In repressive Ethiopia, new ‘Blue Party’ struggles to offer a choice – The Christian Science Monitor

1121-Ethiopia-Saudi-Protest_full_380

Ethiopian workers walk with their luggage as they wait with their countrymen to be repatriated in Manfouha, southern Riyadh, November 11, 2013. Last week the new ‘Blue Party’ tried to organize a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Addis Ababa, feeding off widespread public outcry over the treatment of Ethiopian migrants and laborers in the Saudi kingdom.
Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters
In Pictures Africa’s Hot Spots

By William Davison, Correspondent / November 21, 2013

Yet Ethiopia’s ruling coalition seems intent on maintaining a tight grip on power until its project to transform Africa’s second-most populous nation into a middle-income country is complete.

That authoritarian control makes any opposition difficult – though of late a group called the Blue Party, made up of young Ethiopians who describe themselves as progressive, have attempted to move, if not shake, the nation’s politics in ways not seen here for a decade or more.

RECOMMENDED: Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.

Last week the Blue Party tried to organize a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Addis Ababa, feeding off widespread public outcry over the treatment of Ethiopian migrants and laborers in the Saudi kingdom. Some 1,000 Ethiopians a day are being deported back home and migrant clashes with police in Riyadh are hitting social media here.

RECOMMENDED: Monitor Frontier Markets Free Trial. Intelligent analysis on events in frontier/emerging countries.

Still, instead of allowing Ethiopians to demonstrate their anger, the government forcefully broke up the protest, upsetting even those normally supportive of the government.

What remains unclear is how much repression the rising educated middle class in cities is willing to ignore in the Horn of Africa regime.

Ethiopia enacted a liberal constitution in 1994 that promised a free press, autonomy for some 80 ethnic groups, and multi-party politics. Yet dissenting journalists have still been jailed, minority groups complain of oppression, and elections are uncompetitive.

In the last vote in 2010, out of 547 seats in parliament, the opposition won one.

Ethiopia has been governed by the multi-ethnic Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front since 1991, when rebel groups overthrew a military regime.

In 2005, the opposition, led by a group called the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, won 173 seats in the first competitive election. But months later some 200 people were killed by police when the opposition protested the outcome was rigged. Opposition leaders were jailed en masse.

But now there is some resurgence of opposition against the ruling (EPRDF) coalition.

The Blue Party held the first large demonstration by a political party since 2005 in July, when several thousand supporters marched in downtown Addis Ababa. They demanded the release of jailed politicians and journalists, as well as action against corruption, unemployment and inflation.

Another more established opposition group peeking its head out of the bunker is the Unity for Democracy and Justice. UDJ held a moderately successful demonstration in the capital as part of a “Million Voices for Freedom” campaign. They demanded the release of “political prisoners” and the repeal of the anti-terrorism law used to convict them.

With new voices now emerging the government is taking a two-track approach: Last month Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that multi-party democracy is constitutionally protected and that his administration wants a “constructive, progressive, opposition.”

Yet he issued a warning: If opposition parties mix with banned groups, they will be prosecuted. “Anyone who plays with the fire, then that fire will burn them,” Mr. Hailemariam said.

And there is evidence little has actually changed: Both the Blue Party and UDJ complain of harassment, with offices raided, members arrested and police arbitrarily preventing activities such as distributing leaflets.

Still, Blue Party leader Yilkal Getnet, in his thirties, believes his party will win a majority of the vote in 2015. He is counting on young people that want more freedom and want to move past the divisive ethnic politics of the past and embrace national unity. Mr. Yilkal also thinks another bleary and non-competitive election will lead to increased frustration and instability.

Merera Gudina is a leading member of the Oromo Federalist Congress. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group and frequently allege that they have remained excluded from power under EPRDF rule.

Mr. Merera has raised funds in the US but thinks the Blue Party optimism is misplaced. He digs out a cardboard box from beneath his desk at Addis Ababa University, where he is a political scientist, and shows an uncounted ballot from 2010 elections. He says that thousands of votes for the opposition were discarded by the ruling party cadres.

But Merera allows that if the ruling coalition does a fair election they may suffer a shock greater than 2005.

“If they open up they are going to lose easily in less than one month of campaigning,” he says.

There are latent frustrations brewing in the current dynamic in Ethiopia, analysts feel, where construction profits are accruing to a corrupt elite tied to the ruling party — while the cost of living for the masses rises.

“Even if they open a small window they know there’s going to be a repeat of 2005,” one senior analyst who could not be named, argues.

Merera says Ethiopia’s political stagnation is also due to divided challengers that can’t agree on a “common agenda,” a analysis detailed in book “Ethiopia: From Autocracy to Revolutionary Democracy, 1960s to 2011.”

In Ethiopia, parties only emerged after the downfall of absolute monarch Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 and they have primarily been vehicles either for rivalry between traditional ethnic elites, or among different Marxist revolutionaries. “Sectarianism, conspiracy and political intrigues have become the hallmark of the Ethiopian political parties and their leaders,” leading to public disillusion, Merera writes.

