Democracy in Ethiopia: Can it be Saved?
(US Congressman Chris Smith) – On Thursday, March 9, 2017, afternon, in front of a large crowd of Ethiopian citizens concerned about repression in their homeland, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) convened a hearing to look at the appalling human rights record of the Ethiopian government and discuss what could be done to help those who are suffering at the hands of this regime.
“According to the State Department’s newly released Human Rights Report on Ethiopia, security forces killed ‘hundreds’ in the context of using excessive force against protestors in 2016,” said Smith, Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee. “In addition, there are at least 10,000 more people held in jail who are considered political prisoners, and the government continues to arrest and imprison critics of its actions. In late February, Ethiopian prosecutors charged Dr. Merera Gudina, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress with attempting to ‘disrupt constitutional order.’ He was arrested upon his return to Ethiopia after testifying in November at a European parliament hearing about the crisis in his country.” Click Here to Smith’s Full Statement.
Despite holding regular elections, a tradition of authoritarian rule continues to strangle the advancement of democracy in Ethiopia. Through violence and elections that were deemed “unfair” by U.S. and European monitors, a single party has dominated the legislature for over two decades. The violent crackdown on any opposition intensified in 2015 as protests by the Oromo and Amhara grew, with tens of thousands being arrested and Prime Minister Desalegn announcing that the number of protestors killed “could be more than 500.”
In January, two journalists from the faith-based station Radio Bilal, Khalid Mohamed and Darsema Sori, were sentenced to 5 and 4 year prison terms respectively for “inciting extremist ideology and planning to overthrow the government” through their coverage of Muslim protests about government interference in religious affairs. The journalists were arrested in February 2015 and convicted in December of that year under the 2009 anti-terrorism law alongside 18 other defendants.
“This oppression is preventable,” said Smith. “Rather than spend hundreds of thousands on consultants to try to mislead Members of Congress on the facts and inciting e-mail form letter campaigns by supporters, the Government of Ethiopia can acknowledge their challenges and work with the U.S. government and others in the international community to seek reasonable solutions. We are prepared to help once they are ready to face the ugly truth of what has happened and what continues to happen in Ethiopia today.”
The hearing followed the introduction of House Resolution 128, which offers an outline to bring Ethiopia back onto the path towards democracy. This resolution is designed to promote democracy and good governance in Ethiopia and, among other key provisions, condemns the actions of the Government of Ethiopia and calls on the Secretary of State to improve the oversight and accountability of U.S. assistance in Ethiopia.
Terrence Lyons, Associate Professor at George Mason University, noted the extreme control the regime has over the media: “Following the 2005 elections and subsequent crackdown, the regime successfully expanded and institutionalized its system of authoritarian control, virtually eliminating independent space for opposition political parties, civil society organizations, and non-state media. The EPRDF controls mass organizations for women and youth, humanitarian and development organizations, and large economic enterprises.” Click Here to read Lyons’ Full Statement.
Felix Horne, Senior Researcher for the Horn of Africa at Human Rights Watch said, “The state systematically ensures that many of the country’s 100 million citizens are dependent on the government for their livelihoods, food security and economic future.” Click Here to read Horne’s Full Statement.
The President of the Coalition of Oromo Advocates for Human Rights and Democracy, Seenaa Jimjimo, explained the strife within Ethiopia, “Today…people are afraid to speak and exercise basic rights guaranteed by the constitution. Under the codename of “State of Emergency” a husband watches his wife and daughters get raped, sons taken away or killed. I myself have lived under terror and being watched and beaten by this government.” Click Here to read Jimjimo’s Full Statement.
Tewodrose G. Tirfe, a Board Member at the Amhara Association of America, highlighted the plight faced by the Amhara people, “As stated in the 2007 Ethiopian Census that was released in 2010, the Amhara population was short by 2.5 million. A debate was not even allowed in parliament when this fact was presented. Some estimates have the number now closer to 5 million. We believe there has been a systematic effort by the government to depopulate the Amhara population.” Click Here to read Tirfe’s Full Statement.
Guyaa Abaguya Deki, a Representative for the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition and a Polio survivor, gave his personal experience with the Ethiopian Government, “They picked me up in a taxi. The driver punched me in my mouth with his pistol, and I lost my two lower teeth. They kept me for three days in solitary confinement in a tiny dark cell. I had to crawl on the ground outside the cell to lift myself up to get to the toilet. And I was only allowed to go to the toilet twice a day. My hands were tied to a chair and my mouth was wrapped up with dirty wet socks.” Click Here to read Deki’s Full Statement.
Deacon Yoseph R. Tafari spoke about the religious persecution going on in Ethiopia, “Ethiopia is ruled by a minority ethnic regime which has brought about highly destructive governance by perpetually marginalizing and terrorizing other ethnic group and religious groups by pitting one against the other.” Click Here to read Tafari’s Full Statement.
Smith has held four hearings on Ethiopia with the first, “Ethiopia and Eritrea: Promoting Stability, Democracy and Human Rights,” was held more than a decade ago in 2005.
Terrence Lyons, Ph.D.
School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
George Mason University
[full text of statement] [truth in testimony form]