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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs