The Mercato area of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is normally a bustling market area, with everything on sale from electronic goods to the special grass that people use for the famous coffee ceremony.  But on Wednesday, June 8 2005, the area was uncharacteristically quiet.

A protest had been called about allegations of fraud in the May 15 election, whose results had still not been finalised.  Interim results showed that Addis itself had swung unanimously against the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party, and the opposition had made huge gains in the rest of the country too.  

But the opposition wasn’t satisfied: believing that they had unseated the government, they claimed large-scale fraud.  On the day of the protest, shopkeepers opted to lock their shops and stay at home, fearing a repeat of earlier protests that had turned violent.  Their fears were realised, when police opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators.  At least 36 people died, and tension in the capital grew to breaking point.  (see pictures, and eyewitness accounts). The government blamed opposition forces, which it said was bent on overthrow, and detained thousands of opposition supporters.

A little while later, one of the many independent newspapers came across  information they believed to be reliable that the daughter of prime minister Meles Zenawi had held a lavish high-school graduation party a few days after the shooting. The party was apparently held at the capital’s swish Sheraton Hotel, and was paid for by its owner, Sheik Mohammed Al-Amoudi, possibly the richest and best known businessman in the country.  The paper grappled with several questions;

  • Would reporting the story be an invasion of privacy?
  • Would the age of the daughter make any difference?
  • Does the involvement of Al-Amoudi indicate corruption?
  • Was it indecent of prime minister Meles to have a lavish party when the country was in crisis?

In the end, the paper didn’t run the story, fearing legal consequences in the tense and repressive atmosphere of the time.  What do you think: would it have been a legitimate story? How would you answer the questions above?

Please note that the account above has not been independently verified.