Tuesday, December 18, 2012


December 18, 2012

Washington, D.C.: Today, 16 members of the European Parliament issued a public letter to Ethiopian Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn expressing their grave concern regarding the continued detention of imprisoned journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega.

Arrested in 2011 and detained without access to an attorney for nearly two months, Mr. Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison under the country’s broad 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation on July 13, 2012. Mr. Nega’s arrest and prosecution came after he wrote online articles and spoke publicly about the possibility of an Arab Spring-like movement taking place in Ethiopia. After his sentencing, the government initiated proceedings to seize his assets, including the home still used by his wife and young son. An appeal hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday, December 19th.

The letter notes that the Ethiopian government has an obligation to uphold the right to free expression and reminds the newly appointed Prime Minister that he has “the unique opportunity to lead Ethiopia forward on human rights and bring the country fully within the community of nations.” The letter closes by urging the Prime Minister to take all measures within his power “to facilitate the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Nega.”

“This is an important recognition by members of the European Parliament from across the political spectrum that the right to free expression is universal and must be respected by the Ethiopian government,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “Mr. Nega has been wrongfully detained in Ethiopia in violation of his right to freedom of expression, and he must be released.”

The text of the letter is copied below and a PDF of the letter can be found here. Freedom Now, a legal advocacy organization that represents prisoners of conscience around the world, serves as international pro bono counsel to Mr. Nega.


Dear Prime Minister Desalegn,

We write to express our grave concern regarding the continued detention of independent Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega and urge you to facilitate his immediate release.

Mr. Nega, a longtime publisher and journalist, was arrested in 2011 and charged under the country’s 2009 Anti-Terror Proclamation after he wrote and spoke publicly about the Arab-Spring movements then unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa. Although clearly sympathetic, Mr. Nega consistently emphasized that any similar movements in Ethiopia must remain peaceful. Despite this, the government of your predecessor Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrested Mr. Nega, held him without access to family for nearly one month and without access to an attorney for nearly two months, and ultimately sentenced him to 18 years in prison. Even now, reports indicate that proceedings are underway to seize Mr. Nega’s home, where his wife and young son continue to live.

Unfortunately, Mr. Nega is not alone—journalists Woubshet Taye and Reyot Alemu have also received long prison sentences on terror charges. In response to your government’s use of the 2009 Anti-Terror Proclamation against journalists and opposition leaders, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and five United Nations Special Rapporteurs—including the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights—have all expressed alarm at this worrying trend. As some have noted, the use of vague anti-terror legislation to silence legitimate expression threatens to seriously undermine the credibility of efforts to address real security threats to the region.

It is our understanding that appeal proceedings in Mr. Nega’s case are ongoing and we respect your need to allow the judicial process to continue. However, it is also your government’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression as established under customary international law and codified in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is a party.

You now have the unique opportunity to lead Ethiopia forward on human rights and bring the country fully within the community of nations. As such, we urge you to take all measures within your power to facilitate the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Nega.


Alexander Graf Lambsdorff

Ana Gomes

Charles Tannock

Eduard Kukan

Eija-Riitta Korhola

Emilio Menendez del Valle

Fiona Hall

Frank Engel

Kinga Gál

Laima Liucija Andrikienė

Maria Da Graça Carvalho

Mariya Gabriel

Michael Gahler

Norbert Neuser

Olle Schmidt

David Martin

Monday, December 10, 2012

U.N. Ambassador Questioned on U.S. Role in Congo Violence


NYT, News Analysis, December 9, 2012

WASHINGTON — Almost two decades after the Clinton administration failed to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda, the United States is coming under harsh criticism for not moving forcefully in another African crisis marked by atrocities and brutal killings, this time in Rwanda's neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have taken some of the blame, critics of the Obama administration's Africa policy have focused on the role of Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and a leading contender to succeed Mrs. Clinton, in the administration's failure to take action against the country they see as a major cause of the Congolese crisis, Rwanda.

Specifically, these critics — who include officials of human rights organizations and United Nations diplomats — say the administration has not put enough pressure on Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame, to end his support for the rebel movement whose recent capture of the strategic city of Goma in Congo set off a national crisis in a country that has already lost more than three million people in more than a decade of fighting. Rwanda's support is seen as vital to the rebel group, known as M23.

Support for Mr. Kagame and the Rwandan government has been a matter of American foreign policy since he led the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front to victory over the incumbent government in July 1994, effectively ending the Rwandan genocide. But according to rights organizations and diplomats at the United Nations, Ms. Rice has been at the forefront of trying to shield the Rwandan government, and Mr. Kagame in particular, from international censure, even as several United Nations reports have laid the blame for the violence in Congo at Mr. Kagame's door.

A senior administration official said Saturday that Ms. Rice was not freelancing, and that the American policy toward Rwanda and Congo was to work with all the countries in the area for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Aides to Ms. Rice acknowledge that she is close to Mr. Kagame and that Mr. Kagame's government was her client when she worked at Intellibridge, a strategic analysis firm in Washington. Ms. Rice, who served as the State Department's top African affairs expert in the Clinton administration, worked at the firm with several other former Clinton administration officials, including David J. Rothkopf, who was an acting under secretary in the Commerce Department; Anthony Lake, Mr. Clinton's national security adviser; and John M. Deutch, who was director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Ms. Rice, initially declined to comment on whether her work with Rwanda at Intellibridge affected her dealings with the country in her present job as an ambassador. But on Monday, Mr. Knopf said: "Ambassador Rice's brief consultancy at Intellibridge has had no impact on her work at the United Nations. She implements the agreed policy of the United States at the U.N."        

Two months ago, at a meeting with her French and British counterparts at the French Mission to the United Nations, according to a Western diplomat with knowledge of the meeting, Ms. Rice objected strongly to a call by the French envoy, Gerard Araud, for explicitly "naming and shaming" Mr. Kagame and the Rwandan government for its support of M23, and to his proposal to consider sanctions to pressure Rwanda to abandon the rebel group.

"Listen Gerard," she said, according to the diplomat. "This is the D.R.C. If it weren't the M23 doing this, it would be some other group." The exchange was reported in Foreign Policy magazine last week.

A few weeks later, Ms. Rice again stepped in to protect Mr. Kagame. After delaying for weeks the publication of a United Nations report denouncing Rwanda's support for the M23 and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in United Nations statements and resolutions on the crisis, Ms. Rice intervened to water down a Security Council resolution that strongly condemned the M23 for widespread rape, summary executions and recruitment of child soldiers. The resolution expressed "deep concern" about external actors supporting the M23. But Ms. Rice prevailed in preventing the resolution from explicitly naming Rwanda when it was passed on Nov. 20.

Mr. Knopf, the spokesman for Ms. Rice, said the view of the United States was that delicate diplomatic negotiations under way among Rwanda, Congo and Uganda could have been adversely affected if the Security Council resolution explicitly named Rwanda. "Working with our colleagues in the Security Council, the United States helped craft a strong resolution to reinforce the delicate diplomatic effort then getting under way in Kampala," Mr. Knopf said.

The negotiations subsequently fell apart, and the M23 continued to make gains in eastern Congo. Last week, the M23 withdrew from Goma but left behind agents and remain in range of the city.

Mr. Knopf declined to confirm or deny the account offered by the United Nations diplomat about the conversation between Ms. Rice and the French ambassador. But he said that "Ambassador Rice has frequently and publicly condemned the heinous abuses perpetrated by the M23 in eastern Congo," adding that the United States was "leading efforts to end the rebellion, including by leveling U.S. and U.N. sanctions against M23 leaders and commanders."

Ms. Rice's critics say that is the crux of the problem with the American response to the crisis in Congo: it ignores, for the most part, the role played by Mr. Kagame in backing the M23, and, as it happens, risks repeating the mistakes of the genocide by not erring on the side of aggressive action. "I fear that our collective regret about not stopping the Rwandan genocide, felt by all of us who worked for the Clinton administration, led to policies that overlooked more waves of atrocities in the Congo, which we should equally regret," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who has worked closely with Ms. Rice both in the Clinton administration and after.

"For almost 20 years now, the premise of U.S. policy has been that quiet persuasion is the best way to restrain Rwanda from supporting war criminals in the Congo," Mr. Malinowski said. "It might have made sense once, but after years of Rwanda doing what the U.S. has urged it not to do, contributing to massive civilian deaths, and ripping up U.N. resolutions that the U.S. sponsored, the time to speak plainly and impose penalties has come."

When Mrs. Clinton appeared before reporters on Nov. 28 to talk about the M23's seizure of Goma, she sprinkled her talking points with a demand that the rebel group withdraw, calling the humanitarian impact "devastating," with 285,000 people forced to flee their homes, health workers abducted and killed, and civil workers under threat of death. But she made no mention of Rwanda's role backing the rebel group, limiting her inclusion of Rwanda to a mention of negotiations with Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo to try to get a cease-fire.

"The M23 would probably no longer exist today without Rwandan support," said Jason K. Stearns, author of "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of Congo and the Great War of Africa." "It stepped in to prevent the movement from collapsing and has been providing critical military support for every major offensive."

Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, noted that the United States cut a portion of its military financing for Rwanda — around $250,000. But the Rwandan military continues to receive substantial American training, equipment and financial help. In an interview, he said, "There is not an ounce of difference between myself and Ambassador Rice on this issue," adding that quiet diplomacy was better than publicly calling out Mr. Kagame.

Ms. Rice, who has been at the eye of a political storm over her portrayal of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya, declined to be interviewed for this article. But in recent days, she seems to have tried to publicly distance herself from the M23 — although still not from Mr. Kagame. On Dec. 3, she posted on her Facebook page: "The U.S. condemns in the strongest terms horrific M23 violence. Any and all external support has to stop," in a reference to action in the Senate.

Her posting drew immediate responses. "Condemn the rape but don't name the rapist?" one of them said. "What kind of Justice is that?"



Susan Rice and Africa’s Despots


NYT Op-Ed, December 9, 2012

ON Sept. 2, Ambassador Susan E. Rice delivered a eulogy for a man she called "a true friend to me." Before thousands of mourners and more than 20 African heads of state in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ms. Rice, the United States' representative to the United Nations, lauded the country's late prime minister, Meles Zenawi. She called him "brilliant" — "a son of Ethiopia and a father to its rebirth."

Few eulogies give a nuanced account of the decedent's life, but the speech was part of a disturbing pattern for an official who could become President Obama's next secretary of state. During her career, she has shown a surprising and unsettling sympathy for Africa's despots.

This record dates from Ms. Rice's service as assistant secretary of state for African affairs under President Bill Clinton, who in 1998 celebrated a "new generation" of African leaders, many of whom were ex-rebel commanders; among these leaders were Mr. Meles, Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Jerry J. Rawlings of Ghana, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Yoweri K. Museveni of Uganda.

"One hundred years from now your grandchildren and mine will look back and say this was the beginning of an African renaissance," Mr. Clinton said in Accra, Ghana, in March 1998.

In remarks to a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that year, Ms. Rice was equally breathless about the continent's future. "There is a new interest in individual freedom and a movement away from repressive, one-party systems," she said. "It is with this new generation of Africans that we seek a dynamic, long-term partnership for the 21st century."

Her optimism was misplaced. In the 14 years since, many of these leaders have tried on the strongman's cloak and found that it fit nicely. Mr. Meles dismantled the rule of law, silenced political opponents and forged a single-party state. Mr. Isaias, Mr. Kagame and Mr. Museveni cling to their autocratic power. Only Mr. Rawlings and Mr. Mbeki left office willingly.

Ms. Rice's enthusiasm for these leaders might have blinded her to some of their more questionable activities. Critics, including Howard W. French, a former correspondent for The New York Times, say that in the late 1990s, Ms. Rice tacitly approved of an invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo that was orchestrated by Mr. Kagame of Rwanda and supported by Mr. Museveni of Uganda. In The New York Review of Books in 2009, Mr. French reported that witnesses had heard Ms. Rice describe the two men as the best insurance against genocide in the region. "They know how to deal with that," he reported her as having said. "The only thing we have to do is look the other way." Ms. Rice has denied supporting the invasion.

More recently, according to Jason K. Stearns, a scholar of the region, Ms. Rice temporarily blocked a United Nations report documenting Rwanda's support for the M23 rebel group now operating in eastern Congo, and later moved to delete language critical of Rwanda and Uganda from a Security Council resolution. "According to former colleagues, she feels that more can be achieved by constructive engagement, not public censure," Mr. Stearns wrote recently on Foreign Policy's Web site.

Ms. Rice's relationship with Mr. Meles — which dates from 1998, when she was a mediator in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to prevent war between Eritrea and Ethiopia — also calls her judgment into question.

In fairness, in her eulogy, Ms. Rice said she differed with Mr. Meles on questions like democracy and human rights. But if so, the message did not get through; under Mr. Meles during the past 15 years, democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia steadily deteriorated. Ethiopia imprisoned dissidents and journalists, used food aid as a political tool, appropriated vast sections of land from its citizens and prevented the United Nations from demarcating its border with Eritrea.

Meanwhile, across multiple administrations, the United States has favored Ethiopia as an ally and a perceived bulwark against extremism in the region. In 2012 the nation received $580 million in American foreign aid.

Eritrea is no innocent. It has closed itself off, stifled dissent and forced its young people to choose between endless military service at home and seeking asylum abroad. But I believe that the Security Council, with Ms. Rice's support, went too far in imposing sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 for supporting extremists.

President Obama has visited sub-Saharan Africa just once in his first term — a brief stop in Ghana. One signal that he plans to focus more on Africa — and on human rights and democracy, not only economic development and geopolitics — in his next term would be to nominate someone other than Susan Rice as America's top diplomat.

Salem Solomon is an Eritrean-American journalist who runs Africa Talks, a news and opinion Web site covering Africa and the global African diaspora.



African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings, by Meles Zenawi. Unpublished Masters Dissertation: Erasmus University, Rotterdam, no date.

Alex de Waal*

African Affairs, London, December 5,

In the months following his death on 20 August, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been eulogized and demonized in equal measure. But his policies, and the transformational paradigm on which they were based, have rarely been elucidated. While alive, Meles was equally indifferent to praise and blame. To those who acclaimed Ethiopia's remarkable economic growth, he would ask, do they understand that his policies completely contradicted the neo-liberal Washington Consensus? To those who condemned his measures against the political opposition and civil society organizations, he demanded to know how they would define democracy and seek a feasible path to it, in a political economy dominated by patronage and rent seeking?

Meles did not hide his views, but neither did he ever fully present his theory of the 'democratic developmental state' to an international audience. Over nearly 25 years, I was fortunate to be able to discuss political economy with him regularly, including critiquing his incomplete and unpublished master's dissertation. During this time, his thinking evolved, but his basic principles and sensibilities remained constant.

World leaders have lauded Meles' economic achievements without acknowledging their theoretical basis. Human rights organizations have decried his political record as though he were a routine despot with no agenda other than hanging on to power. Reviewing his writings on the developmental state, this essay shows the unity of his theory and practice.

Meles had the quiet certitude of someone who had been tested – and seen his people tested – to the limit. Along with his comrades in arms in the leadership of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), he had looked into the abyss of collective destruction, and his career was coloured by the knowledge that Ethiopia could still go over that precipice.

Many times during sixteen years of armed struggle in the mountains of northern Ethiopia against the then-military regime led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, Meles had close personal brushes with death. In 1988, he and other central committee members avoided a likely-fatal aerial bombing by just twenty minutes after their hideout was betrayed by a spy and Ethiopian fighter-bombers targeted it. Later that year, he was taken gravely ill with malaria and was evacuated to hospital in Khartoum – one of the very few times he left the field during the entire armed struggle.

As Meles crossed the border back into Ethiopia, I met him for the first time, and we began the first of our seminars on political economy. As dusk fell, still recuperating in his pyjamas, Comrade Meles climbed aboard a creaky Soviet Zil truck, captured from the Ethiopian army. All travel was at night, to avoid the MiGs, and we bumped our way along rocky tracks, first through the forested lowlands, camping out during daylight hours under trees next to a dry riverbed. Such was the itinerant life of the TPLF leadership. The next night our truck rumbled up a road cut through the mountainside by the guerrillas, with hairpins so tight that our truck had to make three-point turns. We spent the next day in caves at the TPLF's temporary headquarters in a mountain called Dejena, and the next nightfall I watched as an apparently uninhabited hillside gave forth a battalion of men, a dozen trucks and a tank, all of them completely obscured by camouflage until that moment. The TPLF had turned concealment into science.

The discomfort of the journey was less memorable than the travelling discussion group of Comrade Meles, Comrade Seyoum (head of TPLF foreign relations and later Ethiopia's longest-serving Foreign Minister), a dozen fighters, a representative from a European agricultural assistance agency, and myself. I learned quickly that the most necessary attribute of a guerrilla fighter is functioning without sleep. Meles was a voracious consumer of information and analysis, and a tireless questioner. We discussed perestroika in the USSR, theories of people's liberation warfare, the imperfections of grain markets, and, above all, peasant survival strategies during drought. At one point we met a hunter on the track and Meles spent an hour discussing with him the importance of conserving endangered species.

Meles was a convinced Marxist-Leninist, pragmatic but certain that the way of life of the Ethiopian peasants had to change or die. Having just completed my doctoral dissertation on famine survival strategies in Sudan, I tried to convince him that rural people were best served by diversified livelihoods, and that pastoral nomadism was an effective adaptation to the vagaries of life in a drought-prone ecosystem. He did his best to convince me that traditional livelihoods were doomed to stagnation and that Ethiopian peasants had to specialize in farming, trade, or livestock rearing.

The abiding impression left by Meles and the TPLF leadership was that their theory and practice were deeply rooted in the realities of Ethiopia, and that they would succeed or fail on their terms and no others. The TPLF had convinced the people, and that was all that mattered. They did not measure their record or their policies against external standards; on the contrary, they evaluated outside precepts against their own experience and logic. It was a refreshing, even inspiring, dose of intellectual self-reliance.

Meles was unflinchingly optimistic about the prospects for the armed struggle and assured me that the Tigrayan guerrillas, until a few months previously confined to the hills and the borderlands with Sudan, would penetrate as far south as Shewa, the Amhara heartland just a hundred miles from the capital Addis Ababa, within a year. I did not take his promise seriously (neither did any other non-Ethiopian). But he was correct, and within two and a half years, the TPLF – now a member of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition – achieved the remarkable feat of capturing the capital city.

The EPRDF took Addis Ababa on 28 May 1991, amid international predictions that Ethiopia would go the way of Somalia, where guerrillas had overrun Mogadishu just four months earlier. On 31 May, government salaries and pensions were due. They were paid on time. Police were back on the street within days.

During the next 21 years, Meles often looked as though he was camping out in the palace. He moved into his predecessor's semi-subterranean bunker home in the sprawling grounds of the old palace of the Emperor Menelik, and took over Mengistu's spacious but damp modernist executive office. The artwork scarcely changed over the next two decades, the carpets just once. Meles was not interested in the trappings of power, only in what could be done with it.

From the outset, what needed to be done was to conquer poverty. From his early days in the field through to his last years as an international statesman, Meles was absolutely consistent in this aim. Ethiopia's overriding national challenge was to end poverty, and in turn this needed a comprehensive, theoretically rigorous practice of development. Marxism-Leninism was, for him, not a dogma but a rigorous method for assembling evidence and argument, to be bent to the realities of armed struggle and development. When the TPLF first administered 'liberated' territories in the 1970s, it took a conventional leftist line, tried to regulate trade and moneylending, and failed. The Front responded by adjusting its policies to encourage the local petit bourgeoisie in the villages and small towns it controlled. When the great famine of 1984–5 struck, the TPLF took the strategic decision to make feeding the peasantry its priority, even at the expense of losing ground to the enemy.

Meles was primus inter pares in the EPRDF's collective leadership and chief economic theoretician. In an episode made famous by Joseph Stiglitz,1 Meles objected to the IMF position that international assistance was too unpredictable to be incorporated into national budget planning purposes, with the absurd consequence that national spending on infrastructure, health, and education could not be increased in line with foreign aid flows. Meles produced arguments and data and forced the Bretton Woods Institutions to rethink.

Meles inverted Kissinger's dictum that holding office consumes intellectual capital rather than creating it. He was always learning, reading, debating, and writing, and while he never abandoned the fundamental principles forged in the field, his views evolved greatly. After 1991, he studied for a degree in Business Administration at the Open University (graduating first in his class) and subsequently a Masters in Economics at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, under the supervision of the former Minister of Development Cooperation, Jan Pronk. He never finished his thesis due to the outbreak of war with Eritrea in 1998, but the draft manuscript, 'African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings', was the justification and blueprint for a 'democratic developmental state'. Excerpts are available online with the intriguing disclaimer: 'The author is the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Government.'2 Some of his analysis is also contained in a chapter in a recent collection edited by Akbar Noman and others.3

The war with Eritrea not only interrupted Meles' studies but provoked the most bitter dissension within the EPRDF. Meles was accused of having been soft on Eritrea and blind to Eritrean preparations for war, and subsequently for stopping the war once Ethiopia had expelled the invader from occupied territory. The internal party debate then took an ideological turn that seems to outsiders to be oddly anachronistic, replete with references to Bonapartism and the 'Kulak line'. Meles clearly stated that there should be no confusion that the EPRDF's mission was to build a capitalist state. He further stated that rent seeking and patronage within the ruling party posed the key dangers to this objective, and they needed to be thoroughly stamped out. Meles' adversaries accused him of selling his revolutionary soul to imperialism and serving Eritrea at the expense of Ethiopia. Meles won by the skin of his teeth – just two votes in the Central Committee of the TPLF. His rivals then walked out and Meles seized the moment to consolidate his power. The next decade was to be his chance both to hone and to implement his theory of 'democratic developmentalism'.

One may disagree with Meles' thesis or argue that he failed to implement it properly. But without question it represents a serious attempt to develop, and apply, an authentically African philosophy of the goals and strategies of development.

He explained the background to me. 'For the first ten years after we took over,' he said, 'we were bewildered by the changes. The New World Order was very visible and especially so in this part of the world. The prospect of an independent line appeared very bleak. So we fought a rearguard action not to privatize too much.'4

Meles was doubly constrained: internally the EPRDF was regressing, rehearsing its rhetoric but practising what Meles came to dub pervasive 'socially wasteful rent seeking.'5 But after emerging from the fractious debates of 2000–1, Meles had the upper hand, at the same time as international thinking shifted away from the neo-liberal demand for a non-interventionist 'night-watchman' state towards recognizing the need for a capable state to lead development. Meles agreed with the neo-liberals that the 'predatory state' of Africa's first post-colonial decades was one dead end, but argued that allowing the market to rule was a second dead end. 'You cannot change a rent-seeking political economy just by reducing the size and role of the state. The neo-liberal paradigm does not allow for technological capacity accumulation, which lies at the heart of development. For that, an activist state is needed, that will allocate state rents in a productive manner.'6

South Korea and Taiwan were Meles' favourite examples of developmental states that succeeded by subverting neo-liberal dogma. China's rise provided something else: by challenging American dominance it made space for alternatives. In his thesis he wrote, 'there has to be more political space for experimentation in development policy than has been the case so far in Africa … The international community has a role in creating such a space by tolerating development paradigms that are different from the orthodoxy preached by it. Africans have to demand and create such a space' (p. 39).

Meles' starting point was that Ethiopia (and indeed Africa as a whole) lacked comparative advantage in any productive field. He laid out his case in one discussion we held.7 'African workers produce textiles at nine times the price of the Chinese.' Similarly, African foodstuffs could not compete in international markets. 'In these circumstances, the best way to make money is through rent: natural resource rent, aid rent, policy rent. So the private sector will be rent-seeking not value creating, it will go for the easy way and make money through rent.'8 In reaction to this, Ethiopia postponed private land ownership and kept state control of the financial sector and telecoms.

The argument continued, 'If the state guides the private sector, there is a possibility of shifting to value creation – it needs state action to lead the private sector from its preference (rent seeking) to its long-term interest (value creation). So the state needs autonomy.'9 The government should choose when and how to partner with the private sector (an example was developing Ethiopia's leather industry) and should invest in education and research.

Meles clearly identified the challenge of development as primarily a political one: it is necessary to master the technicalities of economics, but essential not to let them become a dogma that masters you. It is the politics of the state that unlocks development.

The 'developmental state' should, he argued, be obsessed with value creation, making accelerated and broad-based growth a matter of national survival. If Ethiopia could sustain its growth levels – which have been running at close to 10 percent per annum for most of the last decade – it could achieve middle-income status and escape from its trap. To succeed in this, a third element was needed, namely the hegemony of developmental discourse, in the Gramscian sense that it is an internalized set of assumptions, not an imposed order. Meles liked to give the example of corrupt customs officials in Taiwan, who exacted bribes worth 12 percent of the value of imports of consumer goods, while not demanding bribes on imported capital goods, illustrating how value creation had been internalized in this way – so that even the thieves followed the norm.

African countries might have the trappings of human rights and democracy, but, he said, 'there is no sustainable democracy in a society characterized by pervasive rent seeking. We need value creation to be dominant for there to be a foundation of democracy, for politics to be more than a zero sum game, a competition to control state rents.' Worse, he added, 'I am convinced that we will cease to exist as a nation unless we grow fast and share our growth.'10

Thus far, I found Meles' case compelling, though I questioned if it were possible to create a common mindset of value creation in a country as vast and diverse as Ethiopia, in such a short period. Was there not a danger that a theory, however sophisticated, would degenerate into a set of dogmas parroted by party cadres who scarcely understood the meaning of 'pervasive rent seeking' but who knew the rewards of loyally following the party line? Meles' response was that the EPRDF had indeed neglected political education and party organization for years, which explained the 2000–1 internal crisis and the poor performance in the 2005 elections, including being wiped out in the major cities. But, he argued, a new generation of leaders was emerging, he was renewing the party at all levels, and, above all, his policies were delivering results. Ethiopians had never, ever, experienced anything like the recent economic growth and the spectacular expansion in infrastructure and services – and this, he said, would transform the country in the next fifteen years.

Included in Meles' paradigm was a theory of democracy. He writes, 'Even if a developmental state was to be solely concerned about accelerating growth, it would have to build the high social capital that is vital for its endeavours. It would have to stamp out patronage and rent seeking. These are the very same things that create the basis for democratic politics that is relatively free from patronage' (p. 10).

Meles condemned liberal formulae as 'trickle-up democracy' and said that, in a poor developing nation, political parties and NGOs would easily become patronage mechanisms, rather than the basis for a true associational political culture and sustainable development. He feared a 'no-choice democracy' in which factions contested for which one could best loot the state.

Developmental states could come in several forms, Meles argued, provided that they maintained the hegemony of value creation, were autonomous from the private sector, stamped out rent seeking and patronage, and maintained policy continuity for sufficiently long to succeed. A developmental state could be authoritarian, but in Africa's ethnically diverse societies, democratic legitimacy was a sine qua non. Ethiopia's ethnic federalism and decentralization reflected this. Meles said his preference was to have two competing parties, each of which stood for developmental values, but in their absence the option would be a stable dominant party or dominant coalition, such as Japan or Sweden enjoyed in post-war decades. In the Ethiopian case, he wrote, 'the peasant is the bedrock of a stable developmental coalition'. His critics said this denied them the chance of voting for real alternatives.

Hence, Meles' approach to democracy and human rights was all of a piece with his overall theory. He said, 'when [the developmental state] has done its job it will undermine its own social base, to be replaced by a social democratic or liberal democratic coalition'. Meanwhile, he argued, what meaning did liberal civil and political rights have in a context of abject poverty or political chaos? Development and a strong state were prerequisites for human rights, and Ethiopia needed to establish these first. Justifiable or not, this is a serious argument that deserves serious assessment.

In early 2011, I asked Meles why he had been so reticent about his theory. He replied that he should not jeopardize Ethiopia's interests by pursuing a personal intellectual agenda that would be sure to draw fire from his numerous critics and detractors. However, he added that his ideas, which had been heretical just a few years earlier, were becoming common currency, and that as the time approached for him to leave office at the 2015 elections, he planned to update his dissertation and publish it.11

Almost 25 years ago, Meles was indifferent to opinion and argument that failed to match his own standards, and was quietly confident that Ethiopians would shape their own history, and that history would prove him right. Recently, when I asked Meles what he would consider his legacy, he was uninterested in those who hailed his government as triumph or disaster, and addressed only the question of whether developmentalism was becoming hegemonic in Ethiopia.12 It would be another decade, he said, before that question could be answered. Meles also said that the intellectual work of articulating the theoretical grounding of his politics, and extending that analysis to what he called the 'archetypal' African state, characterized by a vigorous political marketplace, was just beginning. Enough of Meles' writings are in the public sphere to demonstrate that Meles was a truly original thinker. Let us hope that his unpublished papers provide sufficient material to fill out the other, less explored, areas of his intellectual inquiries.  


  • 1. Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents (Norton, New York, NY, 2002), pp. 27–30.
  • 2. <http://cgt.columbia.edu/files/conferences/Zenawi_Dead_Ends_and_New_Beginnings.pdf>(23 October 2012).
  • 3. Meles Zenawi, 'State and markets: neoliberal limitations and the case for a developmental state' in Akbar Noman, Kwesi Botchwey, Howard Stein, and Joseph Stiglitz (eds), Good Growth and Governance in Africa: Rethinking development strategies (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012).
  • 4. Discussion, Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister's Office, Addis Ababa, 16 October 2010.
  • 5. Zenawi, 'States and markets,' p. 169.
  • 6. Discussion, Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister's Office, Addis Ababa, 26 February 2011.
  • 7. Discussion, Zenawi, 16 October 2010.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Discussion, Meles Zenawi, Prime Ministers Office, Addis Ababa, 17 October 2008.
  • 11. Discussion, Zenawi, 26 February 2011.
  • 12. Ibid.


























*Alex de Waal (Alex.DeWaal@tufts.edu) is Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Conversation with Alemayehu Fentaw on Latest Developments in Ethiopian Politics



Jawar Mohammed: The constitutionality of the creation of three Deputy Prime Ministers has been questioned. Is there a constitutional violation at all, if so whats violated?

The Constitution doesn't envision multiple Deputy Prime Ministers. Rather, the Constitution provides for a single, undivided, post of the Deputy Prime Minister in the same way as it does in respect of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister can't, on his own, create ministerial posts or executive offices. He's invested with the power of filling executive offices by appointment as long as the nominees are endorsed by parliament, but he can't create executive offices. This is evident even from a cursory perusal of Articles 75 and 74(2) of the Constitution. My reading of the letter and spirit of the Constitution is that the post of the Deputy Prime Minister is as undivided and singular as that of the Prime Minister. The present appointments are clearly unconstitutional. However, In Ethiopia, if the needs of the Executive come into conflict with the Constitution, too bad for the Constitution.

