Saturday, September 27, 2008


September 25, 2008

Cambridge, MA, United States – During a colorful Ethiopian New Year event on Saturday, September 13, Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons presented Ethiopian American Youth Initiative founder Samuel Gebru with a resolution formally recognizing the Ethiopian New Year of 2001. The event was held at Saint Paul’s A.M.E. Church on Bishop Allen Drive, and was hosted by the Ethiopian Community Mutual Assistance Association. The resolution was passed unanimously during the Cambridge City Council meeting on Monday, September 8, 2008

The City Council resolution recognizes the Ethiopian New Year, and acknowledges the numerous political, social and economic contributions of Ethiopians to the city. The Ethiopian New Year falls on September 11 of the Gregorian (“Western”) Calendar. As Cambridge is home to the largest concentration of Ethiopians in Massachusetts, the passing of the resolution was a natural show of support for part of the community.

Mayor Simmons expressed her support for the resolution by stating, “Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest, independent and continuously surviving nation. Cambridge is graced with the presence of a large population of people of Ethiopian descent. They add to the rich cultural diversity in our City, and they link us to our friends in Africa. We passed this resolution in a show of support and friendship for our Ethiopian friends in Cambridge, in Africa, and worldwide.”

Mr. Gebru, who resides in Cambridge, thanked Mayor Simmons for her support of the Ethiopian community in the city.

“To my knowledge, there has not been a proclamation acknowledging the Ethiopian New Year in the past in Cambridge, nor has there been one recognizing the Ethiopian community’s contributions to the city’s multicultural identity,” said Gebru. “I would like to commend Mayor Simmons for her support of the Ethiopian community in Cambridge. I would also like to commend my organization, the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative, for initiating this endeavor which resulted in a proclamation for our new year.” The proclamation, included with this press release, is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative, Mayor Simmons, and the City of Cambridge.

For more information on the City of Cambridge, visit
For more information on the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative, visit

Friday, September 26, 2008

The challenge of humanitarian aid

A Week in the Horn

26 September 2008

Addis Ababa

It is no secret that Ethiopia has once again been affected by drought and consequent food shortages, as have most of the countries in our region. In the last few months, Ethiopian Government institutions, donor governments and international institutions, government or non-government alike, have redoubled efforts to assist those in need. Efforts are continuing and a number of governments have donated extra assistance for those suffering from drought and rising food and energy prices. Reports indicate the situation is beginning to stabilize in some of the originally affected areas and the main maize harvest is due to start soon in the south, but with different agro-climatic zones and a variable time-frame for rains there are still areas of serious need. The Ethiopian government and people are eternally grateful to a multitude of institutions and selfless individuals for making it possible for Ethiopians in need to be cared for at this most difficult and trying time. These institutions and individuals know that the victims of natural vicissitudes are not to blame for the calamity they face. But the charitable convictions of such institutions and individuals are now being overshadowed by increasing attempts to politicize humanitarian aid. This is an emerging, indeed a disquieting, phenomenon and one worth scrutinizing.

Humanitarian assistance, for people affected by natural disasters and the sort of complex emergencies from which Ethiopia is currently suffering, has a long history. Originally, the organizations devoted to humanitarian assistance were limited in their numbers and capacities. They generally adhered to principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality, and scrupulously complied with these in human catastrophes of any magnitude. Any divergence was rapidly denounced by the organizations themselves. It was these principles that constituted the link between the organizations, the state authorities and those in need. Over the years, however, the numbers of organizations providing humanitarian assistance, and the amount of money they manage, have increased exponentially, largely due to the almost biblical proportions of new humanitarian challenges. Many of these new bodies were no longer prepared to provide food aid or medicine. Their members were also political activists, focused not just on the catastrophes that required aid and assistance but on other issues. They were no longer neutral, independent and impartial, operating out of moral conviction, but political actors in their own right, lobbyists for their cause and important constituents of a political elite. They can and do sway votes in national elections, and have political roles in their own countries while using their humanitarian organizations. Parallel to this, the attention and coverage of the international media has also been transformed, and these organizations and the media happily feed off each other. The media publicizes the work of the humanitarian agencies and the organizations benefit from the outpouring of public sympathy for their actions and assistance for the victims of disaster. This in turn propels politicians in the aid-sourcing countries to take their opportunity, and respond to the concerns of their constituencies. Recipient countries and direct beneficiaries all-too-often become no more than the objects of patronizing hand-outs and providers of graphic, often obscene, pictures for prime-time television and newspapers. This, in turn, encourages involvement of state actors and further politicizes humanitarian work. They feed upon each other rather than impact usefully on the supposed objects of their charity. Inevitably, growing numbers of non-governmental groups in any one geographical area have consequences for increased politicization, resource mobilization and expenditure.

Ethiopia has been one of the areas most affected by these developments in humanitarian aid. Before the fall of the military regime, most such organizations were kept out. Subsequently, Ethiopia has hosted a significant number of non-governmental organizations claiming to provide humanitarian assistance or undertake development projects. Many have complemented government developmental efforts and assisted in the provision of aid to people in need, making up one element of government strategy. In the long run, of course, it is economic development, investment and democratization which will ensure the well-being of those affected, for example, by drought. As part of its efforts to mitigate the effects of such problems, the Government put in place an early warning system for the prevention of natural disasters, working closely with international agencies. The agency involved has recently been restructured, enlarging its responsibilities to meet the challenges that such emergencies represent more effectively. The Government will continue to strengthen the institutional and legal structures responsible for identifying and providing lasting solutions to such humanitarian crises.

One critical aspect of these efforts is the empowerment of local communities to participate in finding lasting solutions in the design and implementation of development polices. In fact, the decentralization of decision making to local level will eventually make widespread inroads in tackling some of the existing structural problems. The current process of enacting legislation for charities and societies is part of the Government's effort to create an enabling environment for the operation of the still increasing number of non-government organizations and actors. This will ensure transparent and predictable processes for accreditation, and allow such bodies to carry out their mandates in full compliance with Ethiopian law. The draft legislation is a work in progress. It has involved extensive consultations with stakeholders and external partners, and the draft is now undergoing its third revision. The institution of a modern legal framework, drawing on the best practices from around the world, together with the efforts to restructure Government agencies providing for early warning, prevention and response to emergencies, is meant to guarantee that no fatalities will be caused by a lack of the necessary structures. The Government is determined to do its utmost to ensure all those in need receive care. It is a major priority. Certainly, in the long run, the socio-economic development of the country is the only way to provide a sustainable response. In the meantime, however, it is necessary to address these challenges, of provision of assistance at need and of providing an acceptable framework in which all non-governmental organizations can operate in accordance with acceptable norms of humanitarian assistance and respect for the minimum standards of objectivity, independence and impartiality. Indeed, it might be argued that it is now time for the United Nations and other forums to deliberate on suitable solutions to restore integrity and confidence in the real ideals of humanitarian aid.

Supporting Senator Obama shouldn't mean vilification of Ethiopia

A Week in the Horn

26 September 2008

Addis Ababa

Last week, US Congressman, Representative Donald Payne (Democrat, New Jersey) addressed a gathering of Ethiopians in Washington, D.C. The apparent purpose was to urge the community to support the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, in his bid to become the next President of the United States. We do not, of course, have any intent to be involved in the domestic politics of another state, even of a close friend. However, when a US Congressman uses a domestic political campaign event to vilify Ethiopia, it does raise some questions why he goes to such lengths to try to tarnish Ethiopia’s image and damage the good relations between Ethiopia and the United States.

In his address to the meeting, Representative Payne claimed he was particularly concerned by political and human rights conditions in Ethiopia. He cited a litany of unsubstantiated allegations of violations. Ethiopia, of course, does not claim to have a perfect record in its efforts to build a strong democratic society, but it is, nevertheless, a country that has regular free multi-party elections, a thriving free press, a constitution and mechanisms to address human rights issues including a Human Rights Commission and an Ombudsman's Office. Is there room for improvement? Certainly. That is why both government and people continue efforts to strengthen the judicial and political institutions necessary to achieve and sustain improved performances in all areas of democratization including the protection of human rights.

If Representative Payne is really genuine in his frequently stated concern for human rights and democracy, it is surprising that he has made so little of Eritrea, a country he visited early this year. Eritrea, after all, has no constitution, refuses to hold elections, only allows one political party, the ruling Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice, does not allow any independent media, has been designated as a country of particular concern for severe violations of religious freedom for the last four years,and has been roundly criticized by Reporters Without Borders and by all Eritrean Human Rights organizations, all of which are obliged to operate from exile. Mr. Payne is also no doubt aware of the eleven ministers and senior officials, and a number of journalists, rounded up by the Eritrean government on September 18, 2001. Held incommunicado, without charge or trial, for seven years, nothing has been heard of them. Thousands more are detained indefinitely, again without charge or trial, many for attempting to escape national conscription which for tens of thousands has lasted for more more than a decade. Representative Payne's reluctance to comment on Eritrea's appalling record on human rights while continuing to vilify Ethiopia, suggests he is driven less by any concern for human rights than by his own personal anti-Ethiopian agenda.

Representative Payne also told his audience that under an Obama administration, “we will not turn a blind eye to abuses just because some governments pretend to be allies in the war on terror.” This is obviously an allusion to Ethiopia which the United States certainly considers a friend. We have no knowledge whether Mr. Payne is accurate in his view of Senator Obama's possible policies. However, his effort to raise support for Senator Obama among members of the more extreme Ethiopian opposition elements in the Diaspora, by promising hostility to the present government of Ethiopia, is scarcely a friendly act. It is also perhaps unfair to the Presidential candidate himself who appears far too statesmanlike to associate himself with such disgraceful activity. We would recall that Representative Payne was the main architect of HR 2003, a much criticized bill which he claimed would support human rights and democracy in Ethiopia. The bill failed to materialize in part because it was seen as ill-conceived and hardly conducive to good US/Ethiopian relations, nor, we might add, to US/African relations either. In his speech last week, Representative Payne made clear his regret for the failure, claiming that the Government of Ethiopia had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to kill it. The Government did not: it had no need to.

Eritrea’s fixation on 'third parties'

A Week in the Horn

26 September 2008

Addis Ababa

It has become something of a trademark of Eritrea’s foreign policy to launch violent attacks on any third party that fails to sympathize with its belligerent stance in its relations with its neighbours. At various times the United Nations, the African Union and, increasingly in recent months, the United States have been vilified for failing to force Ethiopia to succumb to Eritrea’s views on the settlement of disputes between the two countries. The United Nations has been attacked for failing to impose mechanical demarcation of the boundary on Ethiopia. Despite its own violations of the Algiers Agreements, Eritrea wanted the United Nations to act as enforcer for its own position. Rebuffed by the UN, Eritrea has displayed characteristic outrage at being refused its demands, accusing the Security Council of abdicating its legal responsibilities and claiming Security Council resolutions had no legal substance. The African Union has long been vilified by Eritrea as an “ineffective” regional body. The reason is clear. The AU, like the OAU before it, has consistently refused to applaud Eritrea’s adventurism in the region and the rest of Africa. In 1998, the then OAU requested Eritrea to withdraw its invading forces from Ethiopian territories it had illegally occupied. It also played a critical part of facilitating the negotiations which led to the signing of the Algiers Agreements and was one of the Witnesses to the Agreement. The AU has been similarly critical of Eritrea’s latest adventure in invading Djibouti.

Now the increasing focus of Eritrea’s criticisms has shifted to the United States, with almost daily, and increasingly virulent, attacks. It is worth noticing that these scurrilous attacks against the US and other western countries, do not indicate any genuine oppostioin based on principle, as Eritrea would like to pretend. Eritrea’s record provides clear evidence to the contrary. Indeed it was only a year or two ago, that Eritrea was offering “blanket flyover rights, the use of Eritrea’s two major ports and the use of the new airport near the port of Massawa that is able to accommodate all types of aircraft”, to the United States. Eritrean authorities were stressing that Eritrea’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa, with more than 600 miles of coastline along the Red Sea, located just across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, provided a unique resource for US use. However, when the US failed to see that “the time has come for the US to capitalize on this unique opportunity”, Eritrea’s attitude changed sharply. The US became responsible for concocting “endless diversionary ploys and schemes.” It had misused its “leverage” in the Security Council to paralyze implementation of border demarcation. Earlier this year, President Issayas even wrote the President of the Security Council calling on the council to examine “the acts of destabilization that the US Administration is fomenting day and night in our region”. All this apparently because, in Eritrea’s view, the US refused to put the necessary pressure on Ethiopia to accept Eritrea’s position on border demarcation.

The Week in the Horn cannot pretend to speak for the US, nor for the UN nor the AU, but it is clear the real focus of these attacks on third parties is certainly Ethiopia. This is the kind of mentality that effectively blocks progress towards peace in this region. Solutions cannot be imposed by one side or the other, or by third parties. Eritrea knows well that no government in Ethiopia would accept the sort of imposed solution of which it has been dreaming. That is why some of the unfriendly proposals on Ethiopia and Eritrea, coming from the US Congress, are so dangerous; they feed the delusions of Eritrea. This is why Eritrea still refuses to make any move towards dialogue and negotiation. Eritrea should realize that solutions for the boundary or any other dispute can only be found by the two parties working together in a peaceful and legal manner. Vituperation will not get either of us anywhere.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ethiopia: Domestic and Regional Challenges

By Terrence Lyons

Ethiopia is becoming increasingly authoritarian and potentially faces a convergence of challenges that will stretch the regime’s capacity to manage multiple crises. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party weathered the immediate domestic crises that followed contentious national elections in 2005. Non-competitive local elections in April and the promulgation of a draft proclamation to restrict civil society organizations in July indicate that the regime is intent on deepening its control. Across the strife-torn Horn of Africa, Addis Ababa faces an extraordinarily tense and militarized border with Eritrea as the debilitated Algiers peace process that brought their 1998-2000 war to an end has collapsed. Eritrea remains intensely militarized and totalitarian, and recently clashed with Djibouti over their border. The December 2006 intervention into Somalia in support of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has left the Ethiopian military bogged down in Mogadishu, unable to withdraw, yet provoking a violent reaction. The interlinked conflict within the Ogaden region has developed into a massive humanitarian disaster where brutal military tactics have left large areas depopulated. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been in power since 1991, and he and his party have demonstrated resiliency and the capacity to outmaneuver rivals in the past. If internal and regional conflicts escalate simultaneously, however, this convergence may destabilize Ethiopia and the broader region.

The Bush administration has viewed Ethiopia as a strategic ally in the war against terrorism, but Meles has ignored Washington on questions of democratization, human rights, and the need to implement the Algiers Agreement. Furthermore, the close links between Washington and Addis Ababa associate the United States with a sometimes brutal regime as well as its regional conflicts in Somalia, in the Somali-inhabited Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia, and with Eritrea. The next administration will need to balance interests in retaining a strategic partner in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood with interests in democratization, human rights, and regional stability. In particular, Washington should look for opportunities to encourage both the EPRDF government and the full range of opposition parties to initiate talks to re-create the opportunities for peaceful political competition in the period leading up to the 2010 national elections.

The prospects for meaningful electoral politics in Ethiopia has declined sharply since the 2005 elections. In contrast to boycotted elections in 1992, 1995, and 2000, the 2005 elections presented the Ethiopian people with a meaningful choice. Two large opposition associations, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the Union for Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), contested the ruling party, swept the urban areas and won significant votes across the major regions. A chaotic counting process and allegations of fraud, however, generated demonstrations that ended in violence and mass arrests. Despite increasing the number of opposition seats in parliament from 12 to 172 key CUD leaders boycotted the parliament. This decision represented a historic miscalculation that has cost the opposition dearly. In November 2005, top CUD politicians along with journalists and civil society leaders were arrested and charged with genocide and treason. In July 2007 the CUD leaders were convicted but then pardoned and released. The damage, however, had been done: the opposition coalition was shattered, civil society was silenced, and many activists despaired that peaceful change through the ballot box was not possible.

While the opposition had been marginalized, by its own decisions as well as by official repression, the EPRDF continued to face fundamental challenges in relating to two large constituencies that are essential for any Ethiopian regime to govern successfully. First, the EPRDF’s Oromo wing, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, has failed to develop a significant base of support among the Oromo people and remains in power through intimidation and ever more pervasive systems to monitor the population. Second, the May 2005 elections saw an almost complete sweep by the CUD in Addis Ababa and the other main cities. Without a firm basis for support in these two key constituencies, the EPRDF’s ability to govern is inherently precarious and must rely upon force, which in turn alienates more of the population.

Cynicism and disillusionment with electoral politics has replaced the hope and optimism that characterized the period leading up to the 2005 vote. Disenchanted with nonviolent strategies, some now argue that “all kinds and means of struggle” are necessary to remove Meles. A 2007 poll conducted by Gallup found that only 13 percent of Ethiopians have confidence in the honesty of their elections, 25 percent have confidence in the judiciary, and 28 percent have confidence in national government. These numbers are approximately 30 percent points lower than the (very low) average for sub-Saharan Africa and suggest that the population has acquiesced to—but not endorsed—the regime’s authority. The 2005 elections demonstrated high levels of opposition, but failed to usher in an orderly transition based on peaceful multiparty competition.

The outcome of local and by elections in April 2008 suggest that the EPRDF plans to increase its level and extent of control over the population and restrict political and civil liberties. The opposition only managed to register some 16,000 candidates for the nearly 4 million posts up for election. The EPRDF won 137 of 138 council seats in Addis Ababa, despite the opposition sweep in 2005, and in many areas ran unopposed. Even those parties such as the UEDF and Oromo Federal Democratic Movement that participate in the national parliament found it impossible to identify candidates or to campaign, particularly in the Oromo region. According to numerous reports, opposition supporters faced harassment, arrest, and physical violence when they tried to run against the ruling party.

