Thursday, February 28, 2013

Obama: Failing the African Spring?

Helen Epstein America’s new drone base in the West African city of Niamey, Niger, announced by the White House on Friday, further expands our counter-terrorism activity in Africa. It’s also consistent with the militaristic emphasis of the Obama administration’s engagement with the continent. This may help contain the spread of jihadist violence in specific cases, but by failing to address persistent abuses of human rights by our African military allies, America is also undermining its own development investments that are intended to lift millions of people out of poverty and ensure the continent’s peace, stability, and economic growth. The administration’s neglect of human rights in Africa is a great disappointment, since the president began his first term by laying out ambitious new goals for the continent. In July 2009, when his presidency was only six months old, Barack Obama delivered a powerful speech at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, the point from which millions of African slaves were shipped across the Atlantic. He called on African countries to end the tyranny of corruption that affects so many of their populations, and to build strong institutions that serve the people and hold leaders accountable. The speech seemed to extend the message of his much-discussed Cairo address a month earlier, in which he called for a new beginning for Muslim relations with the West, based on non-violence and mutual respect. Many thought that the policies of the new president, himself of Kenyan descent, would depart from those of the Bush administration, which provided a great deal of development aid to Africa, but paid scant attention to human rights. After more than four years in office, however, Obama has done little to advance the idealistic goals of his Ghana speech. The US finally suspended military aid to Rwanda last year, after it was forced to accept evidence of Rwandan support for the brutal Congolese rebel group M23, but has otherwise ignored the highly problematic human rights situation in that country. In Uganda, the US looked on for years as President Yoweri Museveni’s cabinet ministers gorged themselves on American and other foreign aid intended for impoverished farmers, war victims, roads, and health care. US diplomats have recently begun expressing support for Uganda’s many oppressed civil society groups, but one wonders what took them so long. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Uganda is a vital US military ally in Somalia, where Ugandan troops helped oust the Islamic militant group al-Shabbab from Mogadishu last year. Meanwhile, Kenya, another important US ally in Somalia that is soon to be receiving drones from the Pentagon, is preparing for national elections on March 4. But some observers say the country is more violent now than it was in 2007, when post-election ethnic clashes left 1000 people dead and caused economic chaos across East Africa. Presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto have both been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes connected with those events. It’s not clear what the US will do if Kenyatta wins, but it often seems as if Obama will work with any African leader who furthers America’s military aims, regardless of how that leader treats his own people. And then there is Ethiopia. Today, Western nations give $3.5 billion a year in aid to Ethiopia, most of it for health care projects, food aid, and other development programs. Of this, the US alone provides roughly $700 million—an amount that has quintupled in the past decade, even as the nation’s human rights record has deteriorated to the point that Freedom House now designates it one of the least free countries in the world. The Ethiopian government has rigged elections, taken control of the economy, and outlawed virtually all independent media and human rights activity in the country—including work related to women and children’s rights, good governance, and conflict resolution. Thousands of political prisoners languish behind bars and dozens of editors, journalists, judges, lawyers, and academics have been forced into exile. But when Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died last summer, then-US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice praised him as a personal friend and a “talented and vital leader.” When she remarked that “he had little patience for fools, or ‘idiots,’ as he liked to call them,” some in the opposition believed she was referring to them—and approving Meles’s sentiments. Rice’s support for authoritarian leaders in Africa was highlighted by critics who opposed—and ultimately derailed—her nomination to be secretary of state. To read the entire article on NYR, click here.

Ethiopia and Kenya: Doing it my way

Special report: Emerging Africa March 2nd 2013 The Economist ETHIOPIAN BORDER GUARDS at the arrivals terminal in Metema check every passport against a handwritten list of undesirables to be kept out. This a country in which the state knows best. That may be tiresome for visitors, but it has made Ethiopia one of Africa’s development stars. A newly built road leading away from the border is surrounded by intensively farmed fields of sesame, Ethiopia’s second-biggest export after coffee. Golden bundles of harvested stalks sit on fields flanked by streams. It is a long time since famine-struck 1984, when Bob Geldof sang about the country “where nothing ever grows / No rain or rivers flow / Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” Now it is Christmas time in Ethiopia, up to a point. The country has a state-backed policy of boosting the economy and alleviating poverty, carried out by officials with near-dictatorial powers. Markets and foreign investors are allowed but mistrusted. The model borrows from China and is conceived as a rejection of Western free-for-all capitalism. It claims to nurture local employers and protect them from Wall Street predators. The government talks vaguely about moving to a liberal democracy in the future, but that is a long way off. The economy comes first. Meles Zenawi, the country’s late prime minister, developed a vision for the country of 85m that focuses mainly on improving its agriculture, which accounts for 46% of GDP and employs 79% of the workforce. To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Ethiopia Elects New Leader for Orthodox Church

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia February 28, 2013 (AP) Ethiopia's orthodox church has elected a new leader of the influential body in the predominantly Christian nation. Abune Matias, 71, was Thursday named the 6th Patriarch of the church officially known as the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Abune Matias, currently serving as Archbishop of the church in Jerusalem, accepted the appointment. The election comes amid disputes surrounding the leadership of the powerful church, which boasts of some 40 million adherents, and a long history of conflict with the central government. The Ethiopian church was under the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. In 1959 it broke away to be independent and started appointing its leaders.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ethiopia: The Case Against Trial By Public Media – OpEd

Eurasia Review February 7, 2013 By Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam An authoritarian regime is bad, no matter what its ideological dressing may be. Terrorism is also bad, whether it is Islamic, secular, or so-called state terrorism. While this may be a truism, the EPRDF would argue that neither could nor should be forced on it. Yesterday, ETV aired on prime time television a documentary prepared by the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) and the Federal Police Anti-Terror Joint Task-Force titled “Jihadawi Harekat” and subtitled “Boko Haram in Ethiopia”, despite an injunction issued by the Federal High Court prohibiting the dissemination of the film. The broadcast took place while the trials of 29 peaceful Muslim protesters, who are accused of terrorism, are pending. The footage features few facts supported by evidence, except for the confessions of the accused, which, according to their defense attorney, were compelled by force. The central problem with the broadcast is that the defendants, already disadvantaged by coerced confessions, will now face the added hazard of prejudiced public opinion. It is plainly evident that the defendants will not have a fair trial and that adverse publicity has gutted the principle of the presumption of innocence of the accused. This raises the additional grave concern – the right to a fair trial with presumption of innocence does not exist in Ethiopia! This is a classic hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Read the entire article here.