A Week in the Horn (29.01.2010)


  • Preparations for the 14th African Union Summit

    The 14th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union will be taking place in Addis Ababa from Sunday to Tuesday, January 31st to February 2nd. The Summit has been preceded this week by the Session of the Executive Council, and 19th Ordinary Session of the meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC) which took place on Monday and Tuesday. The Permanent Representatives Committee deliberated in detail on administrative and financial matters, the implementation of previous decisions of the Executive Council and of the Assembly, and on various legal, institutional, political, economic, social and cultural matters. The Committee adopted a report of the outcome of its meeting for submission to the Executive Council for consideration and adoption.

    The Sixteenth Ordinary Session of the Executive Council, the Council of Foreign Ministers, took place on Thursday and Friday this week. The peace and security situation in Africa, and unconstitutional changes of government were some of the issues that the Council discussed in detail. On conflict situations in the continent, the problems of Somalia and Madagascar received the most attention. In his opening speech, the Chairman of the AU Commission, Dr. Jean Ping said Somalia required special attention from the African Union, stressing the need to support the achievements of “a fragile peace and national reconciliation”. Africa and the international community must not leave Somalia to a harmful doom, he said. Dr. Ping welcomed the role of AMISOM and commended the sacrifices made by Burundi and Uganda. On Madagascar, Dr. Ping said the two parties had failed to agree on an AU-brokered settlement, and they had been given 15 days to come to an agreement. He welcomed the cancellation of the unilaterally called elections which would have affected the AU’s mediation efforts. Madagascar’s AU membership is still suspended. On Guinea, Dr. Ping said the military’s grip appeared to be loosening, and the AU Commission would remain engaged to encourage a return to constitutional rule. The mandate of all the present members of the Peace and Security Council is due to expire in March, and the Executive Council will be electing fifteen members of the Peace and Security Council of the Union.

    A minute’s silence was observed at the opening sessions of the Permanent Representative Committee and of the Executive Council in memory of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Monday. Council members expressed their deep sympathy and solidarity to the people and Government of Ethiopia in this time of grief. Foreign Minister Seyoum, who briefed the Council about the incident, expressed his thanks to Council members for their support.

    The Council is responsible for the finalization of the agenda for the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union which will convene on Sunday for its14th session, from 31 January to 2 February. Among other business, the Assembly will elect the Chairperson of the African Union to replace Colonel Gadhafi whose term of office ends with this Summit. The chairmanship goes in geographic rotation among the five regions. Last year, North African states nominated Colonel Gadhafi. This year it is Southern Africa’s turn and they have nominated Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutarika. The Assembly will also adopt the draft budget for 2010 and the appointment of members of the Peace and Security Council, as well as consider reports on peace and security and on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The theme of the summit is “Information and Communication Technologies in Africa: Challenges and Prospects for Development”. Representatives from the UN, the International Telecommunications Union and the World Bank are expected to provide input. The Summit will also launch the AU flag and present awards to the winners of two African science prizes.

    In addition to the African Union Summit, other meetings held over the weekend will include an IGAD Council of Ministers meeting, and the 22nd Summit of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee.


  • Foreign Minister Seyoum meets U.S., UK, and Portuguese officials

    Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Seyoum met and held discussions with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, Alexander Vershbow, on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues. On Somalia, they agreed that the nature of the conflict had been transformed from a domestic to an international conflict with foreign terrorists taking the leading role in Al-Shabaab. The need to step up efforts to strengthen the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) as well as increase support to AMISOM was underlined. On Sudan, the two sides agreed on the importance of stepping up efforts to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and engage in discussions to ensure the necessary mutual confidence and trust for the difficult challenges ahead.

    Minister Seyoum also held bilateral talks with Baroness Kinnock, the UK Minister for African Affairs, and Portuguese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Professor Joao Cravinho, on the margins of the AU Executive Council meeting this week. In his discussions with Baroness Kinnock, Minister Seyoum, who commended the Government of the United Kingdom as Ethiopia’s most important development partner, noted that Ethiopia was making major headway towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, with particular emphasis on health and education. He indicated that the goals in other sectors were also within reasonable reach. Baroness Kinnock assured Minister Seyoum of her government’s continued economic support. Minister Seyoum also briefed Baroness Kinnock on current political and security developments in the region. He noted that the conflict in Somalia has been hijacked by Al-Shabaab extremists who owed allegiance to Al-Qaeda. They were aiming not just to control Somalia but to use it as a springboard to destabilize the entire region. Following an extensive exchange of views, the ministers agreed on the need for the international community to assist the Somali Government. Minister Seyoum also briefed Baroness Kinnock on Sudan. The discussion covered the peace process in Darfur, the positive as well as the negative tendencies in implementation of the CPA, the up coming national election and possible scenarios following the 2011 referendum. Both Ministers called on all Sudanese to commit themselves to settle their differences through peaceful means and dialogue.

    Foreign Minster Seyoum and the Portuguese Secretary of State, Professor Cravinho, also held similar discussions, exchanging views on bilateral relations as well as regional issues, with special emphasis on Somalia and the Sudan. Both sides expressed satisfaction with existing bilateral relations and agreed to further consolidate their relationship in the years ahead. Minister Seyoum gave Professor Cravinho an extensive briefing on the ongoing preparations for the upcoming national elections in Ethiopia. Discussions reflected similar views on the nature of the conflict in Somalia, and they agreed that the imminent danger posed by extremists in Somalia must be stopped by the concerted efforts of the international community. It was suggested that the European Union should put appropriate mechanisms in place for the TFG to secure necessary financial assistance. On Sudan, the ministers emphasized that the international community should encourage all actors to commit themselves to political solutions rather than resorting to violence and conflict.


  • Somalia: Responsibilities and the need for co-ordination

    Fierce fighting has been continuing for the second week running in Hiiraan and Galgudud regions between Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a (ASWJ) and the forces of Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam. In recent weeks, Ahlu Sunna had built up considerable military momentum, making advances both in Hiiraan and Galgudud in central Somalia. This has now come to a halt with Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam forces retaking the capital of Hiiraan, Belet Weyne. The city has changed hands several times in recent weeks but the latest loss suggests the recent progress made by Ahlu Sunna is faltering.

    One reason may be that Ahlu Sunna’s first congress held in Abudwaaq last month did not produce a clear solution to the movement’s problems of structure and leadership. The result was that Ahlu Sunna has been left with a leadership gap which has been reflected in its recent military performance against Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam forces. This issue of leadership and organizational structure remains the most important issue facing Ahlu Sunna. Without these even a popular movement as strong as Ahlu Sunna, and with very substantial grass roots support, cannot effectively challenge extremism in Somalia. Ahlu Sunna needs to demonstrate an ability to organize itself effectively in order to sustain its campaign against Al-Shabaab.

    Another explanation for the loss of Belet Weyne lies in the lack of effective coordination between the Government and Ahlu Sunna. Both have made efforts to co-ordinate their fight against extremism. Both leaderships have underlined the need for full co-operation, and appear aware that any failure to achieve this will challenge their survival in the medium or long term. However, despite their need for each other, they have yet to translate this into concrete strategy, or trust.

    This has been reflected in Ahlu Sunna’s military set-backs this week, and the Government and Ahlu Sunna need to urgently address this failure. The priority must be for the two to co-operate fully. Unless they address their problems and put their relationship on solid basis, they will continue to offer opportunities to Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam. One consequence of this may be to endanger Puntland and Somaliland as well neighboring countries. There is an obvious need for strengthened co-operation between the administration of Puntland and Ahlu Sunna as well as between the Transitional Federal Government and the Government of Puntland. All are threatened by extremism, and all will suffer if they fail to co-operate.

    Co-operation is, of course, the responsibility of the leadership of the TFG, or Ahlu Sunna and others, but there is an equal responsibility that must be addressed by the international community. As we have noticed repeatedly in A Week in the Horn while there may be a consensus among the international community over the threat to international peace and stability posed by Somalia, much firmer action is still needed on the ground, despite the Security Council’s targeted sanctions against Eritrea. Today, the Somali Government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed celebrates its first anniversary. The Minister of Planning and International Co-operation, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, said the Government had achieved a lot but was still facing huge challenges from Al-Shabaab and other groups supported by international terrorists. It still needed massive support from the international community. Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council, as expected, adopted a resolution authorizing the African Union to maintain AMISOM in Somalia for another year. The Council also requested Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon to continue to provide a logistical support package as well as technical and expert advice for AMISOM.

