Boston, Ma — What does the chairman of Ethiopia’s youngest opposition party do when he is allegedly barred by the government from attending his U.S. fundraising tours? He presses on via a video chat.
Yilkal Getnet (Eng.), chairman of Semayawi Party, was set out to tour seven US cities this month to raise funds for the upcoming general elections. But that was until the party announced—at the very last minute— he won’t be able to make it because authorities have confiscated his passport.
The party says the government hasn’t given any explanation for its actions yet.
But party supporters here in the United States refuse to backtrack. “We shouldn’t let our plans be interrupted by the regime’s action,” said Aklog Limeneh, one of the event-coordinators, during his opening remarks at the fundraising in Boston this past Sunday.
“We carried on with the event to show our determination in supporting Ethiopia’s ongoing peaceful struggle.”
Sunday’s fundraising had the party chief stay up late at night at his campaign quarters in Ethiopia to hold a live video chat session with supporters about his party’s activities ahead of the May elections.
“As you can see, the ruling regime has already started to panic,” said Getnet, starting off his speech by a brief remark on why he couldn’t physically attend the event. “The ever anxious regime has stalled my tour but we will not be discouraged.”
He praised the diaspora community for its continuous support to opposition members in Ethiopia, even when those efforts “time and again failed to bring a lasting solution.”
“Despite what the ruling party says, the diaspora community’s support has been crucial in helping the struggle at home. Ethiopians overseas should know that their activism, at the very least, has become the voice of the oppressed,” Getnet emphasized. “I have a great respect and admiration for your community.”
When asked if his party has any plans for the diaspora community, Getnet replied that at this stage his party is not in a position to present anything specifically designed for the diaspora other than offering leadership for the peaceful struggle at home.
However few in the audience questioned if indeed the peaceful struggle advocated by parties like Semayawi is working at all.
“Just by simply participating in this election, we are showing how undemocratic the regime is,” replied Getnet. “When I’m forbidden to leave the country for no apparent reason, it is clear to tell how frightened the regime is with our peaceful engagement.”
He further noted that armed struggle is not new to Ethiopia, and that it hasn’t brought any good to the country thus far.
“There are those who have taken up arms in the last 24 years but really, what have they achieved? They haven’t been able to capture even a single kebele [neighborhood]!”
Just last month, three members of the party were arrested by security officials for reportedly trying to cross into Eritrea to join the Ginbot 7 armed struggle.
Officials at Semayawi have also confirmed the arrests, but they are reserved to comment further.
“We are still verifying the case related with our members who are in custody,” Getnet said, “and because this is a legal matter that requires careful handling, our party can’t readily give detailed information. We need time.”
The party’s U.S. fundraising efforts kicked off in the nation’s capital on April 4th, with Yacob Hailemariam (PhD) as the guest speaker. The meeting that followed in Boston the next day, which was attended by not more than thirty people, was able to raise over $4,000.
With five more US cities to go before the end of this month, the party continues to raise funds for the $2 million (ETB 42,000,000) budget it has allocated for this year’s election campaign.