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Do Ethiopia’s politicians mean it on democracy?

November 3, 2009










On the evening of the 20th of March 1878, Ethiopia’s two great rivals, Emperors Yohannes IV and Menelik II, came face-to-face to thrash out their differences.

As the two men met for the first time, traditional Ethiopian singers are said to have sang “A road that is perilous is far / you have to climb and then descend.”

Ethiopia’s journey since then has certainly been perilous.

It has been marked by great heights like the defeat of Italy’s colonialist army at the battle of Adwa in 1895. And devastating lows such as the 1984 famine that killed more than 1 million people and brought the country long-lasting notoriety.

The huge nation is again heading into interesting times.

This week the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi agreed a code of conduct for next May’s national elections with three opposition parties — two of which are dismissed by opponents as ruling party satellites.

But the biggest opposition force, a coalition of eight parties called Medrek (the Forum), did not participate in the negotiations despite repeated invitations.
Medrek said issues including reform of the national electoral board and access to the media were left out. But some Ethiopians suspect that opposition leaders just can’t stand the thought of sitting down with government negotiators.

And a lot of the opposition parties seem to despise each other, too.
Ethiopian politicians love to talk about democracy. It’s presented as the ultimate political goal for a country that has never had a peaceful transition of power.
The government talks about democracy. But is routinely accused of harassment and intimidation. Opposition parties talk about democracy. But most of them won’t even try to talk to those in power about how to make it a reality.
And they all disagree on how close they are to finally achieving it.
“Ethiopia believes it is an emerging democracy,” the government’s head of information Bereket Simon told me this week. “We cannot say we have perfect governance yet. But, on balance, we are moving forward.”
Yet the opposition says there is no democracy at all and accuses the government of using the code of conduct negotiations to hoodwink the West — on which it still relies for huge amounts of humanitarian aid.

Ethiopia’s last national elections in 2005 ended in disaster when a previous opposition coalition said the government fixed its victory and street violence broke out in the capital Addis Ababa in which almost 200 protesters were killed.

Many Ethiopians tell me they were so disheartened by that experience that they have lost interest in voting. 2005 also entrenched extremism on both sides.
Some diplomats in Addis Ababa are putting pressure on Medrek to talk to the government, telling its leaders they believe Meles is acting in good faith.
And the government says Medrek can still get involved in ongoing talks.
So, no matter how bitter the rivalry, why haven’t Ethiopia’s main powerbrokers today been able to talk to each other as happened more than a century ago?

Who’s right about how close Ethiopia is to democracy? How can a poor country secure a prosperous future? What are the solutions? Is democracy even one of them?


The so called western diplomats are part of the problem for Ethiopia not having an iota of democratic space. The western diplomats that are financing the ethnic minority group which controls all major inistitutions in the state, know very well that the regime of Melles Zenawi is not interested in opening the democratic space but pressure the opposition to give Zenawi a political cover so that he works for western interest in the region. No Ethiopian would be fooled. Western countries are co-conspirators with Zenawi.

Posted by dan | Report as abusive

I am from the Oromo ethnic group (largest in ethiopia) but none of the parties who signed the “code of conduct” represent my people.
Only FDD or Medrek represents oromo people, otherwise only OLF has our support outside the peaceful struggle.

- the Chamiso guy of CUD did not even have an office and he was given CUD label by meles zenawi. why is reuters hiding this fact?

- the lidetu guy was paid by ethiopian billionaire al amoudi and his TPLF friends. so EDP is the same as TPLF for all ethiopians.

- the Hailu shawel 80 year old man has retired and his AEUP signed just because the UDJ (former CUD) and Birtukan Mideksa took over. they are just trying to get attention.

only FDD or Medrek is the opposition. do you know meles has created more than 70 other fake “opposition” parties?

as your last article said, western diplomats just want to keep their security (somalia) and economic (investments, oil, etc) interests alive by helping the killer meles zenawi.

the reality is our FDD/MEDREK party will have the same policy on somalia and keep investment open for the west.

so THERE IS NO NEED TO FEAR the opposition.

the west should not be scared of democracy in ethiopia.
there is no independent election board, the security is 99% controlled by ethnic tigres. the judiciary is TPLF’s too.

why is the west financing this dictatorship knowing all of these, all the killings?? the west will risk making ethiopia anti-america if it keeps supporting dictator meles zenawi.

