Sudan’s elections: a necessary and successful step towards the referendum
Sudan’s national elections took place between April 11th and April 15th., and, as widely expected, President Omer Hassan Ahmed Al-Bashir was re-elected President of Sudan, and General Salva Kiir Mayardit re-elected as President of the Government of South Sudan. The results were announced this week, and preliminary figures from the National Electoral Commission were that President Bashir had received 68.2% of the votes nationally, and General Salva Kiir had won 93% of the vote in the south. The result announced on the 26th of April has also declared the victory of National Congress Party (NCP) by a clear majority, and of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in South Sudan.
The election was the first multi-party presidential, legislative and local election since 1986. In five days of voting the Sudanese people chose between presidential candidates, for the country as a whole and for South Sudan, representatives for the National Assembly and the Lower House of Parliament, as well as for state governors and local assemblies. It was a complicated process with eight ballot papers in the north and twelve in the south. Although some major opposition parties boycotted the election, IGAD and other observer missions reported that the election was conducted in a manner that allowed the full participation of the over 16 million registered voters. Turnout has been estimated as an impressive sixty percent. In all the polling stations visited by observers the conduct of the election was described as fair and free in its handling, with a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Voting started on time, and staff at polling stations affirmed that the exercise was democratic and peaceful.
There were a number of technical, logistical and administrative problems as might have been expected with such a complicated process, and both EU and Carter Center observers felt the process fell below theoretical international standards. Most important, however, is the fact that the election provides a breakthrough for Sudan and for the region, as the whole electoral process is a central factor in implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 in Machakos, Kenya. The election is one of the major components of the CPA which stipulates, among other things, that the referendum on self-determination in the south should be held in January 2011. The election is a necessary precursor of the referendum, a critical threshold for progress towards the 2011 referendum, and as such a milestone for the achievement for sustainable peace and stability, not only in the Sudan but also for the entire region of the Horn.
In his letter of congratulation to President Al-Bashir, Prime Minister Meles emphasized the importance of the results at this time and said it was his firm conviction that they would ensure continuity of peace and development of the Sudan and the successful implementation of the CPA. To General Salva Kiir, Prime Minister Meles also noted that his election as President of the Government of South Sudan, at this important period in the history of the region, was critical for the success of the CPA. Prime Minister Meles wished both men “every success in the discharge of your heavy responsibilities”.
Last week, before the results were announced, both the parties to the CPA, the National Congress Party and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, agreed to accept the results of the election, with both President Omer Al-Bashir and General Salva Kiir remaining in office. This commitment by the leadership of the parties effectively stressed their continued commitment with respect to the right of the South Sudanese people to hold the referendum next year whatever the outcome may be. The international community and the parties to the referendum now hope that the success of the election will facilitate progress towards the full implementation of the CPA.
Somalia’s fractious parliament; a new UN Security Council resolution on piracy
On Monday this week, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, issued a statement deploring the “energy wasted on arguments which could be devoted to resolving more pressing issues”; and calling on the leadership of the TFG and of Parliament to “see beyond their differences and concentrate on normal government tasks.” President Sheikh Sharif also called on legislators and cabinet members to “set their priorities right in the face of the daunting security and humanitarian challenges the nation faces.” They were referring to disputes that have arisen among members of parliament over the role of the Speaker of Parliament, Sheikh Aden Mohamed “Madobe” and calls by some parliamentarians for a new election for the post of Speaker. The problem is not exactly easy to resolve on the one hand because the timing of the conflict is unfortunate, and on the other because the Speaker’s loss of substantial support within the Parliament has created a situation whereby it is difficult to see how he can continue in office. The problem has also arisen at a time when the TFG is facing a major difficulty with Al-Shabaab on the offensive. Ethiopia is watching the situation carefully.
There have been reports this week of Al-Shabaab forces advancing on the pirate controlled port of Harardhere, some 400 kms along the coast northeast of Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab have close links with several of the pirate consortia operating out of the ports along the coast, providing protection and training in return for a share of the ransom proceeds from pirate activities. But Al-Shabaab’s attempts to control pirate operations have not always been successful and have certainly been resented at times. The latest dispute is apparently the result of a pirate seizure of a ship from across the Red Sea bringing arms for Al-Shabaab and a subsequent refusal to hand the arms over to Al-Shabaab.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a Russian resolution calling for tougher laws against pirates operating out of Somalia. The resolution (SC 1918 (2010)) calls on all States, including those in the region, to criminalize piracy under their domestic laws and consider the prosecution and
imprisonment of convicted pirates apprehended off the coast of Somalia. It welcomes the progress being made to implement the International Maritime Organization’s
Djibouti Code of Conduct, and requests Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon to present to the Security Council within 3 months a report on the possible legal options for dealing with pirates, including regional or international tribunals, and corresponding possibilities for imprisonment, taking into account existing international practice and the time and the resources necessary to achieve and sustain substantive results. The Security Council resolution follows a surprise decision by Kenya to stop the prosecution of Somali pirates in Kenyan courts because of the strain it was apparently putting on Kenya’s legal system and on its prisons.
Eritrea: a poorly written public relations drama
Eritrea’s President Isaias Afeworki is apparently in a rare cooperative mood, or so he pretends, trying to persuade his latest contrived media circus that he (and Eritrea) are the victims of the international community’s diplomatic shenanigans. He has been busy arranging interviews with, and tours for, foreign correspondents gullible enough to buy his Eritrea-is-the-underdog story line. The latest gambit has even involved meeting a small coterie of European parliamentarians prepared to listen to long-winded and ponderous lectures about the plots of special interest groups against his “successful self-reliant regime”. The usual invectives against US imperialism provided a constant undercurrent to his monologues.
The interest, of course, lies more in what he is not saying, in what he is trying to hide, rather than what he cares to admit. President Isaias is never one to admit to any wrongdoing, not even if the rest of the world is convinced of the fact. His conception of justice or truth, notions about which he often has much to say, is frequently more metaphysical than worldly. If Eritrea is found again and again on the wrong side of the law, whether supporting insurgents in neighboring countries, invading its neighbors, or imprisoning its own citizens for being followers of this or that faith, it is never its own fault. President Isaias always falls back on a long list of enemies to blame for any and all problems that his government faces. The Eritrean government’s most popular punch bags are, of course, Ethiopia, and more recently the special interests of the West led notably by the CIA.
So when it came to explaining why the United Nations Security Council had imposed sanctions on his government, he was clear: his government had nothing to do with any of the destabilizing activities that the regime was accused of perpetrating. There was no indication of accepting even the smallest portion of blame, much less any willingness to
mend his ways and offer to become a constructive member of the international community.
So what is it that President Isaias seems to believe he can achieve by his latest moves?
The apparent recent overtures of a (very carefully) controlled opening up to outsiders may seem to represent a sharp contrast to his seemingly defiant stance on the imposition of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council for his government’s destabilizing activities in the whole region, and for his support to extremists in Somalia. The regime in Asmara has consistently been denying exploratory missions by the UN since the passing of resolution 1862 to look into the Eritrea-Djibouti conflict; it has denied entry visas to UN monitoring committee members as well as to high ranking US officials; it has been adamant that it would not submit to any kind of pressure from outside in whatever form it might come. Indeed, President Isaias consistently made no secret that he is not in the business of behaving normally in international affairs.
Now however, as the recent view of carefully, and partially, selected sites arranged for a journalist from Gulf News suggests, Eritrea wants to show ‘its side of the story’, which essentially amounts to an even more vehement denial of any and all allegations against the government. The report demonstrates just how the journalist was literally taken for a ride by his Eritrean handlers. He claims there are no “Ethiopian, Yemeni, or Somali insurgents” training in the camps he visited. Probably not, though there is no way of knowing how he was able to tell an Ethiopian from an Eritrean, nor how many other camps he didn’t see. He admitted not visiting Assab for example. That’s actually, beside the point. The impression Eritrea’s leaders are trying to convey to the rest of the world is that they are the victims not the perpetrators of the problems of the Horn of Africa. Given the amount of detailed evidence to the contrary, what actually matters is the extent to which Eritrea is trying to fool the international community. The message the leaders of Eritrea are trying to convey is that they are willing to open up as long as the world is willing to whitewash whatever wrongdoing is imputed to them.
Some seem to think this indicates that Eritrea is now willing to give diplomacy a chance if only the world would listen to it. In fact, this sort of volte-face by Eritrea isn’t unusual. Eritrea’s leaders have often tried the same trick in international affairs. Time and time again, they have tried to produce a similar ruse whenever, indeed, they believe they are in serious trouble. Eritrea’s 20 years history is replete with diplomatic twists where President Isaias’ bravado has given way to humility in a matter of hours, usually without any indication or care of consideration of consequences. Indeed, the leadership has often displayed considerable capacity to organize such circuses aimed at reversing its fortunes. The present display of recent diplomatic and media activity is an exactly similar approach, and it underlines exactly the contempt with which President Isaias and his regime regard the international community. As the reporter of Gulf News, somewhat gleefully remarks, he has won access where UN Teams have failed. UN Teams might of course be able to visit Eritrea under these circumstances if prepared to accept similar limitations on access. As for the Gulf News, it’s a rather naïve admission that the government the journalist was dealing with was rather more interested in offering a dubious story than genuinely trying to open up to the international community. If indeed Eritrea’s leaders are ready to try to change their image, they should first deal directly with the very crux of the matter, respond to the UN resolutions, and open up to the demands of the international community – not just to a journalist looking for a public relations coup.
The World, Africa, China and Ethiopia: China-Africa Relations
On a visit to China earlier this month, Dr. Tekeda Alemu, State Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke at the China Foreign Affairs University on the subject of “The World, Africa, China, and Ethiopia: China-Africa Relations.
Dr. Tekeda began by suggesting that the international situation could be considered to be in something of a flux because of the world’s economic balance, something, indeed, in which the role of China and other newly emerging countries was critical. In addition, there were other issues in which effective co-operation between states might be considered vital – climate change being one in which, for example, it is critical to develop an effective partnership with Africa, a continent which had now decided to speak with a single voice. Africa, after making little progress in the 1980s and 1990s, had in the last few years developed an encouraging trajectory. It might still take time to reach maturity but the continent had already become a focus of attention b y others. The relationship between China and Africa was now being scrutinized elsewhere, and often, in fact, in a way which excluded the African perspective. Disappointingly, the attitude of some towards the continent still remained colonial and condescending.
Dr. Tekeda dealt with four inter-related themes: the world situation, the situation in Africa, the role of China and the situation in Ethiopia. He emphasized that all states are driven by consideration of national interest, China, the US, Ethiopia or any other African state. The most that one can aspire to get from others is a partnership established on the basis of mutual interest and mutual advantage. It was therefore right, he felt, to be skeptical when some appear to be more concerned about human rights or governance in say, Ethiopia, than Ethiopians themselves. One must suspect that the national interests of the critics might lie behind such claims of concern.
Of course, all states do have common interests – and the world has largely become a global village. There are challenges facing all. Climate change is one, poverty and ensuring food security are others. These affected the developing world most seriously, but their resolution was in the common interest of humanity. They needed a collective and collaborative approach, dictated by the necessity to ensure the viability of the international community. A similar response was needed to keep extremism at bay, to fight terrorism and fanaticism.
The world was in the process of real transformation, and moving towards multi-polarity. This meant for Africa a need to broaden contacts, through, for example, the Forums of Co-operation – of which perhaps the most effective and dynamic was the Forum for China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC). Now was the time, in fact, for Africa to be treated
as one of the poles in this new multi-polar world, with its capacity to contribute to a healthy and harmonious world development, as a real partner in the search for global solutions. This was what Prime Minister Meles suggested at the last African Union Summit. Dr. Tekeda said he was hopeful that this would be embraced by China and others.
China, he noted, had made available to Africa, and the developing world, possibilities for consolidating sovereign choices and independently chosen paths of development. The emergence of China as a real factor in international economic co-operation had been a major asset for Africa. This was very clear in the encouraging developments in Ethiopia itself. Ethiopia had, of course, other partners and continued to attach great importance to such partnerships. But China’s role had been so beneficial, Dr. Tekeda stressed, that it was in Ethiopia’s interest to deepen this relationship in every way possible. Rapid economic growth was a national security issue for Ethiopia, and not just for Ethiopia but the whole of Africa. That was why China was so important to Africa. However, any relationship must be reciprocal; the interest of China must be taken on board. The future, he underlined, lay in the promotion of mutual interest and this was a principle that must apply to all countries that seek the friendship of the African continent.
Ethiopia’s elections – an obsession for Eritrea’s foreign policy
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 elections: keeping the lessons of 2005 in mind
As we inch closer to the May 23rd general elections, the election fever that is gripping the whole nation is becoming all the more palpable, and the enthusiasm contagious. Parties are feverishly canvassing throughout the country using all the mechanisms at their disposal. In addition to the televised debates and the use of time slots allocated in the public media to all parties, leaflets and posters of candidates representing the numerous parties are in full display in various cities and localities all over the country. Parties have been holding town hall meetings and discussions with their supporters and other potential voters. The institutions already in place are operating at full pressure, and complaints are being handled in a manner that fosters mutual trust and confidence. Parties have been enjoying, and continue to enjoy, unfettered access to public media outlets in putting forward their platforms. The level of participation of the public in all these has been largely enthusiastic, a witness to the increasing seriousness with which citizens are taking part in the political process. The government has also been doing its level best to see to it that the electoral process goes ahead without a hitch. It is exerting every effort possible to ensure the integrity and credibility of the upcoming elections, in the sincere belief that doing so will go a long way towards further cementing the democratic process in Ethiopia. As we mentioned last week, there is indeed a lot to be optimistic about.
But the extent to which this widespread optimism will be met by an equal measure of success in the conduct of the elections remains a question for many people. More specifically, foremost in peoples’ minds is whether the conduct of the elections will take place without the kind of recriminations prevalent in 2005. It’s worth looking again at the factors that muddied the waters five years ago. Indeed, its all the more important if we are to avoid succumbing to similar pitfalls this time round. One of the most troubling trends in the previous election was the brazen contempt of the opposition to the rules of the game. Their commitment to the ideals of democracy appeared to be no more than skin deep at best; there was a declared intention to wrest power away from the incumbents by any means, fair or foul. Televised debates, intended to be used to put forward election platforms, were used instead to foment discontent and street violence. Some opposition elements were calling for out and out violence with little or no regard for the constitution or any laws governing electoral conduct. From the outset, many institutions including the constitution were subject to open ridicule. These elements showed no willingness either to tone down their rhetoric or heed voices of moderation. Committed to their all-or-nothing tactics, leaders of the opposition repeatedly called on their supporters to engage in street violence as a means of getting their way at any costs. It was clear that these groups had no use for the ordinary notions of the rule of law or of playing by the rules of the game. They were fixated by a chance of getting into the corridors of power, come hell or high water. The result was that an election that had promised to be a major turning point in Ethiopia’s democratization process ended up being taken hostage by the unbridled demands of opposition leaders who considered power their birthright without any regard for the institutions that made the process possible. The outcome inevitably left scars on the entire electoral process.
