Censorship and repression in Ethiopia
Here is an everyday scene from a town in Ethiopia, this one being Sodo, in the south of the country, a place we stopped off for lunch, after our coffee in Shashamane, on our way to meeting the boats at the Bele Bridge on the road towards Jimma, near the Sudanese border.
We spent five weeks in Ethiopia and during that time almost every single person we met and spoke to about politics was very against the government, especially as they seemed to have cheated on the first parliamentary elections ever held in the country, which were held earlier in the year. We had chiiling experince as well of the repression in Ethiopia, arriving in the capital a day after government forces had killed over 40 people on the streets and arrested many thousands more.
It seemed that the British Government reacted in an appropriate manner by ending friendly relations with Ethiopia, providing money only to non-governmental organisations in the country, by-passing the repressive government. Earlier in the year, the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi was a member of Tony Blair's Africa Council, looking at ways of helping Africa out of its many predicaments. Killing ones own citizens, locking up the opposition and journalists was not what Tony Blair had in mind and, by all accounts, Tony Blair feels very let down by these subsequesnt events
However, the mighty US sees Ethiopia as a Christian stronghold in a largely Islamic area and therefore a major ally in its self-declared War on Terrorism. So, again, as it had in Iraq and in various South American countries, the US prefers to support a "strong man" than be bothered too much about how such strong men treat their own citizens, while supposedly fighting for the forces of law and order. The Ethiopian Government have been given arms and training, while these very weapons are used against its own people. This is called pragmatic foreign policy, not idealistic foreign poicy (which is apparently what some people call Bush's policy with respect to ousting Saddam). I don't know which one is worse; surely there must be a better way to conduct foreihn policy.
There was a very interesting report in the NRC newspaper here during the week which reported how the Ethiopian Government tried to use the situation in Somalia to focus the people's attention away from the domestic situation, towards a so-called common enemy, namely Somalia, one of the poorest countries in the world. Hmmm... well, according to the NRC, the Ethiopians are having none of this and are feeling ever more betrayed by the West which continues to support Meles, the monster in charge.
Anyway, we have dealt with all this a number of times before on this blog. Just a couple of extra points to make:
1 there are two excllent reports on the Make Dictatorship History site, one from Reporters Without Frontiers and the other by Human Rights Watch, which detail the repression in Ethiopia
2 a visitor to this site, Mark, mentioned that the reason why we have not been getting any visitors to the blog from Ethiopia recently is probably because the Ethiopian Government has blocked access to blogspot. This possibility is mentioned in the Reporters Without Frontiers report on Ethiopia.
Eritrea seems to be just as bad, if not worse than Ethiopia, according to these reports, but at least the Eritrean Government is not receiving arms or support from the West, not that they actually want it either.