When the trouble started in Syria a few weeks ago, the wise guys in the media assumed that such a stable regime would avoid serious trouble.  If necessary, a heavy dose of repression would put an end to it.  It had worked so well a few decades  ago that Syria has been docile ever since.  But not this time. The death toll rises daily.  The outlook is dark.

This is relevant here because both Ethiopia and Eritrea also have suppressed, unhappy populations.  Are they ripe for uprisings?

Last week Meles detained a few hundred Oromos whom he called Oromo Liberation Front members that were planning to make trouble.  About 120 of them have been formally charged.  In Ethiopia, the ethnic component in political tension is probably the biggest, but economic benefits flow unfairly to favored groups, human rights are severely restricted, the political space is ever smaller, the media more carefully watched, etc.

Nevertheless, Ethiopia’s growing economy helps keep the lid on, for now.  Commodity prices — grain and coffee — are high, which has been a boon to farmers. On the other hand, political trouble these days is more likely to emerge from crowded urban areas, where high food prices are causing pain.  That was the case in Tunisia, the first domino to fall.

Meles already proved that he is willing to shoot protesters, if necessary.  Nearly 200 died when the vote count in 2005 was challenged.  He won 99% of the seats in 2010.   But if growth falters, or the generous flow of foreign aid slows, or, as elsewhere, something unexpected shakes things up, Ethiopia could become another domino.

Meles reads the papers…he can’t be sleeping that well.

In Eritrea, information is so severely controlled that many Eritreans may not know how far political instability has spread, but they can’t be completely in the dark.  Satellite dishes receive Al Jazeera, BBC and many more channels.  Though banned, the politically connected have dishes, and relatives, household servants, visiting friends, etc.  Government officials have drivers, clerks and assorted other contacts.  Without a doubt, something about Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya and so on has gotten around.

Eritrean exiles…a growing community…maintain cell phone contact with relatives at home.  They censor themselves heavily during phone calls, but information still gets through in both directions.  What Eritreans here say is that their families know enough about recent events elsewhere to have food for thought, and for talk with intimate family and friends.  They also report that the government reacts so harshly to any signs of political talk, group meetings or the slightest hint of dissent that they are forced to remain politically passive. For now, at least.  Eritrea has no news sources, only government propaganda. As a police state, it’s marginally better than North Korea.

Isiaias’ nightmare is that a coup will come from within the army or one of several security agencies whose main function is to keep an eye on each other.  These groups — at least their officers — are undoubtedly better informed than the average Eritrean. And they have access to arms.  They know that Eritrea has few friends. A few must be unhappy with Eritrea’s degenerate condition and its abysmal international reputation, for which only Isaias can be held responsible.

Isaias can’t be sleeping so well either.

Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, has become the occasion for weekly protest meetings that countries with big Muslim populations can’t ban.  In one after another, violence has broken out on Fridays and followed by violent government responses. Though overall a majority Christian, large areas have Muslim majorities, with rising Muslim-Christian tensions.  There are religious rather than political, but that line could easily be crossed.

Friday it was Burkina Faso’s turn:   Thousands of Burkinabes protest Compaore regime