Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ethiopia opposition says elections an 'undemocratic disgrace

 Ethiopia's main opposition party on Friday condemned weekend elections, which saw the ruling party cruise back into office, as a "disgrace" and proof the country was a one-party state.
According to preliminary results from last Sunday's elections, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn secured all 442 parliamentary seats so far declared out of the 547 seats up for grabs.
The EPRDF, in power in Africa's second-most populous nation for over two decades, were widely expected to secure a near clean sweep of parliament, and the outgoing chamber had just one opposition MP -- but even this was taken by the ruling party.
"The Blue Party does not accept the process as free and fair and does not accept the outcome of unhealthy and undemocratic elections," the main opposition party said.
"This 100 percent win by the regime is a message of disgrace" and shows that a "multi-party system is over in Ethiopia".
Ahead of Sunday's polls the opposition alleged the government had used authoritarian tactics to guarantee victory -- such as intimidation, refusing to register candidates or arresting supporters.
The Blue Party's spokesman, Yonatan Tesfaye, alleged that 200 party candidates were denied the right to stand for parliament and 52 party members were arrested in the run-up to the polls.
"We don't think there is an independent justice system to deal with our complaints. We'll continue our peaceful struggle," he told reporters.
After the elections, the United States, which enjoys close security cooperation with Ethiopia, also said it remained "deeply concerned by continued restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views."
The European Union also said true democracy had yet to take root in Ethiopia, and voiced concern over "arrests of journalists and opposition politicians, closure of a number of media outlets and obstacles faced by the opposition in conducting its campaign."
The African Union observer mission, however, described the polling as "credible" and "generally consistent with the AU guidelines on the conduct of elections in Africa."
On Wednesday government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said the win came as the result of Ethiopia's economic advances.
"Voters have credited the ruling party for the economic progress it introduced in the country," he told AFP. "In view of the weak, fragmented opposition and the lack of a viable alternative, it was very likely that the ruling party would win in a landslide."  Source ( AFP)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Djibouti dreams of becoming new Dubai

 For years the Horn of Africa nation Djibouti was seen by foreign powers as a far flung military outpost overlooking the Gulf of Aden.
Now the strategic port wants to capitalise on its key position on one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, the gateway to the Suez canal.
Djibouti offers an African base across from the Arabian Peninsula at the crossroads for cargo traffic between Asia and Europe.
It may be a tiny country of around 850,000 people, but it has a bold ambition to become the commercial hub of eastern Africa, building on its role as the main port for landlocked Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country.
To achieve that the former French colony has embarked on a series of infrastructure projects expected to cost some $US14 billion.
Offshore from historic Djibouti city, the waters are crowded with a mix of hulking warships, giant container cargo vessels and the traditional wooden fishing dhows that have plied the seas here for centuries.
But a short drive away, Chinese workers are busy building a giant new terminal dedicated to container ships from Asia.
Work is concentrated on the first of six new specialised docking terminals - each one focusing on different commodities including minerals, livestock, oil and gas - to add to the two terminals already in operation.
"More and more shipping lines are interested in Djibouti, we are now making the way to be a Dubai, even Singapore," said Suleiman Ahmed, a senior executive at Doraleh container terminal.
Cargo trade is booming.
It has increased between six and 10 per cent each year, with Djibouti enjoying growth partly because other regional ports are struggling.
Kenya's port city of Mombasa is already overstretched, while the secretive Red Sea state of Eritrea sees little if any traffic.
"Mombasa is congested, Eritrea is not a welcoming country, but Djibouti is a strategic and safe location - we rely on it," Ahmed said.
In a volatile region, Djibouti hopes to build a reputation of stability and security.
It hosts several foreign military bases, including Camp Lemonnier, the US military headquarters on the continent used for covert, anti-terror and other operations in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere across Africa.
France and Japan also have bases in Djibouti, which has been used by European and other international navies as a base in the fight against piracy from neighbouring Somalia.
Earlier this month, President Ismail Omar Guelleh told AFP that "discussions are ongoing," with China concerning a potential military base, saying Beijing's presence would be "welcome".
Djibouti now wants to position itself as the gateway for Asia into Africa.
"From Egypt to South Africa, the eastern coast of Africa has only nine coastal countries," said Abubaker Omar Hadi, chairman of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority, waving his hand over a map of the continent on the wall of his office.
"This has created 10 landlocked countries, 400 million people who have no access to the sea. They are the ones we want to serve."
For now, Djibouti mainly serves Ethiopia's 94 million consumers.
As well as its massive port expansion, Djibouti wants to add two new airports, a modern railway and build industrial areas.
At present, the country's small airport sees French Mirage fighter jets share its one runway with civilian aircraft. But the government plans to replace that with an international airport with a capacity of 1.5 million passengers annually.
A total of 14 infrastructure projects are planned in Djibouti, mainly financed by Chinese banks.
But some are wary of such huge investments for a country with less than a million people.
"There was no market research and parliament was never consulted," said opposition lawmaker Doualeh Egueh Ofleh, who said he was worried about the financial risk the projects could pose.
"When we take the loans from the World Bank and Western institutions, there was some control ... now with the Chinese, we take all possible loans for all projects without any control," he added, predicting Beijing would control the country's infrastructure if Djibouti failed to repay its debts.
But Djibouti's government is betting on strong African economic growth to recoup the investment.
"Even before Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong, the economic and maritime hubs in the region were Aden and Djibouti," says port authority chief Abubaker Omar Hadi.
"We know what to do to regain our place."  Source ( AFP)

Friday, May 22, 2015

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 defeat.

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. Apart from the EPRDF, some of the main contenders include the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum; a coalition popularly known as Medrek (the Forum); Unity For Democracy And Justice; and the Semayawi (Blue) Party, which was established in 2012, and has earned itself a reputation for organizing protest rallies and which draws support from young people.



Why have these elections caused controversy in the US?

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman has praised Ethiopia as a democracy, prompting outrage among human rights organisations.
Speaking during a press briefing in Addis Ababa in April, Ms Sherman said: "Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive in ways that Ethiopia has moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election it gets better and better."
In a joint letter, various groups, including Amnesty International USA, said that through her statement the US endorsed ''a government that systematically suppresses the fundamental rights of its citizens. Political pluralism and the ability of Ethiopians to freely express themselves, associate, and participate in peaceful assembly is far more restricted today than ten years ago under the same government.''



What happened in previous elections?

In 2005, 174 opposition politicians won seats in the 547-seat parliament, but many did not take them up after pronouncing the vote rigged.
In the 2010 polls, Girma Seifu, of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was the sole opponent to win, while the ruling EPRDF garnered 99.6% of all parliamentary seats. An independent candidate was also elected.

What do opposition parties say about these polls?

The fractured opposition groups have accused the government of harassing their members and carrying out illegal detentions ahead of the elections.
One politician, Yonathan Tesfaye, spokesman for the Blue Party, told journalists that some party members had been beaten, especially in the southern region. But ruling party spokesman Desta Tesfaw dismissed the allegations and accused opposition groups of trying to discredit the elections, saying: "They don't have their own policies and agendas, and that's clear to the Ethiopian people."




Which outsiders are monitoring the polls?

The African Union has sent election monitors, but the European Union won't be sending observers. The EU said it hasn't been invited.   Source ( BBC)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ethiopia: Opposition claims harassment ahead of elections – U.S. News & World Report

Ethiopian opposition groups are accusing the government of harassing their members and carrying out illegal detentions ahead of the May 24 elections.
Yonathan Tesfaye, spokesman for the Blue Party, told The Associated Press this week that some party members are being beaten, especially in the southern region. He said his party may boycott the elections.
“If the current level of harassment and detention along with the problem in registering our observers continues, we might be forced to consider exiting from the election process,” he said.
Chane Kebede, leader of the Ethiopian Democratic Party, also complained of a climate of fear. We have now come to the understanding that the ruling party wants a 100 percent control of the government after the upcoming election,” he said.
Only one opposition lawmaker won a seat in the country’s parliament in the 2010 general elections, which watchdog groups said were marred by intimidation and harassment of opposition activists.
But a spokesman for the ruling party, Desta Tesfaw, dismissed the allegations and accused opposition parties groups of trying to discredit the elections.
“They don’t have their own policies and agendas, and that’s clear to the Ethiopian people,” Tesfaw said, referring to the political opposition. He noted, however, that the ruling party had “taken some measures against our members who were found violating the election code.” He did not say what the violations were.
In 2010, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, won 99.6 percent of all parliamentary seats — a victory that Human Rights Watch said was “the culmination of the government’s five-year strategy of systematically closing down space for political dissent and independent criticism.”  Source (Associated   Press)