The 25th Africa-France Summit
Early this week, a high level delegation led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi participated in the 25th Africa-France Summit, held in Nice in the south of France. Items on the agenda included Africa’s Role in Global Governance; Strengthening Peace and Security; and Climate and Development. With respect to Africa’s role in Global Governance, the summit discussed on the need to increase Africa’s representation at all meetings on global governance issues. This included the need to reform the United Nations with a view to increasing Africa’s representation in the Security Council and in other multilateral forums. Prime Minister Meles noted that the Security Council needed immediate reform: a continent which provides nearly 30% of the UN membership cannot continue without proper representation. French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, promised that France would support international discussion of seats in the Security Council for Africa and proportional representation in other international organizations, and that it would begin at the next G8 and G20 meetings. The next G20 meeting is to be held in Canada on June 26-27; Malawi, as Chair of the African Union, and Ethiopia, with Prime Minister Meles in his capacity as Africa’s representative on Climate Change issues, have been invited.
The Nice summit also discussed the need to strengthen peace and security in Africa, and France has promised to provide some 300 million Euros to help the establishment of an African standby force and other related institutions.
On Climate and Development, Prime Minister Meles, in his capacity as representative for Africa, had an additional role in summarizing the discussions on Climate and Development. He underlined that although there might be limitations with regard to the Copenhagen Accord, nevertheless, it was in Africa’s interest to sign up to the Accord, and that the African Union had accepted the accord during its last summit held in Addis Ababa. Pointing out that only 29 countries had yet signed up to the accord, he urged all African countries to do the same. Prime Minister Meles underlined that climate change would make development in Africa more difficult and expensive, and the commitment of the developed countries to provide funds for adaptation and mitigation of the problems associated with climate change were a necessary assistance for Africa to offset the added costs of development. The Prime Minister also called on the developed countries to come up quickly with the Fast Start-up Funds, amounting to 30 billion US dollars which had been pledged during the Copenhagen summit. In that regard he called on France to take the lead, and President Sarkozy agreed to deliver on its pledge to collect 400 million Euro from EU countries, and committed France to encourage others to fulfill their pledges.
The Heads of State and Government represented at the 25th Franco-African summit issued a final declaration calling for urgent reform of the United Nations Security Council, for the reform of global governance, and for better representation for the African continent in international forums. It emphasized that the Copenhagen Accord on climate change marked a first step towards the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement in Cancun at the end of 2010. The final declaration asked all member states of the United Nations to commit themselves to that Accord, and called on the developed countries to deliver on their Copenhagen pledges to finance early action over the next three years.
During his visit to France, Prime Minister Meles also met with the President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick. In their discussions, the Prime Minister briefed the president on the main objectives of Ethiopia’s next five year plan; Mr. Zoellick confirmed the World Bank supported the objectives of the Government. They also discussed ways to increase World Bank participation in construction of hydro-power projects.
A meeting of Somalia troop-contributing countries and partners
A consultative meeting of the African Union, the troop-contributing countries for AMISOM and international partners on Somalia was held on Wednesday in Addis Ababa. The meeting was attended by the Defence Ministers of Burundi and Djibouti and the State Minster of Defense of Uganda as well as the State Minister of Interior of Somalia’s TFG. Others participating included Ethiopia as current chair of IGAD, the Office of the IGAD Facilitator for Somalia, the European Union, the Chair of IGAD Partners’ Forum, representatives of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, Malawi, in its capacity as the chair of African Union, and Nigeria.
The meeting was given briefings on, and reviewed recent developments in Somalia. The meeting welcomed the signing of the Framework of Cooperation Agreement between the TFG and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a on the 15th March in Addis Ababa. It noted the progress made in the implementation of the agreement and urged the parties to act with all speed and implement the agreement fully in order to maintain the momentum. It stressed the need for the international community to provide support. The meeting also welcomed and encouraged the TFG’s sustained efforts at outreach to other Somali stakeholders, as demonstrated by its signing of an agreement on 12th April with the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. This is to provide for the strengthening of law and order, both at sea and on the mainland, to combat piracy and to tackle environmental waste-dumping. The meeting expressed satisfaction with the progress being made by the independent Federal Constitution Commission in the constitution-making process. The Commission is expected to produce a draft constitution by the 1st of July. The meeting welcomed and encouraged the role of AMISOM and other members of international community, in particular the EU, in the ongoing process of rebuilding Somali security sector institutions.
The meeting also acknowledged the resolution of the recent political crisis within the Somali leadership. It emphasized the necessity for the TFG to maintain unity and cohesion within its ranks and between the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs). It should be noted that as the problem that had arisen within the TFIs has now been sorted out, all the indications are that the TFG might now have the chance to move forward in all areas, including security.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights session in Gambia
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) held its 47th ordinary session last month (May 12th – 26th) in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. The session was chaired by Commissioner Reine Alapini Gansou, chairperson of ACHPR, and attended by thirty State Parties, nine National Human Rights Institutions, five International and Inter-Governmental Organizations and forty-one African and International Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Opening statements were made by Commissioner Reine Alapini Gansou, by Mrs Julia Joiner, Commissioner of the Political Affairs Department of the African Union Commission, and by Mr. Edward Gomez, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of The Gambia who declared the session officially open.
Commissioner Gansou who spoke of the numerous challenges to the promotion and protection of human rights on the continent, said that peace in Africa required states to adhere to the fundamental principles that make democracy work. Africa, she said, had underlined this by its decisions on the need to get State Parties to adopt the democratic route. She urged State Parties to ratify the Charter on Democracy, Elections, Governance and to implement the AU Decision on ‘Unconstitutional Change of Government’.
Commissioner Julia Joiner noted that the development of human rights in Africa must be a collective effort. She said that human rights activists, who tended to emphasize the role and responsibility of State Parties, should not forget to remind themselves that human rights success stories must be based upon building wider ownership and ensuring that the responsibilities and actions are shared across all sectors of societies. Commissioner Joiner said the exercise of rights must also be based on our respect for the rights of others. This would go a long way towards building up the culture of human rights that the various instruments and mechanisms seek to establish.
Minister Gomez noted that the continent had witnessed plenty of unrest in 2010 and this continued to violate the rights of many Africans. He urged the African Commission to continue to work diligently to monitor, promote and protect human rights. He emphasized that true promoters and protectors of human rights should act responsibly and not make misleading and unsubstantiated claims of alleged human rights violations or statements founded on ulterior motives.
During the session, State Delegates made statements on the human rights situations in their respective countries; and national Human Rights Institutions and NGOs spoke on the human rights situation in Africa. Members of the African Commission presented reports of their activities, and of activities undertaken in the context of various special mechanisms of the Commission. The Commission also considered applications for observer status from NGOs, and for affiliate status for the National Human Rights Commission of Mauritania. It discussed and adopted rules of procedure; adopted the concluding observations on the Periodic Reports of Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Rwanda; and adopted several resolutions as well as a final communiqué. One major issue that has not yet been resolved by the Commission is the potential problem it faces with respect to ensuring that the Commission should not be derailed from what should be its major preoccupations because of reliance on finance from entities inclined to support their own agendas. This is something that the AU itself will have to address sooner rather than later.
The future of Ethiopia’s democratization process
Following the election, the Prime Minister in a speech on Tuesday last week and when talking to journalists later, made it quite clear that Ethiopia would continue to be a multi-party state. It had, he said, a constitution which explicitly guaranteed the right to organize political parties. More than sixty had participated in the May election. The election might have provisionally produced an overwhelming victory for the EPRDF (the final results will be announced on June 21) but this does not mean the creation of a one-party state. If any parallels should be drawn it would be with the possibility of the sort of dominant party system that operated for decades in Sweden or in Japan, or even Mexico, where one party consistently obtained massive majorities. Single party dominance in a multi-party democracy with the state running an economy in which the private sector has significant room to maneuver is by no means unusual whatever name it goes under, social or revolutionary democracy, or liberalism.
Whatever the level of opposition in Parliament, Parliament had a constitutional role, that of oversight of the executive. It was, said the Prime Minister, in the interests of everybody that it should carry out this strictly and critically. He believed Parliament would be able to keep the executive on its toes. Certainly, the ministries do now take their regular reports to Parliament seriously and a lot of effort actually goes into their preparation. The Prime Minister indicated that the government intended to build on the forum of political parties established during the campaign, and he envisaged all key legislative proposals being discussed in the forum before they went to Parliament. This could include for example party financing. He also expected debates on policy to continue in the media.
The Prime Minister made it clear the preliminary results of the election indicated that the majority of the electorate had voted to reject violence, to turn their back on what had happened in 2005. He believed the result showed the electorate was tired of the politics of hatred and vengeance. It was significant that the EPRDF won in constituencies where it had never done well before, but he noted that the opposition also did better in some places, such as the Tigray region, than he had expected. The results did not mean any lack of space for a moderate opposition, though it certainly limited opposition action in Parliament for the moment. He said the voters’ message had been clear enough. The EPRDF had improved its policies and its actions in the last five years, and the voters had recognized the developmental achievements of the EPRDF and the efforts to introduce good governance. It had been given another five year lease. If it didn’t use the time properly, the voters would take it away. If it messed up, it would lose next time and lose on a large scale.