In addition to restricting political space, the ruling party used these elections to deepen its control over the the smallest, subcommunity level of administration, the kebelle councils. While kebelles are quite small, some of the councils have up to 300 members. As a result, some 4 million Ethiopians in a country of 75 million—1 in 20—are now part of an EPRDF-controlled council. The EPRDF, always an extraordinarily effective party, is now ubiquitous and entrenched throughout the country.

The “Charities and Societies Proclamation” under consideration in July 2008 also indicates that the lesson the EPRDF learned from the 2005 elections is that more control is needed. The government argues that the proclamation will increase NGO accountability. Its restrictions on organizations engaged in human rights activities and organizations that accept foreign funding, however, seem designed to direct and monitor civil society organizations and punish those who challenge the ruling party. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch argue that the draft proclamation represents an “assault on civil society.” The arrest of civil society leaders in the aftermath of the 2005 elections already had a chilling effect and the proposed regulations will make civil society organizations bound to the government in ways that will further stifle independent voices.

Unless this creeping authoritarianism is reversed, Ethiopia is likely to face a political crisis in the run up to the next national elections in 2010. Under current conditions, the opposition will almost certainly boycott. The main opposition parties in parliament have consistently demanded reforms to the National Electoral Board, allocation of time on state controlled media, international electoral observation, and most fundamentally an end to harassment, arrests, and violence against their supporters in order for them to participate. The 2008 elections have underlined these essential political liberties. Some opposition leaders, particularly those in the diaspora, are increasingly convinced that the ruling party will not be removed through the ballot box. As opportunities to operate as a nonviolent opposition party or as an independent member of civil society disappear, opposition will increasingly move toward more violent options with potentially violent and destabilizing consequences.

As the EPRDF seeks to increase domestic control, it faces regional conflicts along its border with Eritrea, in Somalia, and in the Somali-inhabited Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. The Algiers Agreement collapsed in 2008, as the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC) closed its doors without delimiting the border on the ground, the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea withdrew from Eritrea after Asmara cut off fuel supplies, and Eritrean troops re-occupied the Temporary Security Zone. Ethiopia remains in control of areas that the EEBC’s demarcation placed on the Eritrean side of the border, notably the symbolically important town of Badme, and Ethiopian and Eritrean troops are just a few hundred meters apart. Despite these alarming tensions, the underlying stalemate remains stable. Asmara and Addis Ababa both believe time is on its side and that there is no need to act immediately. More likely sites for escalation are in Somalia or through increased support for neighboring insurgent groups. If domestic and regional conflicts converged it will be difficult for Addis Ababa to manage the multiple threats.

Washington feels it needs a close relationship with Ethiopia in order to pursue its strategic interests in the Horn of Africa. This relationship, however, comes with costs. As with other pivotal states in difficult regions such as Pakistan and Egypt, these sometimes awkward bedfellows receive U.S. support for security reasons but then pursue their own, sometimes brutal, agendas regardless of pressure from Washington. Addis Ababa and Washington both opposed the Islamic Courts in Somalia, for example, but for very different reasons. Ethiopia worries about the assistance these groups provide to the regime’s enemies in Eritrea and among Oromo and Somali insurgent groups, while the United States is concerned with links to al-Qaeda. This linkage furthermore undercuts U.S. policy toward democratization and human rights in Ethiopia and Washington’s support for the implementation of the Algiers Agreement. If the growing domestic and regional pressures converge and destabilize Addis Ababa, an uncontrolled and potentially very violent transition is possible.

The next administration needs to unravel its cooperation in pursuit of common counter-terrorism goals from policies where the two states have less agreement. Washington should speak plainly about its concerns regarding democracy, human rights, and humanitarian issues in Ethiopia. The United States should press Ethiopia to implement the EEBC border decision and remove its forces from Badme and other areas. Finally, Washington should pressure both the government and the broad range of opposition parties to engage in discussions so that the 2010 elections are not another missed opportunity to promote democratization and stability.

Terrence Lyons is Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution with George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

Senator Feingold's Lack of Knowledge

A Week in the Horn

12 September 2008

Addis Ababa

Inevitably, it comes as a considerable surprise when a US Senator, and one who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on African Affairs, sees fit to equate the democratic credentials of a prime minister duly elected in a successful multi-party election with a president who seized power by military force. It suggests a frightening level of misunderstanding at best; at worst....Senator Feingold’s speech this week at Georgetown University, like his remarks introducing his recent bill on Ethiopia in the Senate, displays a serious level of ignorance.

There are two serious issues here. One, of course, is whether any government, whether the US or any other one, has the right to legislate in an attempt to dictate policies to another government. Senator Feingold’s S3457, like Congressman Payne’s HR2003 previously, is a deliberate attempt to allow US interference in Ethiopia’s judiciary, media, electoral processes, economy, national security and foreign affairs. It will seriously affect the currently close relations between Ethiopia and the US. Indeed, whatever Senator Feingold’s intentions, and he praises Ethiopia for being a good friend of the US, there’s no doubt, as he must be very well aware, his bill will pose a very real threat to US-Ethiopia relations. This was heavily underlined in his speech casting aspersions on the Ethiopian leadership in what virtually amounted to a call to subvert the democratic process in Ethiopia.

The other issue here is that many of the claims made in the bill, and in Senator Feingold’s speeches, are quite simply wrong, in many cases out of date, in others just inaccurate. The reasons for this appear to be that Senator Feingold, like Representative Payne before him, has relied on the allegations and claims all too often repeated by Eritrea, whose approach is dedicated to bringing down this government for its own ends. Eritrea, of course, has no need to take into account what has been achieved in Ethiopia in recent years. One wonders, however, what might be the common objective of Eritrea and members of the US Congress. This, incidentally, raises the issue of what US Congressmen are doing, trying to legislate in the US Congress on behalf of externally based Ethiopian opposition groups, a number of which are openly committed to armed struggle and employ terrorist tactics. The most egregious error is to ignore the undeniable fact that the EPRDF convincingly won a multi-party election in 2005. It wasn't perfect, any more than the US elections of 2000 and 2004 were perfect, but even discounting all irregularities there is no doubt the EPRDF won. All serious observers and analysts would agree. Similarly to suggest that it is only “Ethiopian reformers” who try to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law, demonstrates that Senator Feingold has been almost totally mislead about the way the political situation has developed in Ethiopia.

In fact, Senator Feingold’s comments suggest he has been listening far too much to the more extreme elements of the US-based Ethiopian opposition, some of whom are in cahoots with Eritrea actively determined to destabilize the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. It is equally surprising that Senator Feingold and others are prepared to give credence to these complaints without looking a little more closely into the background and the reality on the ground. The same is true of Senator Feingold’s understanding of the democratic process in Ethiopia, of what happened in 2005, of the operation of the judiciary and of events in the Somali Regional State. The reality in every case is seriously different from his allegations as the briefest of investigations would demonstrate. Senator Feingold should look more carefully at the reality of what has been achieved in Ethiopia in recent years, at the progress made in the democratic process, in the economy, in progress towards the MDGs, and in human rights, including the reform of the National Electoral Board, the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman and the creation of a Human Rights Commission, the provision of proper training for riot police, major improvements in the judicial system and extensive training for security forces and the military in international human rights legislation.

One cannot avoid being surprised at the paradox contained in the major theme of Senator Feingold’s speech. The Senator is apparently unhappy with the way in which the current US administration has attempted to introduce “democracy and freedom” in the Middle East. The Senator believes that the challenge that the US faces in Iraq is a result of that particular approach. In short, Senator Feingold in the first part of his speech is vehemently opposed to meddling by the US in the internal affairs of other countries. Then, in the second part, where he begins to focus on Ethiopia, and his bill, the principled approach expounded earlier is abandoned and a blatantly hubristic call for political intervention in Ethiopia’s affairs takes its place. What a paradox! It might be appropriate here to remind the Senator that Ethiopia is a sovereign and independent country. One might also wonder just how the interests of the United States can be promoted by Senator Feingold’s proposals.

Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold On the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008

Mr. President, today I am introducing the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008. Senator Leahy joins me as an original cosponsor. The purpose of this bill is to reaffirm policy objectives towards Ethiopia and encourage greater commitment to the underpinnings of a true democracy – an independent judiciary and the rule of law, respect for human and political rights, and an end to restrictions on the media and non-government organizations.

As many in this body know, I have spoken numerous times in recent months about the situation in Ethiopia and I continue to believe that the US-Ethiopian partnership is very important – one of the more critical ones given not only our historic relationship but also Ethiopia’s location in an increasingly strategic region. Ethiopia sits on the Horn of Africa – perhaps one of the roughest neighborhoods in the world, with Somalia a failed state and safe haven for terrorists, Eritrea an inaccessible authoritarian government that meddles across national borders, Sudan a genocidal regime, and Kenya still emerging from a profound electoral crisis. One look at the deteriorating situation across the Horn and the importance of a robust relationship with Ethiopia is obvious. And, by contrast with some of its neighbors, Ethiopia appears relatively stable with a growing economy. But I am concerned about a number of anti-democratic actions in that country, particularly since this administration has largely overlooked them.

The security threats in Ethiopia are real but, unfortunately, the Bush administration’s approach to addressing these threats and strengthening this alliance remains short-sighted and narrow – focusing predominately on short-term ways to address insecurity while overlooking the need for long-term measures that are needed to achieve the same goal, such as desperately needed governance reform, the rule of law, and increased accountability. Mr. President, genuine democratic progress in Ethiopia is essential if we are to have a healthy and positive bilateral relationship. It is also essential if we are going to successfully combat extremism, thereby bolstering our own national security here at home.

And that is why today I’m introducing the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Ethiopia Act of 2008 -- because as our administration fails to balance our priorities in Ethiopia, or to adopt comprehensive strategies to achieve those priorities, we are watching significant backsliding in previously hard-won democratic gains. As we turn a blind eye to the escalating political tensions, people are being thrown in jail without justification and non-government organizations are being restricted, while civilians are dying unnecessarily in the Ogaden region – just like so many before them in Oromiya, Amhara, and Gambella. Furthermore, the Ethiopian military has come under increasing scrutiny for its conduct in the Ogaden as well as Somalia, with credible reports from non-governmental organizations of torture, rape and indiscriminate attacks. By providing unconditioned security assistance we are also sowing the seeds of insecurity and creating new grievances both in Ethiopia and in its neighboring countries.

I want to see greater progress – not less – in Ethiopia which is why this bill authorizes an additional $20 million for democracy and governance projects in Ethiopia. The addition of these funds would make it one of the top five countries on the continent receiving this kind of assistance from this US government. This bill calls on the President to take additional steps to implement these programs but also requires that funds made available to the Ethiopian government be subject to regular congressional notification. This ensures U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately – and used to support a government taking steps to become more democratic, not less.

I make it a practice to pay for all bills I introduce, and the authorization in this bill is offset by a transfer of funds from NASA. Some may disagree with me on the need for an offset, but recent Office of Management and Budget projections confirm that we now have the biggest budget deficit in the history of our country. We cannot afford to be fiscally irresponsible so we must make choices to ensure that our children and grandchildren do not bear the burden of our reckless spending. Instead of cutting specific programs, which are likely to have begun and thus would cost more to close, transferring $20 million from the general budget would allow appropriators to evaluate, at their discretion, how best to make this transfer.

