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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Political turmoil in Ethiopia and Eritrea
Ethiopian students protesting in Addis Ababa
Ethiopian students have become radicalised
By Martin Plaut

In a strange quirk of fate, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea have been plunged into political crises that almost mirror one another.

The political movements that came to power in the wake of the overthrow of the Ethiopian Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991 are now deeply split over the political future of their respective countries.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia's difficulties erupted first.

Ethiopians
Ethiopians celebrated after the war - but tensions have now surfaced
In March, 12 members of the Central Committee of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) - the main party in the ruling EPRDF coalition government - came out in open opposition to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

They accused him of bowing to western interests and complained that he had failed to capitalise on the military reverses that Ethiopia had inflicted on Eritrea during the war.

The dissidents were expelled from their party positions and charges of corruption have been brought against some of them.

Those members of the army and administration thought to be sympathetic to the dissidents have also been purged.

Eritrea

The political turmoil in Eritrea surfaced last month, when 15 members of the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) signed a declaration stating that President Isaias Afwerki┐s behaviour had plunged the country into crisis.

President Isaias Afwerki
Eritreans are now questioning President Isaias
Their seering criticism, posted on a website, accused the president of "conducting himself in an illegal and unconstitutional manner".

So far no action has been taken against the Eritrean dissidents, but there are suggestions circulating in Asmara that they too could be accused of corruption.

War fallout

It would appear that the ending of the war between the two countries in December last year lifted the lid on political tensions that had been bubbling away beneath the surface.

Eritrean soldiers
Both countries devoted vital resources towards the war
Both ruling parties came to power after fighting guerrilla wars from the 1970s to overthrow the autocratic power exercised by the Ethiopian government. In that time they developed into tight, centralised organisations that had little room for open, popular debate.

It would seem that neither have been able to throw off this heritage.

The challenge for both is how they deal with the current dissent, and whether they can develop into genuinely democratic organisations.

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See also:

31 May 01 | Africa
Dissent surfaces in Eritrea
27 May 01 | Africa
Ethiopia 10 years after Mengistu
11 Nov 99 | Africa
Fall of the Wall echoes in Africa
22 May 01 | Africa
Ethiopia urged to free academics
17 Apr 01 | Africa
Eritrean minister speaks out
30 Oct 00 | Africa
Eritrea confronts the future
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