Posted by Tolosa | Report as abusive

I don’t think Medrek has refused to talk to the government,but they are asking that the talks not be limited only to the agenda put forward by the ruling party.As for the diplomats belief that Meles is acting in good faith, based on past experience it is highly misplaced. Having said that, I still believe the opposition and the governing party should conduct talks to create a conducive environment for the upcoming elections.

Posted by Zerihun T. | Report as abusive

Ethiopia has come a long way since the downfall of Dergue. If some people don’t see it, it is because they don’t wish to give the credit to the government. There is economic growth unprecedented in the country. There have been 3 elections. The 2005 election was great except for the fact that the opposition believed they won and followed undemocratic struggle which resulted in the death of 200 protesters. Some die-hard diaspora(mainly those who were Dergue officials) form the core of most of the opposition. And they are the reason we have some undemocratic tendencies in the opposition. I don’t expect much from them. I am just a bit surprised they are still there to cause havoc.

Posted by Dawit | Report as abusive

I think this is a balanced overview of the situation the politicians find themselves in. I am not politician but I have sense to understand their frustrations, given every one’s “wonnay” (invincible male macho)sprinkled with irrational conempt, revenge and jealosity agaist each other. They all seem to have good intentios but unbending to communicate with each other with respect and due dignity. Unlike the rural traditional elders (shimaglays), they manifest unruly extremism in negotiations. All parties should be able to compromise some degree, their position in view of the common good. I wish the country had gone through a national reconciliation even before the election wave. Anyways, we have to understand that democrqcy is a process. My prayer is that Ms. Birtukan Midaksa, a prsioner of conscience be released. She should have not been imprisoned for speaking her mind, the truth all the world knows about. She was released by virtue of Shimaglay intervention which produce presidential pardon. Her re-imprisonment is a national sin that would provoke God’s justice and generational vengence. In the interest of peace and justice, she should be released without any precondition or delay. I am pleading for the same for all prisoners of conscience.

Apparently, governemnt has its hands full with the looming famine and election processing. Birtukan’s release may seem trivial but it might save face with the international donors.

Posted by Rev. Tegga Lendado | Report as abusive

Dear Mr. Malone:

I hope by now you know something about the Ethiopian politics. Tigre Ethnic Apartheid regime agreed with the Amhara opposition under Hailu and Lidatu. In effect Tigre is agreeing not to attack Amhara, and focus its power and forces in attacking the Oromo. So it is an strategic agreement between the Amahara and Tigre to isolate Oromo and attack.

The sad part is you guys present this as “agreement between Ethiopian ruling party and Ethiopian opposition party.” If you just pierc veil, it is clear that it is agreement between Amhara and Tigre to the exclusion of all others principally the Oromo. Tigre racists and Amharas are using the name “Ethiopia” as a cover and fool clue less Western Journalists.

There is nothing called Ethiopia. Now as you may see it yourself Ethiopia is Tigre and Tigre is Ethiopia. In the past Ethiopia is Amhara and Amhara is Ethiopia. 90% of Ethiopians have no part in it.

That is way “Ethiopia” a crused place on earth.

Let me ask you a favor if you really wrote this articles to get comment. Look at the Apartheid Struture in the country and report on it. Look at the govermment officer whom do you see except Tigre. Look at the Economy — whom do you see other than Tigre? Look at the military— whom do you see other than Tigre? Look at the schools— whom do you see rather than Tigre?

Sir: The situation in Ethiopia is much worse than Apartheid South Africa.

Please report the truth before this country break-up and major crisis happen.

As for the Oromo people— I can assure you they will overcome this evil. But it certainly has a lot of cost since countries like United States and United Kingdom are financing this evil and ethnic apartheid regime.

Please ask them to stop doing so. Ask you business companies not to do any business with the Tigre minority which represents less than 6% of the Ethiopian population. Their investment has no guaranty. Let them help Oromo people and the rest of the Ethiopian people.

The future of that country whether you know it today or not is in the hand of the Oromo people. Note this always in your report.

Posted by Tola | Report as abusive

“Ethiopia believes it is an emerging democracy,” and heading in the right direction And that is absolutlet right

Posted by sam | Report as abusive

The ailing Meles Zenawi was on his last leg when he bought Hailu Shawel into the camp and said the drama is over for the 2010 election.

How about the eight-party opposition behemoth, Medrek? I think Western diplomats should not be passive onlookers to the Meles drama. Either they have to stay out, or say something for God’s sake. If they truly want to help bring democracy and the rule of law to Ethiopia, they should be brave enough to speak out, and tell the truth. Why is Meles scared of Birtukan Mideksa, and keeping her behind bars?

But before lashing out at Western diplomats, Medrek members should this time stick it out together if they want to beat the famine and violence re-cycler Zenawi. All eyes are on Dr. Merera and Dr. Beyene: no repeat of the 2005 betrayal – seeing off Kinijit (CUD) leaders to prison and they themselves heading to ‘parliament.’ Medrek should lead the nationwide mobilization for a regime change by peaceful means.

Posted by Haile | Report as abusive

I don`t belong to any political group but as an Ethiopian living abroad and experienced the 2005 election problem when I was there for a visit, the problem is with Meles and his party. Meles is not a politician , he and his party are on a successful buisness trip in Ethiopia, a long trip that involves monopolizing every buisness in Ethiopia, directly or indirectly. If any political party want to befriend Meles and his party, they have to do the same, Hailu Shawel is one example . The only true opposition party in the country is MEDREK AND MELES ZENAWI WILL DON ANYTHING TO KEEP THEM AWAY FROM HIS FORTUNE

Posted by SOLOmon solomon | Report as abusive

Barry Malone “Do Ethiopia’s politicians mean it on democracy” i think if you open your article by “do Ethiopians government mean it on democracy” it wile be moor accurate.
most of European country say there whese no true Democratic elections in Eran but if you make equalization Eran is moor democratic then Ethiopia.
do Ethiopian government like you classify it but the true is there is no Ethiopian government there is tyrant dictator did something that we can point on it and say there is democracy. like you mention ” the government’s head of information Bereket Simon told me this week “We cannot say we have perfect governance yet. But, on balance, we are moving forward.”do you now who is Bereket simon. please Barry Malone you are journalist make your report balanced and scientific. thank you

Posted by helen | Report as abusive

In Ethiopian politics opposing means just “opposing only for the sake opposing”. I haven’t seen any logical and reasonably framed oppositon after the coming of EPRDF to power.To show this blind opposition parties always move themseleves out of negotiotions, leave thier parliament seat…abandon direct talks first and try to speak at the back that they are persucated. They also try to pretend that they are unique among those who adehere the principles of the round table and they try to show that thier opposing stand is noble. I mean what is wrong to come to a table with any party for a code of conduct on an election agenda which is the heart of a true democracy. Who will be blamed if these parties could not make the deal and because of this something wrong happens? They try to use thier neglligience of laws of this type as an excuse that they opposed everything from the outset. This is why they always flee legal ways and accountablity. Still time is not to late for them to play with the rules of the game!

Posted by Samuel | Report as abusive

Dear Mr. Melone
Next time you visit Ethiopia, would you talk to the people please? Not to the people at Sharaton or Hilton, not at Meleses office or Berekets but the ordinary people in Merkato or any one on the street of addis about Democracy. Ethiopians do not need wheat or bread from the west any more. Do you know how much Ethiopians hate to be a berger? Ethiopians want the west to stop giving them food aid, but if the west really wants to help Ethiopians, it needs to stop supporting dictators like meles Zenawi. If all Ethiopians have freedom and democracy regardless of their ethnicity, I will bet you, they will feed themselves. “There is no democracy in Ethiopia, but tierney” Do not buy what Meles and bereket are saleing.

Posted by Ethiopian | Report as abusive

I would like to appreciate Tegga Lendado for his article and to the facts who try to cover in the article. All partis including Mederk should put their signature in the election code of conduct.
Ethiopia needs peace election, democracy, and prosperity.

Posted by maare | Report as abusive

All in all, the brand new opposition in the name of ‘medrek’ is nothing but bunch of ever-crying, pessimistic politicians who are willing to work if it lets them to power only. Every time an opposition party agrees with the ruling party, they label it ‘traitor, puppet’.
One more fact, the ruling party, EPRDF, is not a single party but umbrella of many ethnic based parties including OPDO, ANDM, TPLF and SEPDM. Thus in reality, the code of conduct for the election was agreed between many parties.
Another fact is that, some of the parties under the so called ‘medrek’ are just bunch of people who were loyal servants of the party in power but get kicked out.