Art. 77(2) stipulates that "It shall decide on the organizational structure of ministries and other organs of government responsible to it; it shall coordinate their activities and provide leadership."

As can be gathered from this provision, this is what the Council of Ministers can do, not the PM alone. Besides, what the CoM can do is to pass a "decision", not to enact a proclamation, as to the organizational structure of ministries." Even to "decide on the organizational structure of ministries" does not mean to create additional ministerial offices or posts only by a fiat decision of the CoM.

That such powers are invested not with the CoM, but with the HoPR should be clear from Art.76(3), which stipulates that "In all its decisions, the Council of Ministers is responsible to the House of Peoples' Representatives." It only states that the Executive has the power to "decide" on the issue under consideration. This does only mean that it has to submit its decision on the organization of the structure of the ministries to the House for approval. It becomes evident this article is about the power to change the internal structure of existing ministries, but not about creating additional ministerial posts. To reiterate, this can only be done first by amending the part of the Constitution that provides, in no ambiguous words, for a singular and undivided office of the deputy prime minister. Besides, even when approved by the HoF, it has to be issued in the form of a proclamation, not even a regulation, to amend the existing proclamation for the establishment and definition of powers of the Executive. Even such proclamations cannot amend the Constitution. This is called "hierarchy of laws." I guess this is the part they missed in their training at Civil Service College.

The alternative contention that the two additional appointees are not deputy prime ministers, even if they hold such a rank also flies in the face of the reality on the ground. If not deputy prime ministers, then what are they? I am sure you won't say "coordinators," "managers," or "advisors"

This poses a very serious problem to accountability. You know, accountability is a cardinal constitutional principle and it saddens me to see that defenders of the current appointments missed out on its salience. Now the question is: Who are they accountable to, as distinct from Demeke Mekonnen, who is accountable to the PM? In other words, if there's only one Deputy Prime Minister in the person of Demeke Mekonnen, then who are the additional two deputy prime ministers accountable to? You won't tell us that they are accountable to Demeke Mekonnen as he is only the first among equals (primus inter pares).


Another, but related issue has to do with succession. As Eng. Mekonnen Kassa put it, "God forbid, if the current PM Hailemariam were to pass, who would be in line to become Acting/Interim PM?" In other words, would they promote all three of them on a fast-track to premiership? The impression that the present appointments and the whole unfolding political drama gives me is that this body politic called Ethiopia is being run as if it were in a state of emergency. So sad. I wished it to be rooted in a solid ground, unshakable, stably anchored in a constitution and constitutionalism. This is lamentable!

Jawar Mohammed: If there is a need for three deputy Prime Ministers, what process should be followed and who is constitutionally empowered to do so?

The procedure of constitutional amendment set out in the Constitution itself must be strictly followed. First a proposal for amendment has to be initiated. According to Article 104 of the Constitution, "Any proposal for constitutional amendment, if supported by two-thirds majority vote in the House of Peoples' Representatives, or by a two-thirds majority vote in the House of the Federation or when one-third of the State Councils of the member States of the Federation, by a majority vote in each Council have supported it, shall be submitted for discussion and decision to the general public and to those whom the amendment of the Constitution concerns." Second, the proposed amendment must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the House of Peoples' Representatives and the House of the Federation, in a joint session, and when two-thirds of the State Councils approve the proposed amendment by majority votes. (Art. 105(2))

Jawar Mohammed: One explanation from the government' side is that ' there are no three deputies but one. The other two are just ministers with the Rank of Deputy PM"? Does that help the government go around the constitutional dilemma?


No, you can't get away with such kind of poorly-reasoned-out arguments. That started out with Bereket Simon scoffing at rumors about such possibilities. Now, some people are quick at recycling what they were fed by the state media. They tell you that these are only "coordinators" of sorts with the rank of deputy prime minister for reasons best known to themselves. Others, out of ignorance or ill-education, tell you that the Prime Minister can legitimately create ministerial offices or posts acting through the Council of Ministers. A typical reasoning of a Civil Service College pedigree was offered by Sisay Mengistie, who contends "The PM using Council of Ministers can create offices (See Art. 77(2)) and to me still there is no more than one Deputy Prime Minister rather with rank of Deputy Prime Minister."


I've tried to show at great length that the latest moves fail the test of constitutionality above. But, to reiterate, simply, appointing more ministers than is required by the constitution is unconstitutional. Neither more nor less.

Jawar Mohammed: Following Meles' death military officers were promoted without a seating PM, confirmation of the new PM was delayed for a month and now three deputies are created--each of these action have raised constitutional questions. What does the action taken by the party tell us about the state of the constitution in the contemporary Ethiopian politics?

I'd call that a silent coup d'état. The question of succession was decided then and there by the body that endorsed the promotions, even where there was no one to assume the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief. That was by far the most decisive appointment ever made during the period of succession. The addition of 37 Generals, most of whom from the TPLF, to the top brass radically transforms the nature of the defense forces. The party within the EPRDF coalition that overwhelms the chain of command of the defense forces decides Ethiopia's fate.

Recall that the promotions were sort of rushed, given that a prime minister, who, ex officio is also the commander-in-chief of the defense forces, had not yet been sworn in. Besides, it was not clear whether Hailemariam Desalegn was the acting Prime Minister, because he was still the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. He couldn't be all at once. You can say there's collective leadership, but that is not the sort of leadership we want to see in Ethiopia. Collective leadership is a relic of communism. Moreover, the process in which the promotions were made lacks in transparency. As you know, accountability and transparency are two much talked about principles of governance in Ethiopia, which, however, are missing in action.

It is common knowledge that EPRDF launched a program of generational change(aka Metekakat) within the ranks of its leadership in 2009. A point I believe was pioneered by none other than Tefera Walwa, but parroted by the late Meles Zenawi. That program extended its reach to the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) in 2010 with a view to replacing 561 high-ranking officers. Leaving the current promotions aside, until 2011, 13 Generals and 303 Colonels had been replaced. The launch of this program also aimed at promoting the equitable representation of the country's diverse ethnic groups in the ENDF's top brass. This point was emphasized by Siraj Fegessa, the Defense Minister, who said that an affirmative action will be put in place to enhance the ethnic composition of the army.

How is changing the ethnic composition of the top brass of the defense forces at such a critical stage as in during the extended absence of a Prime Minister, in the history of a country where ethnicity is politically not only salient, but decisive, different from a coup? It's an outright reversal of the "metekakat" program, if not a coup?

This coupled with the current appointments of Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD) and Tewodros Adhanom (PhD), both of them from TPLF, to the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister respectively, sealed the succession chapter in favor of TPLF at least until 2015, if we can hope against hope.

What the whole history of Ethiopia's constitutional development since its adoption in 1994 tells us is just one thing. If constitutions are meant to guarantee checks on political power and ensure the rights of citizens, Ethiopia's is a spectacularly unconstitutional constitution. It's a long story and it's even too stupid to try to explain that.


Jawar Mohammed: Before winding up our conversation, a general observation you want to make regarding homeland politics:

The EPRDFites succumb to self-delusion in entertaining the idea that economic development is all that matters whilst the oppositionists suffer from self-deception in engaging in reluctance to give credit to improvements under EPRDF.

The oppositionists engage in self-delusion in thinking that EPRDF is entirely unpatriotic whereas EPRDF engages in self-deception in characterizing the pan-Ethiopian oppositionists as chauvinist Amhara nationalists and the Oromos as narrow ethnicists.

A refreshed cabinet!

By Kirubel Tadesse, Capital

Tuesday, 04 December 2012


Three Deputy Prime Ministers New top diplomat Embattled and fired minister


Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on Thursday promoted two more ministers to double as Deputy Prime Ministers while swapping and firing others, a move that drastically reshaped the country's top executive branch.


Named both the ruling party chair and Prime Minister following the sudden death of Meles Zenawi in August, Hailemariam for months worked with the cabinet he inherited from his successor, until the reshuffle earlier this week. Three deputies, three sectors A first for the country, Thursday's parliamentery session approved the request of PM Hailemariam to have three Deputies.


In a move seen by analysts as made to give the cabinet an ethnic balance, Muktar Kedir from Oromia, and Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD) from Tigray are now both Deputy Prime Ministers. The two share the post with Education Minister Demeke Mekonnen, who was appointed back in September representing the ruling party's Amhara wing.


Some legal experts are questioning the constitutionality of having more than one deputy prime minister. The Constitution doesn't envision multiple Deputy Prime Ministers. Rather, the Constitution provides for a single, undivided, post of the Deputy Prime Minister in the same way it does in respect to the Prime Minister," says Alemayehu Fentaw, Horn of Africa specialist at the University of Texas. Alemayehu, who has taught law in Ethiopia, argues that the latest appointments have breached the Constitution.


PM Hailemariam, who did not face such critics during Thursday's session, said each of his three deputies will have distinct responsibilities, leading different sectors. He told lawmakers the move would improve leadership in the federal government. It also allows the Prime Minister to focus on development projects and defense, say senior ruling party officials. While some ministries would remain under the direct oversight of the Prime Minister's office, others will be grouped in clusters to be headed by the deputies.


Demeke is expected to spearhead the social sector and relevant ministries. Debretsion and Muktar are heading the finance and economic and good-governance reform clusters respectively. Debretsion will also remain as Minister of Communication and Information Technology, a position he has held since 2010.

Muktar was serving as head of the PM's Office and Cabinet Affairs Minister, a position expected to be filled in the coming weeks.


Embattled and now fired

The new Deputy Prime Minister Muktar Kedir also replaced the embattled Junedin Sado, as the Civil Service Minister. Junedin held a number of cabinet positions over the years, including Transport and Communication and Science and Technology ministerial posts. He has always been favored by Meles in the past for similar appointments and reshuffles. His apparent demotion comes amid terrorism charges against his wife. Federal prosecutors say the Minister's wife, Habiba Mohammed, has been coordinating finance for a group they say was trying to establish an Islamic State and undermine the country's secular constitution. Police said Habiba was 'caught red handed' leaving the Saudi Arabian embassy in Addis Ababa with 50,000 birr intended to fund the alleged plot. Habiba strongly denied the charges. Junedin, in a letter he sent to local papers, came to her defense, stating that the money was going to support a mosque their family is building. Police have rejected the Minister's claims and the case is currently before a federal high court. Junedin was similarly demoted from the party's top leadership before being removed from the cabinet. He has also been removed from chairing the board of directors of Addis Ababa University. Federation House Speaker Kassa Teklebirhan has replaced him as the AAU's new board chairperson.


A new top diplomat

In another reshuffle, Health Minister Tedros Adhanom (PhD), was moved from his post to become a Foreign Affairs Minister. The position has remained vacant since August when Hailemariam became PM.


While many expected State Minister Berhane Gebrekirstos to rise in the ranks and become a full Minister, Hailemaraim surprised pundits by appointing Tedros to lead the country's diplomacy. Over the past seven years when he served as Health Minister, Tedros was a celebrated public servant even among ruling party critics. He was hailed for boosting health care services across the country which significantly reduced HIV/AIDS and Malaria related deaths. His educational background is also in the health sector. He holds a doctorate in Community Health from the University of Nottingham as well as a Masters in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the University of London. He completed his undergraduate studies in Biology at Asmara University in 1986.


The decision to remove him from his successful stint in the health sector not only came as a surprise but was not favored by many who saw it as a mere political deal among contesting ruling party elites.


Tedros' deputy Dr. Kesetebirhan Admassu has been promoted to become Health Minister.


Kebede Chane is officially the Trade Minister, a position he held for months without the approval of the house after his predecessor was fired by Meles.


All of the five appointees were sworn in by Tegene Getaneh, President of the Federal Supreme Court after the house voted in approval.


The PM's office, which needs a new head itself, is expected to appoint new state ministers for Trade and Health.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ethiopian Prime Minister Changes Cabinet to Give Ethnic Balance

By William Davison on November 29, 2012


Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn appointed two new deputy premiers to share the leadership of the government between the four ethnic-based parties of the Horn of Africa nation's ruling coalition.


The second and third deputies are Muktar Kedir, a former adviser to the prime minister and leading member of the Oromo People's Democratic Organization, and Information Technology Minister Debretsion Gebremichael, who is also deputy chairman of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, Hailemariam told lawmakers today in the capital, Addis Ababa. Demeke Mekonnen, the education minister and leader of the Amhara National Democratic Movement, was appointed as a deputy prime minister in September.


The appointments reflect a balancing act within the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, said Jason Mosley, associate fellow of the Africa program at London-based Chatham House. "They've now got all four parties represented within the prime minister and deputy prime minister slots."


Hailemariam leads a multi-ethnic bloc from southern Ethiopia in the ruling party. He was appointed prime minister in September following the death of former Premier Meles Zenawi on Aug. 20.


Ethiopia, the continent's second-most populous nation, is a key U.S. ally in its battle against al-Qaeda in the region. Ethiopian troops in December invaded Somalia for the second time in four years to join the battle against al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda's Somalia affiliate.


Meles, an ethnic Tigray who ruled Ethiopia for 21 years after leading a victorious rebel movement and who oversaw one of Africa's fastest-growing economies, died from an infection contracted while he was recovering from an undisclosed illness.


'Awkward Phase'


Today's changes confirm that the EPRDF is in an "awkward phase" as it tries to "rule by committee" and replace a leadership dominated by revolutionary fighters, Mosley said in an e-mailed response to questions today.


"Hailemariam is not in a position to centralise power, whatever his personal inclinations might be," he said.


Among other changes, Tedros Adhanom, the former health minister and a member of the TPLF's politburo, was appointed foreign minister, Hailemariam said.


Debretsion, whose ministry oversees the state-owned Ethio Telecom monopoly and who is also chairman of the board of Ethiopia Electric Power Corp., will coordinate the economy as a deputy prime minister, Hailemariam said.


Muktar's portfolio as deputy will be governance and he also will become civil service minister, replacing Junedin Sado, whose wife is being tried on terrorism charges.


Tedros is succeeded at the Health Ministry by former state minister Kesete Birhan, Hailemariam said. Tedros was given the 2011 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Humanitarian Award for his leadership of Ethiopia's health program. His strategies helped to reduce the mortality rate for under-5s by 28 percent in the past five years, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Between Journalism and Terrorism: the Curious Case of Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson


By Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam


Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, two Swedish journalists, were detained on 1 July 2011 after they were captured in Ethiopia during a fight between rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and a contingent of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) in Ogaden. The two journalists were charged with violations of the Ethiopia anti-terrorism law and both acknowledged during their trial that they had entered Ethiopia illegally via Somalia accompanied by rebels from ONLF. However, they argued that their contacts with the ONLF were intended to help them enter a region the Ethiopian authorities would not allow journalists to enter. They alleged their purpose was to report on the activities of a Swedish oil company, Lundin Petroleum AB, in the Ogaden as well as allegations of human rights violations. Both of them denied terrorism charges, including claims that they had been given weapons training. They were, however, sentenced in December 2011 by the Third Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court to seven years in prison on the charge of abetting terrorism, which they denied, and another three years and 3 months for entering Ethiopia illegally, a charge to which they pleaded guilty. They were pardoned by the Ethiopian Government on 10 September 2012 and released the next day after serving nine months of their sentences.


Dr. Sisay Alemahu is an Ethiopian legal scholar at Åbo Akademi University in Finland. He posted on Facebook, "I have been asked about a hundred times about the imprisonment of the 2 Swedish journalists - with an undertone of 'how did the government of your country dare to do so?'. The funny thing is that almost all those who asked me do not have any idea about the situation of journalists in Ethiopia. For many, it is the 'Swedish brand' that made the whole thing ridiculous. Nobody, including the journalists after their release, talks about their illegal entry into the country, etc. What I found more appalling is their allegation that they would have been 'shot dead anytime along the period of their detention' and their 'degrading treatment' without referring at all to how other Ethiopian prisoners in their situation were treated. I would never condone the imprisonment and mistreatment of any journalist as such, but the whole story about the SWEDISH journalists has been curiously funny. They are now vowing 'to give back' - help Ethiopia realize freedom of the press - I wish them luck."


I replied to Sisay in the same Facebook thread, writing that "I think what makes the case of the Swedish journalists curious is not so much their national origin as the charge of terrorism. I beg to differ with your assertions. Getting indicted with charges of terrorism and aiding and abetting terrorism is fundamentally different from that of entering without a visa. How often do you think journalists cross borders in order to carry out their professional duties in conflict zones? How do you think journalists manage to get the news that we watch on a cable TV sitting comfortably in our couches or that we read in the papers sipping coffee almost every day?"


The surest way for a journalist to get the news is to be there, but gaining access to what can be described as a conflict zone is not easy. In order to do their jobs in a conflict zone, foreign journalists essentially have two options: either obtain a visa or enter illegally. Even large media outlets and wire news services such as Reuters, CNN, AFP, AP, and Bloomberg get us the news by maintaining correspondents on the ground at a great personal risk. Sisay may be unclear about this professional hazard as well as, for example, the many foreign journalists who entered Tigray via the Sudan in the company of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) to cover the humanitarian crisis that followed the civil war and drought in Tigray in the recent past.


Now the issue is whether sovereign states have to hold foreign journalists criminally liable for entering its territory without a visa. Any state has the right to control its borders and to establish entry requirements for foreign nationals, including making illegal entry a criminal offense. But that specific offense is different from the offense of terrorism. The Ogaden region has not been freely accessible to foreign journalists since December 2006 and, according to human rights watchdogs, the region has experienced terrible humanitarian crises since then, in great measure caused by the use of scorched-earth tactics by the ENDF in its operations against the ONLF, as well as to chronic drought.


At the risk of being called unpatriotic, I stand with Schibbye and Persson and don't flinch in defending them. You can call them many things, but they are not terrorists. They are journalists exercising the internationally recognized freedom of the press. As the phrase goes, "they gots to do what they gots to do."


Dr. Firew Kebede, an Ethiopian legal scholar at Deakin University School of Law, Melbourne, Australia, joined the debate. He wrote, "I think both of you are highlighting different aspects of the issue. Sisay, I hear you when you say that the matter received so much attention because it involved foreign nationals, particularly from the west, while numerous Ethiopians are being sent to prison on the ill-conceived "terrorism charges". But even among Ethiopians, we only tend to talk of some high profile victims of these "terrorism" charges, while there are several hundreds being sent to prisons not only in Addis but also in so many small towns around the country. Elsewhere I stated that it is ridiculous for TPLF to accuse foreign journalists of terrorism while they fully know how western journalists were visiting them in Tigray mountains during the armed struggle without getting visas or papers from the government. They are being disingenuous. Another point, which is mute now, is that weren't the Swedish journalists on a mission to make a documentary on corrupt Swedish politicians connected to a shoddy oil exploration contract in Ogaden? It seemed to me that their goal primarily was not to report on the war itself but on the oil deals? Did this contribute? What do you guys know about this?"


In the Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs' official weekly publication, A Week in the Horn, the Ministry claims, "In fact, Schibbye and Persson were very fortunate in being acquitted of terrorism charges after the court found they had not actually been involved in carrying out any terrorist activity. In fact, luckily for them, as the group they accompanied was clearly on an active mission, they were caught before any such activity took place." An Ethiopian-American attorney, Bereket Tesfu, asserts also in the same vein that the two Swedish journalists were lucky to "(l)et alone be imprisoned, they should be counting their blessings that they survived a military confrontation between the Ethiopian army and ONLF and are already back home with their families." What's so disturbing about this line of thinking is its tendency to reduce the rule of law to good luck or fortune.


It would not be a mistake to think that the two Swedish journalists entered Ethiopia via Somalia knowing full well the legal risks of their actions. They were not ignorant nor did they miscalculate. They were aware that if arrested, they ran the risk of being convicted of illegally entering Ethiopia and sentenced to the maximum penalty for that the offense. But it is ridiculous to think that Schibbye and Persson were aiding and abetting terrorism. The Ethiopian Government declares that the ONLF is a terrorist organization and that being affiliated with it is by itself criminal. Well, my response to that assertion is: "One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter." The Ethiopian Government's terrorism designation of the ONLF could easily have been applied to the TPLF if it had not succeeded in winning the civil war. What say you?


The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry also claims by way of a refutation that these two Swedish journalists did not enter Ethiopia to cover the activities of a Swedish oil company as they alleged, because there was no Swedish oil company operating in the region by the time Schibbye and Persson entered Ethiopia. Rather, according to the Foreign Ministry, they were in Ethiopia "to produce 'evidence' of atrocities" committed by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces against the Somali people of Ethiopia's Ogaden region and to derail ongoing peace negotiations between a faction of the ONLF and the government.


In refuting the allegation that they were in Ethiopia to cover the business activities of a Swedish oil company, the Foreign Ministry makes a bold statement to the effect that "Lundin in fact sold its Ethiopian oil concessions to Africa Oil Corporation over three years ago, and Lundin now has nothing to do with any activities by Africa Oil in the Somali Regional State. Africa Oil itself is quite open about its activities and is in fact on record as noting that it hasn't seen any of the violence claimed by the ONLF in the areas in which it operates." The most surprising element of this statement is not so much the affirmation of the cessation of Lundin Petroleum AB's activities in Ethiopia resulting from the transfer by sale of its oil concessions, but the use of Africa Oil Corporation as a witness to the Ethiopia Government's impeccable human rights records in the Ogaden region. Whatever the merits of Africa Oil Corporation's testimonials as to the state of human rights in Ethiopia, the truth of the matter is that Africa Oil Corporation is a subsidiary of the Lundin Group of Companies, which are under the overall management and guidance of Lukas H. Lundin and Ian H. Lundin. Africa Oil Corporation is an oil and gas company with assets in Kenya, Puntland, Ethiopia, and Mali as well as through its 45% equity interest in Horn Petroleum Corporation. The Company's shares are listed on the TSX Venture Exchange under the symbol "AOI" and on the NASDAQ OMX First North Exchange under the symbol "AOI". What emerges from the Foreign Ministry's audaciously never-before-heard defense of Lundin Petroleum and Africa Oil Corporation is the whiff of something suspicious about the award of the concessions and its impact on the security of the region. In this regard, I can't help but agree with Dr. Firew Kebede's suggestion that the atrocities were not the only issue that Schibbye and Persson wanted to cover. It seems that they also wanted to cover the oil concessions concluded with Lundin Petroleum, its probably unseemly corporate behavior, and the subtle manner it tried to exit from the scene by transferring its Ethiopian oil concessions to what initially seemed a completely different company. It now seems that the Swedish journalists entered Ethiopia with the double purpose of exposing the atrocities committed by the ENDF and the activities of Africa Oil Corporation, a Canadian company belonging to the Swedish Lundin family. Looming shades of the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest?


On an absurd note, however, what Ethiopian authorities did in response to Schibbye and Persson's media appearance once they returned to Sweden was to block domestic Ethiopian access to the website of the Swedish state broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT). If these journalists had been Ethiopians, their fate would have been same as Judge Birtukan Mideksa's – revocation of their pardon and reincarceration. It was the speech that Judge Mideksa gave to her supporters in Sweden that got her into trouble again in Ethiopia.


What lessons did Schibbye and Persson learn from the Ethiopian legal system? One thing that is too important to ignore, which is that in Ethiopia journalists who investigate the government or criticize its policies and practices, whether home-grown or foreign, are presumed to be terrorists until they enter a plea for a pardon. This is currently the only way to secure a release from imprisonment and the larger prison called Ethiopia, because the Ethiopian authorities make no distinction between journalism and terrorism. Every dissenting journalist is presumed to be guilty until proven innocent. And innocence is only proven by pardon pleading.


Sisay's observation can't be downplayed none the less, given that that Ethiopia's own sons and daughters such as Woubshet Taye, Eskinder Nega, and Reeyot Alemu are still languishing in jail for no fault of theirs. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi once remarked, "If that is journalism, I don't know what terrorism is." But, all I need to do now is to turn it around, "If that is terrorism, I don't know what journalism is."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ethiopia: government increasingly intolerant of Islam risks radicalizing muslims

Alemayehu Fentaw

November 16, 2012, African Arguments

The Ethiopian constitution provides for freedom of religion and requires the separation of state and religion. However, the Muslim community in Ethiopia has, for more than a year now, been holding protests at mosques around the country against what is perceived as government interference in religious affairs.  The protesters are demanding that the current members of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (Majlis) be replaced by elected representatives and that elections for Majlis representatives be held in mosques rather than in the Kebeles.  Some members of the Muslim community accuse the Ethiopian Government of controlling the Majlis and sponsoring the propagation of Al-Ahbash, a little known sect of Islam.

The Ethiopian Government accuses the protesters of being led by extremists who want to establish an Islamic state in place of the current secular federation. The Ethiopian Government responded against some protests in 2012 with deadly force, most recently in Assassa in April and Gerba in October, resulting in the death of at least seven protesters, a large number of injuries, and the imprisonment of a number of protesters on terrorism charges.

The protests were triggered by the suspension of the Awoliyah Muslim Mission School and the dismissal of 50 Arabic teachers via a letter issued by the Majlis. The Awoliyah Muslim Mission School has been a member since 1993 of the Islamic charitable agency known as International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and has been linked to the Saudi Arabia controlled World Muslim League.

The Ethiopian authorities consider Awoliyah to be a breeding ground for a new generation of radical Muslims, which they refer to as "Salafi-Jihadists" or "Wahabi-Salafists".  However, the Muslim protesters have consistently adhered to nonviolent demonstrations, leaving the Ethiopian Government with little to no evidence of behavior or action that could be described as terrorism.  It is clear to date that the Ethiopian Government is manufacturing a security problem where none actually exists. Concerns about 'terrorism' in Ethiopia (and the wider world) have degenerated into an irrational suspicion of Muslims, which will continue unabated until Ethiopia and its Western partners reflect more critically on their own perceptions.

It is, to some extent, reasonable to argue that Ethiopia's leaders are experiencing a growing fear of Islamic terrorism, given the fact that government is currently combating the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab in Somalia and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the Somali region of Ethiopia.  This is buttressed by a universal consensus among analysts that Somalia and Sudan are exporters of both political Islam and Islamic terrorism. Given that Ethiopia is widely considered as a bulwark against Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the Horn of Africa, Somalia and, across the Gulf of Aden, in Yeman, one could argue that Ethiopia is not just suffering from siege mentality, but rather that it is a rational fear.

There is, however, some evidence that the Ethiopian Muslim community has been radicalized, although not in the sense that it has a political agenda, but in the sense that it has attained a higher degree of religious consciousness and has become more aware of its particularistic identity.  In light of 'Arab Spring' events that took place in North Africa and the Middle East, toppling repressive governments, it can be argued that the Ethiopian authorities are haunted by the fear of an 'Ethiopian Spring', which has not only contributed to the current crackdown on the media and the political opposition, but also against the Muslim community.  Ethiopia has increasingly become intolerant of Islam.

There is little evidence to support the Ethiopian Government's claim that its own Muslim community poses a legitimate threat to national and regional security.  It only seems to be driven by a shrewd strategic calculus. Since Ethiopia is a critical partner in the West's 'War on Terror', the government thinks it helps to foment fear of the rise of radical Islam in Ethiopia that would lead to an improbable takeover of power by political Islam.  The current Ethiopian Government seeks to keep Western support and aid flowing into the country through characterizing the Muslim community as linked to Islamic radicals and thus a threat to national security.

To the extent that secularism is a constitutionally enshrined principle of governance, the interference the Ethiopian government is undertaking within religious institutions is unacceptable. Any sponsorship by the government of a religious sect over others or any attempt of privileging one religion over another is illegitimate, be it Al-Ahbash or Wahabi. This is not to divest the government of its legitimate authority to neutralize security threats as they arise.  Recognizing the threshold requires not only good public policy and laws, but also responsible enforcement. If the Ethiopian Government supports a religious group such as Al-Ahbash, it must leave the task of propagating it to the faith-based nongovernmental organizations, rather than the Ministry of Federal Affairs.  The primary problem is that the Ethiopian Government has already legislated civil society out of existence with its charities legislation, so that the legitimate activities of religious groups are constrained.

The threat claimed by the Ethiopian Government, which as yet is not clear and present, does not emanate from radicalization, but from the embrace of political Islam and its concomitant militancy. The threat emanating from radicalization in my view does not call for direct government intervention. It would have been better addressed by civil society organizations. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia today there is barely any civil society, including religion-based and inter-faith NGOs working in the area of peace and reconciliation as they were legislated out of existence by the government itself.

If the current situation is allowed to continue, the protests will surely grow so much so that they overwhelm the government's ability to handle the situation. I don't expect the peaceful Muslim protesters to resort to violent means in the near future. My concern is that the Ethiopian government will eventually resort to more force and repression than is warranted under the circumstances.  While it is impossible to predict the consequences, one thing is certain – hatred begets hatred.  Some thought the protests would simply go away with the Majlis elections, but now we know that a significant proportion of the Muslim community boycotted the polls that took place on 7 October 2012. The Government claimed the elections were concluded successfully.

Another reason why the Ethiopian Government's actions are misguided is because Islam has been historically a decentralized religious institution in Ethiopia.  With the formal establishment of the Majlis by the Ethiopian Government in 1976, it has enjoyed an official governmental status, with its chairman considered by the government as "representative of the entire Muslim community," and is accorded the same courtesies as the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, the Bishop of the Catholic Church and the Head of the Protestant Churches in public ceremonies.  Historically, it has always been the responsibility of local mosques to appoint clerics, which makes the Ethiopian Government's effort to control each and every mosque in the country through the Majlis untenable.

If the Ethiopian Government wants to help resolve this emerging conflict, it should refrain from interference. It should also make a goodwill gesture not only towards meeting the demands of Muslim protesters, but also in promoting a respectful and sustained dialogue among Muslims belonging to different Islamic sects, instead of promoting one sect of Islam to the exclusion of others. A positive first step would be to release the imprisoned elected leaders of the Muslim community and conduct the election of the members of the Majlis at the mosques rather than at the kebeles.  Moreover, it must stop sponsoring Ahbashism at the expense of other sects of Islam as long as they respect the constitution and other laws of the land.

Last but not least, the Ethiopian Government should refrain from unnecessary provocations, which have been abundant in government publications and statements by authorities. After all, the Ethiopian Government owes Ethiopian Muslims all due respect and tolerance.  Tolerance though is not enough. The problem with applying the concept of tolerance to the case of Ethiopian Muslims is that it neglects the rich history of Islam in Ethiopia.  It ignores the fact that Ethiopia's Muslims were early historical converts in the same way as Ethiopia's Christians.

Through repressive interference the Ethiopian Government will only sow the seeds of a radicalized political Islam that it seeks to keep at bay.

Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam is a Horn of Africa Specialist at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.