The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in cooperation with Julie Ward MEP (S&D), Soraya Post MEP (S&D), Ana Gomes MEP (S&D), Jordi Sebastià MEP (G/EFA) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), will be convening a high-level conference entitled ‘Cartoon Democracy – Authoritarian Rule and Elections in Ethiopia’ at the European Parliament in Brussels on 23 April 2015 from 09:00 to 12:30. Taking place ahead of the Ethiopian National Election on 24 May 2015, this timely conference will analyse the current political climate in Ethiopia and the deeper structural issues shaping it. Bringing together Ethiopian minority and opposition leaders as well as international experts and politicians, it aims to offer a platform for dialogue where existing challenges can be openly addressed and possible opportunities for democratic change explored.
In May 2010, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won a landslide victory in the Parliamentary elections, taking 99.6% of the votes and all but two of the 547 seats. The European Union Election Observer Mission to Ethiopia (EU EOM) later noted that there had been a distinct lack of transparency during the electoral process and that the political parties had not been afforded a level playing field during their electoral campaigns. On 24 May 2015, the country will be called to vote again to renew its Parliament, but at this point a different outcome seems highly unlikely.
The 2015 election comes at a time when the Ethiopian economy has made great strides: with near double-digit GDP growth over the past decade and large-scale infrastructural development, it is one of Africa’s fastest-growing. However, the country’s human rights record remains appalling. While the Ethiopian Constitution provides for many civil and political rights for its people, including the process of open and genuinely democratic elections, in practice the central government keeps a grip on political and social freedoms using the argument of protecting national security as a pretext to impose severe restrictions on the media and NGOs. Moreover, the Ogaden and Oromo people, among other ethnic minority groups in Ethiopia, are targeted with extra-judicial killings, torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.
Particularly alarming are accounts claiming that the Ethiopian government is funding its ethnic persecution with foreign aid designated for development projects. Ethiopia represents the fourth largest recipient of EU aid finance in the world and the EU is currently the country’s single largest trade partner. Consequently, the EU has significant leverage over the regime, which in turn represents an opportunity and responsibility to encourage the Government to be more accountable, promote freedom of speech, develop democratic institutions and respect human rights and the rule of law.