It must be admitted that the opposition’s unwholesome behavior in the 2005 elections was not entirely without support. There was a concerted media campaign both within and outside the country, to describe the electoral process in the most unflattering light possible. There were numerous instances where outsiders, who believed it was their business to dictate terms regarding the pace and outcome of the democratization process, openly drew parallels of color revolution in Georgia or Kyrgyzstan, even insinuating that this approach could well be used in Ethiopia. The democratic process was deemed beyond the pale well before the results of the election; it was clear that, for some, the outcome would only be acceptable if it put the opposition in power, or at least in a position to share power. One particularly egregious case was, of course, the role that the leader of the EU Electoral Observer Mission, Anna Gomes, played. Her behavior, more than anything else, helped embolden the opposition to make irrational and false claims of victory. The EU-EOM leader clearly overstepped her mandate when she took it upon herself to commission an exit poll in Addis Ababa and a few other urban centers which apparently indicated that the opposition would win a majority. Indeed, the opposition did win, and not just by a majority but by a landslide, in those areas. The poll, supposedly taken for the EU-EOM’s internal consumption as it were, was however ‘leaked’ to the opposition who immediately proceeded to insist that they should be declared the winners of the election on this basis. The facts provided a totally different story but there was no stopping opposition leaders from shrill accusations of massive fraud.
The impact that this uncalled for meddling by the EU-EOM leader in 2005 had on subsequent developments cannot be overstated. Indeed, it’s not just a question of old forgotten history; the problems are still with us. As the leader of the current EU-EOM in this election recently reiterated in an interview with the English weekly Capital, whether or not the EU Observer Mission can be considered a success will depend upon the extent to which it carries out its activities neutrally and impartially. We have no reason to doubt that he is indeed sincere, but this will also depend in no small measure on whether or not the lessons of 2005 have been taken on board. Understandably, Mr. Berman said he would rather focus on the present elections, and not dwell on the past. Relations, after all, run deeper than transient missions, and there is no need for him to share fully the government’s assessment of the role played by the previous mission. Equally, there is no doubt some mistakes were made, not least the ‘leak’ of an unwarranted poll which certainly, despite Mr. Berman’s emphatic denial in his interview, came out of the EU Mission. It is important that any actions meant for the EU-EOM’s internal purposes should not be ‘leaked’ by anyone; the bottom line must be that any such mistakes will be avoided this time around.
As far as the learning of lessons is involved, there have been one or two worrying signs of a relapse among some in the opposition. Professor Beyene Petros, leader of the opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), and current chair of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (MEDREK), a loose coalition of eight opposition parties, recently suggested in a public forum that people could always remove governments without having to wait for elections. He was drawing parallels with the recent extra-constitutional removal of government in Kyrgyzstan. It was a clear indication that, for some members of the opposition, such options are never off the table, raising the question of whether they have drawn the proper lessons from the past election. Professor Beyene also recently rejected AU Election Observer Missions as “totally untrustworthy” and castigated the EU Election Observer Mission as inadequate for deploying “only 150 observers to over 43 thousand polling stations.” His remarks appear to suggest he is already trying to lay the groundwork for subsequent rejection of the outcome of the election, or at the very least trying to bring pressure in advance on election observers to pay heed to blanket allegations of fraud. This is being coupled with oft-repeated claims of harassment of their members, carried to the extent, recently, of claiming a deceased member of another party as one of their own. It would be naïve to consider these as just isolated cases.
At the end of the day, the actual conduct of the elections is what really matters. All stakeholders, without exception, must give everything for its success. Parties should reiterate their commitment to abide by the rules. All stakeholders must remain consistently true to the ideals of democracy. Partners must be wary of being hoodwinked into repeating unsubstantiated claims. Nor, most importantly, should the peoples and Government of Ethiopia relax and let down their guard until the process is over and complete. Moreover, the lessons of the 2005 elections are still relevant.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs