News / Africa

Ethiopia’s Best-Known Opposition Leader to Quit Politics

Prominent opposition figure Birtukan Mideksa, middle in green jacket, is being greeted by hundreds of her supporters shortly after her release in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2010 File)
Prominent opposition figure Birtukan Mideksa, middle in green jacket, is being greeted by hundreds of her supporters shortly after her release in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2010 File)

Ethiopia’s best-known opposition leader has announced she is quitting politics, at least temporarily, and is going to the United States. Birtukan Mideksa’s departure will leave Ethiopia without a prominent female politician.

Mideksa, the leader of Ethiopia's Unity and Democracy for Justice Party, or UDJ, returned home from prison last October to wild celebrations in her Addis Ababa neighborhood. There was hope that the charismatic former judge might provide the spark needed to revive the country’s moribund political opposition.

Birtukan was among opposition activists who were jailed for life after the disputed 2005 election. They were pardoned, but Birtukan was sent back to prison after the government accused her of violating the terms of the pardon.

In all, she served more than three years behind bars, some in solitary confinement, before being freed.

With Birtukan on the sidelines for the 2010 election, the opposition won only a single seat in the 547-member parliament. Groups allied with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, won all of the remaining seats.

When she was released from prison, four months after the election, Birtukan told reporters that she needed time to think about the future.  In a series of text messages during the past week, the 36-year old single mother confirmed that she and her six-year old daughter would soon leave for an extended stay in the United States.

In her absence, the UDJ has appointed former Ethiopian President Negasso Gidada as de facto interim leader. Negasso said the party must respect Birtukan’s choice. But he spoke about what he said was the use of old style tactics to break the will of a promising and charismatic young opposition leader.

"The system the EPRDF is following is the system of the old Soviet Union, where they imprison healthy leaders who challenge them, put them into prison and then let them out after harming them physically and psychologically," he said. "That’s the system of getting rid of opposition during the Soviet era. That seems to have happened."

Birtukan’s departure comes at a bad time for Ethiopia’s struggling opposition and leaves the country without a major female political figure. UDJ spokesman Hailu Araya says opposition parties will boycott local and bi-elections later this month because it is impossible to compete in what he says is effectively a one-party state.

"It doesn’t make any sense to be involved in an election, given the politically repressive atmosphere," said Hailu. "We see no point in engaging, in participating in these elections because there’s no way there could be a free and fair election. Everything is closed."

Hailu says opposition forces face difficult odds in overcoming the EPRDF’s monopoly on power. He says the UDJ's strategy for the 2015 elections simply is to be a credible force that can channel what he sees as people's dissatisfaction with the government in a peaceful and constitutional way.

He says it is likely that the political discontent sweeping many Arab countries will spread to sub-Saharan Africa.

"It’s a question of when. We are beginning to see it in North Africa," he said. "And I think they are lessons for the rest of the world, for Africa in particular, for people who are living under repression. That’s why people are following what’s going on in Tunisia and Egypt, Yemen and other places. And one of our tasks of UDJ is to enable people to come out of this fear in a peaceful way, legal way."

Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi (File Photo)
Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi (File Photo)
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in the past has played down the possibility of what he calls "color revolutions," a reference to Birtukan, whose name in Amharic means "orange."

Communications Minister Bereket Simon was quoted recently as saying that opposition claims that the public is desperate for change stem from an inability to recognize Ethiopia’s strong economic growth.

Speaking to a local newspaper, Bereket accused the opposition of advocating violence. He said, "whenever riots happen, be it the so-called orange or any other fruit revolution, if it is violence and street clashes that cost lives, the opposition are lured to it, and they want to emulate it here." 

You May Like

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid