Last week, the trial of 24 journalists, opposition leaders and others charged with terrorism-related offences – which had been marred by due process violations, lack of access to counsel and allegations of torture by defendants – ended in life sentences and one of 18 years for the renowned writer Eskinder Nega. On the same day, ongoing mass protests by Muslims at state attempts to control mosques were shut down by police with dozens arrested.

In December 2011 Ethiopia sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years in jail for the same offence. The pair were attempting to report on the closed Ogaden region where rights abuses against the indigenous Somali population are rampant.

You might think that such behaviour would make Zenawi and his government a pariah. But not at all: Ethiopia receives more EU and US aid than any other African country.

The European Union’s current country strategy on Ethiopia states: “The promotion of sustainable security, the rule of law and inclusive, accountable governance ultimately depend on a conducive political climate.”  The climate in Ethiopia is now one where democracy is dead and dissent carries the highest penalty. Moreover, the price of Ethiopia’s rush towards economic growth at any cost is increasingly being paid in the well-being and livelihoods of the very citizens the government claims to represent.

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