New Year wishes for Ethiopia: Release Birtukan Mideksa

By Eskinder Nega / September 10, 2010
Bertukan Mideksa
Birtukan: The whole nation wishes you a Happy New Year. God bless.
Some readers have wondered if a reasonable array of New Year wishes representing the collective aspiration of a nation could be formulated. Why not? It’s perfectly feasible; though only the input of varied people, and not the reflection of only one person, would make a complete list. And thus, in deference to the last month of the Ethiopian year (Pagume, only five or six days long), its amply fitting that I delay the second part of last week’s article and pitch in my list of New Year’s wishes. Part 2 of Re-writing TPLF’s history will appear next week.


On December 28, 2008, Birtukan Mideksa, the lone female head of a major opposition party in Ethiopia, was taken in to custody in mid-afternoon as she approached her car. Almost two years later, she remains in prison despite numerous pleas for her release. Neither public opinion, nor donors, or a sense of fairness and decency have prevailed over the intransigence of EPRDF’s leaders. Posing defiantly before probing journalists after a universally mocked “election victory” , Meles Zenawi,PM, whose party “won” 99.6% of parliamentary seats, spoke about her harshly, but noticeably absent the typical ardor: “This(her release) is a purely legal issue, and it is between her and the law. No one can come between the two. No one. Not opposition parties, not our friends abroad."

Much to the relief of the public, long attuned to reading between the lines of its official’s doublespeak, her release is not a “dead issue,” as has been land privatization for the entirety of his party’s existence. And by the dismal standards of the times, when the dominance of the EPRDF is overbearing, this is cause for optimism. There is room for her release short of a revolutionary overhaul. The law does not proscribe a second pardon.

One of the hallmarks of a reputable relationship is an occasional acquiescing to the counsel of friends. Usually, this is a mark of maturity not weakness. It is the nation’s New Year wish that EPRDF’s leaders come to realize this sooner rather than later, and act upon her long awaited release.

Birtukan: The whole nation wishes you a Happy New Year. God bless.


The 99.6% “election victory” is a clear favorite for “surprise of the decade.” For the decade before this, the triumph of the EPRDF-EPLF duo over the Derg is virtually everyone’s pick.

But the “election victory” was more than a simple surprise. The nation had yearned for leadership to defy it peacefully and legally, even if ultimately only futile as the one in Iran. A moral, political and historical statement could and should have been made firmly. It was plainly time for the opposition to lead the people to peaceful action.

But, alas, it was not meant to be. In the mildest of possible words, the opposition has “failed to demonstrate sufficient robustness in the face of a challenge,” in the words of a dictionary describing a popular adjective. (Which adjective does not really matter.) EPRDF’s strength is a function of the opposition’s weakness. Thus it still stands tall despite its epic blunders. Tragically, this explains two wasted decades; not merely one election season.

It is the nation’s New Year wish that the two-decade legacy of opposition inertia, failure, malaise, pettiness and corruption come to an end. The nation yearns for the rise of a strong opposition.


The erection of Abune Paulos’ statue in Addis symbolizes the moral crisis, lack of direction, and confused purpose that has afflicted Ethiopia at the national level now for a third of a century---ever since the collapse of Haile Selaise’s regime. The foundation of a distinctive civilization was uprooted with the fall of the monarchy, and what then looked like the wave of the future, scientific socialism, seemed the logical choice for a nation in search of a new creed to embrace with passion.

But the deceit and hollowness of Marxism- Leninism did not survive the Red Terror. And it was then only inevitable that moral relativism should rise and dominate the national psyche subsequently, chiefly challenging the moral clarity of Ethiopia’s dominant culture and religion.

But not everything that has long held sway is prejudice and ignorance, or necessarily in need of a revamp. However, Ethiopia certainly needs an updated national purpose---a return to moral clarity, though not an exact replica of the past---that is much more than Meles Zenawi’s reductionist understanding of the nation as nothing more than an economic imperative.

It is the nation’s New Year wish that Ethiopian intellectuals re-engage in public discourse to this end----as they once did with passion in the 60s and 70s and Professor Al Mariam is inspirationally doing now. Nothing is possible without them.


“The waiter wouldn’t look at us to take an order,” marveled an American friend of his experience in Lailbela, northern Ethiopia. “He was hypnotized by the TV, totally absorbed.” Intrigued, he inquired about the show: a political comedy on ESAT. If not for the rude interruption by an Ethiopian government jamming, the emergence of ESAT, Ethiopia’s first non-governmental TV, promised to herald a new chapter in the media revolution; one no less significant than the demystification of the Ethiopian state by the print press in the 90s. It was no surprise the EPRDF reacted with vengeance.

VOA, for decades an esteemed presence in many Ethiopian homes, was ironically tolerated more by the Derg, an impeccable enemy of the US, than the EPRDF, America’s best friend in the horn. The VOA’s recent sustained jamming has deprived millions of a dependable medium of news and opinions.

The closure of the totality of Ethiopia’s independent press in 2005, and its continued plight as highlighted by the closure of Addis Neger, is still a visible reminder of the 2005 post-election repressions.

The blocking of Ethiopian websites in 2005 is meant to cut off Ethiopia’s vocal Diaspora from its home base. Nothing gives the EPRDF more pleasure than this flagrant abuse of its power. But it is paying a stiff price. The blockage has become a powerful symbol of the suppression of freedom of expression in the international community.

It is the New Year wish of the people to watch ESAT, their favorite TV station; to listen to the VOA, their reliable source of news; read the free press, fierce defenders of their rights; and access Ethiopian websites, their window to the world.

There is much more, but I will have to stop here for lack of space.

Happy New Year to all of you.

(The End)

Brief News from Ethiopia:

Azeb Mesfin’s accession widely derided

TPLF cannot be reformed; like apartheid, it should be dismantled.
"TPLF cannot be reformed; like apartheid, it should be dismantled." Ethimedia
In the continued downward spiral of the TPLF since the purge of its core leadership in the early 2000s, Meles Zenawi’s wife, Azeb Mesfin, joined the Executive Committee (EC) on the last day of the party’s congress held in Mekele this week. Azeb’s accession into the elite club has been widely attributed to a creeping culture of opportunism that is overwhelming the TPLF.

Arkebe Ekubay, once the organization’s rising star, which reportedly earned him the ire of Meles, was not included in the EC. Getachew Belay, widely touted as one of promising young leaders, is also absent from the EC. Seyoum Mesfin, Abay Tsehaye, Kiros Bitew, Tsegay Berhe, Getachew Assefa (who heads the security), Zeray Asgedom have been included in the CC.

Sebhat Nega has left the CC of the TPLF. Tefera Walewa, ANDM Vice-Chairman and one of its founding members, has also left both the EC and the CC of the ANDM.

The writer, prominent Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, has been in and out of prison several times while he was editor of one of several newspapers shut down during the 2005 crackdown. After nearly five years of tug-of-war with the 'system,' Eskinder, his award-winning wife Serkalem Fassil, and other colleagues have yet to win government permission to return to their jobs in the publishing industry. Email: