The need to build on successes against Al-Shabaab
Over the last week the forces of the TFG, AMISOM and Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a have continued to engage with Al-Shabaab and other Al Qaeda affiliated groups on various fronts in Mogadishu, as well as in Beletweyn, in Gedo and Galgudud and other areas. With insurgency activities considerably weakened and obvious divisions within Al-Shabaab’s leadership apparent, people in Mogadishu and elsewhere have been openly demonstrating their opposition to Al-Shabaab.
In Mogadishu, TFG/AMISOM forces have been expanding control from the Defence Ministry building they seized last week, moving along the Mogadishu industrial road to seize some important targets, including the former Milk Factory and the officers building adjacent to the Defence Ministry. While AMISOM forces have suffered some casualties, it seems that in the ongoing fighting close to a hundred Al-Shabaab fighters were killed and hundreds more injured including two senior figures, Sheikh Ali Dheere (Al-Shabaab’s Spokesperson in Mogadishu) and Mohamed Ma’alim, a prominent Al-Shabaab commander. The TFG took the opportunity to use the media to appeal to Al-Shabaab’s conscripts to defect. A widely publicized statement from the Defence Minister said the TFG was fully prepared to receive fighters defecting from Al-Shabaab without any preconditions, and it would also pay money for guns brought in. He also called for Al-Shabaab to surrender. Similarly intense fighting has been going on elsewhere, in Beletweyn in Hiiraan region, in Galgadud and Gedo regions, and Bulo Wayo on the Kenyan border changed hands more than once, and people in the Kenyan border town of Mandera have been injured. Government forces, together with Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a and other pro-government militias attacked heavily fortified enemy frontlines in War-dhumale and Beletweyn town respectively.
One effect of the series of Al-Shabaab defeats has been a number of defections and divisions within its leadership. It has been making efforts to recruit more fighters in areas along the Kenyan border, and has even issued an appeal to former members of the Somali army during Siad Barre’s time to join its forces. In Gedo region, it appears Al-Shabaab had to send a high level delegation headed by Mukhtar Robow and Fuad Shongole to resolve a leadership crisis and put a stop to mass defections following differences of opinion on how to defend against the TFG/Ahlu Sunna offensive. The delegation removed the head of the Al-Shabaab militia in Gedo region, Sheikh Bishar Ali Hussein, replacing him with Sheikh Abas Abdulrahman. While in Gedo region, Muktar Robow attacked the activities of human rights groups in Somalia, accusing them of siding with the government. Al-Shabaab, he added, does not recognize human rights, and does not respect them. The TFG’s Minister for Information, Abdikarim Jama, promptly condemned the statement as further evidence that Al-Shabaab had no regard for the Somali people.
There is no doubt that the latest military victories of the TFG and Ahlu Sunna need to be supported by greater cohesion within the TFIs on the political front. Government unity is critical to sustain military victories. The leadership of the TFIs must engage fully in working to accomplish the remaining transitional tasks in accordance with TFI decisions. As part of his efforts to try and restore Al-Shabaab morale, Muktar Robow has been claiming that the government offensive should be seen as a failure because of the divisions within government ranks regarding the transition. Differences within TFI leadership have continued over the extension of Parliament. President Sheikh Sharif himself has criticized Parliament’s decision in extending its term by three years, returning the bill with a covering letter requesting Parliament to review its decision. The President pointed out that the Charter was the supreme legal instrument in the absence of a constitution and it cannot be amended by any simple parliamentary motion. He said it would have been proper to use the Council of Ministers for such proposed change as it is the executive body of government. Parliament, he added, should have considered the interests of the Somali people and the concerns of the International Community as the proposed extension contravenes the Djibouti Peace Process. The President said taking the decision without full TFI consensus risked creating fresh legal and political wrangling within the TFI leadership. So he proposed a review of the decision and agreement with the Council of Ministers to help stabilize the security situation and provide a favourable environment for the constitution- making process.
In reply, the Speaker of Parliament, Sharif Hassan, in a letter last week rejected the President’s request for reconsideration, responding to the President’s points and concluding “the Parliament is the supreme organ entrusted with the task of amending the Charter, and cannot be a source of constitutional crisis and bickering within and among the TFIs.” He went on to say that “the Speaker of the Parliament could not place before the Parliament an issue which is not in accordance with the Charter and the Parliament by-laws”.
