A Week in the Horn


Ethiopia’s Nations’, Nationalities’ and Peoples’ Day and next week’s 5th International Conference on Federalism

The Fifth International Conference on Federalism on the theme of “Equality and Unity in Diversity for Development” starts in Addis Ababa next Monday. The four day conference will be opened by President Girma Wolde-Giorghis and Prime Minister Meles will deliver the keynote address. Other speakers on the opening day will include Dr. Jean Ping, the Chairperson of the African Union and Dr. Abdoulie Janneh, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa as well as leaders attending the conference. The chairperson of the Forum of Federations, Dr. Vijay Kelkar will also speak on “Reflections over a decade of sharing experiences”: the first of the Forum of Federations international conferences was held in 1999 in Canada. The others have been in Switzerland (2002), Belgium (2005) and India (2007). This is the first to be held in Africa.

The theme of “Equality and Unity in Diversity for Development” will be discussed under five topics: Federalism and the Democratic Process; The Impacts of Regionalism and Globalization on Federations; Unity in Diversity through Federalism; Federalism and Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution Mechanisms; and Fiscal Federalism and Equitable Development. A total of 45 case studies on federalism and decentralized governance systems will be presented, 15 from Ethiopia, 15 from Africa and 15 from the rest of the world, and a central element in the conference will be consideration of how federal structures can be developed to build more effective democratic societies and governments.

The conference will, in fact, offer a unique opportunity to include African perspectives into the discussions on the achievements and challenges of federalism. It will highlight the ways in which African nations, including Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and others, are using federal and decentralized systems of government to approach development in different, and innovative ways. Federal or quasi-federal arrangements have proved workable for a number of African states but it is only Ethiopia which has based its constitution on ‘territorially clustered cultural-linguistic communities’. The nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia, constitutionally sovereign, united voluntarily to form the federal democratic republic in 1994.

The Conference coincides with one of the major expressions of Ethiopian federalism – Ethiopia’s Nations’, Nationalities’ and Peoples’ Day. This was colorfully celebrated in all the regional states last Wednesday, December 8th, but in honor of the Conference, the Speaker of the House of Federation, Ato Kassa Teklebirhan, announced that the Federal celebration of the Nations’, Nationalities’ and Peoples’ Day would take place next Monday to coincide with the opening of the Conference, and that it should be observed under the theme that the Ethiopian nations, nationalities and peoples should make a concerted effort to bring the Ethiopian renaissance to an irreversible point.

Prior to the conference, the Federal government also organized a series of meetings throughout the country to consider and answer the question “What does federation mean to me?” The last of these meetings was held in Addis Ababa at the end of last month when 1500 people met to reflect on the question. In the previous six months, a series of meetings was held in Adama, Assosa, Bahr Dar, Dire Dawa, Gambella, Harar, Hawassa, Jijiga, Mekele and Semere, to consider the meaning of federalism and increase awareness of the actualities of Ethiopia’s federal system, and underline the point emphasized by Prime Minister Meles when announcing that Ethiopia would host this conference: “We have come to realize that federalism is perhaps the best means of accommodating diversity.”

The success of Ethiopia’s federal system can be seen in the reduction in the number of conflicts among its different nations and nationalities. It also has had the effect of democratizing the country, empowering regional and linguistic communities towards self-governance. The federal system was selected to bring solutions for past grievances as the only guarantee to bring an end to discrimination, economic exploitation and political oppression. The central element of federalism in Ethiopia’s multi-national and multi-ethnic society lies in its diversity, offering respect and equality to all. Federalism indeed is the antithesis of power centralization, providing for a system that is democratic and responsive to the political and economic demands of the peoples; empowering two levels of government, federalism contributes to the decentralization of politics and enhances participation in politics and government.

The focus of the conference is not intended to be theoretical but to use fact-based studies to lead into discussions on best practice and possible solutions to the challenges and problems. And it might be noted that one of the effects of federalism in Ethiopia has been the growth of bilateral mechanisms with neighboring states through Joint Border Commissions organizing annual meetings carried out by the local state governments across national borders to discuss issues of common concern. There have been 13 such cross-border meetings between Sudanese state administrations and Ethiopian state governments, 17 with Djibouti and 27 with Kenya. By extension, this mechanism is also being implemented down to Zonal and District levels, ensuring participation at grass root levels. Such meetings provide for solutions to problems through joint consultations before they reach levels of dispute or violence. In effect, the establishment of federal arrangements has created a forum with neighboring countries which allows the peoples of adjacent states to discuss a wide range of areas of common concern, effectively resolving problems relating to secessionist ambitions and other difficulties.

