Saturday, July 28, 2012

Will Ethiopian crackdown stir Islamist backlash?

By William Davison, Correspondent / July 27, 2012

With arms raised and wrists crossed, silent Muslim worshippers surrounding the largest mosque in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, again today peacefully protested what they call a violent government response to legitimate demands.

The act of civil disobedience from Muslims, who constitute at least one-third of the population, is a rare sign of instability in a country seen by US policymakers as a bulwark against radical Islam in the volatile Horn of Africa region.

Last month, members of a committee mediating the dispute over perceived unconstitutional state interference in Islamic affairs were taken into custody, while unrest broke out on two occasions around separate mosques in the city of around 5 million people.

"We are showing solidarity with leaders who have been arrested but who are strong," says a demonstrator named Mohammed, referring to the vigil latched onto the end of midday prayers at Anwar Mosque. "They should be released; they were arrested for nothing." Moments later, nervous friends ushered him away.

Through military interventions in neighboring Somalia, crackdowns against a separatist movement in its Muslim-majority Ogaden region, and now the detention of Muslim activists in its capital, Ethiopia has taken on a role as front-line defense against the spread of political Islam in East Africa. It's a stance that broadly enjoys support from the West and neighboring countries, but some observers argue that Ethiopia's hard line may be creating a backlash, strengthening the appeal of insurgents whom it is battling to suppress.

Human rights group Amnesty International called on the Ethiopian government this week to either formally charge or to release those currently in detention. Amnesty also called on the Ethiopian government to investigate allegations of torture of detainees, to allow peaceful protest, and to use "proportionality in the use of force" against demonstrators who turn violent. 

For its part, the Ethiopian government justifies its actions by saying that the real troublemakers are a tiny minority of foreign-influence Salafi extremists. 

"This group actually deals day and night to create an Islamic state," says Shiferaw Teklemariam, the minister responsible for religious affairs. "This in the Ethiopian context is totally forbidden and against the constitution."

Activists scoff at the accusations. Ethiopia is a secular, multi-ethnic state, where Orthodox Christians predominate, they say. How could any Islamist group hope to create an Islamic state in such a country? The dismissal is seconded by Terje Østebø, an academic at the Center for African Studies and Department of Religion, University of Florida, who studies Islam in the Horn of Africa. He says that Ethiopia's historically oppressed Muslims are enthusiastic backers of the current secular system.

"Islamic reformists in Ethiopia have been very little concerned with politics, and certainly not advocated ideas in the direction of an Islamic state," he says. "In my numerous conversations with Muslims in Ethiopia, I never came across anyone favoring such ideas."

Other regional experts lean toward the official line that there are some externally-supported radicals that have hijacked the language of democratic rights to covertly pursue fundamentalism.

Protester demands

The committee's stated demands are for Islamic council elections to be held at mosques rather than at local government offices; for the government to stop its unconstitutional promotion of the moderate al-Ahbash sect popular in Lebanon; and for the Awalia Mosque in Addis Ababa to be returned to the community from a corrupted Islamic council.

The committee and its followers accuse Ethiopia's Islamic Affairs Supreme Council of being an undemocratic body packed with government stooges. Shiferaw, the Minister for Federal Affairs, denies any state meddling, saying there has been no promotion of al-Ahbash, and elections that begin on August 26 for two weeks are overseen solely by the Ulema Council of scholars, which he describes as Ethiopian Islam's highest authority.

On July 13, violence broke out for the first time in the capital since the nine month dispute began, after Muslims at the Awalia Mosque compound ignored warnings from the government to not hold a sadaqa (charity) gathering on the day that African heads of states were in town for an African Union meeting. The real purpose of the event, which was shut down before it began through a police raid, was to plot the Islamic takeover, Shiferaw claims, and the timing was "deliberately provocative." 

"It's about killing the image of the country and trying to destroy the trust of African leaders in their own capital," he says. "I don't think you quarrel with your wife when guests are at the door, if you're really genuine enough for your wife."

The government said 74 arrests were made, which was followed a week later by the detainment of the leadership committee based at Awalia. The crackdown, however, did not prevent a huge number of worshippers at Anwar Mosque in the Mercato area on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan a week later, showing solidarity with those arrested. Ahmedin Jebel, a now-detained spokesman for the 17-man committee, said the government's attitude betrayed its authoritarianism. "Even if Muslims come to the AU summit to protest, if it's peaceful, it shows Ethiopia is democratic," he says. "Preventing and attacking shows Ethiopia is undemocratic."

Unrest followed the next day, instigated by masked extremists penning in worshippers, according to the government. On a Saturday afternoon at one of Africa's largest markets, all shops were shuttered and riot police patrolled normally heaving streets.

'They want to label us'

"They want to put our questions aside and label us, saying we have a political agenda, saying we are extremists," says Ahmedin.

Shiferaw is confident that the incidents have, in his view, unmasked Ahmedin's group in the eyes of Ethiopian Muslims, draining any support they had. "Heavy education" campaigns are also being conducted on state television to show a strategic alliance between the movement and forces including Somalia's al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab militia and secular Ethiopian insurgents, he says. "We would like to clear any confusion and grey areas for people who joined them without knowing who they are," he says. "We will educate them a little bit and they will go home."

Mr. Østebø says he believes the government has misconstrued the rise in Salafism, which he says is largely a religious movement seeking to purify Islam.  "This is not to downplay the potential of such movement becoming a threat to political security and stability, but one should not overlook the fact that representations of Salafism mostly take nonviolent forms," he says.

Salafists are welcome in Ethiopia as long as they don't coerce others to join their sect, says Shiferaw. But, at "hotspots" around the country, extremists "bring people to the mosque, they put them to the point of the gun and they request them if you're not converting yourself to the Wahabi, Salafi sect, you're gone, you're subject to be killed," he argues. Activists say such "wild allegations are the government's ploy to scare Ethiopians about a rise in extremism, and also score points with international backers."

While Salafism's rise has raised tensions there have been "hardly any reports of violent confrontations between so-called Sufis and Salafis," says Østebø.

"We are Muslims, nobody can divide us," says Ahmedin.  

Bad response to real threat

Medhane Tadesse, an analyst of conflicts in the region, believes the government is making a belated and heavy-handed response to a genuine threat. Ethiopia has historically been a crucible for Islam's battle with Christianity, and foreign Wahabbist forces have been - and currently are - at work trying to control mosques and now the Islamic council to ensure ascendance, he believes.

"Ethiopia is important because of historical significance, and because of demography, it has more Muslims than Saudi Arabia, it's a big stake," he says.

The government needs to make a measured response by empowering Muslims while distinguishing foreign-influenced radicals from those with "genuine concerns," Medhane says.

"I think it's a significant event and unless it's managed in sober and legitimate way through democratic means then it may aggravate," he says. "The problem of the Ethiopian state historically is rather than playing the role of an arbiter between different interests and social classes it tries to decide, which is counter-productive."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Where is Meles Zenawi? Ethiopians don't know

By Tom Rhodes/CPJ East Africa Consultant

If you search for the name of Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, on Twitter these days, you'll see a flurry of incongruent postings: Meles is hospitalized in critical condition; he's fine and returning to work; he died two weeks ago; he's on holiday. Journalists for international news outlets have tried to sort out fact from rumor, but they've gotten no help from Ethiopian government officials who offered only vague assurances that the country's longtime leader was ill but recovering. In Ethiopia, where the government has imposed increasingly repressive measures on the domestic press corps, news coverage has been minimal and contradictory.

International news outlets, such as ReutersThe Associated Press, and the BBC, reported last week that Meles was hospitalized for an undisclosed condition. Reuters, citing diplomatic sources, said he was being treated in Brussels, although even that scant nugget of information was not officially confirmed.

Back home, generally pro-government papers such as Addis Fortune told readers on Tuesday that Meles had returned to Addis Ababa and would be back to work soon. The paper reported that the government provided little other information on his condition. A day later, though, the weekly The Reporter claimed that Meles was merely abroad on holiday.

The government censored the one domestic outlet that tried to report more detailed information. This weekend, the government ordered the state-run printing company not to produce the latest edition of the weekly Feteh, which was to have carried front-page coverage of Meles' condition. The weekly, which has faced government harassment in the past over its critical coverage, had prepared stories citing information from international news outlets and an exiled Ethiopian group.

"No one has a clear idea," said Benno Muechler, a German freelance reporter based in the capital. Muechler said he tried to get answers from the government communications office--only to be asked by officials there if he had any leads he could share. "There is an information blackout in Ethiopia," said exiled journalist Abebe Gellaw, who works for the critical exiled broadcaster Ethiopian Satellite Television. Gellaw noted that most Ethiopians get their information from the national broadcaster, which has vaguely reported that Meles is fine and would be back at his desk soon.

But then, where is Meles, and why can't he say this himself? "There is no trust in the media, with so many rumors. Whatever news that comes out here, nobody seems to believe it," Muechler said.

While the Ethiopian public may be skeptical, they are definitely seeking answers. Google Trends reports that searches for Meles have spiked this month, climbing far higher than at any point since the tracking's earliest date, in 2004. Public speculation about Meles began spreading in mid-July after the premier was conspicuously absent from the African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa. He also missed the ratification of the national budget and the official closing of parliament, according to local reports. 

Journalists' hopes that a government press conference held after the AU summit would clear up the confusion were quickly dashed. "The only thing new that came out of the press conference [...] was the official breaking of government silence that has hovered over the issue for three weeks," Tamerat Waldyes wrote in Addis Fortune. Government spokesman Bereket Simon revealed only that the prime minister was recovering from an illness, was "exhausted" from his workload despite his "Herculean ability," and would be back at work soon, according to local reports.

When reporters asked about all the secrecy, Bereket's response was telling. He said the government did not want to "make a public relations piece out of it" and that the circumspection "is the culture of our party," according to The Reporter.

Ethiopia's ruling party has never been open to the public. Despite Bereket's promises in the past to hold press conferences every two weeks with Meles meeting the press every two months, the government has held only two press conferences in the last eight months and it has been more a year since the prime minister met with the press, according to local reports. "There is a power vacuum at the moment, and so the information is hidden," said one local journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared government reprisal for offering critical comments. "The media has always been controlled by the state so the media has never developed investigative journalism in Ethiopia, and we are lost for answers,"

This information vacuum can have a detrimental effect on both the public and the government. Rumors, rather than facts, inform public opinion, and public confidence in the government is eroded. "Whenever you deliberately spread misinformation, you lose people's trust," Abebe told me. "The impact for the government is that it loses credibility." The silence over Meles is the "old school way of doing things," writes the Kenya-based Nation columnist Mwenda wa Micheni. "Presidents never went down with a cold, even in the cold months; jesters were regular features and public accounting totally absent, something that locked the continent's potential for decades," Micheni writes. "But even as the continent strives to get unchained, a few leaders are stuck in the mud."
(Reporting from Nairobi)

Ethiopia Bans Newspaper After Stories on Meles Illness, Protests

An Ethiopian court banned distribution of a newspaper that published front-page articles about Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s health and protests by Muslims in the capital, Addis Ababa, the government said.

Editors from the weekly Feteh newspaper may face criminal charges because of national security concerns, State Minister of Justice Berhanu Tsegaye said in a phone interview today. Last week, Ethiopian authorities seized 30,000 copies of the newspaper containing the stories about Meles and the protests, Hailemeskel Beshewamyelhu, a deputy editor, said July 24.

Read the entire story here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ethiopia: Widespread violations feared in clampdown on Muslim protests

25 July 2012
AI Index: AFR 25/010/2012
Amnesty International Public Statement

Amnesty International is concerned over the fate of scores of Muslim protestors arrested in Ethiopia during July. The arrests took place in the context of ongoing protests against alleged government restrictions on freedom of religion in the country. The detainees are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, and there have been numerous reports of beatings in detention against those arrested. Some detainees have been held in incommunicado detention since their arrest without access to family members, often in unknown locations. Amnesty International is further concerned at widespread reports of the beating of protestors during demonstrations, and other examples of excessive use of force by the police during the arrests and the dispersal of protests, resulting in many injuries to protestors.

Those arrested in July include members of a committee of representatives selected by the Muslim community to represent their grievances to the government and at least one journalist. Amnesty International fears that the arrests of community leaders, protestors and others in the Muslim community, and the pending charges against certain individuals, are based on their lawful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the right to organize and participate in peaceful protests.

Addis Ababa’s Muslim community has staged regular peaceful protests throughout 2012 over grievances including an alleged government-backed effort to impose the teachings of the minority Al Ahbash sect of Islam on the majority community, and government interference in elections for the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs. Ethiopia’s Constitution prohibits state involvement in religious affairs. The protests have regularly attracted large numbers of people over the last six months.

On 13 July a police operation targeted a gathering at the Awalia Mosque and Islamic school compound, in north-west Addis Ababa. The gathering was reportedly discussing further protests and also planning and preparing for a Sadaqah (charity) event two days later, to distribute food to people living in poverty. On entering the compound, police are alleged to have used excessive force against those present, beating many men and women in the compound and made numerous arrests.

The same evening, in response to news spreading about the events at Awalia, large numbers of people headed towards Awalia. Witnesses estimate several thousand tried to reach the compound. But the roads were blocked by police and violence flared between police and protestors. Protestors allege that police again used excessive force including beating protestors. Several sources say that police fired live ammunition, resulting in some serious injuries among the protestors.

Large numbers of those on their way to Awalia were arrested. The government confirmed that over 70 people had been detained on 13 July. Protestors and witnesses reported numbers of between 100 and 1,000 people arrested. Those detained were taken away in large military-style trucks. Detainees were first transported to Kolfe Keranyo police station, and later transferred to police stations closer to their respective homes, according to reports. Many of those detained have alleged widespread beating of detainees inside the police stations. One woman reported that she had been subjected to sexual violence by a police officer during the night of 13 July.

A large proportion of the detainees were released without charge after one or two days’ detention. However, many continue to be detained. Several members of the Awalia student council are reported to be detained in Maikelawi federal police detention centre in Addis Ababa, notorious for the use of torture against detainees during interrogation, as documented on numerous occasions by Amnesty International. Whilst the family of one detainee has been able to have contact with their relative, the families of the other members of the student council say they have not been permitted to contact or visit their relatives, in violation of the right of all detainees to have access to family members.

Other detainees arrested at Awalia on 13 July are reportedly being held in incommunicado detention without access to family members, in unknown locations. Ethiopia’s Criminal Procedure Code demands that all arrested persons are brought before a court within 48 hours to challenge the legality of the detention. Further, incommunicado detention, without access to family members and legal representatives increases detainees’ risk of being subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

Between 19 and 21 July, members of the committee of chosen representatives of the Muslim community were arrested, including Chairman Abubakar Ahmed, Spokesperson Ahmedin Jebel and committee members Kamil Shemsu, Sultan Aman, Adem Kamil, Jemal Yasim and Meket Muhe. The Committee members are reported to be detained in Maikelawi and are therefore at risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

On 21 July thousands of Muslims gathered at Anwar Mosque, the largest Mosque in Addis Ababa, to protest against the events at Awalia and the arrests of members of the committee. The event became violent as protestors clashed with police. The government states that protestors threw stones and broke the windows of nearby buildings. Protesters allege that the police fired tear gas and that scores of protestors were beaten by the police. An unknown number of further arrests were made.

Other representatives of the Muslim community have been arrested at different points over the last two weeks, including at least one journalist – Yusuf Getachew of the magazine ‘Ye'muslimoch Guday’ (Muslim Affairs). Getachew is also reported to be detained in Maikelawi, and family members are currently denied access to visit him. Another person told Amnesty International that their sister was arrested and continues to be detained, after police caught her carrying a pamphlet entitled ‘Let our voice be heard.’ One woman reported that she and a group of other women had been temporarily detained by the police and threatened ‘not to go to the Mosque making demands.’ Religious scholars, artists, and other journalists are also reported to have been arrested.

Members of Addis Ababa’s Muslim community have told Amnesty International that they now feel targeted and unsafe. Significant police presence has been reported around Mosques. The government has confirmed to Amnesty International that those members of the committee of community representatives arrested will be charged with criminal offences based on attempting to undermine the Constitutional order. However, Amnesty International is concerned that the men may have been arrested solely because of their legitimate roles as representatives of the community and their organization and participation in a largely peaceful protest movement over the last six month period.

Crimes against the Constitution are included in both the Criminal Code and the Anti Terrorism Proclamation. For many years, hundreds of members of opposition parties have been charged with such offences under the Criminal Code. More recently journalists and opposition members have been charged with similar offences under the Anti Terror law, including in prosecutions related to peaceful protests. The Anti Terrorism Proclamation contains provisions that are excessively broad and can be used to criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly, including organizing or participating in peaceful protests. In recent prosecutions under the Anti Terrorism law the government has equated calls for peaceful protests with terrorist activities, and several journalists and opposition members have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms on that basis.

The Ethiopian government regularly exhibits intolerance of any form of dissent. Journalistic reporting on the Muslim protests has been restricted over the last six months. In May, the Voice of America correspondent was arrested while attempting to report on a rally of the protest movement at Awalia, and was detained overnight in Maikelawi and beaten by police officers. In late July the distribution of the newspaper Feteh, one of the very few remaining independent publications in Ethiopia, was blocked by the government reportedly because its front cover, featuring stories about the Muslim protests and the health of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, posed a threat to national security.

Amnesty International calls on the Ethiopian government to immediately and unconditionally release any individuals who have been arrested solely on the basis of their legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly, including by representing the Muslim community and engaging in peaceful protests. All allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention and excessive use of force by police against demonstrators should be subject to immediate, impartial and effective investigations, and where enough admissible evidence of crimes is found, suspected perpetrators should be prosecuted.

Anyone currently held in detention must be brought immediately before a court to challenge the legality of their detention, and subsequently must be promptly charged with a lawful criminal offence consistent with international standards or released. Family members of detainees must be informed of their whereabouts and permitted access to visit them in detention. All detainees must be informed promptly of their right to consult a lawyer. While some protestors are alleged to have used violence during recent incidents, including by throwing stones at security forces, the use of force, including lethal force, by security forces must comply with human rights standards at all times in order to protect the right to life.

Amnesty International urges that any police response to further protests must comply with international requirements of necessity and proportionality in the use of force, in line with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. These principles state that in the case of violent assemblies, security forces must only use firearms when less dangerous means are not practicable, and only to the minimum extent necessary. They can only be used in very limited circumstances, such as where there is imminent threat of death or serious injury and when strictly unavoidable to protect life. The use of “less than lethal” weapons including tear gas should be carefully controlled to minimise the risk of endangering people not involved in the incident. Amnesty International urges that only those law enforcement officials who are trained in the use of equipment that involves use of force such as tear gas should be authorized to handle such equipment.

Finally, Amnesty International urges the Ethiopian government to respect all Ethiopians’ right to peacefully protest, as guaranteed under the Ethiopian Constitution and in accordance with Ethiopia’s international legal obligations.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mystery of the sick and missing PM

Amid swirling rumours about Mr Meles' health, officials said on Thursday that the 57-year-old premier was "stable", but that he has been told to take some leave.
On paper the Meles government has fostered a policy of ethnic federalism, devolving significant powers to regional, ethnically-based authorities but central control remains firmly in the hands of the ruling party.
The position of president is largely honorific and Mr Meles, a former rebel fighter who has been in power for more than two decades, holds the real political power.
According to Ethiopia's constitution, the deputy prime minister is obliged to "act on behalf of the Prime Minister in his absence."
But the law does not specify whether the deputy takes over the premier's full responsibilities and does not say what happens if the prime minister is absent for a prolonged period or is no longer able to rule.
"I don't think there's any sort of contingency in place for Meles not being in power," said Ahmed Soliman, Horn of Africa research assistant at British think tank Chatham House.
Diplomats and analysts here say it is not clear how the government is being run while Mr Meles, who has been in power since 1991, is away.
"We have no more information than what we are getting from (the media)," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another diplomat said that it is not clear how much decision-making power Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn wields.
"He is obviously subbing for the prime minister... but what the legal position is, I don't know," the second diplomat said.
Mr Soliman said despite Mr Hailemariam's official role, the prime minister is likely retaining control behind the scenes.
Mr Hailemariam, 47, is currently in China for a summit, but is expected back in the country soon, according to government spokesman Bereket Simon.
Diplomats and analysts say there have been no signs of any moves so far within the ruling party to grab power and there is no indication of any fracture with the ruling party.
Mr Bereket said the government "system is functional and working" and that Mr Meles remains available to senior government officials when they need him.
He said there is no need for a long-term succession plan because Mr Meles is expected back in office in a matter of days.
Diplomats in Brussels however said this week that Mr Meles, who was last seen in public in June, was in hospital there in a "critical" condition.
Ethiopian officials have not said what Mr Meles is suffering from or where he is being treated.
Mr Meles missed an African Union summit hosted in the Ethiopian capital last weekend, which prompted speculation over the former Marxist rebel's health.
Mr Meles, who toppled the bloody dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, has said he will stand down at the end of his current term in 2015. No clear successors have been primed, but Mr Bereket told reporters Thursday the ruling party has been saying a "new batch of leaders should come so that they should receive the baton."
Mr Soliman said he expects the ruling party to maintain its iron grip on the country and does not expect the party to diverge from Meles' policies during his sick leave.
"Short term absence isn't going to change that," he said.

David Shinn Bets on Unspecified Plan of Government Succession in Ethiopia

Alemayehu Fentaw

Amb. David Shinn, in an interview with the Voice of America regarding the government presser about Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's health, said "You wouldn’t make a statement like that - that is so open-ended - unless the problem is significant" Shinn said. He noted he has no information about the prime minister's health.

He added that Meles is the kind of leader who plans ahead. And if he is ill, he says the 57-year-old prime minister likely has a plan in place.

"I'd be willing to bet very good money that he has been planning some way to deal with this issue in order to ensure some kind of reasonable succession of government in Ethiopia," said Shinn.

I for one think that only time will tell if there at all was a plan of succession or PM Zenawi was an extraordinarily farsighted statesman as Shinn claimed. If Zenawi had a succession plan for the time when he would be gone out of the Ethiopian political scene for good, it couldn't be anything different than, Hailemariam Desalegn, the current Deputy PM and Foreign Minister might be appointed to serve as a de jure PM and Berhane Gebre-Kirstos to run the apparatus, de facto, from behind the screen in a capacity as Deputy PM and Foreign Minister in the place of Desalegn. But if he survives, the original plan remains in tact, viz. for him to run the state apparatus from behind the screen, which I might call the Putin Plan. I wish I had money to bet the good ambassador!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Zenawi Paradox: An Ethiopian Leader's Good and Terrible Legacy

Armin Rosen, Atlantic Media Fellow

Following the news of the past few years, you might get the impression that flamboyance and bellicosity are signature traits of any long-tenured dictator. But for every Muammar Qaddafi there's a Meles Zenawi, the shrewd, technocratic Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Inside of the country, he's known for imprisoning his political opponents, withholding development assistance from restive areas, stealing elections, and cracking down on civil society NGOs. In the rest of the world, he's often praised for his impressive economic record, though not for his human rights. Zenawi has attracted Western support by being a responsible steward of aid money, a security partner in a rough region, and a G20 summit invitee.

Now, both his supporters and his detractors may have to contemplate a future without him. Zenawi is in a Brussels hospital with an unspecified stomach ailment that may or may not be fatal, depending upon what news reports you believe. Today, a government spokesperson announced that Zenawi would be taking a leave of absence from running the country, which he's led since 1991.

From a human rights perspective, Zenawi's rule has been abusive, heavy-handed, and self-interested.. Still, his apparently earnest dedication to sustainable development has long attracted international donors, whose money has benefited Ethiopia while propping up his regime. Zenawi, has fostered a friendlier environment for foreign investment. Between 2000 and 2010, Ethiopia's GDP enjoyed a staggering average annual growth rate of 8.8 percent -- China-like numbers. The country's public sector is hardly clean of corruption, but the Ethiopian state isn't as mismanaged or as predatory as others in the region. It ranks 120th out of 183 governments on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions index, not exactly Scandinavian but still ahead of such regional leaders as Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria.

Under his leadership, Ethiopians have suffered from a lack of human, civil, and political rights. At the same time, their country has earned a reputation as a place where aid money can be responsibly and effectively spent. "The U.S. assistance portfolio in Ethiopia remains one of the United States' largest and most complex in Africa" according to an online U.S. government profile of the roughly $2.1 billion in aid the U.S. has sent to Ethiopia since 2010. The World Bank helps fund over $ 4.4 billion worth of projects in the country.

This is the paradox of Zenawi's legacy. He has done much to simultaneously help and hurt his people, with just the kind of quiet skill that you hope to see in a benign leader and dread in a malevolent one. If he never returns to office, should he be remembered as the technocrat behind Ethiopia's amazing economic rise, or the brutal strongman who resisted democracy as much of Africa adopted it? Though one did not necessarily require the other -- a kinder, gentler Zenawi might have overseen even better growth -- the same character might inform both sides of his rule.

"When I meet with Prime Minister Meles and [Ugandan] President [Yoweri] Museveni, I feel like I am attending development seminar," rockstar development economist Jeffrey Sachs said in a 2004 speech. "They are ingenious, deeply knowledgeable, and bold." Magnus Taylor, the managing editor of the Royal African Society's renowned African Arguments blog, wrote about Zenawi's ability to dazzle foreign investors at the World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa this past May, while challenging the democratic world's seemingly dogmatic belief in the causal relationship between political freedom and economic dynamism:
Sitting astride this economic growth, and taking pride of place at this year's WEF, was Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. In an event that boasted such political heavyweights as former British PM Gordon Brown, and private sector luminaries like the Ivorian boss of The Prudential, Tidjane Thiam, whose $600 billion worth of assets makes Ethiopia look like a minnow, I was surprised by how much Meles came out as the dominant figure. A fiercely intelligent man, with a grasp of figures redolent of Brown (whom Meles referred to as 'Prime Minister' throughout) he seemed totally in his element. Perhaps it was the nature of the audience. He was never going to have to field too many tricky questions about Ethiopia's political space, (un)free press or tight government control over telecommunications and banking in front of a room full of CEOs and fellow technocrats.One senses that in certain crowds his statement that "there is no direct relationship between economic growth and democracy" would have got him in to trouble - important players were gnashing their teeth at this but Meles, kingpin of Western policy in the Horn of Africa, knows exactly how much he can loosen his Marxist instincts without upsetting his donors.
The World Economic Forum was one of Zenawi's last public appearances. Even if he survives his illness, there is currently no public timetable for his return to Addis Ababa. As dictators across North Africa and the Middle East can no longer take their survival for granted, it's worth wondering whether Zenawi will be the model for the next generation of enlightened, western-coddled autocrats -- or one of the last of a literally dying breed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meles Zenawi in a 'critical' condition-The Telegraph

By Aislinn Laing, Johannesburg and Bruno Waterfield in Brussels Last Updated: 5:33PM BST 18/07/2012

Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, is in a "critical" condition in hospital in Brussels and may not survive, according to diplomatic sources. The 57-year-old premier has not been seen publicly for several weeks and missed a crunch African Union summit his country was hosting at the weekend at which a new chair was elected.

The Ethiopian government has confirmed that he is unwell but repeated promises of updates on his condition have been delayed.

On Wednesday, a Western diplomatic source in Brussels told the Telegraph that he is now "critically ill".

"He is being treated as a private person and the information is confidential but it is understood that he is critically ill," the diplomat said.

Mr Zenawi is thought to be receiving treatment for an unspecified condition at the Saint Luc University Hospital in Brussels. The hospital is a centre for the treatment of blood or "haematological" cancers.

Other diplomats told the AFP that Mr Zenawi might not survive his illness.

"He is in a critical state, his life is in danger," said one.

"He is in a critical state but is alive," another added.

Ethiopia's ambassador in Brussels and the hospital authorities refused to comment on the reports.

In Addis Ababa, however, Bereket Simon, a government spokesman, insisted that Mr Zenawi, who has held power in the populous Horn of Africa nation for over two decades, was recovering. "He is not in a critical state. He is in good condition," he told AFP.

Questions surfaced about Mr Meles's health when he missed a two-day African Union summit Sunday and Monday in Addis Ababa, apparently for the first time since 1991. He was last seen looking thin and pale at the G20 summit in Mexico in June.

Whatever Mr Zenawi's condition, anger is growing among Ethiopians at the refusal of his government to provide clarity on the situation and speculation has begun to swirl about possible successors.

The one-time Marxist, who toppled the brutal dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, has run Ethiopia through strongly centralised control for two decades and analysts struggle to envisage how the country would be operate without him.

Adjoa Anyimadu, Chatham House's Horn of Africa expert, said that Mr Zenawi's force of personality meant that few other Ethiopian politicians were well-known.

"He is the face of the Ethiopian ruling class so it's difficult to see who would take over from him," she said.

"Ethiopia is also very closely involved in regional issues, from its conflict with Eritrea, mediating between South and North Sudan and providing troops to Somalia. The level of uncertainty if this carries on could have repercussions for the region." To read the story on the Telegraph click here

In Ethiopia, Human Rights and U.S. Regional Security Goals Collide

Catherine Cheney of the World Politics Review has interviewed me about human rights and US security concerns in Ethiopia and has just produced an amazingly insightful analysis. To read the entire article click here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ethiopia Says Meles Is Ill Amid African Union Summit Absence

Ethiopia’s government said that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is ill after he failed to attend an African Union summit, and an opposition group reported he may have died in a European hospital.

“There is no serious illness at all. It’s minor only,” Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said today in an interview in Addis Ababa, the capital. “As any human being, he has to get medication and he’ll be coming back soon.”

The 57-year-old leader wasn’t at the opening of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa yesterday. He also skipped a meeting of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in the city on July 14 for “health reasons,” Senegalese President Macky Sall was quoted as saying by the Addis Ababa-based Reporter newspaper.

Read the entire article here

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ethiopia mosque sit-ins see deaths, arrests: protesters

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA | Sun Jul 15, 2012 10:59am EDT
(Reuters) - Protesters against government interference in religious affairs staged the latest of a series of mosque sit-ins in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday, saying police had arrested dozens in the run up to this weekend's African Union summit.

Two activists told Reuters the sit-in - in protest at the government's promotion of the moderate Al Ahbash branch of Islam over other doctrines - had already been surrounded by police although there had been no clashes as yet on Sunday.

Online activists, who have been using social media to call for demonstrations, have reported several deaths during previous clashes, and published several pictures of injuries they claim are those of victims.
"They have arrested dozens, even hundreds, of protesters in the past few days, while police fired teargas and fired rounds to disperse the crowd," one activist, calling himself simply Hassan, told Reuters. Two other activists gave similar accounts.

Protests are uncommon in tightly-controlled Ethiopia and the unrest has caused concern in a predominantly Christian nation of 84 million that takes pride in centuries of coexistence.

The government fears hardline Islam is taking root in the Horn of Africa country, which has long been seen by the West as a bulwark against militancy in neighbouring Somalia.

Hassan said the planned sit-ins were held in a number of mosques throughout the capital, including the Awoliya mosque, where the first protests took place late last year.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment on Sunday, but a state news outlet said security authorities have arrested "extremists who tried to disrupt the (AU) summit."

To read the full article click here

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Supporting Stability, Abetting Repression

Published: July 11, 2012, New York Times

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA — Next time I travel to Ethiopia, I may be arrested as a terrorist. Why? Because I have published articles about Ethiopian politics.

I wrote a policy report on Ethiopia’s difficulties with federalism. I gave a talk in which I questioned Ethiopia’s May 2010 elections, in which the ruling EPRDF party (Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front) won 545 out of 547 seats in the Parliament. As part of my ongoing research on mass violence in the Somali territories, I interviewed members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist rebel group in eastern Ethiopia that the government has designated as a terrorist organization.

To read the full Op-Ed article on NYT click here