A Week in the Horn (05.02.2010)


  • The African Union’s 14th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government

    The 14th Ordinary Summit of the African Union was held from 31 January to 2 February in Addis Ababa. It was preceded by the Executive Council meeting (Ministers of Foreign Affairs) from 28 to 29 January, and the Permanent Representative Committee meeting, 25 to 26 January. The Summit was attended by over thirty Heads of State and Government from across the continent as well as other invited guests including the current Chairperson of the European Union, Prime Minister José Luis Rodrigues Zapattero of Spain, and the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

    The Summit, organized under the theme “Information and Communication Technologies in Africa: Prospects and Challenges for Development” was, by any standards, a success with the adoption of numerous important decisions concerning, inter alia, the new Chairperson of the Union, information and communication technologies, conflict situations in Africa, unconstitutional changes of government and the strengthening of the capacity of the AU to manage such situations, the election of the new members of the Peace and Security Council, the Copenhagen Accord on Climate Change, the budget (of over US$250 million for 2010), the way forward for NEPAD and the situation in Haiti as well as the venue and date for the next Summit.

    The Summit passed a number of important decisions beginning with the election of the new Chairperson, President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi. It was the southern region’s turn to assume the rotating one year Chairmanship of the Union and President Mutharika was endorsed by his peers. In an unequivocal affirmation of the African Union’s rules, the rule of rotation was strictly adhered to despite attempts to extend the outgoing Chairperson’s tenure. In his acceptance speech, President Mutharika stressed his intention to focus on agriculture and on mobilizing the continent towards achievement of the goal of food security in Africa within the next five years.

    On the theme of Information and Communication Technologies, following presentations made by, among others, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, the Summit adopted a Declaration reiterating its commitment to strengthen national programmes and regional cooperation for the development and interconnection of broadband infrastructures and the improvement of rural area connectivity.

    On peace and security, the Summit passed decisions on, inter alia, conflict situations in the Horn of Africa and Madagascar. On Somalia and regional stability, the Summit welcomed UN Security Council’s imposition of sanctions (Resolution 1907 (2009) on Eritrea, including the arms embargo, travel restrictions and an asset freeze; it called upon the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee to urgently designate the relevant Eritrean military and political leaders and other persons and entities to allow for an effective sanctions regime to be implemented as soon as possible; and urged the Security Council to speedily act on the AU’s earlier request for the imposition of a no-fly zone and the blockade of sea ports to prevent the entry into Somalia of foreign elements and the supply of logistical and other support to the insurgency. It was an unequivocal condemnation of the actions of the Eritrean regime and its efforts to undermine regional stability. Africa wants the UN Security Council and its Sanctions Committee to act speedily. The onus is now on the UN Security Council to act swiftly in the implementation of its own resolution for the sake of the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa.

    On Sudan, the Summit noted the forthcoming national elections in April 2010 and the planned referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan in January 2011. It expressed its support for steps taken to ensure the holding of free and fair elections. It noted with satisfaction the progress made in improving the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur. It endorsed the Communiqué of the AU Peace and Security Council of 29 October 2009 and reiterated that the recommendations of the AU High Level Panel on Darfur led by former President Thabo Mbeki should be the basis of the AU engagement in Darfur and its interaction with international partners. On Madagascar, following the proposal of the SADC member states, the Summit stressed the Maputo Agreement and the Addis Ababa Additional Act remain the only roadmap for a comprehensive solution to the crisis. It urged the current illegal regime in Antananarivo to desist from attempts to impose unilateral solutions to the current crisis, and underlined the leading role of SADC in the mediation process. This decision was a clear signal to the international community and to all the parties concerned that SADC is best placed to lead the mediation process. The international community should support the region’s efforts and should not, in any way, undertake activities that could be seen as sending mixed signals to the illegal regime in Madagascar, and so undermine SADC’s attempts to restore constitutional order in the country.

