A Week in the Horn (22.01.2010)


  • The Security Council meeting on Somalia last week

    The United Nations Security Council was briefed on the situation in Somalia on Thursday January 14th, after UN Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon, presented his latest report on Somalia to the Council. The Council also heard the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Mr. Ould-Abdallah, and the meeting was also addressed by representatives of the African Union and the Arab League as well as Somalia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. As we detailed in the last Week in the Horn, the Secretary-General recommended a continuation of his current strategy to protect the Government and AMISOM, and invited the Council to renew the authorization of the UN Political Office for Somalia and AMISOM. The main emphasis of Mr. Ould-Abdullah’s message to the Council was that the Somali Government had made significant progress in recent months and deserved greater commitment and assistance from the UN and international partners. He called on the international community to translate its political and verbal support into the necessary material assistance. His recommendations included coordinated international policy objectives, a clear signal to extremists, increased international support for AMISOM, and an integrated UN approach. He emphasized that a failure to act now in a decisive manner would dramatically increase the ultimate costs of resolving the problems of Somalia.

    The African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Mr. Ramtane Lamamra, told the Council that 2009 had been a difficult year for Somalia. The enemies of peace and reconciliation had stepped up their aggression to try to undo the Djibouti Peace Process. Commissioner Lamamra said the link between Al-Shabaab and international jihadism had been confirmed as had Al-Shabaab’s relations with Al Qaeda. There had been an influx of foreign fighters into Somalia leading to an upsurge in terrorist activities. Equally, the past year had also seen positive momentum in terms of the rebirth of the state and the expansion of the Government. He pointed out that although AMISOM had lost twice as many soldiers in 2009 as over the whole of its previous existence, it had also been reinforced in size, capacity and experience. Its mandate had been extended on January 8th by the AU Peace and Security Council for another twelve months. He called on the Security Council to extend its authorization of AMISOM, and repeated the request of the Peace and Security Council that AMISOM should be integrated into a UN peacekeeping operation for Somalia. Commissioner Lamamra also underlined the need to impose a no-fly zone as well as control of Somalia’s sea ports to deny extremists the use of Somalia’s air and maritime space, and help resolve the problem of piracy which was fueling extremism.

    The Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States to the UN, Mr. Yahya Mahmassani, described the crisis in Somalia as the main challenge to peace and security in the Horn of Africa. He said inaction by the international community had contributed to a further worsening of the situation. The solution must be based on the Djibouti process, and AMISOM should be given full support. He said the Arab League called on states and regional groups to participate and help complete AMISOM deployment, including the provision of financial and logistical support. He also urged closer cooperation among humanitarian agencies to meet the challenge of humanitarian assistance. He noted that while the international community should be mindful of the need to end piracy, it was also necessary for the Security Council to take the necessary measures to tackle the root causes, among which he included the absence of strong state institutions.

    The Permanent Representative of Somalia to the UN, Mr. Elmi Ahmed Duale, also stressed the importance of security to the Council. Without it, he said, meaningful progress in economy and development would be difficult to achieve. He emphasized the need to rebuild Somali national security forces, and to strengthen AMISOM and make it an integral part of a larger UN peacekeeping effort. He pointed out that the Government had received only a small portion of the pledges made in Brussels last April, and appealed urgently for states to release their pledged contributions. He said the Government’s strategy for 2010 would focus on reconciliation, security, the international conference on recovery and reconstruction, and effective cooperation with neighboring states. He said the Government considered the three-phase incremental approach by the UN might prove inadequate, given the dire humanitarian situation. What Somalia needed now was not a ‘light United Nations footprint’ but a heavy one.

    These briefings preceded a closed session of the Council, but member states did express similar views in support of the TFG and of AMISOM as well as their concern about the situation in Somalia which it was agreed needed closer, more coordinated and concrete support to produce further improvement. It was decided to hold a follow-up session on Somalia before the end of the month when the Council is expected to produce another resolution on Somalia. The Council is, in fact, scheduled to consider the future status of AMISOM on January 28th. The UN authorization for AMISOM expires on January 31st as does the current UN support package for the Mission.


  • Human Rights Watch and a “deteriorating human rights trajectory”

    On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch published its World Report 2010, covering human rights around the world in 2009. In his introductory essay, Director Kenneth Roth argues that the effectiveness of the human rights movement to exert pressure on governments has grown enormously in recent years and, as a result, there was a growing reaction from abusive governments which had been particularly intense last year, with numerous attacks on human rights monitors. Mr. Roth said the way to stop this was for governments to make human rights a central part of their diplomacy, “to make respecting human rights the bedrock of their diplomacy”. In an assumption of righteousness, ignoring the ongoing international discussion and even dissension over the issue, the introduction attacks African states for refusing to support the ICC’s controversial arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. It claims many African democracies even chose the comfort of regional solidarity rather than staking out a credible position of principle in support of international justice.

    In this context, we have to say that the credibility of Human Rights Watch is itself an issue, certainly in its report on Ethiopia. Its country summary repeatedly suggests Ethiopia is “on a deteriorating human rights trajectory”, sliding “towards deeper repression”, that the space for independent civil society “already extremely narrow, shrank dramatically in 2009”, and a “worsening human rights record” is sliding “deeper into repression”. It talks about “measures to control the elections in 2010” though, not surprisingly, none of these are specified – there are, in fact, none to specify.

    One can of course argue about how much human rights may or may not have improved, but it is surprising that Human Rights Watch chose totally to ignore the single most significant development in the electoral process in Ethiopia last year. This was the signing of a Code of Conduct for Political Parties, negotiated by 65 political parties, and its subsequent adoption into law. This by any standards is an impressive document, binding political parties, candidates, members and supporters of political parties to ensure that elections are guided by ethical rules of conduct, and are transparent, free, fair, peaceful, democratic, legitimate and acceptable to the voters. The Code lays down the regulations for the National Electoral Board, the mass media, and the judiciary, and their ability to function independently and impartially, free of all party pressures. It lays out the details for fair utilization by all parties of government resources for the election; and underlines the responsibility of the parties for a successful election. A procedure for grievances is provided and a Joint Council of Political Parties is being set up to implement the Code.

    The Code was signed last November so there can be no excuse for Human Rights Watch to have ignored it. Similarly, one might note that Engineer Hailu Shawel, one of those most involved in the problems of 2005, was a central figure in the drafting of the Code. These are surely promising developments by any standards. Aren’t they at least worth a mention, however brief? It is frankly dishonest (and certainly unfair) to talk about a deteriorating trajectory and efforts to control the elections while making no reference to the Code which is a major development to the contrary. Similarly, although the report does indicate that Human Rights Watch has for the first time been prepared to read one of the reports of Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission (a new Commissioner, Ambassador Tiruneh Zena, was approved by acclamation by all parties in Parliament last week), the reference is no more than disparaging. It all suggests that Human Rights Watch has no interest in, and no time for, any promising developments, that its criticisms in fact are not made in good faith. At this point we can’t go into further detail about this issue or Human Rights Watch’s repeated failures to evaluate recent legislation with any care, though it did, grudgingly, allow that the 2008 media law was an improvement. The Asset Registration and Anti-Corruption bill might have been worth a mention? Its largely inaccurate assertions about the provisions of the recent civil society and anti-terrorist laws need more space and time to respond.

    Two other points do however need to be raised. Human Rights Watch refers, rather ungenerously, to the inquiry that the Ethiopian government did “purport to launch” into allegations of serious abuses by the military against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the Somali Regional State. These were, in fact, allegations made in one of Human Rights Watch’s own reports. Human Rights Watch says the inquiry was sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lacked independence and concluded no serious abuses took place. That is not strictly true. The inquiry, which was independent, actually found that many of the allegations were unsubstantiated, and lacking in substance or proof. Numerous villages that Human Rights Watch claimed to have been burnt down were found to be undamaged, and a significant number of people, described as killed or tortured, were found alive and unharmed. It also found that Human Rights Watch had ignored many abuses committed by the ONLF. The inquiry concluded that Human Rights Watch’s methodology, which involved no effort to investigate on the ground, and its evaluation of allegations made by dissidents in exile, were seriously flawed. Human Rights Watch has still to respond to the questions raised about its own procedures and practices.

    The second point is that Human Rights Watch in the country summary on Ethiopia, as on a number of other countries, complains that major donors are unwilling to confront countries over what Human Rights Watch claims is a worsening human rights record. In the case of Ethiopia, it is particularly critical of the UK. Human Rights Watch argues that donors remain silent for fear that Ethiopia would discontinue or scale back their bilateral aid and development programs. This is an unusually bizarre suggestion, particularly since there is another very obvious reason why major donors say little – it may be that they do not entirely agree with Human Rights Watch. Given some of the errors and mistakes Human Rights Watch has perpetrated over the years that would hardly be a surprise.


  • They ought to know better: a misguided response to sanctions

    Last month the United Nations Security Council following Eritrea’s continuous and flagrant violations of numerous Security Council resolutions that called upon the regime in Asmara to desist from supporting terrorist groups whose declared aim has been to overthrow the legitimate Transitional Federal Government of Somalia by force, and in consequence of the aggression committed by the Eritrean government against Djibouti and its continued occupation of the sovereign territory of Djibouti, finally adopted Resolution 1907 imposing a set of sanctions against the Eritrean regime. The resolution calls for travel restrictions on individual members of the political and military leadership of Eritrea, a freeze on the assets of specific individuals and entities designated by the sanctions committee, and thirdly, an arms embargo.

    These sanctions have been carefully considered and as carefully targeted to avoid compromising Eritrea’s sovereignty or seriously undermining it in any way. The main intent of the resolution, as it clearly stated in its provisions, were twofold: one to reverse Eritrea’s aggression against Djibouti by compelling it to withdraw its occupation forces and thereby create conducive conditions to start a dialogue, and secondly to encourage the Eritrean leadership to stop its efforts to destabilize Somalia through the support it has been giving to terrorist groups determined to forcibly remove the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and undermine efforts to restore peace and stability in Somalia.

    The reaction of the leadership in Asmara – blaming a long list of enemies for its own predicament – has hardly been a surprise. What has been more unexpected has been the reaction of some declared opponents of the regime who have inadvertently lent credence to the insinuations of the government in Asmara. As we mentioned last week, some commentators have suggested that the UN Security Council resolution, far from achieving its intended purpose, would have the unintended consequence of making Ethiopia the main beneficiary from the sanctions. One such commentator was Saleh Younis in an article entitled “Change We Can’t Believe In”, (10.1.2010). Mr. Younis is not opposed to sanctions against Eritrean leaders as such, and agrees with both travel restrictions and an asset freeze. However, he argues that the arms embargo is intended to seriously undermining the sovereignty of Eritrea, to “emasculate Eritrea for generations”, to use his own words, denying it the right to self-defense through the acquisition of weapons even after the fall of the current regime. He attempts to prove his case by comparing it with the sanctions imposed on Iraq which have not yet been lifted despite the demise of the Saddam regime some years ago.

    This is a substantial distortion, misrepresenting the intention of the Security Council’s resolution and deliberately ignoring the Council’s care to avoid any unintended impact on Eritrea and its people. The Council took the decision on sanctions because of the Eritrean regime’s irresponsible behavior. A cursory glance at the text of the resolution reveals the Iraq parallel is not only untenable but seems deliberately contrived to cast aspersions not only on the advisability, if not the legitimacy, of the sanctions, but more surprisingly on Ethiopia’s intentions with regard to Eritrea’s sovereignty. The sanctions have been imposed to provide the regime in Asmara with the incentives to change its behavior, to refrain from destabilizing the region. The Security Council made it clear they will either be scaled up or down according to the extent Eritrea’s leaders control their destructive urges. Mr. Younis should know perfectly well that the sanctions are targeted at the principal figures in the regime simply because they are the ones who have been busy trying to destabilize the entire region, including their own country.

    It is, in fact, intriguing that Mr. Younis still appears to believe that Ethiopia has been and will remain the arch-enemy of Eritrea’s sovereignty. This is the linchpin of the nationalism that President Issayas and his Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) have worked tirelessly to instill in the minds of Eritreans. It indicates, in fact, that Mr. Younis, despite his opposition credentials since 2001, still holds the same outdated siege-mentality that has permeated the thinking of many PFDJ acolytes for so long. Any rational analysis of the recent history of the region underlines the fact that Ethiopia is the natural ally of the peoples of Eritrea and that the incumbent government in Ethiopia has consistently displayed respect for Eritrea’s sovereignty. Ethiopia has never been and never will be a threat to Eritrea’s sovereignty. This has little or nothing to do with Eritrea’s military strength, real or imagined. It has to do with Ethiopia’s principled position on questions of good neighborliness. Whatever Eritrea’s oversized war machine and its mountain of weaponry have contributed to, it does not include maintenance of Eritrea’s sovereignty. All increased militarization has done is to prolong the suffering of the peoples of Eritrea and of the region.

    Mr. Younis’ article in fact appears aimed to embolden the regime in Asmara to continue its defiance of the Council’s Resolution. It provides a clearly false interpretation of the Resolution rather than supporting the Council’s efforts to get Eritrea to change its unacceptable behavior and abide by the international laws and norms that govern inter-state relations in line with a country’s national interest. In effect, the sovereignty of Eritrea will be safeguarded when the current regime in Asmara fully abides by international laws and complies with the recent resolution and the other resolutions and decisions of the United Nations Security Council. Sovereignty in Eritrea cannot be secured through unprovoked aggression against its neighbors or through the supply of arms to terrorist groups to destabilize their own government. The legitimate interests of Eritrea, including sovereignty, can only be protected through responsible behavior and cooperation with its neighbors, with the international community, and with the United Nations Security Council.


  • Politically motivated opposition to agricultural investment

    “Agro-imperialism”, “neo-colonialism”, “the scramble for Africa – round two”: these are some of the epithets that have been used to criticize the current wave of agricultural investment in Africa, and in Ethiopia. At last year’s FAO World Summit on Food Security in Rome, a few leaders criticized what they called ‘farmland invasion’; others were more positive about ‘foreign direct investment’ in agriculture in Africa. The emphasis of the criticism was on Africa. Curiously there has been much less criticism about foreign investments made in agriculture in Russia or Ukraine, two of the largest beneficiaries in Europe, or in South East Asia or even in Brazil, all of which have also been targeted by external agricultural investors. ‘Farmland invasion’ in Africa is a subject that has proved popular with the western press, and the UK’s Guardian newspaper has been one of those highlighting what it claims are the dangers of large scale foreign owned commercial farms in Africa, and in Ethiopia, running a number of articles on the subject. Ethiopianist Professor Donald Levine in a recent newspaper article joined in the chorus of undue criticism, expressing worries about what he claimed were recent deals handing over land to Saudi Arabia, India and Egypt, and painting a gloomy scenario in which old anti-colonial sentiments in Ethiopia might be used to resist the ‘invasion of Ethiopian farmlands’ by foreign investors. This is inaccurate, of course, as any deals, leases not sales, are granted to companies not other countries.

    The current wave of agricultural investment began a year or two ago as international food prices began to rise sharply, particularly in 2008. In the previous thirty years or so, since the significant increase in grain supplies in the mid-1970s, accompanied by the “Green Revolutions” in China and India. International food prices fell steadily. Many experts believed, despite occasional famines and natural disasters, that humanity had the capacity to provide enough to feed itself. This changed last year when food prices rose so high that surplus-producing countries, concerned about feeding themselves, placed restrictions on exports. Concern has been intensified as the dangers of global warming have become apparent. Food import-dependent states took alarm. Many of these were in the Middle East and have substantial surplus capital. The logic was clear: Instead of buying expensive food on the world market, lease unused land abroad and grow the food there to provide their own food security.

    This provides major advantages for both sides. It removes the risk of restrictions, and offers developing countries a reversal of the disastrous under-investment agriculture has suffered over many years, providing for new seeds and new techniques. The deals also allow for major overall investment, including improved marketing as well as better jobs, and related infrastructural developments, including schools, clinics and roads. These aspects, for example, will provide major advantages for the regional governments in Ethiopia which will benefit from such investments. There is the potential to increase crop yields. China, as part of its investments in agriculture in Africa, is setting up eleven research centers to improve staple crop yields. The investments will also allow for a greater use of fertilizer. In some cases, as in Ethiopia, some of the deals will cover land that has not been used before because of the prevalence of problems like malaria. Now, because of the extension of malaria eradication schemes, such land is becoming available for use for the first time.

    The whole idea of investing in foreign agriculture is hardly new despite the current publicity. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, foreigners were quick to acquire former state-owned and collective farms, though interest was more in cash crops. They bought up over half a million hectares, and nearly 400,000 in Ukraine. The figures today, however, are much larger. In Sudan, South Korea has deals covering nearly 700,000 hectares, and the UAE and Egypt both have 400,000 hectare deals. China has a deal with the Republic of Congo to grow palm oil for bio-fuels which covers 2.8 million hectares. As the recent Saudi-East Africa Forum in Addis Ababa emphasized, Saudi Arabia is looking at a number of countries in the region, planning to invest in hundreds of thousands of hectares. The Saudi Minister of Commerce and Industry, Abdullah bin Ahmed Zainal Alireza, underlined Saudi Arabia’s commitment to combating hunger and providing support for the host country as well as generating exports. Production on these lands will be sold internally or exported in the usual way.

    Land is always a sensitive issue of course, but this is not land that is being given away, it is being leased, and the investment will remain when the lease is ended. The head of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development makes the point: “It is wrong to call [these investments] land grabs. These are investments in farmland like investments in oil. We can have a win-win situation”. In fact, these projects could be classified as more valuable than oil because agricultural development will not run out. It remains usable after the lease is ended, and can be indefinitely renewed. Many experts are, cautiously, hopeful that big agri-businesses could feed millions, and as the FAO Representative in Ethiopia, Mafa Chipeta, says “If these deals are negotiated well, it will change the dynamics of the food economy in this country.”

    Ethiopia has, as Dr. Aberra Deressa, State Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development points out, vast land resources and a lot of water resources. The Investors Support Directorate is headed by the State Minister and has the responsibility for providing land for investors. It has identified more than 7 million acres available now for lease. In total, Ethiopia has 74 million hectares of land suitable for agriculture out of its total 115 million hectares, but less than 15 million hectares is currently in use agriculturally.

    Ethiopia has implemented a whole series of policies, strategies and programs in recent years designed to encourage sustainable agricultural growth and work towards the eradication of poverty. It has achieved some success through the Agricultural Development-Led Industrialization Strategy (ADLI) and the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty 2005-2010 (PASEDP). Increasing the efficiency of small-holder farmers through higher yielding crops, and drought and pest resistant seeds, remains a viable option. Equally, much remains to be done and the need, as last year’s drought underlined, is clear. The implementation of a large-scale land investment policy will be a valuable supplementary addition to existing options. In the past, Ethiopia has been criticized for not making land available for large-scale commercial farming. Now it is being attacked for ignoring the small farmers. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

    In fact, as Ethiopia is well aware, nobody can afford to ignore any options. The world is in danger of running out of food. By 2050, the population is likely to be over 9 billion. World food production according to the FAO needs to rise by 70%. Africa is going to be the hardest hit by the effects of these figures – partly because it was largely bypassed by the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, and partly because the expected effects of global warming seem likely to affect Africa more than anywhere else. The FAO estimates Africa will need an investment of 11 billion dollars a year to deal with this. Africa needs all the help it can get. This sort of agricultural investment, on the scale envisaged, offers the very real prospect of genuine progress in the eradication of poverty.


  • Professor Donald Levine and foreign influence

    Western commentators on Ethiopia, or indeed other states in Africa, are regrettably all-too-often prepared to criticize policies on the basis of unverified allegations or unchecked claims. Professor Donald Levine is the latest to raise his voice about foreign influence in Ethiopia, even making the obnoxious, and false, suggestion that Ethiopia is prepared to accept food aid, while consistently refusing advice. In his recent article “Selective Acceptance of Foreign Influence”, he refers to “recent leases of expanses of [Ethiopian] land to Saudi Arabia, India and Egypt [and] reports that 50pc of Chinese businesses allegedly operate in Ethiopia illegally”. Professor Levine is quite right to add “allegedly” as the figure appears to have been plucked out of the air. The most superficial check would have found that there hasn’t yet been any lease of land to Egypt, nor to Saudi Arabia. Nor has Egypt even asked for any. It might be added that the issue isn’t about selling Ethiopian land. That simply isn’t happening. Professor Levine appears to have been listening to opposition exaggerations, half-truths and outright falsification.

    Much of Professor Levine’s piece is a critique of a recent article by Ambassador Tesfaye Habisso “Free elections for Democracy or creating Client Regimes” in which Ambassador Tesfaye argues that the chaos and disruption after the May 2005 election in Ethiopia can clearly be ascribed to the effects of foreign interference, a possible attempt to encourage the removal of the present government. Professor Levine, rather condescendingly notes in passing that Ambassador Tesfaye cannot be faulted for alluding to incidents in which foreign actors certainly did intervene in inappropriate and harmful ways in the political process in 2005, though he criticizes the Ambassador’s comments, rather unfairly, for vagueness. He rapidly moves on to the real point of his piece – that foreign influence on Ethiopia, notably western, US and EU, influence has (despite Ethiopian suspicions) been all to the good. He lists a number of often specious examples. He mentions the Portuguese intervention in the 16th century to assist against Ahmed Gran, but then ignores the responsibility of Portuguese Jesuits for the religious and civil wars of the early 17th century. He mentions British involvement in helping to oust the Italians in 1941 but does not refer to the sometimes questionable post-war activities of British advisers in Ethiopia, or to British efforts to redraw boundaries in the region. Incidentally, Professor Levine claims the US was opposed to the Fascist conquest of Ethiopia in 1936. This is hardly accurate, given the US refusal to support calls for an oil embargo against Italy which could have forced Italy to think twice about its invasion. The “protection” of priceless Ethiopian manuscripts in the British Museum, most loot from Magdala and the Emperor Tewodros’ treasury, is also rather more controversial than Professor Levine would care to admit.

    Professor Levine’s argument is that the effect of Ambassador Tesfaye’s article might be to discredit the effect of international players in seeking to promote a free and fair electoral process. This begs several questions not least whether such international players really do want a free and fair election in Ethiopia or whether they want to see a particular result – not of course necessarily the same thing. Some, in 2005, certainly wanted the latter. Professor Levine’s point also raises the question of whether Ethiopia should necessarily be beholden to the moral pressures of foreigners. Electoral processes have, after all, not been entirely above reproach in the western world in recent years. It might also be noted in this context that another element in Professor Levine’s argument is the sense of exclusivity that permeates it. Ethiopia should have its foreign influences but it must apparently be western interest and investment. In fact, of course, Chinese or Indian investment or interest doesn’t preclude western involvement – or vice versa.

    Professor Levine says we live in a world where it is not possible for any country to hide behind national sovereignty to defend practices that do not hold up to universal standards – especially in human rights. He adds that any support for universal human rights in Ethiopia should be provided with “tact, respect and knowledge of Ethiopian sensibilities”. Yes, indeed, and one aspect of this must surely be to acknowledge that not everything from the west is actually wonderful. If we are talking of a lack of sensibility and tact then we might start with lectures about the necessity of acceptance of international advice, and of a partial critique of national sovereignty.

    Professor Levine criticizes Ethiopia today for refusing to listen to outside influences over election processes and human rights, looking back at a highly selective list of historic examples of “good influence” to support his view. He is arguing for a more immediately responsive attitude to western pressures about the election and/or human rights. He identifies Ambassador Tesfaye’s arguments as a “rejectionist sentiment”. This is hardly fair to the Ambassador who was after all, quite accurately and specifically, criticizing the behavior of certain individuals in 2005. It can hardly be classified as “rejectionist” of all foreign influences.

    Acceptance or rejection of foreign influences and advice is not necessarily a matter of national sovereignty or even national pride, but rather of their use and validity for Ethiopia, its people or its government. Ethiopia can, and always has, accepted foreign influences but always on its own terms – not those of Professor Levine.


  • Ensuring the integrity of the upcoming election: a campaign to de-legitimize the election

    The basic and universally accepted tenet of any genuine democratic election is that it be free and fair, with well known ground rules which the contesting parties observed in their campaigns. This may sound obvious and straight forward but the actual operation may have problems if only because of the way political parties conduct themselves both before and after an election.

    In this regard, political parties fall into two broad categories. In the first are those which have faith in the ground rules and conduct themselves accordingly, irrespective of the outcome of the election. In other words, they have full confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and accept that the election will be free and fair. By contrast there are political parties which engage in a campaign well before the election to invalidate its outcome even before any ballots are cast. Although perhaps paying lip-service to the ground rules and the electoral process as a whole, these groups claim the elections will not be free and fair. For such political parties, the election can only be free and fair if they win. When they sense the outcome may not meet their expectations, they try to discredit the results in advance of the elections.

    It is clear that some in Ethiopia fall into this latter category. For some months already, several opposition politicians have been involved in a propaganda campaign to try to invalidate the election results in advance by claiming, without any plausible evidence, the election will not be free and fair. In pursuit of this aim, they have employed numerous outright fabrications and wild allegations to deflect attention from their own internal weaknesses and policy failures. They are, in effect, already trying to portray themselves as victims, blaming the alleged activities of the ruling party or the Government for what they already believe will be their failure in a free and fair election next May. This is why they are trying to de-legitimize the results of the election several months before it is due to take place. They seem to have had some effect in misleading commentators, including the Economist, providing them with an excuse for disparaging Ethiopia’s democratic process.

    Their campaign will not succeed. It is doomed to fail for two main reasons. First, with the exception of the small group involved in this attempt at de-legitimizing the election, the determination of all other political parties which have a stake in a free and fair election is beyond question. These ‘spoilers’ should, therefore, be under no illusion that they can succeed in their intent despite the encouragement offered to them by the likes of Human Rights Watch. Secondly, the vast majority of stakeholders in the political process have demonstrated in no uncertain terms their commitment to a free and fair election by subscribing to the recent Code of Conduct for Political Parties. It is this that the ‘spoilers’ who cannot live up to its stringent standards have been trying, in vain, to disparage.

    In fact, this Code of Conduct, now enshrined in law, is the most distinctive feature in the evolution of the Ethiopian electoral process, and indeed the legislation is unprecedented. It is designed to ensure that the forthcoming election, as well as all future elections, will be free, fair and credible. The result of an historic agreement by 65 political parties who have a genuine stake in the success of the upcoming election, it expresses the very clear determination by nearly all the main actors in the Ethiopian political process that the electoral process should succeed. In these circumstances we are confident it will be next to impossible to de-legitimize the election.

    Nevertheless, complacency is never advisable however small the number of antagonists or ‘spoilers’. It remains important to make sure that the activities of a few politicians do not mislead the electorate or any other target groups. We may be certain that the electorate itself will not be taken in by the machinations of these elements, but other target groups in or outside Ethiopia need to be aware that these efforts are the intrigues of a small coterie of politicians bent on derailing the current electoral process. Certainly, in their propaganda against the forthcoming election, these politicians have clearly been trying to influence foreign observers. As we enter the final phases in the electoral timetable, everyone should be aware of such efforts to undermine the validity of the election. It is not uncommon, of course, for parties to cry foul after an election, however free and fair it may have been. Some in Ethiopia, however, are doing this, far in advance of the election, primarily in order to influence foreign third parties.

    We believe it is important that such observers should be careful not to give any credence, wittingly or unwittingly, to the machinations of these opposition parties intended to nullify the election process. While we know nothing can prevent the electoral process from proceeding properly, we also believe the need for third parties to exercise extra caution is justified to avoid conveying the wrong messages about the integrity of the election. These parties, out of sheer desperation, can be expected to continue with all sorts of deceptive tactics and pretexts over the next four months to try to deprive the election of legitimacy. Acting as if any of their fabrications are valid, and giving spurious allegations credibility will be a disservice to the fast evolving democratic process in Ethiopia. We hope interested third parties, some of whom were involved in the elaboration of the legislation of the Code of Conduct, as well as all stakeholders, will continue to stand behind the new ground rules to provide for a free and fair election, and that they will reject any and all attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the vote in May.


Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Ministry of Foreign Affairs