I ask my colleagues to consider what our own State Department has said about the political situation in Ethiopia and then consider how best to rectify the situation. The 2007 State Department Report on Human Rights notes that in Ethiopia the following occurred: “limitation[s] on citizens' right to change their government during the most recent elections; unlawful killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition or insurgent groups; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens' privacy rights and frequent refusal to follow the law regarding search warrants; use of excessive force by security services in an internal conflict and counter-insurgency operations; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; restrictions on freedom of assembly; limitations on freedom of association; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation (FGM); exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities, including killing and harassment of union leaders.”

The continued failure of the administration to acknowledge this reality is emblematic of its insular thinking and unwillingness to see the big picture. Without a balanced policy that addresses both short and long-term concerns in Ethiopia we are putting ourselves at greater risk and making ourselves more vulnerable, not less.

Strong criticism of Eritrea from a UN Fact-Finding Mission

A Week in the Horn
12 September 2008
Addis Ababa

The Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Djibouti-Eritrea Crisis has now been presented to the United Nations Security Council. The Mission visited the region from 28 July to 6 August. Eritrea refused admission to the mission. According to the Eritrea Permanent Representative to the UN, Eritrea refused to co-operate because in June the UN Security Council had urged both sides, particularly Eritrea, to show maximum restraint and pull back their troops. This, according to the Ambassador, clearly demonstrated the UN had already condemned Eritrea. The President of the Security Council, Ambassador Michael Kafando of Burkina Faso, regretted the mission had been unable to visit Eritrea and expressed appreciation of Djibouti’s co-operation. He also noted that UN Security Council had expressed its concern over the tension and militarization on the border. The Mission identified the situation as a threat to Djibouti’s stability and said if not resolved it could have a major effect on the entire region and more widely. Solutions must be found as a matter of utmost priority. The report, which provides significant detail of Eritrea’s invasion of Djibouti territory and the events that followed, places the onus on Eritrea to co-operate with the UN, suggesting that if Eritrea continues to be obdurate the issue should be referred to the Security Council for further action. This refusal to cooperate, of course, has become something of the norm for Eritrea. It has consistently rejected any diplomatic efforts to resolve its dispute with Ethiopia and any mechanism intended to assist in the peaceful resolution of conflict. It is, as usual, being intransigent, towards Djibouti and to the international community, just as it has been in its constant refusal to hold a dialogue with Ethiopia.

Rather more surprisingly, the report on Djibouti and Eritrea also attempts to link the Eritrean invasion of Djibouti to the Eritrea-Ethiopia dispute, suggesting that progress in resolving the latter would help solve the former. It produced no evidence for this assertion, though it noted that much of the instability in the region arose from Eritrean efforts to counter Ethiopian interests in Djibouti and Somalia. The report in fact fails to appreciate the fundamental strategic position of Eritrea, that it does not subscribe in any way to the idea of co-existence with the Government of Ethiopia. Indeed, Eritrea has made it clear that its own strategic objectives in the region include the removal of the Government of Ethiopia. It has devoted almost all its efforts to the destabilisation of Ethiopia and has recently added the dimension of extra anti-Ethiopian media broadcasts in several local languages. Far from wanting any resolution, Eritrea’s strategy calls for continued widening of division between the two countries and the nullification of any or all efforts to try to build up mutual confidence or progress towards any settlement of differences. The contrast with Ethiopia’s strategic objectives could hardly be more marked. Ethiopia does not reject co-existence with the regime in Asmara; it is committed to resolving the dispute as quickly as possible.

A Presidential decree on the Benadir Administrion

A Week in the Horn
12 September 2008
Addis Ababa

This week, the details of implementation for the proposed changes for Benadir region and Mogadishu became clearer as the process laid out in the Addis Ababa ‘road map’ appear to have begun. The President has taken the important step of issuing a decree, at the request of the Prime Minister, to remove the previous administration and for it to handover its duties to a temporary Upper Level Committee of ten members. The decree was supposed to take immediate effect on September 9th, the day it was issued, but it has yet to be implemented though expectations are that the hand over will take place tomorrow. The Upper Level Committee is to run the day-to-day activities of Benadir for fifteen days while the next stage is implemented. This allows for each of the 16 districts of Mogadishu to choose a 23 member local council. In turn, each council will choose their own leadership and their own district commissioner. Each of these councils will function until the end of the transitional period next year. Once in place, each council will also elect three of its members to represent the district on a Benadir Council, making a total of 48. This will then elect the Mayor/Governor of Benadir from among its members.

While there has been some progress on the issue of the Benadir administration, there has been a series of unnecessary delays over the nomination and acceptance of the additional ministers. Parliament has not been co-operating with the executive. Last week it fully endorsed the government in an overwhelming vote of confidence. Now, by refusing to accept the government’s proposals on the reinstatement of the ten ministers (only two of whom actually had their resignations accepted) Parliament is in effect working for the dissolution of the executive. There are some in Parliament who appear to be acting more on the basis of self-interest and paying little attention to the national interest. In addition, the critically important restructuring of the security apparatus, also agreed in Addis Ababa, has yet to begin. In the meantime, the situation in Kismayo continues to be in a state of flux. Those who claim to have set up an administration there have not succeeded in establishing complete order, and rifts between them and some local ICU leaders seems to be contributing to the continued uncertainty in the city.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Security Council is briefed on peace-keeping options for Somalia

A Week in the Horn
5 September 2008
Addis Ababa

Yesterday, a UN Security Council Presidential statement welcomed the formal signing of the Djibouti Agreement on August 19, and urged the TFG and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia to fully implement their commitments under the accord, which, the statement said, “should provide the basis for lasting peace, security and stability for the people of Somalia.” The statement, read by Ambassador Michael Kafondo of Burkino Faso which holds the presidency this month, said “In particular, the Council underlines the crucial importance of the parties taking all necessary measures to ensure, without delay, unhindered humanitarian access and assistance to the Somali people, and of the parties and their allies terminating all acts of armed confrontation.” The Security Council said it would continuously monitor the implementation of the accord. It reiterated its strong support for the efforts of AMISOM, and noted that the TFG and the ARS had requested the UN to authorize and deploy an international stabilization force. It said it would consider establishing a UN peacekeeping force to take over from AMISOM, and asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to elaborate on his contingency planning for a UN integrated peacekeeping mission in Somalia, including its mandate, size and geographical scope, as well as identifying the countries that might contribute the necessary personnel, equipment or financing for such a mission.

In his latest briefing to the Security Council, last week, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Mr Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, noted the process of political reconciliation had shown progress with the agreement to set up the Joint Security and High Level (political) committees. He urged the Security Council to demonstrate its support for this progress. On recent fighting in Kismayo, Mr. Ould-Abdallah said the reasons for the fighting were social and economic. It was not a clash between the TFG and Al-Shabaab but among factions of the Darod clan to control the city. Mr. Ould-Abdallah called on the Council to deploy a peace-keeping force as soon as possible. He said the people of Somalia would support any such move and that the situation in the country was now positive. The Security Council recently renewed the mandate of AMISOM, and requested the Secretary-General to work with the AU to strengthen UN logistical, political and technical support to help bring AMISOM up to UN standards. However, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peace-keeping Operations, Mr. Edmond Mulat, who also briefed the Security Council last week, felt the current situation was still not conducive for the deployment of a UN peace-keeping operation. A more possible alternative, he felt, was a stabilization force, made up of a “Coalition of the Willing”, first suggested by the Secretary-General in March. Member states could contribute contingents which would be authorized by the Security Council. Mr. Mulat said that the Secretary-General could report back to the Security Council within 30 days after consulting with possible contributing countries. The Chief of Staff of the Office of the Military Advisor told the Security Council that, considering the operations and attacks taking place in Mogadishu, a force of two well-armed brigades, a naval force and a reserve contingent would be needed. According to reports, this suggestion of a stabilization force appeals to members of the Security Council more than any deployment of a formal UN peace-keeping force. Though it is difficult to confirm it is reported that several countries including France, Britain, Russia, Belgium Costa Rica and Vietnam are against the deployment of a United Nations peace-keeping force, while the US, South Africa, Libya and Burkina Faso reportedly favour speeding up activities to deploy such a force.

A Peace and Security Conference on the Horn of Africa

A Week in the Horn
5 September 2008
Addis Ababa

The Prevailing Interlocked Peace and Security Conundrum in the Horn of Africa was the title of a Conference organized by the Inter-Africa Group in Addis Ababa this week. The two-day meeting opened with a key note speech from Ambassador Berhanu Dinka from the Forum for the Study of Foreign Policy, an Addis Ababa Think-Tank. It was an outspoken critique which spared no state or government from his comprehensive if brief analysis of conflict in the region. The Ambassador identified a series of issues contributing to regional conflicts including the reluctance of some states to initiate dialogue and discussion, internally and externally, and to listen to grievances. Unresolved internal contradictions were part of the interlocking challenges to peace in the Horn. Ambassador Berhanu noted the need for each state to open up political space for responsible civil society organizations, and for government and opposition parties to work together in good faith to encourage democracy and good governance. The challenges, including environmental degradation and the problems of pastoralist needed a regional response, but as the sources of problems lie within the states, the answers must also be found within each state as well. Regionally, Ambassador Berhanu felt there were some encouraging signs, including the relationship of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya with the TFG in Somalia, and Ethiopia’s relations with Sudan in the last few years. The regional activities of Eritrea, however, remained disappointing and problematic.

Over two days a number of papers were presented on Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia-Eritrea relations and on the inter-related security challenges of Kenya and Uganda. Dr. Martin Rupiya identified four parameters for security challenges facing Kenya and Uganda: the pastoral and cross-border communities; the effects of internal political dynamics; the influence of overlapping regional security structures, including IGAD; and the advantages of military co-operation. A paper from Dr. John Young provided an update to the IGAD Peace process in the Sudan, Gerard Prunier considered the current state of the Problem in Darfur, and Professor Rogaia Abusharaf looked at the role of Sudanese Women Waging Peace. Dr. Young was critical of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and gloomy about its prospects arguing that it had failed to deliver on its commitment to deliver a democratic transformation and that it was doubtful that should national elections take place in 2009 that they would advance the process. He outlined the attitudes of the various parties and the doubts about next year elections. He suggested the peace process was only making progress in the narrowest sense. It had not broken down but it was not laying the basis for a united Sudan, not yet producing any democratic transformation and not providing any framework or impetus for resolving the conflict in Darfur. Professor Prunier expanded on what he said was the collapse of the Darfur Peace Agreement, relating it to the Chadian situation, and, more surprisingly, to the failings of the CPA. He argued that the Darfur Peace Agreement was now dead and that the International Criminal Court’s consideration of indictment of President Al-Bashir had only strengthened Darfur hard line opposition. Any efforts to revive the Darfur Peace Agreement were now merely confusing. In discussion, both papers were criticized for ignoring the Sudanese element, not addressing the vision of Sudan, and concentrating almost exclusively on the view of the victims. No doubt both were unduly pessimistic, and in Professor Prunier’s case almost sensationalist.

Professor Medhane Tadesse dealt with “Peace in Somalia and Neighboring Regions: A Distant Prospect”. He raised concerns over the continual concentration by the international community on the top-down approach to Somali peace-building and state building, suggesting it was time to consider the possibilities of a bottom-up approach more closely. He noted that Ethiopia’s successes in 2006 had been vitiated to a large extent by the weaknesses of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFI) which meant it had not been the decisive factor that had been expected. Clan divisions and Islamist strength today are as much the result of the civil wars and the statelessness as of any Ethiopian presence or of the international failure. Professor Medhane emphasized the weakness and divisions of all political and military forces in Somalia; the imperfections of the TFG were obvious, but, he noted, the opposition lacked even the intent to contribute to peace and state building in Somalia. Of course, recurrent conflict within the TFG, and political fragmentation within the opposition alliance, make peace prospects distant. Among things to be done, Professor Medhane listed support for the peace accord signed in Djibouti, and engagement with the clan leaders in Mogadishu; to ensure the TFG be reconstituted as a genuine government of national unity capable of delivery; to arrange for an orderly and phased withdrawal of Ethiopian forces; to produce a political strategy to contest the appeal of violent groups. Professor Medhane underlined the critical need for large scale emergency and economic aid to enhance the establishment of a functional government, and to spark decentralized political processes.

Sally Healy, from Chatham House, identified common characteristics of conflict and other features of a “Regional Security Complex” in the Horn of Africa, underlining the way state interactions sustain conflicts within states by outlining the main developments in the Ethiopia Eritrea dispute before turning to Somalia. She highlighted a number of valuable and interesting points including the prevalance of conflict in the region, describing it as a ‘habit’ of war, and the poverty of governance, even the widespread failure of democratic governance in the region. The formulation makes clear the destabilizing role played by Eritrea though she gives Eritrea’s specific role, as a leading supporter of non-state military action, less emphasis than it prehaps deserves. Sally Healy thought that Eritrea’s contention that it has reason to be apprehensive about Ethiopia was understandable. This is, however, very difficult to accept. After the end of the long Eritrean struggle for independence and the fall of the military regime in 1991, the new government in Ethiopia promptly agreed to independence for Eritrea and did everything it could to assist the newly independent state. It put no difficulties in Eritrea’s way and indeed sponsored it on every occasion possible. As Ethiopia has repeatedly made clear, all it wants to do now is to talk, to hold dialogue, as one of the elements laid out in the Algiers Agreements of 2000. A number of errors and ommissions were corrected in the discussion. It was Eritrea which started the war in 1998 (as the Claims Commission made crystal clear), not Ethiopia, and details of Security Council resolution 1640(2005) were clarified. Equally, more could have been said about the efforts of the OAU and other mediators to prevent war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Eritrea’s refusal to withdraw from areas previously administered peacefully by Ethiopia or to discuss these issues, left Ethiopia no option than to evict Eritrea forcefully. Ethiopia, of course, has said again and again that it will not return to war unless it is invaded by Eritrea a second time.

Sally Healy’s view of Eritrea appears to be rather over-generous and somewhat at odds with reality. Indeed, surprisingly, she even suggested Eritrea appears no less committed than Ethiopia to the Algiers Agreements and continues to affirm its desire to uphold their integrity. Eritrea certainly claims to uphold the Agreements but this claim can hardly be substantiated in the face of its now complete take-over of the Temporary Security Zone and its enforced expulsion of UNMEE, both central elements in the Algiers Agreements. It is indisputable that its actions have been in total violation of the integrity of the Algiers Agreements. It is certainly true that the conflict has had a profound impact on how Ethiopia and Eritrea relate to each other. Indeed they clearly have an entirely different strategic view of the region and their respective places in it. Ethiopia still believes an accommodation with Eritrea can be reached. Eritrea does not. All indications are that Eritrea is now determined never to deal with the present government in Ethiopia, and it continues to devote most of its energy to trying to destabilize it. As Sally Healy notes since 1998 Eritrea has placed strategies designed to weaken Ethiopia politically, domestically or regionally, at the centre of all its policies. This is why it has supported the opposition elements in Somalia, and can be expected to continue to do so. President Issayas recently claimed that “the TPLF regime’s invasion of Somalia” had exposed the Horn region to “further instability”. This incidentally does not mean Ethiopia and Eritrea have been engaged in a proxy war in Somalia. Eritrea, which has no direct national or strategic interest there has perhaps been indulging in a proxy war. Ethiopia, which is engaged there at the request of the Somali government, has its own genuine national security interests in Somalia. Ethiopia is not involved in any proxy conflict with Eritrea in Somalia; it is in Somalia because of Somalis, and its presence has nothing to do with Eritrea.

Sally Healy also looks at the regional and security mechanisms of the Horn of Africa, noting that IGAD, the regional organization has been seriously hampered by regional rivalries. IGAD of course played a major role in the CPA in Sudan, and in the Mbgathi peace process which was held under its auspices, and IGAD has supported the TFG as the legitimate government of Somalia. Until 2005, IGAD was united in its approach to Somalia, even backing unanimously the idea of IGASOM, an IGAD force to assist. Eritrea specifically voted in favor of IGASOM, though it was opposed by the US and others. Subsequently, however, Eritrea objected to Ethiopia’s role and its response, backed by all others in IGAD, to the TFG’s request for assistance against the Islamic Courts. This put Eritrea at odds with IGAD, deepening Eritrea’s isolation. Eritrea suspended its membership of IGAD in April last year. Despite efforts to encourage its return, including the recent mission by Kenya, Sudan and the IGAD Secretariat, it has persisted in its view that IGAD must be restructured to meet Eritrea’s criteria before it will consider returning. President Issayas’s recent comments, at the end of August, underlined Eritrea’s rejection of IGAD. He said the organization had become the victim of external interference in violation of its lofty objectives and must be restructured before it could make any contribution to the promotion of political and security stability.

The conference provided a detailed analysis of the main areas of conflict and of threats to security in the region. It was rather less successful in producing possible answers, though a number of suggestions were made in individual cases including the need for positive action by the international community in support of AMISOM and the TFG in Somalia, and of UNAMID in Sudan. There was general concern about the threat of terrorism, little agreement about how to deal with it. There was consensus on the need to address the conflict in Darfur (even though this had now largely degenerated into low intensity conflict), and on the need to incorporate Darfur into a wider peace process. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan may have major problems but it is still the most plausible way forward for the Sudan. Indeed there are no other possibilities for the moment. There was, however, agreement that the solution to conflicts and security threats in the Horn of Africa must be the responsibility of the members states of IGAD as the regional organization. IGAD states may ask for, and need, external aid and assistance, but in the last resort we ourselves must provide for the solutions which will allow us to aim at the far more serious problems that we face, including our war on poverty, and on the way to acquire what we need for development.