Addis Ababa in a somber mood as the dictator’s burial looms

EDITOR’S NOTE: There is a total clampdown on the independent press in Ethiopia. Even foreign correspondents are working under constant threats, frequently being called into Bereket Simon’s office to be threatened with expulsion from the country. In the report below by William Davison of Bloomberg, we removed all the junk that he was forced to add to his report in order to placate the junta and kept only the few hard facts.

By William Davison

ADDIS ABABA (Bloomberg) — [ … ] Throughout the capital, the mood is somber as Sunday’s funeral looms. Normally deafening bars keep stereos switched off. State television offers blanket coverage of the mourning. There are few outliers. An articulate young journalist – as appreciative of Meles’s rules as millions of his compatriots – reports on Facebook of the intimidation he suffered when he sat on a poster of the premier outside the palace after paying his respects to Meles.

“I was mad that my respect for the late PM could be simplified by the manner I treated a poster,” he writes.

One individual was hauled to a police station for disrespectfully listening to music on headphones, another user alleges below. […]

In an afternoon of stalking the mini-city of flats freshly hoisted by the government and now cluttered with barbers, bars, grocery stores and hordes of people, just one person expresses some doubt. “The EPRDF [Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front] is one party. They dominate everything,” a Russian-educated trader says in perfect English about the Meles-led ruling coalition. “There is no freedom for journalists. A lot of them are in prison.” Those would include dissident Ethiopian writer Eskinder Nega, who was recently sentenced to 18 years in prison for terrorism offenses.

The trader then requests to remain anonymous.

The system’s excesses are also on public display. The mobilization skills of the 6 million-strong party, previously used to permeate state and society, bolster crushing election victories, and encourage donations for Meles’s political masterstroke, the damming of the Nile, are in overdrive. Colleagues cannot travel to Addis Ababa for a meeting next week, one individual informs: all public transport is tied up busing people in for the funeral. Teams of government workers were parading through central Addis Aug. 31, chanting slogans and brandishing placards about the necessity to keep Meles’s dream alive.

The dynamics are similar to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam fundraising campaign: Both Meles and the Nile hydropower project – which signaled Ethiopia’s intention to use a huge asset historically monopolized by Egypt – would be staggeringly popular without any leverage being applied by the EPRDF’s leaders and cadres; yet they still turn the screw in order to strengthen their grip on power.

Critics sneer at some of the party’s alleged tactics: “they’re all receiving per diems”; “homeless beggars on television are praising Meles”; “they’re wheeling the sick out of hospital to join the crowds.”

A leaked letter purportedly from university administrators demanding that staff attend a mourning ceremony makes its way round the Web. “Got it. The North Korean comparisons are justified,” pontificated a media advocate from New York, suggesting that the mourning was not sincere.

But Kemal indicates otherwise. “I cried. Nobody pushed me, nobody paid me. I cried,” he volunteers about his response to Meles’s death.

[…] Away from the public pomp, nervous Ethiopians and Addis’s chattering classes opine that the future is uncertain. Very little is known about the inner workings of an opaque ruling party. Only time will tell whether its stability and thus the country’s is wrecked by factional squabbling. Only the years and decades to come will define his legacy […]

FORUM | AMHARIC