Prime Minister Meles Zenawi learned one major lesson from the 2005 general
election that he almost lost, which has since served as his guiding
principle in politics: never let the opposition have any breathing space.
What followed was a form of governance with no gap for democracy to show its
nose, giving him the image of a sort of “enlightened despot”. It should be
said that his method is working, at least for the moment! Meles Zenawi can
therefore not drop his guard against his opponents for even a moment, and
must insist on unfaltering allegiance from the executive members of the
governing coalition EPRDF. So, when he presented an account of his
government’s activity over the last nine months to Parliament on 5 April,
the Prime Minister did not fail to give a solemn, even theatrical, warning
to anyone preparing street protests. He was implicitly targeting the sole
opposition MP, Girma Seifu, and more explicitly the legal opposition,
Latent discontent – A shortage of certain staples and the galloping prices
of other products has caused discontent in the Addis Ababa population.
Ordinary Ethiopians who can still give their families three square meals a
day are few and far between. The monthly minimum wage of 1500 birrs is
completely inadequate when a litre of cooking oil costs 40 birrs, ten kilos
of teff pancakes 140 birrs, and a litre of gasoline 20 birrs. Moreover, to
buy sugar and oil at the official price involves standing in line for
several hours. The shortage of these products is to a large extent due to
retailers refusing to sell them at the price set by the government, which
they consider too low and therefore erode their profit margins too much. So,
the gap between what real people live each day and the healthy two digit
growth claimed by the country’s economy leads to increasing exasperation.
Nevertheless, nothing has come to date of the attempts by the underground
opposition groups to stir the traders to protest in the Addis Ababa Mercato
and bring youths to join them.
( ION 1306).
However, an Ethiopia Youth Movement for Democratic Change secretly
distributed leaflets in Addis Ababa on 9 April, and a page entitled “Beka ”
(we’ve had enough) has appeared on Facebook to call for street demonstrations
in Ethiopia on 28 May, the 20th anniversary of the EPRDF coming to power.
Preventive security measures – The Ethiopian security services have not
proved to be too excitable in the face of the risk of the more or less
spontaneous street protests in Addis Ababa. The fact is, the population is
under effective, even rigid, control while the opposition radio stations
broadcasting from abroad (such as Finote Radio) are systematically jammed.
From time to time, even official radio stations are jammed, such as the
Amharic language services of Voice of America and the German station
Deutsche Welle. Furthermore, the control of Tigrayan officers on the
security services has been bolstered by recently made appointments. So,
General AlemTsehaye, a Tigrayan woman close to Meles Zenawi and his wife
Azeb Mesfin, may have been appointed to head the federal anti-riot police,
while another Tigrayan, General Beyda Gebrai has been made the head of a new
police department in charge of propaganda and the General Chief of Staff,
General Samora Yunis has been put in charge of supervising security of the
Prime Ministerial residence.
A major nationalist campaign – Meles Zenawi is using another tactic in order
to suppress any semblance of desire for domestic social protest: pointing a
finger at “terrorists” and insisting on the danger of foreign influence. The
last few weeks, he made a violent outburst against Eritrea, before pointing
a finger at Egypt (with which Ethiopia has a long-standing dispute over the
use of water from the Nile) as the hidden sponsors of all the “terrorist”
acts targeting his country. In the flow, he announced the construction of a
5250 MW hydro-electric power station and dam to be built by 2014. The
contract, worth $3.35 billion, has been awarded to the Italian firm Salini
Costruttori. However, the Ethiopian government does not have this kind of
money at its disposal and international donors are unwilling to help, so
Meles Zenawi asked the banks to place 27% of their profits into treasury
bonds and government employees to accept to forego one month of salary to
the Sate. A decision that will bring him few new friends!