Ethiopia’s new climate of fear – David Dadge (guardian.co.uk)

May 19th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

Despite the generosity of donor nations, Ethiopia is ruled by an authoritarian government with virtual impunity. (more…)

Despite the generosity of donor nations, Ethiopia is ruled by an authoritarian government with virtual impunity.

The European Union, United States and other major donors will pump about $2.5bn (£1.6bn) into Ethiopia this year, a sum that does not even begin to include the cost of medicines, famine relief and countless other services provided by non-profit groups in one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

That help is needed, because Ethiopians are prone to malnutrition, disease and natural calamity. Its burgeoning population far outstrips the country’s ability to feed itself. So desperate is Ethiopia that celebrity causes – from Bob Geldoff’s Live Aid famine-relief concerts to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s adoption of orphaned babies – supplement what donors cannot possibly provide.

But for all this generosity, an authoritarian government rules Ethiopia with virtual impunity. Prime minister Meles Zenawi, in power for 18 years, has crushed the opposition. His ruling party dominates public institutions. Worse still, in a vast and predominantly rural country, the prime minister’s underlings control broadcasting and maintain a choke-hold on other media.

Four years ago this month, Zenawi’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF) suffered its worst loss at the polls since the former guerrilla overthrew a ruthless, Soviet-backed regime in 1991. Rather than accept its losses, the EPRDF-run government responded with a brutal crackdown, claiming outright victory and accusing the opposition of trying to stage an insurrection.

Security forces attacked peaceful protesters, jailed opposition leaders, sent thousands of their supporters to gruesome detention camps and accused independent journalists of treason – a crime punishable by death. Some journalists and politicians sought asylum in other countries. During several months of unrest, roughly 200 people were killed. It was a disgraceful snub for donor nations that had invested time and capital in supporting Ethiopia’s democratic transition.

Many of the journalists and opposition figures were eventually released or granted clemency, but there has been no letup to the torment. In late April 2009, security forces arrested 40 opposition figures, accusing them of trying to topple the government.

Meanwhile, the authorities continue their assault on independent media through capricious licensing rules, interrogations and, on occasion, revoking the permits of reporters for international broadcasters like the Voice of America. Leading journalists have been assaulted, the culprits never found. “There is only fear, not freedom, of expression in Ethiopia,” says one leading journalist.

Ethiopia’s journalists are not entirely innocent. Some newspapers have stoked the country’s ethnic and regional animosities and can be wildly inaccurate in their reporting. Yet badgering or jailing journalists is no way to resolve what could be handled through a voluntary media council or independent ombudsman. Furthermore, the government effort to portray independent journalists as vicious enemies unfairly condemns the many Ethiopian reporters and editors who take their responsibilities seriously.

Zenawi has largely escaped sanction from his western allies, in part because the erudite ex-Marxist had a friendly relationship with the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, and co-operated closely with the Bush administration in counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa.

There has not been total silence. Donald Payne, a leading member of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal and head of the EU’s observation team in the 2005 elections, have sought to tie non-humanitarian aid more closely to Ethiopia’s conduct on press freedom and other human rights. Britain and some other European governments responded to the post-election crackdown by temporarily withholding aid.

But Ethiopia poses a dilemma for anyone who cares about human rights and democracy. Cutting off aid could have calamitous humanitarian consequences for the nation’s 80 million people. It could also destabilise a fragile region, sparking fresh wars with neighbouring Somalia and Eritrea.

Nevertheless, there are ways to pressure Zenawi:

• Donors should deny Ethiopian ministers a seat at diplomatic tables, such as the coveted spot Zenawi got at the G20 summit in London as head of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

• While the Development Assistance Group, created by the EU and other principal donors to co-ordinate aid projects in Ethiopia, has improved the efficiency of donor contributions, a vigorous monitoring component is needed to ensure that international resources do not support policies that are anathema to human rights values.

• As a leading donor, the EU wields considerable power in Ethiopia and should be more willing to use it. The EU should aggressively enforce the Cotonou Agreement, which requires Ethiopia and other nations that receive European assistance to respect “human rights, democratic principles, and the rule of law”. Cotonou is due for revision in 2010, so now is the time to develop enforcement mechanisms that establish clear penalties for failing to uphold human rights and freedom of the press.

• The EU and the US should wield more of their clout at the World Bank and other international organisations to link development grants to progress on press freedom and human rights.

The aid that Ethiopia receives from its friends may be a small price to pay to keep Africa’s second largest country from descending into chaos. But Ethiopia’s people deserve more from their government. Press freedom is a start, not just because it is a fundamental human right, but also because vigorous media are essential to keeping societies alert to the kinds of crises that are all too common in Ethiopia.

David Dadge is Director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute, the global network for free media

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009

  1. Only justice delivers peace
    | #1

    The end of the TPLF is impending although there is no well organized political PARTY to begin with. All political party in Ethiopia are somehow someway are contaminated by woyana to think their tribe first and they all have spent much of their time in intramural quarrel, but anyway I can see clearly from the journalist’s analysis that the world is conscious enough about the disgusting human right abuse in Ethiopia.

    It time for all peace and country loving Ethiopian to think what kind of politics they want, form or amend.
    I think from now on tribal based political philosophy or dreaming to dominate other by saying that “ it is my turn to burn” is too foolish of thinking. Let the able that Ethiopia has produced lead the country with Low and order based on VOTEs.

    It is the Era of thinking big and let us all work hard and spend a lot and respect each other to betterment of our country. We should be reality oriented not delusional like TPLF (The economy growth 12%).

    We have to scarify for our children to shine…for the betterment of Ethiopia in the future…

  2. lema
    | #2

    I just came back from Ethiopia. I have never felt bad in my life as I did while I was there.

    You will be surprised guys how people are mistreated because of their racial backgrounds. One has to be a Tigre to be simply treated like a human being. I was walking around Meske square with my old friends and suddenly noticed a group of police officers (probably solders, because they all had AK 47’s) hitting a man. The worst part was – the guy was crying and asking them in Amharic why they were hitting him, but they were talking to each other in Tigrigna. I asked my friends what was going on and they told me that they were the Agazi killers and it was all normal. My friends urged me, while pulling me back, not to say a word, but to leave the area. It was at that moment that one of the Agazie animals turned his face towards us and started shouting in Tigrigna. None of us understood what he had said, but my friends assumed that he was telling us to disappear.

    I was not ready to die in light of such cruelty, so were my friends. So, we left. We left the poor guy unto the hands of those animals who were already dismantling his flash from his soul.

    That was not the only occasion when I felt like a second class citizen in my own country. At the airport custom’s too. The two guys, presumably custom officials, were loudly talking Tigrigna when I arrived there. I have no problem with Tigrigna, in fact Tigrigna music was my favorite music prior to these animals changed my life. Anyway, I waited until they finished talking and then I tried to talk to them. They just stared at me – they stared at me for so long as if I was a fool. Then they continued talking in Tigrigna. After a little while I interrupted them and asked if I was at the right place, only to be shouted at and to be told to disappear…………

    I felt bad to the mainstream Ethiopian brothers and sisters who had to face this every day. As far as me, I cut my vacation (well if it was) short and came back home; to my real home! I promised myself that I will never go back until the racists go to hell.

  3. Woube
    | #3

    Thank you David Dadge, for well written article. Dave seems to have the good knowledge the dire situation prevailing in Ethiopia. The situation is taken hostage by ruthless self deluded bandits. The donor’s dilemma is understandable to the extent that, when one consider the high probability of major humanitarian crises to break out any time, provided the magnitude and complexity of the problem persisting in the country. In fact, the solution is with us, the Ethiopians, to get rid of these ethnocentric bandits by any means possible, and replace it with credible government accountable to its people and to the International community, eager to help the country out of this current mess.

    Once again Thank you David

  4. From Ethiopia-ከእስር ቤት
    | #4

    በተደጋጋሚ የተመለከትኩት እና በጣም የሚያናድደኝ ነገር “During several months of unrest, roughly 200 people were killed in 2005 election”በደንብ ስለማናውቀው ነገር በመጻፍ እና እዚህ ላይ እየለጠፍን ትክክለኛውን መረጃ እያዛባን ነው::በጣም ነው የሚገርመኝ:: በየገጠሩ እየታረዱደ የተጣለው የቅንጅት አባል የነበሩ ገበሬዎች, መምህራን , ነጋዴዎች እና የህይስኩል ተማሪዎች እግዚያብሔር ብቻ ነው የሚያቃቸው:: አብዛኛዎቹን ዎላጆቻቸውም ሆነ የአካባቢው ማህበረሰብ ወደ ውጭ ሐገር እንደሔዱ ነው የሚያወራው እንጂ እንደሞቱ አያውቅም:: ስለዚህ ምናልባት አዲስ አበባ ለምቱት ብቻ ከሆነ የምታስተጋቡት ስደተኞች ኢትዮጵያውያንም ከመለስ የተሻለ አስተሳሰብ የላችሁም ማለት ነው::ለሚቀጥለው እንደሚስተካከል ተስፋአደርጋለሁ::

  5. From Ethiopia-ከእስር ቤት
    | #5

    በተደጋጋሚ የተመለከትኩት እና በጣም የሚያናድደኝ ነገር “During several months of unrest, roughly 200 people were killed in 2005 election”በደንብ ስለማናውቀው ነገር በመጻፍ እና እዚህ ላይ እየለጠፍን ትክክለኛውን መረጃ እያዛባን ነው::በጣም ነው የሚገርመኝ:: በየገጠሩ እየታረዱ የተጣለው የቅንጅት አባል የነበሩ ገበሬዎች, መምህራን , ነጋዴዎች እና የህይስኩል ተማሪዎች እግዚያብሔር ብቻ ነው የሚያቃቸው:: አብዛኛዎቹን ዎላጆቻቸውም ሆነ የአካባቢው ማህበረሰብ ወደ ውጭ ሐገር እንደሔዱ ነው የሚያወራው እንጂ እንደሞቱ አያውቅም:: ስለዚህ ምናልባት አዲስ አበባ ለምቱት ብቻ ከሆነ የምታስተጋቡት ስደተኞች ኢትዮጵያውያንም ከመለስ የተሻለ አስተሳሰብ የላችሁም ማለት ነው::ለሚቀጥለው እንደሚስተካከል ተስፋአደርጋለሁ::

  6. Teddy
    | #6

    Ethiopia From Prison,
    Thank you buddy! You are wright. Guy’s please wake up, there are a lot of people have died beside the addis ababa killing. A lote of prisoner have been eaten by animals,when they try to scape from prison(back in 2005 riot)& killed too. It’s not only 200 people who got lost in thos days guy’s!

  7. ogadeni
    | #7

    i hope you guys you understand why ogadeni fight for freedom cause we are second class citizen
    lets fight for all vs dirty tigrai gangs

  8. Waggazi
    | #8

    that monkey face agazzi leader. we ethiopian will hunt you soon.
    those agazzi baby killer will pay the price
    http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/2009/05/president-isaias-afwerki-gives-interview-to-ethiopian-review/

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