Friday, September 21, 2007

The opposition Pentecostals

Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1222 22/09/2007
The welcome certain Ethiopian opposition leaders have had in Washington from their partisans is revelatory of the influence the Pentecostal church holds among their ranks.

The welcome given on 9 September at Dulles Airport (Washington) to a delegation from the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP, opposition) led by Birtukan Mideksa was surprising for more than one reason. To begin with, Haile Shawel was not present, nor were any of his partisans, thus illustrating the depth of the split in the CUDP leadership, whose main leaders were freed recently (ION 1220). Secondly, certain opposition supporters prostrated themselves in front of Birtukan – going as far as kissing her feet – and her colleagues Hailu Araya and Shifferaw Gizatchew. This kind of behaviour has not been seen in Ethiopia since the time with the subjects of Emperor Haile Selassie prostrated themselves before him.

For some observers this strange scene at Dulles airport is a sign of the growing importance Pentecostals have in the CUDP leadership. This Protestant church has the wind in its sails in Ethiopia where its followers abstain from alcohol and songs. But until recently it was not involved in politics. Birtukan Mideksa is a "Pente” (as they are called pejoratively by the Orthodox Christians, who are the majority in Ethiopia) as is her Tigrayan companion Marcos Retea, a former lawyer who drafted certain legislation for the current Ethiopian government before defecting to the opposition and taking refuge in Nairobi. Ethiopian Pentecostal adepts now proudly cite the example of Birtukan, the CUDP economist Daniel Assefa, Eyuel Muluneh and others to prove that their Church is now politically active in the opposition.