According to the U.S. State Department, Ethiopia is a violently totalitarian single-party state. Also according to the U.S. State Department, Ethiopia is a great democracy.
For example, during a recent visit to Ethiopia, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman praised Ethiopia as a vibrant and progressive democracy.
In its latest Ethiopia report, for example, the State Department identified significant human rights violations, including restrictions on freedom of speech, Stalinist-style show trials, and crackdowns on free press, opposition leaders, activists and critical journalists. The report and others by human rights groups reveal a consistent and widespread pattern of abuse, including torture, arbitrary killings, restrictions on freedom of association, interference in freedom of religion and the politicized use of the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation.
[Mass surveillance] and many other instruments of control enabled the EPRDF to win 99.6 percent of the votes in the 2010 elections, losing only two of the 547 seats in the federal Parliament and one seat out of the 1,900 in the regional assemblies. Five years of intimidation and harassment of the opposition and war against free press means that Sunday’s voting will be anything but fair and free.
Even more puzzling, as the country waits to see if other parties will win even two seats in the national parliament in Sunday’s elections, is the State Department’s odd assessment of trendlines in the country’s pseudo-democracy:
Speaking during a press briefing in Addis Ababa in April, Ms Sherman said: “Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible and open and inclusive in ways that Ethiopia has moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election it gets better and better.”
In 2005, 174 opposition politicians won seats in the 547-seat parliament, but many did not take them up after pronouncing the vote rigged.
In the 2010 polls, Girma Seifu, of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was the sole opponent to win, while the ruling EPRDF garnered 99.6% of all parliamentary seats. An independent candidate was also elected.
By definition, based on the past two elections, it has been getting worse. Perhaps it will be better this coming election, now that the country’s longtime dictator has passed away in the intervening time since the last election, but at the moment there’s no way to know that. And all signs don’t point to that at as a likely outcome.