(Washington Post) The United States’ irresponsible praise of Ethiopia’s regime

From: Biniam Tekle <biniamt_at_dehai.org_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 30 Apr 2015 22:36:52 -0400

The Post's View

The United States’ irresponsible praise of Ethiopia’s regime

By Editorial Board April 30 at 8:43 PM

ETHIOPIA’S ELECTIONS, scheduled for May 24, are shaping up to be
anything but democratic. A country that has often been held up as a
poster child for development has been stifling civic freedoms and
systematically cracking down on independent journalism for several

It was consequently startling to hear the State Department’s
undersecretary of state for political affairs, Wendy Sherman, declare
during a visit to Addis Ababa on April 16 that “Ethiopia is a
democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be
free, fair and credible.” The ensuing backlash from Ethiopians and
human rights advocates was deserved.

Ms. Sherman’s lavish praise was particularly unjustified given
Ethiopia’s record on press freedom: It has imprisoned 19 journalists,
more than any other country in Africa. According to a new report by
the Committee to Protect Journalists, the country ranks fourth on its
list of the top 10 most censored countries in the world. At least 16
journalists have been forced into exile, and a number of independent
publications have shut down due to official pressure.

Last weekend marked one year since six bloggers were arrested and
jailed without trial. The “Zone 9” bloggers, who used their online
platforms to write about human rights and social justice and to
agitate for a democracy in Ethi­o­pia, were charged with terrorism
under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which has been used to clamp
down on numerous journalists critical of the regime. Today, the
bloggers remain imprisoned, awaiting what will likely be a trial by

As for the elections, opposition parties say the ruling Ethiopian
People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front , led by Hailemariam Desalegn,
has undermined their efforts to register candidates for the May vote.
Since last year, members of opposition parties and their supporters
have been arrested and harassed. In March, the sole opposition leader
in Parliament said he would not run for reelection due to state
interference with his party’s affairs. The EPRDF, which has been in
power since 1991, was reported to have won the last elections in 2010
with 99.6 percent of the vote.

The State Department released a statement last week urging Ethiopia to
release journalists who have been imprisoned for doing their jobs. But
as the considerably more high-profile statement by Ms. Sherman
indicated, the Obama administration has been reluctant to criticize
what it regards as a key security ally in the Horn of Africa. A State
Department spokeswoman confirmed this week that Ms. Sherman’s comments
“fully reflect the U.S. government’s positions on these issues.”

With its ancient culture, strategic location and population of 94
million, Ethi­o­pia is indeed key to the future of eastern Africa. But
that does not justify make-believe statements or a go-softly approach
that is not working. The United States should stop funneling millions
of aid dollars to a regime that has continued to choke off the media,
hamper the participation of opposition parties and silence its
critics. If the election is not judged by independent observers to
live up to Ms. Sherman’s billing, the administration should swallow
her words — and change its approach.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Ethiopia’s stifled press
Received on Thu Apr 30 2015 - 22:37:31 EDT

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