The Arab Spring has inspired many nations in Africa to take destiny into their hands and call for the ouster of despotic regimes. One country attempting this is Ethiopia which has planned for a “day of rage” against its Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who took power in 1991 on May 28.
Using Facebook as an organizational platform for the protest, their motivational proclamation under the title Beka! (no in Amharic) states: “There is no reason why we cannot have the Arab uprising in Ethiopia. We have resolved to bring the torch to Ethiopia, and liberate the country from the minority dictatorship that has been in power for more than 20 years.”
On May 25, a report in Reuters had 3,000 people saying they would attend Saturday’s protest.
Much of their frustration is similar to what other Arab nations protested: unemployment, increasing cost of living, charges of mismanagement in governance and poor records of human rights. There is also frustration at the ethnic divisions that they say plague the nation.
The last time Ethiopia experienced civil unrest was in 2005 after election results were disputed and saw violence that left 200 people dead. Mr. Zenawi charged the then-opposition of trying to lead a revolution against the government which was quickly quashed.
This time too Mr. Zenawi has shown that he is acutely aware of the rumblings of the protestors and opposition members say his government has been rounding up its people in anticipation of an uprising, charging them as terrorists.
The heavy-handed violence may detract protestors from coming out in full force on May 28. Although the online campaign seems popular, it is difficult to ascertain who amongst the participants is in Ethiopia and who amongst them is of the diaspora. Ethiopia has low internet and mobile telecom usage.
The opposition does not seem to be very organized but it can deliver blows, albeit minor. On May 20, the Tinsae Ethiopian Patriots Union claimed responsibility for cutting electricity cables that caused outages in towns west and northwest of the capital Addis Ababa.
However, the government was quick to rubbish their claims and cited the problems in power supply as merely technical issues.
Regimes in Djibouti, Gabon, Eritrea, Uganda, Botswana and Mauritania have acted in a similar manner to quash uprisings but in Ethiopia, analysts say it is difficult to gauge how successful the May 28 protest will be given that Mr. Zenawi enjoys support for his socio-economic initiatives.
Under his tenure, universities have opened 10-fold, there is better access to healthcare and education, there is a boom in the country’s infrastructure and, according to government figures, the growth rate has been 11 percent for the last six years.
Ethiopia has a population of 88 million and ranks 157th out of 169 countries ranked in the United Nations Development Programs Human Development Index. The country’s GDP is estimated at $32.3 billion and the Economist Intelligence Unit early this year expected the GDP to expand by nearly nine percent in 2011, ranking the fifth fastest growing economy after Qatar, Ghana, Mongolia and Eritrea.
However, the country’s inflation rate has surged from 5.3 percent in August last year to 29.5 percent in April according to a report in the Guardian.
The rise in the cost of living could be Mr. Zenawi’s “Achilles Heel” said a Reuters correspondent on May 25.
“We say you never miss a country you’ve never been to,” an Addis Ababa University political science lecturer told Reuters.
“What can cause resentment here is the continuously rising costs of basic commodities, not politics. We still don’t have much experience, the democratic culture, to come out in defence of it,” he said.
(Muna Khan, Editor of Al Arabiya, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)