The European Commission issued a stinging rebuke to one of its lead partners on the African continent today (2 December), telling the Ethiopian government to “start addressing the legitimate grievances of the Ethiopian people,” according to reports:
As a major donor of EU development aid, and a key partner in the Commission’s new Trust Fund for Africa aimed at quelling so-called “irregular migration”, Brussels has been slow to publicly criticise the government in Addis Ababa. However, the detention of Merera Gudina (above, left) after his trip to Europe, appears to have changed the equation. Speaking on Friday, a Commission spokeswoman told reporters: “We have raised our concerns over the arrest with the Ethiopian authorities.”
“What Ethiopia needs now is political dialogue and interaction to start addressing the legitimate grievances of the Ethiopian people. We have repeatedly insisted with the Ethiopian authorities that the state of emergency should be implemented in a way respectful of human rights and in a way that serves the ultimate objective of needed political reforms.”
The state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported Thursday that Gudina is (right) under investigation for having met with the leader of an outlawed group in violation of the terms of a state of emergency declared in October, Associated Press reports:
Merera has been a government critic for more than a decade and hails from the restive Oromia region, which has seen anti-government protests since November 2015. He is the vice chairman of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum, one of the biggest opposition groups in Ethiopia.
“The arrest of Merera Gudina is an outrageous assault on the right to freedom of expression and should sound alarm bells for anyone with an interest in ending the deadly protests that have rocked Ethiopia over the past year,” said Michelle Kagari, the Amnesty Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
The Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country, have been protesting for the past year over their historical marginalization as well as corrupt local government and the confiscation of farmland for factories. At least 700 people are estimated to have died in the ongoing crackdown, The Washington Post adds.
“We don’t know his whereabouts,” Beyene Petros, head of the Medrek coalition of opposition parties, which includes Gudina’s Oromo Federalist Congress, told The Washington Post. “In terms of political leadership, he has been around and operating aboveboard, peacefully.”
The Oromo protest movement is “far, far bigger” than anything the country has experienced since the governing party came to power in 1991, said Merera.
European parliament member Ana Maria Gomes, who invited Mr Merera, told the BBC she was “extremely shocked” about the arrests. She said she would push for the European Union take a tougher line against the Ethiopian government, reports BBC Ethiopia correspondent Emmanuel Igunza.
A former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, Merera “arrived in Addis Ababa on Wednesday morning from a trip to Brussels, where he met members of the European Parliament,” Gebru Gebremariam, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, told Reuters.