News / Africa

    Opposition Protest Could Mark Change in Ethiopian Policy

    Thousands of Ethiopian opposition activists demonstrate in Addis Ababa, June 2, 2013.
    Thousands of Ethiopian opposition activists demonstrate in Addis Ababa, June 2, 2013.
    Peter Heinlein
    A peaceful protest rally in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, has sparked speculation the government may be relaxing its tight restrictions on political demonstrations.  The large turnout at the rally has also raised the profile of a little-known opposition party that seems to be attracting a large following among Ethiopia’s disaffected youth.

    Sunday’s demonstration drew thousands to the streets of Addis.  But estimates of how many thousands varied widely.  State-run television reported it was 2,000, while organizers said it was more like 15,000 to 20,000.

    Whatever the figure, the event was significant.  It marked the first time authorities have allowed a mass political protest in Addis Ababa since 2005, when police gunned down demonstrators who accused the ruling party of fraud in parliamentary elections.

    Pictures and video of the demonstration created a sensation on the Internet, prompting speculation about whether Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s government might be easing restrictions on political speech imposed by his predecessor, the late Meles Zenawi.

    It also raised questions about whether a new generation of opposition leaders might be emerging.  The rally was organized by the Semayawi (Blue) Party, a small offshoot of an opposition group that collapsed following the 2005 election.

    Party president Yenekal Getinet said the Blue Party represents the desire for change among the 70 percent of Ethiopians under the age of 35, who he said want to break away from the Marxist ideas that have dominated the country’s political thinking for more than a generation.

    “This is a new generation of leaders," said Getinet. "Many political leaders for the last 20 years, be it in the ruling party or opposition are from the leftist ideology or Marxist-Leninist mindset and ethnocentric.  So this is the new generation from the globalization era, a bit liberalized, vibrant and knowledge-based; and this may be the reason why, I am from the new generation.”

    The protest was mainly called to demand the release of political prisoners, including opposition leaders, journalists and the organizers of last year’s Muslim protests that called for an end to government interference in religious affairs.

    Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal was quoted Monday as saying the overwhelming majority of the protestors were Muslims, including Islamic extremists.  But law professor Yakob Hailemariam, who is representing the Muslim protest organizers in court, and was the keynote speaker at Sunday’s rally, said the demonstrators represented a broad spectrum of Ethiopian youth.

    "Actually, the number of Muslims was only one-fifth, it was not very significant.  They stand out because of their clothes, but they were not that many.  But the demo was espousing their cause that Muslim jailed leaders should be released, so that was one of the demands, but it has not religious sentiment to it," said Yakob.

    Yakob, who is gained prominence as a senior prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, expressed surprise that Ethiopia’s ruling EPRDF party had allowed the demonstration.  He said it is too early to know whether this represents a change in the tight restrictions on protests that have been in effect since the 2005 post-election violence.

    "It Is hard to tell.  The EPRDF is secretive and it is difficult to know what their intentions are.  I have been wondering why they allowed this demonstration.  Are they opening up?  Is this an indication?  Because they have been prohibited since 2005.  Strictly prohibited," said he said.

    Blue Party leader Getinet declined to speculate about whether authorities would tolerate more protests.

    Other opposition figures, including Yakob Hailemariam, have noted that the demonstration permit had been issued just before last month’s African Union summit, when the government’s restrictions on political speech were under scrutiny by a host of international visitors, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

    Yenekal said the test will come in three months, when the Blue Party plans to ask for another demonstration permit to press its demands for release of political prisoners.

    Critics allege Ethiopia has become a de facto one-party state, noting the ruling EPRDF’s near total domination of all elections since 2005.  The late prime minister Meles Zenawi rejected that label, however, calling it a dominant-party state.

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Alem
    June 04, 2013 10:21 AM
    Peter, Thank you for covering this story. Please continue to let the American people know what is going on in Ethiopia. The ruling minority in Ethiopia has hired hands in North America and Europe churning out lies about the situation in the country. The world is told there is peace and stability when the truth is return to Mengistu's police one-party state that will not allow free speech or free and fair elections. We are told there is fast growth but nothing about aid money being smuggled out of the country [Global Financial Integrity reports over $16.5 billions in the past ten years alone; the report uses World Bank, IMF, and Ethiopian gov data].

    Indeed, the present public demonstration signals a change. I know you are a seasoned journalist and, unlike the Swedish journalists, was spared a harsher treatment during your last assignment to cover a story in Addis. Never forget there is no free press in the country; what that means is that the government could charge leaders of the march on unrelated and concocted incident to detain, torture, and exile them. There is already accusation by the gov that this is the work of Muslim extremists [always works with uninformed and lazy donor community]. I should inform you also that the so-called Muslim "uprising" was mostly staged [in the hope of exploiting the fears of the US and Britain].

    Another overlooked matter is that the party of Meles Zenawi literally manages the church and the mosque. You may want to check who Meressa Reda is and what Faith and Religion Directorate is all about. My greatest fear now is not the ruling party in Ethiopia but the appeasement, collaboration and vacillation of Obama Administration. Why does the Obama Admin continue to send in millions when billions of taxpayer's dollars are unaccounted for? and aid money is denied to some communities for not supporting the ruling party? Shouldn't the American people know their hard earned money is not promoting democracy and the protection of human rights but to sponsor state terrorism where to write a column critical of the ruling party leads to unspecified and unverified charges and jail term?

    by: Musa from: Addis
    June 04, 2013 5:21 AM
    Was it "2,000" or "20,000"? Rough counting of the persons on the demonstration picture is enough to get the answer. It is unwise lie.

    by: Gragn Ahmed from: USA
    June 03, 2013 7:31 PM
    Who cares if there are a few extremists? The majority are peaceful any way. Plus an internationally renowned lawyers is the leader of the movement. Are they calling them one of those extremists? I tell you what American government does not know who "Wayanes' are. These are a few bandits who claim they serve Tigray people but in realty are bent on defying gravity at all costs. They challenge even America and try to scare them.

    But America should know that these liars are really very retarded cowards. Why not tell them to go away??

    by: Meyisaw Kasa from: USA
    June 03, 2013 6:58 PM
    Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal was quoted Monday as saying the overwhelming majority of the protestors were Muslims, including Islamic extremists. REALLY??? In a country where there is no terrorist activity at all you make that statement? Shame on you. But I have no worries about any body falling for your foolish statement because the demonstrators speaks for themselves. Not even a single stone was thrown. Unlike you and your bandits would like the world to believe that this demonstrators had a secret mission the entire world knows what they are asking for. BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.