Ethiopia: The Death of Democracy and a New Level of Tyranny

By Dawit W. Bedada (Norway) / April 1, 2013
For those who had any lingering doubt about the death and burial of democracy in Ethiopia, a recent incident in Addis Ababa gave all the evidence they might have needed.

A few weeks ago, there was a perfectly legal and peaceful demonstration by concerned citizens to protest against the construction—in Italy—of a mausoleum dedicated to the fascist war criminal Rodolfo Graziani. Graziani, also known as “the Butcher of Ethiopia” and “the Butcher of Fezzan (Libya)”, was Mussolini’s viceroy to Ethiopia during the five- year Italian occupation in the 1930s that massacred tens of thousands of Ethiopians with weapons that included poison gas. It would have been very reasonable for any mentally healthy human being to expect the Ethiopian government at least to show some meaningful opposition against any attempt, anywhere, to honor “the butcher”. That didn’t happen; well, far from it.

The peaceful demonstration, organized by Semayawi Party and Baleraeye Youth Association, was planned to start at Martyrs’ Monument and end at the Embassy of Italy in Addis. However, moments after the demonstrators arrived at the Martyrs’ Monument, something totally unexpected happened: the security forces of the regime swiftly arrived on the scene and started confiscating the cell phones of the demonstrators, beating them up, and more outrageously, mopping them up. This was an unmistakable sign that Ethiopia has become a police state, a prison of over 90 million inmates, as it were.

Outrageous as the crackdown on the anti-Graziani protest is, it is hardly surprising, since the regime has been, especially for the past seven years, consistently destroying democratic institutions, opposition parties, and the free press. Elections have become terrible jokes; thousands of innocent citizens are being kidnapped and tortured; independent journalists have been routinely imprisoned and exiled (Ethiopia is one of

the worst jailors and exilers of journalists in the world); so-called anti-terror laws criminalize any word or action the regime doesn’t like; high-level, ethnic-based economic injustice and corruption have always been damaging the country.

While any despotic action the regime might take is barely surprising, three conclusions can be drawn from what happened at the anti-Graziani demonstration. First, the political repression in Ethiopia is so ruthlessly effective and efficient that the authority in charge of it is, of all things, a ghost—the ghost of the late tyrant MelesZenawi, whose spirit and influence is still almost everywhere in the nation. There was some belief before the death of Meles that if he had died or somehow relinquished power, Ethiopia would be a better country. Alas, that belief is now proven to have been spectacularly wrong. Things are getting worse at a breathtaking speed.

Second, like many Ethiopians have always been pointing out, the regime will do anything to stay in power. It could be argued that mopping up citizens who were protesting against a common historical enemy of a nation does not help a dictator to stay in power. But that argument would be wrong. The TPLF/EPRDF regime has shown time and again in recent years that it is willing and ready to do anything and everything to terrorize Ethiopians into unquestioning submission.

Third, and most important, the regime has become paranoid. This is simply disturbing. If the incident in question is any indication, banning all public gatherings would be a very small step. Arresting legal, peaceful demonstrators protesting against something the regime should have done everything in its power to stop or reverse is a clear sign that it has begun to be afraid of its own shadow, so to speak. Should anyone be surprised, then, if Ethiopians get deprived of their rights to celebrate Easter, Eid al Fitr, and Mesqel, holidays they have been celebrating by the hundreds of thousands since time immemorial? Should anyone be surprised if Ethiopians are banned from watching sports competitions and from burying their dead? As if the death and burial of democracy and freedom were not enough, we are starting to worry about the possible death and burial of almost all of social life. And we should be forgiven for that.


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