18 February 2010

Article: The End of Democracy? Curtailing Political and Civil Rights in Ethiopia

Lovise Aalen and Kjetil Tronvoll, "The End of Democracy? Curtailing Political and Civil Rights in Ethiopia" ("Review of African Political Economy", 36 [120], June 2009: pp. 193-207):


Abstract: "This article assesses political developments in Ethiopia after its 2005 federal and regional watershed elections. Although an unprecedented liberalisation took place ahead of the contested and controversial 2005 polls, a crack-down occurred in the wake of the elections, when the opposition was neutralised. Subsequently, the government rolled out a deliberate plan to prevent any future large-scale protest against their grip on power by establishing an elaborate administrative structure of control, developing new legislative instruments of suppression and, finally, curbing any electoral opposition as seen in the conduct of the 2008 local elections. As a result, Ethiopia has by 2008 returned firmly into the camp of authoritarian regimes."

Some excerpts: "Supported by a growing body of literature on electoral authoritarian regimes [...] Ethiopia is seen as a case which demonstrates how elections can be instruments of political control rather than devices of liberalisation [...]: the political consequences of elections [...] depend on the interaction with a range of extra-electoral factors, which in the end determine whether elections are supportive of democracy or authoritarianism. [...]

"The ruling party [...] justified the use of force by the need to contain 'anti-peace and anti-democratic elements'. [...] It has attempted to ascribe the events following the 2005 elections to the 'infancy of the democratic system of the country' [...], indicating that massive human rights violations should be considered as a natural part of the development towards a more democratic society. [...] However, [...] such an approach may lead to under-estimation of the suppressive capacities and objectives of an authoritarian regime. Ethiopia is not an incomplete democracy; it is rather an authoritarian state draped in democratic window-dressing in which manipulated multiparty elections are a means to sustain power. [...]

"These incidents imparted a strong message to the [international] donor group in Addis Ababa, which could either stay quiescent on internal human rights violations and lack of democracy or face the consequences. [...] Furthermore, by not supporting or deploying [election] observers, the donor community could justifiably keep quiet in the aftermath of the elections as they supposedly did not have any 'substantial' and 'independent' observations to pass judgement. [...] By suppressing criticism from the donor assistance group, the Ethiopian Government has managed to silence or contain all opposition. The only opposition avenue remaining open appears to be that of armed struggle."

Lovise Aalen is a Senior Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, Bergen, Norway.

Kjetil Tronvoll is Professor of Human Rights at the University of Oslo, Norway.

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