A Week in the Horn (01.01.2010)


  • Egypt’s Prime Minister in Ethiopia

Dr. Ahmed Nazief, Prime Minister of the Arab Republic of Egypt, made an official working visit to Ethiopia this week, from December 29th to 30th. He was accompanied by a number of high-level government officials and Egyptian businesspeople from various sectors of industry. The Prime Minister’s visit was intended to explore opportunities and avenues of cooperation for trade and investment between the two countries. During the visit, the Egyptian Prime Minister paid a courtesy call on President Girma Wolde-Giorgis, and held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Meles. The two Prime Ministers reviewed the implementation of existing economic and other areas of cooperation between Ethiopia and Egypt, and underlined the huge potential benefit for both sides that would arise from enhanced cooperation. They exchanged views on ways to expand the process of cooperation, and agreed to increase this on the basis of common interests and realistic assessment of the concerns of the two peoples and countries. With a view to advancing cooperation in all areas, they agreed the existing mechanism of the Joint Ministerial Commission should be revitalized.

Ethiopia and Egypt have many joint interests. As Prime Minister Meles said the Blue Nile is a bond between the two countries and should not be looked at in any way as a source of misunderstanding. Ethiopia has always expressed its readiness to address the issue of the Nile on the basis of a win-win result for the mutual benefit of all the peoples and countries of the Nile Basin. It believes the ongoing Nile Basin Initiative is on the right track and is convinced that all member countries will do their utmost to make the establishment of the Nile Basin Commission a reality. Prime Minister Meles also noted that the period we are in requires both countries to speed up co-operation in all areas based on the realistic assessment of the interests of the two peoples and the challenges they face. He assured the Egyptian Prime Minister that Egypt would find Ethiopia a ready and able partner in marching forward together guided by the signposts of their common interests. Dr. Ahmed Nazief said the Egyptian Government would do everything possible to further enhance trade and investment ties between the two countries. Several areas of future co-operation had been identified, including investment, agriculture and construction. He said the National Bank of Egypt would be involved in developing 20,000 hectares in the Afar Regional State, and five Egyptian drug companies were preparing to invest in Ethiopia’s health sector. Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan were also expected to reach agreement soon, he said, on the installation of electricity transmission cables to connect the three countries.

A joint Ethiopian-Egyptian business forum also met during the Prime Minister’s visit. This gave an opportunity to the business communities of both countries to interact and explore trade and investment prospects on both sides. The two Premiers were present at the opening of the meeting, attended by a total of some 150 business people from both countries, and they encouraged the private sectors of the two countries to take advantage of the huge opportunities currently available in the economic sphere for their mutual benefit without allowing themselves to be distracted by any difficulties and misunderstandings that might occur from time to time from either side. According to official sources from the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the volume of trade between Ethiopia and Egypt has been growing by 20% per annum. To facilitate a more regular interaction between the two business communities a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Joint Business Council was signed between the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association and the Egypt Business Association.

During his stay in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Dr. Ahmed Nazief and his delegation visited the El-Sewedy Cable Factory, owned by an Egyptian investor, at Dukem just outside Addis Ababa; and on his way back to Cairo, the Prime Minister landed at Bahar Dar in the Amhara Regional State to visit the Blue Nile falls and to attend a ground-breaking ceremony for the Golden Trading Company, which is being established as a joint venture with an Egyptian investor.


  • Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister in Addis Ababa

Yesterday, Sherif Hassan Sheikh Aden, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) met with Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ato Seyoum Mesfin. The Deputy Prime Minister briefed Minister Seyoum on the current situation in Somalia, noting that continued Ethiopian support to Somalia in the areas of security, diplomacy, politics and capacity building was beginning to bear fruit. The Deputy Prime Minister told Minister Seyoum that the level of current international diplomatic support for the TFG was higher than ever before. He evidenced the last International Contact Group meeting held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as well as last week’s UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Eritrea because of its “spoiling” efforts in Somalia and its efforts to overthrow the TFG. He said he was very encouraged by the expressions of support from the Security Council and its backing for AMISOM.

However, the Deputy Prime Minister made it clear that apart from vocal political and diplomatic support, the international community had not yet responded positively, for example, in fulfilling the promises made at the last donors’ conference held in Brussels in April 2009. The result was a fundamental shortcoming of any concrete and meaningful support for the TFG, and the TGF was therefore under severe financial constraints in its efforts to overcome the security challenges it faced from both internal and external extremist elements. These, he added, were elements that posed a threat not just to Somalia but to the region as a whole.

The Deputy Prime Minister gave details to Minister Seyoum about the support the TFG was getting from other regional states. He made it clear he appreciated the support the TFG has been receiving from the Government of Djibouti in capacity building for the TFG security forces, and for the pledge Djibouti has made to contribute troops for AMISOM. Similarly, he said, the Government of Yemen had continued to offer assistance to the TFG for capacity building for TFG security forces. He was also grateful to the Government of Kenya for its continued support and the training being given to TFG forces. He noted that because of such concrete assistance from neighboring and regional countries, the TFG security forces had been significantly improved. He said the TFG was currently trying to assist Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamaa (ASWJ) to hold a planned conference. This, he said, would allow the TFG and ASWJ to engage seriously in talks, and plan joint operations to face the challenges posed by Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam extremists.

Minister Seyoum for his part made it clear Ethiopia appreciated the political will and commitment shown by the TFG leadership in tackling the security challenges Somalia is facing. He also welcomed President Sheikh Sherif’s continued efforts to reach out to those opposition elements which were prepared to renounce violence, and his attempts to bring them into the reconciliation process. The Minister also emphasized the critical importance of TFG engagement and cooperation with Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamaa and said he had been encouraged by the attitude of Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamaa towards the TFG and its current progress. He also underlined the need for the two to cooperate fully. Minister Seyoum made it clear he agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister on the need for the international community to come up with more concrete assistance for the TFG and to disburse its promised, if much delayed, funding. He added that at the last IGAD Council of Ministers meeting in Djibouti, IGAD member States had agreed to try to start to mobilize key members of the international community to come forward with immediate and substantial financial and budgetary assistance to the TFG. He stressed that the TFG itself also needed to undertake similar efforts at necessary mobilization to support its requests for budgetary assistance.


  • Ethio-Sudanese Joint Border Development Commission meets in Mekelle

The 12th meeting of the Ethiopian Sudanese Joint Border Development Commission convened this week in Mekelle, the capital of Tigrai Regional State. The Ethiopian delegation, headed by the President of Tigrai Regional State, Tsegay Berhe, also included the Presidents and other senior officials from Gambella, Benishangul Gumuz and Amhara Regional States. The 135-strong Sudanese delegation, which arrived at Mekelle’s Allula Abanega international airport on Monday for the four day meeting, was headed by General Salah Abdela, National Security Adviser to President Omar el Bashir. The Sudanese states represented at the discussions were Upper Nile, Blue Nile, Sennar and Gedaref. The Sudanese delegation also included a musical team, and an Ethiopian cultural group joined in its performances in Mekelle during the week. Also present at the meeting were Ato Getachew Assefa, Director of Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Services, and General Eng. Abudruman Abdalla, Sudan’s Minister of Federal Affairs, who represented their respective federal governments.

Opening the meeting, President Tsegay welcomed the Sudanese delegation and explained the significance of the occasion and the importance of mutual collaboration between Ethiopia and Sudan. He said the efforts of the two countries to bring about durable peace and expedite economic integration would play a pivotal role for the entire region. He underlined the readiness of the Ethiopian side for increased collaboration and for consolidation of people-to-people relations. In response, General Salah noted that relations between Sudan and Ethiopia were growing stronger all the time. He commended Ethiopia’s efforts to alleviate poverty and accelerate development, and said the joint meeting would help to further consolidate mutual collaboration on development and security. He also hailed Ethiopia’s efforts to help solve the problems in Darfur through deployment of peacekeepers.

The meeting evaluated the implementation of agreements reached in previous sessions of the Commission, and advised on the best strategies to overcome any shortcomings that have become apparent. It considered, inter alia, matters of security, education, trade, control of illegal border trade, health and ways of preventing communicable diseases, and agriculture, reaching a number of new agreements. Culture, tourism, youth and sports were included on the agenda for the first time. The two parties agreed to enhance co-operation to encourage legal border trade and limit illegal activity. They agreed to come up with new proposals for acceptable commodities for the next meeting, and strongly recommended closer customs co-operation to minimize the problem of contraband. Agreement was reached to reinforce quarantine services along the border to improve cooperation over control of animal and human diseases. The meeting can be seen as another milestone in making the common border areas a center of development for the benefit of both countries. Both governments are doing their best to expand social services in the border areas, so citizens of both Sudan and Ethiopia could have access to the same social services irrespective of their nationality.

Security was an important issue in the discussions and there was a broad understanding that the upcoming elections in both countries might offer Eritrea an opportunity to try and cause problems. In fact there are indications that Eritrea is making preparations to use the long common border between Ethiopia-Sudan to smuggle terrorists and anti-Ethiopian forces into Ethiopia. General Salah said the two states would work closely together, noting that securing peace and stability in either country meant securing it in both. He expressed Sudan’s readiness to cooperate fully with Ethiopia to achieve regional peace and security. The two parties agreed to further reinforce and scale up their co-operation to deal with the illegal circulation of light weapons, in dealing with ‘anti-peace elements’, and with the illegal expansion of farming in border areas as well as human trafficking and related issues. It was agreed that the next meeting of the Joint Border Development Commission will be held in Sennar, Sudan.


  • Eritrea and International Law

The United Nations Security Council recently imposed targeted sanctions on the military and political leadership of Eritrea with a view to pressing that country to adhere to international laws and norms governing relations amongst states. The UN Security Council Resolution (Resolution 1907, 2009) particularly refers to Eritrea’s behavior towards Somalia and Djibouti. It also makes it clear the Council is prepared to adjust the measures specified in the resolution if Eritrea complies with the Security Council’s demands. In the discussion on the resolution, Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the Council emphasized the measures proposed were not comprehensive but targeted and corrective, and he hoped Eritrea would take sufficient actions to enable the Council to positively review the measures imposed on December 23rd. Other members of the Council underlined the point that the intention of the resolution was to persuade Eritrea to behave in a peaceful and civilized manner in the future. Such behavioral adjustment might appear to be a simple proposition for most states, but this is hardly the case for the Eritrean Government which has consistently displayed contempt towards international legality ever since it came into existence as a de facto sovereign state in 1991.

Eritrea has, in fact, displayed a recurrent propensity to use force to resolve any differences it might have with its neighbors. Such an attitude has, indeed, become the defining feature of the regime in Asmara, amounting to clear and repeated violations of the cardinal principle of peaceful settlement of disputes, a principle enshrined in the UN Charter. This violent behavior by the Eritrean Government has played a major role in perpetuating most of the instability in the Horn of Africa, and whatever the supposed justification might have been, Eritrea’s behavior has been tolerated for far too long. One effect, inevitably perhaps, has been to reinforce its Government’s contempt for international laws and norms. The regime in Asmara began to assume it could act as it liked with impunity as the normal way of conducting international relationships.

To its credit, the first organization to react against the destabilizing role that Eritrea assumed in the region was the regional organization, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), from which Eritrea suspended itself in 2007. Certainly, there was good reason for IGAD to respond to Eritrean activity. Apart from covert and even overt support for extremist and terrorist groups working to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia through violence, the Eritrean president publicly called for the removal of both the TFG and of AMISOM. It should also be borne in mind that Eritrea suspended its membership of IGAD because the organization refused to endorse Eritrea’s support for armed extremist forces in Somalia and its efforts to remove the TFG. Even after this, IGAD made every effort to persuade Eritrea to listen to the views of all the other members of the regional organization, sending a Ministerial delegation to Asmara to try to convince the Eritrean leadership to take a more constructive view and rejoin the organization.

Not for the first time, President Issayas refused to respond to IGAD’s goodwill gesture or even take it seriously. He rejected a number of fact-finding missions from the UN and other organizations as well as from IGAD. Far from re-evaluating Eritrean policy, he intensified Eritrea’s aggressive behavior. Even though IGAD had failed to bring Eritrea back into the fold, no one expected the Eritrean Government to take the line it did, intensifying its onslaught against the TFG and AMISOM. To the surprise, and disappointment of IGAD and indeed of the rest of the international community, the Eritrean Government not only rejected all IGAD’s efforts, and continued its active support for armed extremist groups, it went further and launched an invasion of Djibouti territory. Subsequently, in spite of calls from the United Nations, the African Union, IGAD, the League of Arab States and other regional and international bodies, Eritrea refused to withdraw from Djibouti or enter into any dialogue with Djibouti, even refusing to acknowledge there was any problem arising from its aggression, and completely disregarding the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes.

Eritrea’s complete and continued disregard for common sense as well as for all the rules of normal international behavior, eventually forced the IGAD countries, whose populations have to bear the brunt of Eritrea’s destabilizing activities in the region, to take the unprecedented step of calling on the UN to impose sanctions on Eritrea. This request was unanimously endorsed after detailed consideration by the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) and then by the African Union Summit, supporting the call from one of its building blocks and tasking, for the first time, the extraordinary measure of asking the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on one of its own members.

The whole process amounts to a significant example of the sort of cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations provided for under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. Such synchronized efforts are in fact vital for the future of international peace, security and stability. It is to be hoped that they will occur with increased regularity. Equally, of course, it must be emphasized that it is imperative that any such actions are followed up with realistic and prompt implementation if they are to be effective.


  • Ensuring the integrity of the upcoming election: Sweden’s unfounded allegations – is this the way to promote democracy?

It has been a little over 15 years since the first ever press law was introduced in Ethiopia, a development which sparked off an unprecedented level of growth in the number of press and media outlets. These have, over the years, promoted a significant variety of views on a broad range of issues. They have provided full opportunities for people to exercise freedom of expression without fear of censorship or any form of government interference. They continue to provide the same opportunity today.

Certainly there were originally problems in the development of the private press. There was an all-too-frequent lack of professionalism, and some papers failed to play the role that might have been expected to advance the basic tenets of democracy and good governance, deliberately encouraging violence and illegal activity. Despite this, the Government’s response towards these outlets was very careful. It made no effort to implement most of the legal measures it could have taken in these circumstances, and exercised considerable self-restraint towards even the most recalcitrant media outlets in order to encourage and support the concepts of freedom of speech and expression.

One of the newspapers to exercise its constitutional rights in connection with freedom of expression was Addis Neger, an Amharic weekly that first appeared on the 26th of October, 2007. The paper was well known for its scathing criticisms of the Government, but it was not the only media outlet critical of the Government, nor even the most outspoken. Despite its critical political line, Addis Neger never faced anything in the way of an official government complaint, much less any sort of persecution, though some of its articles and editorials were criticized by other papers. In fact, the Government did not even take any action after Addis Neger illegally attempted to solicit funds from various Western Embassies for its own private fellowships without informing the Ministry of Education. There was never any suggestion that the editors might face criminal charges on account of their work. Indeed, the editors of Addis Neger actually said as much on TV only a few weeks before they left the country. In a TV documentary which included interviews with many other editors and journalists, from both government and independent media, Addis Neger’s Managing Editor, Mesfin Negash, said specifically: “We have never been subject to any form of censorship by the government nor has the government ever tried to interfere in our press activities; no government official has ever instructed us what the content of our paper should or should not be.” Another member of Addis Neger’s editorial board, Tamrat Negera, in the same documentary corroborated his managing editor’s remarks and underlined the prevailing atmosphere under which the press operated: “Two of the greatest achievements of the new political order in the last 15 years [since 1993] are the freedom to form political parties and the press.”

It is, therefore, surprising to find these same editors claiming, one month after their ‘flight’ out of the country, that they had been forced to close their paper down and flee from Ethiopia because they “feared persecution and intimidation” by the Government. Immediately after the Addis Neger editors made these claims public, the Government launched an enquiry into the circumstances of their departure and the reasons for it. The investigation rapidly confirmed that the three editors, namely, Abiy Teklemariam, Tamrat Negera and Mesfin Negash, had left Ethiopia quite openly and legally from Bole International Airport on September 29, October 4 and November 12 respectively, and without difficulty. It might be noted that Abiy Teklemariam the first to leave has now enrolled at Green Templeton College, Oxford, UK on a scholarship. If, in fact, as they claim, the Government had really devoted so much time and energy to threatening them, and was planning to arrest the trio, it is hard to understand why immigration officials at the airport, when it came to the point, allowed the three to leave without difficulty.

Indeed, the investigation revealed that Addis Neger, far from being an ordinary, if highly opinionated, private newspaper, devoted to accuracy and truth as it claimed, was rather more involved in opposition politics than it had pretended to be and it was anything but an impartial and balanced paper. It could indeed be identified as a paper for the opposition as it made clear in claiming recent prison sentences as “political” rather than legal in its editorial of August 29th, 2009, indicating the nature of the campaign of which it was a part. This was underlined by the statements made during the recent media campaign launched by the editors after they left Ethiopia, in which they finally made clear their own political interests. The set of demands put forward as pre-conditions for a resumption of publication, including the release of “political prisoners”, the replacement of the electoral board and what amounted to a change of government, came straight from the more extreme elements in the opposition.

On December 16th, the story of Addis Neger’s self-closure took a new turn when Sweden’s Minister for International Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson, issued a statement attacking the Government of Ethiopia, claiming that the closure of Addis Neger showed that freedom of expression was becoming increasingly limited in Ethiopia. She claimed it was a cause of great concern that journalists were being harassed, and one of the few independent newspapers in the country had been closed. Sweden went even further, using its position as the recent chair of the European Union presidency, to encourage the European Union to take up a similar position. Two days later, the European Union adopted a statement urging the Government of Ethiopia to ensure that allegations of harassment and intimidation were investigated and, if proven, those responsible should be held to account.

The Swedish statement is a serious indictment against the Government of Ethiopia, and one based, as already noted, on totally unfounded allegations. It’s no more than a smear campaign attacking the Government on fallacious grounds in connection with press freedom and democracy. The Swedish Minister clearly raised no question over the veracity of the claim made by the editors of Addis Neger. That the claim was made at all was apparently all the evidence Minister Carlsson needed to make her unsupported and groundless allegations. Such a position can only be described as hypocritical, coming as it does from people who have been encouraging the likes of Addis Neger to deliberately stage the closure of their papers, facilitating their travels abroad and financing their media campaign in recent weeks by helping them propagate their story as a rallying cry for anti-government elements.

This statement by the Swedish Minister must be rejected and condemned. In addition to being inaccurate, it is seriously misguided. There is no doubt, for instance, that the claim made is, to say the least, certainly unhelpful for the development of democracy in Ethiopia. It is extremely intrusive and appears indicative of a desire to try to micro-manage Ethiopia’s democratization process from Stockholm. It is, in fact, an extremely ill-advised attempt by Sweden to try to deny Ethiopia’s ownership of its own democratic processes. It cannot succeed. It cannot be allowed to succeed. It is made clear time and again that non-citizens and nationals of other states are in no position to ensure the growth of a viable press in Ethiopia. That is something that has to come from within, a natural growth from Ethiopia’s own continuous process of press freedom and democratization.

It might be added that although the Swedish Minister was quick to echo unconfirmed and gratuitous claims by Addis Neger’s editors, she didn’t acknowledge the electoral Code of Conduct signed by ruling and opposition parties with the aim of making next May’s national elections competitive, peaceful, free and fair. This was in fact a development characterized as ‘historic’ by the majority of the independent press in Ethiopia, and it was a great pity that Sweden was apparently not prepared even to notice such a development. Some 65 political parties agreed to the Code, developed after extensive discussions, before it was submitted to Parliament and passed into law last week. By any standard, it is a major step forward in helping the parties build healthy democratic relationships and resolve political differences through peaceful dialogue.

The recent utterance of the Swedish minister must in fact be seen as both reckless and intemperate. It is an unfortunate example of paternalism, out of place in this post-colonial world. In all frankness, the position taken, and the attack on Ethiopia, has no justification. The claim that freedom of expression is becoming increasingly limited in Ethiopia is purely polemical. Ethiopia continues to enjoy the presence of dozens of private newspapers which operate freely. The quality of the press overall may still leave a lot to be desired, but it is baffling that Sweden should attack Ethiopia’s record.

But this approach does not appear to be accidental. A brief perusal of a recent Swedish policy paper entitled “Government Communication on Swedish Democracy Support” certainly suggests something more. This policy paper is full of details on how to “support democracy” across the developing world, under what it calls a “Global Agenda for Freedom”. Its suggestions including allowing Sweden the right to meddle in the internal affairs of other sovereign countries by supporting opposition parties, individuals, “social movements” or exile groups, which might bring about changes in the governance of sovereign states. The idea of democracy, firmly founded on the free choice of people, or the concept of sustainable democracy as a home grown, organic structure, not something imposed from outside, seems in fact to be suspect as far as Sweden is concerned. The policy paper specifically states: “the assumption that democratic change will be initiated from within rather than from without should not serve as an argument for not supporting democratic forces outside the system” (p.50). This is both a condescending and a dangerous ambition. The policy paper also envisages using the EU as a vehicle to advance such an intrusive agenda: “the Government underlines the need for more effective communication by the EU of the content of its democracy support program which emphasizes support for local actors” (p. 69). This perhaps explains the EU Presidency statement issued only two days after the Swedish Minister’s comments.

The decision of the Government of Sweden to engage Ethiopia through media polemics can only be described as thoughtless and injudicious, threatening to jeopardize the growing levels of constructive engagement that Ethiopia enjoys with the European Union. Indeed, it appears designed to sidetrack Ethiopia into recriminations over the issue of press freedom, diluting the present emphasis on constructive dialogue. This is clearly detrimental to the mutual trust and understanding so essential for a healthy bilateral relationship between states. Sweden, and indeed other stakeholders, should recognize the danger of making such meddlesome and intrusive statements on the basis of fallacious and inaccurate information, particularly in the absence of any effort to investigate their reality. They should rather work to enhance relationships built upon the basis of mutual trust and interest. Positions taken without verification undermine the respect that states should have for each other, a respect normally based on the conviction that positions are taken up in good faith, even if they are not necessarily laudatory.



Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Ministry of Foreign Affairs