Wednesday, January 31
Today Addis truly reflects the virtual police state in which we live. Over the past week thousands of federal policemen have descended upon the city for the AU summit and, while this may help to ease the fears of the most corrupt African leaders visiting from abroad, residents here feel anything but safe. I have never seen the city like this—a comparable number of forces were deployed during Meskel (but concentrated entirely around the Square), but the atmosphere now feels even more oppressive due to their overwhelming omnipresence.
Under the watch of conspicuous rooftop snipers, federal and military wagons currently rule the roads, spilling out dozens upon dozens of blue-clad, heavily armed soldiers at a moment’s notice. These policemen are literally EVERYWHERE, waiting with guns cocked outside retaurants and cafes, schools and churches, in abandoned lots and on crowded corners, both on the main streets and side roads.
The rules of the city have also changed. At any given time, the roads suddenly close to allow for the procession of passing dignitaries—-walking on certain sides of the road becomes instantly prohibited and it is also forbidden to cross except at designated crosswalks. Now, anyone who has ever visited this city knows that traffic here is chaotic at best and, though there are no signs or roped off areas to signal any of this, residents here are somehow expected to anticipate these new rules—evidenced by soldiers who angrily shout incoherent demands, gesture threateningly with their machine guns or the backs of their hands, and chase down those who forgot to comply. The line between security and military rule appears increasingly blurred as the week progresses; though I am not aware that a city-wide curfew has been imposed, a friend and I were followed almost to our doorsteps the other night by a federal vehicle…apparently walking a couple of blocks after midnight is now considered a ‘suspicious activity’.
A couple of days ago one policeman boasted of the ‘excellent’ training that he had received from the Americans in “fighting the terrorists”. Figures. (Considering the quiet, local terror instilled by the blank, dehumanizing stares and gleaming AK-47s of these federal troops, I suppose the irony of this statement is almost humorous…) I guess it really shouldn’t matter much that the oppression here has now become equally visibly represented, but somehow it does...