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