On Sept. 14, a number of significant arrests were made in Ethiopia. Eskinder Nega, a prominent journalist who is known for his poignant articles expressing dissatisfaction with the current ruling regime, and Andualem Aragie, a rising star in opposition politics were among them. The arrests are a clear sign of the momentum that has built over this past year in the efforts of peaceful struggle within the country, that has been the mantra of these leaders and many of the people who have patterned their struggle after the Arab Spring, while at the same time avoiding genocide and civil war.
Peaceful revolution in Ethiopia is no easy task. Meles Zenawi is a brutal and corrupt dictator who has been in power for 20 years. After the 2005 rigged elections, hundreds were thrown into prison and 26 were killed for protesting the results. In 2010, the existing TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) regime received 99.6 percent of the vote, clearly depicting rigged results. Last fall, during my trip to Ethiopia, I had the privilege of meeting Andualem Aragie, and other party members of UDJ (Unity for Democracy and Justice) for research I was conducting about Birtukan Mideksa, who at the time, was serving a life sentence for her outspoken opposition of the government. She was released on Oct. 6 of last year.
As of now, the groups who are organizing themselves via social media are gaining tens of thousands of members, momentum is building, and fear is being shed. On Sept. 26, hundreds rallied in front of the State Department in Washington on behalf of the incarcerated journalists, dissidents and opposition party leaders. Yesterday, in Oslo, Zenawi was met with protesters outside of an international energy conference he was attending, and was confronted by his fellow conference leaders.
Why is it important that we stand up and take notice of Ethiopia? Addis Ababa, the capital city, is the headquarters of the African Union. It is the oldest country and the only one never colonized in sub-Saharan Africa, so it maintains a rich cultural history. Ethiopia is considered the cradle of civilization as it is home to such famed hominids as the 3.2 million year old “Lucy” (Australopihecus) and 4.4 million year old “Ardi” (Ardipithecus). But most importantly, there are 91 million people who live in a place where extreme poverty and disease is rampant. This all on a land that is lush, beautiful, and full of resources and untapped potential.
The international community gives billions of dollars in aid that is being horribly mismanaged and is used as a tool to rule the people with fear, force and corruption — all during a time in our world where perhaps more than ever, spending accountability needs to be enforced. Human rights and dignity should be upheld. Ethiopia should not be overlooked. The country and its people represent the future of Africa. How this revolutionary movement is responded to and handled by the international community will set a precedent for the other countries of Africa down the line. It’s time for the voice of Ethiopia to be heard, and for the international community to listen, take notice, and act.