Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Analyzing Unconfirmed Reports of Ethiopian Bombing of Eritrea

Alemayehu Weldemariam
Washington DC
24 March 2015

The first question that crosses one’s mind while reading reports about the bombing of Eritrea by the Ethiopia Air Force on the night of 20 March 2015 is why Asmara or Nevsun, the Canadian mining company that owns and runs Bisha mining, one of the targets of the bombing, wouldn't confirm or deny the reports?

Because it doesn't make economic and political sense to both of them to admit. For Nevsun, it's not only the stocks that are affected, but also the insurance premium. It seems to me the company has an insurance policy that contains a war exclusion clause or it has a distinct war risk insurance policy with a deductible and the damage it sustained is not substantial . In either case, publicity adversely affects its interests: it raises insurance premium while affecting the stocks in the market. So much for the legal implications. What's more, PFDJ wouldn't let it make the attack public before it makes it and it won't unless it plans to launch counter-attacks, which is tantamount to a declaration of war. Eritrea would rather keep quiet to avoid humiliation. So this I think is why Nevsun prefers to use "an act of vandalism" instead of "an act of war" as a legal euphemism.

Some question the veracity of the reports saying that whistle blowers would bring the matter to the attention the investors. But the problem is no whistle blower of importance seems to have interest in the matter unless such a whistle-blower is an investor. And it seems that investors don’t have the incentive to do that, because the corporate interest in this particular case overlaps with the investors' interest. If the company is lying, it's doing so to maintain the company's interests, its long-run business relationship with Asmara, and its business as a going concern.

What I am saying is, and I have not denied the increased risks to the investment, the company chose to hide such facts, and it did, because both states chose to keep quiet, neither to affirm nor to deny. So it is very likely that the air strikes took place, and apparently the company issued a statement claiming vandalism, while the states kept silent, which is indicative enough that the company is lying. Why lie? Because, it serves its interests and it coincidentally happened to be legitimate, precisely because Eritrea has not made any accusations against Ethiopia of any strikes in the first instance. Nor did Ethiopia claim to have done so. Therefore, under International Law, the air strike is a non-issue for all intents and purposes.

Martin Plaut muses in a tweet: “If the bombing of Eritrea by Ethiopia is confirmed it raises this question: would Addis have acted without informing Washington in advance?” I don’t want to indulge in that kind of unnecessary speculation. However, one thing seems to be increasing certain that, with or without Washington’s blessing, Ethiopia has carried out successful air strikes against selected Eritrean targets in retaliation for its failure to return the MI35 helicopter it hosted after an Ethiopian pilot decided to land it in Eritrea after hijacking. Mesfin Tekle, Canada-based financial analyst, says, “It’s not always about the price, check the volume. The stock price is not a big mover in any case, but the volume tells a story.” In fact, the volume of stocks offered for sale a day before the rumored strike was 371,448  before it jumped to 773,970 on the same day as the strike, reached 778,362, two days after the strike and is 798,109 at the moment. It can reasonably be expected to hit the record high of 800,000 at closing today. Mesfin explains, “the stock has a market cap of less than $1B so I doubt there're a lot of institutional investors who own it. The news seems to have an effect on the volume. Half a million share trades in less than 3hrs may indicate some exiting the stock early but the price has not made an appreciable move yet.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ephraim Isaac - A Reflective Conflict Resolution Practitioner

Born, in a small village in Nedjo, Ethiopia, to a Yemenite-Jewish father and an Ethiopian-Oromo mother, Professor Ephraim Isaac is a true polymath and a cosmopolitan. He is a scholar of ancient Semitic languages and civilization, African languages, and Religion. He speaks seventeen languages. Professor Isaac received a B.A. degree in Philosophy, Chemistry and Music from Concordia College, Master of Divinity in 1963 and Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies in 1969, both from Harvard University where he went on to become the founding professor of the African and Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard University after graduation. He has won several awards and recognitions for his scholarship and work in conflict resolution, including the 2003 Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Award from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York, where he has also been featured in its publication titled “Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution” (2007) and honorary doctorates from the City University of New York and Addis Ababa University. He has been admitted to the Swedish Royal Order of the Polar Star in 2013 in a ceremony held at the Swedish House in Washington DC in the presence of the Swedish Ambassador, H.E. Bjorn Lyrvall. Currently, Dr. Isaac heads the Institute of Semitic Studies, based in Princeton, N.J. and the Peace and Development Center, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he is also known as “the Father of Peace”, a well-deserved title he earned for his active engagement in peacemaking in the Horn of Africa region. 

Since 1989, through what has now become the Peace and Development, Professor Isaac has been actively engaged in sustained efforts to resolve conflicts involving his native country of Ethiopia. His experience in peacemaking ranges from intrastate conflict among warring religious and ethnic groups in Ethiopia to international conflicts such as the Ethiopian-Eritrean War of 1998-2000. He has successfully mediated the release of numerous political leaders from jail following the bitterly contested national elections in 2005. He has also played a key role in securing the signing of a truce between the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Ethiopian government in 2010.

In this interview, I will talk to him about what it takes to be a peacemaker, how he intervenes in conflicts, what guides his action, and what it means to be a reflective practitioner .

  1. What does it take to be a peacemaker? 

The love of peace and the fear of God. You have to be a peace-loving and God-fearing person to be able to seek and make peace when sought for.  I took my inspiration from my father, who was a silversmith, a very devout religious person, and also a Rabbi. He had learnt to read the entire Torah by heart in the manner of the old Yemenite Jewish tradition. He would always read and chant in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening from the Songs of David by heart. And from him, I learnt two important things: to work very hard and to be respectful to others and be patient. He showed me what spiritual eldership itself means: to be selfless, generous, patient,  humble, sensitive, prudent, and mature. Another source of inspiration is Prophetic Judaism. I love the Hebraic prophets, esp. Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah.  According to the prophetic tradition the world is founded on truth, justice, and peace. Judaic prophetic tradition encourages truth-seeking, peace-making, and resistance against injustice. Yet another source of inspiration is the community in which I was born and raised. There is a custom of immense respect for elders. When elders offer peacemaking, parties to a conflict cannot decline. Even better, they submit themselves to the peacemaking services of the community elders. Today, conflict resolution has become part of the university curriculum, educational program. So it has become professionalized and I have a huge respect for it.  

2. How did you intervene in the conflict resolution processes you were involved in? Once you have intervened in a conflict, how do you manage the process? What is most challenging and exciting about a peace process?

Usually, I don’t like to talk about the work we do, partly because it is very sensitive and partly because we do not do it to get publicity. Instead of answering your question directly, let me try to put it this way: we, Ethiopians, have a tradition of eldership. A tradition I am very proud of. Now what does eldership mean? Eldership means that you have to be very old. With age comes wisdom. There’s what we call the wisdom of ages.  In the Ethiopian countryside, conflicts are resolved are normally resolved by elders. 

Sometime in 1989, as famine and fighting continued to ravage the population, I gathered a group of distinguished former civil servants to reflect upon the condition in Ethiopia and we almost literally made a covenant to approach all the conflicting parties. And the following day, we drafted a letter that in effect said that we, your brothers and sisters, are very saddened by what happened in our country, the bloodshed, the famine. We, as your mentors, friends,  and family would very much like to see all the conflicting parties to come together to discuss how to resolve the conflict, possibly form a transitional government. This letter was sent to all the political parties, including the government. And the first person to respond positively to our call was the then rebel leader, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. As I have come to know him for the past 22 years, he was a man deeply committed to peace and reconciliation.  We had a an economist in our group who explained that peace and development are inextricably intertwined, that you cannot have one without the other. But the Prime Minister, in fact, seemed to have already known this. He accepted enthusiastically our offer to organize a peace conference in Switzerland, but as we all were gearing up for that, the US Department of State came up with the idea of the London Peace Talks, led by Herman Cohen.  And though ours was put off indefinitely, but we reached an agreement to fund the Peace and Development Conference that took place in Addis Ababa in 1991.    

As far as our intervention in the crisis following the 2005 elections is concerned, I initiated communication with PM Zenawi, who was a very humble person. His humility helped a lot. As they say here, “it takes two to a Tango.” For example, when I appealed to him to release Ms. Birtukan Midekssa from prison, I wrote him out the conviction that he is an open-minded person who listens to counsel. And I kept on writing him for a few weeks. At one stage, one night I got a message at about 3 o’clock, because I told him about what I am personally going through and that I could not sleep thinking of the condition in which the lady, her little daughter, and her aging mother are left. Then the following day, I received a letter from him saying “Dear Professor, how are you doing today? I am writing to ask your apology for your suffering. For the actions the government has taken, I feel badly about it. Please forgive me.” You see, this speaks volumes as to the humility of the man who happened to be the prime minister. No prime minister is supposed to write such a letter to ordinary individuals. He had as much respect for individuals as for the Ethiopian tradition of eldership. 

So the solution to the post-2005 elections political deadlock was based on traditional eldership. So we tapped into long-standing cultural traditions of using elders to mediate between the government and opposition groups. In the Ethiopian tradition of shimagele-jarsa, the mediating elder exercises sympathetic listening, respect for each side, patience, broadmindedness, impartiality and advocacy for serious dialogue. As a result, we secured not only the release of the 35 imprisoned leaders of the opposition party, but also of about 30,000 prisoners throughout the country. At one point I jokingly told Meles that “now we can turn the prisons into schools and clinics” at which he laughed.  

I was not only writing to him. I also used to call him on his phone, calls he never failed to answer. For example, I remember to have spoken to him on the phone several times during the Ethiopian-Eritrean war. But I don’t do that to a point being a nuisance.

3. What values and principles guide your action as a practitioner of conflict resolution and peacemaking? You have an interesting mélange of personal and professional experiences in your background. To mention just a few of them, you are a religious person, a scholar who taught at Harvard for several years,  and a community elder (Shemagele). What have you brought to bear on conflict resolution and how did your diverse background help you in accomplishing what you set out to do?

Spiritual eldership is our guiding principle and in any conflict resolution process that we are involved we do our best to uphold the trinitarian values of truth, justice, and peace that underly prophetic Judaism.  Our elders display an extraordinary degree of strength in character in being moral, upright, humble, patient, truthful, loving, and god-fearing. As a scholar of ancient religious literature, I know that peace itself is a religious concept, messages about peace abound, being practically universal in religion. Religion is and can be a powerful, positive agent of peacemaking and reconciliation. Even if warring cannot be totally eliminated, religion can be a force to reduce it. The work of the Peace and Development Center with which I am involved is a prototype of peacemaking based on that principle.

My most favorite prophet is Isaiah who says “beat your swords into  ploughshares”, who says “lions will lie with cows some day”, who says, “who cares about your fasting? The fasting I want is free the prisoners, take yolk from people’s shoulders, and cloth the naked.”  

What distinguishes us as a group of peacemakers is a first-hand experience of fighting and blood that nurtures what I call “the virtues of the heart” -- humility, empathy, kindness, generosity, respect and sacrifice for others -- a part of the big package I call “wisdom”, and that wisdom has to be communicated in a special language of the heart. That is the making of a true elder.

4. What does it mean to you to be a reflective practitioner of conflict resolution and peacemaking?

The reason why we succeeded in our peacemaking efforts where others have failed is in part because we were reflective conflict resolution practitioners.  As I said earlier, conflict resolution has become a profession and universities around the world offer courses and confer diplomas in  the field.We were not the kind of people who were trained in that field. Being a professional has its own pluses and minuses. The reason why we succeeded where the international community failed is because the expatriates were professional mediators, who approached the conflict from a rational, technical point-of-view. But conflicts, maybe, sometimes ensue from our brains, but in most cases, they emanate from our emotions. The international community could have helped if they took a different approach. They would have resolved it, had they tapped into the rich resources and capacities for peace that were available at the local level.