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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs