OLF and Ethiopian sovereignty


By Zerihun Abebe Woldeselassie, University of Bergen, Department of Social Anthropology

Recently there is a growing debate within OLF regarding its stand on the question of a a common Ethiopian state and there seem to be a revitalization of the question of ethno-nationalism and Ethiopian sovereignty, particularly among the Diaspora. There are now a group or individuals who previously identified themselves and recognized by others as member or supporter of OLF but their struggle, membership and claim of representation have become contested by some other group of individuals who consider themselves as more authentic and legitimate than the other. I argue that the recent development within the OLF demonstrates yet again the very nature of the post-socialist Ethiopian politics which is characterized by contestation and fragmentation. And this pattern is a result of the historical and unsuccessful Ethiopian nation-state formation and inter-group (ethnic and religious) relationship in what is now called the Ethiopian region and it is directly related to the question of reforming empire-state, diversity, integration, political stability and peace in the region.

Two Major perspectives

The post-1991 Ethiopian ethno-political context is characterized by two main features; on the one hand there have increasingly emerged various groups (local and trans-local) with voices articulated in terms of ethnic ideology. These voices though are not always internally homogeneous, use ethnicity (or questions of cultural identity particularly based on language and religion) and oppression ideology as their primary mobilizing force. Ethnic based political mobilization (or ethno-nationalism) did in fact begin as early as the 1960s. Yet the post-1991 situation displayed an increasing number of ethnic-based political groups some of which had no earlier history at all. What is more specific about the recent revivalism of ethnonationalism is that some groups want to use the post-1991 Ethiopian constitution as an instrument in their ‘struggle’ to only undermine a common, Ethiopian state sovereignty. There are on the other hand those (not also homogeneous and expressed in various forms) who deny or (if at all they do) give secondary or marginal importance to issue of ethnicity or identity along cultural lines. This group undermines ethnic identities while emphasizing Ethiopian sovereignty and unity across linguistic or religious boundaries.

These two elements though are influenced by the social and political change in the post-socialist world in which both globalization and revivalism/assertion of local, national and regional identities are central, they should also be seen as being interlinked with the very historical and unfinished modern Ethiopian nation-state building project commonly associated with Menelik and Hailselassie. As such they largely define the contemporary Ethiopian political impasse and the way out is striking the delicate balance between Ethiopian cultural (ethnic and religious) identities and (an encompassing) Ethiopian sovereignty. In another language what I am suggesting is that rather than promoting a pro-unity OLF group of individuals vis-à-vis an anti-unity OLF ones, the best solution is to work more to create a rational and national consensus and conciliation among all forces that challenge the viability of a reformed federal democratic and all-inclusive sovereign Ethiopian state.

On Shared language and State formation

This argument is broadly related to the issue of how we explain the logic of state formation and ethnicity in a specific context. Notwithstanding the relevance of ecological, political, cultural and economic factors, the primary and political necessity of a sovereign state power, especially in the modern context, doesn’t emanate, at least if we tentatively assume the Hobbesian perspective, from the fact that human beings share similar culture or language but rather because human persons and groups by their very nature may come in conflict with other persons and collectives/groups that a sovereign state is the most preferred or viable legal and moral authority we know so far to guarantee political order, security, protection and prosperity to individuals and groups in through the provisions of legal rights and duties.

There is a well-established consensus in ethnic studies that there is no one-to-one correspondence between cultural difference and ethnicity (boundary) formation. Often times, ethnicity is a result of modern socio-political and economic process that include the formation (or attempt to form) of the modern nation-state. In this regard rather than a cause for the formation of the state, notion of cultural difference or ethnicity is a product of the very state formation itself. In another language any identity, ethnicity or nationalism doesn’t necessarily precede state formation.

Whatever perspective one takes, the fact of the matter is that contrary to the claim of ethno-nationalists, there is no natural (causal) relationship between sharing a language or other cultural attributes and forming a state or any political system. Many ethnonationalists wrongly but strategically speak of how their ethnic identity travels down the road of history, as a primordial reality. But this must only be seen as a political not a factual claim. For example, Oromo-nationalism, like many other ethnic-nationalisms in Ethiopia isn’t prior to but a result of the modern Ethiopian empire-state formation. It is a consequence of the specific modernization processes in the region.

For this reason what matters most is how to reform any state to become a secular and democratic political-system that guarantees human diversity, rule of law, equality and minority rights and all these cannot be achieved though parochial political movement that undermines historically and culturally established social, economic and political interconnections at national, regional and global levels. There are in fact some (especially from the ethno-nationalist groups) who argue against the possibility of reforming a multi-ethnic state like Ethiopia? The answer is clear 1st) It is indeed possible to conceptualize an alternative political framework to reform Ethiopia as a state, 2nd) as such Ethiopia is not and will not be an exception in this regard. The very question if an empire (a multi-ethnic)-state can be reformed or not is not a genuine question since it emanates from an ambivalent position that assumes forming a separate (nation-)state as a viable solution in a priori. Nevertheless, there is no self-evident truth that separation or cessation is necessarily a best solution to bring peace, democracy and equality in a region like Ethiopia, where historical, political and cultural interconnections have already defined our collective destiny.

Some pragmatic Suggestions

What should be done? A) INTERCONNECTION. Recognizing our interconnection or the fact of our shared past and shared future as an important element, not only of our political discourse and but also of existence and destiny. B) POLITICS OF CITIZENSHIP Replacing the incumbent’s politics of loyalty with a politics based on citizenship. If there is a genuine desire and commitment for peace, what is needed is not trying to maintain Ethiopian sovereignty through the few, politically loyal or co-opted groups or individuals while excluding all anti-government political movements by undermining dissent voices. C) NON-VIOLENCE Condemning violence by all sides. Violent means or struggle to maintain or remove the current government cannot be a solution either. Why? The TPLF-EPRDF has proven that a political change that comes through violence and a victor’s peace hasn’t brought sustainable and inclusive political stability and peace.  It is only keeping the cycle of violence. D) REFORM Political reform, not radical change.  The world has witnessed that dismantling existing (or undemocratic/empire) states to create new ones rarely led to the establishment of a peaceful and stable (let alone a democratic) political order. E) CIVIL RIGHT. Often times the state as well as its critics seek mobilization and legitimacy in the name of groups i.e. ethnic or religious groups. While this should be recognized, it is also significant to mobilize diverse voices within and outside groups and across boundaries towards achieving civic rights. F) RIGHT & DUTY. The Ethiopian government as well as ethno-nationalists emphasize the right of nations and nationalities without exerting an equal effort on their duty, responsibility and commitment to enhancing the shared and cross-cutting Ethiopian political, social and cultural values. Nevertheless, there must be a balance between right and duty.

Generally, I argue that the only viable solution is pushing or working for pragmatic but critical political reform of the Ethiopian state and “civil societies”, aspiring to achieve system of accountability, conciliation, national and rational consensus regarding our shared political past and (future)destiny. It demands promoting political and economic integration across linguistic boundary against assimilation and secession/segregation. This solution demands neither the few loyal-supporting political subjects nor the co-opted individuals and organizations of the regime, but all subjects within the empire-state with their right and duties without suppressing cultural diversity and political differences. It demands mobilizing each and every Ethiopian citizens based on some fundamental and shared values and political goals I have noted above.

Some Advice for Ethnonationalists

The ethno-nationalists should stop mimicking their political enemies (i.e, the state and the so called Ethiopian nationalists) or acting out of grievances and biased sentiments. They should realize that it is not to the interest of regional and national peace and political stability if they are calculating how they can use the Ethiopian constitution instrumentally, with the hidden or open motive of aspiring for a referendum and then a separate state. They should execute their responsibility and come up with a responsible perspective on how to resolve their legitimate question of equality, liberty, social justice and representation within a reformed and an all-inclusive Ethiopian state.

The fallacious and dishonest argument of leaders and ardent followers of groups like OLF and ONLF is the notion that freedom from the so-called ‘national oppression’ or practicing the so called self-determination, in the form of referendum will necessarily lead to human right, freedom and equality. However, oppression by its nature is a multi-faceted phenomenon and demand more than ethnic mobilization. If the Oromo-speaking people establish a separate state and will be led by their own ethnic elites (local or Diaspora) this doesn’t necessarily guarantee progress, equality, peace, freedom and human right for every Oromo individuals as many ethno-revolutionaries flaunt. Not only because of the obvious logical argument that collective right doesn’t immediately translate into individual right but also because there is no empirical and historical evidence to support the claim that self-determination necessarily leads to peace and freedom, particularly in the multi-ethnic and inter-connected Eastern African region.

Some Advice for Pan-Ethiopian nationalists

On the other hand, those who promote a Pan-Ethiopian notions or unity should also avoid the culture of conspiracy versus loyalty, Orthodoxy versus heresy politics while  acting, just like ethnonationalists, out of grievances and biased sentiments. It is interesting to notice that as far as ‘political culture’ is concerned both Pan-ethiopianists and ethnonationalists are not structurally different from each other. They should listen to the grievances (whether theses are factually true or politically constructed claims) with a common agenda of building a shared country (hager) where equality and peace are the guiding principle.

They must be able to apreciate the relevance and significance accommodating diversity particularly, ethnic and cultural identities through devolution of power at different levels. It is worrying that many proponents of Ethiopian unity do not seem to properly understand that ethnicity is a modern (political and social) phenomenon not a result of residual and primitive form of social and political organization or mentality as they often wrongly claim.

But this doesn’t mean that Ethiopia is a mere collection of unrelated populations. This rather entails that in as much as Ethiopian shared religious (Islam/Christianity) cross-cutting ties, cultural ideas, practices, identities and subjectivities are historically established social and cultural forces, specific ethno-nationalist identities are not figments of individuals’ imagination and therefore need to be treated as modern political realities and be reconciled and recognized as an aspect of, if not central to the Ethiopian social and political configuration. This facilitates re-imagining Ethiopia by both sides in a new form.

On the existing Ethiopian Government?

Rather than the solution, the current TPLF-dominated EPRDF is part of the problem. This is because though declared a victor’s peace EPRDF didn’t institutionalize an alternative, all-inclusive and democratic form of state based on patriotism. By patriotism, I am not implying a need for that assimilationist political project of nation-state type of nationalism, which is the first step toward totalitarianism particularly in the context of a multi-ethnic empire-state. What I am rather saying is that EPRDF has not been committed to building a shared civic citizenship, where every (ethnic) political group or person in Ethiopia, across ethnic, linguistic and religious boundaries, identify and commit himself or herself to Ethiopian sovereignty as a member of one polity based on equal citizenship rights and duties. In fact, EPRDF gives trifling importance to what unites persons and collectives in Ethiopia as loyal citizens of the Ethiopian state, beyond and in addition to their being possible member of an ethnic or religious communities and this, I think, is a political suicide and makes Ethiopia fragile and more vulnerable to internal conflict. It also makes the government prone to internal conflict and fragmentation.

Some argue that the EPRDF is the solution and its introduction of federalism is a real alternative. While federalism in general is indeed an appropriate system for Ethiopia there are a number of problems as it’s practiced under the current Ethiopian government. First, it is essentially based on group-centered ideology at the expense of individual freedom. Despite the fact that individual right is recognized in the Ethiopian constitution, the real politics gives precedence to collective, cultural or linguistic “rights” at the expense of individual rights. That means EPRDF prioritize cultural identity claim over and above citizenship and this has negative consequences in the protection of civil rights in the country. Both the regional and federal governments give precedence to collective rights and had it not been for the established social and cultural values of diversity and tolerance of the various Ethiopian ethnic groups we would have witnessed more violence and conflict under the EPRDF rule.

