Meles Zenawi has been in power as prime minister of Ethiopia since August 23, 1995. He has forged very strong military ties to the United States, and his loyalty has resulted in billions of dollars in U.S. military support and aid.Ethiopia’s controversial election five years ago resulted in a military crackdown, with over 200 deaths and thousands imprisoned or exiled. Furthermore, because the United States needed support from the government of Ethiopia to lead an invasion of Somalia, it turned a blind eye to numerous human rights violations and all but endorsed Zenawi.In May 2010, Ethiopia is scheduled to have new elections. The incumbent party is the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) headed by Zenawi. At the beginning of November 2009, after two months of comprehensive negotiations, the ruling EPRDF and three opposition political parties signed a historic joint agreement on an electoral code of conduct and implementation guidelines. The code was designed to affirm basic constitutional rights and ensure free and fair elections in 2010. However, it excluded other leading opposition political parties.Medrek, a forum for eight political parties, walked out of the negotiations after accusing the ruling party of imprisoning 450 of its members and candidates “to stop them [from] running as candidates in national elections.” One Medrek member in prison is Birtukan Mideksa, a charismatic young former judge. After her party won more than a third of the legislative seats in the 2005 election, government forces arrested and sentenced her to life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” A storm of international protest from human rights activists ensued, and the government pardoned her in 2007. Touted as a potent force in the 2010 vote, Birtukan was re-arrested in 2008 and remains imprisoned today.Since September 10, 2009, security forces have arrested dozens of politicians and opposition supporters, accusing them of plotting against the government. Melaku Teferra, another prominent associate of Birtukan’s party, was among 40 people arrested and accused in October 2009 of participating in a coup plot allegedly directed by Berhanu Nega, the former mayor of Addis Ababa. On November 19, the government accused 27 additional opposition leaders of conspiring to overthrow Prime Minister Zenawi. Despite the pretense of democracy, Ethiopia remains a police state under the firm control of Meles Zenawi, not the people of Ethiopia.
Foreign Policy in Focus | Africa Policy Outlook 2010
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