When we in Ethiopia’s political opposition agreed to participate in the election that the government called in June, we were under no illusion that the process would be faultless. After all, Ethiopia has never known democracy. The dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam was Africa’s most blood-curdling Marxist regime, and was replaced by today’s ruling EPRDF, whose “Revolutionary Democracy” is but a more subtle variation on the same theme.
So we knew that there would be problems with the election, that voting would not be clean in the way Western countries take for granted. Yet we nonetheless believed that the opposition, led by the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), would have room to maneuver and campaign, owing to the government’s desire for international legitimacy. So we decided to test the waters and push for a real political opening and a genuinely competitive vote. Many Ethiopians appear to have agreed with this strategy.
The government did make some media available and engaged in more than 10 live televised debates. So, at least at first, there seemed to have been some intention on the government’s part to open up the process – if not completely, then somewhat.
Now, however, it appears that the authorities wanted only a small, managed opening, on the assumption that they could control the outcome.