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Ethiopia’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.”
They say that the foundation of a good retirement is planning. By that measure, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi should have his rest period well laid out. The rebel-turned-leader has been saying he wants to step aside for almost two years now.
But after 18 years at the helm of one of the world’s poorest countries the 54-year-old is still in power and says he is trapped by the wishes of his ruling party. They will discuss his desire to retire at an executive committee meeting next month and a September congress would give him the opportunity to ask the party for his twilight years.
A plot is defined as “a plan made in secret”, but even by the usual shadowy nature of such matters around Africa, the recent conspiracy to overthrow the Ethiopian government has been hard to see clearly.
The story broke two weeks ago when the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said 40 men had been arrested for planning a coup after police found guns, bombs and “written strategies” at their homes. But a few days later the government communication office was asking journalists not to use the word coup anymore. The “desperados”, they said, had planned to “overthrow” the government by using assassinations and bombings to create enough chaos to get supporters on the streets to topple the government.
Six Ethiopian opposition parties have joined forces to go up against the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in next year’s parliamentary elections, but their chances of bringing change look slim at best and they complain of heavy-handed tactics by the ruling party.
The foremost opposition figure in Africa’s second most populous country, Birtukan Mideksa, a 34-year-old former judge, has been in solitary confinement since December. She was jailed after the first democratic poll in 2005, which ended in rioting that was bloodily suppressed, was pardoned in 2007 and rearrested last year after renouncing the terms of her pardon.