Ethiopia's election is a wake-up call on human rights and sound governance An election rally staged by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in Addis Ababa. There is widespread public indifference about the poll. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters
The international community must challenge Ethiopia’s oppressive regime by funding local human rights and democracy groups.
On Sunday, millions of Ethiopians will line up at polling stations to participate in Africa’s largest exercise of political theatre. A decade-long campaign by Ethiopia’s government to silence dissent forcibly has left the country without a viable political opposition, without independent media, and without public challenges to the ruling party’s ideology.
For most Ethiopians, these elections are a non-event.
The one potential dividend of these sham polls, however, is the international attention they will garner for the government’s growing political repression. The blatant disregard for internationally recognised standards for free and fair elections just might convince Ethiopia’s largest donors that it is time to rethink their relationship with an increasingly authoritarian government.
As long as democratic governance and respect for human rights are pushed aside by donors in favour of economic development and security cooperation, Ethiopia’s long-term stability is at serious risk.
Since 2005, the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) has cracked down on independent media and human rights groups.
In 2009, parliament passed the charities and societies proclamation, which placed restrictive regulations on non-government organisations, including limitations on foreign funding. Today,only a handful of these groups exist, and most are struggling to survive.
The preferred government strategy for eliminating independent media is to file criminal charges against publishers, and to impose hefty fines and prison terms. When lawsuits do not succeed, the government simply arrests journalists, as occurred last year when bloggers and journalists affiliated with the Zone 9 blogging collective were apprehended. The group remains imprisoned and charged as terrorists.
Post-election, the EPRDF, secure in its hold on power, might be willing to allow a small degree of dissent: Ethiopian officials are increasingly wary of reactions by the international community to the crackdown on critics and in 2013 published a national human rights action plan.
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