Last Sunday morning, they were few dozens to gather at the Blue Party office. Sunny day, loud music and happy dancing. It looked all right.
One of the leaders, who a colleague and I met two days before, walked straight on towards us. We were sitting at the terrace of a cafe opposite to the party office, awaiting the demonstration to set off. The coffee was awful, the man was in joyful mood. « We’re going to Meskel Square », he said confidently. Meskel Square… The biggest square of Addis Ababa, the one dedicated to official celebrations, not to rally of an opposition party. Officially, Meskel Square can’t host any demonstration given the ongoing construction of the railway. Surprisingly, the Blue Party leaders, who admited that the authorities delivered them an authorisation to march to Jan Meda, a vast public garden in the eastern part of the city, insisted on going to Meskel Square. Let’s wait and see then.
The man walked back to his acolytes who were getting ready in the office compound. The less timorous were taking placards out, the others were covering the place with blue flags. The speakers were crackling.
Last June, the Blue Party – launched in 2007 after leaders of the opposition have been released from jail – managed to gather about then thousands people in the Ethiopian capital. It was the first legal and peaceful demonstration organised by the opposition since a while. At that time, demonstrators asked for more freedom and democracy, called the government to tackle unemployment and to stop harassing opposition and Muslims leaders. Nothing less…
Four months later, in early September, the Blue Party planed to march again. But the government had its own agenda: the same day, it has scheduled an inter-religious demonstration « against terrorism ». No way the Blue Party could rally as well. The night before, Blue Party leaders told reporters after all, the police made a raid on their office, seized their material and arrested hundred of their members. The authorities denied it. The demonstration was rescheduled three weeks later, on this sunny Sunday morning.
But no more than hundred people responded to the Blue Party call for a new rally. Those who were carrying on placards seemed as determined as lonely. The blaring loudspeakers could not hide the failure. Few journalists – almost all of them working for foreign outlets – were here. Curiously one cameraman was exclusively filming the reporters, not the demonstrators.
One hour after the time scheduled for departure, the demonstration set off. Hundred meters further, the police blocked the crowd… who peacefully walked back to the Blue Party office. End of the demonstration.