Saba Alemu, 38, waited in line for hours to cast her vote on 21 June. Her favourite candidate – one-time journalist and activist Eskender Nega – was placed on the ballot weeks before the vote as a mayoral candidate in Addis Ababa.
Last year, he had been imprisoned alongside the firebrand Jawar Mohammed Jawar and others; he was not fully able to participate in the election, pushing his candidacy to a fringe status.
“I support Eskender and I have followed his work as a journalist and now a political candidate. I thought he would be a great mayor and politician. He had sacrificed a lot for his belief and it is a pity, he was not able to campaign and garner support,” she tells The Africa Report, reflecting on the collective decade-long imprisonment of the 51-year-old activist during the era of Tigray People’s Liberation Front-led (TPLF) government and now, Abiy.
Mounting complaints from political parties
Saba’s partner, Teshome Asseged, a construction engineer, is content with what Abiy achieved in the last three years and he came to support him.
“There are many issues that are unresolved in Ethiopia, including issues of security, but I am happy with the Prime Minister, including his privatisation initiatives and more so for his determination to wipe out the old TPLF leadership that once denied my right to vote in 2005 and imprisoned many of my friends, pushing them to find refuge elsewhere, when they could have contributed at home,” he says, as he waited in line to vote.
The general impression is that this election, despite some handicaps, is a lot better than the previous one in terms of opening the space for electoral participation.
All across Addis Ababa, there were similar queues, as the Ethiopian Electoral Board continues to receive mounting complaints from political parties – of irregularities and favouritism.
“The election was very important for Ethiopia. Not only does it represent a postponed election impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but one which marks a new journey for the country in terms of multi-party politics; civil society engagement in the political debate; and open and televised debates amongst between political parties,” says Ann Fitz-Gerald, an expert of Ethiopian politics and director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs.
Others are not convinced of the fairness of the election. There was not voting in some areas due to ongoing conflicts, particularly the one in Tigray.
“The election is not of any consequence for what Ethiopia is facing right now. It was a contest between the ruling party and those who vehemently support the ruling party,” says Natnael B. Yifru, a political observer. “It’s a coronation of Abiy Ahmed Ali, who now is one of the prime suspects of the weaponising of rape, murder and starvation. Charges that will render his legitimacy to govern dead on arrival.”
On Monday 21 June, Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo – who is the head of the African Union’s observer mission – said the parliamentary election in Ethiopia was going reasonably well. “The general impression is that this election, despite some handicaps, is a lot better than the previous one in terms of opening the space for electoral participation,” he said.
“Ultimate victor was a known fact”
Last year, Ethiopia postponed its election as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It did so once again because of logistical and security issues, announcing that the Somali, Harari and Tigray regions would not take part. Tigray, which held its own provincial election last year, had its vote nullified, provoking the latest conflict.
To Amaha Teferra, a 21-year-old university student, this is his first time to vote and he is excited. One of the rare young faces, he stood in line as poll clerks rushed to open after 6am – the time that they were expected to open – due to many logistical challenges.
But to him, this is a little sacrifice, as he wants to be an example for others and to see the theory of politics in action. “Many of my friends and family members refused to vote because they did not think their vote would matter. They believed the fate of the election; the ultimate victor was a known fact and their effort would be meaningless,” he says.
“But to me, it is important to take advantage of this window of opportunity that has opened up and see how democracy is possible even in Ethiopia and to Ethiopians. Perhaps next time, we might have a real democracy,” he concludes.
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