A Ludicrous attack on Ethiopia’s hospitality
Mimi Shibesh Feb 02, 2016
It has been a while since the international media started showering praises on Ethiopia’s socio-economic stride. For example, it is still fresh in memory that the Wall Street Journal declared “‘Made in Ethiopia’ could be the next ‘Made in China’.” Similarly the renowned magazine Time predicted:
“forget the BRICs; take a look at the PINEs. The PINE economies are the Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria and Ethiopia. Ethiopia may be even more exciting. Once synonymous with poverty, peace and strong economic management have turned the nation around. The International Monetary Fund sees growth in the 7% range in the coming years for both countries, and there’s even talk of a group of “lion economies” rising up in the same way the “tigers” of Asia did in the late 20th century.”
Or remember the Mail and Guradian’s recent feature article, which says:
“Nigeria will have strong competition and by 2050 may have an economy smaller than DR Congo and Ethiopia,” says Carlos Lopes.Ethiopia. At nearly 100 million, the country is Africa’s third most populous, and has posted blistering economic growth in the past decade or so. More importantly, it is fast closing the infrastructure gap, laying down a flurry of roads, railways and power projects.
However, there are those who attempt to tarnish Ethiopia’s image. Some of them do it regularly, some of them seldom engage in such acts. Some use half-truths, others dwell in make-believe. The worst of all was the incoherent babble on the Daily Maverick last week.
In an article entitled “How Ethiopia exploits AU role to suppress international criticism", the Daily Maverick attempted to throw all kinds of accusations on Ethiopia and blacken her role as the host of the African Union.
The article began with irrelevant nitpicking on the African Union headquarters building claiming it looks like “it was accidentally transplanted from Shanghai or Beijing”. Nobody knows if he has a design that should be used for a building of the African Union.
1/ The article makes no regard no regard to the burden of hosting the AU summits but claims “AU rakes in hard currency for Ethiopia. There’s the $2,000-plus a month rentals for staff villas; the restaurants, hotels and conference venues built to cope with the regular influx of summit delegates”.
Indeed, hosting the AU summits is an opportunity. However, for a poor country like Ethiopia, it is not easy to build the capacity for it and reap the benefits. For example, in 2002, it was reported:
The huge bill for the summit will be met in part by the impoverished Ethiopian government and private investors. Billionaire businessman Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, who owns the Sheraton Hotel, is understood to have footed the bill for dozens of top-of-the-range Mercedes cars, which will ferry the leaders to the meetings at the UN conference centre. Ethiopia also opened a new multi-million dollar international terminal at the city’s airport in readiness for the summit.
Moreover, the security precautions for such major summit and accommodating heads of states disrupts normal life and business. Roads will be blocked several times and to give priority and assure security of guests. Of course, Ethiopians are honored to host their African brothers and would do it any time of the day with no complaints. But the ill-informed and misleading narrative of the Daily Maverick disguises this side of the matter.
2/ the article becomes ludicrous when it mentions the Ethiopian Airlines. The articles claimed:
“the thousands and thousands of flight bookings – often first or business class – which have helped Ethiopian Airlines become the largest airline in Africa. The AU is a cash cow, and Ethiopia has been milking it for more than 50 years.”
This is the most fallacious statement to be made by any sensible media. In the first place, there is no obligation that makes AU summit participants travel through Ethiopian Airlines. In fact, most delegations use their own airlines. Second and most importantly, the AU summits last for a week or so every year. Even if all the participants were to use Ethiopian Airlines, it wouldn’t have covered the rest fifty-one weeks of the year.The fact is that Ethiopian Airlines is not a small firm reliant on a once in a year event. As the recent award by the renowned Employer Branding Institute, attested
“Ethiopian Airlines commands the lion share of the pan-African passenger and cargo network operating the youngest and most modern fleet to more than 91 international destinations across five continents. Ethiopian fleet includes ultra-modern and environmentally friendly aircraft such as the Boeing 787, Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 777-200 Freighter, Bombardier Q-400 double cabin with an average fleet age of five years. In fact, Ethiopian is the first airline in Africa to own and operate these aircraft.”
3/ The article showed his ignorance of history claiming that
“Almost every African country has an embassy in Addis, because they’ve all got ambassadors to the AU (Why else would the likes of beleaguered Mali, for example, maintain a mission here?). This applies to non-African countries too: Addis Ababa’s status as a diplomatic hub means it attracts more foreign representation than other African capitals of a similar size.”
This is a gross disregard to Ethiopia’s status as the sole uncolonized country in Africa which had diplomatic relations with the world since the 19th century. Moreover, Ethiopia has been championing the independence struggle of many African countries. Therefore, they had relations with Ethiopia even before independence. How ignorant it is not to know the close cooperation between the first President of Mali Modibo Keïta and Ethiopia’s Hasileselasie since the 1960s?
As said earlier, Ethiopia had diplomatic relations began in the 19th century. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recorded: “Emperor Theodros’ tradition of contact with western powers was closely followed by the Emperor Yohannes IV (1874-1889)…... Notable among the diplomatic missions during his reign were the British delegations of Augustus Wylde (1883), Vice-Admiral Hewett 1884 and Gerald Portal (1887) concerning the withdrawal of Egyptian garrisons from Sudan after the Mahdi’s revolt, the British promise to hand over Massawa which had been in Egyptian hands and their subsequent gifting of it to Italy”.
Moreover the commencement and expansion of permanent diplomatic emissaries is a matter more than a hundred years old. As the Ministry’s account shows:The regime of Emperor Minelik saw an increased flurry of diplomatic activities with Ethiopia reaching out to more capitals in Europe than ever before. The onset of the so-called scramble for Africa increased the necessity for more intense diplomatic activities by Ethiopia as it had to grapple with the colonial ambitions of various European nations, notably, Britain, France and Italy……
Ethiopia's resounding victory at the battle of Adowa went a long way to further cement Ethiopia's position as the only independent nation in the entire African continent. It rapidly led to treaties with Italy, France and Britain regularizing Ethiopia’s relations with these three colonial powers. It also led to a significant increase in the nation's diplomatic relations with the rest of the world.
A number of diplomatic missions from all parts of the world arrived in Ethiopia and formal diplomatic relations were established with Italy, Germany, the UK, France and Russia as well as more than a dozen other European countries. In 1903, following a nine day mission headed by Robert Skinner, the American Consul-General in Marseilles, a Treaty to Regulate Commercial Relations between the US and Ethiopia was signed.
4/ The claim regarding the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa is factually wrong to say the least. The article claimed:
“This applies to non-African countries too: Addis Ababa’s status as a diplomatic hub means it attracts more foreign representation than other African capitals of a similar size, including another vast international organisation: the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. These missions all rent offices and houses, employ local staff, and shop in local stores, as do the research organisations and NGOs who trail in their wake.”
However, the selection of Addis Ababa as the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has no relationship with the African Union (or the Organization of African Union).AU (OAU) was established in 1963, while ECA was established years before. As clearly stated on the official website of ECA states
Established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (UN) in 1958 as one of the UN's five regional commissions, ECA's mandate is to promote the economic and social development of its member States, foster intra-regional integration, and promote international cooperation for Africa's development.
Made up of 54 member States, and playing a dual role as a regional arm of the UN and as a key component of the African institutional landscape, ECA is well positioned to make unique contributions to address the Continent’s development challenges.
5/ The writer shows a willful ignorance of international law and the workings of international organizations by claiming that: “Ethiopia takes things even further, using its role as gatekeeper to the AU to protect itself from international scrutiny and criticism, and to monitor those who deal with the continental body.”
However, the activities of the AU are protected by the General Convention On The Privileges And Immunities Of The Organization Of African Unity which also applies to the African Union.Article IV of the Convention stipulates that:
1. For its official communication and the transfer of all its documents the Organization of African Unity shall enjoy in the territory of each Member State treatment not less favourable than that accorded by the Government of that Member to any other international Organization as well as any Government, including its diplomatic mission, in matters of priorities, rates and taxes on mails, cables, telegrams, radiograms, telephotos, telephones and other communications, as well as press rates for information to the press and radio. Official correspondence and other official communications of the Organization of African Unity shall not be subject to censorship.
2. The Organization of African Unity shall have the right to use codes and to dispatch and receive its official correspondence, either by courier or in sealed bags which shall have the same immunities and privileges as diplomatic couriers and bags.
6/ The writer’s claim regarding NGOs is another proof that it was merely a compilation of random allegations about the 2009 Proclamation of Charities and Societies of Ethiopia rather than a serious work of journalism. The article claims: “Non-governmental organisations are particularly affected. In order to open an AU liaison office in Addis, foreign NGOs must first be registered by the Ethiopian government. This registration can be withdrawn at any time, and with it, access to the AU. Several senior staff at international NGOs and civil society organisations told the Daily Maverick that this arrangement is premised on a tacit understanding: as long as you don’t criticise Ethiopia.”
However, this is a gross misrepresentation of the reality. To begin with the 2009 Proclamation of Charities and Societies of Ethiopia was not intended to stifle rather to encourage and broader civil society activities.
Charities and Societies, and national and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been operating in Ethiopia for a long time. The laws governing their registration and operations were first drawn up in the early 1950s and were based on the 1952 Ethiopian Civil Code and Regulation 321/1959. However, those legal frameworks have become outdated that they reached to a point where they can no longer provide a workable environment, not least due to the many legislative and other changes that had taken place in Ethiopia and elsewhere. They were certainly incapable of ensuring the maximum benefits for the country from NGO activities.
Indeed, some Charities and Societies repeatedly requested the Government for more up-to-date regulations to enable them to carry out their operations smoothly, and put an end to unclear procedures and bureaucratic hindrances. Another significant factor that needed to be taken into account was that, after the demise of the former military regime and the introduction of a democratic federal government allowing for full freedom of association in the country, the number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) dramatically increased and their areas of activity multiplied.
The government therefore issued a new Proclamation of Charities and Societies in 2009 in order to facilitate and strengthen the effective contributions of NGOs to the socio-economic development of the country. The Proclamation made the necessary amendments to reflect new realities and incorporate the best practices from the similar regulations of other nations. There were also extensive public discussions during the drafting process with all NGOs operating in the country and with other stakeholders.
The newly enacted Proclamation had two main objectives. One of these was to ensure the realization of citizens’ rights to association as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and secondly to support and facilitate the role of Charities and Societies, and of NGOs, in the overall development of Ethiopian peoples.
In sum, the legislation is designed to create an enabling environment for citizens to exercise their right to organise, engender the prevalence of accountability and transparency, and enable the civil society community to become government partners in enhancing development and democratization processes. It is indubitable that these rationales and policy objectives are valid, and for the same reasons, the existing old legislations need to be changed.
7/ The most ludicrous claim of the article is its complain that the Ethiopian security agency is involved in the protection of the safety and security of the summit. The article lamented:
“The extent to which Ethiopia’s state security agency is involved in monitoring and screening people who work or visit the AU becomes obvious at the January summits held in Addis Ababa. Their involvement is so blatant, in fact, that the National Intelligence and Security Service actually produces the badges given to all attendees: The message is unmistakeable: we are watching you.”
Is the writer demanding that the African Union should have its own airport, hotels, intelligence service, etc, so that it makes no interaction with the Ethiopian security service? Is that how it is done in New York, Brussels, or elsewhere? The African Union summit is a major event attended by almost sixty countries, including the United States, European Union and UN delegations, among others. Unlike other places, however, Ethiopia has been successful in making sure the participants safety has always been 100% guaranteed. It is almost a miracle that in the volatile region of the horn of Africa, world leaders such as Barak Obama and Baki mon could feel safe and attend summits in Addis Ababa. This is an achievement for which the National Intelligence and Security Service should be commended for not blaming for “watching us”.