Friday, October 19, 2007
Meles Zenawi blows hot and cold
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1224 20/10/2007
The Ethiopian military adventure in Somalia has hardly been the “lightning war” intended. Meles Zenawi will therefore probably hesitate before considering a similar operation in Eritrea. And yet, he will have to take an initiative on these two conflicts before the general election in 2010. Until then, the Ethiopian Prime Minister will also try to find a modus vivendi with the more moderate of his opponents. But severity remains the byword for the others, including the dissident members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF, hard core of the governing coalition) who have been demanding, so far in vain, to be allowed to form a legal political party.
Washington tames the CUDP. Having persuaded Meles Zenawi to free the imprisoned members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP, opposition), Washington does not want the 2010 Ethiopian election to be a replay of the disastrous scenario of 2005. Some CUDP leaders visiting the United States were received by the State Department on 21 September (see newsflash sent to ION subscribers by email on 25/09/2007), to check out the possibility of a joint political platform by all the opposition with a view to participating in the 2010 election. Meanwhile, Washington wants the more radical elements of the Ethiopian opposition (such as the EPRP or the faction led by Hailu Shawel) to calm down or else be sidelined. However, the efforts by the US Ambassador to Addis Ababa, Donald Yamamoto, to bring Meles Zenawi to come to a compromise with his moderate opponents, and even accept their return to Parliament and the Addis Ababa city council to which some of them were elected in 2005 before being imprisoned, was torpedoed when the US Congress adopted the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 on 2 October.
OLF the next target for negotiations. Now that the CUDP leaders have come back into the fold, it is the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) that is to be the target of moves to bring it to negotiate with the Ethiopian government. Norway, which has been trying to bring the Addis Ababa government and the OLF to the negotiating table for some years (ION 1211) is no longer in a position to do so now that it is on poor diplomatic terms with Ethiopia. Ephraim Isaac, who has acted as an intermediary between Meles Zenawi and the imprisoned CUDP leaders (ION 1204) would like to do likewise with the OLF. Nevertheless, contacted by The Indian Ocean Newsletter, the OLF spokesman Beyan H. Asoba categorically denied that his organisation had begun to negotiate with the Ethiopian government or that it had sent a delegation to Addis Ababa to do so. However, according to our sources a delegation of Oromo intellectuals close to the OLF faction backed by Eritrea and headed by Daoud Ibsa, had indeed arrived in Addis Ababa last week to speak to government representatives. This move would be in response to pressure from Washington which points out that the OLF could be trapped in Eritrea, in the same way that some of its elements were in Somalia at the beginning of 2007, in the event that a new border war were to break out with Ethiopia.
A plague on Tigrayan dissidents. For their part the former TPLF leaders, now become dissidents, have not had the benefit of any indulgence from their former comrades. Led by a former member of the TPLF central committee and the former President of the Tigray Regional State, Gebru Asrat, they are still waiting the response from the authorities to their demand for legislation to allow the authorisation of a political party, that they had filed several months ago. Meanwhile their activists have been the subject of various threats. In September 2007, Gebre Medhin Gebre Yohannes, Gebru Asrat’s former bodyguard now working on collecting the 3000 signatures needed to create a political party, was the target of an attempted assassination. Unidentified individuals fired shots at him while he was entering his home in the town centre of Maichew (South Tigray). Not only did the local police close the file, but two weeks later it arrested him and searched his home; they considered him a dangerous opponent and advised him to no longer take part in malicious political activity alongside TPLF dissidents. Other partisans of this future party were also arrested in Maichew and Mekelle, the capital of Tigray.