Letter from Ethiopia - May 9, 2005

Memhir Ashenafi Ze-Shegole Meda

Dear Readers:

I have been myself a regular reader of this column 'Letters from Ethiopia' of MediaEthiopia for quite sometime. Only recently, I was contacted to be a new host to this column. What Dandew Serbello and Tizibt started and developed during the past 3-4 years is a difficult act to follow; but I accepted the challenge hoping that I could share a glimpse of our lives here in Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia from yet another perspective.

The Election of 2005 is the story that comes to my mind to share what I saw happening in Addis with you readers. My intention is simply to become an interactive member of the group and provide a 'local' perspective.

It is now almost two weeks before the upcoming election of Ethiopia. Ever since in the History of Ethiopia, this election looks different from all the others we have ever seen. We remember that a number of elections were conducted starting from the Emperor's time followed by the Dergue regime and this one which is the third in the 14 year's period of EPRDF. But this election, I must say, looks a little different in that a great majority of people are highly involved in it, a number of parties have registered to participate, and a number of the oppositions have merged to form two big parities (CUD and UNITY) which seem to have got acceptance in the eye of the public. There are also a number of people who compete individually. The peculiarity of this year election is that, in addition to the strength of the opposition parties, the government (knowingly or unknowingly) gave media time where the oppositions debated with the government officials. I can say that most parties have used this time wisely to introduce who they are and their vision to Ethiopia. Was the time allocated enough or not? It is a question that needs a lot of research. In any case, the situation gave the people the opportunity to know about the parties and made them wonder and ponder about the possibility of removing EPRDF by voting. This, in my opinion, is a big progress. It has implicated the possibility of power transfer without a gun. For us at home, bored with war, war talks, and its consequences, it is like a small beam of light in a long darkness.

The debate broadcasted live in TV and Radio for the last few months was arranged by the InterAfrica Group and was completed last week. I heard other debates are still continuing. Truly speaking, in the past campaign, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) has won the hearts and minds of the public, especially in the cities. I think the coalition has used the stage very well. I don't think EPRDF has expected such a strong challenge. If it had, it may not have allowed the debates. It seems to me that they allowed the debates to convince donors that EPRDF has democratic intentions. Still, however, they deserve credit as they permitted to be insulted by their own media in front of the public, the first in the history of Ethiopia. By the way, I am not forgetting that the media is the property of the public; but this is not true in Africa. Everything in the hands of the government is the property of the people only in theories; so this sounds like a good beginning.

WIth the election campaign entering final phase, we are observing a number of funny things. Some of the debates broadcasted live are purely insults to one another with some, instead of informing us of their program to the next five years, spending all their time to insult one another and using words that embarrass and disgrace the other. Sometimes the debates sound like a pre-war campaign. Candidate's background, their parties and even their ethnic group are directly insulted. Some opposition have suggested a peaceful pubic protest if the election is rigged. This somehow is creating some shock and fright in the public. I have heard that the father of my friend's girlfriend advising his daughter to leave the country before the May Election. She had won DV lottery. I have also been told that some farmers in Gojjam are collecting food and the likes to withstand whatever mess comes in May. On the extreme case, even some of our friends who are studying graduate classes are wishing the country to be like Ukraine so that they will not take their annual hard exams. The Addis Ababa University had admitted a very large number of graduate students this year; in fact two times in a single year (this may be an Election campaign by Minister Genet and Professor Endrias). The registrations were late in this second semester and thus have created exam stress on a number of students.

It seems the Election Campaigns are on their final push. EPRDF has dominated by posting posters on almost every step of walk and using colorful and very large posters. This is an indication that EPRDF is very rich and has the full control of the country's money. You may also find funny campaign posters stuck on Taxi windshields like "Vote to Kinijit" written by school kids on their way to home from school. I have also read in university Blackboard a sort of Poem saying: "Kardachin bejachen Kinijit Mirchachen". Here. it is interesting to mention the value of the newly emerging mobile SMS text messaging service as a campaign tool. The coalition is especially using it very well. One may find two or three text messages and posters in his mobile inbox saying vote this one or the other. Let me read some of the messages that I have received in my mobile phone:

" Vote EPRDF and Enjoy poverty, illiteracy and HIV AIDS! Send this message to five people."
" If you love your country, for so many reasons you know, vote for KINIJIT, Please pass this message for ten others."
" Now we are in the dark, but seeing a glimmer of light with EPRDF, please don't take us to the darkest of the dark by voting KINIJIT, vote the pioneer of peace and democracy."

This week, a very important thing happened that really were a topic of talk for many Addis dwellers. The Multimillionaire Sheikh Alamoudine was seen on TV wearing a T-shirt with a bee sign on it. The bee is a symbol of EPRDF campaign. Many people are amazed. Some are even saying that the Sheikh is a foreigner and has no say in this nation's politics. Others say he is corrupted with EPRDF officials and he does not want the downfall of EPRDF. Still others say, he was cheated by some colorful EPRDF cadres. In fact, I even received a number of SMS text messages saying "Pls. Show your reaction to Alamoudine support to Weyane by not drinking Pepsi and buying all his products. Pass this message for those who love Ethiopia." Unfortunately the campaign does not seem to be working as I have seen people buying ELFORA eggs and chickens (Shiekh Alamoudine products) in a long cue for Fasika. Personally, I don't like this campaign against the Sheikh. We have to develop a culture that entertains all ideological differences. We can not be the same as we have many differences. I also think the Sheikh should not support this one or the other as he is a well-respected and loved person. His political position could also be detrimental to the other. You know some call him as "the cashier of GOD in Ethiopia".

Anyways, the campaign and debates are still ongoing. Every one in Ethiopia is looking forward to see what will happen on May 15th. The people as well as the politicians have learnt a lot from this campaign. If Kinijit and/or Hibret win the election, even if it's not a guarantee for peace, prosperity and democracy that we really dream about, we expect to see better days and make a History of peaceful power transfer. This is quite enough by itself. If EPRDF won, I think they will learn more from this campaign and will work hard for the interest of the public and not only of the donors. And even they get challenged by the oppositions in the parliament that will be progress. If cheating takes place in the election and turmoil follows, I am not sure if any one knows what will happen. No one, however, wants to see this happening. For all this, I think the ball is still on EPRDF's court. They can shoot the ball to score an amazing goal or shoot us all to Hell! I hope it is a good goal score.

Cher were Yaseman

Memhir Ashenafi Ze-Shegole Meda

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