Second, even though it promotes cultural or ethnic identity, it does not recognize internal difference and dissent voices among citizens within an ethnic/nationality/identity/cultural group. For EPRDF there must only be one and authentic political representation for an ethnic or nationality group for instance. Third, EPRDF doesn’t recognize mixed ethnicities, and constitutionally force individuals to choose ethnic identities which they do not self-identify with. EPRDF has gone a great length to undermine or systematically exclude historically established mixed identities particularly in urban centers, border regions and centers as political agencies. Fourth what EPRDF did is largely de-concentration and power sharing among political elites. Though this has undoubtedly further created new opportunities to historically marginalized local populations and communities in the form of loyal supporters and beneficiaries of the regime, it has not brought a real decentralization and devolution process in the sense of empowering local persons as citizens.

Fifth, EPRDF is not open and transparent towards the Ethiopian public. It still is a communist-style secretive, unknowable and vague political group. Whose ever fault it is there are for example, no free civil societies, political groups/institutions or critical media or public institutions (in the sense that they are not EPRDF controlled, affiliated or sympathizers) that could make the EPRDF and its officials knowable and accountable for what they did and what they are doing now. EPRDF doesn’t trust other than itself. Its officials and supporters wrongly claim that their party is a self-correcting machine and doesn’t need non-EPRDF elements (opponents) for its functioning as a guarantor of Ethiopian sovereignty. What amazes me is that still the core and influential elites of the regime are operating like a communist guerrilla fighters in the form of personal and ethnic profiling and characterization.  Sixth, EPRDF though seemed to embrace federalism, in actual fact its essential feature is largely similar to the century old type of ‘Abyssinian’ state-system where the center co-opted local or ethnic elites from the margin. Still today the main state agents are those loyal and trusted individuals fitting the patron-client relationship. There is in fact a difference (greater penetration of the state to the local level than even before) but it is mainly a difference in the form, scale and size rather than in the very hierarchical relationship and core system.

On Economic Change and Political conflict

What about Economic changes under EPRDF? EPRDF supporters further argue that EPRDF is in the right truck because it is in the business of eradicating poverty. They argue that after 1991 the challenges against Ethiopian peace and stability is not a structural political problem it is rather directly related to economic underdevelopment and would be removed if poverty is removed. Nevertheless, this argument has both a philosophical as well as political flaw. First, just like promoting federalism, eradicating poverty is indeed another appropriate approach to Ethiopian development. Yet, I argue that “shared political consciousness’ and political loyalty (committed citizenship) is as equally important as ‘shared economic growth’ that emphasizing the one at the expense of the other doesn’t lead to sustainable development.

This argument is based on the general philosophical notion that neither matter nor consciousness determines social being that both are equally important for human development. Second, while they did acknowledge that  they are increasingly facing political problems in the form of what they call, chauvinistic and “rent-seeking’ behavior, the EPRDF officials do not seem to see the fact that the improvement and change in economic situation has also contributed to creating and facilitating conflict through competing ethnic elites (local/diaspora) militating against the endeavor of creating a common economic and political community as per the Ethiopian constitution.This notion of the EPRDF has to be contextualized in terms of the ideological roots of its leaders, who embrace the Marxists notion of the primacy of Material and economic factors in the form of economic determinism. While Marxists take oppression seriously, they have a wrong modernist assumption that “false ideologies” like ethnicity and religion will disappear through economic change, denying the fact that it may be naturalized or (re-)created due to the very modernization processes itself.

Some Advice for the EPRDF government

What should the EPRDF government do? EPRDF should acknowledge that building a state through politically loyal subjects is not only a precarious endeavor but also is one major factor for conflict and instability. In this regard shared political identity or commitment to a state (not to an incumbent  government) which monopolizes violence as a formal and legal institution in the international community of states is an essential element in achieving sustainable development not only because it kindles individuals’ loyalty to the state in the form of patriotism but also because of its ability to encompass the full dimensions of human spiritual possibilities and make them conscious of their social and political existence in the country without denying their specific cultural identity and positioning. EPRDF authorities should know that they are not building that Ethiopia in which each and every Ethiopian (possible) passport holder is fully committed and therefore is loyal, as citizens of the state, to Ethiopian sovereignty. They should know that there is no sufficient effort made in policy and political measures to build a new political symbol, sense of citizenship, constitutional rights and duties equally applied to and respected by each Ethiopian citizen. Much  of the effort and focus has been eradicating poverty, and promoting the rights  of nationals and nationalities with less or no focus on their contributions and responsibilities (both at individual and group level) in building a common political community as per the constitution. Many regional elites act as if they have no commitment to building a common political and economic community.

Contestation and Fragmentation

This process has facilitated the contemporary competing elitism, contestation and greater fragmentation we witness along different social and political boundaries such as religious, ethnic and regional. The fact that EPRDF divided Ethiopians as friends and foes while focusing on mobilizing supporters and fighting against enemies and opponents means it has not legitimized its control of federal state power on an alternative and shared national political consensus largely respected by all Ethiopian citizens. EPRDF’s control of federal and regional state power or the existence of a FDRE is not legitimized by national consensus about (good or bad) common history, common peace, common interest and common destiny. It is also not supported by shared democratic and secular values. This is not simply because EPRDF itself is a non-democratic force but also because the Ethiopian elites as well as the mass with a hierarchical social and cultural traditions have to go a great length to develop and materialize democratic ideas and practices.

Meanwhile different political, ethnic and religious groups, networks of individuals emerge and assert their extreme position (both pro and anti unity) only to undermine Ethiopian sovereignty. In fact if one looks the pattern one can notice an increase in contestation and fragmentation within all political, religious and ethnic groups in Ethiopia. In addition to OLF, a number of major examples could be mentioned in this regard. For instance, TPLF itself once seemed a historically solid group but now we have noticed its fragmentation following an internal splinter group which charged TPLF of devaluing Ethiopian sovereignty particularly vis-a-vis Eritrea. ONLF is also a part of this pattern. Some group of the ONLF have already joined EPRDF by accepting the latter’s claims of running a unified Ethiopia even though in actual fact what we have now under EPRDF is a conglomeration of ethnic or nationality groups led by ethnic-elites who are co-opted and tightly controlled from the center. The same holds to the various Ethiopian religious groups where we see one religion is divided into different competing and sometimes conflicting groups in which the question Ethiopian sovereignty vis-à-vis the question of identity and modernity is part of the problem.

While globalization through greater contact, migration, flow of capital and people have in fact facilitated this process, fragmentation and contestation ultimately is a function both of ethnic relations and incomplete nation-state project in what is now called Ethiopia. Fragmentation and contestation among contemporary Ethiopian political elites (internal and diaspora) ultimately boils down to these two contradictory but interrelated structural forces. The main question now is how to come up with a new Ethiopia which combines these historical realities rather than dichotomizing them as irreconcilable entities. This is not a zero-sum game and there are generally two factors that must be acknowledged in looking for a possible solution.

National Political Consensus

First, a first step to the solution for contemporary political conflict in Ethiopia is to accept or understand that (while there are a number of crosscutting ties, shared values and history) Ethiopia has always been an empire-state and promote and consolidate a secular federal state in which its citizens share a civic identity based on citizenship (legal right and duty), while at the same time enjoying their respective distinct cultural identities that may manifest itself in terms of diversified religion, languages, local narratives and cultures. In addition to representing a specific form of monopolization of violence, among culturally heterogeneous populations, by the concept of Empire I am specifically referring to a form of domination residing in values and ideas that claim universality  Many pro-Ethiopian activists do not seem to understand that Ethiopia has always been an empire-state not a nation-state. In fact, for some Ethiopia is imagined as a nation-state. However, that is an illusion, and the post-1991 political development in Ethiopia has unequivocally shown that an attempt to impose a European like nation-state project has reached its dead-end.

Second, every side should accept that the historical state formation in Ethiopia, though was not fully successful, had resulted in the creation of shared history (negative and positive), shared religions (Islam and Christianity) and shared socio-economic realities (plough agriculture, market relations etc) across ethnic and linguistic boundaries that could serve as the basis for cultivating positive relations. For example, there is more an Oromo-speaking peasant share with his Amhara or Tigre peasants especially in respect to everyday life rituals, way of life in a way different from other African countries etc…True, Ethiopian history is contested. But the notion that all our past is not shared or is inherently negative, lacks candour and is in fact irresponsible. Ethiopians need to produce a balanced and inclusive knowledge, representation, history regarding Menelik’s conquest of the south and state formation in Ethiopia with a focus towards the future. There may always be people who may disagree with such a knowledge, representation and history that the endeavour can only aim to embrace most not all of the Ethiopian population. But there must be an attempt to represent the facts as well as the meanings related to the process without undermining the diversities of experience and voices with or across religious and linguistic boundaries.We have both good and bad history, heroes as well as antagonists that if we select what is common to us we can still re-define the Ethiopian population as a distinct polity vis-à-vis polities in other neighboring African countries. If there is awareness and political will from the respective elites, we are in a far better position to build a stable and peaceful state in the region.

Third, there should also be a recognition that the fact that historical Ethiopian state formation was not fully successful means that there are always ethnic consciousness and identities (this includes distinct languages, religions, notions of origins, cosmologies, descent systems, and other cultural aspects) that go against any homogenizing political project.

Fourth, the way out from this predicament is developing a synthesis that transform not simply resolve the conflict in an original way. But this is not an easy task. It needs a new notion or imagining of Ethiopia. While the incumbent has legal and political responsibility to facilitate or at least not to hinder this process, no single group should claim or expect the new Ethiopia from another group. The fact that the mainstream oromo ethnic-nationalists do not take (or seemed to be not willing) such initiative while exerting much effort against the notion of a shared Ethiopian state (often from non-oromo-speaking groups) is not constructive at all. Both the ethno nationalists and the unitarists must take the initiative and be able to participate in constructing and proposing a new inclusive notion of Ethiopia, a notion that can only be built based on selective, pragmatic, rational and consensual approach.

A centerist view

This in its turn needs what I call rational innocence, positive political and moral will, critical but open-mindedness and open heart that recognizes the fact that our peace, security, development and destiny are interconnected beyond our choice and will. It demands a centrist view with civility and a post-modern thinking, which treats any extremist ideology, that undermine this interconnections, as a nihilistic project, while embracing rule of law, human right and diversity as the basis for democratic citizenship building.

If we see the recent development within the OLF from this perspective, there is more to be done in the Ethiopian political milieu than achieved so far. Diaspora Oromo elites emphasized their separate identity at the expense of Ethiopian sovereignty even if the initial political objective of the OLF didn’t totally reject the possibility of achieving equality and representation for the Oromo within a reformed Ethiopian empire-state. With this historical precedence, the fact that there are now some more Oromo elites, who openly accept Ethiopian sovereignty is not a total surprise. There is also nothing inherently negative in such a move regardless of the long-term or short-term personal or collective motives of the individuals, who promote this position. Nevertheless, if we see the bigger picture, still Ethiopian politics, at large, remains in elites’ (local and diaspora) quagmire where activists from all sides lack pragmatic approach and therefore fail to develop a rational and national consensus towards a viable alternative from the past and the present towards a promising peaceful future.


Hidden Oppression in Eritrea

By VITTORIO LONGHI October 3, 2014 In Europe’s debate about how to deal with the flow of desperate migrants from Africa, there is an important element missing: the crisis in Eritrea. Every month almost 4,000 Eritreans flee to escape oppression, according to a United Nations special rapporteur. A visit to Asmara, the Eritrean capital, is revealing. In the cafes you won’t hear people talking about the government of President Isaias Afewerki, and in the streets you will never see a march or a demonstration. Any sign of protest is quickly crushed, and opponents of the government face immediate imprisonment and torture, often in underground jails in remote areas. There they are stuffed into metal containers where the heat is unbearable, and given little food or water. The right to trial does not exist, and those convicted have no recourse to appeal. This oppression is eerily invisible. You won’t see police officers along the sunny avenues of Asmara, nor are there soldiers around. But if you have a camera and start taking pictures, people stare and point at you. In this silent, secret system of terror, reminiscent of Soviet communism, every citizen is a potential spy. The government in Eritrea exercises control also through the “national service,” which is compulsory and open-ended for both men and women from the age of 17. It is easy to see why Eritreans will risk dangerous journeys to escape. On Oct. 3, 2013, 366 young Eritreans drowned off the tiny island of Lampedusa. The night after the shipwreck, I watched the survivors mourn the dead. They were taken to an airport hangar to wander among long rows of dark wooden coffins, and a line of five little white coffins for the children. The weeping sounded like a howl of despair for a generation fated to live in a country where hope for a better future had been banished. It was a cry for help. As people gathered in the main streets of Asmara after the shipwreck to view photos of the dead, the police arrived to disperse the crowd, but not before making a list of those who attended. “Nobody will come to save us,” said a 30-year-old teacher I met on my way to Asmara in May, who asked not to be identified. At one time, she said, she worked for European NGOs, but these organizations were expelled by the government in 2006. President Afewerki denies that the country needs any aid or assistance from foreigners. “Isaias keeps isolating our country so that nobody can see what happens here,” the teacher told me. State workers earn an average monthly salary of 500 nakfa (about $15 at the black market rate) and represent cheap labor for both the public and private sectors, especially in mining and construction, where Chinese investments are growing. Many Eritreans rely on informal work to feed their families. In Massawa, once a major port on the Red Sea, Awate Tsegay rents his car to foreigners and hopes to earn enough money to cross the border and join his brothers in Sudan. “Military officers ask up to $1,000 per person to hide you in a car so that you can get through safely,” he said. The government tacitly encourages illegal migration, recently introducing a 2 percent tax on remittances from abroad. Once in Sudan, Eritreans avoid the police and take any job available, until they can hire a trafficker to take them to Libya or Egypt, where they can attempt the sea crossing to Europe. The desert crossing is perilous, and many refugees fall victim to torture and organ harvesting. Meanwhile, President Afewerki, who has ruled for 20 years, still plays the role of the victim. He uses the pretext of the border conflict with Ethiopia to justify tight control over his people. European Union diplomats have expressed concern about the systematic violation of human rights. But if Europe were serious about addressing the causes of the exodus from Eritrea, it would put more pressure on Mr. Afewerki to loosen his grip. Likewise, the international community has done little to resolve the border conflict. Even less has been done to support Eritrean opposition forces, which could challenge the generals and set the country on the path to democratic elections. But the Eritrean opposition is fractured and presents little threat to the Afewerki government. “The most active democratic groups are based elsewhere, in Sudan or Europe,” says Valentina Fusari, a researcher in Asmara. Smaller ethnic groups of dissidents are in exile and too disorganized to be an option. At this stage, without a coordinated effort by the opposition, the dictatorship will keep perpetuating terror and forcing its people to choose between the loss of their freedom if they stay, or a potentially deadly journey if they leave. Vittorio Longhi is an Italian journalist. His latest book is “The Immigrant War: A Global Movement Against Discrimination and Exploitation.” Source: New York Times 03.10.14

Ethiopia: Embracing Development and Security Means Embracing Free Expression

By: Birtukan Mideksa

Last week, Washington D.C. hosted the US-Africa Leaders Summit, where over 50 African heads of state discussed important issues ranging from public health to trade and development. I was honored to participate in a parallel civil society conference that highlighted the challenges faced by civic leaders on the continent, including the all too prevalent crack-down on free expression.

During the summit, participants repeatedly noted that respect for fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, is critical for sustainable economic growth. The press is a vital component of society, allowing diverse voices to be heard and balancing the power between the government and the people. The independent media also plays a particularly important role in combating corruption as it oversees how governments spend development and aid money.

In his post-summit address, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments, noting that “even though leaders don’t always like it, the media plays a crucial role in assuring people that they have the proper information to evaluate the policies that their leaders are pursuing” and that “nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.” Secretary of State John Kerry—who spoke at the civil society forum—reiterated the belief that “when people can trust their government and rely on its accountability and transparency on justice, that society flourishes and is more prosperous and more stable than others.”

According to Secretary Kerry, the U.S. “will continue to support press freedom, including for journalists charged with terrorism or imprisoned on arbitrary grounds.” However, one of the United States’ most important security and development allies in Africa, my home country of Ethiopia, is also one of the continent’s worst jailers of the press.

On April 25 and 26, less than three months before President Obama highlighted the importance of a free press, three independent journalists and six bloggers were arrested and eventually charged under Ethiopia’s widely-criticized 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The journalists were known to write on a wide range of topics, including corruption. The bloggers, for their part, were part of group called “Zone 9,” which had a large following on social media and were known for their campaign to promote the rights provided under Ethiopia’s constitution. They were all arrested shortly after Zone 9 posted an announcement on Facebook indicating that the group would begin blogging again after a seven month hiatus.

The six bloggers and three journalists were held without any formal charges against them for over two and a half months and were finally charged on July 18. In response, 41 NGOs sent a letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn calling on his government to immediately release the detainees and revise the law. The U.S. government has also condemned such an abuse of anti-terror legislation. Secretary Kerry publicly expressed his concern about the arrests during a visit to Addis Ababa just days after the they were detained. He specifically mentioned blogger Natnail Feleke, with whom he had met on a previous visit, and adamantly insisted that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation should not be used as a mechanism to curb the free exchange of ideas.

Unfortunately, what happened to these independent journalists and bloggers is neither new nor surprising.

On September 14, 2011, Eskinder Nega, a prominent journalist and human rights defender, was arrested and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Ten months later, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. While the Ethiopian government asserts that Mr. Nega’s prosecution is unrelated to his work as a journalist, an independent inquiry found otherwise. In Opinion No. 62/2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention held that Mr. Nega’s imprisonment violated Ethiopia’s obligations under international law. In addition to procedural violations, the Working Group found Mr. Nega’s detention resulted directly from his exercise of free expression. They concluded that the overly broad offenses established by the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation constituted “an unjustified restriction on expression rights and on fair trial rights.” Thus far, however, the government has ignored the Working Group’s call to release and compensate Mr. Nega. It also continues to imprison journalists Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye on similar grounds.

Other international bodies have also criticized the use of anti-terror laws against journalist, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and five United Nations special procedure mandate holders.  During Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review earlier this year, a number of countries, including the United States, raised similar concerns. Most recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, denounced the arrests of journalists and bloggers declaring that “the fight against terrorism cannot serve as an excuse to intimidate and silence journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and members of civil society organizations. And working with foreign human rights organisations cannot be considered a crime.”

The Ethiopian government has long relied on the same arguments to defend its actions—falsely claiming that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation copies equivalent European standards. The international community can no longer tolerate these kinds of wholly inadequate explanations, especially when respect for human rights impacts the prospects for growth and security on the continent so greatly. If we are serious about development and peace in Africa, we need to hold the Ethiopian government accountable and reinforce the proposition that there can be no robust, sustainable growth without respect for the fundamental rights for all Africans.

Birtukan Mideksa is former federal judge, political leader, and prisoner of conscience in Ethiopia. She has held fellowships with the National Endowment for Democracy and Harvard University and is a member of Freedom Now’s Board of Advisors.

Source: Freedom Now

Nile River Politics: When Sisi Met Desalegn

BY: Nizar Manek
The guests had been seated at the tables of the great hall in Addis Ababa, and fanfares rang out as the Emperor Haile Selassie walked in with President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt at his right hand. Nasser was a “tall, stocky, imperious man, his head thrust forward and his wide jaws thrust into a smile,” next to him Selassie’s “diminutive silhouette,” his “thin expressive face, his glistening penetrating eyes” worn by the years. Behind the extraordinary pair, the remaining leaders also entered in their pairs, writes Ryszard Kapuściński in his chronicle of the fall of the Abyssinian monarchy and the intrigues at Selassie’s court. The audience rose; everyone was applauding. “Ovations sounded for unity and the Emperor. Then the feast began.”
Their corresponding persons, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn — a pair less extraordinary, their relations less gregarious —find themselves seated together on June 26 at the 23rd Ordinary Summit of the African Union in Equatorial Guinea. During his presidential campaign, El-Sisi spoke of his interest in travelling to Ethiopia “not once, but ten times” for the mutual benefit of the two countries. As El-Sisi addressed the crowd at his presidential inauguration ceremony at the Qubba Palace in Cairo, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus looked on among Arab royals, the First-Vice President of Sudan, Lieutenant General Bakri Hassan Saleh, and heads of state, from Chad’s Idriss Déby and Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki to Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has held power in Equatorial Guinea even longer than El-Sisi’s military predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. El-Sisi professed to the crowd he would protect pan-Africanism, and he wouldn’t allow Ethiopia’s self-financed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to “cause a crisis or a problem with sisterly Ethiopia.” Over centuries, the Nile has tied the two countries together. Ethiopia’s priority now is power generation, while Egypt, a desert country, prioritises irrigation against the Nile water source countries on the Central African and Ethiopian plateaus, which have greater rainwater.

The GERD is a major issue of peace or war. As he summits in Malabo with Adhanom over Egypt’s Nile water crisis, El-Sisi finds himself confronted with deep and changing historical forces. When Britain occupied Egypt in 1882, Britain immediately understood it had become “ruler of a hydrological society,” and that the irrigation question was central to maintaining stability along its Suez Canal, notes Terje Tved, professor at the universities of Bergen and Oslo and an authority on the Nile. Then everything changed after the First World War, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the Egyptian revolution of 1919, and yet Britain’s strategic interests remained the same. This trickled into a series of colonial treaties, including the 1959 Nile Waters agreement, which contributed to Sudan becoming Egypt’s downstream hydro-political ally, and safeguarded Egypt and Sudan’s over 90 percent share of Nile waters. Ethiopia, the source of the Nile, was left only with ghosts of discord. Selassie himself was left affronted by Nasser’s marginalisation of Ethiopia in the 1959 agreement, and was to be overthrown in a 1974 coup d’état. At the same time, notes a March 21 2011 memorandum from the international businessman and dam engineer Dr Ibrahim Mostafa Kamel submitted to the first post-Mubarak government of Essam Sharaf, since 1969 Egypt has lost an estimated 100 million tons annually of silt, “creating a 4.1 billion silt dump which lies over the Egyptian-Sudanese border.”

Even if he is a diminutive Nasser, El-Sisi’s jaws will not likely be thrust into a smile, even a wry one. It is not even sure whether there will be a feast as in Kapuściński’s tale, or if so, whether it will be sumptuous. Only three days before El-Sisi’s presidential inauguration, the governments of Ethiopia and South Sudan arrested three Egyptians reportedly sent by Cairo to spy on dam projects in South Sudan and western Ethiopia, principal among them the 6,000-megawatt GERD. Egypt fears the GERD is a threat to its lifeline, the Blue Nile at Ethiopia’s Lake Tana upon which Egypt depends for over 85%of its Nile water flow. As the dispute fanned to a flame earlier this year, Egypt boycotted talks over the dam as they ground to an acrimonious standstill, and followed with a diplomatic card game to enlist the support of external stakeholders and African countries keen to capitalise on strategic alliances.

The real threat to Egypt is the reaction of Sudan, given its part in the 1959 agreement; not the GERD itself. If there are signs of a rapprochement between Egypt and sisterly Ethiopia, it is by Egypt’s necessity; it coincides with a growing rift between El-Sisi’s Egypt and Omer Hassan Ahmed El-Bashir’s Islamist regime in Sudan, a former ally of Mohammed Morsi’s government of Muslim Brothers. Egypt courts South Sudan in spite of Sudan, and besides Egypt’s anti-Islamist alliance with Saudi Arabia, there are signs of a rapprochement with Libya’s anti-Islamist leader General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar. While the Sudanese vice-president Bakri Hassan Saleh attended El-Sisi’s presidential inauguration, he has also reaffirmed Sudan’s commitment to the GERD; Ethiopia is also an important strategic alliance for Sudan. One reason is its interests in the six-month long conflict in South Sudan.

The Nile Basin Initiative, which met in Khartoum last Thursday, has called on Egypt to re-involve itself in the activities in the initiative, which both Sudan and Egypt left four years ago in protest over the signing of the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement by four Nile Basin countries (Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania). Burundi and Kenya later signed onto the NBI, which removes Egypt’s veto power over upstream irrigation and hydro-power projects. It is bound to reduce Egypt and Sudan’s historically protected Nile water share. After El-Sisi overthrew Morsi, Sudan returned to the NBI. Its new chairman also happens to be Sudan’s Minister of Water Resources and Electricity, Muattaz Musa Abdallah Salim. “I should like to place an appeal to our sister nation Egypt,” Salim said at the meeting of Nile Basin water ministers, according to AFP. “Your resumption of your activities in the NBI will further consolidate our gains and integrity in the region.”

For M. Jalal Hashim, a professor at Comboni University College and a close observer of Nile politics, the flutters of Khartoum’s heart have more to do with Khartoum’s calculations for political survival than technical issues connected with transboundary water management. “If Khartoum stood against the GERD, this may lead Ethiopia to host the military opposition of the regime, and the remaining of the regime in Sudan is a matter of inertia, not strength,” he says. “There is enough opposition to put it out.” During his brief reign, Morsi, who is now languishing behind bars in El-Sisi’s Egypt, showed his readiness to give the disputed area of land at the Egypt-Sudan border called the Halayeb triangle to Sudan, a matter Hashim thinks played a role in his overthrow.

When the Ethiopian delegation brought up the topic of the GERD for the first time, in Kampala according to Hashim, the Sudanese delegation was late by hours due to disruptions in airway programmes. When they joined the meeting, he says, they discovered that the Egyptian delegation had already blessed the project. They were “furious” and made clear their reservations to the GERD being built in an area vulnerable to volcanic eruptions and notified their minister, who, by his turn, notified his Egyptian counterpart in protest. “If such a tremor and earthquake takes place and destroys the GERD that would be disastrous to both Sudan and Egypt,” according to Hashim. “The water will be almost 26-metres high in Khartoum for days. The threat of dam collapse can wipe out Sudan, while Egypt would not be affected directly.”

The Sudanese experts repeatedly warned their government while negotiating with the Ethiopians, “hoping that wisdom would prevail, but in vain,” says Hashim. According to him, Khartoum’s position at the time prompted the Egyptian delegation to withdraw their agreement to the GERD, while Khartoum’s position has now aligned with the rising power of Ethiopia, which Egypt continues to contest. Even while Ethiopia’s award of a no-bid contract to an Italian company to construct the US$4.8bn. dam contributed, alongside Egypt’s earlier protests, to it being left without concessional finance, the World Bank is heavily invested in Ethiopia and region. At the end of last month, the bank approved US$178.5mn. credit and a US$254.5mn. grant to help Ethiopia develop its geothermal energy resources to boost electricity supply. Several electricity export contracts have already been signed, and Yemen’s Minister of Electricity Saleh Sumai and Adhanom have now agreed to begin studying electrical interconnection between the two countries across the Red Sea through Djibouti.

Ethiopia seeks to capitalise on its new economic development, part of which involves the Nile; Egypt faces the winds of an economic and national cohesion crisis. Sounds for unity are growing; but because Egypt is fast running out of alternatives, and faces major change on the Nile. As the late rebel-turned statesman Meles Zenawi said in an interview on Egyptian television, the relationship between the two countries is “like a very old marriage, which has no possibility of divorce. It has its ups and downs, but it is very solid. It is of long standing.” “Sometimes we quarrel, sometimes we agree,” Zenawi told the Egyptian interviewer, radio waves fizzing in the background. “That has been the case for thousands of years.”

Nizar Manek is an independent journalist reporting on Africa.

Copyright © 2014 Le Monde diplomatique—distributed by Agence Global

Half of the world’s poor classed as ‘destitute’ – Oxford study

Ethiopia ranks the second poorest country in the world just ahead of Niger. The study is based on analysis of acute poverty in 108 developing countries around the world. Despite making progress at reducing the percentage of destitute people, Ethiopia is still home to more than 76 million poor people, the fifth largest number in the world after India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. India has the world’s largest number of poor people at more than 647 million. 87.3% of Ethiopians are classified as MPI poor, while 58.1% are considered destitute. A person is identified as multidimensionally poor (or ‘MPI poor’) if they are deprived in at least one third of the weighted MPI indicators. The destitute are deprived in at least one-third of the same weighted indicators, The Global MPI uses 10 indicators to measure poverty in three dimensions: education, health and living standards. In rural Ethiopia 96.3% are poor while in the urban area the percentage of poverty is 46.4%. Comparing the poverty rate by regions, Somali region has the highest poverty rate at 93% followed by Oromiya (91.2%) and Afar (90.9%). Amhara region has 90.1% poverty rate while Tigray has 85.4%. Addis Ababa has the smallest percentage of poverty at 20% followed by Dire Dawa at 54.9% and Harar (57.9%).

