The United States has voiced concerns ahead of Ethiopia’s elections, saying ethnic violence and detentions of opposition figures will raise doubts about the vote’s credibility.
Africa’s second-most populous nation holds elections on June 21 in which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 on promises to break with the authoritarian past, is seeking a new mandate.
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But the reputation of the Nobel Peace Prize winner has been tarnished as he has waged a military campaign in the Tigray region, where the United Nations warned on Friday that tens of thousands of children risk starvation.
“The United States is gravely concerned about the environment under which these upcoming elections are to be held,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Friday.
“The detention of opposition politicians, harassment of independent media, partisan activities by local and regional governments and the many inter-ethnic and inter-communal conflicts across Ethiopia are obstacles to a free and fair electoral process and whether Ethiopians would perceive them as credible,” he said.
“The exclusion of large segments of the electorate from this contest due to security issues and internal displacement is particularly troubling.”
Ethiopia’s elections are going ahead after two delays. Last year, election authorities pushed back polls due to the coronavirus pandemic, and then delayed the vote from June 5 due to logistical concerns.
The United States, historically an ally of Ethiopia, has voiced growing impatience with Abiy and the handling of the conflict in Tigray.
Fighting in Tigray broke out in November 2020 between government troops and the region’s former governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The TPLF led the coalition that ruled Ethiopia for nearly 30 years until Abiy rose to power following street protests. Abiy further alienated the TPLF by making peace with longtime foes Eritrea as soon as he took office, and tensions were rising.
Though Abiy promised the military operations in Tigray would be brief, nearly seven months later, fighting continues, reports of atrocities are proliferating and world leaders are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The violence has killed thousands of civilians and forced some two million from their homes in the mountainous region.
In July last year, security forces arrested Jawar Mohammed, a leading opposition figure and fierce critic of the prime minister, after deadly protests following the killing of popular musician Hachalu Hundessa in Addis Ababa.
In September, authorities filed terrorism charges against Jawar and several leading activists. Jawar’s lawyers have repeatedly asserted he was locked up because of his political views and have called for his release.