A Week in the Horn
(23.09.2011)


Prime Minister Meles and Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam in Egypt

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, was in Egypt taking part in the first meeting of the Joint Egyptian Ethiopian Ministerial Committee for seventeen years. Prime Minister Meles was in Egypt at the weekend at the invitation of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. As Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Kamal Amr said, before their arrival, the visits marked the turning over of a new page in Egypt/Ethiopian relations following the January 25th revolution in Egypt. A number of cooperation agreements were signed and as Prime Minister Meles said Egypt and Ethiopia were countries that shared, and indeed enjoyed, natural bonds that held their peoples together. Linked by the Nile River, Ethiopia provided physical and spiritual sustenance to the people of Egypt; the Egyptian Coptic Church had for centuries given spiritual leadership to Ethiopian Christians by sending Egyptian Bishops to head the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Some of the Prophet Mohamed’s earliest followers had taken refuge in Ethiopia. The links were deep rooted and historic.   

Certainly relations hadn't always been close, but Prime Minister Meles underlined, there were now some encouraging signs. He mentioned the recent visits of Prime Minister Sharaf and the public diplomacy delegation to Ethiopia. He stressed that Egypt would always find in Ethiopia a ready partner in charting a new course “for a brighter future of cooperation and peaceful co-existence.” Prime Minister Meles said Ethiopia had been following recent events in Egypt with admiration and respect. The dignity and determination, the civility and wisdom shown by the people emphasized the Egyptian people's long history of civilization. He congratulated them on their successful revolution.  

The Prime Minister noted that the Nile waters had so often defined the nature of Ethiopian Egyptian relations.  He said he believed the river was a blessing rather than a curse and could and should be an instrument of cooperation, but this required all sides to show readiness to break with the zero-sum politics that had been so common in the past. He emphasized that the Nile can provide hydroelectric power as well as water the farms in the lowlands of the Sudan and Egypt.  A dam in Ethiopia would increase the total volume of the water available, decrease siltation downstream and manage the flow. It would allow for unlimited potentials for cooperation. Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles underlined once again, had no intention whatever to use the Nile waters to the detriment of Egypt and the Sudan.  He said he believed there was no real optimism about the future in both Cairo and Addis Ababa that a fresh start would be made on both bilateral and regional matters, to build on the momentum already created. Prime Minister Meles said Ethiopia needed Egypt to be part of the Nile Basin Co-operation Framework and play its rightful place in the fraternity of the Nile riparian nations. This would be in the interest of both Egypt and all the riparian nations. Prime Minister Meles also spoke of his belief that the level of co-operation was hardly commensurate with the long history of ties or of the potential links. He hoped for closer cooperation in agriculture, education and other areas, including investment. He stressed that the modern world was an interconnected world where destinies were intertwined. The present opportunity offered unique and historic opportunities, and if these were missed it would take another generation before they returned.  

In his meetings, Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam also underlined Ethiopia's interest in the “momentum of growing cooperation” between Ethiopia and Egypt, assuring his counterpart that Ethiopia was fully committed to further consolidation of relations and to the broadening of bilateral co-operation, on the basis of trust, friendship and mutual respect. He was optimistic about the growth in trade and investment, and about the great potential. He believed the agreements on Trade and Avoidance of Double Taxation would help significantly in boosting the bilateral trade that exist between the two countries. Similarly, he felt, investment was showing an encouraging partnership between the two countries. “Egyptians”, he said, “are becoming part of Ethiopia's development story”, and such issues as the formation of the Joint Business Council between Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations and the Egyptian Business Men's Association two years ago could only enhance co-operation in Investment and Trade as would exchanges of views between the two business communities. He said that strengthened economic ties would provide for the foundation on which a strong Ethio-Egyptian relationship could be built. Similarly, he noted that Egypt and Ethiopia could together play a real and significant role in maintaining peace, stability and security both in their sub-regions and in Africa as a whole. “Ethio- Egyptian cooperation can be a positive and stabilizing force in the region,” he concluded.

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Ethio-Egypt Joint Ministerial Commission

The 4th Ethiopia-Egypt Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) meeting was held in Cairo, on September 17th last week. It was preceded by a meeting of senior officials on the 14th and 15th of September. It is the first Joint ministerial Commission meeting to be held in more than 17 years. The meeting began by reviewing the status of bilateral cooperation and considering new areas to enhance cooperation. H.E. Ato Hailemariam Desalegn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs led the Ethiopian delegation which included ministers, state Ministers and other senior officials from different Ministries. H.E. Mohamed Kemal Amr of Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs led the Egyptian delegation which included ministers and other senior officials. 

In his opening remarks, the Egyptian delegation head welcomed the Ethiopian delegation to Cairo and expressed his hope that the meeting would enable the two countries to open a new page of relationship, and to revitalize the longstanding historical bilateral relationship between them. He also reminded that the Jan 25 revolution led to the ouster of Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, and the visit of Public diplomacy followed by the Prime Minister of Essam sharaf to Addis Ababa paved the way to the new page of Ethiopia – Egypt relations. The Egyptian delegation head did also mention that the Joint Ministerial Commission meeting created excellent opportunities to scale up the new relation that has already begun in the past four months after the downfall of the previous Egyptian regime.  Ato Hailemariam Desalegn, thanked the Egyptian authorities and the Egyptian delegation for their warm welcome and hospitality to Cairo. The Ethiopian delegation head also stressed the preordained of Ethiopia and Egypt by God to live harmoniously, the historical ties of the two countries. He has also reminded the bilateral relationship of the two countries has survived wars, natural calamities, and political upheavals, and also emphasized the historical mandate of the present generation of the two countries to renew and build on this time honoured brotherly relationship.

The two Ministers welcomed the outcome of the discussions that were held between the delegations of the two countries during the senior officials meeting, and they pointed out the importance of agreements and Memoranda of Understandings, Cooperation such as in the field of Youth, Higher Education, Agriculture, fishery, avoidance of double taxation and Capacity building in different areas signed between the two countries.  They did also exchange views regarding diverse bilateral issues and domains; especially investment, trade, and the growing opportunities available for the private sectors in Ethiopia. Apart from these, the two Ministers also discussed the regional and international issues, and they affirmed the role of Ethiopia and Egypt in Africa, and responsibilities of both countries in connection to the issues that affect the African continent. They also emphasized the necessity of consultation and coordination on matters relevant to the African Union.

The two sides discussed the issue of the horn of Africa in general and the affairs of Somalia in particular. They agreed that Africans are better placed to resolve this ongoing crisis. In this aspect both countries noted that they have vested interest in resolving this crisis, and restoring stability in Somalia. They also discussed issues related to regional security situations. Finally both sides agreed to cooperate in the field of Women and gender issues, youth, Energy and electricity, Health, Higher Education, General, technical and vocational education and training, Trade, Industry, Investment, Media and Mass communication, Water resource and irrigation, Civil aviation, agriculture, fishery, and Communication and technology. Finally, the two Ministers highlighted the historical bilateral relations of the two countries, and mutual bonds that attach them, and they referred to positive developments in the bilateral relations, which they indicated would open a new page in their relations. The delegates subsequently visited the National Museum and the Pyramids of Egypt in Cairo.

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Repetition does not make truth 

Ethiopia has embarked on the path of development, determined to close the chapter of poverty once and for all. The Government and the people of Ethiopia are endeavoring relentlessly towards achieving the vision of the nation to climb up the ladder of prosperity. Efforts to lift the country out of the poverty are yielding more than encouraging results as can be witnessed from the improved quality of life in health, education and other sectors, and from the successive accelerated economic growth registered in the past few years. Appropriate policies tuned precisely to tackle the situation on the ground have contributed to the unprecedented progress and the country now is in the right trajectory towards sustainable development. 

Ethiopia believes in the utilization of its hydroelectric resource to the benefit of its people and the region. The country has been undertaking various hydroelectric projects that are environmental friendly and designed with due emphasis on impact of the project on the surrounding population as well as neighboring states. None of these projects to date have caused undesirable effect on the settlers or on the environment. While ensuring the safety and livelihood of its citizens, the Government does everything it can to avoid any diverse impact that such projects might have on its neighbors. The principle of mutual respect and benefit lies at the heart Ethiopia's foreign policy.  

While Ethiopia continues to fighting its number one enemy, poverty, some are busy fabricating stories crying foul about the country’s developmental endeavors. This is not the first time that the country is facing those regrettable and fictitious accusations. The allegations continue, and the good news is, so do the endeavors. 

One such article was recently posted on the web as part of this campaign. The article posted on the web, under the title “How a Big Dam Fuels Land grabs, Hunger and Conflict in Ethiopia” by a certain Peter Bosshard has an outrageously paternalistic tone. The writer assumes to have a practical knowledge about the reality on the ground concerning the situation the Omo people are living due to the construction of Gibe III; but this is nothing more than a mere continuation of a smear campaign against the economic activities the country has launched for some time now. Because Ethiopia attaches so much importance to such projects that are of huge benefit to its population, it focuses on what matters most and gives no credit to such empty allegations. There is the need, however, to set the record straight to our friends and partners all over the world.  

Allegations on the Gibe III hydroelectric project have for a long time now been projected by those who want everything but the good of our country. These accusations have been repeatedly found to be total nonsense seen against local and international reviews of the project. Despite the fact that the Government has now and then presented credible reports and the conclusion of such reviews, some, like Bosshard, still insist on their fictitious versions of impending doom.  They have the effrontery to claim that the ADB study report on the project has concluded that the project causes a negative environmental impact and will have serious impact on Lake Turkana. The truth is that the ADB report has never stated that. Environmental and social assessments have been conducted, and precautionary measures have been put in place, before embarking on the project. This is something a cursory look at the ADB's website will show. 

Bosshard falsely claims that the local residents were intimidated by security forces, detained and forcibly evicted from their places, but this is an utter nonsense. Proper consultation has been made and grievance redress mechanism is in place to adequately address the concerns of the people. Not only that, Bosshard goes even as far as trying to dictate the government of Ethiopia on the country’s national interest by ‘advising’ it not to use irrigation for development and stating that “investing in agricultural water management for rain fed farmers must be a priority.” This clearly shows the contempt he has for the country and its people. While the developed world in which he lives in had massive investments to reach where they are now, insisting that developing countries like ours should not try such activities is utterly illogical and simply unacceptable. This clearly demonstrates the double standard he and his likes have perfected into an art form.  

In a rather carefully planned factual misrepresentation of activities and events in Ethiopia, Bosshard continues to try and tarnish the country’s image. One wonders why the likes of him are obsessed with this campaign but one thing is certain: he is barking up the wrong tree and his crocodile tears on account of ‘concern for environment’ are far from genuine. Bosshard’s article concludes with a callous call for the blockade of aid for development. Regrettable as it may be for anyone to be part of this campaign, Ethiopia will not be deterred by such baseless accusations from its development endeavors.

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Consistency is hardly a mark of Eritrea's comments or policies

Recent history suggests that the regime in Asmara deliberately enjoys living in a state of tension and rows with all its neighbors and indeed with regional organizations, including IGAD and the AU, as well as international aid agencies, happily denying reports from UN organizations that it might be suffering from the drought that has affected all of East Africa. This sort of attitude does in fact seem to be the specific preference of the illusions under which President Isaias Afewerki and his closest associates seem to operate. 

They continue to evaluate and categorize the integrity of regional and international organizations according to their stance towards the regime, with no reference to the accuracy of the information purveyed. Indeed, the more and country or organization suggests that the Eritrean regime should return to any normal orbit of behavior, then the more it becomes the victim of stringent criticism. The opposite also holds true, if only partially. Though only sparingly, Eritrea has offered a tone of appreciation towards the African Union at times when its illusionary perspective appears to accept that the AU has ‘defended’ Eritrea’s activities. While this has been visible occasionally, it has been far more usual for any such comment to be overshadowed by far more frequent and categoric verbal abuse and criticism. Eritrea appears to glory in alternate bouts of abuse and appreciation, though it certainly seems to prefer the former.  

It has long appeared to reject any AU’s efforts towards lasting peace, security, stability and regional integrity. It boycotted its membership in the AU because it believed to be an “incapable” and “inefficient” organization “without teeth”, and “impossible to lay trust” on it. Then, after seven years of criticism, it returned to the organization in January this year. A few months later it went on to offer recognition of the integrity of AU and make noises of appreciation of the efforts at the Malabo Summit which Eritrea interpreted as having “compelled IGAD to abandon its plans” to call for additional targeted economic sanctions on Eritrea, despite the fact that the sanctions issue had not been raised at all in the Malabo Summit.  

At the same time it also apparently wanted the AU to condemn “Ethiopia’s illegal occupation of Eritrean sovereign territory”. This approach didn't last long. A couple of months later, the regime in Asmara had changed its view of the AU and started to offer a new line of criticism. Now its insults include claims that both the “30 years old OAU [and] the AU that replaced it failed to meet the expectations of the people of the continent”. This attack is merely because of the AU’s unanimous stance requiring Eritrea to behave normally and stop destabilization in the region. The regime goes on to claim that “there should exist a strategy (in the AU) that could resolve basic issues”, by which it appears to mean the sanctions issue on Eritrea. In fact, as the regime conveniently forgets, AU member states unanimously called for the UN Security Council to sanction Eritrea in order to bring an end to its disruption in the region.  

Given its attitude to the AU, it's hardly a surprise to see Eritrea constantly campaigning against IGAD as well as against Ethiopia and other countries in the region. Eritrea of course pulled out of IGAD in 2007 claiming it was dismayed by IGAD support for the AU-backed call from the TFG in Somalia for an Ethiopian intervention to oust the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab from Mogadishu. It subsequently insulted IGAD as “an inept organization” and worse, and most recently as a body “spearheaded by Ethiopia and the USA”, apparently for the sole reason that IGAD had the temerity to request the Security Council to add to targeted sanctions after Eritrea persistently and repeatedly continued to disrupt the Horn of Africa sub-region. IGAD is of course composed of member states whose integrity and capacities Eritrea consistently disparages, but despite its continued mistrust of IGAD Eritrea has now formally requested to rejoin the organization. IGAD has said it will discuss the matter at the highest level. From the perspective of observing the Eritrean regime's illusions that requesting to rejoin IGAD without any changes of policy will be enough to persuade IGAD to drop its support for stronger sanctions against Asmara. 

At the same time, Asmara went on to accuse Ethiopia of working for regime change in Eritrea and of trying to gain access to the Red Sea. It even defended its acts of disruption in the region by repeating, yet again, the outstanding border issue with Ethiopia as its excuse. Eritrea continues to repeat this allegation despite Ethiopia's repeated expressions of readiness for negotiation of the demarcation of the border on the ground, based on the decision of the Ethio-Eritrea Boundary Commission. Ethiopia has made this quite plain for the last seven years. Ethiopia has also made it quite clear it believes in the peaceful resolution of any misunderstandings. Irrespective of whether the problem is one of argument or even military conflict, it must end in negotiation, not in armed destabilization. It is, in this respect, of importance to note that the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea so that these could have a visible impact on Eritrea and encourage it towards to changes in its disruptive policies in the Horn of Africa.  The Security Council originally granted the sanctions after thoroughly evaluating whether the Ethio-Eritrea border issue and other factors could provide any realistic excuse for Eritrea to disrupt the whole sub-region and continue to arm and sponsor terrorist groups. Its answer was unequivocal. That is perhaps hardly surprising. Any thought of lightening the implementation of sanctions appears only to lead to encouragement of Eritrean intransigence and continued efforts at disruption. There has been a proliferation of even more serious allegations leading the Security Council to consider extra investigations and to instruct the Monitoring Group to carry these out, as a prelude to granting additional sanctions as requested by IGAD.

Despite this the regime in Asmara has continued to offer continued criticisms and insults to any and all organizations that have taken a position criticizing the government in Eritrea or calling on it to return to normal international activities. It apparently continues to believe that new rounds of criticism against the AU and IGAD  will somehow persuade the Security Council not to consider further sanctions against Eritrea, and that it will be seen as immune from responsibility for its activities. Eritrea really should be aware that the only way to convince IGAD, the AU, and the UNSC, which is the major owner of the sanctions, and the rest of the international community, to change their attitude, is for it to begin to make realistic and genuine efforts to change its disruptive policies. Despite its illusions, it is by any standards easier for Eritrea to change its policies than for the rest of the world to change direction. Whatever Asmara might want, whatever techniques it tries to employ or efforts at fence-mending it tries to utilize, these will be of no effect unless it really is prepared to change direction. Nothing else now can be expected to have an impact on an international community long inured to Eritrean twists and turns.   

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          Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

                     Ministry of Foreign Affairs