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Will US and UK help Zenawi to supress popular uprising?

By Shannon Filed | The New Age

Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of development aid, receiving over US$3.3bn (R22.6bn) annually. Ethiopia is perceived by Western leaders as a largely Christian country bordering two unstable Islamic states, Sudan and Somalia, and viewed as a crucial ally in the “war on terror”.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister dictator Meles Zenawi has charmed Western leaders so successfully that he has seen foreign aid more than double in the past six years, while his regime has become increasingly {www:repressive}.

Zenawi presided over what were regarded as {www:fraudulent} elections in both 2005 and 2010, and in an attempt to maintain his regime’s grip on power, detained tens of thousands of opposition supporters, imprisoned opposition leaders and executed demonstrators. The US State Department acknowledged in its human rights reports the “numerous credible reports of unlawful detention of opposition candidates in Ethiopia, and the politically motivated killings committed by the security forces”. Despite this, Ethiopia remains a top US client state in the East African region and has not been subjected to official public criticism for the ruthlessness with which it deals with its detractors.

Ethiopia’s geo-strategic {www:importance} to the US has become the overriding issue, eclipsing the government’s growing political repression. With escalating calls from within Ethiopian society for a people’s uprising, the US finds itself again propping up a dictatorial regime, at US$1bn (R6.8bn) a year, in addition to the provision of military training and weaponry.

The collaborative relationship between the US and Ethiopia has been developing for years, with the common purpose being the rooting out of Islamic radicalism, particularly inside Somalia. The Pentagon has trained Ethiopian troops for counterterrorism operations in camps near the Somali border, and the US believes these efforts have disrupted terrorist networks in Somalia.

The US backed the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006, and has shared its intelligence on the positions of Islamic militants with the Ethiopian military. The US has gone as far as using a base in Ethiopia to capture al-Qaeda leaders, and to use an airstrip in eastern Ethiopia to launch air strikes against Islamic militants in Somalia. Ethiopia’s geo-strategic importance is not only its proximity to Somalia, a known breeding ground for al-Qaeda, but as a backdoor to the Middle East.

This close relationship with Ethiopia is coming under the spotlight as the wave of people power in North Africa and the Middle East has inspired Ethiopian opposition movements to follow suit. In March, the Ethiopian Americans Council wrote to US President Barak Obama about the political situation in Ethiopia and the growing political suppression by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). They claim the punitive legislation such as the Civil Society Law, Anti-Terror Law and Press Law hamper the ability to organise public meetings and rallies, and to raise funds. They have warned that Ethiopians are organising strikes and demonstrations for the coming months, and claim that an uprising has already begun in the southern region. It is alleged that security forces used deadly force against peaceful protestors on March 7 and 9 in the Gamgofa zone. The Council is seeking US support for the opposition’s campaign.

The Ethiopian regime is concerned about the power and influence of its massive diaspora, and their ability to stage demonstrations in cities around the world. This concern is well placed given that the diaspora is becoming more mobilised and determined to expose the {www:draconian} nature of the regime.

The regime is so concerned about the inevitability of a mass uprising at home that any gathering of more than three people in all urban centres has been banned, and there is a heavy military presence in the capital Addis Ababa. Prime Minister Zenawi has articulated his concern about the political turmoil in Yemen, just 150km from Ethiopia’s northern border, and has claimed that some domestic opposition groups are trying to incite a similar uprising.

The regime has taken immediate measures to counter any potential uprising by arresting more than 200 members of the opposition during March to prevent the organisation of demonstrations. The regime has also resumed its jamming of the US-financed Voice of America (VOA) language service broadcasts to Ethiopia. The VOA is the only international radio service broadcasting in the three main Ethiopian languages – Amharic, Afan Oromo and Tigrayan. Any political broadcasts by the VOA are now disrupted, as they provide the opposition with a voice.

An immediate mass uprising may not materialise given the collective memory of the harsh crackdown following public demonstrations in 2005, where 200 peaceful demonstrators were killed by security forces, 765 were wounded, and 30000 detained. At the time the opposition had protested against what they termed fraudulent elections, where the manipulation of election results gave the opposition far fewer seats than they believe they won. Thousands were arrested, the independent media silenced and 131 opposition politicians and journalists were put on trial for treason, outrages against the constitution and genocide. While the Ethiopian Parliamentary Commission report said the security forces did not use excessive force, the commission leaders claim their findings were altered by the government prior to the report’s release.

The 2010 elections were arguably worse, with higher levels of intimidation and coercion used. In the 2005 elections the opposition had won all the national and regional council seats of Addis Ababa, but in 2010 the government claimed to have won them all back. The regime claims to have won an overall 99.6% in the poll.

Prior to the 2010 elections, the government also denied food aid to opposition supporters, using it to reward its political allies – a tactic employed in successive elections. In a country where 3 million people experience hunger every year, this was a gross politicisation of humanitarian assistance. Human Rights Watch has painstakingly documented the regime’s multilayered oppressive strategies in its 105-page report Development Without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian public know any uprising would be dealt a swift and brutal response by the regime. Unless there is reason to believe that segments of the Ethiopian military and Western powers would support their calls for regime change, it may be too much of a calculated risk.

Compared to Egypt and Tunisia, Ethiopia has a much smaller, less educated middle class, with less access to the internet. Internet connection in Ethiopia is 0.5% compared to 21.2% in Egypt. Somalia, which has not had a stable government for more than 20 years, has a higher internet connection rate than Ethiopia.

For any uprising to succeed in Ethiopia a critical mass of support is needed , particularly among the youth, with clear objectives, a well-defined strategy, determination and at least some support from the armed forces. Nationally no political organisation has the influence or credibility to lead a popular revolt, but as in Egypt, a cohesive political leadership is not necessary for an uprising to succeed.

What would be pivotal is the support of the US to opposition forces in the face of a brutal government crackdown.

It is this solidarity with democratic forces that cannot be relied upon given the close relations with the Zenawi government nurtured over time to ensure a virtual US proxy in the region.

(Shannon Field is a independent political analyst)

19 thoughts on “Will US and UK help Zenawi to supress popular uprising?

  1. The question is NOT really “Will US and UK help Zenawi to suppress popular uprising?”

    Rather, the main question is, “Will the leaders of the popular uprising and the people as a whole do their home work absolutely, proactively, get united and allied in a new and all encompassing united, motivated, viable, sustainable mutually tolerant manners and through that bring out massive amounts of people either at once or even slowly and absolutely sustainably on an ongoing fearless manners as to impose the UNITED People’s TRUE WILL both on despot tyrant Zenawi and any of his potential supporters just like Tunisia and Egypt.

    The Tunisian and Egyptian people rose up in large masses defying any patterned and established national and international political arrangements of the last several years, forcefully imposing their unbending, determined and united will for the NEW Positive change and for their rights.

    When hard tyrants see, experience and feel NEW unity, determinations, sustainability, unbendability, rages after rages, etc. of active people trying to take back their dignities and humanities in to their own hands, make sure the fact that they will slowly but surely crumble just like the house of cards. Foreign potential supporters or neutral bystanders will also closely watch the entire spectrum of the uprising in detail as to make their own decisions for or against.

    In principle, this is a new era and every one expects that the US and the UK may side and support the pro democracy popular uprising just like they did in the cases of Tunisia, Egypt and some of the others. Remember the fact that the Egyptian government is the close ally of the USA and the UK as well as the Tunisian government too. After all the UK and Italy used to be closest friends of the currently embattled Gaddafi fighting for his life against the ex-friends and the other parties. THIS PRACTICALLY MEANS THAT THERE ONLY PERMANENT INTERESTS BUT NOT PERMANENT FRIENDSHIPS.

    Personally I am looking for a permanent friend from out there. Any offer? Just kidding!:)

    But these regimes were outmoded tyrannical dictators for many years and as such HATED by their own people which in turn and by extension HATED the US and the UK for supporting brutal and autocratic dictators bent on staying in power for life. So, victory for people and for democracy is also victory for the US, the UK and beyond in the long run. No one can suppress the popular uprising except mediocre organizers, unsustainable, static and divided demonstration, lack of sustained and organized necessary and timely information, medication, transportation, food, drink, psychological and physical attentions, etc. etc.

    “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free so that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”~ Albert Camus

  2. What is new? What can you offer better?
    Hailselasse backed by US and UK oppressed the whole poeple of ethiopia not to mention atrocities commited to the people of Oromo and Eritrea.
    Haileesalase was helped to by the US and European to create Arican union (mission impossible center)in Addis Ababa to oppress the Arican people including ethiopians. (Ghana’s leader Khuwami Niruma check why and how died)
    Mengistu was armed by the Soviets to oppress the ethiopian people and exterminate any opposition parties and organizations.
    The existance of any Arican leader is by serving the US and European.
    Remember Meles and Isayas were met in London by US and British represetatives before they assumed their respective power in their respective countries. Vy then and now they were and are comited to serve the interest of US and UK

  3. We should know the west will be siding with the criminal in the Minelik Palce as long as we remain devided by petty issues. We need to stand united so that it doesn’t matter what the miserable west does. After al we are Ethiopians and we should show them in action not in wishful thinking!

  4. Yes, US & UK will help Woyane. No question about it.
    I don’t get it why not they help if they’re helping in 2005 election
    and now. Their foreign policy is the same yesterday , today and tomorrow.
    period. They do not care about democracy as far as whoever the government suits their interest. Do not deceive yourself. I remember when Ethiopians in US campaigning for Obama thinking he will help Ethiopians their struggle for democracy. I was demonized when I oppose
    wrongly directed enthusiasm about Obama. Not many regret after the truth came in to picture today when Obama’s government is giving millions of dollars.

  5. No one in this planet was offered freedom on a silver platter. Freedom is not food aid, it is something you fight for. First we need to understand the objective clearly. I just see us as lost in the wild. We really need to realize that we have a home work to do before we even think about changing a government as brutal and as stable as Meles’s. The mirror is where we should start.

  6. The US should know that a regime that terrorizes its own people will not be a good partner in the war against terrorism. The best strategy would be having a democratic government in that restive area so that permanent interest will be protected. The downside is that the US knows we are not organized enough to take the leadership should that regime crumble. We better take care of that weakness.

    Wonderful article and seasoned analysis!

  7. What poplar uprising you talking ?there will be no such uprising here in the peaceful addis may be you talking about Eritrea We are busy building our beloved country you and your family have no part in it

  8. It is very interesting to note that many Ethiopians are very deterministic ONE DIMENSIONAL thinkers that are glued to the past patterns of events as well as national and international alignment of political powers that have been. Pessimism and determinism RULES in place of creativity, positivity, optimism, forward looking, dynamism, pro activity as well as transformational leadership to some thing new and something BIG.

    We have to change ourselves and our views before we are talking about changing others and situations. The world is a world of all possibilities and as such ONLY the sky is the limit. That is exactly how the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings thought, acted and brought the fundamental change we now can see.

    You can’t win anything without the power of positive thinking and forward looking transformational leadership behavior that predicts positive outcome and and make that to be fulfilled even by the logic of the self fulfilling prophesies.

    Brother president Obama is not going to come and fight for some divided and habitually bickering pessimist chatter boxes living in the past and in past alone. That brother may not have come to liberate helpless people accustomed to dependency and self pity but he has dramatically revolutionized the national and global history and political activities simply by his own mere physical presence and all the attendant real and imagined images.

    Even the long standing and established Nazi and fascist ideologies and philosophies from the classical to the present that claimed that the black race possessed inferior genes and inferior intelligences close to wild animals such monkeys and the pigs for example, that are only meant by nature to serve others as slaves and lower level menial tasks has been dealt with crushing blows and irreparable total and complete demise being demolished at it’s very root. Seeing the BIG PICTURE helps in fixing the small problems.

    It is also the same brother President Obama who actively interfered and helped bring about all of those changes in Tunisia and Egypt, regardless of these regimes being close and traditional regional allies of the US and EU. Time and tide changes but some Ethiopians seem to be so static and fixed, as to be waiting for the easy and free MANNA from the heavens like always instead of taking to the streets, make their own MANNAS like the Egyptians and the Tunisians, pressure and influence NOT blame national and international key actors in favor of their demonstrated good actions as to come out winners.

  9. check Egypt, Mubarack was good friend to west, however, the west tried to help but the people showed their resistance to death. The West do not have a choice but to look for available client. Coming back to Ethiopia it is always depends on the people, if they resisit hard then the rest is history.

  10. #8. Dawit,

    Yes, even dictator Mubarak’s Cairo have been so excruciatingly peaceful and tranquil not only to the physical side of observations but also deep down to the bottom of human souls just before the dynamic explosion of the popular uprising volcano that tossed the dictator and his family out of power and out of the grand palace. Are you shivering from fear of the inevitable and rationalizing your great grand fear to the contrary just to fool and cheat yourself for a while?

    Even dictator’s Mubarak and Ben Ali were saying to the angry people that they are building the most beloved mother country together with their close family members which in reality means that they are robbing totally dry the financially and human resources of the country and accumulating huge amounts of cash and kind in foreign banks and underground grand size secret barracks. We know by now that the secret language code for robbery and tyranny is “building the beloved country with your family but without the families of the people.” Mubarak and his family are now out and under arrest. So will it happen to your Wayane crime family too. ):

  11. I luv the Ethiopian people,but lets be REAL. The US isn’t going to do anything to uproot Meles, he is their main dog in the fight over the Horn. Thats why they stay supplying him.For the US to just drop their interest in Meles for the Ethiopian people is insane! They are heavyly invested in Meles. It would take an uprising from the Ethiopian people on a massive scale to force the West to pay them any seriuos attention. I rarely ever see any news coverage about the political state of things in Ethiopia on CNN or the BBC here in America. I have to go onto the internet to find it.It just does’nt get coverage over here in America.This white man is the first one to jump on the news and speak about Human Rights violations concerning the Chinese, but he does’nt speak on the Human Rights violations of his comrades. I guess Ethiopians now know the hypocracy of the white man first hand. He feeds u with one hand while keeping a foot on your throat.Please Ethiopians, don’t wait for Obama to rescue u, its not going to happen, after all, he has’nt lift a finger to help Black Americans at all. The American goverment may have a Black head, but the body is still pale white! Obama is constrained, he is only good for the status quo. Untill Ethiopians get pass their good mannerisim and the fear of dying in the streets, ain’t nothing going to change in Ethiopia.

  12. A well written analysis. Unfortunately, the answer is, No, the US will not stand with the oppressed people of Ethiopia. Sure it preaches democracy and human rights, but when it comes to implementing it, it always chooses to ally itself with the dictators for the benefit of
    fulfilling its own interest, that is ofcourse, until the people RISE UP in unison and say BEKA! as in what we are witnessing happen in the middle east and north africa. We don’t need an internet, we need to be one in our struggle to dismantle the Meles regime! The question is are we brave enough to tell woyane BEKA! depending on how determined we are, the US and the west will then accomodate our wishes, again, inorder to fulfill their own self interest! to them, as long as we get the necessary wheat and weaponry, it doesn’t matter how we are rules, doesn’t matter what meles does with his people, or how he uses the billions of dollars given to him every year, as long as he obeys the US in a so called “anti terrorisim” business, how can a terrorist himself be an anti terrorist alley? It is a joke! Meles is a terrorist himself to his own people! the US has been encouraging him to grow more arrogant and authoritarian by the year, while ignoring the many atrocities committed by the Meles regime who has nobody to answer to . Enough is enough! The only thing that will break his arrogance will be the voice of all repressed Ethiopians saying BEKA!May God give us courage to do the rightly, humanly and doable thing to say BEKA! to the racist, divide and rule of Woyane!!
    God be with the oppressed, voiceless poor people of Ethiopia!

  13. The US and UK have had taken side with Tunisian and Egytian dictators for as long as the dictators ruling their respective people,but then,the peoples’ revolution with a knocking power more than the combined force of sea tide and tornado began and completly wiped out the two dictors and as a result,both the US and UK impacted negatively with greater shame that they never have had in the history of their existence.So what? If the US and UK take side with Ethiopians’ enemy Meles Naziawi,the uprising will crash them along with Meles Naziawi and his regime.

  14. The article although better than others written by foreigners ignored some important facts:

    1. the regime was installed by the USA,that means USA is not just supporting the regime.

    2. the regime or Meles Zenawi is not merely a dictator and human right abuser,he is worse, he is a traitor and enemy of the country and therefore unique.

    USA had not installed or supported a regime similar to that of Meles before.

    We can write a long list of all the crimes committed by the regime,from landlocking the country and dividing the people and playing groups one against the other to land grab and selling of Ethiopian babies to foreigners for 25 000 USD.

    3. the reason for the low rate of internet use in Ethiopia,as the author said even lower than Somalia, is the policy of the regime such as prohibitive prices and discouragement of internet use, just like the regime raises costs for paper and printing to drive private newspapers out of business. We have no normal situation and normal government in Ethiopia.Even having none is better.

    Some people here tried to rationalize or excuse western policies toward Ethiopia when they wrote US or west support Meles and his regime due to lack of alternatives,the division of the opposition etc. That is nonsense. Such an alternative was CUD that won the election in 2005,yet US and its allies worked hard with Meles to destroy it.

    Also “war on terror” and “strategic location” may not be the only reasons or even the main reasons why US and its allies are supporting Meles.

    No, we have to search for sinister motives that we can also call historic ( maybe thousands years old), religious,spiritual or racial motives. We better try to understand the situation in the context of the black vs. white conflict.

    As a result we should expect and prepare for the worst. Not only will the west not side with the people, it could pressure and encourage neighbouring countries and rebel groups like ONLF to take advantage of the chaos and anarchy. It could offer military,financial and other support to those forces.

    We should not expect that the west will passively watch like in Tunisia and Egypt, it is likely that it will actively work against the interest and unity of the country.

  15. @ Prayers:

    Africa is just too rich for it’s own good. Rich in land, Rich in resources, Rich in culture, Rich in history, Rich in it’s many children.

    It’s not white and black because most don’t have any real power, we are truly equal. Those who do have power let us fight for scraps and the most murderous traitor is deemed psychotic enough to keep the rest in check.

  16. We all work for democracy all over the world.We also pray for the fall down of states such as USA that support dictors like Meles.Because what Americans are doing is not fair psychologically for the developing Nations like Africa,especially for the young generation.

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