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Amid Civil War, Ethiopia Holds Elections

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Results aren't in yet, but incumbent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is expected to remain head of Ethiopia. When he was first elected three years ago, the prime minister was seen as the hope of Ethiopia, winning a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the war with Eritrea. But he's since then pursued a brutal civil war in the Tigray region, where yesterday government forces allegedly bombed a marketplace. Earlier, we spoke with the Tsedale Lemma, the editor of the Addis Standard. She says, as Ethiopia waits on an election that's been delayed several times, the international community needs to reconsider Abiy's accolades.

TSEDALE LEMMA: There was really nothing in the horizon that warranted a Nobel Peace Prize because it was due to the rapprochement he launched with Eritrea. And there was nothing substantial achieved by the time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The peace process that he started was not institutionalized. The relationship between the two countries was not institutionalized, contingent (ph) largely on the two people - Eritrea's president is Isaias Afwerki and Prime Minister Abiy himself. So this is a big misconception that the world wanted to believe what they wanted to believe about him.

CORNISH: When the United Nations says that all sides have been accused of abuses, is that something people feel is accurate?

LEMMA: In Ethiopia, no (laughter). In Ethiopia, a lot of people still believe Tigray's fake news because there's a massive gaslighting of facts. And the government still has enough control over the media, and the narrative is what they are producing. So Tigray is because the Western media is - that is how Ethiopia - majority people in Ethiopia still believe about the war in Tigray.

CORNISH: So do people believe Abiy's promise that this election would be free and fair?

LEMMA: Depends on who the people you are referring to. One of the most troubling aspect of this election is that it has polarized Ethiopians into those who are sidelined from the election and those who have enthusiastically supported the election because their agenda is catered for, their political parties are represented. However, this is not what the people who have been disenfranchised are feeling. Because in Oromia, two of the biggest opposition parties have withdrawn due to massive crackdown, which made them unable to participate in the election. They had their offices closed. They had their leaders jailed with no court verdicts so far for almost a year now. Tigray is completely sidelined. And we don't know when the election is going to be. We don't know if the people of Tigray are going to, in fact, be represented in the new government that the prime minister is going to form after this election.

CORNISH: If the prime minister wins reelection - and that seems likely - what do you expect for Ethiopia during his next term?

LEMMA: He is going to double down. He will consider himself now as the ultimate legitimate prime minister, which would be a very huge hindrance for political negotiation, for compromises. So that is why this election is likely to further polarize because there is no roadmap so far on how he want to reintegrate the people that he sidelined back into the political process.

CORNISH: Tsedale Lemma, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LEMMA: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: And Tsedale Lemma is the editor of the Addis Standard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.