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  • News and Notes

New Developments in Ethiopia

Important new developments have occurred in Ethiopia since J. Stephen Morrison's article, "Ethiopia Charts a New Course," appeared in the July 1992 issue of the Journal of Democracy. The following update is based on a report he sent from Addis Ababa in early September:

Local and regional elections in Ethiopia, held finally on June 21, fell far short of moving the country, particularly the conflicted areas of the south, onto a more stable and democratic footing. Registration, campaigning, and balloting, compressed into a few frenzied weeks, were marred by woefully poor administrative preparation, an absence of civic education, and confusing shifts in procedures and deadlines. Deep mistrust among ethnic groups-its power underestimated by many observers, myself included-only intensified, generating a blizzard of charges and countercharges of intimidation, fraud, detention, and other wrongdoing. Most southern parties lacked the organizational capacity and will to compete effectively. Their weakness left them vulnerable to manipulation by the overwhelmingly dominant Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and encouraged many of them to try to discredit the electoral process rather than to participate in it.

Just prior to election day, several parties chose to boycott the voting. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the EPRDF's major opposition within the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), decided not only to boycott the elections, but to decamp 15,000 fighters, to withdraw from the Council of Representatives, to remove its ministers from the TGE, and shortly thereafter, to close its Addis Ababa compound.

A limited war followed in the Oromo region, beginning in early July. Within a brief period, the EPRDF seized virtually all of the OLF's heavy equipment and reduced OLF troop levels to under five thousand. [End Page 140]

By early September, failed elections in the south and a turn back toward war had resulted in an uneasy standoff. The EPRDF acted quickly to establish a commission to review election irregularities. On paper, at least, it looked quite impressive. It can go nowhere, however, so long as the OLF remains an outlaw and the other southern parties, suspicious that the review process is simply another ploy, refuse to bring their allegations before the board. Efforts by a peace commission comprised of several prominent Western ambassadors to revive OLF-EPRDF talks have not yet made any real progress.

The EPRDF stands increasingly alone-estranged from the OLF, the parties of the southern Rift Valley regions, and various vocal Amhara parties. The EPRDF and its "umbrella parties" won 96.6 percent of the local and regional council seats-creating the appearance of a one-party state-while the multiparty Council of Representatives enjoys less and less credibility as a functioning, coalitional body.

Although the EPRDF holds hegemonic sway, it remains vulnerable to continued low-intensity conflict with the OLF. The latter, badly bruised, suffering from fragmented leadership, and now cut off from regular political activity in Addis Ababa, must decide if it is to pursue a RENAMO-style politics of spoilage, or somehow come in from the cold.

If Ethiopia is to regain its momentum toward democracy and a coalitional politics that reaches beyond the EPRDF, quick and creative action will be required. Signs of whether such action may be forthcoming will be discemible in the EPRDF's approach to the newly formed Constitutional Commission; in the pursuit of macroeconomic reform and reconstruction of the judicial system; and in the magnanimity shown by the election review board.

NEH Special Initiative on Democracy

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), an independent grant-making agency of the U.S. government, has announced that it will encourage proposals relating to the emergence of democracy. This special initiative is intended to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the birth of democracy in ancient Athens and to recognize the spread of democratic institutions in our own time. The NEH is interested in research, educational, archival, and public affairs projects that focus on the history and philosophy of democracy, and on the historical and cultural contexts of emerging democracies and democratic movements around the world. The Endowment will also favor proposals utilizing libraries, archives, and scholars unavailable under previous, nondemocratic regimes. For more...


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pp. 140-142
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