An EASBRIG meeting in Addis Ababa prepares for the Kampala summit
A high-level Legal and Political Experts Meeting of the Eastern Africa Region Brigade (EASBRIG) was held last week in Addis Ababa. The meeting was convened according to the directives of the 2nd Extraordinary Meeting of the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments to discuss EASBRIG on 17th March in Moroni, in the Comoros. The Summit directed that a committee should be set up to review progress towards producing a policy framework for EASBRIG. One high-level legal or political expert should be drawn from each member state under the chairmanship of Djibouti. The committee was to be assisted by AU Experts. It was agreed that an Extraordinary Council of Ministers meeting review the report by the end of June and report its finding to the AU Kampala Summit in July. In line with the EASBRIG’s rules of procedure, Djibouti chaired the meeting with Ethiopia as Vice-Chair. In the absence of the Union of Comoros, Brigadier General Silver Moses Kayemba, the former Rapporteur from Uganda, was unanimously chosen to serve as rapporteur.
The Director of EASBRICOM, Major-General (rtd) Cyrille Ndayirukiye, in his opening statement, welcomed all participants to the Expert Working Group meeting. He reminded participants that the report of the meeting had to be presented to the Heads of States and Governments during the AU Summit in July for consideration and adoption. He underlined that the main purpose of the meeting was to maintain the cohesion of the region, and to create a structure that can accommodate all types of peace and security operational requirements before, during and after missions. Ethiopia’s Minister of State for National Defence, Ato Kasahun Dender, welcomed all participants to the meeting and summarized the achievements of EASBRIG, highlighted the successful conduct of the Command Post Exercise (CPX) in 2008, and the Field Training Exercise (FTX) in 2009 in Djibouti. The military PLANELM has been fully staffed, the civilian and police components have been developed to full capacity and approval has been made to develop an EASBRIG Maritime Concept. The State Minister recognized the fact that the draft of the proposed revised Harmonized Policy Framework Document has been under discussion for almost three years without any consensus. He reminded participants that they had been tasked with an important role over the following three days. As key advisers to EASBRIG, they needed to critically review the matter and forward well-thought out recommendations to the Summit. He urged the meeting to treat their mandate with the seriousness it deserved and produce a balanced and unbiased report for the decision makers. He expressed the hope that the experts would come up with recommendations that would further enhance the cohesion of the region and help it move forward together in unison.
The meeting came to the conclusion that the revised Harmonised Policy Framework could not serve as the working document since it had not been developed by the member states of the Eastern Africa Region. Instead, the meeting considered the Policy Framework on the Establishment of EASBRIG (2004) and the EASBRIG Memorandum of Understanding (2005). It decided that these two documents should be updated to incorporate the developments that had occurred since they had been originally adopted. There were extensive discussions on the changes needed for EASBRIG according to the AU’s Peace and Security Council’s protocol and EASBRIG’s MoU with the AU, as well as necessary changes arising from various decisions made by the Council of Ministers of Defence and Security. The experts made a number of amendments to be considered by the upcoming Council of Ministers meeting to be held on the side lines of the AU Summit. The meeting was concluded in a spirit of cooperation and constructiveness for the mutual benefit of the organization and of all member states.
The Norwegian Foreign Minister in Ethiopia
Norwegian Foreign Minister, Mr. Jonas Gahr Store, paid an official visit to Ethiopia on Thursday and Friday last week, responding to the visit of Foreign Minister Seyoum to Norway in April. Mr. Store’s visit was also the continuation of ongoing periodic political consultations between the two Foreign Ministers, and Minster Seyoum welcomed his Norwegian counterpart warmly. The two ministers conducted extensive discussions on wide-ranging bilateral and regional issues of common interest. Minister Seyoum expressed satisfaction over the current state of relations between the two countries and thanked the Norwegian Government for its continued economic cooperation with Ethiopia. He noted the Norwegian business community was well placed to engage in investment ventures which could have a positive and sustainable impact on development, as it had technological advantages in a number of particular areas of interest, including energy, agriculture and mining. Following the roundtable business discussion held by Minister Seyoum in Oslo, a number of Norwegian companies have shown interest in investment ventures in Ethiopia. Preparation is currently underway to organize a business seminar in Addis Ababa in November; a number of prominent Norwegian companies are expected actively to participate.
Minister Seyoum also briefed his visitor on last month’s national election. He underlined that the election had been conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner with unprecedented voter turnout. Whatever some detractors might claim, the voters had given a very clear verdict on the numerous parties which had participated. Minister Seyoum emphasized that elections were one of the most important elements in creating democratic governance and a democratic society; the election demonstrated that the process of democratic transformation in Ethiopia was taking the right trajectory. The Norwegian Minister expressed his satisfaction that the elections had been concluded in an orderly and peaceful climate. Norway, he noted, had participated indirectly in election observation through the Norwegian nationals on the EU Election Observers Mission. The Minister congratulated Minister Seyoum and the winning party for their victory.
Mr. Store emphasized that the overall trajectory of Ethiopian-Norwegian economic and political relations were heading in the right direction. His government was committed to further strengthen existing bilateral relations. He noted that the visit made to Norway by Minister Seyoum last April had begun to produce results in motivating Norwegian entrepreneurs who were already beginning to show strong interest in investment in Ethiopia. The Minister added that the economic activities he had observed during his short visit to Addis Ababa were a clear manifestation of the economic growth Ethiopia has recently achieved.
The two Ministers conducted extensive discussions on current political and security developments in Sudan and Somalia. They exchanged views on current events in both countries and reviewed the challenges and prospects for peaceful negotiations of political dispute, and the role that might be played by the international community. They agreed that Ethiopia and Norway must play their fair share in the effort to bring about the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Somalia and the Sudan. During his visit, the Norwegian Minster also met and held similar discussions with Prime Minister Meles.
Is the TFG making headway in Somalia?
Following the election of Sharif Hassan Sheikh Ahmed to replace the previous Speaker, Sheikh Aden Madobe, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Parliament has now chosen the two deputy Speakers: the first deputy is Abdi Weli Sheikh Mudey, from the Reer Hassan and a representative of minority clans; the second deputy Speaker is Ahmed Dhimbel Roble Asow, from the Gadabursi, a Dir clan. Now that the Parliamentary Presidium is fully in place the next stage is to strengthen the confidence of the Cabinet and then focus full government attention and activities on the frail security situation. The successful completion of the election of the parliamentary leadership should now close the bitter row that has been going on within the leadership of the TFG for the last couple of months. It had been a real source of concern for all those engaged in trying to make peace and national reconciliation a reality in Somalia. The successful election of the deputy Speakers and the Speaker certainly suggest the parliament may now be able to get to grips with the run up to the transition that is expected to happen next year in accordance with the Djibouti Agreement. Parliament has to draw up and pass a number of laws and legal instruments for the transition.
The elections for the Speaker and his deputies can be considered an important step for the proper functioning of government and will give supporters of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia greater confidence. Nevertheless much remains to be done, not least in keeping the cabinet together, as the resignation this week of the State Minister of Defence, Sheikh Yusuf Indha ‘Adde, has underlined. Prime Minister Omar Ali Sharmarke still has a lot of work to do to ensure real improvements in the security situation in Mogadishu.
On Thursday last week, TFG security forces, in collaboration with AMISOM troops, carried out a surprise assault on some strategic positions in the Abdiaziz and Karan districts of North Mogadishu. The government’s aim was to clear Al-Shabaab out of positions seized by Al-Shabaab’s foreign fighters in the middle of last year. The fighting began in the early hours of the morning, and after Al-Shabaab had damaged a tank and another armored vehicle in early clashes, it invited various media to see its success. It proved premature. Newly trained TFG forces were then deployed much to the surprise of Al-Shabaab, forcing the Al-Shabaab fighters out of their positions. Among those involved was a nine hundred-strong battalion of new troops, recently trained in Uganda. Other TFG forces which had been trained in Ethiopia, and which had been based around the old port, were also involved in the operation and these provided the TFG forces and AMISOM with the necessary edge to win a significant victory. A number of important foreign and local insurgents were killed during the fight, including some nine top Al-Shabaab commanders, among which four were foreigners. They included senior figures tasked with teaching Somali recruits the use of explosive devices and the making of homemade bombs. Their deaths will be a serious blow to Al-Shabaab terrorist operations. Among the local members of Al-Shabaab killed in the fighting was Zakaria Abu Abdalla, Al-Shabaab’s operational commander for North Mogadishu operations. Meanwhile, in the central region, the forces of Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a (ASWJ) completely routed an attempt by Al-Shabaab to attack the environs of Dhusmareb, driving Al-Shabaab forces away towards Eel-bur. It was another impressive victory for ASWJ’s fighters.
Eritrea: genuine overtures for peace or more of the same?
The short history of Eritrea has been a record of a long list of political blunders, costly military adventures and disastrous diplomatic gambles. In a span of 15 years, it has managed to make enemies out of literally all its neighbours. But its leaders’ capacity for outdoing themselves in every one of these areas has never seemed to run out. It is to be recalled that following Eritrea’s invasion of sovereign Djibouti territory, and its destabilizing activities in Somalia and the entire the Horn of Africa, the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions 1862 demanding that it withdraw its forces from Djiboutian territory and desist from its support to extremist elements in Somalia. This was later followed by UNSC Resolution 1907 imposing targeted sanctions on Eritrean officials and institutions implicated in the acts of abetting terror.
Rather than mending its ways and abandoning its destructive moves that landed it in trouble, Eritrea nevertheless continued to prevaricate and to openly deny that it was indeed responsible for all the wrongdoing it was accused of. Of course, evidence has never been in short supply as Eritrea’s leaders never tired of flaunting their ill-advised activities in public. But addressing the root cause of problems has never been Eritrea’s leaders’ strong point. Ever since the imposition of the sanctions, the regime in Asmara has been waging a feverish campaign to deflect attention from it and to appear to be the underdog. All the media and diplomatic blitz was all along meant to point the finger at the wrong direction, not to assume responsibility. But the pattern of Eritrea’s behaviour has been such that it is always difficult to foresee its next move. One such incident has occurred this past week.
For a long time now, Eritrea’s leaders have been denying that there even was any crisis between Djibouti and Eritrea, much less assume responsibility for instigating it. As recently as two weeks ago, Eritrean officials were writing letters after letters to the UN emphatically denying that there was indeed and conflict between the two countries. In a letter submitted to the UN entitled “Eritrea’s Position on Relations with Djibouti”, Eritrean officials stated that “there was no good faith ‘border dispute’ between Eritrea and Djibouti” and that “the putative ‘border dispute’ was contrived by the US Administration officials in order to find new pretexts to blame and corner Eritrea.” As the Eritrean president has repeatedly stated, he only ‘learned’ of the dispute from the Emir of Qatar. But all of a sudden, there was an announcement last week that a peace agreement negotiated by the Emir of Qatar was signed between the two countries. According to the official statement following the signing of the agreement, the Eritrean government has now agreed to withdraw its forces from Ras Doumera and Qatari forces will replace the Eritrean forces. In addition to the withdrawal of its forces, the government of Eritrea has also agreed to pay compensation for the government of Djibouti, practically assuming responsibility for its act of aggression. This is a far cry from the emphatic denial just a week earlier, but not entirely surprising in the light of Eritrea’s pattern of behaviour.
This is in itself a welcome development, of course. But without too much second-guessing the merits of the agreement, one cannot nonetheless wonder as to the obvious lack of transparency surrounding the entire process. More importantly, most entities involved with the whole issue were kept in the dark with respect to the way in which the agreement was concluded. The AU has expressed its support to the initiative upon being communicated by the Emir of Qatar but it still appears to have no grasp on its details. The UN is no different, and none of the relevant UN organs have been kept in the loop. In light of Eritrea’s flip-flopping tendencies, it is altogether difficult to be all that enthusiastic about the signing of the agreement. After all, the leaders of Eritrea were claiming only two weeks ago that the border dispute was the fabrication of the US government. Otherwise, this is a welcome development although it remains to be seen if this will also be repeated in all other conflicts in which Eritrea is involved. As the statement by Mr. Jean Ping, Chairman of the AU Commission pointed out, it remains to be seen if this positive gesture will also be repeated in connection with Somalia and the rest of the sub-region.
