Thursday, December 15, 2016

Ethiopian photographer seeks new portrayal of Africa | Bangkok Post:

Ethiopian photographer seeks new portrayal of Africa

ADDIS ABABA - Surrounded by untidy stacks of paper and abandoned half-empty coffee cups, photographer Aida Muluneh chain smokes cigarettes in her Addis Ababa office and rails against the negative portrayals of Africa by foreigners.
Aida Muluneh returned to Ethiopia nine years ago and set herself the task of changing perceptions of the continent, replacing the outsiders' dominant eye with an African one
The 42-year-old came returned to Ethiopia nine years ago after living in Yemen and Canada and set herself the task of changing perceptions of the continent, replacing the outsiders' dominant eye with an African one.
The Addis Foto Fest, which she founded and which opens its fourth edition Thursday, is one way of doing this, she said.
Muluneh left Ethiopia aged five, but developed a powerful nostalgia for home while living abroad.
Her first photography job was with the Washington Post in the United States by which time she was "obsessed" with Africa and irritated by the images of her home country that she saw published in the media, ones that still harked back to the famine of the 1980s.
But Ethiopia had changed, even if portrayals of it had not.
She returned to a country moving at breakneck speed, an Ethiopia "stuck between the past, the present and the future", where a drought-induced food crisis in the countryside co-exists with a shiny new, highline tram for city commuters, where luxurious skyscrapers loom above shanties.
- 'False representations' -
"Ethiopia gives you the full spectrum of humanity. The absolute misery and the absolute joy, and you can see a juxtaposition of all these elements in just a day," Muluneh said.
While there are foreign reporters and photographers who take a broader look at Africa, Muluneh takes aim at "false representations" of the continent by those who focus too heavily on its troubles.
"Africa is being treated unfairly," she said, before arguing that a similar racism can be seen in news images of black people elsewhere in the world.
"When you looks at images coming out of the States, when it deals with black people it's always drug dealers, pimps, killers and so forth. When you look at Africa, again, it's a negative image of the starving Africans, the war-torn."
Muluneh founded the Addis Foto Fest to bring black American and African photographers together and to encourage Ethiopian photographers to reclaim their own stories.
"We do not need foreign photographers to tell us our story," she said, leafing through some pictures she took at Lalibela, Ethiopia's emblematic tourist site where churches are carved out of rock.
Her black and white photographs capture the details of everyday life, of interiors, faces, and fleeting gestures.
In what is likely Muluneh's best-known series, "Painted Faces", she shows young African women, faces painted in blue, white or bright red with the models presented as artistic subjects rather than being reduced to their "Africanness."
"A lot of my work is about removing time and space. It's looking at the universality. Some don't realise it's Ethiopia... I want to think of the continent in a different way," she said.
Authoritarian Ethiopia does not make life easy for photographers, and Muluneh bemoans the absence of a photographic culture, in which many are left with no option but to shoot weddings for a living.
Hostility towards photographers is common, from government and security forces to ordinary folk.
"Photography is always looked at with suspicion. I can just be shooting a wall and someone will come and ask me, why are you taking photos of this wall?" Muluneh said.
When she sends her students to Mercato, a large open air market in Addis, the young photographers are frequently harassed by police and traders alike.
"You need authorisation for everything. And an authorisation given by the ministry of communication is not recognised by the police. Which make no sense."
- More talent -
Putting on the photography festival in Ethiopia is never easy. Prints have to be made in Nairobi, and sponsors and exhibition spaces are hard to find.
This year is proving especially difficult because of a state of emergency imposed in October after nearly a year of sometimes deadly anti-government protests.
Some have refused to host exhibitions for fear of being associated with what might be construed by the government as political activities.
Despite the challenges, Ethiopian photographers are growing in number and skill: in 2010, there were just four participating in Addis Foto Fest, this year there are 30. And the world is increasingly looking to Ethiopia.
"International visibility is growing. I have seen how talent has changed. It's well on its way, not only in Ethiopia. It's happening across the continent," she said.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ethiopia Turmoil Threatens Unlikeliest Airline Success Story - Bloomberg

  • CEO sees ‘business as usual’ amid state of emergency
  • Hub model has forged African champion in one of poorest states
Ethiopia, indelibly linked with images of grinding poverty and famine, has quietly built one of Africa’s rare corporate success stories with the continent’s only consistently profitable airline shuttling passengers from around the world through its hub in Addis Ababa.
Yet just as state-owned Ethiopian Airlines starts to vie with the likes of Dubai-based Emirates, outbreaks of violence around ethnic and human-rights protests have claimed an estimated 500 lives since June, threatening to deter travelers and undermining the political stability that helped it flourish. It’s also grappling with the challenges of doing business in the region, with more than $200 million in ticket payments tied up in countries including Nigeria and Angola, which the airline says is putting pressure on its liquidity. 
Tewolde GebreMariam
Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg
Chief Executive Officer Tewolde GebreMariam insists the unrest and a subsequent state of emergency imposed Oct. 8 is a “non-issue” for the airline, which links almost 70 African cities to destinations in Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia. The executive, who has run Ethiopian since 2011, is determined to push ahead with an expansion for a company that could be the last hope for a viable African aviation industry.
“The reality on the ground is peaceful. It’s business as usual,” the CEO said in an interview at the airline’s headquarters at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa days after the start of restrictions. That remains the case still, he said by e-mail on Thursday, citing an 18 percent year-on-year increase in October passenger traffic. “We have not seen measurable changes.”

Lost Continent

That doesn’t mean the company is out of the woods, as many of those passengers would have likely booked tickets before the crisis escalated and Western countries issued travel warnings. The bigger test will ultimately come if security measures are lifted as planned in April. Ethiopian’s ability to weather the crisis and continue with its ambitious plans is critical for the continent’s aviation sector after corruption and missteps undermined peers. African airlines now account for about 20 percent of air traffic to and from the continent, down from 60 percent three decades ago, according to Tewolde.
Hard-currency shortages that mean ticket debts are withheld in some countries have also prompted outside carriers to reduce links, and the continent will be the only unprofitable airline region this year and next, according to International Air Transport Association projections published last week.
In contrast to the failure of Nigerian Airways or the politically led stagnation at unprofitable South African Airways, Ethiopian has benefited from less interference and kinder tax rates, helping to boost net income for the past three years. In fiscal 2015, profit jumped 12 percent to 3.53 billion Ethiopia birr ($160 million), backed by a 6 percent gain in revenue.
With a modern fleet including Boeing Co.’s latest 787 Dreamliners, a network spanning Los Angeles to Tokyo and a successful hub model that’s lured an international clientele, two-thirds of whom change for onward destinations, Ethiopian is on the cusp of becoming a significant force in global aviation.

Rallying Point

The carrier is already a rallying point on the continent. It has invested in Togo-based Asky Airlines, giving it a hub in West Africa, and bought a stake in Malawian Airlines in the south. Tewolde, 50, is seeking a similar arrangement in the central African region, and pursuing partnerships in countries including Ghana, Uganda and Zambia. He has also called on carriers to pool resources to defend their market share and says recent moves towards more liberal air service agreements between African countries are a cause for optimism.
Addis Ababa has also become a center of expertise for the industry, with a recently expanded pilot school and world-class maintenance facilities that service planes from as far afield as Mozambique and Nigeria.
Those gains may be under threat. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, in power since 1991, when it ousted a Marxist military regime partly blamed for the 1980s famine, responded to the unrest by declaring the six-month state of emergency. While it since lifted some restrictions after a period of calm, the situation may still make changing planes in Addis Ababa less appealing, especially after countries including the U.S. issued travel warnings.
“The whole Ethiopia-rising story, including the airline, faces a credibility challenge,” said Nemera Gebeyehu Mamo, an Ethiopian who teaches economics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. “The government can only reassure its customers or tourists if it’s willing to address the political demands.”

‘African Emirates’

Passengers have no shortage of alternatives. Emirates, the biggest long-haul airline, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways PJSC of Abu Dhabi all offer dozens of African routes from huge hubs in the Persian Gulf. Turkish Airlines is also making inroads with 50 destinations on the continent after flights to Zanzibar start Monday, according to a statement on its website.
Founded in 1945, Ethiopian ranks as Africa’s biggest carrier by passenger traffic, ahead of South African Airways, EgyptAir, Royal Air Maroc and Kenya Airways, according to IATA. Tewolde remains unbowed by the challenges, pressing ahead with expansion plans, including promising additions to a 51-strong aircraft order backlog and announcing new destinations including Oslo, Jakarta, Singapore and Chengdu.
Despite the current political issues, the company has the prerequisites to remain a formidable competitor and challenge established Gulf carriers, Nico Bezuidenhout, SAA’s former acting CEO who now runs low-cost African carrier Fastjet Plc, said in an interview.
Ethiopian has an enviable position with consistent state backing, unparalleled management continuity and a hub at a natural crossroads, so “I may as well be talking about Emirates,” he said.
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg T

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Amid fragile calm, Ethiopia's government faces critical juncture -

After widespread protests, a six-month state of emergency started in October. Now, much depends on the next move of leaders who have long used their track record of economic development to paper over widespread human rights abuses and political repression. 

For nearly a year, mass protests surged across Ethiopia – and stormed across the world’s headlines – as a movement that began with farmers fighting land grabs outside the country’s capital mushroomed into the country’s most sustained and widespread period of dissent and protests since its ruling party came to power more than two decades ago. 
Then, suddenly, it all appeared to stop. 
In October, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) announced a six-month state of emergency, banning protests and social media and arresting thousands of demonstrators in mass sweeps. The desired effect was almost immediate – demonstrations previously rocking the country’s two most populous regions subsided, and a fragile calm returned. 
But the state of emergency now leaves Ethiopia at a critical juncture. 
How long the current calm holds – and where the country’s politics goes next – will depend largely on the next move of the EPRDF government, which has long used its track record of economic development to paper over widespread human rights abuses and political repression. 
If it takes heed of the protesters’ calls for more transparent, democratic governance, however, that would go a long way, observers say, to establishing a sustainable peace, giving the country a chance to repair its brand as the safest and most reliable country in the volatile Horn of Africa. 
But if it does not, protests may not only resume, but escalate, setting the stage for possible dangerous scenarios ranging from an even more brutal governmental crackdown to more widespread and extreme ethnic conflict, or the rise of another strongman dictatorship. 
And for a truly long-term solution, observers note that the government must take much larger steps to release political prisoners, bring opposition groups to the negotiating table, and reform key institutions such as the judicial system.
“The oppressed stay silent but eventually you reach a critical mass and then it boils over,” says Yilikal Getenet, chairman of the opposition Blue Party. “Hundreds have been killed but they keep protesting. They go to protests knowing the risks. So what does that tell you?”
For 25 years, since the 1991 revolution swept the EPRDF into power, Ethiopia has been east Africa’s development darling. Thanks to partnerships between local government and international partners, millions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. The EPRDF, meanwhile, has also presided over the most impressive economic and development boom in the country’s history, with average annual economic growth being sustained at more than 10 percent for the last decade, according to the World Bank, and shaped the country into a crucial bulwark of peace and stability in a region studded with conflict. 
But statistics that wowed the international community have masked a more complex reality on the ground. During its rule the EPRDF has forcefully and repeatedly cracked down on opposition parties, jailing their leaders or forcing them into exile. The 2015 election produced a parliament without a single opposition representative. Freedom of expression is strictly curtailed, and there is little civil society to speak of. Meanwhile, Ethiopians have grown increasingly angry over government corruption and mass youth unemployment. 
At the same time, beneath the surface of the EPRDF’s calls for a united national identity, many here see a transparently ethnic politics. The face of government oppression has become the country’s Tigrayan elite, who come from an ethnic group who form only 6 percent of the population, but played a pivotal role in the 1991 revolution and have gone on to dominate government, business deals, the economy, and the security services. 
“The people feel deeply hurt by the corrupt ways of the government that has sought to enrich its officials at the expense of the larger society,” says Alemante Selassie, emeritus law professor at the College of William & Mary and Ethiopia analyst, by email. “They feel left out the so-called Ethiopian economic miracle that the Western press touts ad nauseam despite the grinding poverty all around the country, especially the Amhara region.” 

Taking heed?

Last November, such frustrations burst open when government announced plans to expand the boundaries of Addis Ababa into surrounding Oromo villages and farms. The plans touched off massive protests, which soon spiraled outward to include the Amhara, Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group after the Oromo (together the two groups represent about 60 percent of the population). Numbers killed during protests so far range upward of 600, with thousands more imprisoned, according to the likes of Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, and opposition groups. 
But there are also halting signs government may be taking heed of protesters’ demands. At the end of October, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn conducted a major cabinet reshuffle, changing 21 of 30 ministerial posts, including bringing in 15 new appointees. Some heralded the move, arguing that the selection of technocrats without party affiliation is a positive signal the party is serious about delivering changes, while others argue the new appointees are just different models of the same old oppressive elite. 
“People need to be calm and patient,” says Abebe Hailu, a human rights lawyer who lived through the 1974 downfall of Emperor Haile Selassie and the ensuing military dictatorship that eventually fell in 1991 to the EPRDF’s founders. The events of 1974, he explained, illustrate the bloodshed and danger that can accompany too-rapid regime change here. At the same time, however, the government must accept that it has to make real reforms to satisfy the demands of the population. 
The government has promised a long list of further reforms to solve the root causes of the protests, like fighting corruption, reforming the electoral system, and creating a $500 million fund to tackle youth unemployment (though how exactly it will work has not been full explained). 
But after a generation of EPRDF rule, many here remain skeptical that change is possible at all from within the ruling party.  
 “This government has failed the people not once but 1,000 times,” says Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress Party, and who at the start of December was arrested for allegedly violating state of emergency rules. “They’ve broken promise after promise.”

Friday, December 9, 2016

Ethnic tensions could see Ethiopia descending into civil war-irishtimes

State of emergency restores calm but fissures remain in fragile federation

No longer are bands of young men marauding on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, trying to set fire to foreign-owned factories. Nearly two months into Ethiopia’s six-month state of emergency, it appears to be having the desired effect: protests rocking its two most populous regions have subsided.
It remains to be seen, though, whether this is the beginning of a sustained period of calm or a temporary break in the most persistent and widespread protests this country has seen since the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) ruling party came to power following a revolution in 1991.
At that crucial juncture Ethiopia embarked hopefully on a struggle to emerge in the modern world on its own terms. It succeeded in doing so by employing a unique political model that is “an alloy of revolutionary theories, pragmatic neoliberalism and intrinsically Ethiopian customary practices”, says historian and long-term Horn of Africa expert Gérard Prunier.
While that political experiment has brought significant economic growth to the country, many claim it has failed the Ethiopian people, who are now voicing that fact.
“This government came into being with the support of the rural poor,” says Abebe Hailu, a human rights lawyer who was in college during the student movement that precipitated the 1974 downfall of emperor Haile Selassie, and who lived through the ensuing military dictatorship that eventually fell in 1991 to the rebel-founders of the EPRDF. “Now it is the rural poor that is against them– this is the irony,” he says.
When Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed the finishing line in the Rio Olympics in August he crossed his forearms above his head in a widely adopted gesture to protest his government’s violent crackdown on ethnic protests seething since November 2015, leaving upwards of 600 dead, according to rights groups.
Those protests went against the grain of Ethiopia’s hermetic history, which has long seen numerous uprisings dealt with internally, away from prying eyes.
Ethiopia has long been a land of contradictions. On the one hand, the EPRDF has the most impressive economic and development-driven track record of any Ethiopian government in modern history.
But set against that, during the past two decades it has shunned diversity of political opinion, repeatedly cracking down on opposition parties, putting their politicians in jail or forcing them into exile. The 2015 election produced a parliament without a single opposition representative. Freedom of expression in Ethiopia is strictly curtailed, and as a result an independent civil society no longer exists.
At the same time, Ethiopia’s citizenry is increasingly angry at seemingly never-ending government corruption, while a mushrooming youthful population means the number of young unemployed men across the country irrevocably rises. Many sit idly on streets, their thoughts and frustrations turning toward the centre of power that is Addis Ababa.
“The immediate causes for the various groups protesting are different but they have the same demands: deliver the right kind of leadership,” says Yilikal Getenet, chairman of the opposition Blue Party.

Ethiopia’s smouldering majority

Initially months of protests remained largely within the Oromia region, home to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, constituting about 35 percent of the country’s nearly 100 million population.
But then in August violence broke out among the Amhara –at 27 per cent, Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group – in northern Ethiopia’s famed city of Gondar, a popular tourist attraction because of its ancient castles.
Violence even came to the usually serene lakeside Amhara town of Bahir Dar, another popular tourist destination and weekend getaway known for its palm-lined avenues and island monasteries. An initially peaceful anti-government demonstration there on August 7th escalated to violence after a security guard fire into a crowd, leaving at least 30 gunned down by security forces.
At the same time as the Amhara protests, co-ordinated demonstrations occurred in more than nine towns in Oromia, resulting in about 100 deaths, according to Human Rights Watch.
The most recent tragedy came a week before the state-of-emergency declaration on October 9th, when more than 100 people drowned or were crushed to death during a stampede following clashes between police and protesters at a traditional annual Oromo festival at the volcanic lake town of Bishoftu, about 50km southeast of the capital.
Together the Oromo and Amhara represent more than 60 per cent of Ethiopia’s population, hence their resentment of an EPRDF perceived as having been usurped for 25 years by one of its key founding entities, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is drawn from an ethnic group that makes up only 6 per cent of the population, and which in addition to government dominates business and the security services.
“The TPLF has manipulated the multi-ethnic federation to divide and rule forever,” says Birhanu Lenjiso, an Ethiopian research fellow at Radboud University in the Netherlands. “The people are now asking for genuine multi-ethnic federation in the country.”
Addis Ababa, the hub of political power and the engine of Ethiopia’s economy, which exists as an autonomous city state within the federation, is surrounded by Oromia. Overall, the city has remained relatively cocooned from the tumult. But that hasn’t stopped some talking of its iconic Meskal Square in the heart of the city waiting to serve as its Tiananmen Square.

Comeback kid stumbles

Ethiopia has long been a development darling in the eyes of the international body politic. After the world was shaken by images of Ethiopian famine in 1984, the country turned around its fiscal fortunes and it now has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Against the abject failure of international assistance in Somalia, Ethiopia is often held up as a heartening example of indigenous government and international partners succeeding in reducing poverty and mortality rates.
But many critics say the statistics that have wowed the international community have hidden the more complex reality in which most Ethiopians, while not as susceptible as in the past to famine and disease, are still utterly stifled in their lives’ endeavours.
“The oppressed stay silent but eventually you reach a critical mass and then it boils over,” Yilikal says. “Hundreds have been killed but they keep protesting. They go to protests knowing the risks. So what does that tell you?”
Ethiopia, famously described by historian Edward Gibbon as the country that slept a thousand years while the world ignored it, has now firmly plugged itself into the global network. Satellite dishes dotted all over residential areas in towns and cities beam in news from around the world– including from Ethiopian diaspora news channels that are potently anti-government – while mobile phone ownership and access to the internet follow a steep upward curve.
“More than 50 per cent of the Ethiopian population was born under this government,” says Robert Wiren, a French journalist writing about the Horn of Africa for the last 15 years. “This young population does not compare the present system with its predecessors but receives news from abroad which contradicts the governmental rhetoric. People in the street know that journalists and opponents are jailed, that the security forces kill demonstrators. There is a real danger of ethnic hatred against the Tigrayans.”
Matters aren’t helped by the fact that wealth from the surging economic numbers has failed to trickle down to the vast majority of Ethiopians, who eke out the daily grind while wages stagnate, and inflation and living costs rise.
All the while, rank corruption results in a select few monopolising lucrative deals in the economy, to be then observed splashing out on oversized shiny pick-up trucks and drinking bottles of Black Label whiskey in the capital’s swanky new hotels, which seem to pop up daily.
“Since Ethiopia’s economic growth is due to a centralised driven process, a lot of non-Tigray people suspect the Tigray elite to be the only beneficiary of the economic boom,” Wiren says.

