White House Protest Corps

Protesters Speak Out Against U.S. Support for Ethiopian Government
June 21, 2010, 8:41 pm
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By Beth Goldberg, June 18, 2010

protestersNearly 200 protesters gathered in front of the White House on the afternoon of June 14 to denounce continued U.S. support for Ethiopia’s incumbent regime. Chanting in native Amharic and rallying around the Ethiopian flag, the crowd members were predominantly from DC’s sizable Ethiopian diaspora.

On May 23, Ethiopia held its fourth national election since transitioning to democracy in 1993. The transition away from dictatorship seems incomplete, however, when all four election have reelected President Meles Zenawi and his monolithic EPRDF party by landslide majorities. This year’s officially reported win margin was 99.6% vote for Zenawi, representing the government’s repression of opposition, use of voter intimidation, and rejection of election monitors. This is a significant regression in democratic governance since the last election Ethiopia held in 2005.

The protesters reacted strongly to this regression, calling on the U.S. to change its foreign policy and aid practices, which currently help prop up Zenawi’s regime. Ethiopia receives the third largest amount of foreign aid from the U.S. after Israel and Egypt, receiving $862 million in foreign assistance in 2009. This inundation of aid and diplomatic silence by the U.S. is projected to be because Ethiopia is such valuable U.S. ally in the volatile horn of Africa and in the War on Terror.

But Ethiopians, both in the Horn of Africa and in the U.S. diaspora, are enraged that the U.S. is prioritizing the stability and anti-terrorism policies of their corrupt despot, Zenawi, over encouraging free and fair elections.

The State Department’s assistant press secretary has remained markedly vague and diplomatic, promising, “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people.”

USA Puppet Meles Zenawi Steals Election in Ethiopia
May 21, 2010, 2:25 pm
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Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham

A government clampdown has rendered the outcome of Sunday’s parliamentary elections a foregone conclusion. Washington doesn’t seem to mind that its ally, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, is assured a win.


I first glimpsed the depth of suppressed urban anger toward the Ethiopian government a few hundred paces into the annual 10-kilometer Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa in November 2008. An immensely popular fun-run organized by Ethiopia’s most famous marathoner, it is one of the very few occasions when the government still allows citizens to gather en masse. And the runners took advantage; as we surged through the city’s main artery in matching red race T-shirts, anti-government slogans began to rumble across the crowd around us. The chants rose in volume and intensity whenever we passed a bastion of federal power — the Justice Ministry, the Supreme Court, the presidential compound. One recurring refrain combined a demand for the release of a popular political prisoner with a rhythmic, insistent, “O-bam-a!” It had been just a few weeks since Barack Obama’s election, an event that had inspired many in Addis to hope that change would come not just to the White House, but to its approach toward their country and eventually to their own government.

On Sunday, May 23, Ethiopians will be out politicking again — this time heading to the polls to vote in parliamentary elections. But few will harbor any illusions about the likelihood of voting in a change. In the 18 months since that race, there has been no meaningful revision in U.S. policy toward Ethiopia, and there is today even less reason to anticipate change in the country’s leadership. As one opposition leader has put it, the question is not whether the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) will defeat its intimidated and harassed opponents, but whether this will turn out to be the election in which Ethiopia takes the last step toward becoming a truly one-party state.

This is what passes for democracy in Ethiopia today. As the election has drawn closer, the government has done everything it can to push the result in its favor, waging what Human Rights Watch called in March a “coordinated and sustained attack on political opponents, journalists, and rights activists.” That was the same month that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi took  aim at one of the few independent sources of news still available, comparing the Amharic-language Voice of America programming to the genocidal Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda and ordering its broadcasts jammed. Journalists have fled into exile at an escalating pace over the last year, while civil society has been effectively neutered by a deeply oppressive NGO law. Political activists on both sides have been killed in recent weeks, and the government has publicly accused the opposition of planning violence, raising fears that it might be laying out a pretext for a crackdown.

All this has revealed a deep-seated unwillingness on the government’s part to even contemplate sharing political power — an instinct that emerged out of the last set of parliamentary elections in 2005, when Meles was dangerously close to forfeiting his majority. That proximity to losing — and the subsequent crackdown that ensured he didn’t — has hung like a cloud over Ethiopia ever since. Indeed, as this year’s election approaches, memories of that vote are pronounced. On election night, Meles banned public demonstrations. Then, as the vote count proceeded and protests grew, he assumed direct control over the security services, which, in separate incidents over several months, killed nearly 200 demonstrators. At least 30,000 people were detained, and much of the opposition’s leadership was arrested on charges including treason and “attempted genocide.” When the official results were finally released nearly five months later, the opposition had been awarded just a third of the country’s parliamentary seats — while the EPRDF won with a comfortable majority.