Posted by kacapa | Report as abusive

EPRDF is the best political party in the country. The opposition parties know nothing but obstructing and whining about the democratic process. Many or all of the opposition figures have been in the same leadership position since the demise of derg regime. They don’t tolerate dissent within their ranks. Yes, they have added a few discarded members from the ruling party to their rank, but it amounts to nothing. MEDREK is a hodgepodge of desperate and disparate groups whose only agenda is to overthrow the current government by any means possible. That is why they are boycotting the meetings between EPRDF and opposition parties on wide ranging issues. It is not interested in the democratic process.

Posted by Quntan | Report as abusive

It was a good observation. I like the way the article was written. The agreement on the code of conduct in relation to the election is a landmark in Ethiopian politics. We can see light at the end of the tunnel, its a good beginning and I hope those who decided to boucott the discussion will come on board the the weeks and months to come. The EPRDF seems to be initiating good ideas that will ultimately help our country. Ethiopia belongs to all of us and has no stepkids. We all are ethiopians irrespective of our ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. The EPRDF has every right to govern the country as long as its elected by the majority. Some of the opposition leaders arent showing tolerance to the incumbant, they want to see the EPRDF overthrown for good, they don want to see EPRDF to be part of the political dynamism in Ethiopia. All the political groups in Ethiopia do enjoy popular support from some sections of our community. Calling names and character assasination wont help us all. The only thing forward is to build and consolidate the democratic institutions.

Posted by Afarman | Report as abusive

The Ethiopian government always claims Ethiopia is an emerging democracy but how long does it take Ethiopian people to elect their true representative? It has been more than 18 years of false claims of democracy. If TPLF/EPDRF and their leader Meles Zenawi have the courage to introduce true democracy, they will allow free and fair election based on their constitution. But they know they came to power through the barrel of the gun and they have not managed to convince the majority of Ethiopians that they are any better than Mengistu when it comes to political power.


my question is what is wrong with us ?we all know that Ethiopia is under the control of one ethnic group,they are the one with full power,high investment and too much guns.I know that unless they start making some Chang and make the country for every Ethiopian,the time they suffer will not be far.Ethiopia is for all Ethiopians not only for Tigriyans. This is the major problem of EPRDF(as i believe)


What I am most upset about is others beliefs that were wrong since the beginning of time and into the 21st century and they lived fighting for what was wrong and not what was right. What was wrong was having a leader who didn’t ensure law and what was right was fighting for a leader who ensured law. Civilocity is a form of government that ensures law. War is between two leaders without law lets make sure one follows the law and see how the people react.

Think of the history of the world and how many leaders of countries have harmed the people illegally.

Now think of a future where there aren’t any leaders who harm the people illegally and get away with it. This is the future I give to you.


There isn’t an appetite for MEDRECK without Birtukan Mideksa. No matter how many parties form this party she was the glue and THE main attraction to this otherwise far from stellar grouping. The chatter about MEDRECK being a party for all Ethiopians and popularity status are false and is propagated by our ever busy and medaling neighbor to the north. MEDRECk is now a party for ethnic separatists and is no longer in its original model. It has been taken over. Hailushawel seems to be the only true opposition.

Posted by selam | Report as abusive

It is easy to blame. But so far I haven’t seen any legible comment and I dont need to read till end. Example, Ato Tola said the following.

You also said that before EPRDF Ethiopia means Amhara and now Ethiopia means Tigraie. Evin you didn’t mention any sites or evidences. This is the problem of moron people like you. You know nothing about the real situation; but you simply blame. But let me tell you The generals of King Minlik: H/Giorgis Dinegdie and Abdissa Agaa were from Oromo people, Emperor H/Silassie was from Harrar and C/ol Mengistu was from Jimma. But what you really know is, hence, Amharic is the official language you believe that Ethiopia is Amhara. Also even if EPRDF is in position currently, it doesn’t mean all Tigrain people are EPRDF. For further information you can read “Finote Gidl” and all the references listed there.

Finally, it is true that there are a lot of problems in Ethiopia. But Even we are part of these problems. We are infected by the virus of “ZEREGNET”. So lets stand in unity as Ethiopians.

Posted by VivaEthiopia | Report as abusive

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