In 2005, the Prime Minister said, the EPRDF had been given a yellow card. It had responded to the implied threat and the voters had recognized their efforts. The EPRDF, in fact, had responded to the public discontent and dissatisfaction demonstrated by the vote in 2005 when the party had been seriously overconfident. This time it had run a strong campaign flooding towns and villages with posters, banners, T shirts and party organizations, and information about its policies and achievements. Voters were able to see that the EPRDF had made significant efforts to provide “quality health care, universal education, housing for the urban poor and the working class, roads and electricity for the farmers” as well as employment for the rural and urban youth and women and help for cottage industries and small businesses. The results were clear enough: the voters felt the EPRDF had proved over the past five years that it was the best choice for good governance, stability and development over the next five years. And there is still much to be done in terms of improving governance at zonal, woreda and kebele levels, in delivery of justice, over corruption, inflation and the supply of information. Conversely the opposition has the opportunity to settle down and actually listen to the voice of the people, and work out their own alternative plans for governance and how to improve people’s lives.
It might be added that five years is quite long enough for any electorate to be convinced, as parliamentary elections frequently demonstrate in western European states. Given what the EPRDF had to offer and what the opposition provided, the electorate chose “the best and most sensible choice” for government over the next five years. The voters rejected the opposition for the splits within its leadership, the lack of leadership, disorganization, the failures to produce serious policy alternatives, and the continuation within some opposition parties of the politics of hate. Many voters felt betrayed by the opposition’s refusal to enter parliament in 2005 or take up control it had won of the Addis Ababa council. Voters, in fact, made it clear they wanted the opposition to put its house in order before they would really vote for them.
The electoral procedure had been impressive with significantly higher registration than in 2005, and an over 90% turnout, with over 2000 candidates from over 60 parties. There had been some 200 complaints, 45 concerned with threats and harassment (from both EPRDF and opposition); 90 had been promptly resolved by the Forum of Parties. In this context it was relevant that the strongest EU criticism was of a campaign imbalance between a highly resourced EPRDF and a poorly financed and deeply fractured opposition. And the margin between opposition parties was wide because the differences between the parties were large.
In his post-election comments, the Prime Minister has addressed the opposition on the basis that the election was a victory for the electoral process in Ethiopia irrespective of the result. He has focused on those who voted for the opposition because they had made it clear they wanted the opinion of the majority (whatever that might be) to be respected, and for everything to work out peacefully. In this context he said specifically that the widespread arrests claimed by some opposition leaders were simply not happening. Indeed, he was impressed to note that some members of opposition parties had prevented trouble from their own supporters.
The Prime Minister rejected the views of the EU Observer Mission that there was no level playing field, quoting the very different views of the African Union Mission. He noted that neither mission claimed to be able to verify any allegations of intimidation. He also drew attention to the difference between the factual comments made by the EU Mission, which had essentially commended the whole election process, and the rather more political and critical deductions it claimed to have drawn from these facts. The Prime Minister made it clear that for the opposition to contest results in the courts might be one thing; calling for a re-ruin of the election on the basis of unproven allegations was quite another. He emphasized, once again, that the rule of law must be respected by all including opposition parties.
In response to questions over the comments made by a US Government spokesman in Washington expressing concern that the election had not satisfied all international norms, the Prime Minister made it clear that Ethiopia valued its relationship with the US and believed it was mutually beneficial. Ethiopia was eager to maintain it. At the same time Ethiopia was not a protectorate and it did seem that some in Washington were more immediately interested in the outcome of the election and in a change of government than in the whole long-term process of democratization in Ethiopia.
The Prime Minister was statesmanlike, conciliatory, accommodating and moderate, offering an olive branch to the opposition, and demonstrating that the EPRDF intends to remain part of a multi-party democracy. The election, he emphasized, had given the EPRDF more responsibility not more power. This is something that the party will ensure cascades down through party’s officials to its foot soldiers, and operate through the Regional State assemblies down to local administration in the kebeles.
Election results: civility triumphs over rejectionism
Another chapter in Ethiopia’s renaissance has opened with the successful conclusion of the elections two weeks ago. With provisional results from virtually all districts now declared by the NEBE, the voters have spoken very loud and clear as to which party they want to see in power for the coming five years. Most importantly, the peaceful and calm manner in which the election was conducted was a testament to the growing institutionalization of the democratic process in the country. This should be a source of pride and joy for all stakeholders well aware of the significance of the electoral process in further cementing democratic governance and in ensuring rapid economic development. The conduct of the elections received a good deal of praise from both international and domestic observers. Most agreed the elections were free and fair and reflected the true will of Ethiopians. Even the most critical of the observer mission reports made numerous laudatory remarks about key aspects of the electoral process and the manner in which the election was conducted. Not only was the level of participation impressive, the various institutions that were tasked with the running of the election, notably, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia, were found to be competent and well-organized. To the extent that there were any irregularities, there was little or nothing to affect the validity and integrity of the entire process.
The election’s successful and peaceful conclusion clearly demonstrated that Ethiopians have indeed taken their political governance into their own hands. Mass rallies in various areas after the election demonstrated that the peoples of Ethiopia were insistent that their votes, their ownership of the process, should be fully respected. Their commitment to the strengthening of democracy has been clearly displayed in the vehement rejection of any pre- or post-election undemocratic tendencies and the kind of violent behavior manifested in 2005. In this regard, there were a number of incidents in which supporters of opposition parties which have sometimes been predisposed to violent tactics, assisted security forces in foiling bomb plots, even putting their own lives at risk despite also voting against the incumbent. Far from subscribing to violence, thousands of opposition supporters were willing to cooperate with security officials in ensuring peaceful elections.
The behavior of most key stakeholders, the political parties themselves, was another indicator of the level of maturity that the democratization process has reached. Even many parties, whose respect for the rules of the game was previously no more than lukewarm, displayed commendable behavior. Indeed, the great majority of opposition political parties demonstrated a real cooperative spirit both during and after the campaign. Their commitment and willingness to refer complaints to the joint party councils established under the code of conduct agreed upon by the parties represented a marked departure from previous acrimonious recriminations. This has been a significant contribution to the overall conduct of the election and will further enhance the democratic process.
In this connection, the recent declaration by more than 14 political parties conceding defeat and their message of felicitations to the winning party was a further indication of respect for the voters. They have shown the magnanimity to be expected of any party genuinely committed to the ideals of the democratic process, focusing more on the process than on the outcome. And democracy is about process, not about outcome. People vote a party into or out of office on the basis of which party they believe may be better prepared to further and protect their interests. These parties acknowledged that people had indeed voted for the EPRDF on the basis of its achievements in ensuring growth and development. Others attributed its victory to divisions among opposition parties and their lack of any well-articulated agenda that might win the hearts and the minds of the electorate. They agreed that whatever irregularities that might have occurred did not detract from EPRDF’s victory. They made it clear they were willing to live with the results. While conceding defeat this time round, they also vowed to make further efforts to work to win the necessary support to unseat the incumbent next time, while promising to cooperate with the next government as and when this might be needed.
This is a most encouraging aspect of the process, but there still are some elements clinging to the idea of rejection, trying to make a last ditch effort to muddy the waters. Ignoring the fact that the ultimate verdict belongs to the peoples of Ethiopia, they are making unnecessary attempts to cast aspersions on the credibility of the elections. Failing to come to terms with the results from the voters, some are making calls for a re-run of elections without even bothering to adduce a modicum of evidence of the irregularities they claim to have in abundance. Professor Beyene Petros has claimed that because of unspecified but ‘large-scale’ rigging his party refused to accept the NEBE’s results. Under the election regulations all such issues should be taken to the NEBE or to the courts. Professor Beyene, however, says that while his party was considering taking its case to the NEBE and/or the courts, he did not believe these bodies were capable of delivering impartial judgments because, he claimed, they ‘belonged’ to the ruling party. This is the usual rejectionist argument for which there is no evidence. More bizarre, perhaps, was his characterization of the NEBE as being even more partial to the ruling party than it had been five or ten years ago. His evidence for this was that in previous elections senior officials of the Board had visited his electoral district but this time they had not done so, and he had lost. He appears to assume the fairness of the electoral board depends upon his own success. It might be noted that the European Union Electoral Observer Mission and the African Union Observer Mission as well as other stakeholders clearly expressed their belief in the competence and professionalism of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia in its handling of its responsibility. This provided further emphasis of the encouraging progress in the strengthening and entrenchment of democratic values and institutions in the country.
As we have noted above, Prime Minister Meles has already earlier expressed the government’s readiness to bring on board any opposition parties abiding by the rules of the game and the Constitution, irrespective of whether or not they won seats in Parliament. The government will involve the loyal opposition into all matters of national concern, and the EPRDF will be willing to work with the opposition on the basis of the joint party councils already in place. This is a gesture born of respect for the millions of Ethiopians who voted for the opposition, and it should be embraced with a genuinely co-operative spirit by all political parties. It is an important milestone in Ethiopia’s history, underlining the emergence of a genuine democratic exercise in which both winners and non-winners recognize the need to resolve differences in the interest of the peoples of Ethiopia. All parties must now realize that the results of the election clearly demonstrated that the voters have absolutely no use for rejectionism in whatever shape or form. One demonstration of wisdom in politics is displaying the courage to reject failed policies and activities, and acceptance of the need to produce something new. There is now a very real opportunity for opposition parties to do just that.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs