! What you mentioned is a campaign speech to lure the public towards ethnic agenda, which the party’s platform. One can infer from the public debate on ethnic federalism and seccessionism, there is a stark diference between Medrek and other parties with national agenda, much more than there is a difference between TPLF/eprdf and Tigrai-Harena/fdd/efdr. That is apparent for the Diaspopora elites to discern. As far as demococracy both of them advocate democracy, but there is element in both of the parties agenda that promotes unity, territorial integrity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

    While holding on to ethnic and seccessionist politics and policies, Mederk along UDJP straddling beteen ethnic and national agenda, conducts the debate on Healthcare, and Education from a vantage point of national agenda, just in the same way as those parties diametriclly opposed to TPLF/eprdf regime and are engaged in a peaceful struggle, negotiations for fair and free elections through the Code of Conduct Agreement, does not fit their ethnic agenda, which a destabilizing force to the organic Ethiopia to exist as nation with it unity, territorial integrity, soveregnity of Ethiopia and Ethiopia, which probaly leads to fedreated states mixed demogrphies in each original states, where individual right precedes ethnic rights and the country is developed by the fedral government accross states based on ecological zones, rather than ethnic zones. That scenario want prevail under Medrek and/or TPLF/eprdf regime. However, I am not denying them of campaigning for their own ethnic agenda and ethnic Killi’s and how this division of the country could be a stabizing and harmonizing factor of the eithy ethnic groups, which are at eachothers throat in terms of conflicts among smaller ethnic groups for grazing and water resources and border disputes among major ethnic groups, where Eritrea is a case in point, woredas from Gondar and Wollo incorporated into Tigrai is another point, land given away to Sudan and land purchases by foreign governments and corporations, and replacing ethnic dictatorship with truley democratic, with liberal deocracy of free enterprise and individual land ownership anywhere in Ethiopia the are few of the concerns and domains of those with national agenda. The others are saying one thing and leading the country to more of the same with slight modifications.

  10. aha!
    | #10

    Corrigendum: First paragraph last sentence should reaed there is no element……

  11. ስው ያታው
    | #11

    የስው ያለህ !!!!!

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