A few weeks back, the elections in Ethiopia looked like a great victory for supporters of increased openness and democratization. Reporting on the apparent increase of the opposition from 12 seats to 174 in the 547-seat parliament, Abraham McLaughlin wrote in the Christian Science Monitor:
The campaign included surprising signs of openness: massive opposition rallies being allowed in the capital; coverage of the opposition in government-controlled media; and, for the first time ever, more than 300 international observers being invited in to watch the vote.
The increased openness demonstrated by Zenawi’s government (he’s been in power since 1991, winning three elections widely percieved as being rigged) doesn’t neccesarily mean this election process is going to be a peaceful one. Students began rioting in the “Mexico” section of Addis Ababa on Tuesday, and taxi and bus drivers began a general strike on Wednesday. The government has responded by opening fire on demonstrators, killing at least 22.
Andrew Heavens, a freelance journalist based in Addis, has been in the heart of the situation, taking photographs for Reuters. His blog, Meskel Square, is currently filled with harrowing stories and images:
At one point a young man burst out of the morgue roaring with grief. He kept charging on the surrounding doctors, clenching his fists, desperate to find someone to take his grief out on. Seconds later he ran out of the room in tears.
Just for the record, I saw 11 bodies at the Black Lion and Zawditu hospitals, all with gun shot wounds, some to the head. As you know the official count at the moment is 22.
They all seemed to me to be in their twenties or at most their early thirties. Most of the protesters I saw earlier yesterday were much younger – see this picture of stone-throwing youths. The real worry is that this unrest will spread from the students to “street people” across the city, turning the protests into widespread unrest.
The Ethiopian blogosphere is buzzing with speculation about whether Ethiopia is heading towards a Ukraine-style revolution. Opposition bloggers are especially vocal. Ethiopundit has a long post speculating that the election was stolen and arguing that the concession that the opposition had won seats in Addis was a smokescreen to disguise overall election fraud. Dagmawi favors statistical analysis, including speculation that record turnout favored the ruling party and indicates fraud.
Ethiopian Review believes that (opposition party) CUD spokesman Ato Lidetu Ayalew is being held without food and water by the government and asks people to contact the ICRC to ask for help seeking his release.
The Ethopian government appears to be cracking down on the independent press, revoking press permits for Deutchse Welle and Voice of America. Heavens is asking commenters on his blog to keep “comments moderate”, surely aware that his presence in Addis could also be threatened.
The Global Voices aggregator is following half a dozen Ethiopian blogs and may be useful to anyone interested in following developments as they happen.
Photo by Andrew Heavens