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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid