AFRICAN DICTATORS

Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda have distinguished themselves as the latter-day heirs of Idi Amin Dada(Uganda), Jean-Badel Bokassa(Central African Rep.),Gnasimbe Eyadema(Togo) and Mobutu Sese Seko(Congo). They have to go!

Name:
Location: United Kingdom

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Idi Amin Dada/Paul Kagame

Amin was born in the Kakwa ethnic group in Koboko, Uganda[1]. He was deserted by his father at an early age and brought up in Buganda by his mother, who claimed to be a sorceress. He received little formal education.
Amin joined the King's African Rifles of the British colonial army as a private in 1946, rising to the rank of lieutenant after seeing action during the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya. He was considered a skilled soldier, however he also had a reputation for cruelty. He rose through the ranks, reaching sergeant-major before being made an effendi, the highest rank possible for a Black African in the British army. Amin was also an accomplished sportsman. Besides being a champion swimmer he held Uganda's light heavyweight boxing championship from 1951 to 1960.

Paul Kagame (born October 23, 1957) is the President of Rwanda, and most well known for his role in ending the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and his destabilising role in the Second Congo War. Paul Kagame was born in Gitarama (in Western Rwanda), but left with his family at the age of four to move to Uganda to escape the growing anti-Tutsi violence.
His military career started in 1979, when he joined Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA) and spent years fighting as a guerrilla throughout Uganda. In 1986, Kagame became the head of military intelligence in the NRA, and was considered to be one of Museveni's closest allies. He also fought for the official Ugandan military.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Human rights 4 all-Africa: Museveni: The Next African Mugabe?


Human rights 4 all-Africa: Museveni: The Next African Mugabe?

So Where Is The New Breed's New Order?

From The East African, Jan. 5-11, 1998

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Everyone has been saying that the era of the African Big Men is over. After the thieving Mobutu Sese Seko was ousted in Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya's president Daniel arap Moi remained as the only surviving Big Man in east and central Africa. And one of the few in Africa.
Last week the 73-year-old Moi wiped out a field of younger and some quite brilliant politicians in elections. The loss has been blamed on election rigging, bribery by Moi's KANU government, a divided and inexperienced opposition, and on the ignorance of Kenyan voters that prevented them from making a smart choice.

The problem, however, runs much deeper. Moi's victory seriously calls into question the notion that a new enlightened age in African politics is here, and that more "New Breed" pragmatic, reformist leaders are waiting to sprout allover the continent.

The existence of a New Breed is an illusion borne partly out of the international community's belief that progress is inevitable everywhere. Faced with very little real evidence of it in Africa, it found refuge in the proposition that good eventually wins over evil, and optimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In countries like Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Angola, Congo-Kinshasa where the New Breed rule, the Big Men were not defeated politically. They were ousted militarily by rebellions.

Congo's Kabila did not out-argue Mobutu in a political debate. President Yoweri Museveni did not overwhelm Milton Obote in a democratic race. When they faced off in the 1980 elections, Obote cheated the elections. An angry Museveni then took off to the forests to wage rebellion.

The old regimes as was the case in Mobutu's Zaire, discredited by corruption, incompetence and tribalism, cannot mobilise the army or the masses for the ultimate sacrifice (war), making them easy game for a determined guerrilla force.

Without doubt the new leaders have a different style than the Big Men, but they don't have a superior vision. The ideas about decentralised power and free markets have been in place in many African countries for decades; in Kenya, Egypt, Botswana, Senegal, Nigeria and so forth. The concerns about accountability are as old. Uganda's first anti-corruption law, for example, was enacted in 1970.

Very few of the New Breed leaders have come to power on a commitment to introduce pluralistic democracy. Or if they do, they rarely live up to their promise. The old restrictions on free competitive politics and freedom of expression remain. The New Breed leaders too rig elections.

And if there is no new type of politician, there is no new breed of voter either. Many of the electorate still trade their votes for a glass of gin. Where the democracy movements seek change by non-violent means as in last week's Kenya polls, or Uganda in 1996, they are frequently showed up not to be much smarter than the Big Man's team. They are rarely able to overcome the old regime's advantages of incumbency, and to beat them at mobilisation. They don't articulate a programme for a radically different society. Which is what makes the ANC of Nelson Mandela an aberration, because it went one further and abolished the death penalty, and legalised abortion (yes, this is very radical in Africa). However, in other "New Breed" lands, the death penalty is still very much in fashion.

There has been no novel philosophical movement that accompanied the declaration of the New Breed phenomenon. The relations between the government and governed in Africa are still one of the strong ruler and the weak ruled. Though there have been decentralisations, the powers to recruit autonomous police and other armed forces have not been devolved, thus keeping the balance of terror firmly in favour of the state.

It should sober us that democratic elections seem increasingly unable to bring in the New African Order. Or that they only hand a comeback victory to a former dictator like Benin's Mathieu Kerekou who didn't allow democracy under his previous rule.


©1996Charles Onyango-Obbo.

"Europe's Legacy in Africa: Domination, Not Democracy,"

HOWARD W. FRENCH,
New York Times, January 16, 1999

By the late 1960s, scarcely a decade after Africa's great independence wave had begun, many of the continent's new political creations already had begun to resemble disasters. With no ready answers to their problems, many African leaders struck upon a new strategy for explaining their failings to impatient populations while simultaneously drawing more outside aid: blaming the European colonizers for Africa's seemingly intractable difficulties.

But if this approach was at least temporarily successful in many cases, the increasing stridency of the claims made against the West, set against the backdrop of the growing despotism of the new leaders, quickly backfired, as both foreign sympathy and assistance dwindled.

For the next two decades or so, conventional wisdom largely rejected African assertions of outside responsibility for the continent's problems, and many in the West argued, often with a growing vehemence of their own, that Africa's bad leaders were primarily to blame rather than any European legacy.

In the closing years of this century, though, historians, political scientists and other students of African affairs have begun a searching re-examination of the continent's recent past. Increasingly they have concluded that many of its most persistent curses -- from the plague of ethnic hatred widely known as tribalism to endemic official corruption -- have powerful roots that are at least partly traceable to European subjugation and rule.

Among the writings that helped forge this reconsideration are works like "Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism," by the Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani. Mamdani's 1996 book draws extensively on colonial records to show how Europeans administered their new subjects through a deliberately authoritarian form of indirect rule -- for which the author coined the term "decentralized despotism" -- that greatly reinforced or even created notions of ethnicity, helping set the stage for the tribal conflict that wracks the continent today.

Another work, Basil Davidson's "Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State," depicts the European process of decolonization in Africa as one of hasty, even offhand decision-making filled with a disdain for Africans and their history and an unquestioning arrogance that assumed that the political structures of the West were appropriate for Africans even when they had been given no preparation for making them work.

In these and other scholarly works, African specialists have made the point that the example left by European rule was one of politics by sheer domination and not democracy. Then, as is so often the case now, African states were run with little thought to the benefit of their subjects.

Perhaps no country in Africa today displays the consequences of Europe's African past as harshly as Congo, where the three-decade-old Mobutu dictatorship was violently overthrown in 1997, only to be followed by a bumbling new authoritarian figure, Laurent Kabila, and more recently by a succession of new rebellions that are tearing his vast country apart.

Shortly before suddenly granting independence in 1960, amid a wave of simultaneous African independence ceremonies, Belgian colonial planners still spoke dreamily of holding onto their possession -- a country 77 times as large as their own -- for decades more.

At independence in 1960, Congo entered the modern era, nominally at least, with only a few score high school graduates and less than 500 miles of paved road. The country's first university had been created by the Belgians only six years before.

"The colonial history of the Congo has inclined that country in a more tragic direction than even most other African countries," said Zine Magubane, a South African professor of sociology and African studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana. "The Belgians had no interest in establishing any sort of permanency or any true state. The country was instead run by a series of companies that had a free hand at pillaging the land."

Other African scholars place an emphasis even further back, on the last decades of the 19th century, when Europe's imperial powers divided up the continent and defined the borders that remain today.

"What you had before the imposition of this great iron grid of colonialism was an extraordinarily variegated network of cultures," said Rene Lemarchand, a professor emeritus of the University of Florida at Gainesville and a lifelong student of Africa. "That certainly included some rather extensive and elaborate kingdoms -- take the case of Ashanti, of Buganda, of Kongo or of the Zulu.

"When the iron grid was removed," he continued, "what resurfaced were residues of traditional systems, and in many cases pre-colonial antagonisms resurfaced."

What is worse, many Africanists say, colonial subjugation brutally ended Africa's sovereign evolution toward modern nation-states, a gradual process of conquest and agglomeration that has occurred throughout history around the world.

In the Americas, native populations were exterminated by arriving Europeans or saw their cultures marginalized by the makers of new states. In India and many other parts of Asia, conquering Europeans imposed their new colonial order on states that already had begun to coalesce to one degree or another around an idea of national identity.

In Africa, meanwhile, Europeans carved out new frontiers as a function of the existing power balance among themselves, giving an occasional nod to natural features of the continent like broad rivers but almost never paying heed to the chosen identities of Africans themselves or to the political systems already in place.

"The example I like to think of is if an African imperial army had marched into Europe in the Middle Ages and required Germany, France and England to live together by force of arms," said Makau wa Mutua, a Kenyan scholar who teaches law at the State University at Buffalo. "It would have unleashed untold mayhem, and not to excuse the villainies of Africa's subsequent leaders, that is precisely what happened when Europe did this to Africa in the span of 30 years by destroying Africa's existing political structures, some of them powerful and far-ranging kingdoms, and imposing its own borders, religions and administration."

In cataloguing and later registering their African subjects, Europeans everywhere reinforced and sometimes completely invented ethnic distinctions that Africans themselves had hitherto managed with far greater suppleness.

The most famous case of this now is that of the Hutu and Tutsi who predominate in Rwanda and Burundi and are a small minority in Congo. For centuries the two groups had coexisted peaceably, marrying, sharing a language and a king. When Belgium imposed its administration, however, it glorified the minority Tutsi peoples for their supposedly more European features, creating a de facto ethnic underclass of the majority Hutu and sowing the seeds of the cycles of mass killings that have afflicted the two groups since.

Similarly, almost every time the Europeans created a state, ethnic groups or previously existing African polities were split by the new borders, undermining the new states' claims to legitimacy in the eyes of their inhabitants.

The emerging African nations' first brush with legitimacy came with the independence movements that swept the continent in the 1950s. But in the case of Congo, as with many other countries, the nationalism of the leader who best channeled pro-independence sentiment, Patrice Lumumba, quickly was seen as a threat by Belgium and by a Cold War-driven United States.

Both countries worked to undermine and ultimately overthrow Lumumba, who was subsequently assassinated under murky circumstances. The man they helped replace him with was Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator who ruinously ruled over Africa's third largest country with strong Western backing for 32 years.

For most of that period Mobutu loomed over his country and over the continent's affairs. The West had decided that Zaire, as he renamed his country, with its borders with nine other African countries, was of strategic importance. Acting on behalf of his foreign sponsors, Mobutu intervened freely in his neighbors' affairs.

With the end of the Cold War, however, Western interest in propping up Mobutu, Western interest in Africa generally, evaporated. It was then, through the collapse of Mobutu and the crumbling of a dozen or more countries that the myth of the modern African state began to crumble.

For Mobutu the end came quickly at the hands of Kabila, long an obscure and inconsequential rebel leader who this time had the critical backing of Rwanda and Uganda, two neighbors that decided to pursue their own security interests in Congo aggressively.

Shorn of foreign assistance, the Mobutu government, a creation of the West, could not pay its civil servants, equip its army or even move its ill-disciplined troops from one part of the country to another when war came.

Now Congo, which owed its definition and preservation to the outside world, is being dismembered by its neighbors while the West averts its suddenly disinterested gaze.

The first to feast on Central Africa's largest piece of real estate have been Uganda and Rwanda, two of Africa's Western favorites now.

Following the lead of these two nations, which already have carved out large spheres of interest for themselves in the country's eastern regions, other neighbors, some less favored by the West, aggressively are asserting their interests too.

Zimbabwe and Angola, Congo's southern neighbors, have rushed to Kabila's defense, invoking the principle of territorial integrity as they position themselves to profit from the country's immense mineral wealth.

"States which are more stable and can project more economic or military power are going to interfere more readily in the affairs of their neighbors," Mutua said.

A century after Europe created the edifice of African nation-states, many observers of the continent's affairs say they foresee a potentially perilous period in which the structure progressively crumbles, with no one quite sure what to expect next.

In African showcase, democracy fails a test

By Marc Lacey, The New York Times

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2005

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia This city fancies itself the capital of Africa, the crossroads of the continent, a refined refuge where African leaders gather to address the crises in unruly places like Sudan, Ivory Coast and Congo.
The city's most powerful resident, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been deemed one of Africa's new generation of leaders, a rebel turned democrat and darling of international donors.
But after a months-long political standoff that has turned increasingly bloody, Ethiopia's capital has joined Africa's more ignominious places, becoming the latest continental crisis point to attract the attention of the African Union, which has its headquarters here.
Meles now finds himself criticized as a dictator, not a democrat.
"If the situation deteriorates here, it's a major symbolic failure for the African Union," said Abdul Mohammed, an analyst with the Inter-African Group who met with African Union leaders on Nov. 4 to discuss the Ethiopia crisis. "This is the home of the AU. This is occurring in the AU's backyard."
Quite literally. The African Union's crisis management team did not have to consult a map to find the latest hot spot. It could look out the window.
Ethiopian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the streets around the African Union's headquarters early this month.
Tires were burned in the street. The lot next door to the organization was turned into a makeshift detention center as thousands of opposition supporters were rounded up by the government.
Many have been released in recent days, but treason charges have been filed against some, and others are being held in rugged conditions outside the capital.
The discord stems from a democratic transition that has stumbled and fallen flat. The government called parliamentary elections in May and, unlike in the past two elections in 1995 and 2000, actually allowed opposition candidates a chance to campaign.
The election was considered a test of the fledgling democracy in Africa's second-most populous country. The results were a shock.
The opposition swept the seats in Addis Ababa and finished strongly in other urban areas. Little-known candidates even managed to oust several powerful government ministers, a sign that much of the population had lost confidence in the incumbents.
Bereket Simon, a top aide to Meles, attempted to put the best possible face on the surprise election results. "The beauty of democracy," he said, "is people have started to tell even the ruling party they can vote it out if it does not address its concerns."
After weeks of controversy over those results, the government announced that it had won 296 seats in the 547-member Parliament, with the opposition taking 176 seats, far less than the opposition believed it was due.
Unused to sharing power, the ruling party also hastily changed parliamentary rules so that only a party with 51 percent of the seats can raise an issue for discussion, infuriating the opposition.
When opposition supporters took to the streets in June to claim vote-rigging by the government, security forces opened fire, killing about 40 of them.
The African Union stayed silent, drawing the wrath of opposition supporters who accused it of cozying up to the Ethiopian political elite and acting like the old, ineffective Organization of African Unity, which rarely criticized member governments, no matter how repressive.
Ethiopia's political crisis blew up again Nov. 1 while the African Union conducted a meeting here. Opposition supporters organized a low-key protest to attract the attention of the visiting African leaders: Motorists were told to blow their horns from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for three days in a row.
But heavily armed soldiers were on the streets. Tensions were high and clashes broke out. Soon, soldiers were firing on demonstrators, who were heaving rocks, smashing vehicles and burning tires in the road.
The African Union condemned the violence this time and asked Meles to explain how so many people - 40 or more in the latest bout of violence - had died.
The chairman, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré of Mali, has met repeatedly with Meles to discuss the crisis.
Meles blames the opposition for the violence, accusing it even of hurling grenades at security forces. Infuriated by the protests against his rule, he has accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through demonstrations, which he says he will not allow.
To control the dissent, soldiers and the police have swept through the city in recent weeks arresting the top leadership of the main opposition group, the Coalition of Unity and Development.
Similar sweeps have resulted in young men being taken away from neighborhoods where trouble has broken out.
"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government, and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," Meles has told the BBC.
Alemzurya Teshoe, 25, the daughter of an opposition leader, said that the police had raided her home to take away her father and then fatally shot her mother, who was screaming in protest. Teshoe said the police also shot at one of her brothers, but missed and hit a neighbor instead.
Distraught as she recounted the incident, Teshoe said that neighbors who went to the hospital to recover her mother's body were told that they had to sign a document saying that the opposition party was responsible for the killing. "I was there when they killed my mother," she said, outraged by the demand, which was later dropped.
The opposition has said it will not join the Parliament until the government agrees to investigate the killings, release political prisoners and include the opposition on the electoral commission, among other demands.
Boycotts of ruling party businesses are also planned. But a strike by shopkeepers and taxi drivers planned for the week of Nov. 7 did not succeed after the government threatened to take away the licenses of those who did not report to work.
Despite little tradition of compromise - the word itself does not exist in Amharic, Ethiopians say - negotiation is widely regarded as the only way out of the standoff.
"Africa is littered with the negative consequences of not compromising," said Mohammed, an Ethiopian political analyst who has been attempting to bring the parties together. "The African elite sees compromise as a sign of weakness. It is not. A multiethnic state like this cannot be governed anymore by a one-party state."
What makes Ethiopia's turmoil all the more surprising is that Meles has been heralded by the West as one of Africa's promising new leaders. He stayed in the good graces of the United States and the European Union, the biggest donors to Ethiopia, even after he and his rival, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, waged a border war from 1998 to 2000 that resulted in a death toll as high as 100,000.
Tensions remain high between the two countries, with many diplomats fearing that Isaias may take advantage of Meles's domestic woes to take aggressive action at the border.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain picked Meles, known for his cerebral nature, as a member of his Commission for Africa to help draft a blueprint for building wealth and democracy on the continent. Even after the June killings, Meles was invited to the Group of 8 meeting in Scotland to advise world leaders.
But with the recent bout of violence, his image abroad has begun to take a battering.
"Another bloodbath is taking place in Ethiopia," Ana Gomes, the European Union's chief election observer during the May balloting, said in a recent letter urging colleagues on the European Parliament to end their chummy approach toward Meles.

ET Blogs & Diaries: New York Times offers a fatal blow to Fascist Meles Graziani's Credibility

ET Blogs & Diaries: New York Times offers a fatal blow to Fascist Meles Graziani's Credibility

Africa's Game of Follow the Leader

Why strong institutions matter most when once promising politicians start to fail.

By SIMON ROBINSON

Saturday, Nov. 26, 2005

For brutal honesty on the causes of Africa's woes, it's hard to beat Chinua Achebe's The Trouble with Nigeria. Written during the country's rowdy 1983 election campaign, the book, just 68 pages long, is an outpouring of frustration at Nigeria's problems. You only have to read the contents page to tap into Achebe's angst. The author — best known for Things Fall Apart, a powerful work of fiction that almost half a century after its release still tops lists of Africa's greatest novels — uses blunt prose to deliver the message in Trouble. Chapter headings telegraph his views: "False Image of Ourselves"; "Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity"; "Indiscipline"; "Corruption." Achebe lays out his case in the book's very first sentence: "The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership."

Many Nigerians agreed, and Africans across the continent reached similar conclusions about their own countries. Which is why, in the mid-1990s, when a new generation of leaders emerged, Africans dared to hope that things could finally be changing. People like Issaias Afewerki in Eritrea, Laurent Kabila in Democratic Republic of Congo, Paul Kagame in Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda and Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia promised a new style of leadership that focused on building economies and democratic nations instead of shoring up their power by force and ensuring that they and their friends got rich. When President Bill Clinton visited Africa in 1998, he touted this generation as Africa's great hope.

The reality has rarely matched the hype. Within months of Clinton's visit, Rwanda and Uganda had invaded Congo, and Eritrea and Ethiopia had gone to war with each other. While some leaders — notably Museveni and Zenawi — still did enough to remain darlings of Western donors, even they have now begun to slide. In Ethiopia, Zenawi has sent troops onto the streets to stop opposition supporters protesting the results of a general election last May. In Uganda, an increasingly dictatorial Museveni announced two weeks ago that he will run for office again, following Parliament's decision to scrap term limits that would have forced him to retire. That long-expected bulletin came just days after his main opponent was thrown in prison on charges — vehemently denied — of treason and rape. Demonstrations have been temporarily banned.

So, Achebe's lament still holds true, then? No. Fixing Africa was never as simple as changing its leaders. And that's why the fall from grace of Museveni and Zenawi may prove a positive thing, even if they hurt their own countries in the short term. It's a reminder, especially to Western countries that invested so much in Africa's new leaders, that strong institutions are far more important than personalities. Good leaders can turn bad if they stay in office long enough: faults become obvious; people compromise to hold onto power; supporters get frustrated with the inevitable slow pace of change. It's not just Africa. There are plenty of erstwhile supporters of Tony Blair who would be happy to see the back of him. The same goes for one-time fans of Jacques Chirac and George Bush. A key difference is that the institutions in the countries those men lead — parliament, the judiciary, the press — are bigger than any one person and counterbalance the worst excesses. That's still not a given in Africa.

Take Zimbabwe. Even five years ago, the country boasted one of the best judiciaries in Africa. Voters could make their voices heard, as they did in 2000 when they rejected a new constitution backed by President Robert Mugabe. The independent press was amongst the feistiest on the continent. Over the past few years, though, Mugabe and his henchmen have bludgeoned the opposition into near submission, rigged elections, closed down the independent press and forced most of the country's best judges into retirement. Mugabe, once hailed as a great new African leader himself, has proved more powerful than his country's institutions.

There is progress, of course. Kenyans last week rejected a new constitution backed by lackluster President Mwai Kibaki — elected just three years ago in a wave of reformist zeal — because of concerns that the proposals vested too much power in his office. (Kibaki promptly sacked his entire Cabinet.) Voters in Ghana, Senegal and Zambia have all elected opposition parties since the turn of the century. Such peaceful shifts prove that institutions in some countries are becoming strong enough to survive change and are not merely dependent upon, or at the mercy of, whoever sits in the presidential palace. Ethiopia and Uganda are also vastly better off than they were before Zenawi and Museveni took power; the backsliding hasn't wrecked all the good work the men have done. But their tainted legacies are a lesson. "A leader's no-nonsense reputation might induce a favorable climate but in order to effect lasting change, it must be followed up with a radical program of social and economic reorganization," writes Achebe in The Trouble with Nigeria. In other words, good leaders are good, but strong institutions are even better.

From the Dec. 05, 2005 issue of TIME Europe magazine

Battle Horn: So much for Africa's "new leaders."

by Frank Smyth March 1, 1999




When President Clinton took his historic twelve-day tour of Africa last year, he singled out tiny Eritrea and its larger neighbor Ethiopia as beacons of hope for the beleaguered continent. In Clinton's mind--and in the minds of others in the West like Oxfam International and the World Bank--Eritrea's president, Isaias Afwerki, and Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, represented a new breed of African statesmen. Intolerant of corruption and committed to free-market reforms, Isaias and Meles were considered to be among the likely leaders of an African renaissance. But now, less than a year after this renaissance was heralded by President Clinton, the two men--and their impoverished countries--are at war.

The war on Africa's Horn may be the most dramatic and bloodiest chapter in the rapid disintegration of an alliance among a group of African leaders--commonly referred to as the "new leaders"--that once held much promise. In 1996, Isaias and Meles, along with Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda's Paul Kagame (who, like Isaias and Meles, are former Marxist guerrillas), formed a bloc that was engaged in joint military campaigns from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda--with the help of $20 million in nonlethal aid from the United States--were all backing rebels in Sudan against that country's radical Islamist government. Further south, Rwanda, Uganda, and Eritrea--and, later, Angola--joined forces in Zaire to help Laurent Kabila overthrow the corrupt postcolonial despot Mobutu Sese Seko.

But, not long after Kabila seized power in May 1997, renaming Zaire the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the bloc of "new leaders" began to splinter. Rwanda and Uganda fell out with Kabila as he became more independent of his former patrons. By July 1998, the same countries that had helped bring down Mobutu began fighting again in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They and other states are still waging war in Central Africa--only now Uganda and Rwanda are battling Angola, among other states.

It is the Horn War, though, that most concerns Western observers. Ever since May and June 1998, when Eritrea and Ethiopia launched artillery attacks and air strikes against each other in a dispute over their 620-mile-long border, the United States has been working feverishly to head off a full-fledged conflict between the two countries. At first, the United States had some success, brokering a cease-fire. But attempts to secure a more lasting peace bogged down, and, on February 6, after months of escalating tensions, a full-scale war broke out. While Ethiopia's economy is eight times greater than Eritrea's, and its population is 17 times the size, the smaller country's stronger nationalist identity should make this fight a protracted one--one of potentially epic proportions. "It could become the biggest war ever in sub-Saharan Africa," frets one senior Defense Department official, "or at least since the [South African] Boer War" at the turn of the century.

Eritrea and Ethiopia are among Africa's poorest nations, and the irony of their war is that, ostensibly at least, both sides are fighting over nothing. The main flashpoint is a border region of hardscrabble terrain called Badame, which translates in the local language as "empty." After Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993, their common border was never clearly delineated. In recent years, many former Ethiopian guerrillas have moved into the Badame region to farm small plots of land, displacing Eritrean farmers who were already working the same plots. Finally, in July 1997, after a few heated but still bloodless incidents between the ex-guerrillas and the peasants, Isaias and Meles agreed to form a joint commission to draw the boundary.

But, before an agreement could be reached, local Ethiopian authorities took matters into their own hands. Last May, Ethiopian militia in the Badame region began a new wave of expulsions of Eritrean peasants. When an Eritrean Army unit sought out the local militia to negotiate on behalf of the newly displaced Eritrean peasants, the Ethiopian militia opened fire, leaving three Eritrean officers and one soldier dead. Eritrea responded to the incident by deploying troops in the Badame region and then, on May 12, by seizing even more territory there and at two other areas along the border to the east. Eritrean officials privately admit that, for tactical reasons, some of the ground they then occupied went beyond the country's admittedly fuzzy borders and actually included Ethiopian terrain.

The Ethiopians retaliated by bombing Eritrea's airport. But, more than 20 minutes after that attack, one Eritrean plane bombed an Ethiopian school, killing 44 people and wounding 135 others, most of them children. Even after Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed to a cease-fire last June, both countries scrambled to buy artillery, armored vehicles, jet fighters, and other arms. (Today, Eritrea still has fewer jets than Ethiopia and no helicopter gunships.) Ethiopia also escalated tensions by deporting more than 52,000 people of Eritrean descent.

Of course, this is not literally a war over nothing. The conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia has also been fueled by clashing economic interests. In November 1997, Eritrea issued its own currency, the nakfa, after having used the Ethiopian birr for four years. While Eritrean officials wanted Ethiopia to accept the nakfa in a one-to-one exchange rate with the birr, Ethiopian officials instead demanded that Eritrea pay for all its goods in hard currency, which both sides lacked. Soon, trucks loaded with goods backed up on both sides of the border, while ships waited to unload their cargo at Assab, one of two Eritrean ports on the Red Sea.

The Assab port is another source of contention between the two countries. Although Assab has long been administratively part of Eritrea, dating back to when Eritrea was an Italian colony, the port is linked by paved road to Addis Ababa and has traditionally served as Ethiopia's only port.
(Eritrea's other port is Massawa, which is connected by paved road with its capital, Asmara.) In 1993, as part of Eritrea's peaceful secession from Ethiopia, Meles made Ethiopia a landlocked nation when he relinquished Assab to his Eritrean comrades as part of his promise to restore to Eritrea the territories it enjoyed when it was an Italian colony. And, while Ethiopian diplomats today say they make no claims on Assab, Eritrean officials contend that the entire border war may merely be a ploy by Ethiopia to retake the port--which, until Ethiopia began boycotting it last May, generated 18 percent of Eritrea's total revenues from the fees and duties leveled on Ethiopian goods.

The final irony of the war is that, if these two countries cannot coexist peacefully under the leadership of Isaias and Meles, it's doubtful that they ever will. Both Isaias and Meles are members of the Tigrinya ethnic group and speak the Tigrinya language--the only language common to both countries. The two men, and the respective guerrilla movements that now run each state, struggled together to depose the Soviet-backed regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Two years later, in 1993, Meles and Isaias agreed to Eritrea's secession from Ethiopia. Until blood was first drawn last May, Meles and Isaias long addressed each other, in letters and face-to-face meetings, as "comrade."

Indeed, Meles had been far more sympathetic to Eritrea than most other Ethiopians. While Isaias is genuinely popular across Eritrea, Meles is not well-liked in Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians, particularly members of the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups, despise Meles, whose Tigrinyan ethnic group is a distinct minority in Ethiopia. Warns one Ethiopian diplomat: Eritrea will "never find an Ethiopian government as friendly to them as the present government." If Meles falls, things could actually get worse between the two countries.

But it's hard to imagine anything much worse than the trench warfare that now rages on Africa's Horn. While many are tempted to compare the hostilities to other African conflicts, the Horn War is more reminiscent of the Iran-Iraq War or World War I. The likelihood of carnage and exhaustion of resources serves only to sap the hope that both Isaias and Meles once brought to the Horn. Not long ago, Africa's new leaders promised new beginnings. But all they do now is wage wars. Their beacons faded surprisingly fast.

Frank Smyth is coauthor of "Africa's New Bloc," published in the March/April 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs.




© Copyright 1999 Frank Smyth. All rights reserved.