Global Voices has been trying to follow both the violent suppression of street protests in Addis Ababa and the ongoing rioting in Paris suburbs. A comment on a roundup I posted of news from Ethiopia links the two events in an interesting way:
On the way home I saw 2 soldiers pummeling a man with their boots in Ayer Tena- not beating the living hell out of him, but they had him on the ground taunting him- in broad daylight. He was empty handed and was showing them so, he was well dressed-a student-type, so no excuse to call him a looting hooligan with a hand grenade. On Thursday 3 people were shot at Tor Hayloch on the way back from the Eid morning prayer- their relatives could not remove the body unless it was paid for (100-300 Birr) and they signed a prepared form (not some slip of paper rustled up in a second) saying that the dead was a criminal. Even a criminal gets to stand trial, only a murder threatening to kill further would be shot dead, not someone caught in the act of stealing (if at all)
So in France 1000+ cars have been burnt, police shot at by rioters… and not one rioters has met an untimely death. If the French government took steps similar to those taken by the authorities here in Addis what would the world say? There’d be outrage! But for Ethiopia, Meles’ democracy is just good enough for Africans, double standards…
The commenter, Dina – who is posting from an IP address in Ethiopia – goes on to note that the events in Ethiopia have gotten very little media attention compared to the events in France, and blames US support for Ethiopia as a partner in the “war on terror” and the failure of diplomats in Ethiopia to condemn Meles.
As of this morning, rioting in Europe has spread to several French cities, as well as to Berlin, Brussels and other northern European cities. In France, more than 5,000 cars have been burned, and more than 150 people have been detained… but there’s been one death reported in the violence. By contrast, government suppression of protests in Addis has caused at least 46 deaths. The Meles government is now threatening to remove the business licenses of anyone participating in the opposition-called strike… which is precisely what triggered the original violence in Addis.
Why so many dead in Addis and so few dead in France? The answer must be, at least in part, that as Dina suggests, Ethiopian “democracy” and French democracy are far from identical. A key ingredient to French democracy that’s missing from Ethiopian democracy: a free, functional press.
Andrew Meskel, a blogger, journalist and photographer living in Addis, observes that, in Addis, “The latest news is … there is no news.” The state-owned newspaper, the Ethiopian Herald, led today with a story about Meles’s return from a trip to Germany, not a story about violent upheaval. (Below the fold, the other lead stories promised to bring “suspects of street violence to justice” and a warning that “Changing government by street violence is treason”. In other words, the sort of fair, unbiased journalism one expects from the world’s 131st most free press.)
Meskel points to an article on the Addis Ababa University Journalism School’s website by Sophia Nesri about the government crackdown on the media. Nesri writes:
We hear of children being tortured, we hear of a contested number of people dying. I know mothers who want to tell their stories, hoping to let the world know what they have gone through. But they are afraid the federal police might come back for them.
The police in Paris should be commended for attempting to contain widespread unrest without causing any deaths. (The one reported death, after the tragic deaths of Bouna and Zaid which sparked the riots, was of a bystander punched by a rioter, who cracked his skull when he fell to the ground.) But the French police are profoundly aware that the entire world is watching the events in the Paris suburbs very closely, and that a violent reaction to the riots would end their careers, irreparably damage the government and likely spark other riots on the continent.
Who’s watching in Addis?