    There is no doubt that the AU has to remain firm and strictly enforce the Constitutive Act and the Lome Declaration regarding situations of unconstitutional change of government as in Madagascar. Any compromise or exception will undo all the efforts that the continent has been making to sustain and entrench an irreversible process of democratization and the rule of law in Africa. The Summit decided to strengthen existing instruments on unconstitutional changes of government: those responsible for any unconstitutional changes of government will not be able to participate in elections held to restore constitutional order; sanctions will be imposed on any member state proven to have instigated or supported an unconstitutional change of government in another state; and member states should refrain from granting accreditation to any de facto authorities in international bodies including the UN and its General Assembly, thus tightening the existing AU automatic suspension measures. The Summit requested all AU partners, bilateral and multilateral, including the UN and the EU, to refrain from any actions which might undermine the efforts of the AU and send confusing signals to perpetrators of unconstitutional changes. This strengthening of the AU legal framework against unconstitutional changes of government, if supported by AU partners, should provide a strong deterrent against the continuing plague of coups d’etat in Africa as well as provide a more robust response to such actions.

    The Summit elected new members for the AU Peace and Security Council, to assume their seats on 1st April. Equatorial Guinea from central region, Kenya from eastern region, Libya from northern region, Zimbabwe from southern region and Nigeria from western region were each elected for a three year term. Burundi and Chad from central region, Djibouti and Rwanda from eastern region, Mauritania from northern region, Namibia and South Africa from southern region, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali from western region were elected for two year terms.

    As Coordinator of the Conference of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), Prime Minister Meles reported the outcome of the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol held in December 2009 in Copenhagen. The Summit overwhelmingly adopted the recommendations of the Report, with the exception of Egypt which objected to the endorsement of the Copenhagen Accord arguing that its operation and activities should remain under review. The position was not shared by the majority of states that intervened on this issue, and the Summit endorsed the provisions of the Copenhagen Accord. It strongly reaffirmed that the Accord constituted a solid basis for moving forward and negotiating a legally binding agreement that will uphold Africa’s interests in terms of mitigation and adaptation. It instructed the Chairperson of the Commission to register the AU as a party to the Copenhagen Accord. In an unequivocal endorsement of Prime Minister Meles’s efforts at Copenhagen, the Summit extended his position as Coordinator of CAHOSCC for the Conferences of Parties to be held in Mexico this year and in South Africa in 2011.

    As Chairperson of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee (HSGIC), Prime Minister Meles also presented a report on the outcome of the 22nd NEPAD HSGIC held in Addis Ababa on 30 January, the day before the Summit. In accordance with the report’s recommendations, the Summit decided Africa should undertake an independent assessment of the G8/Africa partnership. It urged the adoption of a new strategic approach focusing on partnership dialogue on African development policy issues and called for the institutionalization of Africa’s engagement within the G20. This will allow for the desired paradigm shift from management of poverty to economic transformation so that Africa can address existing imbalances and play a significant role in the integrated world economy. The win-win benefits to be derived from such a strategic shift are obvious. Africa can become a global growth pole to help bridge global economic imbalances in terms of demand and supply. The Summit approved the establishment of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency as a technical body of the African Union, replacing the NEPAD Secretariat. It will be financed through the AU Commission’s budget. It also agreed the change of name of NEPAD HSGIC into the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee (HSGOC); and to maintain the NEPAD Steering Committee as an intermediary body to interface between the HSGOC and the new Agency. In light of some reports this week, it is perhaps worth underlining that NEPAD and the Peer Review Mechanism have not been abolished: both remain fully active.

    The Summit offered its deepest sympathy and solidarity to the people of Haiti for the tragedy of the devastating earthquake of January 12th. It requested the Chairperson of the AU Commission, in collaboration with the African Development Bank, to set up an African Humanitarian Fund for Haiti to which all states were asked to contribute, and to send a mission to Haiti. During the closing ceremony, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and Grenadines made a heartfelt plea to African leaders to participate in the conference to be organized in the Dominican Republic and dedicated to the reconstruction of Haiti. The Summit also expressed its deep regret and sorrow for the loss of life caused by the tragic crash on January 25th of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 flying from Beirut to Addis Ababa. It conveyed its heartfelt condolences and sympathy to the people and Government of Ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines and the families of the victims. Ethiopia conveyed its appreciation to the Summit and to all member states for the outpouring of sympathy it had received.

    The next Ordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union will be held in Kampala, Uganda from 25th – 27th July. It will be preceded by meetings of the Permanent Representatives from 19th – 20th July, and by the Executive Council 22nd – 23rd July.


  • Eritrea’s allegations over denied attendance scorned by the AU

    Shortly before the opening of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa on Sunday, Eritrea’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Osman Saleh, wrote to the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr. Jean Ping accusing Ethiopia of refusing to accept Eritrea’s representation in the AU. In his letter, datelined Tripoli, Mr. Osman made the completely unfounded claim that Eritrea had been denied its “basic rights” to participate for ten years in AU summits and other AU meetings held in Addis Ababa. In these supposed circumstances, he added, the AU should not discuss any matters regarding Eritrea. The letter was, as requested, circulated to the Heads of State and Government.

    In his reply, also circulated, Dr. Ping pointed out that he had been given categorical assurances that Eritrea was free to establish a Mission to the AU in Addis Ababa. No attempt had been made to prevent Eritrea’s participation in this, or any previous AU Summits. Dr. Ping noted that this information had also been conveyed to the Government of Eritrea some years ago by the former Chairperson of the Commission, Professor Alpha Oumar Konare. Professor Konare had informed the Eritrean Government that its Mission could be accredited only to the AU, and would have no bilateral functions, though it would, of course, in accordance with international practice, have facilities to live and work in Addis Ababa. Countries that do not have relations with the United States have missions to the United Nations in New York under similar circumstances. Addis Ababa, as the seat of the African Union, is the virtual capital of Africa. Ethiopia is fully aware of responsibility for the African Union. It has never prevented delegations from any AU member states from attending meetings in Addis Ababa, nor would it ever do so. The Government of Eritrea was fully aware that the necessary entry visas were, as usual, available, and the Protocol Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs had, as always, been ready to arrange accommodation and security for any Eritrean delegation. Eritrea had, as on previous occasions, merely refused to participate in any AU meetings in Addis Ababa for its own reasons. Dr. Ping concluded his response by urging the Government of Eritrea to re-establish its mission to the AU as soon as possible and resume attendance at meetings held in Addis Ababa.

    In a press conference yesterday, Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the AU, Ambassador Konjit Sinegiorgis pointed out that Ethiopia has the obligation to respect the rights of all member states of the AU to participate in meetings in Addis Ababa. It would never deny visas to any officials of AU member states. Ambassador Konjit said that an Eritrean delegation had in fact taken part in the AU session in Addis Ababa in 2003; since then it had been the decision of the Eritrean Government not to take part in AU summits or other AU meetings in Addis Ababa. It should be pointed out that Ethiopia never closed down the Eritrean Mission in Addis Ababa even during the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. The embassy was, in fact, closed by the Government of Eritrea’s own decision.

    As could be expected, the AU Heads of State and Government took no notice of Eritrea’s demand not to discuss any issues relating to Eritrea at this week’s Summit. The Governments of Djibouti and Somalia made it clear that Eritrea, despite the UN Security Council sanctions imposed last month, was continuing to send insurgents into their territories, and to provide extremist opposition elements with assistance and support. As we noted above, the Heads of State and Government collectively condemned Eritrea for its actions in the region, describing Eritrea as still busy with its negative role in destabilizing regional peace and security. They welcomed the UN sanctions against Eritrea imposed on December 23rd. These include an arms embargo, travel sanctions and an asset freeze on political and military leaders. The Heads of State and Government urged the UN Security Council to designate urgently the relevant names to allow for the sanctions to be effectively implemented as soon as possible. They also asked the Security Council to act speedily on the AU’s earlier request for the implementation of a no-fly zone and the blockage of ports to prevent arms, logistical and other support, including foreign fighters, reaching the insurgents in Somalia, from Eritrea or anywhere else. In this context, it might be noted that the Government of Switzerland, on Wednesday, announced that as of February 4th it was adopting the sanctions against Eritrea. Eritrea, a Government statement said, “…in supporting armed Somali rebel groups, threatens peace efforts and the stability of the region.”


