A Week in the Horn (25.02.2010)


  • The High-Level Group Meeting on Education for All and the Addis Ababa Declaration

    The Ninth High-Level Group Meeting on Education for All (EFA), focusing on the impact of the global economic crises on education and on challenges related to marginalization, was held in Addis Ababa from 23 to 25 February. The meeting was organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in collaboration with the African Union and the Government of Ethiopia, bringing together Ministers of Education, representatives of international and regional organizations, civil society and other associations. The meeting was opened by Ms. Irina Bokovo, Director General of UNESCO, in the presence of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ms. Lalla Ben Barka, Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and Mr. Erastus Mwnecha, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

    Speaking at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Meles said Ethiopia had addressed the issue of access to education in a comprehensive fashion. As a result, 85 percent of the primary schools needed have been built in the rural areas and over 96 percent of primary school-age children have been enrolled. He spoke of the efforts exerted to expand secondary and tertiary education, including programs for technical and vocational training, and the special attention given to the marginalized sectors of society. The Premier said, however, that the country has not fully been able to overcome the challenges it faced in expanding access to education in the pastoralist areas. Referring to a lack of commitment by donors in realizing the pledges made on various occasions, the Prime Minister said the country had to continue to mobilize its own resources to further expand both the education service and its coverage and to address other education-related challenges. However, he concluded by expressing his confidence that Ethiopia would reach the Millennium Development Goals in the education sector.

    In the opening sessions, technical meetings of senior officials evaluated the activities and progresses made since the eighth meeting of the High-Level Group on Education For All and discussed the report on the key outcomes of the tenth meeting of the working group of Education For All. Different panel discussions and debates were held both at technical and Ministerial levels. The meeting concluded with the adoption of the Addis Ababa Declaration which notes that it is essential that national governments should further develop adequate and evidence-based education policies linked to a broader development framework, and they should identify, target and respond to the needs of the marginalized in a flexible and innovative way, enhancing the quality and relevance of education. The declaration calls on governments to multiply their efforts in the current global context to safeguard recent gains in education and increase current levels of budget allocation to at least 6% of GDP or 20% of public expenditure. It recommends governments to link education policies to broader development strategies, and calls upon EFA partners and development partners to honour their aid commitments and support innovative education funding. It requests UNESCO to continue to monitor the impact of the financial and economic crisis on education, and to propose measures at the September Millennium Development Goals’ summit to enhance the effectiveness of the High Level group.

    During her stay in Addis Ababa, the UNESCO Director General also held bilateral meetings with the Ministers of Culture and Tourism, Education and Foreign Affairs. Together with Education Minister, Ato Demeke Mekonnen, Director General Bokovo laid the foundation stone for an International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa. She also had fruitful discussions with President Girma Woldegiorgis, and with Prime Minister Meles. In their meeting, the Prime Minister emphasized the Government’s belief that science and technology had a key role to play in reducing poverty and bringing about rapid and sustainable economic development. It had re-established the Science and Technology Commission at a ministerial level to boost the development of the sector. He noted that the Government had increased the number of state higher learning institutions to twenty two. Director General Bokovo said that UNESCO would be continuing to assist Ethiopia in ensuring quality education and in improving the enrollment of girls at all levels of the education system. This would be part of UNESCO’s efforts to assist Ethiopia to meet the Millennium Development Goals.



  • The EU’s exploratory election observation mission in Ethiopia

    A seven-member European Union technical team conducted an extensive fact-finding mission from 15th to 25th February, assessing all aspects of preparation for the upcoming national elections and evaluating the situation for possible deployment of an EU Election Observation Mission. The technical team held meetings with a number of government and political party officials as well as the National Electoral Board and carried out field trips to different regions. Ato Seyoum Mesfin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, met the team on Wednesday last week. During their discussions, the Minister explained the commitment and determination of the Ethiopian Government to make the upcoming National Election free, fair and peaceful, as well as credible in the eyes of the Ethiopian people. He noted that the Government was doing everything possible to ensure a level playing field for all political actors and to make the process believable and transparent. He emphasized that the Government believed that independent and impartial election observers had an added value for the process of democratization in Ethiopia. He also emphasized the need for election observers to demonstrate complete impartiality and independence. This would be all the more critical in light of the negative experiences that Ethiopia had had in the aftermath of the 2005 elections.

    The exploratory team held discussions with officials of the National Electoral Board both at federal and regional levels. The discussions focused on the reform process undertaken after a thorough evaluation of the 2005 election and on the preparations for the upcoming election. The team also held extensive discussions with state law enforcement bodies, including the Federal Police Commission and the Ministry of National Defense. They had meetings with the Supreme Court of Ethiopia and the Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives. They met with officials of the ruling party and with representatives of opposition parties. The team also went on field trips to a number of places including Ambo, Nekemete, Gonder, Bahar Dar, Arsi-Negele and Hawasa, meeting with officials from the Electoral Board’s regional offices and representatives of political parties as well as regional state administration officials.



  • Somalia: the need to implement the TFG/Ahlu Sunna agreement as soon as possible

    For most of the international community it is now clear that the conflict in Somalia is no longer a war among Somalis. Only the Government of Eritrea and its few allies appear to disagree. Somali extremists like Al-Shabaab have acknowledged their links to Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda has publicly flaunted its involvement in Somalia. The day to day fighting in Mogadishu is between the forces of peace and reconciliation, on the one hand, and those bent on promoting a foreign agenda as part of what they call an international jihad, on the other. As the recent meeting of the International Contact Group on Somalia emphasized there is no other option than to increase the level of practical support to the TFG and its allies in Somalia.

    Indeed, the Italian Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General of the Arab League recently issued a joint statement emphasizing that the international community could no longer afford to ignore Somalia now that the world is facing a chain of crises that links the Horn of Africa with the Arabian Peninsula and on to Afghanistan. In their joint statement, Italy and the Arab League underlined the fact that Somali groups have established close links with groups in Yemen, and pointed out that Somalia has become a theatre for clashes between extremists and the forces of, and aligned with, the legitimate TFG led by President Sheikh Sheriff. They called on the African Union, the League of Arab States, the European Union, IGAD and the UN to pursue joint and integrated action in support of peace in Somalia.

    The stance taken by Italy and the Arab League still needs to be put into action. What is lacking on the ground is just the kind of joint and coordinated effort on Somalia which the two parties have called for. Here, the recent negotiations between the TFG and Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a can be considered one step in the right direction, helping to produce a conducive atmosphere for such concerted efforts. The TFG and Ahlu Sunna initialized an agreement to work towards integrating their administration and their security forces two weeks ago in Addis Ababa. It is hoped that the understanding reached between the two will soon be fully implemented. Such an alliance could go a long way towards facilitating success for the struggle of moderate forces in Somalia against extremists. Equally, for this to happen, their agreement needs to be implemented as soon as possible. Efforts should be exerted by all stakeholders and the international community to assist in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

    This agreement, yet to be ratified by the two constituencies, is a follow-up to an earlier declaration made by the two parties last June in Nairobi. Now the TFG and Ahlu Sunna have once again committed themselves to working together, it is necessary to make good their promises. It is encouraging that they have already made it clear that they will work to bring other forces of peace on board, using the Transitional Federal Charter and the outcome of the Djibouti Peace process. This requires willingness on the part of all parties to embrace a spirit of cooperation and reconciliation and the rejection of any resort to military option to settle any differences that might arise.

    Meanwhile in Nairobi, the AU’s Deputy Special Representative on Somalia, Mr. Wafula Wamunyinyi, said this week that more funding was beginning to reach the TFG as it became clear the Government was making progress in re-establishing state institutions, and working to some specific budgets for the first time. Half of the funding pledged to help Somalia’s security forces and AU troops providing security to the government has been released. Mr. Wamunyinyi said more troops from Uganda and Burundi were waiting to be airlifted to AMISOM with both countries sending an additional battalion each as soon as logistical arrangements have been completed.



  • Eritrean demonstrations against sanctions

    Over the last week the Government of Eritrea has been engaged in orchestrating a campaign against the sanctions recently imposed by the United Nations Security Council over Eritrea’s destabilization in the Horn of Africa. This has involved a media blitz by President Isaias personally and a number of demonstrations around the world. There was no sign, however, of any effort to take any of the steps requested by the Security Council nor has there been any indication of changing policy. Indeed, as both Djibouti and Somalia made it clear during the recent AU summit in Addis Ababa, Eritrea’s support for extremist elements has continued unchecked. And indeed, this week, the US Ambassador to Eritrea made it clear that there had been no change in Eritrea’s regional destabilization activities.

    Eritrea, in fact, has continued its usual approach of complete denial of all allegations against it even when faced with the incontrovertible facts produced by the Security Council. This of course is nothing new. Shortly before this week’s demonstrations President Isaias gave an interview to Al Jazeera, which gave the concept of denial a whole new meaning. He denied he had any enemies at all, insisting his government is friends with the entire world “except with few liars.” He denied that problems with Ethiopia were serious, contradicting all previous remarks by implying that any difficulties between the two countries could easily be resolved. He denied that he had supported Islamists in Somalia. Allegations about his destabilizing role in the region were “all lies”, and he claimed there was no evidence for any actions of that kind. He denied Eritreans were seeking asylum abroad in their thousands, apparently forgetting he usually accuses the CIA for organizing a mass exodus from Eritrea. He said it was news to him that a dozen players from the Eritrean football squad absconded in Kenya. Eritrea, he said, was a law-abiding, peace-loving, prosperous and benevolent state. Any allegations to the contrary were “all lies” and any claims that Eritreans faced problems like food shortages, famine or forced military service were pure fabrications. Eritrea, he added was in fact, “number one in the continent” in terms of its quality of life.

    The actual demonstrations this week in a few cities in Europe and North America were well-choreographed. Participating were those government supporters who share President Isaias’ rosy picture of Eritrea if from a considerable distance. The demonstrations were intended to protest Eritrea’s innocence, but they included extensive attacks on the countries in which the demonstrations were taking place. The turn-out was invariably reported by Eritrea’s official media outlets in incredible numbers, with reference to hundreds of thousands. Observers mostly put the numbers in the low thousands.

    Several observations might be made about these demonstrations. One is that the demonstrators were availing themselves of the democracy in those countries to attack their hosts; something they would be totally unable to do in Eritrea of course. And the demonstrations were in defence of a leader who only three days earlier had publicly declared that his people had no use for “a commodity called democracy”. Another point was that a number of the demonstrators were quoted as saying they appeared because of threats against their families back in Eritrea if they did not turn out. It is common knowledge that the government in Asmara has always relied on a network of intimidation and extortion to raise money from Eritreans in the Diaspora.

    It is far from clear what the demonstrations were meant to achieve at all. They are aimed, of course to try to push the international community into reconsidering its position on Eritrea. Apparently, Eritrea’s leaders believe the demonstrations will drive home a message that Eritreans are united in opposition to the “unfair and illegal” sanctions, largely imposed through the actions of the US. They are unlikely to have any such effect, not least because of the many Eritreans in the Diaspora who have welcomed sanctions. In fact, if the rhetoric of Eritrea’s leaders is any guide, President Isaias is also trying to rebuild support among the Diaspora whose remittances have for so long been the main financial support of the Government. With growing opposition to repressive domestic policies and heavy-handed treatment of critics, the level of support from the Diaspora has been steadily declining. The claim of sanctions being the US response to Eritrea’s defiant international stance is apparently meant to encourage as many people as possible to support the Government again, and lift some of the mounting domestic pressure it is currently facing. It is unlikely to succeed.



  • Chatham House revisited: Eritrea’s Road to Isolation

    Last week we reviewed a volume of papers on Eritrea’s foreign policy, published by Chatham House and edited by Dr. Richard Read -“Eritrea’s External Relations: Understanding its regional role and foreign policy”. The papers were updated for publication from a workshop held in 2007. In addition to the more general issues raised by this publication, we wanted today to look in more detail at Dr. Redie Bereketeab’s “The Eritrea-Ethiopia Conflict and the Algiers Agreement: Eritrea’s road to isolation”; and Dan Connell’s “Eritrea and the US: towards a new US policy”, as these specifically address the issue of Eritrea’s diplomatic isolation and its estrangement from its neighbours and the wider international community.

    Dan Connell argues that Eritrea’s relations with the US have always been shaped and overshadowed by US/Ethiopian relations, and almost always to Eritrea’s disadvantage. The US, he says, has always seen Ethiopia as its prime strategic ally in the Horn of Africa, and Eritrea as a lesser asset, even an afterthought. At worst it was an obstacle to be constrained or sacrificed when its interests ran counter to those of Ethiopia. In fact, this was hardly true during Haile Selassie’s time. It certainly wasn’t the case during the military dictatorship (1974-1991) or during the early 1990s with President Clinton characterising Eritrea as emblematic of an African renaissance and defining it as a front-line state in containing Sudan. The US was even prepared to shut its eyes to Eritrea’s propensity to conflict whenever it had disputes with its neighbours (Sudan -1994; Yemen -1995; Djibouti – 1996). It was only when Eritrea invaded Ethiopia and initiated a full-scale war, coupled with President Bush’s changes of regional strategy towards Sudan, that things began to change. Eritrea blamed the US in vitriolic terms for supporting Ethiopia during and after the war although the US continued to supply humanitarian and development aid. Connell notes that as the US moved closer to Ethiopia on a regional level, as the war on terror began to intensify, so Eritrea deepened its involvement with Islamic political groups in Somalia. One might note incidentally that Connell’s assertions that Ethiopia “goaded the Somali Islamists into providing a pretext for an invasion, much as [it] had done with Eritrea in 1998” is entirely false. It is completely contradicted by the facts, as the preliminaries for the Khartoum talks between the TFG and the ICU make quite clear.

    Connell’s suggestions for a new approach by the US towards Eritrea (and one wonders why he doesn’t consider it might be more appropriate to reverse the process) relies on the common assertion that the border issue lies behind all Eritrean frustration/aggression, a claim that totally ignores the long record of Eritrean attacks on its neighbours well before the Eritrea-Ethiopian Boundary Commission reported in 2002. The pattern of aggression makes nonsense of Connell’s assertions that it is the failure to demarcate, rather than Eritrea’s defeat in 2000, which underlies Eritrea’s subsequent foreign policy actions. His suggestion is that an improvement should start with the US moving “aggressively” to end Ethiopia’s alleged refusal to demarcate. This, he suggests, on little or no evidence, would open the door to political change in Eritrea; elsewhere he noted President Isaias will never change his negative views towards political development in Eritrea.

    Dr. Bereketeab sees the conflict in 1998 as essentially concerned with Eritrea’s independence, a claim whose implausibility is highlighted by the fact that Eritrea invaded Ethiopia. Quoting President Isaias almost verbatim he claims Eritrea has a different meaning to Ethiopia as a whole than to the region of Tigrai in particular. Neither Dr. Bereketeab nor President Isaias appear to have a realistic understanding of Ethiopian history or of the attitudes of the TPLF or Ethiopia in general towards Eritrean independence. Like President Isaias himself, Dr Bereketeab manages to confuse possible ideas for future co-operation with alleged threats to the independence of Eritrea which, for Ethiopia, became permanent and non-negotiable in 1993. Dr. Bereketeab repeats EPLF/PFDJ propaganda, if in a rather more nuanced and academic way, over what he calls “numerous other provocations” leading up to the attack at Badme. He even returns to the long exploded myth of Greater Tigray, an idea which briefly surfaced in the mid 1970s to be subsequently ignored by all except President Isaias and a few Eritrean academic propagandists. He raises the allegation that Ethiopia sees Eritrean independence as a threat to its historical and national identity. If anyone holds such to such nonsense it is no more than a tiny minority and it has never had any impact on policy or government thinking. It should not be necessary to remind Dr. Bereketeab that it was the Government of Ethiopia which accepted the concept of a minimal referendum in Eritrea alone to allow acceptance of Eritrea’s independence; without the acquiescence of central government in Addis Ababa, Eritrea would have found itself in the position of Somaliland today. He even repeats discredited Eritrean claims that it was not responsible for starting the war, that Ethiopia’s aims included regime change in Asmara and the seizure of Assab and its failure to achieve them meant it had essentially lost the war, and that Ethiopia’s call for dialogue for normalization of relations is intended to provide a settlement outside the Algiers Agreement. These claims of course ignore the evidence of the Claims Commission that Eritrea invaded Ethiopia, the fact that Ethiopia very obviously won the war, and that it has been the activities of Eritrea that has effectively torn up the Algiers Agreement.

    Dr. Bereketeab suggests the EPLF/PFDJ was accorded legitimacy in Eritrea because it won independence ‘against all odds; and secondly because it promised stability, security, socio-economic development, liberty and democracy. He argues the Eritrea-Ethiopia war endangered the first and undermined the second. In fact, it was hardly the war that had this effect. It was clear much earlier that President Isaias and his Government was largely uninterested in liberty or democracy. The President refused to implement the multi-party constitution adopted by the National Assembly in 1997, claiming later that a constitution had nothing to do with the formation of parties. He was on record as saying he saw no chance of political programmes functioning “in the very near future” and even if they did, “it may still take a very long time before [parties] can become mature enough to play productive roles in the political life of the country.” There is no indication that he has changed his views. If anything they appear to have hardened.

    In fact, neither Dr. Bereketeab nor Dan Connell actually mention the fundamental problem between Eritrea and Ethiopia, or analyze the major impact of Eritrea’s defeat in 2000. It is left to Sally Healy (“Hard and Soft Power: some thoughts on the practice of Eritrea’s foreign policy”) to provide a dose of realism. “Implausible as it may now seem, Eritrea apparently saw itself as the leader of a joint political enterprise, a progressive partnership between two countries in which Ethiopia’s standing as a major power in the region would be shared, or even shaped, by Eritrea.” This was never a practical possibility, nor, unsurprisingly, was it acceptable to Ethiopia’s leaders. It might be added that Eritrea’s vaulting ambition was not confined to Ethiopia. Its regional aims in the early 1990s extended to the overthrow of the Government of Sudan, involvement in the collapse of Zaire, attempts to seize Yemeni islands to project itself into the Red Sea, and threats against Djibouti as well as the destabilization of Ethiopia, both directly and through Somalia.

    To achieve these ambitions, President Isaias saw Eritrea as the major military power in the region, and he was prepared to use this power. Defeat in 2000 was, therefore, a major shock because the PFDJ leadership and President Isaias believed their own myths of victory in the independence war, achieved “single-handedly and against all odds”. This of course ignored all the external, and internal, enabling factors which contributed to their victory, including the critical assistance of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front and other anti-Derg organizations in Ethiopia, the demoralization of the Ethiopian military government, the end of Soviet military support, and the EPLF’s own direct and indirect support from the Arab World and even from the United States. Ignoring all this allowed Eritrea’s leaders to believe in their own seriously exaggerated invincibility. As a result, as Sally Healy puts it “Eritrea’s capture of the border town of Badme in 1998 marked the end of the independence honeymoon and the start of a nightmare for Eritrea.” Eritrea was finally brought face-to-face with the reality of Ethiopia’s military superiority and its willingness to use it if necessary. The result of the war and post war developments demonstrated clearly that there was no issue between Ethiopia and Eritrea involving Eritrean sovereignty or its independence, only Eritrea’s overweening ambition.

    When Eritrea failed to achieve the quick results it wanted diplomatically, it abandoned the whole idea of diplomacy and co-operation with the international community. As Sally Healy emphasized “Eritrea stopped engaging internationally and turned its attention instead to undermining Ethiopia. Returning to practices that were familiar from the years of struggle [for independence], it has sought to rebuild relationships with Ethiopia’s internal adversaries…”, irrespective of their means of operation. Sally Healy adds that “such an approach suggests the persistence of an old belief that Ethiopia is nothing more than an unhappy amalgam of oppressed nations that could be unravelled with time and patience.” It is indeed an old, and an irrelevant idea, and one that is easily negated by the process of democratization and the federal constitution.

    The central problem for the region is precisely the fact that Eritrea’s leader still has hegemonic aspirations far beyond his own or Eritrea’s ability. They never were achievable even in the 1990s. They are even less plausible today after Eritrea’s persistent claims, over the last few years, that its international predicament is the result of American hostility. President Isaias’ has repeatedly denounced the US Government and the CIA for everything that has gone wrong. Nor has he made any effort to cultivate good relations with Europe which he claims has also let down Eritrea, like the AU and the rest of the international community. Eritrea’s diplomatic isolation today, underlined by the imposition of targeted sanctions by the UN Security Council rests squarely and entirely on the result of the actions of its leadership, and those of its President whose latest effort has been to accuse an Al Jazeera journalist of insanity for asking difficult questions.



  • Ensuring the integrity of the elections: the regional context

    The Horn of Africa is widely seen as a region in crisis and as one of the most disturbed areas of the world today. This is certainly an exaggeration but almost all the regional states continue to face major political and socio-economic problems, including the threat of extremism and terrorism, as well as piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, and with the added danger of climate change looming over all and one of the regional states committing itself to regional destabilization as a central element of its foreign policy. This view of the region has been reinforced by the recent election problems in Kenya, the resonance of Sudan’s upcoming Presidential election for the future of both north and south Sudan and for next year’s referendum on the future of Southern Sudan, and the delays in holding Somaliland’s overdue Presidential elections, now expected later this year. Eritrea, of course, has no plans to hold any national elections or presidential elections in the foreseeable future. Ethiopia is, of course, holding its national and federal state elections in May.

    The establishment of democracy in any country in the region is all the harder in the face of widespread under-development, problems of unemployment and the lack of literacy. As important is the failure of politicians to demonstrate any clear or genuine commitment to democracy, to accept its values, its rules, procedures or ethics. This brings us back to something we have referred to before here in Ethiopia, the failure of members of the opposition to play their necessary role within any democratic system; that is the concept of the loyal opposition, opposition functioning within the democratic and constitutional framework. Opposition parties have as much responsibility as a government or a ruling party to make a democratic system work effectively. Multi-party democracy is difficult to root in societies which are largely rural, non-industrial, poor, under-developed or pastoral. Even producing an accurate voters’ roll is in itself a problem. There can be difficulties in the provision of information, and here again responsibility is central to any understanding of the role of the press and the media. The need to educate party members, in or out of power, and the media, in their roles is central to the development of democracy. It is a lengthy process and one that requires hard work from all to encourage the embrace of democratic concepts, as well as democratic rules and procedures. Successful, non-violent elections are a vital part of this; they are the responsibility of all parties and of all politicians.

    Ethiopia failed to achieve non-violent elections in 2005. Despite a successful election itself, a combination of circumstances including the failure of responsibility at all levels led to severe post-election problems. The result was that the 2005 national and federal state election was not the example for the region that the Government might have hoped for. This time around, the Government anticipates that it will go better. It has done its best to ensure this will be the case with the Code of Conduct to regulate party behaviour and the agreements on media balance and usage and on campaigning.

    All in all this should provide an impressive example for other states in the region, and one that will have particular resonance in neighbouring Eritrea where the Government has consistently refused to allow any manifestations of multi-party democracy. Genuine democracy, even if flawed, is anathema to dictators, and democracy in a neighbour is particularly unwelcome. Eritreans will be able to hear and (partially) see a democratic multi-party electoral process which President Isaias has made it clear he will never allow the Eritrean people to aspire to. Control, and indeed personal control, remains central to the mechanics of government in Eritrea. This is one reason why the example of a genuine multi-party vote in Ethiopia is so important, providing a real, visible and alternative option for the most militarized state in Africa, if not the world. The economic costs of Eritrea’s long-term mobilization have been crippling but the continued insistence of national service does allow for a critical mechanism of control reinforced by a refusal to implement the Constitution or allow any national elections.

    Given Eritrea’s past record of efforts to destabilize Ethiopia, it is no surprise that it is continuing its attempts to upset Ethiopia’s democratic process, trying to take advantage of the relaxation in security which necessarily accompanies the operation of democratic procedures. Eritrea has already attempted to infiltrate members of some unregistered political opposition groups committed to armed struggle into Ethiopia. It has put considerable effort into support for Al-Shabaab in Somalia in order to try and impact on Ethiopia’s policies, and in backing ONLF and OLF military and terrorist operations in southern Ethiopia. More can be expected.

    None of this provides any excuse for not having a free and fair election (nothing can excuse that), but it does mean that President Isaias will continue to “fish in troubled waters”. The combination of encouraging regional instability and Islamic radicalism in Somalia is a highly dangerous strategy with significant international implications; it resonates dangerously in the region even if it provides no serious threat to Ethiopia’s stability. As Sally Healy notes the Eritrean Government may not have a stated policy to try to overthrow the Ethiopia Government, but “the main thrust of its regional action is building alliances with non-state rebel groups working against Ethiopia”. There is no indication that Eritrea has any intention of suspending such activities during Ethiopia’s elections.

    Even the functioning of a mature consolidated democracy requires vigilance; how much more so in the case of an ongoing democratic process which is still fragile. Establishing a democracy in the absence of developed technology, socio-economic development, industrialism, universal education and other factors prevailing in Western Europe or North America will always be difficult. It requires knowledge and commitment – and responsibility – from all those involved, government and opposition alike. The result, however, should be an example that will reverberate beyond the confines of Ethiopia and provide a model and a precedent for the whole region.

    With its aim of regional destabilization, and its own negation of democracy, Eritrea is currently the antithesis of Ethiopia, even if the latter’s democratization process is still a matter in progress. The forthcoming elections among 80 million people, in the Horn of Africa’s largest state, can and should provide a real and valuable alternative scenario and an example for the whole region. This didn’t happen in 2005 when events conspired against it and a significant element of the opposition refused to accept the role of ‘loyal opposition’. This time round the omens are more propitious; and the potential rewards, within a more advanced democratic process, considerable.