The challenges of AU election observer missions
The May 2010 national and regional elections in Ethiopia were indeed interesting in many ways and also contained a lot of lessons. The Prime Minister admitted immediately following the announcement of the provisional results, that the ruling party never expected such a sweeping landslide victory for the ruling party. Landslide victories in an election are of course not unknown in the development of the democratic process in Ethiopia: One recalls the sweeping electoral success that the opposition had in Addis Ababa in 2005. Had the opposition not declined to take over the city administration in 2005, Addis would have been ruled by the opposition since 2005 without as much as even two seats in the name of the ruling party.
It is not only the ruling party that was surprised by the results of the May 2010 election. The opposition was equally surprised: They never thought that the electorate would reject the opposition with such vehemence. There is nonetheless a need for a caveat here. As the Prime Minister said in an interview following the election, a landslide now does not necessarily preclude another disaster for the ruling party at the next election. As the Prime Minister said, it is only dedicated work and commitment to promoting the interests of the electorate that would guarantee success in elections to both the ruling party and the opposition. There are also lessons to be drawn from this latest historic election in Ethiopia; not only for Ethiopians but for the AU and its member states. This is in relation to the activities of the AU election observer mission.
Let there be no confusion on one important matter — the credibility of the AU observer mission. The former President of Botswana, the chief of the AU observer mission is an honourable man, and has always been. The close to eighty observers of the AU mission came from diverse background and were drawn from governmental as well as civil society organizations. There is absolutely no ground for casting aspersions on the credibility of the AU verdict on the May 2010 elections in Ethiopia. The AU observer mission’s conclusion on the election was that it indeed reflected the will of the Ethiopian people.
It is not necessary to dwell on the fact that some have tried to attack the credibility of the AU pronouncement on the latest Ethiopian elections. But one general suggestion can be offered: the negative reaction to the AU statement on the Ethiopian elections is a product of either arrogance of the characteristic variety or partisanship. But what is most interesting about this latest Ethiopian election as it relates to the AU observer mission was the amount of pressure that the mission had apparently come under, from various sources, to get it to abandon ownership of its own assessment. A close scrutiny of developments surrounding the May elections reveal that there were indeed efforts made by various groups and personalities to sway the opinion of the AU observer mission’s verdict away from the factual and one based on the examination of the process, towards the judgmental, based on considerations that have nothing to do with the facts on the ground.
The lesson to be drawn from the May 2010 election as far as the AU observer mission is concerned is that the Mission has indeed proven its mettle and has made Africa proud. Additional lessons for AU observer missions in general: vigilance and commitment to principles.
Is it about democracy, really? Taking stock of the views of Fortune’s anonymous author
The spectacular success with which the recently held election was conducted has been widely debated throughout the country. The enthusiastic support the results of the election received from various sections of the peoples of Ethiopia has also been all too palpable. The pre and post election developments have shown to the whole world that the peoples of Ethiopia have no use for violence as a means of expressing their support for or opposition to contending political parties. The fact that the majority of opposition parties have already conceded defeat and vowed to continue to work on the basis of the inter-party cooperative framework already in place, was another welcome development that helped instil confidence in the overall process. To the extent that there are few voices of rejection bent on violence or street action, they have little, if any, going for them as the peoples of Ethiopia are unequivocal about their commitment to the ideals of peace and democracy. There is indeed consensus even among supporters of the opposition that the results were in fact the true reflections of the will of the people.
Ironically, the largely peaceful and calm conduct of the election has also generated a lot of negative interest among too many a commentator both from within and abroad. Though very few, the chorus of criticism of detractors is getting louder with each passing day. One such commentary by an anonymous writer did appear on the English weekly Fortune, entitled, “EPRDF aims for Chinese model legitimacy not Democracy”,(06.08.2010). The article showcases almost a laundry list of all the accusations often flung against the credentials of the government by many foreign commentators. It is clear that the article was written by people who are disinclined to give the incumbent the benefit of the doubt even for a moment for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not the election results reflected the true will of the peoples of Ethiopia. The assumptions embedded in the article are unmistakably ideological and betray an entrenched bias not only to the government but also to the peoples of Ethiopia. The article is full of assumptions all too liberally assembled to fit the writer’s preconceived notions of all that has gone wrong in Ethiopian politics. Even the very fact that the name of the author is withheld speaks a lot about the writer’s intentions. It would be all too naïve to ask if such could have been the case if the article was to appear in a western newspaper.
The basic assumption of the article is that an election in which the results fall short of unseating the incumbent—much less one in which it wins a landslide—could ever be considered even remotely legitimate no matter how free and fair its conduct might have been. It contends that the ruling party had completely discredited its “already soft democratic credentials with the farcical elections of 2010”, that is to say, the results of the election which saw the ruling coalition sweep the great majority of parliamentary seats. The author of the article thinks that the result is unjustifiable and further asserts that EPRDF won a victory of force, “fully convincing Ethiopians that the cost of opposition is pain and exclusion, even death.” But these assertions are mere innuendos woefully bereft of even the scantiest of evidence. In fact, all the observer missions in this election have made it abundantly clear that there was hardly any substantive merit to such a claim. As if to make up for the yawning gap between such a hollow claim and the realities on the ground, the anonymous author takes refuge in threadbare argument that the people of Ethiopia must have thought better of voting “against a ruling party that will refuse to relinquish power, anyway”, a position that is also shared among a great many commentators who have difficulty coming to terms with any prospect of the EPRDF’s remaining in power no matter how stellar the credibility of its electoral gains. Human Rights Watch’s claim that the election results were proof positive of “the retrospective falsification” of the process springs to mind.
The anonymous author, like many like-minded commentators, is not even remotely interested in the extent to which the electoral process was free and fair. It is the result that matters, and even so, it is the identity of the party/parties winning the election that matters most. True to form, this article is full of references as to how donors should leverage their aid “to beat EPRDF into line’; as to how the results are ‘farcical’ or ‘unjustifiable’; but there is little by way of attempting to show how unfair the process was. Even the magnanimous gesture of Prime Minister Meles to bring on board all opposition parties loyal to the constitution is nowhere mentioned in the article. The explanation is simple, of course: the only democratic and credible outcome is one in which the incumbent loses, shares powers with the opposition or is weakened to such an extent that it will be kept on its toes for the remainder of the term. Reading the Fortune piece, for example, one could not help wondering if the author believes the EPRDF should have parcelled out parliamentary seats to opposition bigwigs so there would be some semblance of competition.
Much as the author would wish to have us believe he/she is interested in democracy—free and fair elections, respect for popular will etc., that is—the article is rather about some ill-disguised ideological assumptions that have nothing to do with protecting the interests of the Ethiopian people. The main thrust of the article is on what Ethiopia should do to accommodate the interests of forces which have made it their business to arm-twist it into submitting to their terms. It is about the kinds of concessions it needs to make in order to win the benediction—hence legitimacy—of forces other than the peoples of Ethiopia. As the tell-tale title of the article suggests, Ethiopia under the EPRDF’s leadership is being accused of defying the orthodoxy preached by some in the west. True, its socio-economic policies and strategies may sometimes become harder to pigeonhole into ideological compartments acceptable to these forces. But this has everything to do with the realization that, in order to succeed, politics and economics need to reflect local realities. It is not uncommon for these groups to use one political discourse or another in order to sell a given economic narrative amenable to enhancing their own interests. As the anonymous author of this particular article repeatedly claims, the EPRDF has never parted with “Marxist” ambitions nor will it adopt a ‘truly market-based’ economy such as he/she would have liked to see in the country. The results of the recent election are therefore proof that the EPRDF is indeed drifting further away from the path of free market economy—which, incidentally, is equated with its breaking with its commitment to democratic ideals.
One of the self-serving assumptions in the article concerns EPRDF’s preferred sources of legitimacy- nationalism and prosperity—as a substitute for democracy, as if nationalism and prosperity are mutually exclusive with democracy. It is quite a strange dichotomy indeed. Even more interesting is the claim that EPRDF’s economic prosperity—which the author also tells us is way too exaggerated without caring to show how—is in fact meant to buy legitimacy from the peoples of Ethiopia. Whipping up nationalism, the author tells us, is a whole lot easier in Ethiopia because of “the rampant xenophobia” that permeates Ethiopian society. To even try to counter such a bizarre—libellous no less—characterization is tantamount to dignifying it by response. But the paternalistic tone is unmistakable. The article is replete with many such condescending remarks.
The author clearly resents what he believes to be a kid-glove treatment the EPRDF has always and will continue to receive from the west. He/she even wonders—angrily we might add—why Western governments “are willing to be reviled publicly by the Revolutionary Democrats and still shore them up.” The author does not stop there. As if to dare donors into action, He goes on to reassure them that, despite their [Ethiopians] unrealistic view of themselves as being “the center of the Earth”, and “major players in the war on terror”, they are in fact marginal players. In a sheer display of visceral contempt, the author tells us that “the West’s distinct interest is in not having another big famine in the world’s TV screens.” He then goes on to express his frustration that “strong action could not be expected against Ethiopia’s phoney elections” because “the West is not heavily concerned with human rights and democracy in Africa.” Ironically, the author appears to resent what he calls “Ethiopia’s marginal importance” as the reason why the ‘EPRDFites’ are getting away with whatever wrongdoing he imputes to them. In this case EPRDF’s fault lies in its fiercely defending its economic policy autonomy and unwillingness to submit to the dictates of others.
Ethiopia, we are told, is drifting further away from democracy because the west is not willing to beat EPRDF into line, by failing to leverage the aid it provides to the country. The author exhorts Western donors to get serious with the EPRDF because failure to do so, he argues, will spoil it into disregarding, as it were, their interests. That there are too many Chinese businesses in the country and throughout Africa apparently is fuelling the anonymous author’s fear. Through all this, what is conspicuously missing in the article is any mention of how all this would contribute to making the democratic process in Ethiopia any more vibrant than it has thus far been. Nor is any clue given to Ethiopia as to what measures it needs to take to ensure that the democratic process stays on track. This raises the question whether indeed the whole issue of democracy is just a smokescreen to advance another agenda far removed from the interests of the peoples of Ethiopia. What Ethiopia needs, the author intimates, is “a strong and unmitigated statement of commitment to the free market and openness to change.” He explains what he means by free market lest we should be mistaken: it is a system in which “the banking and telecommunication sectors, weak compared even to the rest of Africa” are fully liberalized. Where elections come in here is anybody’s guess.
In case we miss it, the author also reminds us, in unmistakably paternalistic fashion, that trying to import Chinese economic system is unwise, not least because “Chinese “deep anti-African racism could make European colonialism look like a school picnic.” What is striking here is how little or no regard is made to the national interest of Ethiopia and how flexible becomes the notion of what constitutes legitimately democratic or not. When Ethiopia does business with China it is rendered suspect; when it hands over strategic economic sectors to foreigners at the expense of its national interest, it qualifies it to become a reliable partner. Ethiopia’s choice does not have any place at all.
The author’s trenchant bias against the government of Ethiopia is only understandable. It is not altogether difficult to understand that he has bones to pick with the political order in Ethiopia either. First and foremost, Ethiopia’s democracy is that of its people and that is the only yardstick by which its success is to be measured. As for the use of aid to influence politics, we can only say that this is a tried method that has utterly failed several times over. Much as Ethiopia treasures its friendship with its partners East or West, North or South; it does not however allow others to choose friends for it. The Ethiopian people have said as much, and prudence would demand that others heed that.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs