Ethiopia appears to be a haven of peace and prosperity in Africa right now. At least compared to the recent front-page news of al-Shabaab’s official alignment with al-Qaeda, the terrorization of the Arabian Sea by Somali pirates and the cruel drought throughout East Africa.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has spent the last 16 years fighting and successfully mitigating the poverty that ravaged the Ethiopia of my father’s childhood. In the West, we celebrate Zenawi’s efforts with his political party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, to reduce the prevalence of infectious diseases and provide basic health services to isolated rural communities.

The political stability of Ethiopia, especially compared with that of its eastern neighbor, Somalia, has made the country a promising beneficiary of foreign aid. Aid organizations and the international community, notably the United States, applaud the efficient dispersal of their aid in Ethiopia that is almost impossible in the rest of East Africa. Zenawni’s policies during his four-term reign must be credited with the improvements to Ethiopia’s standard of living and economy.

However, human rights violations in Ethiopia are largely ignored as a result. The violations rarely make the front pages of newspapers, but they cover pages of the Human Rights Watch website.

Since 1995, suppression of political dissidence has characterized the Zenawi administration. The National Election Board, whose members are all appointed by Zenawi, halted vote counting when the opposition took the lead in the numbers, then declared the EPRD the winner. In the 2010 elections, a major contender was stabbed to death, and dozens of other coalition party leaders have been beaten and arrested during Zenawi’s rule.

Another important human rights violation manifested itself in Ogaden, a region on the Somali border that Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, dubbed a “human rights wasteland.” Three columnists for The New York Times were arrested by the Zenawi administration in 2007 when they reported on the systematic patterns of sadistic violence and rape they discovered in Ogaden.

Older generations of Ethiopians see everything in comparison to the Ethiopia before Zenawi. My father is quick to remind me that Zenawi’s monopoly on legitimate power and force is the only reason Ethiopian poverty levels have fallen drastically in my lifetime. People in Ogaden, he says, faced harsh discrimination before Zenawi. Now, though abuse still exists, it is no longer at the same level. Do the benefits of Zenawi’s rule outweigh his atrocious acts against his opponents and the region of Ogaden?

Two weeks ago, Kristof wrote a scathing commentary on Zenawi’s suppression of political dissidence through the arrests of hundreds of Ethiopian journalists and a number of American and Swedish journalists. He ended his column with a statement directed at Zenawi: “Your brutality toward Swedish, American and Ethiopian journalists will not silence the world’s media. You’re just inviting more scrutiny.”

Ambassador Tesfaye Yilma, the deputy chief of mission at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., wrote a letter to the editor in response. He disappointingly evaded the pertinent issue of human rights violations, and focused on the mundane, stating that the Swedish journalists arrested and currently still in holding in Ethiopia had violated the sovereignty of Ethiopia by entering the country illegally.

I would like to end my comments in the same strain as Kristof, with a marked difference: Prime Minister Zenawi, the progress you have made for Ethiopia is remarkable, and I commend you for it. However, the inhumane acts of oppression you commit against your people are inexcusable. The improved standard of living in Ethiopia does not absolve you of the harm you inflict upon your people. And further, the injury you have caused to the basic human rights of so many taints your great successes.

Sophia Berhie is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. CARDAMOM, SPICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS appears every other Tuesday.

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