Democracy's Bid Fades in Ethiopia

By Makau Mutua. Makau Mutua is the projects director at the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program. | The Christian Science Monitor, August 18, 1993 | Go to article overview

Democracy's Bid Fades in Ethiopia


Makau Mutua. Makau Mutua is the projects director at the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program., The Christian Science Monitor


IT is a tragic irony that Ethiopia, one of two African countries that successfully resisted colonization, may now be the last to join the growing community of emergent democracies on the continent. In 1991 the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile-Mariam and established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), ostensibly to introduce democracy for the first time in the country's history.

Regrettably, the TGE has since reversed gears. It must draft a new constitution and conduct presidential and parliamentary elections before its mandate expires in February 1994. But the credibility of the state has been shattered by its domination and manipulation by the EPRDF, the alliance of satellite ethnic groups controlled by the Tigre Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF). The first blow came when the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a major partner, withdrew from the TGE and boycotted the June 1992 regional elections. Those elections were won by the EPRDF and its satellite ethnic organizations.

Since then, the TGE has taken a number of steps to consolidate its power and crush all genuine opposition to its rule. In January this year, EPRDF security forces shot and killed at least one Addis Ababa University student and seriously injured scores of others as they protested the role of the United Nations in the Eritrean independence referendum.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRC), the first independent and only openly critical human rights group in the country, has come under sharp attack from the TGE for exposing human rights abuses. Its founder, Mesfin Woldet Mariam, was denied an exit visa to attend the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in June.

The EPRDF has treated disagreement with its transition program as unpatriotic. In April the southern coalition, an important group of non-EPRDF parties, was expelled from the government after attending a meeting of opposition parties in Paris. …

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Democracy's Bid Fades in Ethiopia
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