27 December, 2009

Ethiopian dissidents sentenced to death

A court in Ethiopia has sentenced to death people accused of plotting to stage a coup against the government. Among those sentenced was Melaku Tefera, a prominent opposition politician. The Ethiopian state has accused the plotters of being part of a sinister dissident group associated with the exiled former mayor of Addis Ababa, Berhanu Nega. The alleged coup plotters were partly convicted on the basis of confessions. Judge Adem Ibrahim rejected their claims that the confessions were extracted under torture. The accused are appealing their sentences and the verdicts.

Ethiopia retains the form of a multi-party democracy, but it has been assuming an increasingly overt authoritarian path over the last number of years. The last general elections in 2005 became a farce when the government announced victory before the votes could be counted, and then used lethal force to clear protesters from the street. Opposition leaders were then arrested and held in jail until they signed confessions admitting to fomenting riots. The government did allow the election of Berhanu Nega as mayor of Addis Ababa, but then arrested him, charged him with treason, and eventually obliged him to leave the country. Ethiopia is apparently going to be holding new elections in 2010. It will be interesting to see whether anyone bothers contesting them, given the government’s clear determination to remain in office no matter which way the vote goes.

That said, for all the incipient authoritarianism of the Ethiopian regime, they government do not seem to be the kind of Stalinist maniacs seen in neighbouring Eritrea. And for all that Ethiopia is desperately poor, its state sector does not seem to be as grotesquely dysfunctional as that of Somalia or even as obviously crooked as that of Kenya. That is partly what is so frustrating about Ethiopia – for all its poverty, the country has a lot going for it, but it seems unable to deliver the goods. At least part of the fault for this must be laid at the feet of the government, who seem more determined to perpetuate themselves in office rather than address the country’s problems.

Ethiopia death sentences over assassination plot (BBC)

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