Friday, December 4, 2009

A Bogus Call for a Paradigm Shift - Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Responds to Alemayehu Fentaw's Critique of Its Policy

It has been more than seven years since the current Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy was issued by the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. It was adopted following extensive public discussions of the draft document, some aired and televised. At various times, different institutions have held discussions on this Policy and Strategy document. It’s been translated and made widely available in English, and is available on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is written in a language accessible to the general public. The fact that the Foreign and National Security Policy and Strategy has been debated openly and made widely available to the general public is, in itself, already a radical change for a country that used to treat all foreign affairs documents and communications as top-secret.

Despite this, some appear to have found it difficult to grasp the true tenets of this transparent policy instrument, evaluate its worth on merit or measure it by implementation. The fact that the document has been in the public domain from inception has, of course, encouraged comment, often critical, from all sectors of society. This is appreciated, and welcome, but constructive criticism of this, as of any policy instrument, does require it should be read in its entirety. One has to say, for example, that Alemayehu Fentaw (Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy: The Case for a Paradigm Shift, November 2009, doesn’t appear to have read the Policy and Strategy Document very closely or in great detail before indulging in parallels and analogies with previous regimes in Ethiopia. His comments are in fact widely disconnected from the content and reality of the policy instrument. He appears to have drawn from the archives of the past rather than the current day realities of Ethiopia’s foreign and national security considerations. It isn’t necessary to treat his brief commentary point by point, but it does offer the opportunity to recall the main tenets of Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy, and its achievements.

The Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy has two major parts. The first lays the foundation of the policy instrument. It contains the principles, values, objectives and strategies that underpin the entire instrument. The second part explicates and expounds the historical value and meaning of Ethiopia’s relations with third parties, and provides guidance on how these relationships should best be handled. This, the most detailed section, should of course be tempered by the understanding that some, if not most of the section, can and will be influenced most significantly at times by ongoing developments around the world or in specific countries and organizations.

The first part of the Policy and Strategy is critical to help refocus the undivided attention of the country on the attainment of economic development and democratization as central to ensuring the stability and continuity of Ethiopia as a country. Democracy and development are questions of survival. For a country as rich in diversity of nations, nationalities and religions as Ethiopia, the establishment of democratic order is a sine-qua-non to avert disorder and disintegration. Democracy allows for mutual accommodation and resolution of conflicting interests. Similarly, lifting the country from abject poverty and underdevelopment is imperative to avert the disorder and chaos that could follow if this situation was allowed to continue. The question of national pride and national heritage are integrated in the policy document with emphasis on the duty of the present generation to fight extreme poverty while building on the proud legacy of the country’s longstanding independence, its past civilizations and glories. Full recognition is given to the phenomenon of globalization as an opportunity and also as a challenge. In a world of increasing interconnection and fierce competition, Ethiopia also has to devise ways and means of mitigating the negatives effects of globalization while exhaustively utilizing the many opportunities it also has to offer.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy sets out specific and realist objectives, easily demonstrating this is indeed a major paradigm shift for the country. It goes back to creating an enabling environment for the economic development and democratization of the country. One major aspect of this is through a transformation in foreign affairs, that is the implementation of a policy of economic diplomacy. This allows for the securing of foreign market opportunities for local goods, attracting of foreign investment and enhancing development assistance through grants, loans, technical assistance and technology transfer, and the promotion of the country as a tourist destination. Technical and financial support for the vital institutions to entrench democratic governance in the country is also critical. The policy instrument seeks to expand the number and role of Ethiopia’s partners and reduce threats by the resolution of conflicts peacefully through dialogue and negotiation. One might add that nowhere in the Policy and Strategy can one find suggestions of the sort of war-based foreign relations objectives that Alemayehu Fentaw appears to see. They simply aren’t there.

The strategies devised to attain the Policy and Strategy objectives are further evidence of the radical shift in Ethiopia’s foreign policy orientation. Unlike the past, the focus is not on any perceived “siege mentality” or on external factors but on the dynamics of the domestic conditions. This is the decisive factor. In other words, this means the determination of Ethiopia’s own priorities, mobilizing and relying on the country’s own resources as far as possible, while seeking foreign assistance to fill any gaps. The strategy also demands that we should minimize threats to national security, study and identify their source, and reduce any vulnerability to such threats by concentrating on the fight against poverty, backwardness, and any absence of good governance.

All this requires the establishment of strong democratic institutions and the construction of a national consensus on the vital national issues of common concern. There has to be a concerted effort to guarantee the rule of law to the fullest extent. At the same time as reducing national vulnerability, the country also has to build a reliable defense and security capability consistent with its economic level, and in a manner that is sustainable and complementary to the country’s economic development. Ethiopia’s strategy has many different nuances including the linking of military expenditure with the economy and making it cost effective. Defense, it might be noted, is another area where Alemayehu Fentaw gets it wrong.

As envisaged in the Strategy, the Government has also endeavored to enhance the implementation capacity of the foreign affairs establishment. This is, in fact, a work in progress. We are continuously working to enhance equitable gender representation and of nations and nationalities in the foreign-service. The focus is equally on the strengthening of the professionalism, commitment and integrity of public servants in this area. It is important that the effort to forge a national consensus on the vital issues for the country, whether inside Ethiopia or outside, should be redoubled while coordination with all relevant public and private actors is enhanced. In sharp contrast to the theories advanced by Alemayehu Fentaw, the Policy and Strategy instrument says that what should matter most is the internal situation of the country. The relevance and validity of Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy is thus determined by its contribution to development, democracy and peace in Ethiopia. This is quite clearly a clean break from the policies of former regimes in Ethiopia which used to relegate internal objectives to external considerations. Equally, giving domestic progress the decisive place does not mean that the defense of the country’s territorial integrity isn’t given the importance it deserves. In fact, the first of the external relations principles in the Constitution provides for the protection of national interest and respect for the sovereignty of the country. It also refers to mutual respect, non-interference, respect for international treaties, integration with neighboring countries and other African states, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Alemayehu Fentaw does not just miss these central elements of the Policy and Strategy instrument. He concocts facts and makes unsubstantiated allegations. One is the suggestion that US-Ethiopia relations would cool under the new US administration. In fact, as is obvious, the relationship between the two countries is thriving. Another is the claim that Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia demonstrates a ‘foreign policy through war’ approach. It shouldn’t need repeating that Ethiopia took action in Somalia following the appearance of a clear and present danger from terrorist groups and at the invitation of the legitimate Government of Somalia. It withdrew as soon as it was in a position to do so when the current Somali political dispensation was created by the Djibouti Agreements. Again, Ethiopia has made major strides in the promotion and protection of human and civil rights, and no misrepresentation of the concept of human security can conceal this. In fact, Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy could be said to represent a well-proportioned human security framework, of human and civil rights. It encompasses both security in the traditional sense and security in terms of democratic rights as well as enjoyment of freedom from hunger and deprivation.

The Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy has helped redefine Ethiopia’s place in the world. The country is now successfully attracting substantial foreign investment. It has significantly increased its external trade and is currently negotiating entry into the World Trade Organization. The new approach of economic-diplomacy is making tangible progress in contributing to successive years of economic growth. Ethiopia is preparing to hold its 4th round of national elections with its institutions demonstrating impressive implementation capacity, and with a series of enabling laws creating a conducive environment for the further nurture of democracy. More and more, Ethiopian nationals and foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin are engaged in development activities in the country. Ethiopia is playing an active role in the African Union’s integration agenda and in the maintenance of international peace and security through active participation in the policy organs and peacekeeping operations of the African Union and the United Nations. Despite many remaining challenges, these and other achievements clearly demonstrate the intrinsic and practical value of the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy: The Case for a Paradigm Shift

Ethiopia's Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy: The Case for a Paradigm Shift


Alemayehu Fentaw†

A good place to start a constructive critique is to look at the logical foundation of the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy (FANSPS) of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) and subject it to the tests of consistency, coherence, and soundness. The FANSPS is premised on the proposition that "security policy is a matter of ensuring national survival. The alpha and omega of security is the ensuring of national survival. Other national security issues may be raised only if national existence is ensured. Foreign affairs and security policy must be formulated first and foremost to ensure national security. Issues of prosperity, sustainable peace, and stability and other related concerns then follow." Thus, the FANSPS's primary focus is on potential and actual threats to its territorial integrity. It aimed primarily at protecting its sovereign frontiers against external aggression.
Such being the logical foundation of the FANSPS, it becomes clear that non-military aspects of security are relegated to a secondary place. This is not surprising given that securing its independence and territorial integrity has been the preoccupation of Ethiopian foreign and national security policy for millennia.


In view of the foregoing, it is no wonder that The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) numbers about 200,000 personnel, which makes it one of the largest militaries in Africa. During the 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea, the ENDF mobilized strength reached about 350,000. The ENDF has its roots in the peasant-based EPRDF guerrilla army and is still in the process of being transformed into an all-volunteer professional military organization with the aid of the United States. The ENDF received training in peacekeeping operations, professional military education, military training management, counter-terrorism operations, military medicine, and unspecified military training funds
from the United States.


The ENDF is one of the largest military forces in Africa along with Egypt and Morocco, 29th largest in the world of 132 in terms of armed forces growth, and 11th out of 166 countries in terms of personnel. Military expenditure for the year 2005
amounts to $800,000,000.00 and this places her on 56th position of 170. The military expenditure was 3% of its GDP for 2006 and 49th in the world. Just about the time Ethiopia went to war with the UIC in Somalia, it
imported heavy weapons such as tanks and other armored vehicles from Russia (worth US$12 million) and China ($3 million) in 2006 and from North Korea ($3 million) and the Czech Republic ($1 million) in 2005. Ethiopia also imported military weapons from China ($11.5 million) in 2006 and Israel ($1.2 million) in 2005. Besides, during 2005 and 2006, Ethiopia had acquired a large range of small arms, light weapons and parts mainly from North Korea, China and Russia.


On 13 April 2007 the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement, in response to an article that was published in the New York Times which alleged that the US administration had allowed Ethiopia to import arms from North Korea, in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1718 (2006), to support Ethiopia's military operations in Somalia. The Ethiopian government acknowledged that a cargo shipment from North Korea to Ethiopia had taken place on 22 January 2007, but denied that the content of the cargo violated UN Security Council Resolution 1718 imposing a partial embargo on the trade in arms with North Korea. The Ethiopian government said that the shipment contained spare parts for machinery and engineering equipment and raw materials for the making of assorted ammunition for small arms, and was made on the basis of four contractual agreements which were signed between 12 and 22 June 2006 for the purchase of various items required by the military industry in Ethiopia. Furthermore "irrevocable Letters of Credit were issued between 30 June and 30 September 2006. This means that all payments for the cargo were effected before the adoption of Resolution 1718."


The statement also stated that the US Embassy in Addis Ababa might have been aware of Ethiopia's importation of said cargo from North Korea but the assertion that "the United States allowed the arms delivery to go through in January in part because Ethiopia was in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia" is wrong "since the contractual agreements were signed and all payments made before the ICU extremists in Somalia took control of Mogadishu and declared jihad on Ethiopia".


Against this backdrop, a cursory look at the Human Development Index (HDI) for Ethiopia reveals an irony in contemporary Ethiopian political life. Although it is noteworthy that between 1995 and 2007 Ethiopia's HDI rose by 3.13% annually from 0.308 to 0.414, the HDI for Ethiopia for the year 2007 is 0.414, which gives the country a rank of 171stout of 182 countries with data.


Military Expenditure of Ethiopia

In local currency ( m. birr ) 





















In constant ( 2005 ) US$ m. 





















As percentage of gross domestic product 



















The figure for 1999 includes an allocation of 1 billion birr in addition to the original defense budget


Source: SIPRI, 2009.


Although the FANSPS explicitly fixes the country's maximum military expenditure at 2% of its GDP, it leaves a leeway for a flexible implementation of the 2% ceiling "depending on the level of threat" during a given fiscal year. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Ethiopia's military expenditure under EPRDF has been well over 2% of its GDP, except for the years 1995, 1996 and 2007. The Central Intelligence Agency raises SIPRI's data for 2006 from 2.1 to 3%.


Despite that, one of the most striking features of FDRE's FANSPS, at least on the face of it, is its emphasis on democratization and development. It also tells us about the threat to national security posed by human rights abuses. In the words of the FANSPS: "In the absence of a democratic order, national and religious divisions will invariably intensify, the abuse of human rights would result in strife, and poverty would spread further - a recipe for disintegration and destruction."
Nevertheless, the Government's bad human rights track record attests to the contrary. The thrust of my argument is that the central purpose of Ethiopia's foreign and security policy has remained the same, in spite of the shift in orientation. A change in discourse has not brought about a change in practice. Human security should have been made to constitute the basis of the FANSPS. Moreover, the Government should work aggressively to get a critical mass of women into leadership positions in the foreign affairs and security sector.


In the received discourse of international affairs, the term "security" connotes the protection of territorial integrity and dignity of the state. This is not surprising given the fact that hitherto, international relations has been more "state-centric" than "people-centric." Nevertheless, with the cessation of the Cold War and the advent of globalization in the international arena, the concept of security is expanding to focus more on people than on the state. Security, in its classical sense, refers to the security of the state from external aggression. It is about how states use force to counter threats to their territorial integrity, their autonomy, and their domestic political system, primarily from other states. The classical formulation restricts the scope of security to military threats from other states. Nevertheless, in its modern conception, security is equated with the "security of individuals, not just security of their nations" or, put differently, "security of people, not just security of territory." The modern formulation gives primacy to the safety and well-being of "all the people everywhere – in their homes, in their jobs, in their streets, in their communities, in their environment", whilst the classical conception of security emphasizes territorial integrity and national independence as the primary values that need to be protected. The latter has been related more to nation-states than to people." What this conception overlooked was "the legitimate concerns of ordinary people who sought security in their daily lives."


Human security also encompasses a sense of personal choice and surety about the future and of personal efficacy and opportunity. Thus, in drawing attention to the difference between human security and its cognate, human development, the Report argues that the latter is a "broader concept" and refers to "a process of widening the range of people's choices," while the former implies that "people can exercise these choices safely and freely – and that they can be relatively confident that the opportunities they have today are not totally lost tomorrow". Along with a sense of choice and surety about the future, people should be efficacious and empowered enough to be "able to take care of themselves: all people should have the opportunity to meet their most essential needs and to earn their own living."The Report lists seven aspects of human security: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security. Furthermore, the concept of human security helps us understand that basic human rights, as stated in the international human rights instruments, are indivisible and inter-related. Sometimes, human rights are overridden or ignored for the sake of state security. Human security puts people first, emphasizing that human rights are central to state security. Human security complements human rights law by drawing attention to international humanitarian law in the context of armed conflict.


However, the hitherto emphasis on sovereignty a la the classical approach to security neglected other no less important aspects of security such as ecological security, energy security, economic security, food security, and health security. There has been a host of complex threats to the security of the Ethiopian polity for so long including, but not limited to, poverty, widespread malnutrition, population explosion, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, degradation of the environment, loss of faith in institutions, uncontrolled urbanization/ rural-urban migration, insecurity of employment, brain drain, alienation of the youth, inflation and other economic disruptions.



Donald Levine, in a recent talk, pointed out rapid population growth, poverty, food insecurity, energy, environment, women's rights, health, and quality of education, rather than ethnicity, as the chief challenges facing Ethiopians of diverse background today. He also emphasized the need for green technology as a means of ensuring the country's energy and ecological security at the same time. According to John Podesta and Peter Ogden, climate change will likely create large fluctuations in the amount of rainfall in East Africa during the next 30 years; a 5–20 % increase in rainfall during the winter months will cause flooding and soil erosion, while a 5–10 % decrease in the summer months will cause severe droughts. This will jeopardize the livelihoods of millions of people and the economic capacity of the region, as agriculture constitutes some 40 percent of East Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) and 80 percent of the population earns a living from agriculture.


The conceptual distinction that Johan Galtung drew between negative and positive peace can and must be allowed to inform and shape the formulation of a state's national security policy. Once framed a la Galtung, the objectives of the security policy have to go beyond achieving a state of absence of war (negative peace) to encompass the pursuit of democracy, sustainable economic development, social justice and protection of the environment (positive peace). Although the use of military force is a legitimate means of defense against external aggression, it is not an acceptable means of conducting foreign policy and settling disputes. Such a security framework also recognizes that states can mitigate the security dilemma and promote regional stability by adopting a defensive, if not an "aggression-neutralizing", to borrow an expression from Donald Levine's Conflict and Aikido Theory, rather than an offensive military doctrine and posture. Thus, the security policy should pay greater attention to such sources of internal instability as the problem of human rights violations, population growth, poverty, food insecurity, energy, environment, women's rights, health, child abuse, trafficking in women and children, smuggling in persons, and the physical and psychological security of tens of thousands of women migrant workers in the Middle East that have largely been ignored by state agencies.


In international affairs, Ethiopia is to be found in a state-of-neither-peace-nor-war with Eritrea following the brutal 1998-2000 border war in which tens of thousands died on both sides. Ethiopia, upon invitation from the UN-recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, also entered into Somalia to fight against the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), an Islamist group vying for control of Somalia. Between late 2006 and January 2009, Ethiopia maintained a presence of several thousand troops in Somalia. On the other hand, Ethiopia has recently entered into a loose tripartite (nonmilitary) cooperation with Sudan and Yemen. The Saudi-East Africa Forum, in which Ethiopia is an active member, is also another noteworthy international economic partnership. It has also had very good relations with the United States and the West, especially in responding to regional instability and supporting war on terrorism and, increasingly, through economic involvement. Nevertheless, there are indications that the hitherto rather warm diplomatic relationship Ethiopia has been enjoying with the US would seem to begin to cool under Barrack Obama's administration, because of US revulsion at the Government's human rights abuses and the de-securitization of the problem of terrorism in Somalia. It is hard to tell if the relations might further deteriorate and lead to a legislative restrictions on assistance to Ethiopia other than humanitarian assistance.
Although, as Ambassador David Shin observes, "[p]utting pressure on Ethiopia will become increasingly difficult for the United States and other western countries as Ethiopia continues to strengthen its relations with countries such as China and Russia."


In order to understand how de-securitizing external factors brings about a shift in Ethiopia's national security agenda, let's take a look at Somalia. What accounts for Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia is its securitization calculus, albeit not based on paranoia as one might tend to think, that Somalia would set the stage for a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. De-securitizing the problem in Somalia, including the terrorist factor brings about a radical shift in Ethiopia's traditional approach to security. The shift in approach from state security to human security will not only pave the way for regional stability via cessation of hostilities, but also create conditions conducive to domestic security in the fullest sense of the term.


Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia is a clear indication of its strategy of conducting foreign policy through war, albeit war had to be kept to the minimal. Ethiopia should embrace what Owen Harries calls the "prudential ethic" as a signpost to international relations. According to Harries, the just war theory, given that it accepts that it is futile to assume that war can be abolished, provides one such important ethic. The aim of the theory is two-fold: on the one hand, it prohibits an unjust war, by laying down rules for the determination of the legitimacy of use of force (jus ad bellum), and makes war less savage, by establishing rules of conduct (jus in bello), on the other. Hence, a resort to force must have a just cause, in that it is resorted to in response to injustice, is authorized by a competent authority, and is motivated by right intention. It must meet four prudential tests in that it must be expected to produce a preponderance of good over evil, have a reasonable chance of success, be a last resort and be expected to result in a state of peace. The requirements of jus in bello are that when force is resorted to, it must be discriminate and proportional. Leaving the issue of legitimacy aside, (not least because it was invited by the TFG) Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia hardly passes the four prudential tests. At least, we have every reason to doubt that the military intervention was a last resort and was expected to result in a state of peace. With the benefit of hindsight, it has become crystal-clear that Ethiopia's resort to force failed to bring about a state of peace in Somalia. Besides, reports that Ethiopia violated the requirements of jus in bello abound. For instance, in March and April 2007 Ethiopian soldiers violated international humanitarian law by using heavy artillery and rockets to fight an insurgency in Mogadishu, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing up to 400,000 people. Though Ethiopian troops have since withdrawn from Somalia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated in June 2009 that the country has not ruled out a future redeployment. According to David Shin, "both the United States and Ethiopia followed a misguided policy in Somalia."


To illustrate how others' perception of Ethiopia's vulnerability, or miscalculation, led to aggression, the FANSPS invokes Somalia and Eritrea under the leaderships of Siad Barre and Isaias Afeworki respectively. In the words of the FANSPS, "Some time ago the Siad Barre regime in Somalia launched an attack on Ethiopia on the presumption that Ethiopia was unable to offer a united resistance and that it would break up under military pressure. The regime in Eritrea (the Shabia) similarly launched an aggression against Ethiopia thinking along the same lines. Both regimes were soundly defeated because of their misguided and misconceived perceptions." In this regard, it is interesting to note the continuity in foreign and security policy, despite the change in regimes. Somalia has never been removed from Ethiopia's security agenda.


The FANSPS has also failed miserably to recognize the role of women in peace-making, peace-building, and security. The Government should demonstrate its commitment to the principles enshrined in the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (UNSC 1325). The Foreign Ministry must come up with a workable action plan for the implementation of UNSC 1325. Consequently, it should recruit more women to the diplomatic services; nominate more women to international diplomatic assignments, specifically to senior positions (UN special representatives, peace commissions, fact-finding missions, etc.); increase the percentage of women in delegations to national, regional and international meetings concerned with peace and security, as well as in formal peace negotiations; and include women in all reconciliation, peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, peace building, and conflict preventive posts. In this connection, it is important to recall that women were entirely excluded from the peace processes concerning the Ethio-Eritrean conflict.


Finally, the quality of foreign policy of a country is determined by many factors of which the role-played by top notch, well-groomed, and seasoned personnel, the degree of participation and the method of policy decision-making cannot be over-stated. Thus, the Ministry should open up a definite career path to diplomacy for qualified professionals, whether women or men, if it is to enhance its capacity through professional staffing. The hitherto practice of staffing its foreign services as well as the head office with mediocre party functionaries did not pay. To recap, Ethiopia's FANSPS has to give recognition and full effect to the paradigm shift in the approach to security from state-centricism to people-centricism (human security) as well as from non-inclusive security to what Ambassador Swanee Hunt calls "inclusive security".

Ethiopia: Looking Ahead


SEPTEMBER 19, 2009


Professor Emeritus

A half century ago, the ill-fated coup attempt against Emperor Haile Sellassie I in December 1960 marked the moment when Ethiopia entered the era of modernizing revolutions. The event, I have argued (, became the first of several missed opportunities that Ethiopia suffered while trying to become a politically modern state. In hopes that the 2010 elections may offer an opportunity that this time Ethiopians might seize with complete success, I offer some thoughts on the challenging year ahead.

First off, let us acknowledge that nearly all parties involved in the tragic events of 2005 seem determined not to repeat their major mistakes. The Government will not again react with excessive violence to demonstrations or public protests. Opposition candidates will not refuse to accept the positions to which they were duly elected. Both sides will probably refrain from the most grievously inflammatory elements of their electoral rhetoric and focus on issues.

Second, let us acknowledge that Ethiopia's difficulties during the past half century reflect the growing pains of any country moving from an absolute monarchy to a modern democratic state. Compare Ethiopia, then, not with countries that already attained the conditions of functioning democracies, whereby governments change hands through popular elections–like the U.S., France, Ghana, and now Japan–but with the small group of nations that have had to deal with similar circumstances. These include Iran, Thailand, and Afghanistan. Like Ethiopia, these three countries each possessed a core of indigenous traditions as a historic state. Those traditions helped them withstand colonization during the era of European imperial expansion. At the same time, their patterns of deeply-rooted authoritarian rule at the national level posed stark challenges to their advance toward a modern political system. In 1960, no one really could predict how they would handle that massive challenge. By the mid-1970s, all of them were riven by violent political storms. And today, each of them faces serious internal conflicts.

On the stage of world history Iran was the best known of these states, for being heir to the mighty empire of Persia that flourished as early as the 6th century BCE. The honorific title of its ancient emperors was shahanshah, king of kings, comparable to negusa negest. Retrieving that title, the 20th-century Pahlavi kings initiate robust efforts to modernize the country economically and culturally from the top down. These began with King of Kings Reza Shah Pahlavi (1926-41) and continued with his son Mohammad Reza Shah (1941-78)–the latter's reign punctuated by the short, promising regime of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh in which the king was briefly removed. In 1961, the same year that Haile Selassie introduced minor administrative reforms in the wake of the December 1960 coup, the Shah started an ambitious program of economic growth–the "White Revolution"– involving large-scale land reform and technical modernization. Yet politically, he wielded an extremely authoritarian scepter backed up by the SAVAK, a ruthless secret police. In 1978 the fundamentalist Islamist regime of Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the shah, installing a no less repressive regime. The slaughter of vote protesters during this year's election forms a massive blot on the country's political record, not to mention the massive human rights violations produced under the Ayatollahs. As of this writing, waves of protest against the 2009 elections continue to be met with violent repression by the state.

Siam's political modernization began in 1932–the year after Haile Selassie offered Ethiopia its first Constitution–when the Thai military overthrew the king and announced a constitutional monarchy. In 1935 the king abdicated and his son, living abroad, became monarch in absentia for 15 years. The country's history thereafter involved a string of armed revolts, regicides, and politically motivated arrests, jailings, and murders. Through the 1960s, bureaucratic corruption and security force harassment provoked a reform movement that brought a new constitution and popular elections in 1968. After parliamentarians began attacking government corruption, General Thalom Kittikachorn dissolved the parliament. The General's putsch incited protests by University students in late 1973 culminating in a standoff with the military, who mowed them down with tanks and helicopters near the royal palace. The 1973 revolt brought an unstable period of democracy; the military came back after a bloody coup in 1976. Although parliamentary rule returned for the three decades following, military rule erupted in the early 1990s and again following a coup in 2006. Restored civilian government in 2007 promised stability, but nine months later massive protests provoked renewed violence and government crackdowns, igniting a crisis that persists. In April 2009 one knowledgeable observer wrote: "Over the past few years, Thailand's political elites have waged a battle on the streets of the capital using mobs to throw democratically elected governments out of power."

Lacking ancient lineage as a nation, the Afghan state dates from the coronation of an ambitious warrior, Ahmad Shah Durrani, as king in 1747. Even so, Afghanistan entered the modern world with characteristics similar to the three other states mentioned here. Known as "king of kings," Ahmad Shah–like Emperor Tewodros II–unified a number of contending fiefdoms in pursuit of a sacred mission, which included a jihad against a Hindu caste. His clan was ancestral to nearly all subsequent patrimonial Afghan rulers until 1978. The Afghans maintained independence against England and Russia, fighting three wars against the British over eighty years culminating in 1919. In 1964, King Zahir Shah promulgated a liberal constitution providing for a bicameral legislature composed one-third each by popular election, royal appointment, and provincial assembly selection. Zahir's "experiment in democracy" produced few lasting reforms; rather, the University he founded facilitated the growth of unofficial extremist parties on both the left and the right. Those extremist parties led first to the Marxist regime following a coup in 1978, and then the Taliban regime from 1991. There is no need to mention Afghanistan's current plight of unending civil wars and recent electoral embarrassment, of which President Jimmy Carter said: "Hamid Karzai has stolen the election. Now the question is whether he gets away with it."

In this comparative perspective, Ethiopia's painful lurches in the direction of democratization can be grasped more readily. She can boast a number of substantial achievements in the areas of political modernization, stability, and democratization, and this in the face of unprovoked military aggression from two of her neighbors. Despite severe setbacks following the National Election of May 2005, she has now a minimally functioning multi-party system, an elected Parliament, a fairly free press, and elites who have learned the importance of nonviolent politics and civil discourse. To be sure, the coalition of opposition parties have accused the government of continued harassment of their potential candidates; political leader Judge Bertukan Mideksa languishes in prison under what legal experts consider a charge fraught with ambiguities in the pertinent law; and allegations of severe human rights violations continue to appear. Even so, Ethiopia does have potentially transparent, official channels through which each of these issues can be addressed: the National Elections Board, and two exemplary institutions established by Proclamations No. 210 and 211–the National Commission on Human Rights and the Institution of the Ombudsman.
The major responsibility for seeing to it that 2010 becomes a resounding success rests with the EPRDF regime and the Parliament. The current regime can claim enormous achievements in the areas of infrastructure development, expansion of schools and medical services, and openness to Green Technology–the energy hope of the future. There is a level of freedom of expression in the country that has no parallel in Ethiopian history. The question is: can the regime find sufficient confidence in its achievements and their popular support to relax the defensive posture, driven by insecurity, that has marked their early years along with all national governments in Ethiopia since the time of Emperor Menilek?
Perhaps above all, at a time when mutual confidence-building is more crucial than ever, can the Government shift from reacting to criticism as treason, and take robust steps toward the kind of openness they claim they really want to facilitate? A few simple steps might convince critics of their intention.

1. Ensure that the National Election Board is independent, impartial, and professional and attends to such incidents as the shouting down of opposition speakers at the peaceful assembly in Adama.
2. Provide whatever assurances it takes to move forward, as the Prime Minister affirmed recently, to devise of a code of conduct designed to put an end to harassment if it exists, or to prevent it if it doesn't.
3. Appoint a committee of experts on constitutional law to consider the status of the law under which Judge Bertukan Mideksa was imprisoned again.

4. Activate, with serious energy and resources, the Office of Ombudsman.
5. Activate, with serious energy and resources, the National Commission on Human Rights.
A heavy responsibility also lies on the shoulders of the diverse opposition groups. A few simple steps might help the government relax and convince the public of their constructive attitude.

1. Reiterate their commitment to the importance of nonviolent politics and civil discourse.
2. Acknowledge publically their respect for the legitimacy of the current regime.
3. Focus effectively on issues and programs rather than grievances.
4. Attend to ways of building consensus rather than infighting
5. Express themselves honestly and courageously without recourse to anonymity.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the disastrous initiative of the Neway brothers, this may be a propitious moment to stand back and appreciate how far Ethiopia has come today–in spite of the tragic events of 1960, 1974, 1991, 1998-2000, and 2005–and then to resolve to move Ethiopia forward in as constructive a manner as possible this time. It is time for EVERYONE to stop nursing grievances and extending blames, and to begin open, honest, searching discussions of issues which ought to concern Ethiopians of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints: poverty, food insecurity, energy, environment, women's rights, health, and quality of education.

Bertatun Yisten Le Addis Amet!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

ANALYSIS - Ethiopian opposition impotent as elections loom

By Barry Malone

Tuesday November 3, 2009

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - When Ethiopia's opposition leaders were freed from jail in 2007, the three most prominent were hailed by fanatical supporters as leaders-in-waiting for sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous nation.

Now, Birtukan Mideksa sits in a prison cell, Berhanu Nega is exiled in the United States, convicted in absentia of plotting a coup, and Hailu Shawel only recently re-appeared in public.

That leaves many Ethiopians wondering where a challenge to the almost 20-year-old government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi could come from when the country holds elections next May for the first time since a disputed 2005 poll ended in violence.

Despite accusations of a crackdown on dissent, diplomats in the capital say the West would be comfortable with Meles staying on -- as long as he remains a loyal ally in the volatile Horn of Africa and liberalises his potentially huge economy.

Secular Ethiopia is Washington's key supporter in the region and sent troops into neighbouring Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist group which had seized the capital.

"Most Western governments want Meles to continue because there is no alternative in the opposition," said one diplomat in Addis Ababa who did not want to be named.

"As long as the elections are semi-democratic, they'll probably stay quiet, keep giving aid, hope for liberalisation of the economy and leave full democracy for later," he said.

Foreign investors, who are showing interest in exporting commodities and exploring Ethiopia for probable oil and gas deposits, want stability, analysts say. If the opposition takes power, the future would be uncertain and investments delayed as foreign governments and lenders jostle for influence.

Rich nations are also hoping the government will relinquish control of its potentially lucrative telecommunications and banking industries in a nation of more than 80 million people.


Eight opposition parties are trying to register as a coalition to contest the polls under the name Medrek, or the Forum, while retaining their own structures and leadership.

But most people in the country, and even some opposition leaders, agree that Meles' ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) will easily win in 2010.

The opposition says this is because candidates are routinely intimidated and jailed. The government says the opposition parties make the accusations because they know they have no chance of victory and want to discredit the poll.

"The EPRDF has done its best to weaken the opposition in view of the 2010 elections," Rene Lefort, an Ethiopia analyst, told Reuters. "Fear of repression is the main factor which refrains most opposition members from campaigning actively."

Birtukan, Berhanu and Hailu, leaders of a previous opposition coalition, were jailed in 2005 with other figures after they were convicted of inciting supporters to march on state buildings when the government declared victory.

About 200 protesters were killed by police and soldiers on the streets of the capital in that unrest.

Ethiopia has never had a peaceful transition of power. Meles himself took over in 1991 after a rebel group led by him and others overthrew a brutal communist regime.


The opposition leaders were pardoned and released in 2007, along with some journalists and aid workers, on condition they take responsibility for the violence.

But Birtukan, a popular 36-year-old single mother, was jailed for life last December after denying she had accepted blame for the 2005 bloodshed. Authorities said that violated the terms of her pardon.

The government has said it will invite international election observers, most likely from the European Union, and last week agreed a "code of conduct" for next year's elections with three parliamentary opposition parties.

Medrek -- seen as the most significant threat to Meles -- refused to take part, demanding bilateral negotiations on issues they say were left out, including electoral board reform.

Diplomats in Addis Ababa are now trying to persuade the opposition coalition to sign the code of conduct deal.

Some ruling party members privately told Reuters they were frustrated a deal could not be agreed, and Birkutan released, so there could be a genuine campaign on Meles' achievements.

While some 13 million Ethiopians still rely on some form of foreign aid for survival, the government has reduced infant mortality and poverty rates and says the economy has been growing at an annual rate of more than 10 percent.

"I don't agree with jailing Birtukan," a senior EPRDF member, who did want to be named, told Reuters. "She's a strong opponent, but Meles is good for Ethiopia and I wanted us to debate openly and show the people our economic achievements."

(Editing by David Clarke)

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What's the truth behind Ethiopia's "coup" plot?

Barry Malone, Reuters

May 7, 2009

ADDIS ABABA (May 6) - A plot is defined as “a plan made in secret”, but even by the usual shadowy nature of such matters around Africa, the recent conspiracy to overthrow the Ethiopian government has been hard to see clearly.

The story broke two weeks ago when the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said 40 men had been arrested for planning a coup after police found guns, bombs and “written strategies” at their homes. But a few days later the government communication office was asking journalists not to use the word coup anymore. The “desperados”, they said, had planned to “overthrow” the government by using assassinations and bombings to create enough chaos to get supporters on the streets to topple the government.

The sensitivity surrounding the language and the details of what was actually going on highlight the caution that still exists in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country after a disputed 2005 election ended with police and soldiers killing about 200 opposition street protesters who were marching on government buildings.

Understandably, many Ethiopians are sceptical that people would take to the streets again. And others question whether the will is still there to march against a government that most analysts consider the most effective the desperately poor nation Horn of Africa has ever had.

The suspected involvement of an Ethiopian-American university professor was a detail that caught the interest of the international media. Berhanu Nega, who called the accusation “baseless”, was elected mayor of Addis Ababa after the 2005 poll but was imprisoned along with about 100 other opposition members when the government accused them of orchestrating the street protests.

He was released in 2007 after a pardon deal and soon fled to America, where he teaches economics at Bucknell University in Philadelphia. Another leader released as part of that pardon, 36-year-old former judge Birtukan Mideksa, was rearrested last year after the government said she violated the terms of the pardon. She remains in prison.

Ethiopians love to talk politics in the bars and cafes of capital Addis Ababa — often in very hushed tones, which is perhaps a hangover from 17 years of brutally repressive communist rule that ended when the rebel group led by Meles came to power in 1991.

And the “coup” is now the subject of those whispered chats. Some say there was a real threat to the government that came from Berhanu and his allies in the sizeable and vocal diaspora. Some say there was dissent in the military and Berhanu simply provided a convenient excuse for the government to move against that in its early stages.

And one opposition leader even told me that the government may have invented the coup plot so it could arrest potential politicians ahead of national elections due in 2010.

“Without third party verification I can’t believe there was a plot,” said Bulcha Demeksa, leader of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement.

Amnesty International now says the government is arresting more people in secret.

This intriguing story will surely develop over the weeks to come as the Ethiopian government has said it is preparing evidence that will be presented before “an independent judiciary” and has promised the 40 accused will appear in an Addis Ababa court next week.

What sort of truth will emerge from the shadows?


Ken Menkhaus, John Prendergast, and Colin Thomas-Jensen

May 7, 2009

For the first time in a long time, Americans are paying attention to what their government does in Somalia. Following last month’s hostage drama off the coast of Somalia, President Barack Obama is under increasing political pressure to address the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. While short-term measures to curb pirate attacks are certainly necessary, the Obama administration must not allow the politics of the piracy problem to distract it from putting in place a long-term strategy to help Somalis forge a state that, with measured external support, can fight piracy, promote peace and reconciliation, and combat the threat of terrorism within its borders.

Historically, the international community’s engagement with Somalia has more often made matters worse for both Somalis and external actors. Rather than invest in the time-consuming and undoubtedly frustrating process of helping Somalis forge consensus and build functioning state institutions, the United States, the United Nations, and others have often backed governments based on narrow coalitions, or they have opted to partner with questionable nonstate actors in pursuit of near-term counterterrorism goals. This approach has frequently stoked further conflict and human rights abuses. Fourteen attempts in the past 19 years to reconstitute state authority in Somalia have failed, with ordinary Somalis bearing the brunt of these ill-advised, poorly executed, underresourced efforts. The latest effort—a five-year transition to democratic elections administered by a Transitional Federal Government, or TFG—nearly collapsed after two years of Ethiopian occupation and brutal counterinsurgency warfare. Ethiopia has now withdrawn, and a new, more broad-based TFG offers some hope, but the human rights crisis in Somalia remains acute and continues to deepen, the threat of Islamist extremism that the U.S.-backed incursion sought to neutralize persists, and piracy continues despite the deployment of a multinational armada.

Although the situation on the ground remains critical, we believe that the election of a new president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, and the establishment of a moderate Islamist government under his authority—“TFG version 2.0”—are potentially the best chance Somalia has had to pull itself out of nearly two decades of state collapse. For this effort to succeed, however, the Obama administration must resist calls for immediate, unilateral military action against terrorist and pirate targets on Somali soil and chart a new course in its approach to Somalia that privileges Somali-driven political processes, prioritizes inclusive governance, and respects Somali preferences. It not only needs to reshape U.S. policies toward Somalia, but must also press other external actors not to proceed with policies that are either flawed or intentionally destructive. This short paper describes the current state of international engagement with the TFG and offers recommendations for improvement.

Analysis: The current state of play

The establishment of a new TFG in January 2009 featuring a more broad-based coalition and moderate Islamist leadership is a significant step forward. That, along with the withdrawal of Ethiopian occupying forces in January, was a setback for the jihadist group al-shabaab, which had emerged as the strongest insurgency force against both Ethiopian forces and the TFG. The shabaab continues to control the largest swath of territory in southern Somalia, but it has been unable to exploit the vacuum left by the departing Ethiopians, and faces growing armed resistance from clan militias. While many Somalis were skeptical that the new TFG could succeed, they recognized that Sheikh Sharif and his newly formed government were more closely aligned with their long-term interests than the shabaab.
However, the TFG has thus far enjoyed only limited progress in establishing itself as a functional authority. Its main successes have been in negotiating alliances with clan militias and authorities—which have helped to block the shabaab—and developing a more accountable, transparent customs revenue collection system at the seaport, which has earned support from businesspeople and generated at least a modest flow of revenues to pay some TFG salaries. It is also reaching out to elements of the shabaab and other Islamist rejectionists in the hopes of broadening its coalition and weakening the jihadists. But the government’s civil service has yet to become functional, and crime and insecurity remain high. Armed groups which were supposed to be integrated into a joint security force continue to remain separate militias answering to separate commanders. Shabaab insurgents, whose numbers now include foreign fighters, continue to launch attacks on the African Union mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, protecting key government installations in the capital.

Meanwhile, one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters continues to unfold. Three and a half million Somalis need emergency assistance (nearly as many as in Darfur), and humanitarian access is terrible: Forty-nine aid workers have been killed in 2008 and 2009 and scores more kidnapped. The TFG is still, for the most part, a government on paper, and would face difficulty remaining in Mogadishu without the protection of AMISOM forces.

International actors have rhetorically committed to making the TFG work, and the U.N. Special Representative Ahmedou Ould Abdallah has been especially active in generating external support for the TFG. A major donor conference on Somalia was held on April 23 in Brussels, where these priority needs were discussed and donors pledged more than $200 million to support AMISOM and strengthen TFG security forces. The key question for policymakers is how to condition and monitor the dispersal of those funds. In a report from the U.N. secretary general to the Security Council this week, the United Nations emphasized the need for strong donor support to the TFG, especially in the security sector. This is a priority shared by the TFG leadership. The United Nations is specifically calling for the international community to provide funding for training and equipping the TFG police and security forces, and for stipends for 10,000 police officers.

Significantly, the secretary general’s report does not recommend replacing the 4,000-strong AMISOM force with a 23,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping operation. A proposed U.N. force has been on the table for well over a year, but although the proposal had strong backing from the Bush administration, the Obama administration’s support has been lukewarm, and rightly so. The United Nations itself concluded that such a force would be counterproductive at this time, by catalyzing armed insurgents and thereby endangering rather than protecting the TFG. The TFG’s security against the shabaab will have to come largely from its own capacity to recruit and maintain the loyalty of its own security forces, albeit with generous external financial backing.

Establishing security: Challenges and policy implications
The immediate policy dilemma for international donors is one of sequencing: Must a security force first create conditions in which a civil government can survive and operate? Or must government authorities first establish a capacity to control security forces? Some may see a preference for checks and balances—and constraints on government security forces—as a normative agenda for human rights groups. But in Somalia it is also a cold realist calculation—abusive security forces will undermine, not protect, the TFG. And as in 2007 and 2008, such forces will strengthen public support for the shabaab and other opposition and extremist groups.
The international community has already had one calamitous experience providing direct salary support to the TFG police in 2007 and 2008, when the government was under different leadership. The TFG police under then-President Abdullahi Yusuf committed grave human rights abuses against the Mogadishu population. The police commissioner during this period, Abdi Qeybdid, is still in place despite a track record of abusive behavior, lack of confidence among ordinary Somalis, and protests by human rights groups. Moreover, key branches of the transitional government—the judiciary, the interior ministry, and others—that are supposed to exercise oversight of police and other security forces are not yet functional. What the United Nations and some donors are proposing, then, is the strengthening of security forces in a context where the new government appears to lack the ability to hold them accountable. The U.N. secretary general’s report is clear on this, identifying its strategic objective as “to assist the TFG in creating security conditions in which the process of building the country’s state institutions can take root.”
The good news is that the TFG has made some progress on its own, and the international community may finally have a more credible partner than the previous TFG or its predecessors. A bank account has been established in Djibouti and an interdepartmental financial oversight body has been established to monitor the use of funds. Revenues from the port are reportedly now flowing to the central government, and although corruption has not been eliminated, it has been reduced. From these funds, the TFG announced this month that it had begun to pay salaries to its security forces. The key challenges for the United States and other external actors in the immediate term are help to ensure that the TFG continues to pay its security forces, provides training and nonlethal equipment conditioned on their improved conduct, and establishes oversight mechanisms to ensure that funding does not support abusive forces or political score-settling.

This daunting task is further complicated by the diversity of security threats facing the TFG, which include the following:

Insurgency by the shabaab and other radical groups

The shabaab and other Islamic extremist movements in Somalia are an existential threat to the TFG and a major security concern for neighboring states and the West. As noted above, these extremist groups have lost much of their credibility in Somali circles now that Ethiopian occupying forces have withdrawn and the old TFG leadership has been replaced with new, moderate Islamist leaders. A portion of the shabaab—some argue most of the movement—are not ideologically committed hardliners, but rather tactical allies who could be negotiated with and brought into an expanding TFG power-sharing circle. If this group can be successfully weaned from the shabaab through negotiations, it would leave the recalcitrant hardliners exposed and weakened, and easier to defeat outright.

This is the two-pronged approach that President Sharif and his supporters are seeking to employ, and the TFG has reportedly already enjoyed some successes in pulling some armed groups away from the insurgency. The most important contribution the international community can make to this effort is to protect and expand political space for Sharif to negotiate—even with individuals who might raise eyebrows in some corners. Ethiopia’s security concerns are especially important to address in this regard. The United States and its allies must avoid the temptation to arbitrarily “redline” individuals and groups to whom Sharif will attempt to reach out. The acceptability of Somali armed opposition groups should be judged principally on their positions on a few core positions: Do they accept peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, especially Ethiopia? Do they reject affiliation and alliance with Al Qaeda? Do they renounce terrorist attacks and assassinations against domestic rivals and foreigners?

Even as it negotiates with part of the insurgency, the TFG will unavoidably have to fight to defeat the most hardline, foreign-backed wing of the shabaab. Direct external aid to TFG security forces is seen by many as unavoidable if the TFG is to defeat the hardliners and expand its authority in south and central Somalia, and the United Nations has asked donors to provide training, equipment, and stipends to the emerging TFG security forces. However, this places the United Nations and other external actors again in the position of a direct backer of one party in an ongoing civil war, a fact which contributes significantly to the targeting of international humanitarian aid workers by insurgents. External donors must be very clear about what they are doing if providing direct support to national security forces: They are choosing sides in a war.

Fragmentation of ad hoc militia

The TFG has forged alliances and understandings with a range of local, mainly clan-based militias that have resisted the shabaab encroachment but that remain outside the TFG military. Bringing these groups into the formal TFG national security forces is a high priority, as they otherwise are vulnerable to defection to opposition groups and pose a potential armed obstacle to extension of TFG authority. To maintain these fragile alliances the TFG primarily needs cash to provide regular salaries. This should mainly be the responsibility of the TFG, not external donors. External donors should ensure that their funding does not provide salary support for clan paramilitaries, which are largely unaccountable.

Criminal violence and lack of public order

Reducing criminality and establishing public order is a critical matter of legitimacy and credibility for the TFG in the eyes of the Somali public, and it is the principal yardstick that Somalis will use to assess the TFG’s performance. A more effective police force is a necessary first step. The international community already has established police support, and is likely to provide stipends as well, but the burden rests with the TFG to ensure that the police are a source of order and not predation. Under the old TFG, the police were a menace to the public. Until Police Commissioner Abdi Qeybdid is removed from office, it is not clear that citizens of Mogadishu will have any confidence in the police force. International donors must press hard for accountability in the ranks of the Somali police as a precondition for aid.

The TFG is likely to relax rules on the operation of private security forces employed by businesses, which in the past have been important sources of security for neighborhoods adjacent to the business compounds. Additionally, the TFG may opt to encourage the re-establishment of nonradical, local Islamic courts, which were the foundation for the dramatic improvements in security under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. Under the courts’ brief rule, Somalis were willing to trade some of their personal freedoms for greater security. Donor states can play a constructive role by protecting political space for Sheikh Sharif and his government to pursue this option if they so choose, rather than reacting in alarm at the prospect of courts based on sharia law. At the same time, donors can support Somali-driven efforts to reduce the incompatibilities of sharia court proceedings and rulings with international judicial and human rights standards.

The lowest order of threat to the TFG, the Somali people, the region, and the United States is actually the security item enjoying the greatest attention right now—piracy. Even so, the continued epidemic of piracy off the Somali coast is a problem and a test of the capacity of the TFG to extend its authority. Proposals to provide external assistance to the TFG for the establishment of a coast guard are premature, do not reflect the security priorities of the Somali people, and are unlikely to work. Indeed, training up coast guard officers could easily produce unintended consequences, as that new skill set will be more valuable in the piracy sector than in the public sector, producing defections from the coast guard. A more appropriate approach for the TFG will be to tackle piracy onshore. That will require time, funds, and extensive negotiations. External actors will have only limited roles to play in this internal Somali process.

Antipiracy measures would attract much greater support among Somalis if those efforts were accompanied by international action to end illegal fishing off Somalia’s coast. Like the shabaab during the Ethiopian occupation, pirates have managed to cloak their criminal agenda beneath a veil of Somali nationalism. Although illegal fishing has undoubtedly decreased due to the effectiveness of Somali pirates, international commercial fishing boats have for years violated Somalia’s territorial integrity and severely disrupted local Somali livelihoods.

Upending the status quo: Next steps for the Obama administration
Given the significant national security interests that the United States has in Somalia with respect to counterterrorism, and the international political and commercial pressure generated due to piracy, the Obama administration should more deeply engage in Somalia’s state reconstruction. The United States should appoint a senior diplomat along with a small diplomatic team to work with the U.N. mediation team. The American officials can provide focused, low-key support to this process of state reconstruction through the TFG. If this support is too visible or forceful, it will undermine President Sharif’s efforts to reach out to disaffected clans and constituencies. In this space, the United States should work within the already established International Contact Group to maintain the focus on the transition and help ensure that President Sharif does not embark on a failed attempt at empire-building like so many before him.

The immediate priorities and recommendations for the United States should be the following:

1. Improve security: Support locally owned efforts to improve security and public order and reduce the threat posed by armed insurgents.
Somalia’s most urgent need is unquestionably improved security. There are multiple security threats in Somalia, each of which requires a distinct response. Some security threats in the country are amenable to carefully calibrated external support—others are not. In all cases, local ownership of security policies is essential if those responses are to be sustainable, effective, and viewed in the eyes of local communities as legitimate. External aid is important, but it must not be allowed to overtake local responsibility to finance essential security operations. Moreover, direct support to the Transitional Security Forces must be conditioned on increasing inclusiveness of the TFG and effective steps to curb human rights abuses, including a commitment to investigate allegations of abuse and removal of officials implicated in serious abuses. The United States and other donors should establish oversight mechanisms under the auspices of the Joint Security Committee and AMISOM and must be prepared to halt funding if, as was the case last year, TFG forces engage in widespread human rights violations and other forms of criminal behavior.

2. End impunity: Support Somali efforts to seek justice for war crimes and end a culture of impunity.
The Ethiopian intervention in late 2006 calcified a brutal insurgency that in turn provoked a heavy-handed and vicious counterinsurgency campaign. Without fear of punishment, all sides committed atrocities against civilians. Continued impunity is an affront to the victims and fuel for further conflict. A necessary first step is a credible investigation of crimes committed. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the United States should call for a U.N. Commission of Inquiry to investigate and document war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ultimately the question of how to hold perpetrators accountable must be answered by Somalis themselves, but a credible external investigation must occur to begin the process.

3. Focus on the transition and governance: Help President Sharif refocus on transitional tasks and improve governance in order to enlarge participation in the political process and defuse armed opposition as Somalia prepares for possible elections in 2011.

Under former President Abdullahi Yusuf, the TFG ignored the “T” (transition). Yusuf and his allies (including the Ethiopians) sought to destroy their enemies without building functioning Somali institutions or advancing key transitional tasks. The success of the transition now depends on whether President Sharif can establish credible, inclusive, and consultative national commissions to complete the transition.

As with transitional governments in other settings, the TFG will face complex problems related to constitutional choices on systems of representation, central and local government division of labor, checks and balances, and many other matters that will have a powerful impact on the question of “who rules” in Somalia in the future. It will also face daunting technical challenges with regard to other key transitional tasks, especially those related to the work of the electoral commission. Here the outside world has considerable experience and expertise that can be offered to Somali representatives. Again, donors must be careful not to erode Somali ownership of decision making on these matters by overloading the transitional process with outside consultants and preset templates that may not fit in a Somali political setting.

4. Manage external spoilers: Somalia is a theater for regional meddling and proxy conflict, and the United States must seek to end cross-border adventurism and neutralize sources of support for groups inside Somalia seeking to undermine the peace process.

Eritrea, Libya, Qatar, and Iran, among others, are actively supporting groups that oppose the TFG, and the Obama administration should construct a diplomatic strategy to erode that support. The Security Council has already authorized sanctions against individuals and groups that obstruct the peace process, and as an immediate first step the United States should work with other members of the Security Council to build consensus for sanctions against those individuals and groups identified by the U.N. group of experts to be implemented if they become spoilers to the peace process.
Ethiopia’s cautious support for Sheikh Sharif is promising, but there will be great temptation for Ethiopia to intervene again if the shabaab and other extremist elements make further gains, or if the TFG’s outreach to the opposition includes figures Ethiopia deems unacceptable. Renewed Ethiopian military activities in Somalia would undermine and likely collapse the TFG and fuel the insurgency. Simmering tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to destabilize the subregion and undermine Somalis’ state-building efforts. The United States should resume serious efforts to fully implement the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace deal, demarcate the Ethiopia/Eritrea border, and normalize relations between the two countries. Without a resolution of the Ethiopian-Eritrean impasse, Somalia is likely to remain a site of ongoing proxy war between the two.

Somalia has become the poster child for transnational threats emanating from Africa. By sea, pirates much more dangerous than their predecessors from centuries past prowl the Indian Ocean and Red Sea waterways and make tens of millions of dollars in ransom. By land, extremist militias connected to Al Qaeda units ensure that Somalia remains anarchic and the only country in the world without a functioning central government.
In fighting terrorism on land and piracy at sea, U.S. national security interests will be better secured if we aligned ourselves more with the interest of most Somalis in better security and effective governance. Helping to build the house and using the back door will be much more effective than barging into the front door of a house that has yet to be built.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ethiopia: On Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Pardon

Alemayehu Fentaw

Dear Reader: This article is a revised version of the one first published in Sudan Tribune on 10 April 2009. By the way, I was not able to post anything on my website for the past five or so months, as all blogs along with a few targeted Diaspora websites were blocked in Ethiopia. I really appreciate the measure taken by the government to unblock all of the websites without any discrimination based on their content. This is a step in the right direction if the government cares to respect in deed the freedom of expression that its constitution upholds in words.

Revocation of the pardon granted to Ms. Birtukan Mideksa has been a subject of bitter debate recently between those who admonish it as unlawful and retrograde, on the one hand and those who approve of it as not only lawful, but also as a measure that advances the causes of justice and rule of law, on the other. The government news agency, quoting the Ministry of Justice said the pardon had been revoked since she had denied requesting her pardon. Of course, Ms. Birtukan’s trouble started when she spoke to her supporters in Sweden about the process of negotiation which had taken place between the opposition leaders and government, mediated by a “council of elders” led by Prof. Ephraim Isaac, before their pardon was granted. The government seems to prefer to lay emphasis on a petition signed by the prisoners, admitting guilt collectively and individually for the crime they had committed and asking for pardon, which implies that their release was part of the normal legal procedure of pardon, rather than part of a negotiated political deal.

The revocation strikes me as not only ridiculous but idiotic. To assume that this affair is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” of political substance and that the solution to this madness is simply revocation and re-incarceration of the woman is to entirely misread the problem.

My aim here is neither to engage in partisan politicking nor in high-profile philosophical and legal discourse, but to point out the serious flaws and irregularities observed in the whole process, from grant to revocation, of the pardon with a view to making out a case for quick amends as an academic lawyer as well as peace and human rights activist.

I. Forgiveness: A Philosophical Aporia?
Jacques Derrida, one of the most influential and prolific contemporary philosopher, raises a compelling question as to whether or not to forgive somebody who has caused us significant suffering or pain. For Derrida, the crux of the matter consists in the proposition that if one forgives something that is actually forgivable, then one simply engages in a calculative reasoning and hence does not really forgive. Derrida contends that according to its own internal logic, genuine forgiving must involve the impossible: that is, the forgiving of an ‘unforgivable’ transgression. There is hence a sense in which forgiving must be ‘unconscious’ and it must remain outside of political and juridical rationality. This unconditional ‘forgiveness’ explicitly precludes the necessity of an apology or repentance by the guilty party, although Derrida acknowledges that this pure notion of forgiveness must always exist in tension with a more conditional forgiveness where apologies are actually demanded. However, he argues that this conditional forgiveness amounts more to pardon and reconciliation than to genuine forgiveness.

The paradox of forgiveness depends upon a radical disjunction between self and other. Derrida explicitly states that “genuine forgiveness must engage two singularities: the guilty and the victim. As soon as a third party intervenes, one can again speak of amnesty, reconciliation, reparation, etc., but certainly not of forgiveness in the strict sense”. Given that he also acknowledges that it is difficult to conceive of any such face-to-face encounter without a third-party – as language itself must play such a mediating role – forgiveness is caught in an aporia that ensures its empirical actuality appears to be decidedly unlikely. To recap, the reason why Derrida’s notion of forgiveness is caught in such an inextricable paradox is because absolute forgiveness requires a radically singular confrontation between self and other, while conditional forgiveness requires the breaching of categories such as self and other, either by a mediator, or simply by the recognition of the ways in which we are always already intertwined with the other. Indeed Derrida argues that when we know anything of the other, or even understand their motivation in however minimal a way, this absolute forgiveness can no longer take place. Derrida can offer no resolution in regard to the impasse that obtains between these two notions (between possible and impossible forgiving, between a pardon where apologies are asked for and a more absolute forgiveness). He will only insist that an oscillation between both sides of the aporia is necessary for responsibility.

The upshot of this all is that to punish is the easiest thing to do for the powers that be. Even if the human impossibility of absolute forgiveness cannot be denied, it is still possible to forgive in various forms. Derrida helps us appreciate the limits set by human nature. What is so attractive to society and government in punishment? Nietzsche understood the way punishment is “over determined by utilities of every sort” and survives now under this, now under that interpretation of its purposes – because the desire to punish (and thereby subordinate, coerce, transform) other persons is so deeply rooted in human nature.

II. Reconciliation: A Traditional Dispute Resolution Mechanism
In what might be called a major departure from the received constitutional tradition of the country, the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia provides the framework for the independent validity of non-state or unofficial laws such as customary and religious laws in some fields of social activity. Both formal and informal legal pluralism are discernible in Ethiopia. According to Andre Hoekema formal pluralism “is a legal concept referring to the inclusion within the legal order of a principle of recognizing ‘other’ law.” Article 34 (5) of the federal constitution provides that ”This constitution shall not preclude the adjudication of disputes relating to personal and family laws in accordance with religious and customary law, with the consent of the parties to the dispute. Particulars shall be determined by law.” Article 78(5) also stipulates, “Pursuant to sub-article (5) of Article 34, the House of Peoples’ Representatives and State Councils can establish or give official recognition to religious and customary courts that had state recognition and functioned prior to the adoption of the constitution shall be organized on the basis of recognition accorded to them by this constitution.”

As can be gleaned from the above-cited constitutional provisions, formal legal pluralism under Ethiopia’s new constitutional order is confined to certain matters: only personal status and family law. The state legal system, however, carried on to monopolize competence over criminal matters. Only family and personal law have been singled out for recognition. Nevertheless, this does not rule out the existence and active role of customary criminal courts, which are by far the most important institutions of dispute settlement as some researches indicate. With respect to family matters, there is a dual family law system: the state recognizes official and non- official forums. The official forums consist of courts that are organized in a hierarchical order: the Regional/Federal First Instance Courts, the Regional/Federal High Court and the Regional/Federal Supreme Court in that order of superiority. To name but a few of the nonofficial forums in Ethiopia: the Shemagelle (Council Elders) and the Family Council (Yebetezemed Gubae) in Tigray and Amhara, the Luba Basa in Oromia, the Xeer in Somalia, the Shari’a courts, and the Church tribunals. In addition, the choice whether to take a dispute to regular state courts or to one of those non-official forums is entirely left to the parties.

However, it is this self-same traditional method of conflict resolution, which is commonly used to resolve family and personal law matters, that has been extended to such high stakes political dispute. Orly Halpern, [correspondent] of the Christian Science Monitor, in an article entitled “In Ethiopia, elders dissolve a crisis in a traditional way” told the story of a Harvard-educated Ethiopian scholar Ephraim Isaac who helped resolve his country’s two-year political crisis using a traditional peacemaking method. In the words of Halpern, “It was a deadlock that no amount of outside pressure seemed able to loosen, and the life sentences threatened to escalate the crisis. So it was clear to Mr. Isaac that his people needed a strong dose of traditional peacemaking methods. He led a nonpartisan Ethiopian “council of elders” that quickly negotiated a deal acceptable to both sides: clemency in exchange for admission of guilt and promise to respect the rule of law.”

III. Pardon: A Legal or Extra-Legal Procedure?
Black’s Law Dictionary defines pardon as “the act or instance of nullifying punishment or other legal consequences of a crime.” It further distinguishes between full pardon (aka, absolute or unconditional) and conditional pardon. It defines full pardon as “a pardon that releases the wrongdoer from punishment and restores the offender’s civil rights without qualification.” Article 71(7) of the FDRE Constitution confers on the President the power to grant pardon in accordance with conditions and procedures established by law. Under the Procedure of Pardon Proclamation No. 395/2004, the President’s pardon power extends only to federal crimes. All requests for pardon for federal offences are directed to the Board of Pardon for investigation. The Board of Pardon prepares and submits its recommendations to the President for final disposition of each application. As per Article 4(1) of the Proclamation, The Board has the power to “submit to the President recommendations that the penalty be remitted conditionally or unconditionally, in whole or in part, or that the penalty be of a lesser nature or gravity, or that the penalty be confirmed when it is found unpardonable after examining applications for pardon made pursuant to relevant law.” Therefore, Presidential pardon may take several forms, including full pardon, conditional pardon, partial pardon, commutation (reduction) of penalty, remission of fine or restitution, and reprieve.

In my opinion, the entire process of granting and revoking Ms. Mideksa’s pardon was wrought with numerous major defects from a strictly legal point of view. First, lack of vested interest or standing on part of the party that initiated and eventually submitted the petition to the Board of Pardon. In other words, the pardon was not pleaded by the real party in interest. It was mediated by the council of elders, signed by the convicts, and transmitted to the Board of Pardon by the Prime Minister. Pursuant to Article 12 (1) of the Procedure of Pardon Proclamation, the only persons who have standing to plead pardon on behalf of a convicted and sentenced person include own spouse, close relatives, representative or lawyer. Second, the application for pardon was signed before final judgment was entered contrary to an explicit provision of the Procedure of Pardon Proclamation. Third, the mediation (shuttle diplomacy) that had taken by the “council of elders” has no place in the normal pardon procedure. Fourth, default on part of the Board of Pardon to serve a written notice on the pardoned as per Article 17(1). Fifth, default to respect the twenty days’ period, as she could have availed herself of the opportunity to write her reply to the satisfaction of the Board of Pardon (Art. 17(2). Sixth, confusing criminal liability for civil liability (one pillar of Criminal Law is the principle of individualization of criminal responsibility), which is unbecoming of an academic lawyer was the mark of the petition for pardon as well as the certificate of pardon, as in both of these documents the petitioners purport to admit being guilty collectively and individually of the wrongs that they had committed. “Joint and several liability” is a concept unheard of in criminal law.

Seventh, a full pardon cannot be revoked once granted and accepted by the grantee unless it is found out that it was obtained through fraud. Even when a pardon is alleged to have been obtained fraudulently, there’s no way to revoke it without tendering a written notice and before the expiry of the twenty days’ period.

Eighth, the various government organs themselves did not seem to be clear with their respective competences. Recall official statements issued by the Federal Police, the Ministry of Justice, and the Office of the President. The different organs made different releases explaining the reasons for the revocation. One said the pardon was revoked as it was obtained through fraud whilst the other alleged that the pardoned failed to comply with one of the conditions under which the pardon was granted. This ambiguity heightens the suspicion that partisan utilitarian considerations have taken precedence over legal considerations of the common good. While one official statement would seem to have based the revocation on grounds of fraud or deceit by virtue of Article 16 (2) while the other bases the decision of revocation on grounds of non-compliance with conditions for granting the pardon in accordance with Sub-Article (3) of the same. How can the executive allude to two different causes of revocation alternatively?

Finally, the manner in which the woman was arrested might have been unlawful provided that the arresting officers did not have an arrest warrant. Besides, to re-incarcerate her before a decision to revoke her pardon under sections (2) or (3) of Article 17 has been taken by the Board after proper investigation of the allegation, with due regard to her written reply is a clear violation of the provision under Sub-Art (4) of the same.

In conclusion, the object and purpose of the FDRE Criminal Code, under its Article 1, is “to ensure order, peace and the security the State, its' peoples, and inhabitants for the public good.” Also, in the words of Article 11 of the Procedure of Pardon Proclamation, “the main purpose of granting pardon is to ensure the welfare and interest of the public”. Therefore, what has been done in the interest of public order, peace and security cannot be undone at least without good enough reason.

For me the release of the 38 political prisoners cannot be an outcome of a traditional peacemaking process (a reconciliation mediated by a “council of elders”) and a normal procedure of pardon simultaneously. I believe that the government allowed the “council of elders” to get involved and settle the dispute in a traditional way in good faith and the right thing to do for the executive organ at the time when they reached agreement with the prisoners was to order the Minister of Justice to withdraw charges against them in his capacity as the Attorney General in pursuance of Article 42(1) (d) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which reads “the public prosecutor is instructed not to institute proceedings in the public interest by the Minister by order under his hand.” This was not done, maybe because the Prime Minister was too intelligent to be advised by the then Minister of Justice and Attorney General, who is also chief legal advisor, ex officio, of the Federal government on how to proceed with the matter. Or perhaps, the Prime Minister wanted to see the detainees convicted so that he can use it as a political scorecard against them whenever he finds it important. Or, the PM has acted in the manner he did in order to expedite the rather protracted normal legal procedure. Whatever might have been the case, to leave the single mother behind bars will not do any good to the democratization process in Ethiopia, nor will any party emerge victorious by playing the same foul game.