Meanwhile on another level, Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ has been engaging Mogadishu’s civil society, including traditional and religious leaders, in a campaign to complement TFG/AMISOM military operations. On several occasions large numbers of Mogadishu residents have demonstrated their support for the TFG/AMISOM successes. The TFG has also begun to engage positively with the media, and discuss how the government can assist the media to report accurately on what is happening. The Minister of Information, Abdikarim Jama, has been holding discussions with local journalists and reporters for international media in Mogadishu. These centered on ways of working together and the role the Somali media could play in reconstruction. The minister urged the local media outlets to check the accuracy of reports before airing them, and said it needed to work on how to bring about positive changes in the country. He said the government would assist in training and other areas. Journalists welcomed the talks and urged the government to continue its engagement with the media on a regular basis. The media in Mogadishu has suffered constant and sustained intimidation from Al-Shabaab, and a number of journalists have been killed for reporting its setbacks. However, the recent victories by the TFG and AMISOM have increased the confidence of journalists to report more accurately and this should continue.
A US Congressional delegation in Ethiopia
On Thursday last week, Prime Minister Meles met with US Senator James Inhofe (Oklahoma) and other members of a US delegation who included Senator John Boozman (Arkansas), and Congressmen Todd Akin (Montana), Randy Forbes (Virginia), Doug Lambern (Colorado) and Tim Walberg (Michigan) on a visit to Ethiopia. Discussions covered a range of regional issues with the Prime Minister briefing the delegation on the situation in Sudan and Somalia and Ethiopia’s relations with Eritrea. Prime Minister Meles noted that considerable progress had been achieved in Sudan though many had doubted whether the referendum would be held, let alone accepted. There were still however outstanding issues that needed to be handled carefully including borders and citizenship matters which should be sorted out before July. Equally, Sudan needed to move forward over Darfur, and the Prime Minister was hopeful that JEM might now be more prepared to join in negotiations. On Somalia he felt progress was being made, if slowly and the terrorists were losing ground. Concerted efforts were being made to dislodge Al-Shabaab, and AMISOM has now made substantial gains in Mogadishu. Moderate Islamic forces were successfully fighting back and the momentum could be expected to continue. However, the Prime Minister felt more could be done to fight piracy more effectively, to provide for example for more effective legal action against it. It was also crucial to move against piracy on land, to stop it at source. In this, collaboration with local autonomous administrations in Somalia could be effective. On Eritrea, Prime Minister Meles said there had been no change in Eritrean behaviour. At the time of the AU Summit, Ethiopia had foiled an Eritrean attempt to launch terrorist attacks on Addis Ababa. Eritrea was now trying to destabilize Djibouti, training armed groups and infiltrating them into the country to create problems during its forthcoming elections.
Prime Minister Meles took the opportunity to note that the strong ties between the US and Ethiopia were important to act as a curb on regional threats and insecurity, and he hoped US support would continue to ensure dependable peace and security in the region. Senator Inhofe praised Ethiopia’s support for the referendum in South Sudan, and commended its efforts to work for regional peace. Senator Inhofe, who also paid a visit to Axum and to Lake Tana, called on the government to use its natural and historic attractions effectively to encourage tourism and build a positive image for the country. He said more attention needed to be paid to historic sites to enhance their appeal and their contribution to the economy. If Axum and other places were well-managed, he said, they would play a great role in encouraging these efforts; and he hoped the US government should offer support for such development.
President Isaias reassures Eritreans that Eritrea is immune to protests!!
The Eritrean regime never seems to tire of trouble-making, at home or abroad. Its behavior all-too-often defies international rules. It has earned it the dubious honor of being the most closed regime in Africa. It tops listings of poor performance in almost every area. Its suppression of dissent, the incarceration of thousands of dissidents, the militarization of its population, are all matters of public knowledge and widely reported in the international media outlets. None of this has prevented the regime in Asmara from continuing to claim for itself the moral, economic and political high ground even if only for achievements known to its leaders alone. No matter what the rest of the world has to say about Eritrea’s dismal record, its government still tries to claim its record is the envy of everyone. It does indeed live in a make-believe world.
The extent to which self-delusion has permeated the thinking of Eritrean leaders has been nowhere more visible than in the government’s recent efforts at ‘analyzing’ the causes of the uprisings in North Africa that have seen the removal of the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. What makes this ‘analysis’ particularly intriguing is not the fact that it comes from a regime that previously imposed a complete media blackout on the developments in the region to the extent that no single news report of the protests was aired on the media. It is rather that while obviously written with the intention of making the Eritrean government’s record stand out in comparison to those of Egypt and Libya, it actually showed the extent to which Eritrea is ripe for protests to which it claims to be immune.
Its ‘in-depth analyses’ of the protests in North Africa dwells on three areas as the main causes. These are: absence of a self-reliant economy; lack of a sense of public ‘harmony’; and subservience to outside powers. The choice of these is particularly interesting in terms of the message it is intended to convey to Eritreans. According to the Eritrean government, the protests in Egypt were the result of opening up an economy to the rest of the world; allowing the people to be divided by ethnicity and religion; and a government putting itself at the service of others, notably the US. Whatever the merits of this analysis for the situation in Egypt, it is an ‘analysis’ that has specific relevance to Eritrea.
The Eritrean government has always prided itself on its much-hyped policy of self-reliance, but as Eritreans know well, there is little to show for it and it offers nothing more than a strong tendency to reject any level of cooperation with any members of the international community. The people’s ‘harmony’ is similarly displayed in the regime’s obsession with uniformity of ideas resulting in the wholesale militarization of the society, the regimentalization of education and the turning of the nation into a circus of songs and slogans which concentrate on praising the President of Eritrea for his ‘wisdom’. This is the kind of ‘harmony’ that the regime in Asmara apparently believes will insulate it from the kind of protests that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
The last point is that Eritrea, unlike Egypt under Mubarak, does not put itself at the service of foreign powers. This claim has long been stock-in-trade of Eritrean leaders but it has little reality. In fact, they only decided on this after a whole series of attempts to put Eritrea at the service of America was rejected by US officials. It was President Isaias himself who lobbied the Bush administration, offering the US military the use of Eritrea’s airports and military installations before Donald Rumsfield chose to go to Camp Lemonier in Djibouti instead. Even more ironically, President Isaias was equally prepared to offer his services to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. A recently leaked report of the UN’s Eritrea-Somalia Monitoring Group described Eritrea’s involvement in Somalia as “primarily a proxy for the regime of the now-deposed Hosni Mubarak who saw his role as minimizing Ethiopia’s influence in Somalia.” In other words, President Isaias was apparently willing to hire his services out to the servant if he couldn’t attract the master.
One could go on at length about other aspects of the ‘in-depth analyses’ put out by Asmara. But it must suffice to highlight two further points. Originally, the ‘analyses’ were supposed to focus on Libya as well as Egypt and Tunisia, apparently in the belief that President Gadafi was likely to face the same fate as Hosni Mubarak. Now that Libya seems to have taken a different path, with Gadafi still holding out, Ministry of Information officials have apparently put the ‘analysis’ of Libya on hold. Of course, one obvious reason may also be to avoid irritating a close friend of President Isaias. Indeed, so close is their friendship that there have even been claims by the Eritrean opposition that Eritrean troops have been sent to Libya to help Gadafi.
Equally interesting is what one can only describe as a surreal attempt to draw parallels between a non-existent success story in Eritrea under President Isaias and the artificially inflated past successes in Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The regime in Asmara has been telling us over the last week that Egypt under Nasser was a successful, self-reliant and food self-sufficient nation. Nasser not only built dams that were a wonder of the world, but also courageously fought against the Israelis, the British and the French and stood up against US imperialism. It all went wrong, so Eritrea’s Ministry of Information tells us, after his successors, Sadat and then Mubarak, sold out to the West. Whatever the merits of Nasser’s revolution, the Eritrean version is exaggerated to the point where Nasser himself would hardly recognize it. The same is true of President Isaias’ own ‘successes’ in failing to provide for Eritrea’s self-sufficiency in food, in standing up to American imperialism, in defying the international community, in making soldiers out of all high school leavers, and in the over-militarization of life in Eritrea. Eritrea remains a “battalion state”.
The moral of the story is clear if not perhaps intended by Eritrea’s Ministry of Information: if it all went wrong in Egypt after the death of Nasser and the end of self-reliance, then Eritreans would be well advised to heed the lessons of history. The ‘analyses’ are clearly intended to deflect attention away from reality, and direct attention to the regime’s own self-serving claims, but it does little to hide the desperation that the regime must indeed be feeling right now as its allies fall away, and its own ‘self-reliance’ is laid bare.
Development or Exploitation? Foreign Investment in Ethiopia’s Agriculture
Ethiopia’s development strategy and policies have resulted in double digit economic growth for the past seven years. Last year it also launched the ambitious but achievable Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) to sustain the momentum of this growth through the next five years. A major element in the plan is agriculture and agro-processing. Agriculture remains one of the mainstays of the economy and the main source of employment and foreign exchange, and the government has committed itself to promote and attract potential investors to participate in agricultural investment with a variety of incentive packages as well as transparent policies, laws, regulations and procedures. Ethiopia is of course politically, socially and macro-economically stable; it has significant market opportunities, an abundant and trainable labor force, and diversified agro-ecological zones.
The recent trend in agricultural foreign investments has tended towards large scale farming, and the government has launched a number of transparent procedures to encourage investors to utilize uncultivated, under-utilized or remote areas. The intent is to create employment opportunities, build up the economic and social infrastructure and the livelihood of local farmers as well as improve the country’s economic growth and poverty alleviation strategy, and generate foreign exchange by producing agricultural products for export. As Ministry of Agriculture officials have made clear, less than a quarter of the potentially suitable land for agriculture is currently farmed. A significant element is used by pastoralists and others, but there is plenty of under-used or unused land that could be available to those attracted by reasonably long leases and tax holidays, and prepared to provide jobs, infrastructure for local development and other benefits.
The trend for leasing such land to investors from outside for farming, in Ethiopia as well as a number of other African states, is partly driven by the recent global food price rises, but it is also encouraged by the need for countries to develop their agricultural resources and create the kind of agri-businesses which can help feed their populations. As the FAO representative in Ethiopia pointed out some time ago if the deals are negotiated properly, they will change the dynamics of Ethiopia’s food economy. Foreign investors can provide technical expertise in water development and standardization of food production, training in techniques and the provision of the necessary technology and financial backing to utilize areas productively. Investment creates jobs in any given region, sometimes on commercial plantations but also on small farms. It involves basic infrastructural development as well as more extensive advantages for the region in the provision of administration and medical and educational facilities. It will in fact help transform the country’s rural economy.
Although these deals generate jobs and provide skills as well as increase tax revenues and food production on a significant scale, it has not prevented deliberate distortion of the facts. Human rights and advocacy groups and opposition media alike have portrayed deals as ‘land-grabbing” or “neo-colonialism” and in some cases even claiming the projects threaten the ability to feed the population, using histrionic claims of selling the land of ancestors or similar exaggerations. Accusations of environmental disaster are also used to generate headlines in the international and national media. Much of the criticism appears politically motivated, based on allegations which are simply not true: land is not being given away to other countries – leases, not sales, are being granted to foreign companies, not countries, and under strict conditions. “Farmland invasion in Africa” has made headlines in the press, and the use of such phrases as “neo-colonial”, “agro-imperialism” or “land-grabbing” encourage emotive responses. The process is however investment; it is not “land grabbing”.
Certainly, the Ethiopian government has been taking considerable care over environmental and social considerations when allocating land for investors, and done everything to try to avoid creating conflict between investors and local communities. In a recent interview, the prominent investor Sheikh Mohamed Al-Amoudi who currently leases 10,000 hectares for a pilot project for rice production in Gambella Regional State, detailed the value the project will provide in terms of jobs, foreign currency and increased food production. Under the agreement his company will be allowed to export no more than 60% of its production; 40% will be for local consumption. He is currently looking to increase the investment to US $450 million and significantly expand the area to be cultivated.