The conference, which will end on Thursday next week, will offer a forum for sharing the way African and other states are using federalism to resolve the problems of development. It will showcase Ethiopia’s national experience. As the Prime Minister has noted the Conference gives recognition to Ethiopia’s federal democratic system and it will contribute significantly to building up the image of the country. We will provide a full report on the Conference in A Week in the Horn next week.





AMISOM increases its forces in Mogadishu

The long-awaited fourth battalion from Burundi began its deployment at Mogadishu Airport on Wednesday last week. The force joined the Burundi contingent command stationed in the University and the former Siad Barre Military academy which lies on the main industrial road, a highly volatile area. A day earlier, the UN Security Council had held consultations on how to support increasing the African Union Mission in Somalia in accordance with the request made by IGAD and the AU. The request had been made to raise AMISOM’s force level to 20,000 of which 12,000 troops should be deployed in Mogadishu. The current size of AMISOM forces, which now includes four battalions from Burundi and five battalions from Uganda, is slightly over 8000, that is the original mandated size of the Mission. AMISOM and the TFG  have continued to respond to attacks from Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, and the TFG have recently extended their control into two more districts of Mogadishu. There remains the need for more coordination between the TFG and AMISOM forces to further diminish Al-Shabaab’s presence in the city.

Last week, the Somali Prime Minister met a number of diplomats and UN senior staff from Nairobi at Mogadishu Airport. He took the opportunity to detail his plans for the first hundred days of his new Cabinet. The Prime Minister said Mogadishu would be pacified within three months and pledged that the TFIs would be fully functioning before the end of that hundred days. As part of the transitional tasks that need to be agreed before the end of the transitional period next August, the new cabinet has already approved next year’s budget, with a ceiling of 98.5 million US dollars, of which just under 30 million dollars will be provided through local revenue and 68.7 million is expected to come from partners.

Meanwhile, the UN has now launched an appeal for US$530 million to help the estimated two million people in Somalia who need assistance. Speaking to the media, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, called on the extremist movements, Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam “to better understand the need for humanitarian assistance” in Somalia. He said that negotiations with the insurgents “in order to get access to civilians caught up in the conflict will be a priority for the UN as drought threatens to worsen the catastrophe”.  A recent statement from the Chairman of the Sanctions Committee pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) and1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea to the Security Council, also included a suggestion by the Deputy Director of the Coordination and Response division to engage Al-Shabaab.

There is certainly a very real necessity to provide for those in need, but  it should be emphasized that it is Al-Shabaab that had denied assistance to those who are indeed desperate, and prevented access to humanitarian support from various donors, forcing those organizations to leave areas that are assumed to be under Al-Shabaab's control. The humanitarian community should have consistent and non-fragmented access to those in need, but it is also necessary to avoid diversion of humanitarian assistance to terrorist groups which would seriously jeopardize the efforts of AMISOM and the TFG to pacify Mogadishu. This has happened previously and a number of incidents have been reported to the Security Council by the UN Monitoring Team.

Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab leaders have been meeting in Kismayo to discuss a number of issues. They reportedly reached a decision to try to operate on a uniform basis throughout all of Somalia’s former eighteen regions, including Somaliland and Puntland. Already, there have been reports from Puntland that a number of assassinations have been carried out, and similar attempts are expected in Somaliland. The Somaliland authorities recently foiled a planned terrorist attack and detained a dozen of those involved. Equally, there have been further disputes between Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam over the control and benefit from two check points in Burhakaba town. The town was under the control of Hizbul Islam. Al-Shabaab, discovering the two check points were particularly lucrative, demanded to take them over. This triggered a fight between the two terrorist groups in Burhakaba town and it spread to the livestock market area of Mogadishu. There were casualties on both sides with a dozen or so killed including two Hizbul Islam commanders. This is not the first time there have been such incidents and the clash is unlikely to have more serious political or security implications for the relations between the two groups.




An Omani Business Delegation in Addis Ababa

 A business delegation from Oman, led by Sheikh Hamoud Said Abdullah Ali Rasbi, Board Member of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, visited Ethiopia from December 1st to December 5th. The visit organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at forging closer relationship between the business people of the two countries. During its visit the delegation met with the State Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Agriculture as well as representatives of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and held a series of business meetings. 

At the Ministry of Trade, Sheikh Hamoud and the delegation met Ato Yakob Yala, State Minister of Trade who welcomed the group and briefed members on the overall situation of Ethiopia’s foreign trade and the pertinent policy directions the government has taken towards trade. The delegation subsequently met Ato Wondirad Mandefro, State Minister of Agriculture who briefed them about the conducive investment environment for agriculture in Ethiopia. Later Sheikh Hamoud and the delegation visited Mojo, 70 kms south of Addis Ababa, on a visit arranged by the Ministry of Agriculture to visit two abattoirs involved in the export of meat products to the Middle East.

Subsequently, the delegation visited the Chamber of Commerce where Ato Eyesuswork Zafu, President of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the need for translating the outcome of the visit into action so that businesspeople from both countries might contribute towards their economic development. Sheikh Hamoud, who expressed his thanks for the welcome given to his delegation, hoped that this visit would be a landmark event that would substantially increase trade relations between the two countries. The meeting culminated in the signing of Memorandum of Understanding between Ato Eyesuswork and Sheik Hamoud on behalf of their respective Chambers of Commerce for the exchange of trade delegations and visits in the interest of joint relations and enhancing the exchange of trade between Ethiopia and Oman. Both sides expressed the desire to see the establishment of a joint business council to coordinate and support economic relations.   

The Omani business delegation also met with a large number of Ethiopian businesspeople invited by the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce to meet their Omani counterparts. After introductions a highly successful business-to-business meeting took place, described by both sides as very promising. The delegation was then taken to the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) where it was briefed by Dr. Eleni Gebre Medhin and visited the trading floor.

The delegation also had a lively meeting with the State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Berhane Gebrechristos, who provided an overview of the economic environment currently prevailing in Ethiopia, which he said was conducive to trade and investment. He assured the delegation that the government would do whatever possible to assist them to start business operations in Ethiopia. The delegation made it clear they would like to see the relevant Ethiopian government authorities take measures to expedite visa procedures as well as facilitate shipping and airfreight transport. Members of the delegation also said made it clear they were keen to engage in agricultural development, in trade and construction. There was interest in importing products from Ethiopia and the delegation made it clear it would like to see members of the Ethiopian business community visit Oman. The Ethiopian embassy in Yemen covers the Sultanate of Oman.




A briefing for Ethiopia’s new ambassadors and plenipotentiaries

The Government recently appointed some twenty one Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiaries as well as another fifteen Ambassadors as deputy heads of mission. For the last three weeks the new appointees have had an intensive training program and briefing.

A central element in the briefings concentrated on the fundamental element of Ethiopia’s foreign policy today, the importance of economic diplomacy. Among those who addressed the newly appointed ambassadors was Prime Minister Meles. He underlined the importance of economic diplomacy in all its aspects, and encouraged the ambassadors to concentrate on such elements as the transfer of technology and of technical “know-how”, and in particular to look for possible ways to encourage investment in manufacturing schemes which would be labor intensive.

A related topic was the marketing of Ethiopian products abroad. Again the value of increased exports in terms of employment as well as earnings was underlined. Ethiopia’s exports remain largely agricultural but they do also need to be marketed. Other priority areas for the new envoys included the importance of attracting foreign direct investment to Ethiopia and the mobilization of new resources to help implement the new Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). The Prime Minister has already announced a number of measures to help implement the plan when speaking to the House of Representatives last week. Among these were plans to increase savings including adjustment of the deposit interest rates to take account of annual inflation pressures and the introduction of government treasury bonds as well as accessibility to financial institutions and banks and the introduction of various mortgage schemes. The government is also planning significant tax reforms and improved tax collection starting this year with projections that 70% of the 77.2 billion birr budget will come from tax. It intends that tax revenue will continue to rise steadily during the five year plan, but any balance will be financed from outside sources. The Prime Minister told Parliament that the Government would look first to foreign direct investment and then to grants and aid. The plan allows for increases in infrastructure which will provide for farmers to have “access to the latest telecommunications services at international market prices, to electricity, and interconnecting roads at the kebele level…” The overall aim for the Growth and Transformation Plan is to double agriculture production and to reach a level of industrialization that can produce, for example, machinery and spare parts as well as provide for infrastructural development. Overall, the government envisages attracting investments worth at least 10 billion dollars over the period of the plan.




An Egyptian columnist’s view of Ethio-Egypt Relations

Prime Minister Meles’ recent remarks about Egypt, suggesting that Egypt had supported Ethiopian rebels, has been met by ‘surprise and amazement’ from Egyptian officials expressing astonishment at what they called an unsubstantiated claim. Egyptian officials including President Mubarak have strongly denied whatever Prime Minister Meles might say that Egypt had ever supported Ethiopian rebels. Such protestations of innocence are to be expected, though being ‘surprised’ was a little overstated perhaps. Actually, officials were not the only people to be surprised by the claim. In a recent article entitled “The Curse of the Nile”, Mr. Kahled Diab, a columnist for the Guardian, was apparently equally surprised, or more accurately, outraged by the Prime Minister’s remarks. The reference to Egypt providing support to Ethiopian rebel groups is not the only thing he is taking issue with. He is also angered by PM Meles’ remark - or boasting according to Mr. Diab- that Egypt could not win in a war with Ethiopia over the Nile. As to Egypt’s support for Ethiopian rebels, he simply dismisses the Prime Minister’s claim as ‘wild allegations’.

Egyptian officials, although surprised and amazed, have hardly been so forcefully dismissive. They have after all been apprised of Ethiopia’s concerns about this on a number of occasions. They have been told several times that Ethiopia had incontrovertible evidence of their support for anti-Ethiopia elements. It would of course be surprising if officials would publicly admit to doing any such thing, but Mr. Diab statement that there is “no shred of evidence” to back up these “allegations”’ is based merely on his own ignorance. It’s a text book case of the fallacy of ignorance; something doesn’t exist because Mr. Diab doesn’t know about it. It’s not uncommon for journalists and commentators to work in an evidence-free zone, substituting wishes for truth. What is, however, surprising is the fact that Mr. Diab himself acknowledges that many Ethiopians may be inclined to believe the claim “simply because Egypt has previous form when it comes to meddling in Ethiopia’s affairs.” He adds that this had disappeared under the current government. The Ethiopian government sincerely hopes that is the case.  

More irritating to Mr. Diab it appears is the warning that no one who has tried to invade Ethiopia “has lived to tell the story” and it would be no different for Egypt. Mr. Diab believes this to be inaccurate, but he rather proves the accuracy of the Prime Minister’s remarks when almost inadvertently he refers to the failed attempts of Egypt to invade Ethiopia in the 1870s. There’s no point in spending time in referring to a merely hypothetical scenario either, but we should certainly point out that Mr. Diab has twisted the words of PM Meles to make them sound like a call for arms against Egypt. The subtitle of Mr. Diab’s and his reference to “water wars’ perhaps explains his view, but contrary to his allegations, the prime Minister wasn’t beating a war drum; he was simply warning against the possibility. As Mr. Diab should well know, saber-rattling against Ethiopia has been something of a default reflex action of Egyptian military and civilian officials for a long time. Mr. Diab correctly indicates that President Mubarak has shown signs of taking a more nuanced and conciliatory approach than his predecessors towards relations with Ethiopia, but that has not always prevented officials from voicing a different attitude.  

Far from joining in this kind of useless rhetoric, Ethiopia’s leaders for the last two decades have consistently worked towards a peaceful dialogue for a win-win outcome on all areas of difference between the two countries - real or perceived. Ethiopia’s leaders know firsthand the problems of war, most recently following Eritrea’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1998. They are the last people to play with fire. The government’s track record has been consistent to a fault in this regard. At the same time, no government can remain oblivious of the threats coming from certain areas or let its guard down in the face of these. It is not a question of posturing but of warning against conflict.

On a more fundamental level, Ethiopia certainly doesn’t believe in antagonizing Egypt merely to enhance its own interests. Central to the concerns of both countries today is the equitable use of Nile waters. Here, Ethiopia has been consistently pursuing a policy of constructive engagement with Egypt on all issues of mutual concern – both bilaterally and in the context of the entire Nile Basin. As Prime Minister Meles has reiterated time and again, the Nile should serve as a strong bond, a link, between the two countries, not a source of conflict. It is certainly time Egypt recognized that the staggering inequality in the share of Nile waters that Mr. Diab refers to must change. It must join in good faith in seeking a win-win arrangement under which all the countries of the Nile basin can have equitable utilization of resources. Mr. Diab refers to “Egypt’s expressed commitment to sharing the river” but what is currently preventing any such agreement becoming a reality is the continued effort of Egypt to sabotage the whole process of negotiation over the Nile Basin, apparently in the hope it will continue to enjoy its virtual monopoly over the Nile waters. Encouraging his government into intransigence, Mr. Diab worries that Egypt can “barely make ends meet with its current mega quota of Nile water”. “With a burgeoning population and an even drier climate”, Egypt will need even more water in the future. This is the reason why “it has been blocking moves to change quotas.”

Mr. Diab seems to believe that the situation could make for war among the Nile riparian countries unless there is “careful diplomacy, the development of more appropriate alternative sources of water (including desalination) and, above all, urgent population control.” These might all be sensible, but none of them preclude an agreement on a Nile Basin framework on the basis of which all the riparian countries work together. This is, of course, what Ethiopia and the other upper basin countries have been calling for all along. They have agreed. The onus is now on Egypt, and to some extent on Sudan, to prove that they can be equal to the task of agreeing to such a framework. It might also be helpful if Egypt could realize that saber-rattling is not going to win any games. People like Mr. Diab do no service to their country if they continue to harp on the same outdated string and refuse to join the growing number of those Egyptians who are becoming ever more realistic.




Core principles of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy – Ethiopia- Saudi Arabia relations

Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia have had long standing relations for many centuries both in terms of business relations and people-to-people contacts. Cultural bonds are deep-rooted, strong and ancient. Indeed, they go back to the time of the Prophet when he told his family and followers to take refuge in Ethiopia when threatened by persecution in Mecca. In return the Prophet instructed his followers not to touch Abyssinians, Ethiopians today, except in self-defense. Islam, of course, was born in Saudi Arabia but it was in Ethiopia that its adherents were first allowed to practice it freely. There are a number of similar episodes detailed in the annals of Islamic and Ethiopian tradition. They have certainly contributed to the strengthening of relations between the two peoples.

 Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia opened formal diplomatic relations in 1948, and while they have fluctuated from time to time, notably when Ethiopia was under the military dictatorship of the Derg, relations have steadily progressed since 1991. In its Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy Strategy Document, the EPRDF government has clearly stated “The Middle East  is a region that significantly influences our security and economic development in a substantial way”. Ethiopia, in fact, attaches special importance to Saudi Arabia in particular as well as to the Middle East in general.

There have been a number of exchanges of visits over the years by high level government officials  between Ethiopia and the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and a number of agreements have been signed to enhance relations. There is a Joint Ministerial Commission that is meant to meet annually to review the progress in all areas of cooperation. The Commission also has the task of suggesting new areas for cooperation and of working towards their implementation.

 Trade relations have been on the rise. At present the total volume of trade stands at just over 12 billion birr but this is expected to increase significantly in both quantity and quality. Ethiopia and Saudi Arabian production is compatible rather than competitive. The geographic proximity is an encouraging factor. This has also been a factor in the increasing number of Saudi tourists visiting Ethiopia. Equally, more could be done to encourage tourism in both countries. Ethiopia certainly has a great deal to offer besides the hospitality of its people. Many Ethiopians live and work in Saudi Arabia, and many more travel to Saudi Arabia for the Haj every year. This will, of course, continue and help to further enhance relations.  

 Investment is a growing area of cooperation, and a growing number of Saudi investors are engaged in different sectors in Ethiopia with a total of 369 million dollars currently involved. The largest investor is Sheikh Mohamed Al-Amoudi, the owner of Midroc, which has interests in hotels and tourism, construction, mining, agriculture, manufacturing and education. In all there are some 69 companies, in addition to those of Sheikh Al-Amoudi. Investment is growing but taking into account the long-standing relations and strong cultural ties between the two countries, considerably more investment should be expected.

 In fact, Saudi Arabia’s contribution to the economic development projects in Ethiopia is certainly encouraging. Its involvement in infrastructural development for example is certainly appreciated as this is a key to overall development, economically, socially and politically. Infrastructure is a major element in the Growth and Transformation Plan. Saudi Arabia has also been of assistance in getting development support from various multi-lateral organizations including the Kuwait Fund, OPEC and BADEA.

 Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia share interests in the security of the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, which links rather than divides Africa and the Middle East.  Ethiopia believes there are many areas of bilateral interest where cooperation should be continued and expanded including the fight against terrorism, control of human trafficking, prevention of drug traffic and other illegal activity. The need to cooperate in regional issues including the situation in Somalia remains of paramount importance. Equally, both countries need to do more to enhance their contacts. Provided there is common understanding, and it is based on friendship and cooperation, on mutual benefit, there are no limits to any diversification of their relationship.    




          Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

                     Ministry of Foreign Affairs