  • IGAD’s Council of Ministers 34th Extra-ordinary session

    IGAD’s Council of Ministers took the opportunity of the AU Executive Council session last week to meet on Saturday, January 30th. The meeting was chaired by Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Ato Seyoum Mesfin, current chairperson of the IGAD Council of Ministers. It was attended by the Foreign Ministers of Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and the State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia as well as the Ambassador of Sudan to Djibouti, the Sudanese Representative to IGAD. The Council heard briefings on developments in the region since its 33rd Council Meeting in Djibouti in early December from Mr. Ali Ahmed Jama, Somalia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Engineer Mahboub Maalim, the Executive Secretary of IGAD, the Hon. Kipruto arap Kirwa, IGAD Facilitator for Somalia Peace and National Reconciliation and Ato Lissane Yohannes, IGAD Special Envoy to the Assessment and Evaluation Commission of the CPA in Sudan. The Council also heard statements from Dr. Jean Ping, Chairperson of the AU Commission, Mr. Ahmadou Ould-Abdella, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Somalia, Mr. Stefano Pontecorvo, Director for Sub-Saharan Africa in the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, representing the IGAD Partners Forum (IPF) and Ambassador Ahmed Salah-Eldin Noah, the Arab League’s Permanent Representative to the AU and UNECA, and Ambassador to Ethiopia.

    The IGAD Council deliberated at length on the situation in Somalia as well as the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan, the situation in Yemen and on IGAD institutional issues. In its final communiqué, the Council of Ministers commended the continued efforts of the TFG to work for peace and national reconciliation despite the enormous challenges it faced. It reiterated IGAD’s unwavering support for the TFG as it works to achieve the targets for the transition period. And it called upon the international community to redouble its efforts in Somalia to provide the TFG with the financial, material and technical assistance necessary to rebuild state institutions, and in particular the security sector.

    The Council welcomed the adoption on 23rd December by the UN Security Council of Resolution 1907 (2009) imposing sanctions on Eritrea. It called upon the Sanctions Committee to designate as soon as possible the targeted Eritrean military and political leaders to empower an effective sanctions regime. It also reiterated the request for the Security Council to take prompt action on the imposition of a no-fly zone and blockade of specific Somali ports to prevent the entry of foreign elements and logistical supplies to the terrorist groups of Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam. The AU Summit made the same points a day or two later.

    The Council also expressed concern over security and political developments in Yemen, and affirmed its support for the Government of Yemen. On Sudan it urged the two parties to deal with outstanding issues in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and said it would send a high-level ministerial delegation to discuss these with the parties. The communiqué welcomed the acceptance of the Court of Arbitration ruling on Abyei and the preparations for the election in April. It directed the Secretariat to produce programs and seminars to encourage a culture of peace in Sudan. The Council also took note of the Executive Secretary’s report on progress made in the development of an IGAD peace and security strategy, in the Minimum Integration Plan and in the organizational restructuring of IGAD.

    In a statement this week, Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry also criticised the meeting of IGAD Foreign Ministers, complaining that it was devoid of legality, because giving the TFG a seat in IGAD was short-sighted, and because Eritrea had suspended its membership of IGAD three years ago. Eritrea’s version of legality could only make sense in Asmara. It has no relevance to anyone else. We might also recall that for Asmara even UN Security Council decisions are equally “illegal”.


