Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
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.
Eritrea’s arms seem to have been folded in a sulk for a long time now. The Red Sea state has, for some, taken on the black sheep role in the Horn of Africa family. But President Isaias Afewerki is looking eager to get off the naughty step.
His opponents say he was put there for good reason. Eritrea became increasingly isolated in the region after a 1998 – 2000 border war with neighbouring – and much bigger – Ethiopia.
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.
Africa has known for a long time that it’s not going to get everything it wants from the Copenhagen climate talks. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is representing the continent in Denmark, has been managing expectations by saying so for more than six months now.
But that realism is tempered by increasingly tough words from a man who has already said European emissions may have caused his country’s infamous 1984 famine.