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May 24, 2010

Timeline: From bush to PM, the rise of Meles Zenawi

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia will announce on Monday the provisional result of a national election which is expected to return Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to power and set him on the road to nearly 25 years in power.

Here are some key dates in his political life:

* May 8, 1955 – Legesse Zenawi is born in Adwa in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Some suggest rebellion was in his blood because Adwa is where Ethiopia defeated Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s invaders. He later changes his name to Meles in tribute to an activist killed by the communist regime.

May 23, 2010

Ethiopia’s Meles says will win poll, rejects gripes

ADWA, Ethiopia (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he expects to be returned to power in national elections Sunday and rejected accusations that the first vote since a violent 2005 poll would be a fraud.

“I think so,” Meles said when asked if his ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) would win. “That appears to be the opinion of almost everyone I know.”

May 23, 2010

Ethiopia’s Meles expects economy to ensure victory

ADWA, Ethiopia (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Sunday he expects to win a national election thanks to his party’s record on economic development and rejected opposition complaints of intimidation.

Speaking to Reuters as he flew to the capital Addis Ababa after casting his vote in the northern Tigray region, the former rebel leader said once people were in the polling booth they could vote as they pleased.

May 22, 2010

Ethiopians vote in test of democracy

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopians vote on Sunday in national elections that are expected to return long-serving Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to power in the first ballot since a disputed poll in 2005 turned violent.

The opposition admits it has little chance of victory but says that is because the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has tightened its grip on power since then and routinely intimidates and jails its critics.

May 19, 2010

Ethiopia confirms rebel attack, says repelled

ADDIS ABABA, May 19 (Reuters) – The Ethiopian government confirmed on Wednesday that insurgents had attacked an army base five days before national elections, but denied the rebels had seized control of the garrison town.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which wants autonomy for the Ogaden region and its ethnic Somali population, said on Tuesday it had captured the garrison town of Malqaqa and killed 94 soldiers. [ID:nLDE64H258]

"Some insurgents belonging to the ONLF have tried to attack our local militia and the police," government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told Reuters.

"In retaliation, the militia was able to defeat the attack completely, killing all of the rebel forces. Only minimal casualties have been sustained by our local militia. No garrison town has been captured," he said.

Reporters and aid groups cannot move freely in the area without government escorts and regular accusations from both sides are hard to verify.

The Ogaden region is said to contain mineral deposits and foreign firms including Malaysia’s Petronas [PETR.UL] and Vancouver-based Africa Oil Corporation <AOI.V> are exploring for oil. The ONLF regularly warns foreign firms against prospecting.

Ethiopian forces launched an assault against the rebels — who have been fighting for more than 20 years — after a 2007 attack on an oil exploration field owned by a subsidiary of Sinopec, China’s biggest refiner and petrochemicals producer.

Analysts say the rebels are incapable of ousting the government but can hamper development and weaken security forces in the Ogaden with hit-and-run attacks.

The ONLF accuses the Ethiopian military of killing and raping civilians and burning villages in the region as part of its effort to root out them out.

In November, the group said it had captured seven towns in the region and killed almost 1,000 Ethiopian troops.

The government confirmed then that the rebels had launched an assault but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reporters they had been "crushed".

The government has also said that neighbouring Eritrea may try to spoil the May 23 elections using Ethiopian rebel groups. Ethiopia accuses its arch-enemy of funding the ONLF.

Ethiopia’s last elections in 2005 ended with street riots after the ruling party and the opposition both claimed victory.

The government said the violence was planned by the opposition to force unconstitutional change. Security forces killed 193 people and seven policemen also died.






May 18, 2010

Ethiopia rebels say capture base, kill 94 soldiers

ADDIS ABABA, May 18 (Reuters) – An Ethiopian rebel group said on Tuesday it had captured an army base and killed 94 soldiers, five days before national elections the government has warned rebel groups may try to disrupt.

"Special Forces of the Ogaden National Liberation Front captured Malqaqa, a strategic garrison along the road between Jigjiga and Harar," the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) said in a statement.

"The Ethiopian regime’s forces lost 94 soldiers and casualties of the ONLF were minimal given our forces had the advantage of the element of surprise."

Government comment was not immediately available.

Ethiopia’s last elections in 2005 ended with street riots after the ruling party and the opposition both claimed victory. The government said the violence was planned by the opposition to force an unconstitutional change.

Security forces killed 193 people and seven policemen also died then.

The ONLF wants autonomy for the Ogaden region, whose population is ethnic Somali. Ethiopia calls the ONLF "terrorists" supported by regional rival Eritrea.

The ONLF accuses the Ethiopian military of killing and raping civilians and burning villages in the region as part of its effort to root out insurgents.

The regular accusations from both sides are hard to verify. Journalists and aid groups cannot move freely in the area without government escorts.

Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday that Eritrea had been planning a number of ‘terrorist’ plots to undermine the elections.

"Ethiopia’s patience towards regional spoilers has its limits," the statement said. "It is good to remind the likes of Eritrea not to be oblivious to this."

The Ogaden region is said to contain mineral deposits and international firms including Malaysia’s Petronas [PETR.UL] and Vancouver-based Africa Oil Corporation <AOI.V> are exploring its deserts for oil. The ONLF regularly warns foreign companies against prospecting.

Ethiopian forces launched an assault against the rebels — who have been fighting for more than 20 years — after a 2007 attack on an oil exploration field owned by a subsidiary of Sinopec, China’s biggest refiner and petrochemicals producer. (Editing by Charles Dick)




May 18, 2010

Scenarios – How might Ethiopia’s elections play out?

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopians vote on Sunday in the first elections since a disputed 2005 poll — touted as the country’s first truly democratic vote — ended violently, with 193 protesters and seven policemen killed in street riots.

Analysts are divided on how the parliamentary election will turn out this time, while the government and the opposition have accused each other of violence and intimidation before anyone has even voted.

May 18, 2010

Tension high in key Ethiopia election region

MIDAKEGNE, Ethiopia, May 18 (Reuters) – Forty policemen march two-by-two through a remote Ethiopian town drawing stares from local farmers for their incongruous high-tech stab vests, body armour and riot helmets.

"Look, they are trying to terrify us," says opposition politician Teshale Idosa, his eyes widening. "And it is working. They are terrifying. We are terrified."

The tension is palpable in the Horn of Africa nation’s Oromia region ahead of national elections on Sunday, with six people killed in just four weeks.

The region is home to the Oromo, Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group with 27 million out of 80 million people. The area also produces most of the coffee in Africa’s biggest grower, along with oil seeds, sesame and livestock, which are all key exports.

Oromia is seen by analysts as key to the future of sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation, a country that is Washington’s main ally in the region and a growing destination for foreign direct investment.

On the road to Midakegne, soldiers and police stop and search cars, pat people down and check IDs, sometimes taking notes. Locals often seem frightened to talk about politics.

The eight-party opposition coalition, Medrek, says two of the six dead were theirs, while the ruling party says it has lost one candidate and a policeman was killed.

Another two died when a grenade was flung into a meeting of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), part of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition



VOTER CONFUSION

Also playing on people’s nerves is the fact that Ethiopia’s last national elections in 2005 ended with a disputed result. Seven policemen and 193 protesters died in street riots in the capital Addis Ababa and top opposition leaders were jailed.

The opposition argues it would sweep to power if the ruling party stopped intimidating and jailing its members. The government dismisses that accusation as nonsense and says it will win easily on its development record.

The ruling party has embarked on massive investment in infrastructure such as roads and energy. The International Monetary Fund said last month that Ethiopia would excel this year with growth in excess of 5 percent. [ID:nWEQ003877]

Many people in Oromia told Reuters they were confused about how to vote, with some towns overwhelmingly supporting the opposition coalition Medrek, and others the OPDO.

Opposition figures say the Oromo have never had any power despite the OPDO’s place in the government. They see that party as controlled by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Tigrayan People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (TPLF) — which they say runs the other three parties in the ruling coalition.

Some farmers told Reuters that officials deny them seeds and fertiliser to force them into joining the OPDO. One man said he was fired after 20 years as a chemistry teacher because he joined Medrek. OPDO members denied the allegations.

"Our party is fully independent and Oromo," OPDO official Alemayehu Ejio, told Reuters. "We are even more popular now because of our development work."



ELECTRICITY AND WATER

In Midakegne, 40 km (25 miles) from the nearest Tarmac road, the opposition says a 23-year-old activist, Biyansa Daba, was beaten to death. The government says he died of cancer and that the opposition is trying to spoil a poll it will lose.

Merera Gudina, leader of Medrek member party, the Oromo People’s Congress, is tailed on the road to the secluded town by three men in a pick-up truck. His car, and another containing Medrek activists, are stopped and searched by soldiers.

When Merera arrives and makes a speech, promising more power to the Oromo people, he is filmed and photographed by the three men while armed police watch.

OPDO officials in Midakegne repeated that Biyansa died of cancer, but three people separately approached Reuters to say he was severely beaten.

Earlier the same day, as the OPDO held a large rally in the town of Gorosole, locals told Reuters they would vote for the ruling party because they were grateful for electrification and the provision of safe drinking water to the town’s school.

The ruling party often points to its development achievements. Signs of progress in Oromia since the 2005 elections are evident.

An impressive road network has been built, towns have electricity and telephone masts are everywhere.

Just as the meeting is about to reach its climax — the unveiling of the new water tap for the school — Merera and his supporters appear in two cars and drive through the crowd. They throw leaflets into the air, and at the OPDO officials.

"Look at them," shouts Yohannes Mitiku, Merera’s rival for the area’s parliamentary seat. "They are trying to ruin our rally because they see that people support us."

"They say we intimidate them but yet they feel free to do this," he told Reuters.

Once the tap is unveiled, people filter back to villages in the surrounding hills, their absence revealing an empty street littered with leaflets and flags.

"Yes, the OPDO have been developing Oromia," says an old man who has watched the commotion. "But it’s development and repression at the same time. They can build roads to the moon but I won’t vote for them until we’re equal."






May 12, 2010

Ethiopia expects 25,000 more Somali refugees in 2010

ADDIS ABABA, May 12 (Reuters) – Ethiopia said on Wednesday it expects another 25,000 refugees fleeing fighting in Somalia to cross its border by the end of the year and appealed for $13 million dollars to feed its refugee population.

U.N. food agency, WFP, which provides all food aid to refugees in Ethiopia, warned that without the extra funding it would have to reduce food rations by June this year.

"With the growing number of refugees, we call upon the donor community to support us to address this humanitarian crisis," Ayalew Aweke, of Ethiopian refugee agency, ARRA, said in a joint statement with U.N refugee agency, UNHCR.

Ethiopia — one of the world’s poorest countries — is home to more than 68,000 Somali refugees as well 42,000 from Eritrea and 24,000 from Sudan.

"The rapid influx of refugees from southern Somalia and Eritrea has put immense strains on the limited available food resources," WFP Ethiopia deputy director Lynne Miller said.

"Without additional resources, WFP will be obliged to start reducing food rations of refugees as of June 2010."

Somalia has not had a functioning central government since the 1991 overthrow of a dictator, since when it has been mired in violence and awash with weapons.

The Western-backed interim government controls just a few blocks of the capital Mogadishu, with much of the country carved up between the rebel militias of Al Shabaa and Hizbul Islam and pro-government group Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca.

Somalia already has 1.4 million internally displaced people, and another 575,000 have so far fled to neighbouring countries. (Reporting by Barry Malone; Editing by Richard Lough and Louise Ireland)




May 10, 2010

Ethiopian opposition says third activist killed

ADDIS ABABA, May 10 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s main opposition coalition said on Monday that one of its activists had been shot dead, describing it as a politically motivated attack ahead of this month’s national election.

Ethiopia’s last election in 2005 ended with street riots after the ruling party and the opposition both claimed victory.

"Girma Kabe was putting up posters for the election and was shot down in daylight," Negaso Gidada, a leader of the eight-party Medrek opposition coalition, told Reuters.

"We think that it is a political murder but the police and the authorities claim it was because of a personal vendetta. We want it properly investigated."

The government said the activist was killed in a fight and a suspect had been arrested.

"It’s the same old story from the opposition," the government’s head of information, Bereket Simon, told Reuters.

"Their tactic seems to be searching for persons who have died of any cause and saying it is political. He was not even their member."

The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Front (EPRDF) is expected to win the May 23 poll comfortably. The opposition says this is because their candidates are harassed. The government says the opposition is trying to incite violence.

The government said the 2005 violence had been planned to force an unconstitutional change. Security forces killed 193 people and seven policemen also died.

Foreign investors, eyeing oil and gas exploration and large-scale farming projects, closely watch the political climate in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country.

In the election, Medrek is fielding the second-highest number of candidates after the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Front (EPRDF). It is seen as the biggest challenge to the 19-year-old government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The opposition says that three of its members have been killed since campaigning began. The ruling party says opposition members killed one of its candidates last week and murdered a policeman on Saturday night.

The government said on Saturday that a grenade was thrown into a meeting of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), killing two people and wounding 14. The OPDO is part of the country’s ruling coalition.

The attack happened in Oromia, home to Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group, the Oromo, who number 27 million out of 80 million people. (Editing by David Clarke and Maria Golovnina)




    • About Barry

      "Irish journalist who has lived in the Horn and east Africa since 2006 - first in Ethiopia, then in Uganda - covering politics, elections, society, culture and economics across the region. I have also worked for Reuters in Tunisia, Iraq and Libya and was part of the team that dominated coverage of Muammar Gaddafi's killing. Always welcome a good chat over on Twitter: @malonebarry"
      Hometown:
      Dublin
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