  • Al-Shabaab finally goes public on its links to al Qaeda

    Meanwhile, in Somalia, on Monday this week, Al-Shabaab publicly confirmed for the first time its links to al Qaeda. In a statement issued in Arabic and Somali on an Islamist website in Sweden, the terrorist group said it was merging with another extremist group, the Ras Kamboni brigade based in Kismayo and headed by Sheikh Hassan Abdullahi Hirsi “Turki”. The joint terrorist group will take the name of Al Shabaab Mujahideen Movement. The Ras Kamboni brigade had previously been one of the four groups making up Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys’ Hizbul Islam. The aim of the merger was said to “counter the international crusaders’ war against Muslims and to combine the jihad of the Horn of Africa with the international jihad”, that is the jihad led by al Qaeda and Sheikh Osama bin Laden. The agreement also referred to the need “to support Muslims, particularly the Muslim people of the east and the Horn of Africa living under enemy Christians”, and “to embark on the establishment of an Islamic government that implements the law of Allah.” Among the signatories for Al-Shabaab were Sheikh Muktar Abdirahman Abu Zubeyr “Ahmed Abdi Godane”, the present Emir or chairman of Al-Shabaab, Sheikh Muktar Robow Ali “Abu Mansur”, and Sheikh Fu’ad Mohammed Khalaf. Although Al-Shabaab’s links with al Qaeda have been known for a long time, this is the first time that Al-Shabaab itself has formally admitted to the connection which has already provided for a significant number of foreign fighters. These have introduced many of the more vicious tactics into Al-Shabaab terrorist activities including the repeated use of suicide bombs and numerous attacks on civilians, including women and children. Al-Shabaab has sent fighters to train with al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the past and al Qaeda leaders have called on Muslims to support Al-Shabaab. In March last year, bin Laden issued a video addressed to the “patient, persevering Muslim brothers in mujahid Somalia”, explicitly endorsing Al-Shabaab.


  • Bilateral Meeting between the Prime Ministers of Ethiopia and Spain

    The Prime Minister of Spain, Senor Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was in Addis Ababa as Guest of Honour of the African Union Summit, representing the Presidency of the European Union, held bilateral discussions with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Sunday, January 31st. The two prime ministers exchanged views on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues of common interest. They expressed their satisfaction at the excellent state of the bilateral partnership existing between the two countries, and also noted the need to take advantage of these excellent relations to promote private sector investment particularly in the areas of energy and infrastructure. They agreed the growing interest on the part of Spanish companies to invest in Ethiopia needed to be supported by both countries.

    The two prime ministers also exchanged views on regional issues in the Horn of Africa. Prime Minister Meles briefed his guest on the current situation in Somalia. He informed the Spanish Prime Minister that with the situation on the ground in Somalia becoming increasingly serious, the need for all round support for the TFG is extremely urgent. Prime Minister Zapatero on his part informed Prime Minister Meles that Spain, well aware of the critical situation in Somalia, is currently leading the EU training initiative of Somali security forces taking place in Uganda. Prime Minister Meles commended the lead role that Spain has taken on this initiative, and said that Africa expects no less from Spain as an immediate neighbor of Africa. Spain and Ethiopia also agreed to continue to work together on the Alliance of Civilizations which provides a platform for civilized dialogue amongst the various cultures and faiths of the world.

    Foreign Minister Seyoum also held extensive bilateral discussions with Ministers and heads of delegation from various countries on the margins of AU Executive Council meeting. In addition to a number of Foreign Ministers from Africa, he met and held discussions with the Foreign Ministers of Canada, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Luxembourg and Palestine. After bilateral discussions with the Foreign Minister of the Palestine National Authority, Dr. Ryad Al-Malki, Minister Seyoum and Dr. Malki attended a flag raising ceremony held at the Palestine National Authority’s embassy. Dr Malki thanked Minister Seyoum for giving the Palestine National Authority the title deeds to the premises that the embassy have been using for several years. Dr. Tekeda Alemu, State Minister of Foreign Affairs, also held separate discussions with a number of heads of delegation of African countries to the Executive Council of the African Union, as well as other heads of delegation from Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands.


  • The first Multipurpose Project meeting for the Eastern Nile in Khartoum

    The Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program (ENSAP) Team, the advisory and management arm of the Eastern Nile, held its 24th Meeting in Khartoum on January 29th. ENSAP, one of the two subsidiary action programs of the Nile Basin Initiative, groups Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan. It involves the Eastern Nile Council of Ministers for Water Resources and the Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program Team (ENSAPT) which is responsible for managing the work of the Eastern Nile Technical Office (ENTRO), the regional organization for ENSAP based in Addis Ababa. The 24th ENSAPT meeting dealt with various administrative and budgetary matters.

    ENSAPT was followed by the first meeting of the Joint Multipurpose Project 1 Identification Study (JMP1-ID) on Saturday and Sunday, January 30th -31st. The JMP is a flagship program of ENSAP. The objective of the identification study is to identify and prioritize options for the first JMP investment package. It will involve a series of studies and consultative activities to take into account economic, social and environmental sustainability issues in an integrated manner. There will be two components: identification studies and capacity building and implementation support elements.

    The meeting was officially opened by the Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources of the Sudan, and the opening speeches, including statements by the representatives of Egypt and Ethiopia set a positive tone for the workshop. An inspirational key note speech was made by Professor O’Connell of Newcastle University, whose wide ranging experience and interest in faith-based and moral and ethical under-pinning, provided an excellent basis from which to assess the JMP, which he believed to be a potentially rewarding project.

    Linkages between the identification study and Site Specific Studies (SSS) on the Abbay, including the Mendaya and Beko-Abo Hydropower Projects in Ethiopia, were detailed and elaborated. JMP consultants identified the approach and methodology of the project. Participants emphasized the long term vision and the joint benefits of the cross-country program including a coordinated set of investments and large scale infrastructural developments. The JMP1-ID study is expected to take 18 months. The discussions generated during the workshop certainly benefited ENTRO, the consultants and all those participating. The workshop enhanced the awareness of participants and increased understanding of what JMP is all about and how it will generate multiple benefits, including countries’ development aspirations and protecting the Nile River.


  • Senatorial confirmation hearing for U.S. Ambassador-designate to Ethiopia

    This week, the Africa Sub-Committee of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing for Ambassador Donald E Booth, U.S. Ambassador-designate to Ethiopia. We welcome the fact that the confirmation process has started and hope a speedy confirmation will allow Mr. Booth take up his post shortly and contribute to further enhancement of the positive relations between Ethiopia and the United States.

    It is now customary for Senatorial confirmation hearings for ambassadorial nominees to focus almost exclusively on the country to which the nominee is designated, rather than on the nominee. Indeed, these hearings have increasingly become a platform to chastise some developing countries which has nothing to do with the confirmation process. This week’s confirmation hearing was no exception with Ethiopia as the unwilling subject of some unjustified criticism. Of course, divergent views can be expected in such hearings. The problem is, however, that erroneous opinions are often presented as facts.

    The Chairman of the Africa Sub-Committee, Senator Russ Feingold, who chaired the confirmation hearing, noted in his opening remarks that over recent years, Ethiopia had been “an important partner of the United States in a tough neighborhood”; the two countries had shared interests and he hoped the partnership would continue. However, he then went on to claim there was a “growing repressiveness by the Ethiopian Government”, alleging that several new laws had been passed granting “broad discretionary powers to the government to arrest opponents’. Senator Feingold didn’t spell out these alleged powers, making it difficult to respond specifically, but there are, in fact, no laws in Ethiopia which allow the Government to arrest anyone at will. All arrests and similar actions must be and are carried out under due legal process. The presence of over 90 political parties in Ethiopia, all with their own political programs and operating freely attests to the fact that Ethiopia, despite all challenges, should be classified as an emerging democracy. It’s not perfect, but it is on the right path to sustained peace, democracy and economic development.

    Senator James Inhofe differed sharply from Senator Feingold’s account of the progress made in democratization particularly since the 2005 elections. He pointed out the changes carried out since 2005, among them amendments to parliamentary rules and procedures giving more voice to opposition Members of Parliament, including an opposition day, Prime Minister’s Question Time, and the representation of the opposition in all Parliamentary standing committees; the reform of the Electoral Board and the Election Law, public financing and free use of publicly-owned media for all political parties during election campaigns. The aim, he noted, was to ensure the upcoming election was free and fair.

    Despite the considerable progress Ethiopia has been making in democratization, some still find it easier to echo the allegations of some opposition elements inside and outside the country rather than making any serious effort to find out the facts. Some outside observers appear to believe that only individual politicians, and parties, that routinely violate the country’s laws or refuse to abide by the principles of the rule of law, can be considered “real” opposition. They even deny the reality of the vast majority of opposition political parties that respect the constitutional order and work within the law. It was disappointing to see that Senator Feingold made no acknowledgement of the positive, and indeed historic, inter-party negotiations which resulted in the signing of the election Code of Conduct by over sixty five political parties competing in the upcoming election. In fact, he seemed to offer solace and encouragement to those who reject peaceful dialogue and whose sole agenda is to try to undermine and de-legitimize the elections. This is certainly no help to the democratization process in Ethiopia. We do not believe Senator Feingold harbors any strong ill-will towards Ethiopia. We think he is ill-informed and lacks accurate information. We believe he should make considerably more effort to be fair and balanced, to be open-minded in his assessment of Ethiopia which, despite all the challenges in an extremely volatile region, is registering impressive results in its efforts to achieve sustainable peace, democracy and economic development. Its current efforts to make the May elections peaceful, democratic, free and fair are an integral part of this. Senator Feingold should do this not only in the interests of Ethiopia but also in those of the United States.


  • Ensuring the integrity of the coming election: undemocratic proclivities

    The government of Ethiopia has time and time again stated that democratization in Ethiopia is not a matter of choice but one of survival. Not only does democracy offer the peoples of Ethiopia the opportunity to administer themselves, it also ensures the fullest possible participation of citizens in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of the various political, economic and social policies needed to raise the country from poverty. Equally, ensuring the survival of the Ethiopian state also requires sustainable economic development which in turn needs a political environment that provides for the creation and development of institutions allowing citizens to exercise the widest extent of rights and freedoms, political, economic and social.

    The efforts of the last 18 or so years have gone a long way to put in place the institutions necessary to build a just and well ordered society and create a political space based on the principles to guide a representative democracy. Despite some setbacks, largely resulting from the lack of democratic culture and mistrust arising from historic legacies, most of the process has been promising. Thanks to the various institutional and policy measures introduced so far, the peoples of Ethiopia now realize how indispensable participation in the political process is in changing their lives for the better. Ethiopians from all parts of the country have now developed a sense of ownership towards the political process. The huge turnout in past elections and the extensive participation in grass root politics on a daily basis are clear indications that the process has taken on a momentum of its own. It was moved too far to be adversely affected by any acts of subversion.

    Equally, there is no room yet for complacency. Democratization in Ethiopia is in an incipient stage and still needs careful nurturing. It requires that the activities of the various stakeholders in the political process should all contribute to the enhancement of the process not detract from it. While the success of the whole project ultimately rests on the extent to which the people of Ethiopia take their ownership of the process seriously, it is also true that many stakeholders can still play a pivotal role in ensuring the institutionalization of democratic culture and tolerance and the promotion of civilized discourse. Political parties, ruling and opposition alike, still have major responsibility to check any activities or tendencies that could interfere in the institutionalization of democracy and respect for the rule of law.

    As we have stated before, the role of political parties in the strengthening of the democratization process in any country is central. Parties serve as the channels through which public interests are articulated, providing for the aspirations of the different sections of society. The EPRDF, and the government it leads, have demonstrated a firm conviction that plurality of ideas helps to further cement democracy and the ideals of good governance. The Government has in fact done its level best to widen the political space to allow as many contending ideas as possible to come to the fore. The agreement between the parties signing the Code of Conduct has been one such positive step transcending the petty squabbles that have so long characterized inter-party relations.

    Nevertheless, the behaviour of some political actors still leaves a lot to be desired. The attitude of some towards the entire process and their negative response to the recent overtures by the EPRDF and the majority of the opposition parties is hardly reassuring. Some might even call it sinister. It appears no amount of goodwill from the ruling party can persuade them into giving it the benefit of the doubt, or exhibit the kind of trust required to ensure the peaceful conclusion of the elections. The major figures among these politicians place far too high a premium on the outcome of elections, ignoring the process by which they are conducted. They insist on an outcome that only vindicates their wishes. They have made it clear they will stop at nothing to try to de-legitimize any outcome in which they do not win.

    Recent comments made by two opposition figures speak volumes about the counter-productive approach this group appears more than willing to employ. According to Dr. Merera Gudina, the ruling party has never had, either in the past or today, any intention to allow free and fair elections to take place. He characterizes the recent overtures of the ruling party as mere window-dressing aimed at hoodwinking the international community. In an extreme display of cynicism, he suggests that the EPRDF should dispense with what he calls its ‘false pretences’ and instead go for the kind of political system “the Communist Party has put in place in China”, thus sparing everybody all election hassles. This is clearly part of a campaign to discredit the democratic political experience. Dr. Merera is not alone in his efforts. Another high-ranking politician from the same opposition bloc, Ato Siye Abraha, has been even blunter. He is certain the ruling party is going to rig the next elections. He doesn’t think even for a moment that the EPRDF can legitimately win this election. He even suggests that none of the recent elections have come anywhere close to the level of freedom to be seen in elections in Haile Selassie’s reign. This outlandish comparison is clearly not intended to heap praise on the Emperor’s “democratic” record but rather to disparage the EPRDF’s efforts as devoid of genuine intention. Despite this, he also manages to show pride in his own election to Parliament on two occasions before he fell out with his former party, the EPRDF.

    There are interesting similarities between the arguments. Both, for example, refuse to believe the ruling party has ever been genuine about anything related to democracy in general or elections in particular. Both are quite certain the elections are going to be rigged. Both are extremely confident they would win if the elections are half as fair as the EPRDF claims. The corollary of all this is that if the National Electoral Board declares the ruling party victorious then they will take this as positive proof that the election has been rigged. The underlying assumption is that there is no chance that the peoples of Ethiopia would choose any other party or candidate than their own in a free election. It is symptomatic of their arrogance and their anti-democratic proclivity that they assume people must vote them into office before they will consider the process free and fair. It is an attitude that borders dangerously on contempt for the voters as well as for the whole electoral process.

    The bottom line is that there are still some politicians who refuse to settle for an outcome less than that of victory no matter how free and fair the process, and they seem more than prepared to muddy the waters if their wishes are not met. This is both unfair and unhelpful. Unfair, because it discounts all positive developments registered so far as inconsequential. There has in fact never been a time in the history of this country in which so many people have been positively affected by the fundamental political changes that have taken place in the last two decades. People have a much more solid understanding of what constitutes their best interests and the resources to allow them to make choices on the basis of sound political judgment. It is unhelpful because it threatens to render the entire political process hostage to the ambitions of politicians who have difficulty in thinking beyond a single election term. Such an attitude can gather unchecked momentum that is not easily affected by rational discourse. Ethiopians deserve better.


Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Ministry of Foreign Affairs