It is of course important to keep a balance between protection of the environment, the needs and livelihood of local populations, and agricultural or other developments. It is symptomatic of this concern that issues have been raised over the Gilgel Gibe III dam or the development of tea plantations in Gambella Regional State. This is where the work of the Environmental Protection Authority becomes of importance in evaluating the environmental sustainability and essence of the deals, the need for commercial farms to use best practice for soil and water conservation and development, and to be carbon-neutral. Investors are expected to bring in sustainable technology and provide facilities for local farmers to acquire and use such developments; in other words, provide facilities to improve general productivity in the region and benefit Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, like other countries in Africa, is well placed to capitalize on the growing world demand for bio-fuels and food self-sufficiency. Foreign investment in agriculture in Africa will clearly help Africa to become food self-sufficient. Indeed, large-scale foreign agricultural investment is a process by which countries, like Ethiopia, can help offset the effects of global warming. There are obvious and major advantages both for the countries concerned and for companies from food-importing countries, marrying available resources and suitable opportunities. It offers developing countries a way to reverse long-term under-investment in agriculture, obtain the use of new seeds and techniques, improve marketing, increase employment and provide related infrastructural developments, including schools, clinics and roads. It is worth emphasizing that the developments will not disappear when the leases end. The developments and improvements will, of course, remain. Implementation of such a land and agricultural investment policy is in fact a valuable addition to development policies and practices, and offers the possibility of real progress in the eradication of poverty.
Core Principles of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy: Concluding Remarks
The Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy of Ethiopia has as its center-piece the pursuit of economic development and democratic governance. And the endeavour to ensure national security requires the mobilization of the nation for this agenda as well as the need to nurture a vibrant democratic tradition. These domestic elements of Ethiopia’s diplomacy are necessitated by the need to ensure the survival of the nation. Through it all, Ethiopia’s foreign policy has been consistently applied on the basis of the twin pillars of economic development and democratic governance, and its diplomacy consistently informed by these ideals.
Diplomacy has played a significant role here in spelling out the priorities of the government and also in defending the government’s policy choices. Bilateral or multilateral cooperation arrangements have all along been worked out on the basis of ensuring the national interest of the country is given the due consideration it deserves in the various forums in which cooperative arrangements are agreed or negotiated. Cooperation with countries and international organizations has been and remains largely successful. It has gone a long way in contributing to the overall endeavours of the nation. Organizations such as the EU, the World Bank, and the IMF have witnessed the consistent and principled positions that the Ethiopian government has adopted and pursued over the last two decades.
In the last two weeks, Ethiopia has been in the spotlight for reasons that demonstrate just how important these government priorities have been in shaping the country’s relations with its partners. One reason is shown by the decision of the World Bank to provide additional funds for Ethiopia’s Protection of Basic Services Program, a program with several million beneficiaries. In its report, the World Bank Group said that since its launch in 2006, “the nationwide PBS program has helped improve public service delivery in education, health, agriculture, water and sanitation, and rural roads.” The statement said the World Bank Group had decided to provide additional funds “to continue this work as well as support the government’s anti-malaria efforts with the procurement of insecticide-treated bed nets.” It added that “the PBS program, working closely with civil society organization has successfully piloted a large scale social accountability effort that empowers citizens to voice their needs and demands relating to basic public services, and keep track of services that are due to them.”
Similarly, the UK’s Department for International Development has also announced that Ethiopia will be one of few countries that will be receiving increased development aid from Great Britain because the performance of aid money in development in Ethiopia has been impressive. Ethiopia’s performance in terms of the UK government’s Value-for-Money criteria received warm praise from Andrew Mitchell, the UK Minister for International Development.
Certainly, great strides have been made in many areas. The economy has been growing at an impressive rate. Ethiopia today ranks among only a few countries currently poised to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. It has one of the fastest growing non-oil economies in the world. The development of infrastructure in the country has been impressive and the new Growth and Transformation Plan can be expected to expand significantly on the successes registered so far and to place the country in a much more solid position.
Despite some setbacks, the country’s democratization process is also gathering steam. The measure of the participation of the peoples of Ethiopia in the formulation and implementation of policies can be clearly seen in the results achieved. Without this involvement, these successes would not have been achieved. The establishment of democracy in any country, in our region or elsewhere, is of course harder to achieve in face of widespread under-development, problems of unemployment and lack of literacy. However, Ethiopia has, with the support of partners and the participation of its peoples, managed to achieve significant progress in this area as well. The role that the Foreign and National Security Policy has played in all this has been pivotal.
It underlines the need to continue to emphasize the twin pillars of policy, economic development and democratic governance, through our diplomacy. Equally, it remains important to recognize there are a number of factors that can play havoc with any such efforts. These can include various geopolitical and historical factors, sub-regional or wider international challenges. Indeed, some of these challenges are as potent today as they have ever been during the last two decades. They need to be addressed with a clear understanding of their political, historical and ideological context. We will start to deal with the challenges and opportunities facing Ethiopia’s diplomacy in A Week in the Horn, beginning next week.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs