/ 13 May 2005

Ethiopia’s path of oppression

It wasn’t the remembrance of Ethiopian rebel leader Jettane Ali, killed by an assassin’s bullet in a restaurant in Nairobi in 1992, that darkened the mood around his grave at Marsabit.

The 36 Ethiopian refugees from the disputed territory of Oromia in southern Ethiopia who gathered in the oasis in northern Kenya to pay their respects ahead of this Sunday’s parliamentary poll were convinced that the election would yield victory for Ethiopia’s ruling People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

The ruling coalition, dominated by President Meles Zenawi’s Tigray -People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), came to power in 1991 after ousting president Mengistu Haile Mariam. But human rights groups accuse the front of perpetuating the same abuses that characterised Mengistu’s dictatorship.

In the days before Ethiopia’s election, Amnesty International has received reports of troops executing civilians suspected of supporting rebels and of government critics simply disappearing. And, releasing a report in Nairobi this week on violations in Oromia, Human Rights Watch’s executive director for Africa, Peter Takirumbudde, said: “The authorities have intensified the repression they have used to keep themselves in power for 13 years.”

But the country’s Information Minister, Bereket Simon, told the Mail & Guardian: “This is all lies … the election will be free and fair … If we are anti-democracy, why have we let in more than 300 foreign observers?”

But observers will be stretched — 85% of the population live in isolated rural areas. It is here where opponents of the ruling coalition fear most of the electoral anomalies will happen.

Some government opponents are hoping opposition parties will pull a few surprises in the elections. But Dawud Ibsa, OLF chairperson, labelled the opposition “insignificant … they might make a few gains but the EPRDF will carry on its domination of society.

The OLF is not contesting the poll. Instead, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation, one of Zenawi’s coalition partners, will represent it.