Finland’s envoy exposes “the dark side” of Ethiopia’s regime by Keffyalew Gebremedhin
At the end of his four-year duty tour in Ethiopia as Finland’s Ambassador, Mr. Leo Olasvirta made some observations in his August 14, 2013 article, which appears on the Finnish Foreign Ministry webpage (in Finnish), highlighting Ethiopia’s contributions to the stability of the surrounding troubled Horn of Africa countries.
In his elaboration, he attributes this to Ethiopia’s strength, especially its active role in promoting peace and good neighborly policy. This has become necessary with aim of avoiding escalating situations in neighboring countries that “could jeopardize the country’s economy and prosperity.”
Regarding the poor record of the regime in human rights, Ambassador Olasvirta was upfront in stating, “Ethiopia does not have respect for human rights nor does the state have a democratic model”, although the country is relatively safe and stable. In other words, he cites as an example the fact that this far Ethiopia has not experienced a major terrorist attack, at a time when Islamic fundamentalists are trying to draw the region into their sphere.
On the other hand, the ambassador notes that Ethiopia’s major challenge is “the authoritarian regime and its democratic deficit.” He refers to this as “Ethiopia’s dark side.”
To amplify what he meant by that, he pointed out human rights violations that occur from time to time, with the arrests of activists and journalists. He links this to the open-ended anti-terrorism law, empowering the state to violate at will the human rights of its citizens. He says, “The Anti-terrorism law is formulated in such a way that a mere opinion, or contact with suspected individuals could trigger an investigation and the consequent criminality.”
Furthermore, Ambassador Leo Olasvirta observes, “Rough governance is justified by concerns about external and internal threats.” The fact is that, these are means they use “to justify strengthening the regime’s powers.”
As far as the economy is concerned, the ambassador believes that “the regime has chosen a game of chance”, promising the country that it would become middle-income. In the meantime, it urges and expects, he says, people “to be obedient and self-sacrificing”, as they await future rewards.
What this has done to the country’s reality is that, the ambassador opines, with political and economic power concentrated in the regime, people are “feeling excluded, while under the surface their rebelliousness smoldering.”
In turning his attention to the frauds perpetrated in the 2010 election, in which he recalls the ruling party took 99.6 percent of the votes, Ambassador Olasvirta says, “In the 2010 elections, the House got only one opposition representative; and in the local elections in 2013, again the dominant party received almost one hundred percent of the vote.”
His concern now is that the next election, for which there is not “enough time for democratic reforms, because of which the pressure is increasing.”
As far as Finland is concerned, he says, “Finland has had bilateral talks clearly emphasizing the need for poverty reduction, promotion of human rights, good governance, the information society, the rights of civil societies, peace and security, as well as the importance of land registration and eliminating discrimination against minorities.”
In 2013, Finland’s bilateral aid to Ethiopia is about 15.7 million euros. The next bilateral cooperation cycle between the two countries covers the period from 2013-2016.
In terms of Ethiopia-Finland trade, to date it is limited to a paltry five million euros. The hope for the future is Ethiopia possibly being interested in Finnish cargo equipment, as it is engaged in expansion of Ethiopian Airlines cargo services.