President Girma Woldegiorghis addresses the new Parliament
On Monday, President Girma Woldegiorghis inaugurated a joint session of the new House of Peoples’ Representatives and of the House of Federation, following the elections in May. Noting the success of those elections which he described as “peaceful, democratic and credible”, the President emphasized that the coming year would be particularly important as it would lay the basis for the implementation of the Five Year Growth and Transformation Plan. Based on the high growth rate over the last seven years, and on the building of a successful democratic system, President Girma said the Plan is expected to bring about a fundamental structural change and lay a strong foundation for Ethiopia’s renaissance. In preparation of the Growth and Transformation Plan the Government had held a series of public consultations in urban and rural areas, and gathered significant and important inputs. The Government was now in the last stage of finalizing the Plan which would be presented to Parliament for endorsement. It will focus on strengthening the macro-economic framework, and will give special attention to stabilizing grain prices, increasing agricultural productivity and preventing inflation from rising above the current single figure level by taking action to balance money supply and growth. On the basis of the recent adjustment of foreign exchange rates, it is expected that the foreign exchange market will stabilize to encourage exports and import substitution.
The President noted that the Growth and Transformation Plan would require significant amounts of development finance to develop renewable energy resources, and modern telecommunications and infrastructure and expand land and air transport. Loans and foreign assistance would make an important contribution but the Government was planning to secure the decisive portion of the necessary finance from domestic resources. It would therefore be paying special attention to revenue collection and to tax evasion as well as taking measures to develop a culture of saving. It would also continue to carry out various activities to increase job and wealth creation, expand participatory developmental opportunities for women and youth in both urban and rural areas, and design and implement social welfare programs. The President noted that a salary increment would be given to civil servants in the second half of the financial year.
The President also spoke of the efforts to be made to strengthen and deepen the multi-party system in the country, and to make sure institutions and organizations are in place to encourage peoples’ participation. Consultation forums will be set up to enable opposition parties that respect the constitution to be involved in all aspects of public affairs. The President noted that every effort would be made to build on the past efforts in civil service and justice sector reform. Effective implementation of the Growth and Transformation Plan required these should be informed by developmental principles and the sense of service that govern the political process. Laws and proclamations for the necessary reforms would be promulgated and the necessary restructuring carried out.
President Girma also referred to security. Steps will be taken, he said, to ensure internal peace and stability, and to enhance citizens’ participation in this. The Government would redouble its efforts either to deal with elements working in collaboration with Eritrea and its sponsorship of terrorism, or to persuade them into peaceful avenues. The Government would remain vigilant in response to anyone attempting to destabilize the region.
The President also referred to the House of Federation which would be responsible for revising and adopting the formula for the distribution of subsidies to the regional states. It will carry out educational activities to raise levels of understanding of the Constitution, and help enhance the country’s decentralized political system. The House of Federation will also do everything necessary to see that the Fifth International Conference on Federalism, being held later this year, is successful.
The same day, the House of Representatives re-elected the Chairman of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, Ato Meles Zenawi, as Prime Minister. Ato Abadula Gameda and Wo. Shitaye Minale were elected Speakers and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Ato Kassa Tekle Berhan, Speaker of the House of Federation. The following day, Prime Minister Meles announced the members of his new cabinet.
As the new Foreign Minister, A Week in the Horn would like to welcome Ato Hailemariam Desalegn, the deputy chairman of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, elected at its recent congress. He has also been appointed deputy prime minister. A former deputy head and then president of the Southern Regional State, Ato Hailemariam is also chairman of the Southern Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Movement (SEPDM), demonstrating the capacity for leadership to which Prime Minister Meles has drawn attention. He takes over as Foreign Minister from Ato Seyoum Mesfin, who held that position since the EPRDF came to power in 1991. Ato Hailemariam was previously Government Whip in the House of Representatives; he has also been Social Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister with the rank of Minister as well as chairing several Boards, including the Privatization and Public Enterprises Supervisory Agency and currently the Ethiopian Railway Corporation. Ato Hailemariam studied engineering at university and after graduation served as a lecturer and then as Dean of the Water Technical Institute at Arbaminch in the Southern Regional State. He entered politics and joined SEPDM when it was set up in November 1992, bringing together a total of 20 parties which subsequently merged into a single movement a decade later.
Al-Shabaab losing ground after its failed Ramadan offensive in Mogadishu
On 23 August, Al-Shabaab’s spokesperson in Mogadishu, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage held a press conference on the outskirts of the city to declare ‘a final offensive”, calling for an all-out attack on AMISOM and TFG forces to eliminate the invaders. He called on the Mujahidin to wipe out foreign forces and those of the TFG and destroy government bases, advising the public to dig holes to protect themselves from AMISOM artillery. His statement was immediately followed by a series of Al-Shabaab attacks from different positions in Bondheere, Hodan and Howlwadaag districts of the city, and the blocking of the main roads.
Earlier, the government had been promising for several months to launch its own offensive against Al-Shabaab positions in Mogadishu. As a result, Al-Shabaab had been building up its own forces in preparation for this, and it was these forces it used in its own Ramadan offensive. It had brought all of its own forces into the capital city, while keeping a sizeable reserve of untrained teenagers nearby. Ignoring statements from the Organization of Islamic Clerics of Somalia that fighting the government and AMISOM did not constitute a Jihad (a holy war), only a political conflict, and that it wasn’t right to carry out fighting during Ramadan, Al-Shabaab attacked on the 17th day of Ramadan.
Before Al-Shabaab was halted and pushed back at the end of the first week of fighting, hundreds of its young teenage fighters had been killed, and more than eight hundred wounded. Many of its fighters ran away. It appears Al-Shabaab itself also killed more than a hundred of its own most seriously wounded on the pretext of speeding them to paradise. This is a new phenomenon, surprising many within its own ranks. Al-Shabaab also lost many of its leading commanders and amirs. Following the defeat of Al-Shabaab fighters, rejuvenated TFG forces have begun to extend their area of control as people have begun to get confidence that Al-Shabaab cannot overrun the government forces and positions as it claimed. In fact, the latest fighting has helped people who had been living under Al-Shabaab control to understand its true colors. Under constant threat of death, they had been forced, however unwillingly, to pay money and fight the “muctadiin” – those who go astray – as Al-Shabaab clerics call the TFG.
There are a number of reasons why Al-Shabaab’s Ramadan offensive was defeated. AMISOM forces were just too powerful. Many of its fighters were simply untrained youth, forced or persuaded into its ranks by false propaganda. There was a visible lack of popular support for Al-Shabaab after it had carried out a whole series of barbaric actions. Most ordinary people are now aware that it is not carrying out the religious activity it claimed to do, but was rather operating some foreign instigated ideology which actually contradicts Islamic principles. The killing of innocents, amputations and suicide bombings can all be considered unethical in traditional Somali culture, and Al-Shabaab propaganda has begun to lose its effect. People have started reacting against Al-Shabaab. Earlier this week, some Al-Shabaab warehouses and other properties in Arafat district were looted.
Al-Shabaab itself has also begun to be affected by internal disagreements. There was dispute about the timing of the offensive. Once Al-Shabaab forces failed to advance towards State House, disputes over tactics and strategy began to surface. Other divisions have become apparent. According to sources inside Al-Shabaab, one main cause of conflict arose over financial matters. As a result Sheikh Muktar Robow Abu Mansur has withdrawn the Al-Shabaab fighters from the Digil and Mirifle clans. He has also demanded that the Amir of Al-Shabaab, Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed ‘Godane’ and Fu’ad Mohamed Khalaf Shangole, who commanded the offensive in Mogadishu, should resign. Fu’ad Shangole recently went down to Kismayo to try to recruit more forces, even seizing children as young as ten to be trained at the old meat factory there.
The foreign element within Al-Shabaab is trying to resolve what amounts to a power struggle between the top leadership. This is not, however, the first time for Al-Shabaab leaders to fight among themselves. Al-Shabaab is losing public support at a surprising rate, from the pressures caused by forced levies and an enforced Jihad, and from its links to Al-Qaeda’s unpopular and radical version of religion. Power within Al-Shabaab now appears to be falling into the hands of a more militant and extreme group within the organization. There is therefore, a need for the government to remobilize itself quickly. President Sheikh Sharif should nominate a new prime minister as quickly as possible, and do this in consultation with the Speaker of Parliament, so that a vote of confidence can be carried out in a proper and credible manner. The unity and cohesion of the TFG leadership must be demonstrated in a concrete manner as the international community has demanded. This would encourage the international community to realize the promises it has made and move forward urgently. The promises made at the Mini-Summit in New York and the subsequent ICG meeting in Madrid should be fulfilled as soon as the TFG moves to address the challenges it faces. The setback to Al-Shabaab caused by the defeat of its Ramadan offensive is only a setback. It lost heavily and this, and its internal disputes, has led to its withdrawal from a number of places in Mogadishu and elsewhere. This provides a real opportunity for the international community to redeem its promises and take immediate action to support the TFG and the Djibouti Peace Process.
Meanwhile, the President of Somaliland, Mr. Ahmad Muhammad Silanyo, has accused the Eritrean government of training and arming Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) forces and then smuggling them into Somaliland to clandestinely cross the border into Ethiopia. The President made his statement at a graduation ceremony at the University of Hargeisa earlier this week. He condemned the Eritrean government for organizing and sponsoring the landing of ONLF fighters on Somaliland soil, calling it an act of terrorism, a gross interference in Somaliland’s affairs, and a threat to neighboring countries. The President emphasized that the Somaliland government has now taken steps to counter this and other threats to the country’s security. It would also take further measures to prevent any repetition of such activity. The group of about 240 ONLF terrorists trained and armed by Eritrea tried to enter Ethiopia via Somaliland last month. They were surrounded on the border between Somaliland and Ethiopia and have been either killed or captured. One result of the incursion was that Eritrea was not welcomed at the recent UN’s Mini-Summit on Somalia in New York.
President Isaias’ version of Eritrea: Prosperous and Normal!
This week President Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea convened one of his rare cabinet meetings, taking the opportunity to lecture his lieutenants at length on a range of issues both domestic and regional. His ‘extensive briefing’ was full of superlatives regarding what he claims to be Eritrea’s continuing all-round success in various areas. Hearing President Isaias relate it, one is forced to ask if this is indeed the same country the rest of the world knows about. There was nothing of the grim picture from which Eritrean nationals flee in their hundreds almost daily. The rosy picture the President offered even included significant progress in the areas of media and justice, the very areas in which Eritrea is believed to have fared the worst. The General Assembly of the East African Journalists Association, which closed a three day meeting last weekend, noted specifically that some thirty Eritrean journalists had remained jailed, since September 2001, making Eritrea the greatest jailer of journalists in Africa. The Eritrea Government holds these journalists incommunicado, without charge or trial, defying repeated calls and appeals for their release.
According to the President, however, there is literally no area in which Eritrea has failed to register huge successes. Indeed, as so often, he goes on to warn Eritreans to remain vigilant against “external forces” and “enemy quarters” who are frustrated from failing in their agenda and will stop at nothing to prevent “Eritrea’s progress from getting added momentum”. On regional issues, President Isaias blamed what he called unilateral strategic errors and the resulting “external interference” for the “delicate” situation obtaining in the region. Eritrea, however, he claimed would continue to offer “as always” its policy of “constructive engagement” in the region, in line with “its correct and clear stance of promoting the common interests and aspirations of the peoples of the whole region.” This is a surprising claim coming from a government and its leader whose track record has consistently been anything but constructive.
Indeed, conspicuously missing in any of his marathon briefings has been any indication that his government might be willing to try and resolve its differences with the international community without resorting to his usual technique of offering to give way to a minimal degree when forced into a corner. Nor did the President offer any kind of acknowledgement that he might have made any mistake. Neither the agreement with Djibouti nor the overtures that the leadership has tried to make to some elements in the UN were mentioned.
In fact, President Isaias appears poised to defy the international community even more obviously than before. Once again, for Eritrea, it is the international community, not Eritrea, which is in the wrong. Eritrea therefore expects the international community to get its act together and accept Eritrea’s views. It is Eritrea which has a monopoly over what constitutes the right path towards peace in Somalia. It is the government in Asmara that everyone else must follow if they are serious about bringing about lasting solutions to most of the conflicts in the region and in particular in Somalia. Eritrea, President Isaias claims unabashedly, holds the key to every problem that is bedeviling the region.
In one way, of course, President Isaias may well be right. It is after all Eritrea which has single-handedly made enemies of almost all its neighbors. It is Eritrea which has armed and trained dozens of insurgent groups and terrorist elements throughout most countries in the region. It is Eritrea which continues to arm and equip the likes of Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam in defiance of persistent calls by the international community to stop such destabilizing activities. Eritrea could indeed contribute a great deal to resolving many of the conflicts in the region if it genuinely wished to do so, not as a mere gimmick to try to get itself off the hook of sanctions but in a manner consistent with the rules governing normal state-to-state relations.
This would also mean that Eritrea and its leaders would have to change their ways, and learn, however difficult the process might be, to follow the norms of international behavior. In actuality, if its recent indications of continued support to Al-Shabaab are any guide, the regime in Asmara can only be described as incorrigible. Even after all their promises to senior UN officials to encourage ‘the moderate’ elements of extremist organizations into peaceful paths, the leaders of Eritrea still continue to extend all kinds of support to Al-Shabaab and similar extremist and terrorist organizations. That is why the international community should take care not to fall for the rhetoric of President Isaias or his government’s tricks. That is also why the international community should also start to take the necessary concrete steps to back up its words with deeds, with the full implementation of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1907.
Core Principles of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy: Ethiopia-Yemen relations
Ethiopia and The Republic of Yemen have deep rooted and symbiotic historical and cultural relations signified by the shared legends of the Queen of Sheba and Abraha, a viceroy for the Emperors of Axum in the 6th century. Indeed, relations between the two countries are so rich in all aspects that one can only mention the highlights. There is a strong resemblance in terrain and in the architectural design of buildings both in Yemen and in various parts of Ethiopia, underlining the strong ties between the two countries. Geez and Sabean alphabets are very similar, emphasizing the long and strong cultural relations. The free movement of people from one to the other since ancient times has made the assimilation of the peoples of the two countries both possible and easy. Today, there are thousands of Ethiopians living in different parts of Yemen; at the same time many Yemenis live in Ethiopia. The presence of the Yemeni Community School in Addis Ababa is one indication of this fact. It plays a substantive role in strengthening people-to-people relations. Yemenis have not forgotten that Ethiopia provided a place of sanctuary for many Yemenis during the rule of the Imams after the 2nd World War before the Yemen Arab Republic was set up in 1962. In turn, Ethiopia is deeply indebted to those Yemeni troops who came to fight for Ethiopia to help stop the aggression of Siad Barre, the then dictator of Somalia, in 1977-78.
Diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Yemen were inaugurated in 1935. Relations continued even when Yemen was divided into two separate states, and have continued since the unification in 1990. Since then Ethiopia and The Republic of Yemen have had their embassies in Sana’a and Addis Ababa respectively. Relations today between the two states are excellent, operating on the basis of history, kinship and family reinforced by a joint approach and attitude towards bilateral relations in regional policies, in economics and in trade. There have been a number of high level visits from each country, though bilateral relations really only flourished on a major scale after the fall of the Derg and the EPRDF’s coming to power. Today, Ethiopia and Yemen have a Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) that operates at ministerial level. This was set up to follow up implementation of the various agreements, political, economic and social, that have been signed at different times. The two countries have an excellent record of cooperation in fighting terrorism, human trafficking, and other illegal acts, and this aspect of cooperation can certainly be expected to continue and expand.
The volume of trade between Ethiopia and Yemen is less than might be expected between two sisterly countries, but it is on the increase. Ethiopia exports to Yemen mainly consists of cattle and livestock as well as other agricultural products; it imports various consumer goods, including chemical compounds. There is ample scope for increasing trade activities between the two nations based on the principles of comparative advantages and South-South Cooperation. Indeed, Yemeni investors have now started looking towards Ethiopia on a substantial scale. A number of joint activities have been set up and some are now operational. The numbers can be expected to rise sharply as numerous other projects have been approved but not yet implemented. There is a Joint Implementation Follow-up Committee that looks after the implementation of projects and the resolution of problems that investors might encounter. A Memorandum of Understanding for the creation of a “Joint Business Council” has also been signed between the respective Chambers of Commerce. These are essential pre-conditions to help expand economic relations between Ethiopia and Yemen. They also indicate the interest of both countries to take their relationship to the highest possible level.
Yemen and Ethiopia also co-operate extensively in multilateral forums. Together with Sudan, Ethiopia and Yemen were co-founders of the Sana’a Forum for Cooperation, set up in 2002. This plays a pivotal role in bringing some of the countries of the Horn of Africa and Yemen together. The Forum is currently composed of five members with the Republic of Djibouti and the TFG of Somalia becoming members. The aims of the Sana’a Forum include enhancing co-operation in the areas of economics, trade, investment and tourism as well as social development, education and health in the Horn of Africa, as well as addressing the political and security interests of member states in the southern part of the Red Sea.
A joint concern for the Forum as well as for Ethiopia and Yemen is terrorism and piracy which affects the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Ethiopia, of course, has no coastline but the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are major waterways and piracy affects Ethiopia’s trade through Djibouti and has serious economic implications for both Ethiopia and Yemen with insurance and other costs rising. Yemen and Ethiopia agree that solution of the problem lies in Somalia and without stability there, piracy cannot be solved.
As we have noted, Ethiopia and Yemen have excellent relations sharing many common interests at both bilateral and multi-lateral levels, sharing information and acting jointly on issues like terrorism and the peace and security of the sub region. There is every reason to believe this will continue. Equally, Ethiopia strongly believes that such a relationship can and will continue to expand and progress as the impact of development in either country is felt fully – there are still a number of additional fields of cooperation that have yet to be fully explored.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs