A Week in the Horn (12.02.2010)


  • UN Sanctions and President Isaias’ rambling eight page letter to the President of the Security Council

    On December 23rd last year the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1907 (2009) imposing carefully targeted sanctions against Eritrea. The resolution was a belated response to Eritrea’s continued support to extremist groups in Somalia, and its failure to comply with Security Council Resolution 1862 nearly a year earlier concerning Eritrea’s invasion of Djibouti territory. The resolution demanded that Eritrea immediately withdraw its forces from Djibouti territory, acknowledge its dispute with Djibouti, take part in talks to defuse tensions and abide by its international obligations. It demanded that Eritrea cease all efforts to destabilize or overthrow, directly or indirectly, the TFG in Somalia. It imposed an embargo on arms to and from Eritrea, and announced travel restrictions and an asset freeze to apply to individuals, including but not necessarily limited to, the Eritrean political and military leadership. It might also include governmental and parastatal actors and entities owned by Eritrean nationals living in or outside Eritrea. Names will be designated by the Committee on Somali Sanctions. Member states were requested to report back to the Security Council within 120 days on the steps taken to implement the Resolution. The Security Council also emphasized that it would keep Eritrean actions under review and it was prepared to modify, strengthen or even lift the sanctions according to Eritrea’s compliance or otherwise with the provisions of the Resolution. It was made clear by the permanent Representative of the US to the UN, Ambassador Susan Rice, that the decision had been taken with a view to encouraging Eritrea to change its policies and to take up a more responsible and constructive role in the region.

    The Eritrean Government’s response to the Resolution and to suggestions that it might consider changing policies has been one of immediate and total rejection. The UN Security Council Resolution was immediately described as “shameful and unjustifiable”, as a “brazen act” based neither on fact nor on the provisions of international law, and a “travesty of justice”. This rapidly expanded to claim that the actions of the UN Security Council were “illegal”. Eritrea has been making the same claim about the actions of IGAD and of the African Union Summit. In the case of IGAD Eritrea suspended its membership two years ago; in the case of the AU, it has, of its own volition, deliberately refrained from sending a delegation to AU Summits in Addis Ababa for a number of years. In all three cases, the illegality appears to lie in daring either to call for or to implement sanctions against Eritrea.

    Eritrean Government supporters on the Internet have followed the same line claiming that the Resolution was illegal, as well as unfair and unjust. Whether it is unfair or unjust may be a matter of opinion, though any independent observer of the Horn of Africa might easily conclude that Eritrea’s aggressive policies over the last few years provide good reasons for the Security Council’s action. The issue of legality, however, is something else again. As the Security Council specified in Resolution 1907, it was acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, having determined that Eritrea’s actions in undermining peace and reconciliation in Somalia and its dispute with Djibouti constituted a threat to international peace and security. Security Council resolutions are legally binding if they are made under Chapter VII which allows for “Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression”. There can be no question of the legality of the Council’s action either under the Charter of the United Nations or under international law. No amount of sophistry about who influenced the council’s actions, whether Eritrea has recognized the Government of Somalia, or alleged coercion of council members, alters the fact that the Security Council was clearly convinced by the detailed evidence of Eritrean aggression and efforts at destabilization, and unimpressed by Eritrea’s repeated claims that the evidence did not exist.

    The major element of Eritrea’s response has been to blame others, in particular, the United States, though the relevance of this to the Security Council debate and Resolution 1907 appears minimal. An Eritrean Foreign Ministry statement said “it is shameful that the United States has been allowed to use the platform and authority of the United Nations to perpetrate injustices against the people and Government of Eritrea.” This was the main point of President Isaias in his own apparently personal and rambling eight page letter to the President of the Security Council written on January 19th. This claims the United States bears full responsibility for fomenting the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, for imperiling peace and stability in Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere in the region for over 20 years. It has been consistently hostile to Eritrea and continuously used its influence with the World Bank to deny development assistance to Eritrea. President Isaias has often claimed Eritrea does not want or expect development assistance and has deplored its effect in creating dependency in other African States. As usual setting up fallacious claims in order to deny them, President Isaias says the US has been harassing Eritrea because it refused to recognize the Government of Somalia. He then asks whether this should allow the Security Council to impose “punitive measures against a defenseless country”. Eritrea is in fact the most militarized country in Africa, and per capita, the most militarized in the world. ‘Defenseless’ is hardly the word to apply to a state that has also been the most aggressive in the Horn of Africa, in deed in Africa as a whole, since its formal independence nearly 17 years ago. It is in fact a letter that seems to indicate something of the confusion in Asmara’s state of mind, and the gravity of the leadership problem that Eritrea now faces. It is also a letter that makes it impossible to avoid sympathizing with the Eritrean people.

    President Isaias goes on to claim the sequence of events over Eritrea’s invasion of Djibouti territory, which he attempts to deny, demonstrates that this was no more than a fabrication of the United States for ‘ulterior purposes’. We do not need to support the United States, but few accusations have been as exaggerated and conspiratorial, even as mendacious, as those produced by President Isaias both in his letter to the President of the Security Council, or as given to various media outlets in recent weeks. The Washington Post summed up President Isaias’ attitude after a recent interview as defiant and opposed to such foreign ideas and imports as a free press, certain religions, electoral democracy and political parties. Overall, for President Isaias, it appears that Eritrea is the subject of a long and detailed campaign orchestrated by the US resulting in a “lopsided resolution that is not based on fact or international law, [and] that will only aggravate regional instability and insecurity….”. This would appear to be a clear threat to all those who are out of step with President Isaias himself and the Government of Eritrea.

    It is not just a question of international law. Eritrea has been working with terrorists and extremists in their egregious efforts at regional destabilization, in its efforts to impose its wishes on the region, in pursuit of its own hegemonic aspirations. This is why Africa, and now finally the rest of the world, is saying that this has to stop. This is an unambiguous message to the regime in Asmara from the Security Council, from Africa and from the international community that Eritrea must now mend its ways. It has been allowed to get away with far too much for far too long. Now it is time for the regime to change, to consider rejoining the civilized world once again, and demonstrate some regard for the interests and welfare of the people of Eritrea. Needless to say, this will certainly require that the Security Council take its own Resolution seriously enough to see to it that it is effectively implemented.

    It is perhaps worth repeating that the sanctions against Eritrea are not comprehensive; they are carefully targeted, aimed at specific individuals and entities not at the civilian population of Eritrea. Above all they underline the point that international relations are governed by international law and that this must be applied to the fullest extent in whatever country. The Security Council has clearly expressed the hope that Eritrea will respond positively. The reactions of the Government of Eritrea and of its President suggest that this is a vain hope. According to the Government of Somalia, Eritrea is still supporting extremist elements in Somalia. Certainly, it has made no effort to withdraw from Djibouti or to acknowledge the problems there; indeed it has rather begun to organize an armed opposition movement to the Government of President Ismail Omar Guellah.


  • TFG and Ahlu Sunna talks: making progress

    This week Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a (ASWJ) have been engaged in preliminary talks on how best to integrate their forces and work together in politics, religion and administration. Full co-operation in all these areas has become long overdue in face of the challenge posed by Al-Shabaab and its foreign fighters as well as continuing support from Eritrea and other external forces. Last week, Al-Shabaab officials openly declared their allegiance to al Qaeda under Osama Bin Laden. The Ras Kamboni militia, a part of the Hizbul Islam extremist coalition headed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir ‘Aweys’, announced it was joining Al –Shabaab. There are now reports that another militia in Hizbul Islam, the Anole militia which operates in Juba region near Kismayo, is also about to join Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab itself has been reported to be moving fighters into Mogadishu in anticipation of an expected offensive by the TFG in the near future. The Government announced this week that it was committed to the protection of the people and would respect international law. A spokesman said it would do “everything humanly possible to protect the population”; government forces were under orders to respect and protect civilians. No such assurances have been given by Al-Shabaab.

    This underlines the need for the TFG and Ahlu Sunna to stand together against their common enemy, the extremism and terrorism represented by Al-Shabaab, its foreign fighters and the external allies now involved in Somalia. The Somali Government noted this week that Eritrea, despite the UN Security Council sanctions announced on December 23rd, has continued to send funds and weaponry to Al-Shabaab and other extremist elements. The talks have been going well but unity between the TFG and Ahlu Sunna can be successful if, and only if, Ahlu Sunna is united within itself. Its recently established organs, its executive and the relevant advisory bodies, must work together and make decisions in conjunction with its spiritual leader as well as with Ahlu Sunna leaders in the Diaspora. Resolving any internal differences must be a matter of central importance for Ahlu Sunna.

    The Government itself also needs to fully recognize that real co-operation with a strong and unified Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a is in its own interest and in the interest of the people of Somalia. The efforts to reach full and meaningful accommodation between the TFG and Ahlu Sunna should be given complete priority at this critical moment. The Government and Ahlu Sunna are not adversaries. Both parties do recognize and agree that there is a real need for co-operation between them. It is, however, important to realize that all talk of support and co-operation needs to be within the framework of implementation of the June 2009 Nairobi declaration, and unless buttressed by specific agreements is unlikely to provide meaningful action against Al-Shabaab. This underlines the point that the two need to come together before Al-Shabaab can take any further advantage from their minor differences. Ahlu Sunna has suffered setbacks in Hiiraan region in the last two or three weeks.

    The peace process in Somalia would also benefit significantly from a further strengthening of existing co-operation between Ahlu Sunna and the administration in Puntland, and indeed between the TFG and the Puntland authorities. Similarly, the Governments of Somaliland and Puntland also need at least to act together over security in the face of the threats by Al-Shabaab and other extremist organizations. Any renewed confrontation between them merely creates opportunities for extremism. There is every reason for the TFG, Puntland, Somaliland and Ahlu Sunna to strengthen their current relationships and act together against internal and external extremists in Somalia and beyond. None has been spared the threat of extremism. Indeed, only this week, Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam renewed their threats more widely, against Kenya and Djibouti. No one should need to be reminded that standing aside while others are attacked is not an option; it merely postpones the day when extremists extend their assault to include everybody.


  • The need to respect African Union staff and their responsibilities

    Last week’s 14th Summit of the African Union, held between January 31st and February 2nd, was by any standards a success with the adoption of numerous important decisions on information and communication technologies, conflict situations, unconstitutional changes of government and the strengthening of the AU’s capacity, the Copenhagen Accord, and the AU budget for 2010. Despite attempts to extend the outgoing Chairperson’s tenure, the Summit unequivocally affirmed African Union rules in electing President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi as Chairman. He was the choice of the southern region whose turn it was to assume the rotating one year Chairmanship of the Union.

    Another attempt to bend the rules occurred on the night of January 30th when the Executive Council of the African Union met to adopt its decisions for forwarding to the Summit the next day. The meeting of the Council was due to start at 7:00 PM but did not officially begin until the early hours of the next morning, at 01:30 am. In the absence of the chairman, a couple of delegations pressed staff members of the Commission to draft a decision which had not been agreed by the Council. When it became clear staff members refused to go against the rules, they were subjected to abuse and threats. It was only when the overwhelming majority of member states present finally objected to the pressure being put on staff, in complete contradiction of the rules, that matters were finally brought to order, and though business could not be conducted, it was possible to adjourn the meeting with civility. It was, however, only after the opening of the Summit itself that the Ministers were able to finish the work of the Executive Council.

    Staff members of the African Union are of course charged with translating into reality the ideals of the African Union, as enshrined in the Constitutive Act. As international civil servants, they are expected to have competence, integrity, impartiality and independence. By the same token member states undertake to respect the exclusive international character of members of the Commission and staff and agree not to seek to influence them in discharge of their responsibilities. It is obvious that items that require the drafting of resolutions and decisions are left to member states as a whole. They are not in the hands of one or two individual delegations. Members of the Commission and its staff are expected to implement the decisions of the policy organs in complete neutrality. Their discretion is limited, bound by the framework of Staff Rules and Regulations and by instructions issued by the policy organs. The staff members are not expected to take sides in any controversy and, accordingly, should not be given tasks that require them to do so.

    The incident on the night of January 30th was extremely alarming and might have created a highly threatening and dangerous precedent. The African Union has very clear rules and regulations for its operations, and established practices relating to the conduct of business. One of these is the fundamental principle of sovereign equality of all member states. Article 4 of the Statutes of the Commission stipulates that in the performance of their duties, the members of the Commission and other staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government. The same article emphasizes that each member state undertakes to respect the exclusive character of the responsibilities of the members of the Commission and its staff and that it shall not influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities. Furthermore, Article 6 of the Staff Rules and Regulations affirms that the organization shall ensure the protection of staff members against any threats, abuse, violence, assault, insults or defamation to which they may be subjected by reason of, or in connection with, the performance of their duties.

    To avoid any repetition of this incident it is imperative that member states should respect the impartiality of the elected officials and staff of the African Union Commission, and fully understand they are international civil servants who cannot be given instructions by any authority outside the Union. It is, of course, incumbent upon AU staff members to make sure they have the trust of member states. They must continue to resist any instructions that may be issued to them from any government or authority other than the collective decisions of the membership of the AU or arising from the rules and procedures of the Union. This is a serious responsibility and not one to be taken lightly. The AU Commission itself must ensure full compliance with the Statutes and with all staff rules and regulations, particularly those relating to impartiality and protection of staff members in the performance of their duties.


  • Ensuring the Integrity of the Upcoming Elections: Defending the Sanctity of the Rules of the Game

    Preparations for the upcoming elections are well underway, with formal election campaigns now started. Already it is clear that the number of voters will surpass the numbers registered for the previous election. According to the National Electoral Board an impressive 26.5 million people are now registered. The Board is expecting the total registrations to reach 32 million. The Board itself has been allocating funds for political parties, and the parties themselves have been negotiating the media rules and this week made the media allocations for campaigning. 25 percent of the total airtime and newspaper space was apportioned equally among all political parties; 55 percent has been allotted according to the number of seats parties have in the federal parliament and regional councils, and 20 per cent is being distributed in line with the number of candidates the parties have fielded. In all, some 495 hours of radio airtime, 76 hours of television and 849 newspaper columns have been set aside for political parties to publicize their policy options and programs in the mass media, starting from next Monday, February 15th.

    The National Electoral Board has also announced that it is finalizing a Code of Conduct for international observers. It will be recalled that there was such a code in operation during the 2005 election, but regrettably it was blatantly violated by some of the international observers. It is believed that the new Code of Conduct for international observers will take into account this experience and it has come up with internationally accepted standards of conduct to be observed by all international election observers. The main objective is to ensure the neutrality, impartiality and independence of the observers.

    It is now clear that the public is looking forward to the elections with growing enthusiasm. The number of voters already registered is the clearest indication yet that the upcoming elections will be another milestone in the democratization process in this country. As a periodic exercise of the will of the people, elections are an indispensable pillar of any democratic system. For Ethiopia, despite its long history, truly democratic elections are still a recent development, following the fall of the military regime less than twenty years ago. In fact, the upcoming elections are the fourth national democratic elections for the country. Previous elections have provided indications of the gradual maturing of the components of the process of democratization in the country. It reached a high point in 2005 when the entire election process was observed scrupulously until voting was complete. Unfortunately, with some direct incitement by foreign actors, some opposition elements then instigated violence, rejecting the clearly expressed will of the people. This cast an ominous shadow over an otherwise historic event in the political history of the county. That is now in the past. The Government of Ethiopia has turned over the difficult pages of that unfortunate episode with determination. It has addressed the problems and shortcomings that appeared in 2005 with full respect for the rule of law, taking deliberate and resolute steps to ensure that these will not be repeated.

    The incidents in the 2005 election in one way certainly exposed some weaknesses in the elements of the system and among its participants. The country has taken stock of the root causes and consequences of the unfortunate violence that ensued and looked closely at areas for possible improvement and transformation. The Government has pursued a determined effort aimed at reforming the pillars of the democratic system where necessary. It has undertaken extensive dialogue with different political parties and engaged international consultants and used best international practices to enhance the political process. This has involved building up the institutions of democracy such as parliamentary procedures, passing new laws on freedom of expression and information, and revising the composition of the National Electoral Board and appointing its members with the full involvement and participation of opposition parties. Most recently, the Code of Conduct for Political Parties agreed by some 65 parties has been passed into law. After putting all these mechanisms and institutional structures in place, the critical task ahead is now to ensure their implementation fully and scrupulously. The Government has a particular responsibility to make sure that all participants of the democratic process faithfully follow the rules of the game of politics.

    In fact, the responsibility to ensure the sanctity of the rules of the game also rests on all stakeholders. The electorate, the political parties, independent candidates, election officials, parliamentarians, law enforcement officials, and the judiciary, different government entities including the NEB, the media and civil society organizations: all have a direct stake in the peaceful, free and fair conduct of the upcoming elections. All, in fact, are duty bound to ensure that the rules of the democratic process are fully respected. The various mechanisms for pre- and post-election activities are all now being put in place. The Code of Conduct for Political Parties is particularly significant as it holds together the different aspects of the entire process. It defines the conduct of the main actors in the electoral process, the political parties and their members, and their need and agreement to abide by the rule of law. It is about the peaceful conduct of all aspects of the electoral process. It is about respect for the constitutionally-mandated organs of Government. It is about unflinching commitment to the rules, for both the process itself and the outcome, whatever it may be. Some of these mechanisms will start to become operational when required. Others, like the Joint Council for Political Parties, have already started to function.

    The Code of Conduct is about advancing the country’s political agenda in a meaningful and peaceful manner. It is about preventing and rectifying mistakes should they occur. Parties are expected to respect the Code themselves, and ensure its full respect by their members and others. The Code of Conduct makes it possible for the political parties themselves to jointly address any transgressions of the rules of the game through the Joint Council. This will encourage the practice of working together for the common objective rather than working at cross purposes as so often in the past. The new law, in fact, creates an enabling environment for the effective implementation of important provisions of the Constitution on human and democratic rights.

    It has to be said that some political parties are very late in deciding to catch-up with the overwhelming majority of political parties, and indeed, the entire society, and give an unequivocal commitment to the political process or demonstrate their determination to respect the rules agreed by everybody else. These few appear to be trying to both use and similarly undermine the system at the same time. This is where the Code of Conduct is exactly needed to avoid such situations, where some feel that they might try normal, legal and peaceful avenues to win public confidence, but if that does not appear to advance their own particular objectives, then they will try to copy discredited color opposition movements that attempt to incite street violence and force their way to power in defiance of the democratically expressed will of the people. This reprehensible conduct is unconstitutional and, as demonstrated in 2005, has been completely rejected by the electorate. All political parties are now expected to come on board. The system established by the new law provides an extensive mechanism to raise, investigate and resolve complaints. All the actors in this historic national process, of the 2010 elections, have an obligation to themselves, and to the people of Ethiopia, to respect and to ensure the respect of all, for the sanctity of the rules of the democratic electoral process. Both the ruling party and all opposition parties have the right to enjoy the democratic process, but they also have the responsibility to ensure that this process is both deepened and expanded, and is applicable to all. And this must begin with full respect for the process, for the rules of the game.