By James Butty
Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen said Ethiopia should not be afraid to have free and fair elections or a free press.
Cohen said the government is doing good things that it can win an election on, such as creating jobs, carrying on infrastructure development and boosting trade. But he cautioned that the government has made no move to implement his suggestions.
“Ethiopia, I believe, should open up more toward multiparty democracy. Right now, you have opposition parties that exist, but they really do not have much access to the public. The press really does not give them much voice, and journalists have been imprisoned for saying things that the government doesn’t like. So, I think it’s time for the government to loosen up because they are doing good things in Ethiopia,” he said.
But Berhanu Nega, professor of economics at Bucknell University and former leader of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy in Ethiopia, said the government can never have free and fair elections.
“The reason why there’s so much repression, the reason why there’s so much muzzling of the press, the reason why the Ethiopian government is arresting opposition figures inside the country is precisely because they know that this is a despised government. It cannot last a day in an environment of freedom. This is a government that will lose catastrophically if there were [a] free and fair election,” Nega said.
Cohen also said he wanted to set the record straight about his recommendation during a London Conference on Ethiopia and Eritrea and Port Assab.
He said he did not say the port belongs to Ethiopia, contrary to what some in Ethiopia had attributed to him, and that he only recommended Ethiopia and Eritrea maintain a common economic union after Eritrea’s independence allowing Ethiopia to use the port.
“There are some people in Ethiopia who said that during the London Conference of 1991 I recommended that the Port of Assab belonged to Ethiopia. This is not correct. What I recommended was Ethiopia and Eritrea maintain a common economic union after Eritrea’s independence and, in that way, Ethiopia could use the Port of Assab,” he said.
Cohen said that before the war of 1998, Ethiopia used a section of the port for their imports and exports, which means that Assab did not belong to Ethiopia, but it had access to an exclusive zone.
He said the port should be the sovereign territory of Eritrea, but that Ethiopia should have the right to use it.
Audio: VOA interview with Amb Herman Cohen