Africa News blog
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The Ethiopian press corps put Thijs Berman, the EU’s chief observer for the country’s May 23rd elections, under some serious pressure at his first press conference since arriving last Wednesday – less than five weeks before the poll.
“Won’t you just rubberstamp a precooked election?” said one.
“How can you do your work with less than five weeks left?” another.
“You have 150 observers for 43,000 polling stations?!” a third.
Berman, a seasoned election monitor who has Afghanistan’s mess of a 2009 poll on his CV, took it all in his stride and even showed flashes of humour.
“If you need to examine a patient and you want to take his blood, you don’t need to take all of his blood. One drop is enough,” he said to laughter.
When the EU monitored Ethiopia’s last elections in 2005 it ended with spiteful accusations from both sides after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi accused Europe’s then chief observer of helping incite post-election violence.
This past holiday season in Kenya was quite a contrast to the preceding year.
While in 2008 December was dry and dusty, last month was marked by heavy rains across the country, making for soggy barbecues and muddy cars for the many urban Kenyans who usually like to spend Christmas with their families in the rural areas.
The rains have killed 20 people and displaced many more through flooding. But they are vital, given the country’s reliance on agriculture, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s GDP and employs about two thirds of the entire population.