Ethiopians Go To the Polls Even After U.S. Tells Them Not To

by Ann Garrison, published on Black Agenda Report, June 23, 2021

“Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia are now alarming US political and military elites by forming an alliance and threatening to chart an independent path in the Horn of Africa.”

On Monday, June 21st, Ethiopians went to the polls to select a parliament, which will elect a prime minister, even though US officials told them not to, warning of chaos and violence. Maybe they think it’s arrogant of the United States to presume to be the global arbiter of peace, justice, and democracy.

The African Union sent an election observer mission headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who told press  midday on Monday that it was going well, far better than previous Ethiopian elections.

Lawyer, judge, and politician Birtukan Mideksa, chairperson of the National Election Board, no doubt agrees. In 2005, she helped found the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) Party, ran for parliament a second time, claimed the election was rigged, and was then among thousands imprisoned by the US puppet government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in the ensuing crackdown. She was sentenced to life in prison, pardoned in 2007, after signing a controversial document regretting past mistakes, but sent back to prison for life in 2008.  International human rights advocacy, including that of Amnesty International, led to her release and exile in the United States, where she attended the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and spent time employed by the National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA cutout that claims to promote democracy around the world while in fact promoting US global hegemony.

“Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told press  midday on Monday that it was going far better than previous Ethiopian elections.”

It’s not clear whether her brief tenure with NED should be a red flag or simply something to keep in mind as her political career advances. The United States foreign policy establishment often likes to invest in any promising African leaders even if they are opposed to a government the US is supporting at the time, as was the case with Mideksa. And the leaders they invest in don’t always toe the line over time. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka Farmaajo, is a case in point. Abiy, Farmaajo, and Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki are now alarming US political and military elites by forming an alliance and threatening to chart an independent path in the Horn of Africa.

In any case, Mideksa seems to be enjoying rock star status in Ethiopia today. The BBC ran a lengthy profile  of her including many of the aforementioned details.

Sitting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party is widely expected to win a majority large enough to make him prime minister and increase both his legitimacy and the party’s. Abiy has served as Ethiopia’s caretaker prime minister since April 2018, when a popular uprising finally forced the Tigray People’s Liberation Front from power after 27 years. In 2019, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating peace with Eritrea, a former Ethiopian colony

“Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party is widely expected to win a majority large enough to make him prime minister and increase both his legitimacy and the party’s.”

Under the rule of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, commonly known as the TPLF , Ethiopia was a key US ally and military proxy in the Horn of Africa and on the African continent, putting boots on the ground under US command in both Somalia and South Sudan. The US and NATO have been hostile to Prime Minister Abiy, seemingly because of his alliance with Eritrea, the only African nation that refuses to cooperate with AFRICOM , the US Africa Command, or submit to the debt peonage that the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have imposed on other African nations.

Last year Prime Minister Abiy postponed elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the US’s former ally, the TPLF, held elections in Tigray Regional State nevertheless and then attacked a federal army base in the state capital, Mekelle, ambushing and killing Ethiopian National Defense Forces who had been sleeping. Prime Minister Abiy responded, as any head of state would, by sending in the national army to put down the insurrection, and fighting is ongoing. Eritrea was drawn in after the TPLF fired rockets across its border at the Eritrean military.

Elections were not held on Monday in Tigray because of the civil conflict. They were reportedly not held in Somali State because of logistical problems or in Harrar City because of an unresolved lawsuit over who can vote. It was also reported that some did not vote in Benishangul-Gumuz region because ethnic violence prevented voter registration. However, these regions are all expected to elect parliamentary representatives by September, and many Ethiopians expressed enthusiasm for what they consider the country’s first real, competitive election. Fitsum Alemu, a member of the Ethiopian diaspora living in Virginia, told me that he didn’t expect the election to solve all of Ethiopia’s problems, but that voting was so important to members of his family that they stood in line for several hours in the rain to vote in Addis Ababa.

“Eritrea is the only African nation that refuses to cooperate with AFRICOM .”

Benyam Kitaw, a member of the diaspora living in Los Angeles, said,

“All the people I spoke with in Ethiopia stated that they are excited about voting and the prospect of true democracy starting to take hold there for the first time. Democracy may be bumpy and have flaws, but progress towards the common Ethiopian finally having their vote counted means that Ethiopia is closer to self-determination, and this is a very good thing.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Chief and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power said that the Tigray conflict, and more, made an honest and peaceful election impossible and demanded that Abiy postpone the election.

However, in 2015, when Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the TPLF claimed to have won an impossible 100% of the vote, Barack Obama called  it democratic. Susan Rice, who was then Obama’s National Security Advisor, addressed  reporters prior to their trip to Kenya and Ethiopia and said that the TPLF’s 100% victory suggested some procedural problems, but she didn’t doubt the rightness of the outcome. When a reporter asked whether she considered that an honest election, she responded “100%,” and then laughed, helping to make herself one of the most despised US officials in Ethiopia and on the African continent.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize  for promoting peace through her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes Region. Please help support her work on Patreon . She can be reached on Twitter @AnnGarrison  and at ann(at)anngarrison(dot)com.

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