Ethnicity is a key fault-line among the nascent opposition. Oromo activists argue that in practice, the focus on national unity or universal values by the likes of the Blue Party will bring more of the exploitation that Ethiopia’s minorities historically experienced at the hands of traditional rulers.

Share Button
Disclaimer: We are not responsible for any losses or damages that may have caused by using our services. EMF declines all responsibility for the contents of the materials stored by users. Each and every user is solely responsible for the posts.
Posted by on November 22, 2013. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

5 Responses to In repressive Ethiopia, new ‘Blue Party’ struggles to offer a choice – The Christian Science Monitor

  1. Sam Reply

    November 22, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    I hope you will post my comment

    ብሉ ፓርቲ አዲስ አበባ ስለ ተሰለፈና የቢሄር መብት ስለተቃወመ በምርች ወያነን ያችንፋል ማለት ነዉ? መጀማሪያ realistic political program ያስፈልጋል. They are not any different from Lidetu’s party of the 1990s – just trying to uphold their father’s interest as an up shoot of Amhara’s youth league. They always go to Bahir, Godner, Dessie, Debremarkos, and Addis. In oromia, go to selected big cities where the Amahara population is relatively large. So, the attempt to replace tigre by amhara, that is all which is being tried.

    I am waiting and waiting for a multiethnic party that is realistic about ethnic issues in Ethiopia.I couldn’t see any so far, and I am giving up on Ethiopian politics. By the way, that is why none of the current multinational opposition parties will never defeat EPRDF. CUD won some seats in Oromoia simply because Obbo Bulcha’s and Dr Merera’s party could not compete in all places. There was no single place in Oromia where CUD was preferred to Bulcha or Merera’s parties. What does this tell the so called unity parties who never recognize ethnic issue and have tacit objective of re-establishing Amhara and Amharic hegemony? Why can’t Blue party and the likes work with ethnic parties such as arena and oromo federalist given that these parties do not have secessionist agenda? It is not all about refusing to acknowledge ethnic issues in ethiopia all under the guise of ethiopian unity while they themselves are practically representatives of just one ethnic group?

  2. Sam Reply

    November 22, 2013 at 7:18 PM

    I hope you will post my comment

    ብሉ ፓርቲ አዲስ አበባ ስለ ተሰለፈና የቢሄር መብት ስለተቃወመ በምርች ወያነን ያችንፋል ማለት ነዉ? መጀማሪያ realistic political program ያስፈልጋል. They are not any different from Lidetu’s party of the 1990s – just trying to uphold their father’s interest as an up shoot of Amhara’s youth league. They always go to Bahir, Godner, Dessie, Debremarkos, and Addis. In oromia, go to selected big cities where the Amahara population is relatively large. So, the attempt to replace tigre by amhara, that is all which is being tried.

    I am waiting and waiting for a multiethnic party that is realistic about ethnic issues in Ethiopia.I couldn’t see any so far, and I am giving up on Ethiopian politics. By the way, that is why none of the current multinational opposition parties will never defeat EPRDF. CUD won some seats in Oromoia simply because Obbo Bulcha’s and Dr Merera’s party could not compete in all places. There was no single place in Oromia where CUD was preferred to Bulcha or Merera’s parties. What does this tell the so called unity parties who never recognize ethnic issue and have tacit objective of re-establishing Amhara and Amharic hegemony? Why can’t Blue party and the likes work with ethnic parties such as arena and oromo federalist given that these parties do not have secessionist agenda? Is it not all about refusing to acknowledge ethnic issues in ethiopia all under the guise of ethiopian unity while they themselves are practically representatives of just one ethnic group?

  3. imru Reply

    November 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    Oromos have been part and parcel of the governing elite in Ethiopia for the last 500 years. There has been a lot of miscegenation during this long period. Oromos and Amharas have been mixing for many other ethnic groups that it is really hard to find a completely homogenous group or individual. Thegreat majority of the people are of mixed ethnic origine which makes the richness and beauty of Ethiopia as a nation. Anyway we have been living in the same land for quite a while, let’s forgo the idea of reconstructing ourselves into something that we are not.We should be concerned about liberating ourselves of oppression and and backwardness and build a healthy and prograssive Ethiopia.

  4. sam Reply

    November 25, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    @imru
    Liberating ourselves from the oppression is what I am longing about and why am complaining about the unity parties’ faults. I want them to craft a realistic politics. Talking about ethnic issues is deemed “racism” in the minds of Yilekal, the blue party’s chair. Really? is he how he is going to unify and liberate from woyane? Ignoring the problem is where they start from and therefore, they will never solve the problem. If we are the same people, why can’t these unity parties go and campaign in corners of the city? In its 20 years life, EDP has never had any single meeting in Nekemte. How about that? Blue party is a copy cut of EDP

  5. auto insurance Reply

    January 10, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    Can you show us how you came up with this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *