Ethiopia’s New Climate of Fear

Vienna – The European Union, the United States, and other major donors will pump about $2.5 billion into Ethiopia this year, a sum that does not even begin to include the cost of medicines, famine relief, and countless other services provided by non-profit groups in one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

That help is needed, because Ethiopians are prone to malnutrition, disease, and natural calamity. Its burgeoning population far outstrips the country’s ability to feed itself. So desperate is Ethiopia that celebrity causes – from Bob Geldoff’s Live Aid famine-relief concerts to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s adoption of orphaned babies – supplement what donors cannot possibly provide.

But for all this generosity, an authoritarian government rules Ethiopia with virtual impunity. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, in power for 18 years, has crushed the opposition. His ruling party dominates public institutions. Worse still, in a vast and predominantly rural country, the prime minister’s underlings control broadcasting and maintain a choke-hold on other media.

Four years ago this month, Zenawi’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF) suffered its worst loss at the polls since the former guerrilla overthrew a ruthless, Soviet-backed regime in 1991. Rather than accept its losses, the EPRDF-run government responded with a brutal crackdown, claiming outright victory and accusing the opposition of trying to stage an insurrection.