Meles Zenawi’s threat against Opposition Parties. By Eskinder Nega

April 8th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

A respectable crowd gathered to listen to him in a popular café in the middle of Piazza on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. They usually do, about once every three months, when he appears on televised sessions of Parliament. (more…)

A respectable crowd gathered to listen to him in a popular café in the middle of Piazza on Tuesday, March 15, 2011. They usually do, about once every three months, when he appears on televised sessions of Parliament. But this is hardly an assemblage in anticipation of a grand or an important speech. The irremediable draw is the battle of wills that ensues with fleeting looks, embroidered smiles and exchanges of pained or delighted expressions between his supporters and detractors.

The unwritten law is that no words are to be exchanged in support or disapproval of his speech. This is strictly a duel by body language and facial expressions. If something particularly meaningful to either side is uttered, an intermittent grunt is tolerated. In the end, both sides settle their bills, get up and walk out manifestly pretending that nothing had happened.

Welcome to freedom of expression in the land of the oppressed: stressed Ethiopia, where this article could not be read.

The setting: Ethiopia’s rubber-stump parliament, where the opposition has only one seat in a 547 seat chamber.

The chief actor: besieged Meles Zenawi, who has been in power for twenty years, and still has four more official years to go.(Beware: “I love this job!” he has told the nation at his last press conference.)

He was universally ignored when he read his prepared speech. At least in this regard his supporters and detractors blended in perfect harmony. The hush came with the start of the question and answer session.

Would the PM kindly comment on the imprisonment of opposition members and the Grand Millennium Dam? Has the government altered its policy on Eritrea? And more questions on the economy.

Mumbled conversations drown the responses on the economy. No excitement to be expected there. When he spoke of the recent arrest of opposition members, however, an uneasy tension hangs in the air. There was none of the usual glee of his supporters.

68 members of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and 40 members of the Oromo People’s Congress (OPC), both members of the largest legal opposition coalition, Medrek, have been arrested since the beginning of March 2011.Amongst the detained, according to HRW, “are former members of Parliament and former candidates for election.”

The opposition claims 200 arrests but the government admits to only 121, which it insists are all being held under court orders. The detention of the remaining 79 under the notorious Anti-Terrorism Law may explain the government’s disquieting silence, which allows custody for up to four months without charge.

“They are members of the OLF,” said Meles. “They were using the legal opposition as a cover, perhaps with the complicity of the parties,” charged Meles ominously. “We will prove this in a court of law, which ought to provide the public with proof of how (the legal opposition)is at least being used as a cover,” he winded down somewhat pathetically.(Practically no one believes in the independence of the courts, including most government supporters.)

He also had harsh words for UDJ, another member of Medrek, whose two most visible leaders, Seye Abraha and Negasso Gidada, were once senior government officials who were purged(the former illegally) from the ruling party.

Meles, who savors nothing more than occasionally propping up his security services in public, had made it part of a calculated, primed statement this time. “I would like to warn members of Mederk,” he said with an intentional pause for effect here, “particularly Andinet(UDJ),” another pause, “to be very careful about inciting a hybrid of violence and terror. This is a government with many eyes and ears,” the words are now being delivered with marked pride, “it is able to see and hear thoroughly. Be very careful, you will pay the price,” a forceful finish.

There is creepy silence in the café now. There is no movement from either side. The tension is too much for the silent contest today. All eyes are rather transfixed on the TV.

His responses on Eritrea and the Grand Millennium Dam, two issues he is frantically promoting to deflect attention from sporadic but persistent calls for democracy, were followed with no less rapt attention.

On Eritrea there was an embarrassing retreat from the emotional bluff of a full fledged war. The new policy is “proportional response,” delivered with far less gusto than the “regime change with military action” he had vowed only three weeks ago. Common sense prevails, after all, perhaps with a lit bit of propping from the international community.

(I will address his response on the Grand Millennium Dam in a separate article.)

There is considerable credence to UDJ’s claim that it is the most plausible successor to the CUD, the star performer of the 2005 elections. The core of its influential leadership were at one point leading members of the CUD. Most of them were imprisoned in 2005, subsequently convicted of attempts to overthrow the government , sentenced to life imprisonment, and then released under a conditional Presidential pardon in late 2007.The qualification stipulates that the pardon will be revoked if they are “ever to act in contravention to the Constitutional order.”

In a premeditated move to discourage dissent, the government revoked the pardon of Birtukan Mideksa in 2009 under the filmiest of pretexts. The repercussion of Birtukan’s imprisonment on UDJ was simply devastating. The inability of the party to respond to EPRDF’s blatant provocation with mass protests, as many had predicated, went on to symbolize the weakness of the opposition. The beleaguered leaders of UDJ were soon disoriented. Moral plummeted amidst the grassroots. And thus the EPRDF eloquently underscored its intended message: its dominant position is unassailable!

But with the protests in the Middle East serving as a backdrop, EPRDF’s aura of invincibility is now unavoidably being questioned seriously. And Meles seems to be flirting with the possibility of refurbishing that image with more provocations against UDJ, perhaps calculating that the party is still not strong enough to trigger immediate protests.

I seriously doubt whether Meles’ Machiavellian design would have the same effect it once had. Ethiopians have changed forever since the North African uprisings, not only in how they perceive the EPRDF but also in how they will relate with their future governments. They have discovered new prospects to a peaceful transition to democracy. The thinking of the international community has also changed radically. The support of EPRDF’s international partners could not be taken for granted anymore. What has not changed is Meles’ thinking. He still romanticizes a world which broadly tolerates repression, a world in which he is always the winner. He is destined to fail.

The future lies with the blackmailed opposition, however vulnerable to bullying they may seem now. And in the grand perspective of things, that is what really matters most.

Keep posting articles on your facebook pages. Fight tyranny from your PC.

The writer could be reached at

  1. Bekumsa
    | #1

    Well versed Eskender and in deed, Ethiopian’s are learned quit a bit on how to relate to their government to come. As you said, we have come a long way in our silent effort of charting our future in our own hands. Meles, with all his wittings has now exposed to the world of ideals and has no choice but either to give in or brought down. Our world has and is changing for good and it takes quit an effort for the likes of Meles to adjust to that. All they know is partisan, my way or the high way, divide and rule, enemy and friend, in general their view of our world is only duality, black and white. We the new generation of Ethiopia and of course elsewhere understand that in 21th century, cooperation, flexibility, accommodation, transparency, diversity and all virtues of humanity serve us all.

    We understand that there are still voices out there who opt to define and redefine our nation and identity but we say enough is enough, we have all common destiny and common goal i.e make Ethiopia land of equals, land of equal opportunities, land of peace and tranquility where life is dignified and freedom up held.

    Meles and his cohorts couldn’t grasp that. Thanks for fighting tyranny from you PC. We will all fight for our very right, life and liberty!

  2. nbere
    | #2

    Thank you agin for the piece.
    True enough the global situation is changed and the political perception of the population is also enhanced.The question is:Is the oposition bold enough to react and retaliate by calling mass rebellion if any one of the core leaders are arrested? Melese is definately looking for a scape goat as the revolutionarey situation is heated,But I
    any move by Melese to provoke the legal opsiton can be a blessing in disguise as the seemingly in active oposition may be drown into the revolution.In that case Melese will be wellcomed to ignite the revolution!!

  3. Guest
    | #3

    I wonder if Skin is thinking that UDJ would be much better in making the Ethiopia more developed country? Or from what is going on at the moment, all around the world, with prices sky rocketing everywhere and job cuts and demonistrations in the UK, US etc. how will the opposition parties make a better place in Ethiopia?
    What are the tangible agenda that are on board that will enable the country to move forward?
    In every country there is controlling and spying on its’ citizens. What is happening in Ethiopia that is different from what is going on in other countries?

  4. Nega
    | #4

    Thanks Eskinder,

    You have a very good understanding of the tricks of Meles and his stratagem for suppression and oppression. Particularly, the motive behind the intimidation and bullying of the opposition (UDJ) is well understood. But, I don’t think the action or reaction of the oppositions will have any impact in inciting any form of protest. Meles is simply using them as a means to convey his desperate threat message to the populace.

    To Selam,

    If you realy believe in what you said, you wouldn’t have needed to comment here. You could have simply ignored Eskinder’s article. I can understand the agony and insomenia that supporters and sympathizers of the regime are suffering these days.

  5. FUAD
    | #5

    Do you see these Weyane Cadres’ way of thinking. This moron, Neway, said “send him to prison, right of the bat” , We are living with this miscreates and ruthless murderes who do not have any fear of good and no respect for humanity.

  6. Semere
    | #6

    Why is it that everything the Woyane guys own and run must have ‘Selam’ in its name? Why are they over using the word “Selam”? I am suspicious of anything that has “selam’ in its name or even Selam as its name. The first commenter here calling himself ‘Selam” included.
    His nonsense does not go with the other nonsense of a threat to violence by the PM

  7. Derbabaw
    | #7


    First of all, I think you are a dishonest fellow, the nick name you are using doesn’t belong to you.Second, the harsh criticism you direct at a credible and acclaimed journalist is unfair. You are wrong on both counts of your comment. You think Eskinder is being obstacle for the regime to fulfill what you referred as “its promise.”The crucial issue here is the Ethiopian people demand freedom of a say in the affair of their country, and freedom of expression is one of those demands. Can you understand mr.Selam, we want to have a say on the affairs of our nation.Inlike manner, Eskinder is exercising his right of expression in the way he perceives Ethiopian politics being played. Now, what promise of Melese is Eskinder blocking here? I see what you are thinking. Melese might thought building a dam is good service to Ethiopia. In principle this can be a noble idea, but most Ethiopians think the timing, the finance and other matters need to be put in the table for national debate.But,You can’t see the difference between a political system that allow free citizens participation, and a political autocracy exercised by one man as a sole mouth piece for all Ethiopians.
    That is what we have in Ethiopia autocracy without representation.
    As to why Eskinder need to write to the Diaspora community about events in Ethiopa? Judge for yourself what the appropriate answer is for this one- what takes place in our country concerns all of us. On a serious note ,though,I sense confusion and despair on the part of some of weyane cadres. This may come ,partly, as a result of mis-understanding of the views of the opposition and future Ethiopia. Or it may come out of despair and a deep awareness that the last day of weryane is here. Let us realize nothing stays permanently. I advise government supporters not to be unduly preoccupied about the coming days.The sky is not falling,God is at the throne,and all will be well for Ethiopians including to weyane supporters.

  8. thechosenone
    | #8

    Aselam Alekum people of Ethiopia. May God’s ways bring justice to a suffering people, may the opposition and supporters alike find strength to do the right thing. Meles can not take your soul and that is all that matters. I would give my life if it meant more than 80 million people could start enjoying their own country and building it for the sake of the weak and needy. God’s strength, as when David struck down Goliath, is inside each and every one of us. No one man can,however, simply have enough strength to fight evil on his/her own. I will pray that the spirit of the true one God find common ground in all ethiopians hearts. Stop this shameful evil and disrespect toward your African brothers and sisters, you people that support Meles and his party. God is watching as you play games with the lives of children, women and old people who can not stand up for themselves. I have warned you Mr. meles. Find some of humility in your selfish self and let the people be free and prosperous. I am the diliverer of messages. The chosen one. People of Ethiopia, be wise. Use love to conquor the evil in your midst. Find the Spirit of David in your hearts, and do what is necessary. Trust, once more, that God and his powers are with you. Your servant, he who cries for the world. I will share my identity when the lord commands me. For now, God speed, and fear no evil….ever.