An Ethiopian never forgets

History always matters, but especially in Ethiopia, where people take the long view. Ethiopians cherish their history – one of the world’s oldest Christian traditions; the only African country that wasn’t colonised – and recall and tell the associated stories spanning the centuries; at the same time they remember the tragedies and atrocities committed among the country’s various ethnic groups, all of which exerts a powerful influence on the present.
“What’s happening [now] is a combination of everything: historical marginalisation and present marginalisation,” says Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress Party. “It’s a revolt against minority rule and its policies.”
The EPRDF was preceded by two authoritarian centralised regimes: emperor Haile Selassie and then military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Both were viewed as Amhara-centric, and the federal constitution created by the EPRDF in 1991– and held by many, including critics of the government, as an effective fit for Ethiopia’s more than 80 ethnic groups – was meant to mitigate that fact, accommodating Ethiopia’s diversity and competing claims.
But from the start, the EPRDF has been criticised for allowing the TPLF to hog the limelight and power in the new Ethiopia that has existed since 1991.
“The TPLF has trapped itself by ethnicising political life without accepting a real autonomy for every regional state,” Wiren says. “It is an open secret that behind each regional state leader there is a kind of unofficial political supervisor.”
This style of governance has alienated especially the Amhara (who recall when they used to call the shots) and the Oromo (who feel they have always been excluded, first by the Amhara, and then by the Tigrayans).
“They only know how to talk, they never listen,” says one Addis Ababa resident. “You have a group of Tigrayans in government deciding the fate of 100 million people who aren’t allowed to say anything.”

Hobbled opposition

A major problem for the country’s protest movement is the lack of an organising body to guide it and of a central leadership to engage on its behalf with the EPRDF.
The political opposition in Ethiopia is in disarray. It has suffered and been weakened through government harassment, but has also been criticised for not matching its anti-government rhetoric with discussions of effective policy.
“What does the Ethiopian public want? Firstly peace, secondly stability, thirdly prosperity,” says one Addis Ababa-based foreign politico. “In most cases the Ethiopian opposition have conflated opposition with opposite. When asked for details of the programme for achieving those three needs they revert to type and complain about how difficult it is to be in opposition.”
To compound matters, ever since opposition MPs squabbled in the aftermath of Ethiopia’s crucial 2005 election – the country’s first genuine contest – with some choosing not to take their seats due to allegations of vote rigging, the opposition has remained split among myriad parties that appear unable and unwilling to coalesce into a single effective voice for today’s protests.
At the same time all sides, from government to opposition, whether in Ethiopia or acting overseas, appear hobbled by how the vocabulary of Amharic, the lingua franca of Ethiopia, doesn’t lend itself to terms such as negotiation and compromise. The polarisation of US politics pales in comparison to the mire found in Ethiopia: here you are either with the government or against, there can be no middle ground.
Nevertheless, many point out that it is the EPRDF, as the holders of power, who need break the deadlock.
“They must bring all concerned Ethiopian opposition political groups both home and abroad to the negotiation table,” says Endalk Chala, a prominent Ethiopian blogger studying in the US, who is unable to return to Ethiopia following the arrest in Addis Ababa of his fellow Zone 9 bloggers. “That is what I call a reform and all the rest is nonsense.”

Holding the Horn together

Geopolitical considerations mean Ethiopia is held by the likes of the UK and US to be an important peace and security bulwark in the Horn of Africa, a region troubled by failing states.
Ethiopia also provides large numbers of troops to the internationally funded African force battling al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, as well as to peacekeeping forces in South Sudan and Sudan. Then there’s Ethiopia’s crucial economic role in the region.
“Ethiopia is the region’s locomotive,” says Dawit Gebre-Ab, senior director of strategic planning for the neighbouring Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority. “With its expansion in manufacturing, Ethiopia could become the China of Africa.”
Djibouti, another key part of the West’s anti-terrorism apparatus in the region, in addition to guarding one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, relies for a significant proportion of its GDP on business with Ethiopia.
To Djibouti’s south, Somaliland is banking on a €400 million refurbishment of its underused and underdeveloped Berbera port to alleviate its economic woes, with the next-door market of Ethiopia’s continually growing population– Africa’s second largest, and set to reach 130 million by 2025 –forming a key part of its ambitions to keep it safe from the fate of Somalia to its south.
Were Ethiopia’s internal fissures to worsen, its hitherto economic juggernaut might well be impeded –unsettling the region’s hitherto stabilising process of economic integration –or even derailed.
“Ethiopia has been the only reliable country in the Horn of Africa,” says Lidetu Ayele, founder of the opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party. “If Ethiopia is not strong, other countries will suffer. This government has used the threat of regional terrorism to its own advantage, but that threat is very real.”

Stepping back from the brink

“People need to be calm and patient,” Abebe says. “And we need acceptance by the government about making real reforms.”
The government conducted a significant cabinet reshuffle at the end of October, bringing in non-party-affiliated technocrats to deliver change, while promising reforms. But for a country with a millennia of centralised, autocratic rule, that’s much easier said than done.
Since 1991 western observers and governments have been calling on the Ethiopian government to deepen its commitment to democratic reforms, but it hasn’t previously shown much interest in listening. Hence many aren’t convinced of either the government’s sincerity or ability to make this happen.
“This government has failed the people not once but 1,000 times, and they’ve broken promise after promise,” says Merera, who, like many others, notes the left-wing revolutionary genesis of the EPRDF. The prevailing accusation is that this ideology still guides the party, which as a result remains fundamentally anti-democratic, believing in a Leninist single-party approach, and is thereby unable to countenance reform.
Opinions about where Ethiopia is heading cover a range of scenarios. It is feasible that a renewed uprising could prove successful, or its attendant pressures result in the internal disintegration of the EPRDF. Both appear unlikely, however, certainly in the short-term. Honed by decades of experience fending off rebellions, Ethiopia’s security apparatus is ruthlessly effective – hence the apparent success of the state of emergency. If judged necessary, an even more blistering government crackdown can’t be ruled out.
Ethiopia doesn’t have to fear, according to observers, a military coup: the army is professional, well trained and its higher echelons respect the constitution and harbour no ambitions to rule. But how they might react to some of the worst-case scenarios predicted – Ethiopia descending into civil war or a failed state torn by ethnic strife - is another matter.
Most observers suggest the best way to avoid the worse case scenarios would be to, at a minimum, release all political prisoners, unshackle the media and allow freedom of expression, and begin reforming key institutions that have been found wanting, such as Ethiopia’s judicial system.
When it comes to the EPRDF’s future role in all this, opinions vary. Some say it has lost every shred of legitimacy and must immediate make way for a transitional government. Others say is not feasible nor in Ethiopia’s best interests. Rather, the EPRDF should, in addition to carrying out meaningful reforms, establish a new electoral commission that would guarantee the next local elections in 2018 and national elections in 2020 were freely contested.
“That is the best course of action as it would provide a solution that isn’t orchestrated by the government but which is chosen by the Ethiopian people,” Lidetu says.

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Prof. Muse Tegegne has lectured sociology Change &  Liberation  in Europe, Africa and Americas. He has obtained  Doctorat es Science from the University of Geneva.   A PhD in Developmental Studies & ND in Natural Therapies.  He wrote on the  problematic of  the Horn of  Africa extensively. He Speaks Amharic, Tigergna, Hebrew, English, French. He has a good comprehension of Arabic, Spanish and Italian.