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Electoral Violence in Africa: Experience from Ethiopia

Authors: Wondwosen Teshome


It is impossible to think about democracy without elections. The litmus test of any electoral process in any country is the possibility of a one time minority to become a majority at another time and a peaceful transition of power. In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa though the multi-party elections appeared to be competitive they failed the acid test of democracy: peaceful regime change in a free and fair election. Failure to solve electoral disputes might lead to bloody electoral conflicts as witnessed in many emerging democracies in Africa. The aim of this paper is to investigate electoral conflicts in Africa since the end of the Cold War by using the 2005 post-election violence in Ethiopia as a case study. In Ethiopia, the coming to power of the EPRDF in 1991 marked the fall of the Derg dictatorial military government and the beginning of a multi-party democracy. The country held multi-party parliamentary elections in 1995, 2000, and 2005 where the ruling EPRDF party “won" the elections through violence, involving intimidation, manipulation, detentions of political opponents, torture, and political assassinations. The 2005 electoral violence was the worst electoral violence in the country-s political history that led to the death of 193 protestors and the imprisonment of more than 40, 000 people. It is found out that the major causes of the 2005 Ethiopian election were the defeat of the ruling party in the election and its attempt to reverse the poll results by force; the Opposition-s lack of decisive leadership; the absence of independent courts and independent electoral management body; and the ruling party-s direct control over the army and police.

Keywords: Africa, Ethiopia, Election, Electoral violence, NEBE.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI):

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[233] The Reporter, "City Cab Drivers Vehemently Criticize Mayor's Accusation". (Accessed 11-07-05).
[234] Mail & Guardian online, "Ethiopian govt blames violence on opposition," 10 June 2005.
[235] The Washington Post, "After violent protests, Ethiopians bury dead", 10 June 2005.
[236] The Reporter, "Ambassador Says Negotiations among Parties Long and Breathtaking." (Accessed 09-07-05).
[237] The Ethiopian Herald, "State leaders said present federal system won't be presented for negotiation", 3 May 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 201
[238] Sudan Tribune, "Ethiopian opposition says lawmaker-elect killed by police," 13 June 2005.
[239] CNN, "Calls for peace after deadly clashes in Ethiopia", 10 June 2005.
[240] Sudan Tribune, "Ethiopian opposition renews non-violence vow", 12 June 2005.
[241] Wondwosen Teshome, "Opposition Parties and the Politics of Opposition in Africa: A Critical Analysis", in: International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 3, no. 1, 2009, pp. 1-15
[242] Wondwosen Teshome B., "Ethiopian Opposition Political Parties and Rebel Fronts: Past and Present", International Journal of Social Sciences, vol, 4, no. 1, 2009, pp.60-68.
[243] The Norwegian Council for Africa, "Ethiopia: Concern over Election Violence Begins to Bite." (Accessed 08-07-05).
[244] BBC, "House arrest for Ethiopia rivals: Ethiopia's main opposition party is demanding the release of its leader and another senior official who it says have been placed under house arrest," 11 June 2005.
[245] ENA, "EPRDF Chairman Holds Face-to Face Talks with CUD, UEDF Leadership."; See also The Ethiopian Herald (30 July 2005): "EPRDF chairman holds face-to-face talks with CUD, UEDF leadership", 7-29¬2005, Vol. LXI, No. 277.
[246] Ethiopia First "Brief from the Joint Forum," (Accessed 09-07-05).
[247] The Reporter, "CUD Expresses Doubt over NEBE's Investigation," 25 May 2005, Vol. IX, No. 459.
[248] Sudan Tribune, "CUD Concerned by Composition of NEBE's Investigation Panel," 26 June 2005.
[249] WIC, "NEBE Announcing Official Election Results in Line with Constitution and Electoral Law", 30 July 2005.
[250] The Ethiopian Herald, "Opposition Parties Engage in Defamatory Campaigns: Ministry. ", 23 July 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 271.
[251] The Ethiopian Herald, "NEBE Urges Opposition Political Parties to Desist from Defamation," 3 June 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 228.
[252] The Ethiopian Herald, "Political Parties, Board Discuss Ways of Handling Post-election Activities," 31 May 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 225.
[253] The Reporter, "Board Contemplates Legal Action against CUD, UEDF," (Acces sed 11-07-05).
[254] The Peninsula On-line, "Ethiopian election panel delays poll results", 6¬4-2005.
[255] Addis Fortune, "Post-election News, 29 May 2005, Vol. 6, No. 265.
[256] The Reporter. "Board Admits Voting Irregularities at 26 Stations in Hadiya, Arsi." (Retrieved on 11-07-05).
[257] The Ethiopian Herald, "Electoral Board Declares EPRDF May 15 Elections Winner," 10 August 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 286.
[258] Capital, "Election Saga Over", 11 September 2005, Vol. 7, No. 353.
[259] AEUP, "Beahunu gize beethiopia wust yetefeterew yepolitica wutret lemeftat yekerebe amarach hasab" ("A Proposal to Solve the Current Political Impasse in Ethiopia", 12 August 2005, Fax message, no. 6263988810.
[260] BBC, "Ethiopia call for unity government: An Ethiopian opposition group has called for a government of national unity after disputed elections," 20 May 2005.
[261] Ye Ginbot 7 Dimts, Ginbot 7, 2000EC, No. 1.
[262] John Donnelly, "Anxiety builds as Ethiopians await voting results: Early tally shows ruling party ahead". The Boston Globe, 2 June 2005.
[263] The Reporter, "Boycotting the new parliament in the eyes of intellectuals", 15 October 2005.
[264] Embassy of the United States. Addis Ababa. Ethiopia. "Ambassadors' Donor Group Statement." September 13, 2005. (Retrieved 15-09-05)
[265] CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) [266] Tesfaye Habisso, "Opposition Politics and the Issue of Political Space in Ethiopia Today: Issues and Challenges" (August 2009, , (Accessed 12.08.2009).
[267] VOA, Amharic programme (Audio), 29 October 2005.
[268] Financial Times, "Ethiopia counts cost of election strife", 14 November 2005.
[269] Observer-Guardian, "Democratic dawn in Ethiopia fades as abuses come to light: Post-election protests have resulted in a wave of arrests," 4 December 2005.
[270] IOL, "Ethiopian opposition leaders refused council", 2005-11-07.
[271] Sudan Tribune, "Ethiopia Protests continue, spread beyond capital," 4 November 2005.
[272] DPA, "Detained Ethiopian Opposition leaders are political prisoners", 28 November 2005.
[273] Reuters, "Leaders of Ethiopia's Major opposition party go on hunger strike", 27 November 2005.
[274] Imiru Zeleke (21 November 2005), (Accessed 10 December 2005).
[275] Reuters, "Ethiopian parliament approves probe into unrest," 14 November 2005.
[276] Sudan Tribune, "Ethiopia-The Oromo protest in Oromia on its fifth day", 17 November 2005.
[277] Reuters, "Ethiopia downplays massacre, uprising reports", 18 November 2005.
[278] Reuters, "Ethiopian opposition leaders in court, denied bail," 07 November2005.
[279] Reuters, "Ethiopian PM promises poll probe will be fair", 01 July 2005):
[280] Reuters, "Impartiality of Ethiopia riots inquiry questioned", 08 December 2005.
[281] The New York Times, "Inquiry Says Ethiopian Troops Killed 193 in Ballot protests in '05". 19 October 2006.
[282] Pippa Norris, Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems. International Political Science Review vol. 18 no 3, 1997, pp 297-312.
[283] NED (National Endowment for Democracy), "The Backlash against Democracy Assistance: A Report prepared by the National Endowment for Democracy for Senator Richard G. Lugar, Chairman Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, 8 June 2006.
[284] The Reporter, "We Abhor Ethnic Race baiting", 2 July 2005, Vol. IX, No. 460.
[285] CUD, "Press Release", 26 May 2005.
[286] WIC, "Executive Committee of OPDO moves capital city to Finfinne," 10 June 2005. See also, BBC "Ethiopia PM reaches out to Oromos: Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says he is willing to open talks with the main guerrilla movement fighting his government, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)" ,13 September 2005; The Daily Monitor, "Meles Says Willing to Negotiate with OLF", 14 September 2005, Vol. XII, No. 313.
[287] Meskel Square. "Bereket Speaks" (Accessed 09-07-05)
[288] The Ethiopian Herald," A humble advise to the EU mission in Ethiopia", 13 September 2005, Vol. LXII, No. 002. See also. The Ethiopian Herald, "Election observation as an instrument of blackmail", 11 September 2005, Vol. LXII, No. 001.
[289] Addis Tribune, "Untrained Police Force Blamed," 24 June 2005.
[290] Tesfaye Gebreab, "Yegazetegnaw Mastawosha" ("The Journalist's Memoir"). Cape Town, 200 lEC.
[291] The Reporter, "Yemafia buden YiYa" ("Mafia groups should be eliminated"), 22 April 2009.
[292] Staffan I Lindberg, "Better turn the other cheek: the tragedy of electoral boycott and protest". Paper prepared for Division 45, Panel "Opposition Politics under Electoral Authoritarianism, the 2004 APSA Annual meeting, Chicago 1-4 September 2004.
[293] Ethiopian Forum for Political Civility, Interview with Sebhat Nega (Audio), 28 May 2007.
[294] WIC, "EDUP-complains About Harassment of Candidates Justice, Security Deny Charges", 22 November 1999.
[295] The Reporter, "Commissioner Admits the Use of Untrained Force," 25 June 2005, Vol. IX, No. 459.
[296] Inter Parliamentary Union, "ETHIOPIA:Parliamentary Chamber: Yehizib Twekayoch Mekir Bete. elections held in 1995", 1995.
[297] Paul Wachter, "Bush's Somalia strategy enables an Ethiopian despot", The Nation, 14 February 2007.
[298] FES and CCR, "Political and Electoral Violence in East Africa" Working papers on conflict management No.2 FES and CCR, Nairobi, 2001.
[299] Xinhuanet, "Ethiopia starts to announce election results", 21 May 2005.
[300] BBC, "Ethiopia ruling bloc 'win polls', 2005-05-28.
[301] Sudan Tribune, "Ethiopian government rejects opposition offer on peace deal", 13 June 2005.
[302] BBC, "Crisis over Ethiopia poll probe: Trust between Ethiopia's political parties has broken down over attempts to resolve May's disputed election, according to a senior diplomat," 2005-07-07.
[303] Reuters, 21 November 2005.
[304] BBC, "Ethiopia opposition treason move", 9 November 2005.
[305] John Young, Peasant Revolution in Ethiopia: The Tigray People's Liberation Front, 1975-1991. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
[306] US Embassy in Ethiopia,"Statement by Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, Charge D'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy, and Ambassador Bob Dewar, Ambassador of the United Kingdom. "
[307] Reuters, "Two dead in fresh Ethiopia unrest: residents, "5 November 2005.
[308] The Ethiopian Herald, "Court adjourns today to pass verdict on CUD's charges against NEBE", 20 August 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 295. See also The Ethiopian Herald , "Federal High Court orders NEBE to respond to CUD's charges", 19 August 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 294; The Ethiopian Herald, "CUD files charges against NEBE", 19 August 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 294; The Ethiopian Herald, "Court reaches verdict favoring CUD", 23 August 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 297.
[309] The Ethiopian Herald, "Electoral Board declares EPRDF May 15 elections winner", 10 August 2005, Vol. LXI, No. 286.
[310] Abay,:"Kinijit bemela Ethiopia yesebat ken adima tera" ("CUD calls for seven-day strike"), Tikimt 19, 1998EC/ 10-29-2005GC.