  9. Death to Woyannes!
    | #9

    We need more people like you to answer these hodams and tell them like it is. I know they are too dense and brainwashed to comprehend how totally wrong they are and how 78 million Ethiopians despise them, but they need to be told again and again. Thanks.

  10. gab
    | #10

    every one is talking about change again and again we don’t have organised parties all are corrupeted power hungry leaders as we saw they are breaking out in to many groups. if eprdf falls who is going to take over to lead the movement? i think it is scary things . at moment if revolution start olf and onlf are well armed and have the power to take over by gun and kill all democratical movemnent and will take us to LIKE HUTU AND TUTSI STYELS KILLING EACH OTHER WORSER THAN WHAT WE HAVE NOW. We need at least two opposition party well armed by the people support.we have to learn from 1966 and 1991 failia why the people lost and robberers take over.

  11. The African Hitler Meles
    | #11


  12. Yarenja
    | #12

    Why didn’t u post my recent comment.
    Its people like u who are saying there is no freedom of speech in Ethiopia but still silence people who are against your way of thinking.
    I wondered what would happen if u were in 4kilo.
    Thank God u r just a war monger nobody.
    ……This would even make me more devoted to the Eprdf.
    I swear I’ll fight the likes of u till the end.
    Long live Eprdf
    Long live the people of Ethiopia.

  13. ሶስና
    | #13

    በፖለቲካ ፓርቲዎች ላይ የሚደርሰው ጫና በጣም የሚያሳዝን ነው:: የእነኝህ ፓርቲ መሪዎች ኢትዮጵያውያን እንዳይደሉ ተቆጥረው በገዠው ፓርቲ መሰደብ መንገላታት መታሰር መሰደድና መገደል ሕዝቡን ሊያስቆጨው ይገባል:: የሰሞኑ ማደናገሪያ የሕዝብን ሀሳብ ለመስረቅ ሆነ ማንም የሚያውቀው ነው:: ልማትን ማንም የሚጠላ የለም ሆኖም “አባይን ገድቡ ነገር ግን ነጻነታችንን መገደብ አትችሉም” ነው ኢትዮጵያዊ ሁሉ::

  14. ABEL
    | #14

    Dear Abugida,
    Here is a blogpost I thought might interest your viewers. Hope you post it. Thanks.

    It Takes Three
    Discussions among our wider community are now centered on removing Meles and his wife from power. The excitable majority Diaspora continue to compare and hope repeat of events especially in Egypt in Ethiopia. We branded them ‘excitable’ because these jump to conclusions without ever doing their homework. Others major on slogans and minor on organizing and building coalitions with groups on the home front. “Beqa”/Enough [on loan from Egypt] is not enough! No one has to-date been able to remote-control social-political change. None are telling us what post-Meles world is going to look like. Meles and his wife are still in power because they spend sleepless nights doing all it takes to remain in power!

    Look at Egypt’s world class army leaders, if you will. Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, General Samora Yenus, hardly completed high school but already a life-size statue is erected for him [a bribe?] at the National Museum! Many of those in positions of power in Ethiopia are holders of Open University [UK] diplomas – diplomas that do not require a baccalaureate and are routinely undertaken with help from ghost writers. You see where we are going with this? Egypt already has four Nobel Laureates. Ethiopia has none. And so on.

    Sooner or later, change is coming to Ethiopia. No one is more cognizant of this truth than Prime Minister Meles and his wife. Why do we say this? Well, look at the statements, Q&A and interviews of Meles in the months of February, March, and April. So you don’t have to labor over this, we will go ahead and sum up in just one word the gist of Mr. Meles’s diatribes and incessant one-upmanship: THREATS. Meles has been making threats after threats after threats. When do people make threats? When they realize they are about to lose control. In other words, fear of losing power and all that involves. Such persons are dangerous, as Meles has repeatedly showed, and are prone to taking drastic measures. But the same persons also dread sustained and well-organized opposition. That is why Meles is at the moment hyperactively sowing fear among potential and active opposition groups – through inducements, jailings, forced retirements, blackmailing, etc. “Ethiopian Prime Minister Vows to Fight Domestic, External Threats” and “the plot being hatched to incite protests and terror” would “pay a price” enjoins Meles. Meles never for a moment wants you to think a popular demand for change could remove him and his wife from office. He is out to remove his friend Isaias of Eritrea or often shouts [as in a dark] “Ethiopia not afraid of Egyptians!” Can you imagine head of a sovereign nation talking rubbish like that?

    The possibility of the Obama Administration demanding Meles to leave office is not farfetched, considering the situation in Libya. Don’t conclude it is the oil alone that forced the hand of Mr. Obama. Remember Egypt and the call for Mubarak to leave office. The common thing in all cases is the powerful public dissent and protest. In other words, a well-organized public and well-articulated vision will force the hands of Meles’s current sponsors to finally relent. Let us not forget Meles is an easy prey as far as his western backers are concerned. Why do we say that? We say this because Meles’s backers have every conceivable data on his activities since his jungle days. Such information would include the genocide in Gambela, the murder of 197 unarmed protestors on the streets of Addis, his and his wife’s financial activities, invasion of Somalia, 100,000 deaths in the border war with Eritrea, etc. When the moment comes he and his wife will be given choices – of going before an international tribunal or flee to an assigned destination [similar to, in Secretary Clinton’s words, “Gaddafi leaving to another country of his exile”].

    Let us also remember DL Piper, the pied piper to Meles, is the vampire sucking Ethiopian blood to keep a tyrant in power and knows how to change gears when the time comes. That indeed takes professionalism of the highest order!

    So, won’t our rant ever end? Sorry, we don’t call it ‘rant’ – this is a recycled solution. And according to us, it takes three to bring change to Ethiopia. We begin with the year 1991. Mengistu was in power. Mengistu had a secret service like no other dictator on planet earth. Meles [oops, Mengistu] was referred to as “wud meriachin” [Dear Leader]. And Mengistu was literally in charge of every ministry. Mengistu had a craving for listening to himself talk – and he talked a lot on every subject under the sky [perhaps because he is bored, afraid, and lonely or simply to make sure people recognized he is still here]. He talked about progress the nation was making, the economy, growth and development projects, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, his party [the only party, a coalition of his own making], eliminating suspects, etc.

    The one glaring difference? Mengistu and his wife were not Gucci and Armani addicts nor did they own real estate in Addis, London, or Maryland. And now we proceed to identifying the three change agents as at 1991. First, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam who wrote a letter to Mengistu that could have gotten him killed. Second, Dr. Hailu Araya and finally, a local priest both of whom, in parliament and on live television, confronted Mengistu as no one had ever done and lived to tell the tale! See here and here. Who could be the three candidates in the year 2011?

    By the way, no blood was shed to see transfer of power. What we witnessed was, however, a delayed calamity. The absence of an organized and articulate group then had allowed foreigners to more or less decide our fate as a nation. That’s why a post-Meles period should be carefully planned. Avoiding entanglement with Eritrean groups is one such precaution; refusal to make backroom deals with those whose only objective is power at any cost is yet another. Could Seye and Gebru set aside their little ethnic agenda and inaugurate a new era and for once grow up to represent and advance a national agenda? Could party leaders of Amhara [138 parliamentary seats], Oromo [178], and Southern State [122] rise up to the occasion? The combination of Amhara and Oromo or Oromo and Southern State parties could easily gain the parliamentary majority required to relegate impotent policies of Meles’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front [with only 38 seats and conveniently hiding behind Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s 499 seats]. One change agent we could not do without is a priest to pronounce the Last Rite for the dying ruling minority. And who could that priest be? We know for certain the current head of the church would not be a candidate!

  15. Anonymous
    | #15

    If u are blind taht u can’t see the cases, ask someone to help u out. Don’t spit every word u got in ur mouth. Try to understand him. Of course most have not access and right to comunicate this way, but the diasporas.meaning: eventualy all will see it in back-door at the end of the day.

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