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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha!

    How immigrants are triggering a great transformation in American cuisine

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora