A Week in the Horn (23.04.2010)


The International Contact Group on Somalia meets in Egypt

The 17th meeting of the International Contact Group on Somalia was held on Wednesday and Thursday this week in Cairo. Chaired by the UN Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the meeting was addressed by the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amr Moussa, and Somalia’s Foreign Minister, Ali Ahmed Jama. In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting yesterday, the ICG welcomed the agreement signed in Addis Ababa between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a on 15 March an important step, calling for it to be fully implemented as soon as possible and recognizing it as a possible blue print for cooperation with other groups in the future. It also welcomed the Memorandum of Understanding between the TFG and Puntland on addressing piracy signed on April 12th. The ICG stressed that all Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) should be protected and supported, calling on all elements to demonstrate their unity and to cooperate. It wanted the TFG to build on the promising start made with the publication of its budget to provide a transparent account of finances and improve donor confidence. The ICG said the TFG should now focus on transitional tasks, prioritizing the most important to enable the international community to provide support in key areas. It particularly emphasized the need to draw up a draft constitution with a credible process including widespread consultations as soon as possible, as part of a strategy to move out of the transition phase, due to end in August next year.

The ICG called for the Joint Security and the High Level Committees to hold their meetings in Mogadishu. It welcomed the support for police and security reorganization and training provided by Japan and the European Union as well as by Uganda and the United States. It encouraged member states to make sure that all those who have undergone approved training were properly equipped and received stipends for an appropriate period of time. The ICG expressed its full support for AMISOM urging members to provide coordinated support. It thanked Uganda and Burundi for their continuing contributions and called on other African Union members to consider contributing troops. The international community, it said, remained ready to support the enlargement of the current AMISOM contingent. Although it offered little in the way of practical help for this, it did agree there should be a wider process of information sharing and harmonization of strategies to maximize international support for the TFG. It said expected the remaining contributions that had been pledged at Brussels to be disbursed. It fully supported the decision to hold a Reconstruction and Development conference next month in Istanbul, identifying it as an important part of international support for the TFG, welcoming the inclusion of private business and the Diaspora. It is to be hoped that any support promised at Istanbul will be more quickly implemented than the promises made at Brussels. The communiqué underlined the ICG’s belief that reconstruction and development were crucial for political and security stability in Somalia, and it commended the Organization of Islamic Conference for opening an office in Mogadishu.

The ICG strongly condemned the violent actions of extremists, and attacks on human rights workers, judges, journalists and NGOs. It called for all parties to respect human rights and the freedom of the press, and condemned the fact that many Somalis continued to have widespread impunity from criminal prosecution. It also deplored continuing acts of piracy, calling for further international cooperation to combat piracy and welcoming the presence of the international maritime force. The ICG made it clear it understood the TFG was operating in extremely difficult circumstances, and that it therefore deserved greater support and understanding both from the Somali people and from the international community. It remains to be seen whether this call will have any greater impact on encouraging support from the international community than in the past. Somalia’s problems are extensive but not insurmountable. They urgently need a practical demonstration of real political will from the international community. The next ICG meeting will be held in Spain in September.

Meanwhile, this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued an open letter to the ICG, calling on participants “to begin to fix their broken policies on Somalia”, suggesting the place to start was setting up an international commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in Somalia. HRW also released a report, ‘Harsh War, Harsh Peace: Abuses by al-Shabaab, the Transitional Federal Government, and AMISOM in Somalia,’ in which it claims to detail widespread abuse and human rights violations by all parties to the conflict. Indeed, for the first time, HRW did comment seriously on what it called the “killings, cruel punishments, the repression and the repressive social control” exercised by al-Shabaab. Despite this categorization, however, HRW also managed to suggest that al-Shabaab “brought greater stability to parts of Somalia”, though the main author of the report qualified this in an interview for the BBC by saying that “the price that people had to pay for that relative degree of stability was really quite incredible.” Indeed, so high has that price been that very, very few, in or out of Somalia, would possibly describe al-Shabaab’s area of control in this way. By any normal standards, it is utterly bizarre to describe the extremes of abuse routinely committed by al-Shabaab against the civilian populations of the areas they control, with women as particular sufferers, as provision of stability. In fact, to say as Georgette Gagnon, HRW’s Africa Director did, that al-Shabaab’s “unrelenting repression and brutality” has bought “stability to some areas long plagued by violence” (even if at a high price) suggests HRW needs to urgently reconsider its attitudes towards violence, stability and abuse in Somalia and indeed more generally. It is impossible to see how “indiscriminate warfare, terrifying patterns of repression and brutal acts of targeted violence on a daily basis” can translate to any form of stability.

