The governing EPRDF party’s unopposed domination of the country’s institutions does not insure Prime Minister Meles Zenawi against the dangerous social tensions that are building up in Ethiopia. Particularly as the price of staples went through the roof in January, coincidentally just at the time when the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were breaking out.
But the situation here is quite different. The supervision of the population by the EPRDF and the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s rapid decision to re-impose State control on the prices of staples went some way to defusing consumer discontent before it spilled out into the streets. But for how much longer? Particularly as social conflicts are also looming in the countryside, in the wake of the massive sales of land to foreign companies whose agricultural production is intended for export at a time when Ethiopia is calling for international aid to help it feed 2.8 million citizens.
Tightening the screws preventively. Decimated and discredited, the old parliamentary opposition can no longer play its role of a barometer of the real state of public opinion. Meles Zenawi is consequently very attentive to the slightest sign of discontent among the urban population. He tries to defuse unease while at the same time preparing “decisive government action ” in case spontaneous protest movements break out in Addis Ababa.
Last week the police summoned the troublesome journalist Eskinder Nega to warn him against inciting Ethiopians to follow the Tunisian and Egyptian examples. For their part, the courts confiscated the funds of two local NGO’s – Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRC) and Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) – while EPRDF officials toured the capital’s Kebele (neighbourhoods) to warn parents against letting their offspring take part in possible street demonstrations. The reception of opposition radio and television channels based abroad is scrambled with the help of Chinese specialists, and access to Internet web sites critical of the EPRDF is blocked. Meanwhile, the security around the Prime Minister’s residence has been strengthened, just in case!
The President raises his voice. The political cohesion of the Ethiopian executive team is even starting to fray at the edges. A very rare event, President Girma Wolde-Giorgis distanced himself from Meles Zenawi’s land policy. On 20 December 2010, he wrote to the Minister of Agriculture, Tefera Argaw, to ask him to go back on his decision to attribute the Indian company Verdanta Harvest Plc, 3010 hectares in a protected forest zone in the Gambella region, in the western part of the country. This area has already been affected by sale of land to foreign companies.
In his letter in the Amharic language, which has been seen by The Indian Ocean Newsletter, he reminded Tefera Argaw of Ethiopia’s international undertakings in the negotiations on climate change. But the presidential role is purely honorific and Tefera Argaw took no notice of this advice. Instead, he continued to propose selling vast areas of Ethiopian land to Indian companies. On the other hand, the local officials of the Mejenger district who drew the President’s attention to this affair were dismissed.
Reinforcements on the Djibouti border. The government in Addis Ababa is not indifferent to Djibouti’s concerns over the increasing level of political unrest in its country. Meetings have been held between officials from Djibouti and Ethiopian defence ministries. The former want support from the latter in order to avoid any attacks by FRUD rebels during the election period. The Ethiopian army has already reinforced its manning on the Djibouti border on the Moussa Ali side. In return, it obtained the extradition of Ethiopians who had fled to Djibouti and are considered ONLF (armed opposition) sympathisers. Nevertheless, the diplomatic interests of the two neighbours could well diverge on one point: Eritrea. Meles Zenawi gives the impression of wanting to resume negotiation with the government in Asmara so that it can stop backing Ethiopian OLF and ONLF rebels. Djibouti, on the other hand, wants to strengthen its anti-Eritrea propaganda, claiming that this country arms the FRUD.
Source – The Indian Ocean