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The two faces of Ethiopia’s democracy

More than 36 million people have registered in Ethiopia's election. But many argue the vote in this African country falls short of being free and fair. The opposition accuses the government of using authoritarian tactics to secure victory for the ruling party.

The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front has been in power for almost 25 years, during which there's been significant economic growth.

Human rights groups have regularly accused Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists, and of using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics.

On Inside Story, a discussion on the state of democracy in Ethiopia

Presenter: Folly Bah Thibault


Redwan Hussein - Spokesman for the Ethiopian People's Ruling Democratic Front.

Rachel Nicholson - Horn of Africa campaigner at Amnesty International.

Yonatan Tesfaye - public relations head for the Opposition Blue Party.


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Nigerian airlines cancel flights amid fuel crisis

Nigerian airlines have grounded flights and radio stations were silenced as a months-long fuel shortage aggravated by striking oil tanker drivers worsened in Africa's biggest oil producer.

Vehicles also were grounded. Normally bustling roads in Lagos, a metropolis of 20 million, were half-empty and gas stations closed on Saturday.

One station owner said he had fuel but strikers are threatening to set fire to any stations selling it. He insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Police were arresting black marketers selling fuel at roadsides at four times the regulated 87 naira (40 dollar cents) a liter.

Radio stations went dead on Saturday night, including Classic FM, The Beat and City FM, hit by frequent power outages and out of diesel fuel for generators.

Chaos reigned at bus stations where vehicles stood idle and at Lagos' Murtala Muhammad International Airport as one flight after another was canceled.

"All flights suspended or canceled. No fuel. Been sitting here since 6am," one customer complained on Twitter.

Flights cancelled

Aero Contractors, one of Nigeria's largest private airlines, has canceled 80 percent of its flights, said spokesman Simon Tunde.

Passengers said that Air France and Kenya Airways flights diverted to Dakar, Senegal, and Cotonou, Benin, to refuel on their way to Paris and Nairobi because no fuel was available in Lagos this week.

Nigeria produces more than two million barrels of petroleum a day but imports refined fuel because it does not have enough functioning refineries. It regularly suffers fuel shortages but nothing as severe as the current countrywide crisis.

The crisis started weeks before the March 29 elections, with oil suppliers hit by tightened credit lines amid halved international oil prices, a slump in the naira currency, and unpaid government debts the suppliers claim amount to nearly $1bn.

Unpaid oil tanker drivers went on strike earlier this month and other industry workers joined them this week.

President Goodluck Jonathan lost the elections and suppliers fear the debt will not be honored by President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who pledged to fight endemic corruption.

Some alleged debt involves fuel subsidies that critics say are a scam that benefited oil suppliers and corrupt government officials with no reduced costs for ordinary Nigerians.

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Hailemariam Desalegn: Democracy ‘not only an election’

Business is booming in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. There is construction almost everywhere, a symbol of Ethiopia's impressive economic growth over the past decade.

Gone are the days of famine and grinding poverty, the government story goes. This is Ethiopia 2015, which they say, is on course to becoming a middle-income country by 2025.

To add to this remarkably rosy picture, Ethiopia's 90 million citizens are part of a healthy, multi-party democracy that holds elections every five years, the government says.

But not everyone agrees with this inspirational story of growth and democracy in what remains one of the poorest countries in Africa.

They ask why, if everything is so good at home, are thousands of Ethiopians among the tidal wave of desperate people who make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in search of freedom and jobs.

The government has been deemed one of the most heavily censored countries in the world, and has been accused of mercilessly stifling political opposition and civil liberties, and of imprisoning those who do not toe the line. Its critics say those who do not go to jail, are intimidated into voting for the ruling party.

Ahead of Ethipia's May 24 parliamentary elections,we travelled to Addis Ababa to ask Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn about his party's record, the global criticism of his government, and the reports on human rights abuses. And we ask him about the opposition, democracy, Ethiopia's economy and foreign policy, and so much more, as he talks to Al Jazeera.


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Landslide likely for Ethiopia’s long-time rulers

When Ethiopia's ruling party and its allies won 99.6 percent of the vote in the country's last elections five years ago, some wondered if a government often accused of suffocating the opposition would be embarrassed.

The answer was no.

“Imagine a government which has delivered double-digit growth rates for over seven years losing an election anywhere on earth,” Meles Zenawi, by then the leader of Africa's second most populous nation for almost 20 years, said.

“It is unheard of for such a phenomenon to happen."

Not only did they not lose. The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnicity-based parties, won all but two of the seats in the 547-seat parliament, and one of the two they failed to win went to an ally.

Five years later and Meles – a towering figure, not only in Ethiopia but across Africa, is dead – and his more mild-mannered successor Hailemariam Desalegn on Sunday faces his first poll as leader of the all-powerful coalition.

Analysts, however, say he won't see much of a challenge.

“The EPRDF's six million plus members, huge resources and support networks provide it a massive advantage and the likelihood of a landslide win,” Mark Schroeder, an African politics analyst with Stratfor, told Al Jazeera.

“This time, for the sake of legitimacy and to please Western donors, a small number of opposition candidates may get a chance to join the parliament. In the overall result the ruling party is expected to win around 90 percent.”

But the scale of that 2010 victory, and the predictions of similar this time, present a legitimacy problem for this darling of foreign aid chiefs and shoulder-to-shoulder ally of the Western security and intelligence establishment.

Glass towers

Opposition figures plead that they are harassed and harangued. Journalists have fled. And six young bloggers have been in prison for more than a year, accused of terrorism on charges that rights groups say have been cooked up.

“We are very confident that we can secure a lot of seats – maybe around 100,” Yonathan Lemessa, spokesman for the high-profile and relatively new opposition party Semayawi - the Blue Party - told Al Jazeera.

“There are some doubts, though, because in some places we can't even campaign,” Yonathan said, adding that the party has had campaigners arrested, posters torn down and tyres on its cars punctured with nails.

The EPRDF denies it interferes with the opposition and in recent years has accused it of sour grapes. For the government, if its wins it is an endorsement of the development it has spearheaded over almost 25 years.

“We're confident that we will get a mandate in all of the seats that we're contesting but, ultimately, the decision lies with the people and we will respect and honour their will,” Desta Abraham, a spokesman for the EPRDF, said.

“We've highlighted our successes and also informed of our efforts to solve any problems that arise with Ethiopia's progress.”

Progress is apparent. Addis Ababa, the thronged and vibrant capital, has seen its skyline transformed by glass towers and mock-European villas. A light rail system is almost finished. Africa's biggest dam will soon start generating power. A small middle class has emerged, and is growing.

“I would caution that a landslide victory for the EPRDF should not automatically be chalked up to chicanery,” J. Peter Pham, head of Africa analysis at US think tank the Atlantic Council, told Al Jazeera.

“Whatever else one may say about the ruling coalition, there is no denying the stability, economic growth, and development it has delivered.”

Subdued mood

Poverty, though, is plain to see and many Ethiopians still leave the country in search of a better life. In April, almost 30 of them were murdered by the armed group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in Libya en route to join migrant boats on the Mediterranean.

And when crowds took to the Addis Ababa streets to grieve, many directed angry shouts at the government. Police cleared them from the streets.

The Blue Party is seen as the group that most appeals to that disquiet on the part of some urban youth. They have mounted public campaigns and are running for 139 seats, though analysts do not expect them to secure many.

Medrek, a coalition of opposition parties that includes many old warhorse politicians who have been around for several elections, is fielding more candidates but, again, analysts don't think its chances are strong.

They also say that is because Medrek is denied the space to operate.

Diplomats and analysts told Al Jazeera that the election will give the EPRDF – said by some to now be a more collegiate organisation than it was under Meles – the chance to push forward under Hailemariam, who had been seen as a placeholder choice to replace Meles after his sudden death.

“While he is not the larger-than-life figure on the African and global stage that his predecessor was, he has been a steady leader with some significant successes,” Pham said.

Critics say another landslide will lend the EPRDF the legitimacy to shore up its power even further and squeeze any remaining life from the opposition.

Its supporters, though, say its assured victory will allow it to pursue an ambitious policy to quickly turn Ethiopia into a middle-income country.

With the result a foregone conclusion, the mood in the capital is subdued, a few posters and the occasional car trundling past while broadcasting party slogans the only signs that a major election is about to take place.

Ethiopians told Al Jazeera that memories of a disputed 2005 poll, after which 193 street protesters and seven policemen were killed, were still painful and fresh enough to dampen any appetite for a contest.

In a speech to parliament on Thursday, Hailemariam warned that any opposition efforts to kick-off protests this time would not be tolerated.

“Next week it will be over and we will go on as before,” one Addis Ababa resident told Al Jazeera.

“In any case, it has never been elections that bring change in Ethiopia.”

Follow Barry Malone on Twitter: @malonebarry

The post Landslide likely for Ethiopia’s long-time rulers appeared first on African Media Agency.

Soft approach to hardcore groups in Africa

The al-Shabab attack on Garissa University in Kenya, the ongoing battle with Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the arrival of ISIL in Libya highlight the expansion of violent groups in Africa.

Alongside military operations, some governments are now attempting to challenge the basic tenets of violent ideology to stem the flow of recruits to these armed groups.

The Nigerian government has announced the national education curriculum will be altered as part of its "soft" approach to its "counter-terrorism programme".

Uganda has "created several platforms" to "reach out to the public, highlighting on the dangers of getting involved in radicalism". These include a campaign that employs ex-combatants to warn the public of the dangers of getting involved in "radicalism."

In Kenya, the Media Council published a report critical of journalists' representation of armed groups, while the newly elected Council of Imams and Preachers chairman, Abdala Ateka, urged religious leaders to be vigilant and challenge violent organisations by preaching peace.

But across Africa observers say many imams have lost touch with the youth, government programmes risk being politicised, and research has shown that religion is not always the principal reason for recruitment.

Al-Shabab - changing tactics

On April 2, al-Shabab attackers stormed the Garissa campus in northern Kenya and killed 148 people, mostly students.

Questions of support for al-Shabab's violent campaign were likely high on the list during a visit to Kenya by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who upon his arrival announced: "Our major message is that fighting terrorism requires a multi-faceted approach."

According to Muhsin Hassan, a conflict adviser at USAID in Kenya, this is a tactic that al-Shabab has adopted as well, and the Somalia-based group has reinvented its message.

Hassan told Al Jazeera al-Shabab shifted its attention to Kenya from its original focus on Somalia, which also indicates a change in recruitment strategy.

When Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006, Hassan said, "various Somali groups all over the world were supporting al-Shabab because they were defending the country against foreign invasion. These were folks who didn't necessarily support al-Shabab's ideology".

The turning point came, said Hassan, when an al-Shabab suicide bombing targeting officials killed about 20 young doctors during a medical graduation ceremony in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

"Somalia needed doctors and after that, many people re-evaluated their support," Hassan said.

Al-Shabab then began crossing into Kenya and kidnapping aid-workers and tourists, and the Kenyan government decided to send the army to intervene in Somalia alongside UN troops.

These military offensives squeezed the rebels, causing them to lose a lot of territory, and al-Shabab turned to guerrilla-warfare tactics with attacks in Kenya and Uganda.

This is when the group began changing its recruitment narratives to co-opt local religious issues, said Hassan.

Out of Somalia

A recent al-Shabab video specified as targets the capital cities of Kenya, Burundi and Uganda saying, "Yesterday the war was in Mogadishu, today it is in Nairobi, Bujumbura and Kampala."

Many young Muslims in Kenya are excluded from employment opportunities and traditional Muslim strongholds such as Eastleigh in Nairobi, the Mombasa coast, and northeastern Kenya suffer the dual effect of insecurity and a lack of development.

Abdulhamid Sakar, executive director of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance, runs projects across Kenya to counter al-Shabab recruitment.

He told Al Jazeera that monetary incentives make recruitment more attractive to people in these impoverished parts of the country.

Lately however, Sakar said his organisation has been receiving a lot people returning from Somalia.

"They want to reintegrate back into the community and that has been informed by the false promises they've been given before going to Somalia," he said.

Sakar said the government has released some funds for youth projects.

"We established an Economic Empowerment Centre to try and exploit some of the potential they've got," he continued.

Why extremism?

Anelli Botha, from the South African Institute for Security Studies, has carried out research both in Somalia and Kenya.

She told Al Jazeera there are many interrelated issues that ultimately play a role into why people participate in "violent extremism".

Botha said in Kenya recruitment goes far beyond economic motives.

"It is a sense of being extremely disregarded not just by the security services but also by the government. And this frustration is what makes people extremely vulnerable," she said.

Kenyans experience corruption every day when the authorities demand bribes for imaginary offences; Kenyan passports are for sale; impunity can be bought for a fee.

According to a 2012 survey by Afrobarometer, 71 percent of Kenyans viewed some or all officials as corrupt.

Botha's research shows that the political circumstances are a key driver of recruitment for "violent extremism".

"People have lost trust, first and foremost in politicians and the political system," she said.

This view is echoed by Freedom Onuoha from the Nigeria National Defence College in Abuja. He said disappointment with governance is a key driver of recruitment for Boko Haram.

Onuoha told Al Jazeera that for Nigerian youth, "it's a sense of not being sure of their future and so they are confronted with the question of their own identity within the context of governance".

When these extreme ideologies take root, Onuoha said, "it begins to give people a sense of hope or an explanation for their situation and why they are where they are".

'Ruling class'

But this identity crisis may also be a generation gap.

Onuoha said in Nigeria, many young people believe that their elders have mismanaged opportunities for a better future.

"Religious leaders don't denounce the mismanagement and so they see them as part and parcel of the ruling class," he said.

In Kenya the security services have repeatedly launched mass round-ups that use ethnic or religious profiling to target and abuse particular groups.

Al-Shabab plays on this in their videos emphasising that Muslims or Somalis are bullied and mistreated.

But Botha is emphatic saying, "You cannot profile - that is simply impossible".

Identity, said Botha, is an important driver of violent extremism.

"People have no sense of national identity. There is no pride that we are Kenyans or we are Ugandan. People first and foremost revert back to ethnic identities or religious identities. And politicians themselves are responsible for fuelling this," she said.

After the Garissa attack, the Kenyan government publicly announced a 10-day amnesty for ex-combatants, a move that was received favourably in the press.

However, analysts argue it needs to be extended and some question the government's commitment to non-military solutions.

"It remains to be seen how they will go about the countering of radicalisation," Hassan said.

Ugandan security services are slowly beginning to engage with civil society organisations and were praised by Muslim youth groups for participating in an open discussion forum.

Many analysts say these are the kind of strategies that are needed.

Botha emphasised there are many different reasons for radicalisation but "in the case of Kenya, 65 percent referred to the way the government responded to them as the final push", she said.

People are often arrested for terrorism-related offences and then released by the courts because there is no evidence.

Botha said the culture within the security services needs to change to one that respects the rule of law and human rights.

"You've got to investigate to arrest, not arrest to investigate," she said.

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