US official praises Ethiopian ‘democracy,’ rest of world begs to differ

April 19th, 2015 Print Print Email Email

During a press briefing in Addis Ababa on April 16, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman praised Ethiopia as a democracy, suggesting it had made great strides toward an open and inclusive electoral process.

With Ethiopia preparing to hold parliamentary elections on May 24, the timing of Sherman’s remarks was unfortunate. “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive in ways that Ethiopia has moved forward in strengthening its democracy,” Sherman said. “Every time there is an election it gets better and better.”

In reality, however, Ethiopia has been backsliding toward authoritarian one-party rule. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has been in power for the last 23 years, has won each of the last five elections, and has recently used a slew of harsh new laws to stifle dissent and silence any opposition to the incumbent party. The country’s one-time vocal opposition is severely diminished, making Ethiopia a de facto one-party state. In a statement earlier this year, 33 opposition parties announced plans to boycott the upcoming polls [PDF] citing intimidation and harassment.

“This election is only ceremonial, it’s not really to win the democratic process and empower the people,” Yilkal Getnet, the head of the opposition Blue Party, told Bloomberg last month, adding the upcoming plebiscite “will result in another landslide victory for the ruling coalition.”

Sherman’s statements drew quick condemnations. “Ethiopia remains one of the most undemocratic countries in Africa,” said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of Freedom House, in a statement Thursday. “By calling these elections credible, Sherman has tacitly endorsed the Ethiopian government’s complete disregard for the democratic rights of its citizens.”

Freedom House ranks Ethiopia as “Not Free” in its annual Freedom in the World index.

A closer look at Ethiopia’s last two elections paint a clear picture. In what was largely seen as the country’s first genuine experiment with electoral democracy in 2005, the EPRDF opened up the political space to opposition groups and free press. By all accounts, the EPRDF lost that election. But it claimed victory even before the vote counting was completed, leading to post-election violence in which 193 people died. Almost all vocal opposition leaders and critical journalists were rounded up and jailed [PDF].

“The 2005 electoral process did not fulfill Ethiopia’s obligations to ensure the exercise of political rights and freedoms necessary for genuinely democratic elections,” said the Carter Center, which observed the elections, in a report after the poll.

In the most recent vote in 2010, the EPRDF won all but two of the 547 parliamentary seats. U.S. embassy officials, independent observers and the media were denied accreditation and permission to travel outside of Ethiopia’s capital to observe the polls. “An environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place even before Election Day,” the White House, said in a statement at the time. “In recent years, the Ethiopian government has taken steps to restrict political space for the opposition through intimidation and harassment, tighten its control over civil society, and curtail the activities of independent media.”

Little has changed in Ethiopia in the intervening years. In fact, the EPRDF has tightened control over the media, jailing or forcing journalists into exile in record numbers. “The Ethiopian government’s systematic repression of independent media has created a bleak landscape for free expression ahead of the May 2015 general elections,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a January report. “At least 60 journalists have fled their country since 2010 while at least another 19 languish in prison. The government has shut down dozens of publications and controls most television and most radio outlets.”

Ethiopia blocks almost all diaspora-based Ethiopian websites, and it has allegedly used European and Chinese spyware to target critical journalists and opposition leaders abroad, including those in the United States.

The U.S. views Ethiopia as a staunch ally in the so-called “war on terror.” Given that dynamic, Washington has habitually looked the other way in the face of gross human rights abuses, but contrary to Sherman’s comments, the U.S. government has often acknowledged the lack of freedom and the tightening of the political space in Ethiopia. In a January statement, for example, the State Department criticized Ethiopia for using its anti-terrorism law to silence critics.

Sherman should take cues from organizations such as Freedom House, which is funded in part by her own State Department. In an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, six U.S.-based NGOs, including Amnesty International and Freedom House, denounced Sherman’s remarks, saying they “undermine the courageous work of those pushing for a freer Ethiopia, many of whom are now imprisoned for exercising their fundamental human rights.”

  1. Getachew Mekuria
    | #1

    Here is why we Ethiopians trust the American evaluations and honesty.

    Unlike some these useless and poorly managed and corrupted uncertified organization, the American government has the most sophisticated and well funded and managed political system and institutions to evaluate foreign countries affairs and social standing, this is why the American got it, when they declared that Ethiopia’s government is competent and DEMOCRACY.

  2. Tango
    | #2

    As Solomon said in bible,Every thing has its time.Now it is a time of Ethiopia. Just two weeks ago Ethiopia defeated Egypt diplomatically in Nile water supermacy.This week Sherman confirm USA support of Ethiopia against Eritrea.I said Eritrea instead of Ginbot 7 because as PMHD said Ginbot 7 is a trojan horse of Eritrea

  3. wedinakfa
    | #3

    Ill statement from ill informed US Official but and then people with no moral or political decency would come out with trashy comments, expected nothing surprises me the prostitution of USA politics!!!!

  4. Addisu
    | #4

    “In 2005 EPRDF lost the election”.Big lie.Opposition party fully won in Addis but EPRDF won on federal level.

  5. until victory
    | #5

    freedom house says “she is woefully ignorant”….. may be tplf bribe her to say what she says… shame to Obama administration… she is moron..
    Ethiopians have to do what we have to… remove tplf bandas from our country

  6. Gantissassa
    | #6

    Well, everything aside temporarily, when Wendy spoke of the lengthy meeting in which she had a lengthy conversations or discussion she had with tplf crooks, one could right away anticipate or could know something fishy was going on, the two amigos Tedros Adhanom and Madame Wendy appeared on tplf TV. There might be a possibility of her being bribed or, and since they kept her in mind confusing conversation for two long as a result she became disoriented and spoke insanity, on the other side of the coin, she might have been done something on her head with something she did not know it; therefore, very soon, she might come out in the public and disclose everything and anything done to her or done to Ethiopians.

  7. Ewentu Tessema
    | #7

    It is incredible to listen once again this kind of statements from the office where people, whom I admire, like Kissinger and other likes him had worked. After the US had become the only super power in the world, things has changed to the worst. People in the higher rank of this office (State Department) are doing and saying unbelievable things, like picking the future president of sovereign state and using vanity language (remember f… the EU ) when referring to an entity as big as the EU, exalting ruthless dictators and demonizing his opponents and victims during the eulogy. And now this lady (Wendy Sherman), supposedly a secretary for political affair, came with strangest of everything what have heard so far. I would have understand if she had said the TPLF-led regime in Ethiopia is a great ally of the US, therefore should deserve unconditional aid from the US government, but the fact she said that Ethiopia is a democracy beyond everything that I have ever heard from any one GOUSA. With this kind of people setting the agenda in the DC, I am worried about democracy in USA itself. Someone with sane mind should take this lady to task.

  8. Alem
    | #8

    Ms. Sherman says “Ethiopia is a democracy.”
    Ethiopian rulers call theirs “revolutionary democracy.”
    There is a glaring difference that Ms. Sherman is not aware of.
    Add to that the fact that Tplf = Tigray People’s Liberation FRONT;
    and Eprdf = Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic FRONT.
    Something is very wrong with US foreign policy.
    And there is a fundamental tactical error with Ethiopian opposition
    outside our homeland; wasting meagre resources on non-essentials,
    charging backwards [Moresh, Olf], driving without any productive purpose [Esat, G7],
    advocacy for the wrong group [Eritrea, Muslim assosciations]; total neglect and ignorance of priorities [never going back to report after an incident, Is "Professor Dr. Costentinos" still teaching at AAU? What about Tayitu Hotel? Was the owner compensated by the government? Will the hotel be restored?]. We have an opposition that is good at making noise. That is why people like Ms. Sherman, Susan Rice could get away with making statements like ““Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive in ways that Ethiopia has moved forward in strengthening its democracy…Every time there is an election it gets better and better” EVEN BEFORE A SINGLE BALLOT IS CAST!!

    Time to go over some Don’ts:
    1/ Don’t waste time discussing Eritrea, Olf, Muslim groups, Orthodox Church [both sides are engaged in ethnic warfare dressed in ecclesiastical garb].
    2/ G7 has no need of your financial support; it gets its funding anyway.
    3/ Uniting Ethiopia-Eritrea is a pipe dream; these are two countries, separate and unequal; “it is the leadership, not the people” is a deception.
    4/ Oromiya will not, cannot breakaway; it is the invention of Isaias and Tplf. Leenco became a convert in the hope that he could become the first president [just a silly dream; Leenco goes to Addis with NOT Olf but OLForum and he is chased away because no one is afraid of a toothless lion! Do you get the point?
    5/ Don’t oppose everything that goes on in our country. Every time you do that you lose a chance to be heard! No one trusts ACTIVISTS because activists are often clueless to the reality from the other side!

    It is PR, PR, PR.
    Do you own a laptop? Do you have the facts and do you know how to deliver those facts? That’s what we need.
    Keep records and publish them. Who owns major gold mining deals, real estate, etc? Is there economic racism? Keep record for future generation.

  9. Ye Gonder Jegna
    | #9


    I 100% agree with your honest and unwavering comment, you nailed it well.

    Thank You!

  10. jensisa
    | #10

    Ms. Wendy Sherman out of her mind. She insanely said “Ethiopia is a democracy, it is getting better and better.” What have Criminals in the fascist tplf organization done to her and spoke she insanely?

  11. Kebede
    | #11

    Ewnetu Tessema
    So Kissinger is to be respected. Oh how about some reading sir. You must be watching only Fox News. Many Ethiopians are guilty of assuming they know and saying whatever they want with limited knowledge and reading about politics history and the economy. As professor Tekola said ” their ideas as bad as their English”

  12. chachu
    | #12

    You talking about democracy you make me laugh.EThiopia today is a living hell for its citizens.For the last 24 years the ethiopian people held hostage by armed tugs of Tigre liberation front.ethioopians today live in fear, basic human rights are not respected.the Tigre liberation front despite losing the election still hung on power by force without the will of the ethiopian people this is a known fact don’t try to miss lead the world.

  13. zerifaqiq
    | #13

    Tedros Adhanom, family member, the criminal among one of the most wanted ones in Ethiopia, a repeated offender who lured a schoolgirl into his adult world, did it again; this time, it is with an elderly woman. Wendy Sherman, when she appeared on the media along with Tedros Adhanom, she immediately spoke of her exhaustive conversation with Tedros Adhanom and then she attempted to gather herself while struggling to decelerate the speed of breathing, partially blushed on both sides her face, while gasping for extra fresh air looking towards Tedros Adhanom successively between her rant and utterance, not knowing how deep she has immersed herself into the world of the robbers, she called names and disrespect others knowingly or unknowingly, that she would be in deep trouble of being held responsible for twisted words and lies that came out of her uncontrollable mouth.

  14. jilffif
    | #14

    It has been a mere behaviour, Wendy Sherman has had a habit of speaking without thinking and walking away with no regret. So far, it looks like she has been running away from the public and hiding until the dust she threw on the public face. When considering her job track record or competency on the job or foreign assignment, she has been nothing but a failure. Why and why so, it is only the job of authorities above her or senior managers who oversea her indoor and outdoor activities she has been to perform the task she is assigned to, not the public. So far, there was not any indication to have her recalled to office of her superior on poor and disgusting performance on mission she was assigned to.

    A good example of being in a wrong place at a wrong time with a wrong person is the case in point to mention about nothing but Wendy Sherman. She was a boring and miserable to the public when she suddenly appeared with a wrong man and uttered lies and deceives to the public. at a quick glance and focus, she appeared to the public as a paid poor saleswoman; of course, she had a failing close on her sell; then, subsequently, it seemed she was somehow lured into being a mouthpiece for the outlaw whom she said had a long meeting. Then, the question came into the public mind that what have the crooks done to her that she became so irrelevant and slippery on the mouth. The thinking went on and on until later it was discovered that she said what said out of mere incompetency in job and her utter ignorance about things that have been going outside the homeland.

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