A year ago, Meles Zenawi was being celebrated as part of a generation of “new African leaders”, cracking down on corruption, expanding democracy and leading Africa into a bright future. Zenawi was named to Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, a recognition of Ethiopia’s size and significance, as well as recognition of Zenawi’s steps towards reform.
It’s a very different situation in Ethiopia today. A disputed parliamentary election and ensuing protests resulted in the killing of dozens of protesters by government forces. A crackdown on press freedoms has landed journalists and activists in prison, charged with “genocide” for their opposition to the government. A “wanted list” of journalists has had the effect of muzzling much of the press, which has gotten less critical of the government as many of their number face serious legal charges.
Photo by Andrew Heavens of the aftermath of a bomb in Addis earlier today
And just to keep things interesting, there are the bombs. Since early January, “minor blasts” have become a regular occurance in Addis Ababa, causing injury and damage – but until today, no fatalites – in public spaces around the city. The first of today’s blasts destroyed a “blue donkey” minibus around 9:30 this morning, killing one passenger and injuring several others. As Andrew Heavens, reporting about the incident on his blog notes:
It is worrying that public transport is now being targeted. For me it is also puzzling that they don’t seem interested in high-profile targets. Their main aim seems to be intimidating “ordinary” Ethiopians on their way to work.
The bus blast was the first of four explosions in Addis today, including bombs at a cafe, a guard shack and an abbatoir. Heavens notes that no one seems to know who’s responsible for the explosions – the government accuses “Eritrean terrorists” (a reference to the ongoing border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea), while Reuters characterizes the bombs as “mysterious explosions”. Xinhua reports that the Ethiopian government stated that previous bombs were made of C4 smuggled from Eritrea and planted by the Oromo Liberation Front, a group that wants the Oromo province to become independent from Ethiopia, suggesting that these bombs may be connected.
One of Ethiopia’s most interesting – and most controversial – bloggers has just left her adopted home. Addis Ferengi (Ferenji means “foreigner”), a French citizen living in Addis Ababa, had been blogging for eight months (in French and English), attracting a great deal of attention from Ethiopian authorities. As she spent more time in Ethiopia, her posts became increasingly critical of the Zenawi government. Recently her blog posts had focused on Ethiopian dissidents Ato Ayele Angelo and Ato Berhanu Haile who were maintaining a hunger strike while in prison.
A number of comments began appearing in pro-Zenawi blogs, denouncing Addis Ferenji, revealing her identity and encouraging Ethiopians contact her about her anti-government views. On Saturday, Addis Ferenji announced that she had left Ethiopia for Europe:
Here are the facts: I was not expelled or directly threatened officially… Unofficially… well, they forwarded some “anonymous” death penalty and… talked to my husband!
I have been wondering for months when they would consider I had crossed the line and reached the breaking point. I obviously did when talking about Maekelawi political prisoners. They just cannot stand being provoked on their territory: jails. This ain’t no barking anymore and I feel physically in danger. I do not fear being arrested on fabricated charges, I fear for my life because they are not rational and far, far beyond the edge…
She has promised her readers to continue posting about Ethiopian politics, and to lobby European governments, helping raise awareness about repression of the press and opposition under the Zenawi government. It’s terribly sad that she’s not able to remain in Ethiopia, but it’s possible that she may be more effective as a dissident in Europe rather than staying one step ahead of the authorities in Ethiopia.