Democracy on Trial – The Wall Street Journal

July 17th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

Let’s play name-that-state. After the EU declared its 2005 elections flawed, this country’s troops killed 193 protestors and arrested 20,000 more. (more…)

Let’s play name-that-state. After the EU declared its 2005 elections flawed, this country’s troops killed 193 protestors and arrested 20,000 more. Last week, 42 of the accused were convicted of inciting violence to overthrow the state (down from an original charge of genocide and treason). Thirty-five were condemned to life in prison and forbidden to vote on Monday. Some of the accused were journalists, so their publishing houses were fined and closed.

Did you guess Ethiopia? Probably not, since this African state has often been held up as a pillar of good governance on a troubled continent. In just over a decade, Ethiopia went from military rule to a parliamentary system. But this democracy is on paper only.

The convictions are not an isolated incident, nor are the 42 defendants just any opposition figures. They include the elected mayor of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, a former Harvard scholar and a former U.N. envoy. They’ve been condemned to the same fate, life in prison, as ousted military strongman Mengistu Hailee Mariam, who is held responsible for the murder of 150,000 academics and university students in two decades in power.

Given the government’s recent record, it’s odd to say the least to see Prime Minister Meles Zenawi advise Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa in 2005 on the future of the continent. Or to hear that the Bush Administration considers Mr. Meles a “staunch ally” in the war on terror for searching out al Qaeda suspects during Ethiopia’s messy military intervention in neighboring Somalia and makes the country a priority recipient of U.S. assistance. (The world last year sent $1.6 billion.)

America needs to work with all kinds of regimes and military cooperation doesn’t always have to be tied to democratic progress. But if Ethiopia wants to become a real ally of the U.S., possibly playing host to the new African Command, it needs to take seriously democracy and human rights.

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