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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid