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A ‘day of rage’ in Ethiopia?

By Aaron Maasho
May 25, 2011

Ethiopia’s handful of TV channels are not carrying much news lately.  Instead, broadcasters are spending most of their time covering every phase of the construction of a new mega dam along the country’s Nile waters.

From mawkish ballads to patriotic poems and documentaries, programmes are waxing eloquently about how far the impoverished African nation has come since the dreaded Communist junta was toppled two decades ago, by defying Egyptian pressure and embarking on a massive project from its own coffers.

The long-standing rivalry with Cairo, fuelled by Ethiopian accusations it was meddling to stop any project along the river, has mustered up nationalistic fervour in the country. Most Ethiopians now say they are fully behind the project and some are even buying government bonds to help fund its construction.

A job well done then, Ethiopia? Not so say the government’s detractors. They say the public mobilisation is just a diversionary tactic, a ploy to distract citizens from the country’s ills.

They’ve even set up an online campaign calling for an Arab-style “day of rage” on May 28, the day Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s rebels captured the capital in 1991.

“There is no reason why we cannot have the Arab uprising in Ethiopia,” says their proclamation, headlined “Beka!” – meaning “enough” in the Amharic language.

“We have resolved to bring the torch to Ethiopia, and liberate the country from the minority dictatorship that has been in power for more than 20 years,” says a post on their Facebook page, which has some 3,000 “confirmed” attendants.

Their resentment echoes some of the factors cited by demonstrators in Egypt: high unemployment, surging costs of living, as well as gripes about the government’s democracy and human rights record.

It also derives from the country’s ethnic federal model, which they say has damaged national cohesion.

Street protests erupted in Ethiopia after Meles’ disputed 2005 election win and more than 200 people lay dead after bloody battles between protesters and police. Some government officials believed then that the opposition was trying to provoke a revolution.

The government hasn’t failed to notice the latest campaign. Party insiders say they have been meeting constantly to discuss such scenarios, while opposition figures said in March that hundreds of their members were rounded up to nip any potential uprising in the bud. The authorities said the people were members of an outlawed “terrorist” group.

Addis Ababa also introduced price caps on certain goods to ease the costs of living shortly after protests gathered steam in North Africa. Ethiopia’s inflation rate surged to 29.5 percent in April from just 5.3 percent in August last year.

In sub-Saharan Africa, attempts to organise protests this year in countries such as Djibouti , Gabon and Mauritania have been swiftly snuffed out by the authorities, although protests over food and fuel price rises in Uganda have dragged on for more than a month.

The opposition in Eritrea is also trying to muster a protest via Facebook for May 28 as well.

But in diverse Ethiopia, it’s hard to speculate how far resentment (or support) is entrenched, and it is likely that political allegiances vary from region to region. On the other hand, Meles has  received credit for his anti-poverty initiatives, with the number of universities surging 10-fold since 1991, health coverage improving and the construction of an impressive infrastructure network throughout the country.

The economy has also grown at a healthy rate for the past six years – at double-digits in fact, according to government figures.

But some experts say Ethiopia’s surging cost of living is Meles’ Achilles’ heel, not the stalled democratisation process.

Though Addis Ababa boasts an evolving skyline with numerous high-rise buildings sprouting throughout, wealth hasn’t trickled down to the poor.

“We say you never miss a country you’ve never been to,” an Addis Ababa University political science lecturer told me.

“What can cause resentment here is the continuously rising costs of basic commodities, not politics. We still don’t have much experience, the democratic culture, to come out in defence of it,” he said.

But there’s also an impression that ordinary Ethiopians are suffering from a hangover from the violence of 2005, and few expect they will turn out in droves and defy a strong state security apparatus next week.

Back in 2005, an opposition coalition rallied thousands with its intellectual appeal, only to be involved in a bitter power struggle and disband when the going went tough, with some of its influential figures fleeing the country.

Some also point to Ethiopia’s low Internet penetration. Though a few posters have been slapped on the streets of Addis Ababa, the campaign has only gained traction online, particularly among the country’s large Diaspora.

Will Ethiopia’s anti-government supporters challenge the odds and take to the streets come Saturday? Or is this just a pipe dream, an unrealistic call at a time when the country’s opposition is at its weakest?


I guess it’s real this time. People are too scared to discuss their plan freely…but they are waiting for the last straw. There won’t be any stopping it without clearing the mess.

Posted by NoStatusQuo | Report as abusive

I really don´t think anything would happen on May the 28th. Seriously???? an uprising? do you think that people are ready to die? do you really think that people have the guts to go out because a diaspora group believes it is a must do thing. I don´t think so. Although I agree with most of the points in this article I still believe that the society is tired of making a civil disobedience/revolution or whateva. They know it will not get them anywhere. May 28 will just pass as one of the days in Ethiopia, working, sleeping or doing anything one plan to do. I wish to see changes in Ethiopia, I love my country more than ever, but I really don´t want to see them die and achieve nothing. :(((((((

Posted by Ethiopiawit | Report as abusive

The height of folly by the regime in AddisAbeba is at its peak. Nevertheless,be it this May 2011 or a future May 2011 it is inevitable to see a deserved cry for freedom and dignity by Ethiopians in Ethiopia.Abroad ,its another matter,as this regime is largely considered,and rightfully so,nothing short of an ethnically based, nepotistic, and familialy tied masquerade charading as a modern political party. As long as this theatre of a so called democracy is still in play,its only a matter of time-with or without the use of modern-media,with or without the opposition parties say so, when all Ethiopians will call and rise, an ignonimous,part-Maoist part kleptocratic republic will crumble like a deck of cards on its overweight self.

Posted by democracynow | Report as abusive

I think it is still better for all Ethiopians to calm down and seek for a better tomorrow. Meles has very serious problems like that of most tyrants but I believe he is genuine when it comes to his efforts to eradicate poverty. So let’s first kick out poverty and we will then kick out woyane. So let’s calm down and finnish projects we started. God bless Ethiopia!

Posted by Henock | Report as abusive

Your article seems out of touch with reality. Those of us who live in Ethiopia are witnessing a tremendous effort going on to transform the nation, be it in infrastructure, education, health, industrialization… etc. One fact is though undeniable. Consumer prices are sky rocketing. As this is largely a world phenomena, such does not necessarily trigger uprising. PUBLIC UPRISING ON MAY 28 IS A PIPE DREAM.

Posted by kidist777 | Report as abusive

I believe that the notion that there will be a day of rage in Ethiopia on May 28th is a pipe dream for at the least the following reason. The “Beka” , “Youth Group” and “Ginbot7” who are leading this so called rage day are based in the United States. For a couple of years until the Arab uprisings few months ago, they have been advocating armed struggle from outside b/c the conditions in Ethiopia will never permit public demonstration. These groups, same groups have demonized all opposition groups in Ethiopia and coupled with the Governments pressure, the local opposition are today at their weakest ever. Let alone lead a serious revolution. They are broke, demoralized and have no public support. So these dreamers now have made U turn in the last few weeks and are hoping with their remote control bring down the current regime. It is truly a shame and has nothing to do with democracy and freedom but power at any cost.

Posted by ethiopia | Report as abusive

‘Day of rage’ and the future of Ethiopia –

Ethiopia may need a new leadership, but not in a revolutionary fashion. Ethiopians of the young generation are the solution for the chronic poverty. The young generation will contribute in changing the image of Ethiopia that has been severing as a poster child for poverty for the last 30 years.

So Reuters, while thanking your reportage, but we say no thanks for covering only negative news that comes out from the Ethiopia and the African Continent in general. There are more positive and inspirational news making stories each day in Ethiopia – we, your esteemed readers, would appreciate if you sometimes share those positive stories.


Posted by Addistalks | Report as abusive

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