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With Birtukan gone, smooth sailing for Ethiopia’s Meles

By Aaron Maasho
February 23, 2011


ETHIOPIA-OPPOSITION/BIRTUKANEthiopia’s opposition UDJ party, completely wiped out at last year’s disputed election, says it is regrouping.

At a recent news conference, it announced it plans to rebuild its depleted ranks with young people, analyse the mistakes of the past and ensure that it’s never again hampered by a lack of leadership.

But that last one is going to be pretty difficult. The absence of Birtukan Mideksa, its charismatic former leader who was freed last October after a near two-year stint in jail, was all too visible to ignore.

After a visit to South Africa earlier this year, party chiefs say she is now on her way to the United States for “psychological treatment.”

The 36-year old former judge was one of dozens of opposition officials imprisoned in 2005 blamed for sparking violent protests on the streets of Addis, in which 198 opposition supporters and seven policemen were killed.

They were pardoned en mass in 2007 but Birtukan was banged into jail again in 2008 for allegedly reneging on  pardon conditions in speeches she made in Sweden and Germany.

This latest prison stretch, which she described as “horrible, really horrible” and during which she was for some time kept in solitary confinement, seems to have taken its toll on the single mother.

Now, with its most appealing leader gone and elections five years away, the opposition is banking on economics to undo Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and making vague references to the North African uprisings.

“The demise of Mubarak’s regime came through street protests,” they say in a line that sulky officials will surely repeat over and over again.

“There are too many economic problems: inflation, unemployment… When they are too much, it may explode,” Birtukan’s replacement, former president Negaso Gidada, told me recently.

Indeed, it was the 2005 street protests that came closest to ending the reign of Meles. But those polls pitted Meles against a rival group that commanded massive urban support due to its “intellectual” credentials.

The opposition in 2011 is a only a shadow of what it was then.

ETHIOPIA Though foreign rights groups complain about crackdowns on the opposition, most analysts believe there is little chance anyone can knock Meles off his perch or that the opposition has any chance of inciting protests.

Meles and his party won all but two of 547 parliamentary seats at the elections last year and, though there were allegations of voter intimidation and use of state coffers from the ruling party, the opposition’s aging leadership appeared impotent and divided, squabbling over which economic policies could woo voters.

I particularly remember one news conference when the main coalition of eight parties chose a leader. No sooner did he finish his speech than other leaders started raising their hands, eager to disassociate themselves from what they said was not the “right way”.

“Actually Mr. Chairman, we haven’t agreed on that issue,” one of them said, wasting no time in making differences heard.

Hardly convincing, especially when they were up against the witty Meles, a darling of the West for his insights on economics.

As for Meles, he has already announced that the next five years will be his last – his second such claim. He also seems to be banking on “generational change” to elongate his party’s two-decade dominance.

Some Ethiopian critics, though, doubt he’s telling the truth.

So how do you think Ethiopia’s politics will play out over the next five years? Will the lack of genuine competition hurt Ethiopia’s push for democracy? How about Meles? Is it now smooth sailing for him?


Western journalists as well as diplomats and leaders said the same thing about, Egypt, Tunisia etc. in your undercover bigoted lowered expectation for Africans, you always underestimate our resolve and determination to build a country that is free, democratic and where justice rain supreme. Your witty man and our Dictator Meses dictates to as usual, while you praise his wittiness, why can’t he let us speak what is in our mind? Why do you as a journalist feel you know better for Ethiopians? Surly you know we don’t have a single free media? Free internet? Free platform to express ourselves and exchange ideas without being curtailed by the gangster’s organisation, TPLF? Mr journalist, Why do you feel we are like children that listen to dictates from Melse? Because he has a gun on our head? or because he is witty man as you put it? Why do you insult our intelligence by telling lies about things we already know are true? Why don’t your write about the killing and torture our brothers and sisters live under everyday? Do you think we don’t know what has happened to Birtukan? Surly you are familiar about how we all get treated like second class citizens in our own country because of TPLF’s policy? Please stop your mabo jambo and clear your conscience by telling the truth. As to how long your witty friend and our dictator dictates to us for, let’s wait and see who will be correct as i will give him not more than six month. I was in Ethiopia until Sunday and all i can say is the suppressed volcano is close to explode unless your witty man implements the necessary fast, honest and deep reaching reforms. Anyway good luck to your witty man’s remaining oppressive time! By the way, i don’t expect you to post this as you sound like you go to bed with dictators! As your witty man routinely suppress our freedom of expression.

Posted by Bico | Report as abusive

You guys are amazing. There is no “strong” opposition group in Egypt,Tunisia,Yemen,Libya,Bahrain but that didn’t save the regimes from the people’s warth. Zenawi’s fate will not be any different weather he is a darling of the west or not. Why don’t you wait a little bit?

Posted by danpol | Report as abusive

The average Ethiopian has a love/hate relationship with Meles. He’s like a dad that’s way too strict. They appreciate the good he has done but now they’re growing up and they resent the repression that’s holding them back. If they see all their friends defying curfew and making choices, they want this for themselves.

It’s too bad about Birtukan. She or someone like her are the eventual progression if Ethiopia is to continue moving forward. She just needs better people around her. I would leave the country too if I spent two years in jail and no one did anything about it.

Posted by Johny_Utah | Report as abusive

Before the uprising now rocking Libya, Moammar Gaddafi walked with an aura of a national hero trusted by the people and the army. When trouble set in, however, he had no one to turn to but hired mercenaries. No difference with Meles Zenawi. For the West, he may look like a leader at peace with himself and country. In reality, he is no different than his Libyan counterpart whose days are numbered now.

Posted by Gomoraw | Report as abusive

There is no organized opposition group in Ethiopia; it’s a free-for-all. 

Burtukan Medeksa has done nothing but play the female and evangelical (“Pente” – Pentecostal) angle to splinter and fundraise for herself, having netted no less than $1 million on her last US tour…Unlikely she’ll manage that on her latest trip.  She has brought in Seye Abraha as co-chair of her party, a man so murderous and corrupt, he was kicked out of the ruling party…But in the opportunistic world of Ethiopian politics, the enemy of your enemy is your friend.

Posted by Abebe | Report as abusive

The revolution to oust brutal dictators in northern Africa is happening while there is no strong and organized opposition party because decades of persecution.
If you think the disappointed of an opposition party or even a political figure will help Meles to safely continue his brutal oppression, then you are dead WRONG. The people have learned that it is the responsibility of every individual to say no to repression. I argue quite the opposite and say that the absence of some genuine decent IS indeed a sure criteria that will lead to the peoples revolt.

Look at for example Libya. There is no opposition party or figure there. None! It is the circumstance where people have to live for decades that leads them to rebel against dictators. The same thing can be said about eastern Europe during the 90s.

I think the absence of a well respected and loved figure like Birtukan creates a very dangerous situation for the Meles regime. Hopeless people do not afraid to pay the final price to be free and get hope again.

Posted by fikre | Report as abusive

When Meles and his clones slaughtered hundreds of kids after the phony 2005 elections, the West let it slide by just offering lip service. The unfortunate fact is that United States and Europe are not interested to put themselves proactively involved unless the situation has a direct national security threat or financial gain for themselves. Meles is enjoying the smooth ride, not because of the absence of Ms Birtukan, but the lack of interest of the US and Europe to promote basic human rights in a poor country like Ethiopia. Meles is rewarded financially instead, for destroying his own people.

Posted by Madcabbie | Report as abusive

Keep dreaming. Meles and EPDRF’s name is here to stay,where it belongs,in the history books of our country,shining for everyone to see,as the leader and group/party who liberated Ethiopia and as the party and leader who set Ethiopia on the right track for development.Those of you, paper tigers, sitting behind your screens, learn something useful from the real man, Meles. Some people always forget that Ethiopia is not just Addis Ababa. Ethiopia, wether you like to hear it or not,is a federation of many different cultures, languages and peoples. The old “Centralized System” is not coming back. Accept it, and move on.

Posted by brian2 | Report as abusive

His predecessor’s regime killed generations of Ethiopians and Mr Meles’ regime killed the dreams of generations of Ethiopian youth including me. no body can dream of a better future or career in his/her life unless that person is a member or supporter of the party. the ethnic background also matters. I was unfortunate enough to be a student when this regime took over. When I finished university, I was full of hope and expectation believing the country gives me the ground to unlock my potential and reach my dreams. But I was denied of every chance time after time. Now before I know it I am an old man who wasted his time trying every hole of opportunity unsuccessfully . Now my time as a human being is wasted. this regime has stoled my life. I can say nobody else can understand the story of the Tunisian man who burned himself to death. This regime is worse when compared to what was there in Tunisia. I was so unfortunate to be born and alive when this party took control of the country

Posted by Elyaad | Report as abusive

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