Analysis: Ethiopia faces Heady Days ––Years, Ahead

Buri Waddesso | July 15, 2012

(Opride) – Few among the African Heads of State knew before hand what awaited them upon landing in Finfinne/Addis Ababa for the 19th African Union summit; none would have guessed the venue for their meeting will be a city on the edge.

Unbeknown to them they walked right into the eye of a perfect storm.

They arrived in town on the heels of an Ethiopian court’s sentencing of a prominent journalist, along with about two-dozen political opponents, to years of imprisonment for writing critically against the regime. That is enough to nag the conscience of any sane person, even if such a feeling is a rarity among the crowd. To make matters worse, the host country’s leader is gravely ill, facing an unknown future. His novice deputy, a dour politician with a skin deep veneer of legitimacy just like his bewildered colleagues, is doing his level best to display all the trappings of power, extending the hospitalities and courtesies due heads of state. Although some have already begun to address him as the Acting Prime Minister, it is quite apparent that he shows no signs of being in charge.

Worse yet, an estimated half a million Muslim protesters have congregated at the Grand Anwar Mosque, turning it into Ethiopia’s Tahrir Square, braving beatings by the riot police. Like the dawn of Tahrir Square, the police have established a cordon around them. Like Tahrir Square, throngs of Christians spent the day yesterday and today ferrying fresh water and food to the protesting brothers and sisters. If rather than being good Samaritans, they chose to directly partake in the protests; the incumbent regime would find it irresistible to politely ask its guests to head home.

Four features make the increasingly assertive Muslim political activism different from Tahrir Square. For one thing, Muslims constitute only about of half of Ethiopian population. To savor the fruits of their revolution, they would need the participation of their Christian brothers and sisters. For another, the movement in Ethiopia is not confined to one square. Initially it was Awalia, an Islamic school. Then, the Grand Anwar Mosque. Third, the protesters are yet to camp out permanently. Having staged spectacular demonstrations, they disperse. Fourth, the protesters in Ethiopia have not yet made their political demands known, such as change of regime. Until now they are demanding the right to freely elect their own mosques’ leaders, not the country’s.

Fenced behind brick walls, the TPLF honchos, in total limbo, are contemplating the future without the only leader they had known for three decades. There are quite a number who are still optimistic that Meles would survive his illnesses and ride out the political storm, as he has done time and again. This makes it difficult to launch an earnest succession planning.

Cognizant of the gravity of the situation of a sick leader and what is happening only a dozen blocks away, where part of the city is teeming with tens of thousands of protesters led by an enterprisingly clever foe unlike any they had ever faced in their two-decade in power, the Tigrean ruling elite is silently deliberating even if unsure of how to proceed. As if completely caught off guard by the fast evolving events, the authorities are desperately trying to keep the lid on a host of volcanoes with a mixture of threats and entreaties while putting on a brave face to their African guests of honor.

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