Tension high in key Ethiopia election region – Malone (Reuters)

May 19th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

MIDAKEGNE, Ethiopia, May 18 (Reuters) – Forty policemen march two-by-two through a remote Ethiopian town drawing stares from local farmers for their incongruous high-tech stab vests, body armour and riot helmets.

“Look, they are trying to terrify us,” says opposition politician Teshale Idosa, his eyes widening. “And it is working. They are terrifying. We are terrified.”

The tension is palpable in the Horn of Africa nation’s Oromia region ahead of national elections on Sunday, with six people killed in just four weeks.

The region is home to the Oromo, Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group with 27 million out of 80 million people. The area also produces most of the coffee in Africa’s biggest grower, along with oil seeds, sesame and livestock, which are all key exports.

Oromia is seen by analysts as key to the future of sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation, a country that is Washington’s main ally in the region and a growing destination for foreign direct investment.

On the road to Midakegne, soldiers and police stop and search cars, pat people down and check IDs, sometimes taking notes. Locals often seem frightened to talk about politics.

The eight-party opposition coalition, Medrek, says two of the six dead were theirs, while the ruling party says it has lost one candidate and a policeman was killed.

Another two died when a grenade was flung into a meeting of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), part of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition


Also playing on people’s nerves is the fact that Ethiopia’s last national elections in 2005 ended with a disputed result. Seven policemen and 193 protesters died in street riots in the capital Addis Ababa and top opposition leaders were jailed.

The opposition argues it would sweep to power if the ruling party stopped intimidating and jailing its members. The government dismisses that accusation as nonsense and says it will win easily on its development record.

The ruling party has embarked on massive investment in infrastructure such as roads and energy. The International Monetary Fund said last month that Ethiopia would excel this year with growth in excess of 5 percent. [ID:nWEQ003877]

Many people in Oromia told Reuters they were confused about how to vote, with some towns overwhelmingly supporting the opposition coalition Medrek, and others the OPDO.

Opposition figures say the Oromo have never had any power despite the OPDO’s place in the government. They see that party as controlled by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Tigrayan People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (TPLF) — which they say runs the other three parties in the ruling coalition.

Some farmers told Reuters that officials deny them seeds and fertiliser to force them into joining the OPDO. One man said he was fired after 20 years as a chemistry teacher because he joined Medrek. OPDO members denied the allegations.

“Our party is fully independent and Oromo,” OPDO official Alemayehu Ejio, told Reuters. “We are even more popular now because of our development work.”


In Midakegne, 40 km (25 miles) from the nearest Tarmac road, the opposition says a 23-year-old activist, Biyansa Daba, was beaten to death. The government says he died of cancer and that the opposition is trying to spoil a poll it will lose.

Merera Gudina, leader of Medrek member party, the Oromo People’s Congress, is tailed on the road to the secluded town by three men in a pick-up truck. His car, and another containing Medrek activists, are stopped and searched by soldiers.

When Merera arrives and makes a speech, promising more power to the Oromo people, he is filmed and photographed by the three men while armed police watch.

OPDO officials in Midakegne repeated that Biyansa died of cancer, but three people separately approached Reuters to say he was severely beaten.

Earlier the same day, as the OPDO held a large rally in the town of Gorosole, locals told Reuters they would vote for the ruling party because they were grateful for electrification and the provision of safe drinking water to the town’s school.

The ruling party often points to its development achievements. Signs of progress in Oromia since the 2005 elections are evident.

An impressive road network has been built, towns have electricity and telephone masts are everywhere.

Just as the meeting is about to reach its climax — the unveiling of the new water tap for the school — Merera and his supporters appear in two cars and drive through the crowd. They throw leaflets into the air, and at the OPDO officials.

“Look at them,” shouts Yohannes Mitiku, Merera’s rival for the area’s parliamentary seat. “They are trying to ruin our rally because they see that people support us.”

“They say we intimidate them but yet they feel free to do this,” he told Reuters.

Once the tap is unveiled, people filter back to villages in the surrounding hills, their absence revealing an empty street littered with leaflets and flags.

“Yes, the OPDO have been developing Oromia,” says an old man who has watched the commotion. “But it’s development and repression at the same time. They can build roads to the moon but I won’t vote for them until we’re equal.”

  1. Ferenj Lebaw
    | #1

    Look People, Ferenj Lebaw is trying again. Ferenj believes putting words on paper will dismantle Ethiopian Unity. What an article! How much is Mr.Malone’s salary? By the way, where did you get that population figure from? EPRDF via Western intellegencia? Do you think we believe that figure is accurate because you said so? It really doesn’t matter anyway because we see our Oromo brothers population just like ours (Ethiopian)- We are all Oromos, We are all Amharas, We are all Tigres…. but most of all, we are ETHIOPIANS. So what are you gonna do? Change the facts? Does it really matter what ethnic group, especially in the 21st century? Why don’t you write an article about ethnic groups in the West fighting over an election count? You know that wouldn’t serve justice. We are all intermarried and woven like a spider web. You can’t change that because it happened already. You may try to use our languages to divide us, but that also won’t do, ’cause we preserved them all throughout centuries. Our diversity is our strength. Don’t you know that? I think you do. You just want us to be weak so you can do whatever you want. Are you trying to prepare us for the break up of our country through your bs propoganda? Is that what you wish for us? Well, Most Ethiopians don’t seem to have the devil in their souls. They wish the West all the best. They probably would pray for you to be more prosperous. Don’t they treat you nice back in Ethiopia? Yet after recieving such a warm treatment, you come out in the name of Reuters and write such an article. May God save your soul. You can wish us death if you will. Does that make you happy? Good for you. What else next?

  2. guttu.
    | #2

    True freedom and democracy can not be pampered by road and forgien investiment on land of some one. tplf /opdo can try an imaginable to win the heart and soul of the oromians from west to east north to south .but
    the mind set of oromians is freedom of anation.no single oromo trust the
    government .oromians from all walks of life awaits the time bomb .until
    then we excercise right to vote even if we know our votes are expossed to rigers.

  3. King
    | #3

    I am totally agreed for what has been written by FERENJI LEBAW. Way are trying to aggravate things that harsh Ethiopian peace and stability. What advantage does someone getting by double- dealing? It is absurd and satanic

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