May 16, 2005

Election special - nothing happened

All right, I’m back in for the evening – I have almost no election news to report. The city was decidedly calm and orderly today. The daily newspapers duly observed the historic event, but all papers and their columnists encouraged an orderly day, even for opposition supporters. Maybe this was obligatory – they can’t exactly encourage people to take to the streets in the event of irregularities. All in all though, the day was decidedly calm.

I drove past a few polling stations. Nice long queues, but very organized and calm. That might be explained by a few of the police trucks we saw driving through the town – in the back of the trucks were both soldiers in uniforms and either soldiers or police in plain clothes. Likely, the city had a lot of undercover officers on the streets and at polling stations, so any disruptions that did take place would have been addressed quickly.

Honestly, it was a very calm day. Few people in the streets. Seems like the apprehension surrounding polling day, at least, was misplaced. Everything was calm.

Now, the counting and announcement of results might be a little different – who knows. They don’t do exit polling here, at least as far as I know, so it might be difficult to detect instances of fraud. Reaction might just spring from a general understanding of what each side, particularly the opposition, feels it deserves. If the results come in below their expectations, they may feel inclined to take to the streets. Again, that’s an unknown. Smart people said nothing would happen today and they were correct. They also said they feared the announcement of the results, so I don’t think anything has really subsided as of yet. As always, I will try to keep you informed from this side.

I read an interesting interview the Prime Minister gave in his party’s publication. One of the questions led to the Prime Minister explaining his position on development. He said there are two schools of thought on development, “top down” and “bottom up”. Top down development opens a country’s markets to outside investments and hopes that the investment leads to improved conditions for all inhabitants, kind of like trickle-down economics. Bottom-up tries to catalyze the bottom classes – farmers and laborers, to increase production that can drive development and ultimately feed those at the top as well.

It’s a classic argument being played out in a country with a history of kings and bottom-down management. It’s also a country that places huge importance on the church – possibly a leveler of inequity - and that prides, above all else, its independence, a sentiment and purpose for being that levels people across classes. Who’s to say? I’ll probably go with the Prime Minister because in my own experience here and in conversations with people I respect, a lot of people think that Ethiopia has changed and is ready to explode into industrialization, the next step it must take to join the developed world.

I guess the Prime Minister’s drive may be to build the capacity of farmers so that agriculture can industrialize, possibly through collectives. With advanced agriculture able to adequately feed the population and leave time for other pursuits, people can begin manufacturing. My brother-in-law talked about a few tenets of communist theory once – agricultural industrialization and electrification of the country as keys to development. Maybe those are the objectives here.

Well, it’s late and I’ve got to put together slides for a Power Point Presentation. Good night all from Election Central and what has been an almost completely calm day, at least what I’ve witnessed.


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