    In New York, a meeting of the Contact Group on Piracy was told yesterday by the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative, Charles Petrie, that continued expansion of piracy further out to sea, and the innovative financing methods employed by pirates, highlighted the limits of an exclusively sea-based approach to the problem. It emphasized, he said, the need for the international community to deal with the issue through “a comprehensive, cohesive and broad-based approach”. The independent UN expert on Human Rights in Somalia, Shamsul Bari, following a visit to the region, yesterday described “piracy and the huge money it generates” as posing a possible security threat not only to Somalia and the region, but to the whole world.

    This continues to underline the enormous challenges still being posed to the TFG by successes of local and international extremist groups operating in Somalia. The supporters of the Djibouti Agreement and of the peace process must be assisted to face their common challenge together. They must be helped financially and materially to a far greater extent. This remains the only way forward for Somalia, and for the international community.


  • The Tragedy of ET 409

    On Monday, Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 409 en route from Beirut to Addis Ababa crashed into the Mediterranean. On board the Boeing 737-800 plane were 82 passengers and 8 crew members mostly Lebanese and Ethiopian nationals. It can now be assumed there were no survivors. As Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said it was a day of grief and sorrow for all Ethiopians. The Government declared a day of mourning and flags were flown at half mast in honor of the victims of the accident. The following day, Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin led a high level delegation to Lebanon to hold talks with Lebanese officials about the ongoing search and rescue efforts. His visit was to express the gratitude of the Government and peoples of Ethiopia to their Lebanese counterparts for all the efforts they made in the aftermath of the crash and to express sympathy and condolences to the Lebanese people for their loss.

    On his return to Addis Ababa yesterday, Minister Seyoum addressed the Executive Council. Reacting to the outpouring of sympathy from the ministers, he spoke of his visit to Lebanon, explaining that the main body of the plane had now been located and hoped that the remains of most of the passengers would be found in the fuselage, the most important work in connection with the search and rescue mission. He noted the significance of recovering the black box, now located. This was vital for discovering the causes of the crash. There were no clues to this yet. He said an agreement had been reached with Lebanese officials to end any wild speculation. It was only yesterday in fact that an investigation team was set up. Minister Seyoum expressed his profound appreciation to all those who had been helping, and continued to help, in the search and rescue work. He was particularly grateful to the Lebanese government, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, the US, Cyprus, UK and France.

    Reaction to the tragedy has been one of shock and disbelief. The reports of most commentators and media outlets have been made against a backdrop of Ethiopian Airline’s excellent safety record and world class performance. Ethiopian Airlines has never encountered a major safety challenge in six decades. It has been committed to excellence and shown its willingness to invest huge resources in building up its human capital as well as a dependable state-of-the-art fleet. It flies to more destinations throughout the world than any other airline in Africa, and has been unstinting in efforts to bring Africa together. Only a few days earlier, Ethiopian Airlines placed orders for 10 new 737-800 planes from Boeing in addition to the 10 ‘Dreamliners’ due to be delivered in the near future.


  • More on the Misrepresentation and Misinterpretation of HRW

    As we noted last week, in its annual report for 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its four page chapter on Ethiopia manages to recycle a litany of discredited charges against the Ethiopian government’s compliance with human rights during 2009. It claimed that the government had restricted opposition parties, selectively targeting members of the opposition with arrests and intimidation, adopted repressive legislation aiming at clamping down on the free press and muzzling NGOs, and tolerated human rights abuses including the commission of war crimes by members of the armed forces. As usual with HRW the report is long on generalization and abstraction, and markedly short on specifics. It makes no mention of, nor any attempt to reply, to the detailed and devastating responses by the Ethiopian government to HRW’s earlier unsubstantiated reports and public pronouncements over the last year.

    In fact, 2009 saw a number of major positive human rights developments in Ethiopia, almost all of which are overlooked in HRW’s report. They include the commencement of preparations for the May 2010 Federal and Regional State parliamentary elections. In a move that was almost universally agreed would positively contribute to the holding of a free and fair election and was widely applauded, the ruling party and the major opposition parties painstakingly negotiated a Code of Conduct to provide for the ground rules for the upcoming elections. Almost all the political parties subscribed to this instrument which became legal binding upon its adoption by the House of People’s Representatives. The year in fact saw opposition parties starting their election campaigning, operating freely throughout the country as HRW would know had it bothered to investigate. The activities of the media and NGOs, international and national, were similarly un-circumscribed. It might be noted that the President of the Federation of African Journalists has described Ethiopia as “ready to work with its journalists to build a strong, well-informed and confident media community – this is good for the country and good for Africa.” The Federation of African Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists held a joint two day conference in Addis Ababa last weekend.

    During the year, Ethiopia, with the cooperation and assistance of its partners, presented the human rights implementation reports required under key UN human rights treaties, as well as by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The reports under the UPR mechanism and the African Charter were successfully considered by the respective supervisory mechanisms. Contrary to claims by Human Rights Watch about the Ethiopian government’s relationship with civic society organizations, these reports were prepared and presented on the basis of detailed discussions and constructive engagement between the Government and various CSOs. During the same period, the Government finalized the vetting process for the selection of officials for the country’s national human rights institutions. New appointments have recently been made to head the National Human Rights Commission and the Office of Ombudsman. It might be added that Ethiopia continues to register impressive economic growth. This has been helping to further expand and consolidate the provision of social services throughout the country. Extraordinarily, Human Rights Watch does not find socio-economic rights worthy of any serious discussion.

    Human Rights Watch’s claim that the Government does not investigate alleged human rights abuses by its armed forces is simply false, as HRW knows perfectly well. Earlier allegations by HRW led to an immediate independent and detailed internal investigation of possible human rights abuses in the Ogaden area of the Somali National Regional State. This investigation exposed serious flaws in the methodology and accuracy of HRW’s report and despite face-saving public pronouncements that it would respond to the investigation’s findings, HRW has simply not done so. It might be noted that arrests and trial followed one genuine case of abuse unnoticed by HRW but uncovered by the subsequent independent investigation.

    In fact, the Ethiopian national defense forces take constitutional and human rights training very seriously. As Human Rights Watch has been repeatedly informed, educational seminars and workshops on human rights and humanitarian law are regularly carried out as part of the core curricula in all Ethiopia’s military training institutions. Details of this were provided to HRW in November 2008 for example, in connection with HRW claims of alleged offences in Somalia. Typically, the information was never acknowledged. Topics covered in this training include the laws of war, international humanitarian law, the International Declaration of Human Rights, civilian supremacy over the military, patriotism and loyalty to the Constitution, rights and freedoms of citizens under the Ethiopian constitution, equality of religions and of nations and nationalities. All soldiers receive copies of the constitution; informal discussions are regularly held on a variety of constitutional topics. A wide array of workshops on specific topics in human rights and humanitarian law are routinely made available for senior military officers, members of the military legal profession, those participating in international peacekeeping operations, and military media professionals. Human rights conferences and seminars are regularly convened in different military training centers. The Ministry of Defense transmits a regular radio program on the military’s role in the protection of human rights and implementation of the laws of war. The Ministry’s bi-weekly paper ‘The Dawn” features a column on humanitarian law.

    Similar problems of misrepresentation and misinterpretation appear in HRW’s comments about recent legislation, including the Civil Society Proclamation. No analysis of the proclamation can support the claims that it is repressive or demonstrates a narrowing of the political space. What it does require is transparency and accountability from civil society organizations, demands which appear to be the main problem for certain international advocacy organizations. The legislation distinguishes between Ethiopian and foreign charities but it does not imply the prohibition of foreign charities from charitable works or Ethiopian charities from advocacy work as alleged. The only areas of activity prohibited to foreign charities are political. Local advocacy groups can continue to undertake their advocacy work unimpeded – this is a right guaranteed under the Constitution. The only limitation is that they have to raise 90 % of their funds from local sources to prevent undue political influence by foreigners and ensure ownership of advocacy work by Ethiopians themselves. The law does not, incidentally, exclude the possibility of international organizations or foreign governmental advocacy organizations, even HRW, operating in Ethiopia, but this must be under agreement with the Government, and allow for regular evaluations. The law allows for an independent Charities and Societies Agency to ensure the implementation of the words and spirit of the legislation. The Proclamation demands the accountability of societies and charities, but it has been criticized for laying down “excessively severe penalties for transgressions”. In fact, most violations are subject to fines, though suspension is prescribed for more serious problems such as falsification of accounts. Cancellation of registration can only come as the result of exceptionally grave violations including deliberate fraud and misrepresentation, or involvement in unlawful purpose or purpose prejudicial to public peace, welfare and security. This is hardly unusual any more than the requirement for transparency which includes the demand for annual activity reports to be sent to the Civil Societies Agency. It might be added that the Proclamation is also designed to have a positive impact on the efficient performance of charities and societies, allowing for CSOs to create sustainable sources of income, and providing incentives to CSOs that make maximum use of their resources.

