UN investigates Briton on death row in Ethiopia
The detention of a British citizen held on death row in Ethiopia for almost a year is being investigated by the United Nations official responsible for preventing torture.
Andargachew Tsige was arrested last June while in transit through Yemen’s main airport and forcibly removed to Addis Ababa. He is the leader of an opposition party and had been condemned to death several years earlier in his absence.
Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, has written to the Ethiopian and UK governments saying he is investigating the treatment of Tsige. There are claims Tsige is being deprived of sleep and held in isolation.
His partner, Yemi Hailemariam, also a British national, who lives in London with their three children, said she had only spoken to him once by telephone since his abduction. “He’s in prison but we have no idea where he is being held,” she said. “He said he was OK but I’m sure the call was being listened to.
“He had been in Dubai and was flying on to Eritrea when the plane stopped over in Yemen. He hadn’t even been through immigration. We think Yemeni security took him and handed him over to the Ethiopians.
“They say there was an extradition agreement but it was so quick there was no time for any semblance of a legal hearing. Yemen and Ethiopia had close relations then. The [Ethiopian] government have put him on television three times in heavily edited interviews, saying he was revealing secrets
“He has been kept under artificial light 24 hours a day and no one [other than the UK ambassador] has had access to him. I feel angry with the Foreign Office. They know they could do more. They have political leverage they could use but have not done so.”
Ethiopia's discreet Hailemariam likely to return to power
Addis Ababa (AFP) - Ethiopia's quiet premier, Hailemariam Desalegn, whose powerful party is expected to return to office in elections Sunday, is a onetime technocrat with a modern bent who was little known a few years ago.
The 49-year-old Hailemariam has overseen a smooth transition in the vast Horn of Africa nation, the continent's oldest independent state, since he took over in 2012 on the death of former Marxist rebel Meles Zenawi.
The death of Meles turned Hailemariam from a relatively little-known politician and technocrat to an influential leader.
He also silenced critics who had feared instability at the handover from Meles, who had ruled after toppling dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
Less charismatic than his mentor, the former water engineer represents a new generation of leaders set apart from the old guard from the northern Tigray region who were the core of the guerrilla war against Mengistu.
"Some signs suggest his control over the security forces is low," one analyst of the Ethiopian government said. "He understood that he is a man of consensus between different groups."
Unlike many in the ruling elite, he was not part of the rebel movement which toppled Mengistu. Instead, Hailemariam, who studied civil engineering in Addis Ababa, was completing his master's degree at Finland's Tampere University when the dictator fell.
He became the chairman of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) shortly after Meles' death, pledging at the time to continue his "legacy without any changes".
Ethiopia's economic growth -- more than 10 percent each year for the last five years according to the World Bank -- has continued.
But there are differences: since coming to power, Hailemariam has appointed three deputy prime ministers and established a more collegiate system of government, breaking with the autocratic rule of his predecessor.
- 'Modern manager' -
"The style is different from that of Meles who made all the decisions -- Hailemariam is a modern manager," said a Western diplomat. The leader held the one-year post of African Union chairman in 2013.
Hailemariam -- in Ethiopian tradition, known by his first name, meaning "the power of Saint Mary" -- is also a Protestant, the first to lead Ethiopia, where the majority of Christians follow Orthodox traditions.
In a country long dominated by its major ethnic groups -- most recently the Tigray, the ethnic group to which Meles belonged -- Hailemariam notably comes from the minority Wolayta people in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region.
President of the region for five years, he was appointed to be deputy prime minister and foreign minister in 2010 after the ruling coalition party's fourth win, a landslide victory.
"Tigrayans could not put forward another Tigrayan, the other ethnic groups would not have accepted it, and Hailemariam was the most acceptable solution for the transition," said another diplomat.
At his appointment to Ethiopia's leadership, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank suggested Hailemariam's appointment may have been "window dressing, designed to placate potential critics, while the Tigrayan elite keep real power."
But they also suggested that Hailemariam's position outside the Tigray power base could in fact prove a strength.
"His ethnicity is considered an advantage, because it is a minority in a multi-ethnic region and, most importantly, not from the numerically dominant Oromo or Amhara," the ICG added.
Hailemariam has spoken enthusiastically about ensuring democracy and accountable rule for the country.
However, rights groups, who routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists and using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics, say little has changed.
Ethiopia's economy to grow 10.5 percent in 2015/16: World Bank
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's economy is expected to grow by 9.5 percent this fiscal year ending June before accelerating to 10.5 percent in 2015/16, the World Bank said on Friday, adding inflation will remain in single digits during this period.
The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has touted its economic achievements before Sunday's election, although no one doubts it will sweep to power again, as critics say it stifles any real opposition.
There is just one opposition member of the outgoing parliament.
Lars Christian Moller, the World Bank's lead economist and program leader for Ethiopia, told Reuters that falling oil prices should help quicken Ethiopia's growth in 2015/16.
"If lower oil prices are passed on to consumer in the form of lower fuel prices, it gives additional disposable income to consumers," Moller said in the capital Addis Ababa.
The Ethiopian government has targeted annual growth at about 11 percent for the past five years.
Moller said the service and agriculture sectors are likely to drive growth, along with the booming construction sector, most visible in the capital where new multi-story office blocks and shopping malls have altered the city's skyline.
He added growth eased slightly in 2014/15 due to below par rains in the mountainous Horn of Africa nation, which remains one of the world's poorest countries despite boasting one of the highest growth rates across the globe.
Annual inflation is likely to remain in single digits, in line with the government target, Moller said.
The bank predicted inflation would average 7.2 percent this fiscal year, rising to 8.2 percent in the next fiscal year.
After peaking at 64 percent in 2008, inflation in Ethiopia has eased in the past two years, staying below 10 percent.
"We basically interpret that as a policy choice," he said, adding that in the past, monetary policy played a larger role in facilitating growth.
"They have now shifted their priorities so that they have some degree of price stability, so that means monetary policy will be adjusted so that an inflation target can be met."
Ethiopia is jailing journalists and crushing civil society activists. Why won’t the Obama administration speak up?
By Sarah Margon
Originally Published in Slate
In July 2012, an Ethiopian court charged the prominent journalist Eskinder Nega with conspiring to commit terrorist acts. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison under a broad and ill-defined law. His crime? Writing about the Arab Spring and calling for peaceful protests.
A frequent critic of the government and a prominent journalist, Nega was no stranger to detention. But these charges were the most severe—and the corresponding sentence the longest—he’d ever received. Appeals to regional bodies, findings by the United Nations that his detention violates international law, and a litany of international journalism awards all underscore the politically motivated charges that keep him behind bars.
Sadly, he’s not alone.
Since Nega’s detention, Ethiopia has taken a far more repressive turn. At least 19 other Ethiopians are languishing in prison on trumped-up charges for exercising their right to free expression. During the past year alone, six privately owned media outlets have shut down due to ongoing government harassment. At least 22 journalists and bloggers have faced criminal charges for doing their jobs, while nearly 30 more have left the country—preferring exile to the constant threat of arrest.
The authorities in Addis have never been tolerant of an open media environment, but the political climate has deteriorated dramatically. Even the upcoming elections, scheduled for May 24, have not generated the opportunities for reform some analysts had originally anticipated. Instead, this Sunday’s elections are likely to reinforce the country’s repression.
In the grand scheme, clamping down on the media was almost unnecessary given how tightly the ruling party holds power: It won 99.6 percent of the parliamentary seats in 2010. Independent and critical voices are virtually nonexistent as nongovernmental organizations, which often play a key monitoring role during election periods, have been virtually gutted by not just the anti-terrorism law, but also the Charities and Societies Proclamation—a bill that has cut civil society off at the knees by dramatically limiting its access to foreign funding.
After Ethiopia’s 2010 elections, the United States expressed serious concern about the country’s political trajectory. Since that time, however, the Obama administration has plowed ahead with other imperatives—such as a common development agenda to bolster Ethiopia’s economy and a bevy of regional security initiatives. The repressive domestic environment has been treated as an ancillary problem—or ignored entirely—because, it seems, it is just too difficult to reconcile with the positive narrative on economic growth and development. Indeed, U.S. support for Ethiopia’s development has now reached some $500 million in annual aid while collaboration on regional diplomatic initiatives and peacekeeping missions blossoms.
As the U.S.–Ethiopian alliance continues to grow, the administration’s reluctance to take a tougher stance in support of independent and critical voices sends a troubling message. On April 16, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman suggested that Addis had made great progress, saying “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair, and credible and open and inclusive.” She continued: “[E]very time there is an election it gets better and better.”
Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry quickly posted her comments to its Facebook page, twisted them further in a summary of her visit on its official website, and played them repeatedly on state radio. Sherman’s remarks confirmed the image Ethiopia has sought to promote, even though it is one of Africa’s most undemocratic countries.
“Messages about [basic rights] aren’t always as clearly stated as other issues that come up,” said a senior U.S. government official at a recent closed-door meeting on Ethiopia. But the strategic imperative for the United States to promote human rights and the rule of law alongside everything else is vital to stave off the potential for future instability. Ethiopia’s economic growth may look good in the short term, but more than a decade ago the World Bank made clear that these gains alone cannot bring about stability. Indeed, governments that neutralize threats, perceived or real, with repressive tactics often end up fueling violence and militancy, thereby squandering their economic progress.
In early 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry made clear that “[e]ach day, American diplomats make known … our backing for the right of people to speak, publish, broadcast, blog, tweet, and otherwise express themselves openly and without fear and without retribution.” In April, the administration opened its fourth annual “Free the Press” campaign by highlighting the case of Reeyot Alemu, a former freelance journalist and teacher in Ethiopia who remains imprisoned on terrorism charges because she wrote a piece critical of fundraising efforts for a national dam project. On World Press Day, Lily Mengesha, who was detained by the Ethiopian authorities for highlighting the problem of child brides, sat with President Obama at his press conference.
The May 24 elections present an important opportunity for the United States to make good on this rhetoric and photo-ops by revising its approach toward Ethiopia. The Ethiopians should be urged to release or pardon wrongly imprisoned journalists as a signal that at least some criticism and dissent will be tolerated. In the aftermath of the elections, the Obama administration should press the new government to revise the draconian legislation that has gutted the media and civil society so severely. The administration needs to show once and for all it is willing to stand with the many Ethiopians who believe their country is moving in the wrong direction—but are too afraid to speak out.
Sarah Margon is Washington director at Human Rights Watch.
Is Ethiopia about to get more than one opposition MP?
The current parliament in Ethiopia has only one opposition representative. Could this all change when up to 36 million voters head for the polls this Sunday?
These will be the first elections since the death of the long-term Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2012. His Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power for almost a quarter of a century, and faces no reasonable prospect of defea
Who is participating in the polls?
There are 57 political groups which have registered for the election. Many of them are organised along ethnic lines.
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