As on other occasions, HRW appears blinkered by the methodological problems arising from its continuing failure to look at actuality on the ground. It still appears unable to comprehend the realities of conflict in Mogadishu. It has now begun to criticize “opposition forces” (by which it means al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, categorized by most observers as extremist) for regularly firing mortar rounds indiscriminately into populated areas from residential areas in the hope of attracting retaliatory fire. This was something HRW always used to downplay to the point of denial when accusing Ethiopian forces of violations in Mogadishu. Now, it does appear to accept that Al-Shabaab does this regularly, but it still manages to spend much of its time complaining that AMISOM fails to take “precautions to discriminate between civilians and military targets.”

HRW apparently believes the international community’s view of the TFG amounts to what it calls a policy of uncritical support. Similarly, it displays no understanding of Ethiopia’s political or security interests in Somalia, nor of the policies of Eritrea and its involvement in Somalia. Still continuing to carry out many, indeed most, interviews in Nairobi or even further away from Somalia, it didn’t bother to ask Ethiopian officials about Ethiopia’s aims or intentions, preferring the easier option of quoting unnamed diplomats in Nairobi. The failure to understand political practicalities inside Somalia relate directly to the failure to investigate on the ground. This underlies its temerity in making political suggestions of terrifying naivety. It even goes so far as to start its report with a series of “recommendations” though these ignore the political realities of Somalia today, dismissed in a patronizing phrase: “there is no easy solution to the complex and deeply entrenched crisis that is tearing Somalia apart”. It has to be said that HRW would benefit from a close perusal of the latest report of the UN’s independent expert on human rights in Somalia (“Technical Assistance and Capacity Building”).



The Nile Council of Ministers agrees to meet in Uganda next month

The Nile Council of Ministers (NileCom) held an Extraordinary Meeting in Sharm El Sheik in Egypt on Tuesday last week to discuss final details of the Nile Cooperation Framework Agreement (CFA). The meeting was held on the basis of the decisions taken at the 17th NileCom meeting last July, in Alexandria. It was preceded by the 3rd Joint Meeting of the Nile Technical Advisory Committee (NileTAC) and the Negotiation Committee.

Last week’s meeting was focused on finalizing the procedures for the signing of the CFA and the mechanisms for the transitional arrangements dealing with the replacing of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) by the Nile Basin Commission. The Cooperation Framework Agreement seeks to develop the Nile in a cooperative manner and share the resources of the river equally and fairly without causing any harm to other riparian states. The meeting deliberated at length on ways and means to move forward in an inclusive manner. The seven upper riparian countries, Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, emphasized that negotiations over the Cooperation Framework Agreement had continued for ten years in order to ensure any difficulties could be handled carefully and responsibly. This indeed was why the Extraordinary Meeting of NileCom in Kinshasa agreed to sign the CFA, while leaving the disputed Article 14(b) to be resolved by the Nile Basin Commission within six months of its establishment. Egypt and the Sudan expressed the view that signing the CFA, while leaving the unresolved article annexed, was not the right basis for moving forward in an inclusive manner. As an alternative, they proposed the establishment of the Nile Basin Commission by presidential declaration to be followed by further negotiations on the CFA. This proposal was communicated at the highest level to the leaders of the other seven states. Egypt and Sudan expressed their conviction that this would continue to carry forward the achievement of the NBI in an inclusive manner.

The seven upper riparian countries, expressing their appreciation of Egypt and Sudan’s proposal as an interim measure, then suggested the Nile Basin Commission might be established provisionally on the basis of the CFA. Egypt and the Sudan, however, felt the Nile Basin Commission should be established by a separate instrument, negotiated by all the riparian states, not on the basis of the CFA. Suggestions by Sudan, aimed at finding a common position, were unable to resolve these differences. Despite this, the meeting discussed the draft report prepared by the BRL Consultant on the transitional arrangements for moving from the NBI to the Nile Basin Commission. It was agreed that the Consultant would finalize his draft report on the basis of comments made during the discussions and from written comments to be submitted later by the various countries. The seven upper riparian countries agreed to proceed on the basis of the Kinshasa understanding and fixed the date for concluding the remaining matters in respect of the CFA, May 14th at Entebbe, Uganda. It is hoped that all NileCom members will continue to move together towards achieving their common objectives. There was general agreement among NileCom ministers that it was important to continue to handle the dispute in a responsible and mature way, and to pursue the possibility of a win-win solution, on the basis of the principles of fairness and of equity of usage of the waters of the Nile River, which link the community of the Nile Basin so closely. The issue of signatures will not by itself affect the activities still being undertaken by the NBI. It can be expected that all the riparian countries will continue to act collectively to protect and enhance the gains made under the NBI.



Minister Seyoum at National Earth Day celebrations

National Earth Day was celebrated in Addis Ababa yesterday with a number of events intended to raise public awareness on climate change. A number of film festivals are taking place, screening environmentally and socially responsible films, and lectures are being given by scholars from various universities around the country. Schools and communities have been organizing ‘clean your environment’ days with talks about such issues as family planning, the impact of climate change, and the need to phase out plastic bags and keep water sources clean. Climate Change Forum – Ethiopia (CCF-E) which has been organizing many of the events held a press conference at the beginning of the week to emphasize that Earth Day, being celebrated for the second time in Ethiopia, did in fact underline the point that the environment was not separate from health, population, economic development, gender or cultural preservation. All were inter-connected elements of the environment. A central reason for celebrating Earth Day was to help make the public realize the rapid degradation of the environment and the depletion of natural resources due to human intervention. This year, Earth Day also marked the conclusion of the “Green Generation Campaign” which had been designed to encourage people in general to participate in building solutions to urgent national and global issues. Minister Seyoum, making a keynote speech at a panel discussion on “Financing Climate Change Adaptation and Negotiations”, emphasized the same points. Forty years ago, on the first Earth Day, millions of Americans took to the streets to demand a healthy environment. This could be seen as marking the beginning of the environment movement. Yet, as Minister Seyoum noted, the human impact on environmental degradation continues to grow, and as the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has emphasized, the negative impact is expected to largely affect the tropics and sub-tropical areas of sub-Saharan Africa. There is danger that yields from rain-fed agriculture in some African countries may fall by 50 percent only ten years from now with the effect of weather-related disasters; health threats might increase with rising temperatures; clean water supplies be reduced by drought.

At the same time, Minister Seyoum emphasized, action plans based on the right policies and participation strategies have begun to pay sustainable dividends. He acknowledged the efforts of the Federal and of Regional Governments, of the private sector and civil societies, and above all of the population of rural areas for their concerted efforts to conserve and rehabilitate Ethiopia’s flora and fauna. The Minister underlined the importance of encouraging, for example, Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Desertification (REDD), the rehabilitation of degraded lands, and re-greening to reduce erosion and increase agricultural yields.

Minister Seyoum, who reminded his audience that Ethiopia had been chosen to represent Africa at the climate change negotiations at Copenhagen, said it was relevant to emphasize that “developed countries are required to assist developing countries in meeting the costs of adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change” as the UN Framework for Climate Change had laid down (Article 4.4). Resources for adaptation, he added, should be in addition to official assistance. He emphasized the importance of accessing funds from Clean Development Mechanisms, allowing science and appropriate technologies to be brought into developing countries without displacing traditional knowledge. Adaptation was a priority but mitigation was also important, and the greater the latter, the less we needed to adapt. It made particular sense to expand easily accessible, renewable and affordable energy, and clean electricity supplies. Minister Seyoum noted that this was an area in which the international community would be able to assist, financially and with state of the art technologies, increasing the capacity to generate clean electricity as well as provide energy-efficient technologies for use.

Earth Day, the Minister concluded, was important as a going concern which could contribute towards creating the enabling environment needed to provide a habitable world for present and for future generations.



An opposition fiasco in Washington

Following almost continuous attacks from various interest groups in recent weeks, apparently aimed to destabilize Ethiopia and try to scuttle the forthcoming elections, a collection of the more extreme and violent elements of the Diaspora held a gathering in Washington D.C. The conference, misleadingly entitled “Conference of Good Governance, Peace, Security and Sustainable Development in the Horn of Africa”, was almost exclusively focused on Ethiopia. Any other country was mentioned tangentially and only in context of criticizing Ethiopia. Indeed, the only agenda of the organizers was the destabilization of Ethiopia as their concluding declaration demonstrated. Organizers ranged from Negede Gobeze, one of the major architects of the murderous Red Terror to current convicted criminals and leaders of Ginbot 7, now sponsored by Eritrea, including its leader, Dr. Berhanu Nega. Other well known critics of the Ethiopian Government including Mrs. Anna Gomes were also invited. The attendant publicity made the objective of the conference very clear.

There seemed little doubt that the Eritrean Government was a central behind-the-scenes actor. It is hard otherwise to explain why, in a conference supposedly called to discuss peace and security in the Horn of Africa, so little attention was paid to the aggressive policies of Eritrea, currently under UN Security Council sanctions for its destabilizing role in the region. The only mention of Eritrea in the declaration issued at the end of the conference was with reference to encouraging the “continuation of relationships” between scholars from Ethiopia and Eritrea. This does not refer to the need for any sustainable links between the two countries, but rather to the continuation of the alliance between the Government of Eritrea and the terrorist groups that are being financed, trained, and equipped by the Eritrean regime. Ginbot 7, headed by Dr Berhanu Nega, is one of those terrorist organizations now centred in Eritrea.

The conference is now dead and buried. By all accounts, it failed to meet the expectations of its organizers. Attendance was low and below expectations, and few of the invited presenters bothered to show-up – the organizers had invited officials of the State Department, Congressmen, and other individuals from respected organizations, in apparent attempt to give the conference some legitimacy. Surprisingly, some Congressmen normally only too happy to be critical of Ethiopia failed to appear. It seems, to the disappointment of the organizers, that officials of the US government, members of Congress, and others were able to see through the limited political intent of the conference, and declined to participate in what was a strongly ill- intentioned gathering.

The only semblance of success for the organizers was that they succeeded in hoodwinking some unsuspecting individuals and organizations to participate. But here again, there was not much to celebrate on the part of the organizers as those who participated in the conference, including the distinguished academician and former diplomat, Ambassador David Shinn, publicly disagreed with Dr. Berhanu Nega on many of the issues raised. Ambassador Shinn spoke about the whole region outlining his own vision for the Horn of Africa which included elections, a free press, an independent judiciary and constitutional changes of government, none of which were suggestions that the Eritrean government would like to have heard. Ambassador Shinn made a point of distancing himself from the declaration, and emphasized in his blog that he wanted it “to be on the record that I did not have any role in drafting the declaration nor do I agree with significant aspects of it”. It remains surprising, however, that he allowed his name to be used. It would have shown better judgment to have avoided any participation in such an ill-intentioned gathering.



Ethiopia’s elections – an obsession for Eritrea’s foreign policy

Eritrea’s record of productive foreign policy manoeuvres is minimal. As we have noted time and again, many of the conflicts that unfortunately bedevil the Horn of Africa have their roots in a policy which puts a high premium on belligerent posturing, and violent action, as means of promoting Eritrea’s interests. Faced with any kind of challenge, from within or without, the Eritrean government’s default reaction has been to export violence to its neighbours and more widely. It was only a short time after independence that Eritrea began to be seen as a pariah state following its leader’s efforts to impose his will on the entire region by force. Despite a long series of destabilizing activity from the Eritrean government, until very recently no one was actually prepared to call President Isaias out on his behaviour. His display of unqualified contempt for the rules governing normal interstate relations was extraordinary, with the President routinely unleashing tirades against almost every country and international organization he disagreed with. Despite recent UN Security Council targeted sanctions against key players in the regime, there is still no sign that the government in Asmara is planning to moderate its belligerence. In fact, rather than doing anything of the kind, the Eritrean regime is trying to deflect attention away from itself through the same methods that it has always pursued. President Isaias is clearly far from willing to mend his ways. If anything, he appears to be even more interested in carrying out destructive activities. The continuation of Eritrea’s destabilization campaigns in the region is quite evident from the on-going support given to extremist groups in Somalia and from the now resumed and more coordinated anti-Ethiopia campaign currently in progress.

President Isaias’ almost pathological desire to cause havoc in Ethiopia has reached near hysterical proportions. Hardly a day passes without the President and his henchmen producing some canard or other about Ethiopia in the hope that his efforts will ultimately come to fruition. The latest increase in the anti-Ethiopia campaign has become even more virulent with elections around the corner. Eritrea’s leaders seem to believe that elections in Ethiopia offer a real opportunity for a campaign of terror and the chance to incite discontent that lends itself to their manipulation. It’s a project that’s produced febrile excitement in Asmara, and it has a considerable following among the rejectionist elements of the Ethiopian Diaspora and the alphabet soup of self-styled liberation movements bank-rolled by President Isaias. Many still accept the illusion at the core of his appeal: that he is the only viable source of support to help them in their mission. Indeed, the list of these groups, all with mutually destructive agendas, continues to grow. The latest addition to those prepared to take their orders from Asmara is a newly minted opposition group of Ginbot 7-affiliated former officers, convicted of crimes in a court of law. The common denominator of these groups, and of the regime in Asmara, is, of course, animosity to the government of Ethiopia whatever President Isaias and these groups would say.

It is not uncommon for President Isaias to give marathon interviews in which he talks almost exclusively about Ethiopia. At times, one might almost take him as an Ethiopian opposition leader with minimal ties to Eritrea. He often waxes lyrical about his love for Ethiopian unity despite his obvious and visible resentment of that unity. Indeed, Eritrea’s policies very clearly belie any such preposterous claim. They are very clearly aimed at killing Ethiopia’s economic progress, trying to drag it back to the Stone Ages, and dismember it beyond recognition. President Isaias has his reasons for this anti-Ethiopian campaign. Ethiopia’s economic success is a constant reminder of the abysmal failure of his own policies. The latest effort to raise money is apparently to recall all Eritrean passports and require passport holders to apply for new ones; the new, and expensive, passports will have to be renewed every two years rather than five as previously. President Isaias appears to lay all Eritrea’s policy flaws and their results at the feet of Ethiopia. Putting a stop to Ethiopia’s progress will somehow assuage his own sense of failure. Indeed he has frequently said as much in thinly-veiled remarks. Secondly, the holding of peaceful and democratic elections in Ethiopia is yet another example his critics, not least among his own people, can cite against him. His recent order for a total Eritrean media blackout on Sudanese elections is a clear indication of his paranoia. In Ethiopia, he is trying to generate a crisis to foil the success of the election. That, he feels, would vindicate his own open disdain for such ‘useless’ exercises. It would also mean he would be able to rally rejectionist elements from within Ethiopia and inflict greater damage to the democratic process as well as to the economic development in the country.

It is in fact an insurmountable task as the failure of previous efforts makes very clear. Equally, President Isaias has developed tremendous capacity to be oblivious to losses. He is always prepared to pick up where his previous efforts collapsed. His obsession with Ethiopia has become so large that he seems prepared to ignore any amount of failure. He will no doubt try to continue even though Ethiopia is too busy fighting poverty to bother to respond to this sort of manoeuvring from the government in Asmara. The people of Ethiopia have rather better use for their time and resources.



Ensuring the integrity of the upcoming election: progress impressive, but vigilance needed

The media debates among the contending parties have also been instrumental in raising the level of peoples’ expectations of the conduct and outcome of the election. Despite a few anomalies here and there, the overall conduct of the electoral process has really been about as good as it can get in fledgling democratic experiences like that of Ethiopia. Indeed, there is widespread optimism in the air that, whatever the outcome, the petty squabbles of the previous election and the unchecked momentum that caused the bloody riots in its aftermath, are not after all natural corollaries of any electoral exercise in this country, as some have claimed. Irrespective of who wins, there is every reason to believe and expect that this election will indeed be the watershed that all stakeholders genuinely interested in the further enhancement of the democratic process in Ethiopia, believe it will be. That is good, but there are other reasons feeding this sense of optimism.

Most important, there is an ever greater awareness on the part of the peoples of Ethiopia of the indispensability of the democratic process to safeguard their hard-won rights and the budding economic opportunities that are now in full display. The continued economic success registered in recent years, and the visible impact it has had on the lives of millions of hitherto destitute peasants living on the brink, has raised hopes for the peoples of Ethiopia that, given the right policies and the fullest possible measure of participation in the political process, poverty can indeed be relegated to the backwaters of history. The enthusiasm shown at all levels of the political process is only matched by the resolution of the people to overcome poverty and backwardness. Nor is this commitment to democracy merely skin-deep. It is being progressively woven into the socio-political fabric for the peoples of Ethiopia who own the process.

Equally important, there is a growing willingness among increasing numbers of key stakeholders, including political parties, civic associations, and partners, to give the process the benefit of the doubt. The readiness of many political parties to sign the code of conduct was one reassuring sign. There are still some rough elements to be rounded out, but there is no doubt that the dominant undercurrent is essentially positive. The deployment of observer missions by the AU and EU has also contributed to the sense of optimism, and the head of the EU Observer Mission has expressed their readiness to do everything to maintain impartiality and neutrality and, most importantly, avoid any repetition of the unacceptable behaviour which led to the disturbances in 2005. There’s no reason to doubt this will indeed be the case and there is no denying it will be important. In this connection, the recent decision by 10 Ethiopian civic associations, boasting hundreds of thousands of members among them, to form a network to participate in election monitoring activities is another indication that stakeholders are taking the process seriously. This will make an excellent contribution to electoral integrity if only because of the sheer number of observers the associations are capable of deploying and the wider coverage they propose to offer. The associations represent highly diverse interest groups, including for example, the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, and the Employers’ Federation, underlining the importance of their participation in providing for the credibility of the process.

Of course, the democratic process continues to face a number of challenges, from within and without. There are those to whom the success of the democratization process in Ethiopia is a constant reminder of their own failures. The government of Eritrea is top in this category, apparently determined to fight any sign of progress in Ethiopia, tooth and nail. This has been the single most consistent pattern along the northern borders. Numerous “opposition groups”, armed, unarmed, secessionist, rejectionist or assimilationist, have been nurtured in the training camps of Eritrea and sent across the border on terrorist missions. The media in Eritrea have concentrated on how to scuttle the elections by any means, fair or foul. They have not had any success but it remains necessary to stay vigilant.

In this category are also to be found the more virulent elements of the largely Diaspora-based opposition whose declared objectives are the other side of the PFDJ’s anti-Ethiopia manifesto. Largely discredited in Ethiopia by their gospel of destruction and the all-or-nothing tactics that they preach, they can still apparently appeal to some elements of rejection and reaction, as in the recent conference in Crystal City, Virginia, where a conference ostensibly to discuss peace and security in the Horn of Africa concentrated on looking for strategies to remove the Ethiopian government by all means. As their declaration made clear, these people are prepared to use anyone, even some in the ranks of legal opposition, to carry out their aims. And the government of Eritrea is a strong supporter of an\y and all such efforts. There is a similarity of tone between the leadership in Asmara, the doom-sayers in Virginia and even members of legislatures in some countries, that is far from reassuring. It is hardly a coincidence.

There are also a few others whose behaviour helps to reinforce the dangerous tendencies represented by these activities. Some are merely taken for a ride by the extremists. Others are in the business of giving political advice ostensibly in the interest of democracy and good governance but often inadvertently ending up by dignifying totally illegitimate activity. Some even appear to lose their capacity to distinguish between what is acceptable and unacceptable. To be frank, what Ambassador David Shinn did recently, despite his disclaimer, was to give his blessing to people prepared to destroy the government of Ethiopia at whatever cost to the people and the country. We must reiterate: ensuring the integrity of the elections depends more on what we do, not on what desperate elements of reaction may try to do. The importance of vigilance by the genuine stakeholders of this process, the government and the peoples of Ethiopia, cannot therefore be overstressed.


Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Ministry of Foreign Affairs