    Ethiopia, in fact, enjoys a healthy relationship with its bilateral and multilateral development partners. One reason is that this stems from certain shared principles which underpin the Government’s relationship with its partners and from the serious attention it gives to development issues. The Government values the contribution of its partners to meeting its development objectives; donors respect the Government’s commitment and seriousness. Ethiopia’s relationship with its development partners is, in fact, based on mutual respect, an open dialogue and on strategic priorities. For the last several years, this has nurtured and facilitated a number of channels of communication and dialogue. For example, within the context of the Cotonou Agreement, Ethiopia is one of the few countries undertaking regular consultation between EU ambassadors and government officials at the highest level. Human rights are among the issues covered in these discussions. To the apparent disappointment of advocacy organizations like HRW, such dialogue has helped avoid unnecessary public friction even when differences have appeared.


  • Ensuring the Integrity of the Upcoming Elections: Partisanship, loyal opposition and the Economist

    Political parties play a central role in the democratization process in any country. They provide the means through which different public interests are articulated, providing for the aspirations of various sections of society. They are the main actors in the market place of ideas, offering a menu of alternative political platforms on a range of areas, political, economic or social. Their role in building democracy is part of a continuum of activities in which free and fair elections are an integral part, allowing citizens to choose between various alternative platforms. To articulate the interests of their constituencies, parties need to identify, bring together and spell out issues to enhance the best interests of the people. They are, of course, expected to play by the rules laid down in the Constitution and subsequent legislation, even though by the nature of elections not all of a party’s expectations will be met in one or two election terms. Free and fair elections are less about the outcome, winning or losing, than about the process.

    We have mentioned before the difference between parties that insist that democracy depends upon their victory alone, and parties that are prepared to participate in the democratic process and play the role of a loyal opposition. The former largely focus on the outcome of the elections, on the need to have their own way. Most of the problems in previous elections in Ethiopia have arisen from such a disposition. The latter are prepared to abide by the rules, expose the weakness of governing parties, accept the electoral process whoever wins. Their presence raises the hope that the political process will benefit, no matter who wins or loses elections. Recent developments, notably the Code of Conduct recently signed between the ruling party and 65 opposition parties, suggests the lack of trust that has long characterized inter-party relations in Ethiopia has now been resolved.

    Unfortunately, this idea that opposition parties can play a real role in strengthening the democratic process has never lacked detractors. Some opposition politicians have made no secret of their preference for the rough and tumble of “color” revolutions to try to short-circuit their way to power. Their declared intentions may be outrageous, but they have never been without supporters among international media outlets or advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, and now the Economist. The latest article on Ethiopia in the Economist (“Anxious Ethiopia: Jangling Nerves”) is a classic piece of partisanship of the kind that the detractors of the democratization process have deployed in their campaign to de-legitimize the election in advance. It appears to be trying to undo whatever positive impact recent multi-party negotiations over the Code of Conduct and other issues have had on the democratic and electoral process. It is true the article does raise a number of issues purportedly attempting to shed light on economic and political developments in Ethiopia under the EPRDF. It even manages to put in a few kind words about successes in education and health. These, however, are merely the prelude to an unsparing indictment against the legitimacy of the political process in Ethiopia and the very notion of loyal opposition. The Economist finds it difficult to accept the legitimacy of the Code of Conduct. In a curious turn of phrase, it claims some of the opposition parties may indeed be “genuine”, but labels most of those who signed the Code as being “in hock to the EPRDF”, another surprising phrase to describe parties that are prepared to accept the Constitution. It is strange that any ‘neutral’ foreign media can so casually label opposition parties of another country as genuine or otherwise on grounds that have nothing to do with building democracy.

    What all this highlights is the fact that the Economist is no friend to any loyal opposition in the developing world or in Ethiopia. Of course, any genuine democracy needs a loyal opposition; indeed, no real democracy can do without it. In a serious democratic electoral process, only parties with a real political platform, and a willingness to play by the rules, can be considered genuine contenders for power. Opposition elements that insist on trying to grab power by any means, fair or foul, will always remain just “spoilers”. No amount of sloganeering or media campaigning on their behalf will change that. The process of democratization in Ethiopia will not be affected by their efforts at de-legitimization or by unsavory articles in the Economist.


Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Ministry of Foreign Affairs