EU Observer’s Final Report: Let Berhanu Nega return to Ethiopia – By Eskinder Nega

November 8th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

The much anticipated but much delayed final report by the EU Observers Mission to Ethiopia was released today in the Belgian capital, Brussels. While the final report was in line with the earlier preliminary report, the Mission is set to stir political waves by one of its recommendation: “The absence of one opposition leader in exile, as well as the imprisonment of one political leader, qualified as arbitrary detention by the United Nations, should be addressed. The review of these leaders’ legal cases would constitute an important and necessary step in order to broaden the political space.”

The “one opposition leader” is an obvious reference to Berhanu Nega, exiled leader of the underground opposition, Genbot 7. Berhanu has been sentenced to death in absentia for an alleged involvement in a coup-attempt. One of its other recommendations, the freeing of Birtukan Mideksa, referred to as “the imprisonment of one political leader” in the recommendation, has come about; but only under highly unsatisfactory terms.

Below is a summary of the latest report:

The invitation extended to EU Observers to monitor Ethiopia’s 2010 national elections was a surprise. In retrospect, though, it shouldn’t have been. The opposition had essentially self-imploded, and the EPRDF had every reason to be confident. But then again, this was how it lost the election in 2005. Yet there was a critical difference between 2005 and 2010 for the EPRDF—-which was the loss of confidence between opposition leaders. Politics is like competitive group sports. Focused leadership, unhampered by internal distractions, is indispensable. And that was missing.
The mandate of the Mission was supposed to have been negotiated painstakingly (or so the EPRDF believed); which, as was reported at the time, imposed new restrictions that the EU accepted only reluctantly. But several months later, it was the EPRDF, not the EU, which was to bitterly regret an innocent looking clause that allowed for an assessment of “the environment in which the election was conducted.”

The EU Elections Observation Mission is no doubt the best of its kind in the world. The Americans have nothing that remotely competes with it. It has a reputable methodology that is uniformly applied in all countries. Over the past decade, it has used its inimitable expertise to observe almost 70 elections in 50 countries. The Mission is undeniably one clear success and pride of the European venture.

The Mission to Ethiopia was headed by Thijs Berman, a Dutch Socialist (and therefore a critique of neo-liberalism like Meles), who led a high- profile Observers Mission to Afghanistan in 2009. Berman, a journalist by profession, led a Mission of ten expert analysts, 90 long-term observers, with an additional 60 short-term Observers all centered at Addis’ Hilton.

To little surprise, the Mission was under microscopic watch from the very beginning. Just how close was reveled when Berman was summoned by Meles, according to news reports, who spoke of the Mission’s pending (then theoretically still secret) unfavorable preliminary report. In a pitiable attempt to steal the Mission’s thunder, a hastily organized mass rally in support of the election outcome was staged in Addis, where Meles himself spoke, on the day the preliminary report was released. (The absurd pretext for the rally was a routine Human Rights Watch statement on the election.)

In an almost word to word repetition of the 2005 report, the preliminary report said that the 2010 election “fell short of certain international commitments, notably the lack of level playing field for all parties and the transparency of the process.” Describing the election as low-key to the very last days, the report went on further to castigate the EPRDF: “the ruling party had at times used state resources for campaign purposes, contributing to an un-level playing field leaning in favor of the EPRDF in many areas.” But it commended the Electoral Board for its technical proficiency.
The Mission promised to release a comprehensive report before the opening of parliament: “The EU EOM will stay in country to observe the tabulation of the results and the announcement of the final results. It will issue its final report within two months of the completion of the entire electoral process.”

Sadly, it was not able to keep its promise.

More than five long months later, the final report was finally released on November 8, 2010 in Brussels by Berman. Denied a visa by stonewalling PM’s office, Berman had to settle for the European Parliament press center.

The final report’s summary runs as such:


While several positive improvements were introduced since the 2005 elections, there were negative developments in the practical application of the legal and electoral framework. As a result, the electoral process fell short of international commitments for elections, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties. Insufficient efforts were taken to ensure a more equitable and representative electoral process.

2 NARROWING OF POLTICAL SPACE (Birtukan and Birhanu)

The changes in the legal framework together with the fragmentation of the main opposition forces in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, as well as the imprisonment of leading opposition figures and the departure in exile of one opposition leader, resulted in a cumulative narrowing of the political space within the country. The ruling party’s presence throughout the country was unrivalled by opposition parties, especially in rural areas which house up to 80% of the Ethiopian population.


The NEBE administered the elections in a competent and professional manner given its limited resources, overcoming significant technical challenges….. Insufficient measures were taken to increase the level of trust of some opposition parties in the impartiality and independence of the NEBE.


It was observed that the(limited private) media were often very cautious in their reporting. The jamming of the Voice of America Amharic Service throughout the campaign period, and of Deutsche Welle a couple of days before the elections, reduced the possibility for voters to receive information from a wider range of sources. This was not compensated by other media, as the limited outreach of print and broadcast media reduced their role in providing voters with information to make an informed choice.


The separation between the ruling party and the public administration was blurred at the local level in many parts of the country. The EU EOM directly observed cases of misuse of state resources in the ruling party’s campaign activities.


Even taking into account the inherent advantages of the incumbency, the Mission considers that the playing field for the 2010 elections was not sufficiently balanced, leaning heavily in favor of the ruling party in many areas.


The exclusion of civil society organisations from voter education, together with the new and more restrictive Ethiopian Charities and Societies Law, limited the potential role of local organisations in the electoral process.


Polling procedures were assessed positively by EU EOM observers in 87% of visited polling stations, while closing and counting were assessed positively in 66% of cases. In 25% of observed polling stations copies of results forms were not given to party agents and in nearly half, results were not posted outside the polling station, thereby compromising the transparency and credibility of the counting process.


The NEBE announced provisional results less than 48 hours after polling stations closed, thanks to a parallel system of communication allowing for the aggregation of polling station results at the national level. The consolidation process at constituency level was considered very problematic according to EU EOM observers. In 27% of cases observed, polling station results were different to those previously recorded by observers at polling stations. In several cases, incomplete or incorrect forms from polling stations were corrected or completed at constituency electoral offices. The transparency of the process was considered unsatisfactory in 40% of observed cases. Certain essential forms for the correct transmission of results to the national level were not filled in numerous constituencies.


The creation of specific constituencies for Ethiopian citizens living abroad, together with out of- country registration and voting in embassies and consulates could be considered. Given that the Constitution allows for an additional three seats in the HPR, these could be used to represent Ethiopians living abroad.


The absence of one opposition leader in exile, as well as the imprisonment of one political leader, qualified as arbitrary detention by the United Nations, should be addressed. The review of these leaders’ legal cases would constitute an important and necessary step in order to broaden the political space.

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