An Oxford University study to identify the multidimensionally poor in the developing world has found that in 49 countries, half of the poor are so deprived they should be classed as ‘destitute’.

The researchers’ global multidimensional poverty index or MPI measures ‘overlapping deprivations’ in health, education and living standards, with the ‘destitute’ being those who experience extreme deprivation such as having lost two children or more, having someone severely malnourished in the household, or having no assets at all.

The study says overall the situation has improved for the world’s poor due to poverty reduction programmes and economic growth; however, there is still a formidable core of extremely poor people. The largest numbers of destitute people, 420 million, were found in South Asia. In India alone, drawing on the most recent official figures available, the Oxford researchers calculate around 343 million destitute people. In sub Saharan Africa, there are around 200 million destitute people, with the highest proportion found in Niger where over two-thirds (68.8%) of the population were classed as destitute.

The study by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) also identified countries where there were improvements for poor people. Of 34 countries for which there are data, those that made the most progress in reducing destitution were Ethiopia, followed by Niger, Ghana, Bolivia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nepal, Haiti, Bangladesh and Zambia (all low income or least developed countries except Ghana and Bolivia). In Ethiopia, the research shows that the share of destitute people shrank by 30 percentage points between 2000 and 2011.

OPHI’s Director Dr Sabina Alkire, from the Oxford Department of International Development, said: ‘There is a growing international consensus that we have to put an end to the worst forms of poverty and this should be the target for the new development agenda. While the successes of poorer countries show progress is being made, these findings show that for now, destitution – with all the grinding hardship it entails – remains a grim reality for hundreds of millions of people. Renewed efforts are needed post-2015 to ensure those in deepest poverty are not left behind.’

The global multidimensional poverty index (MPI) is unique in capturing the simultaneous disadvantages experienced by poor people, such as malnutrition, education and sanitation, providing a high-resolution lens on their lives. If people are deprived in one-third or more of ten (weighted) indicators, they are identified as MPI-poor.

In 2014, the global MPI covered a total of 108 countries which are home to 78% of the world’s population. Some 30% of them – 1.6 billion people – are identified as multidimensionally poor. Of these 1.6 billion, 85% live in rural areas, which is a markedly higher percentage than income poverty estimates of 70-75%. Most live in South Asia (52%), followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (29%), and most – 71% – live in middle income countries.

A destitute person in the new study is MPI-poor, and is also deprived in a third or more of the same weighted indicators, according to more extreme criteria: for example, where no one in the household has completed at least one year of schooling; or two or more children in the household have died.

Two-thirds of destitute people have someone at home with severe malnutrition. Some 40% of the destitute have a round trip of 45 minutes to find safe water by foot if they have access to it at all. Over 80% have a dirt floor, and more than 90% have no proper sanitation and have to relieve themselves outside, with all the vulnerability, fear and shame this entails, particularly for women.


Nile dam study fails to stem the tide of Egyptian indignation towards EthiopiaClaim and counter-claim has attended the delayed publication of a report on the likely impact of the Grand Renaissance dam

The opening sentence of Egypt’s new constitution describes the country as the river Nile’s gift to Egyptians. It is a grand claim, but one that helps explain Egypt’s indignation at the ongoing construction of a blockage on the Nile, thousands of miles upstream: the $4.7bn (£2.8bn) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (Gerd).

Egyptians have long maintained that Ethiopia’s dam project will dangerously deplete its water stocks – about 95% of which are derived from the world’s longest river. A year ago, a former Egyptian water official boldly claimed that the Gerd might deprive Egypt of up to 10bn kilolitres, devastating roughly a million acres of farmland along the shores of the Nile.

“Then you might cross the Nile on the back of a camel,” the former head of Egypt’s National Water Research Centre said at the time, in what were highly contested claims.

Egyptian politicians have used such claims to portray the dam as a threat to national security, and have occasionally made ambiguous statements about the possibility of military action. For their part, the Ethiopian government sees the Gerd as a crucial developmental goal – a 6,000 megawatt source of surplus electricity that they could sell to foreign countries to boost their economy.

Last month, the saga took a fresh twist after the leak of a highly anticipated and hitherto suppressed report into the long-term effects of what would be Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam. Written by two water experts from each of the three main countries concerned – Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan – as well as international advisers, the report was seen as a much needed means of arbitration between the parties concerned.

But for nearly a year the report’s contents were a mystery. After its submission last April, publication was suppressed at the request of one of the countries involved, enabling all concerned to make whatever claims they liked about its contents.

That should have changed at the end of March, when a leaked version (pdf) was finally published by the International Rivers Network (IRN), an independent group that campaigns against dams across the world. But rather than clarifying the dam’s impact once and for all, the report has become the latest pawn in a war of words between Egypt and Ethiopia.

IRN said it showed that “big questions remain” and called for a halt to the dam’s construction. But Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda said the group was “absolutely biased”, and “part of the smear campaign organised by Egypt”. In the meantime, the dam’s construction continues apace.

The report is nuanced and complex, and does not try to quantify exactly the likely downstream effect of the dam on Egypt’s water supply. But its 48 pages nonetheless contain alarming findings. If the dam’s reservoirs are filled during years of average or above-average rainfall, says the report, the hydroelectric capacity of Egypt’s downstream Aswan High dam (Had) – which provides about 15% of Egypt’s power – could face a temporary 6% decrease. But if filled during years of below-average rainfall, the Gerd may “significantly impact on water supply to Egypt and cause the loss of power generation at Had for extended periods”.

Among other criticisms, the report warns that the dam’s foundations may need further structural support to protect against sliding. It also says Ethiopia has done little to assess the Gerd’s effect on local people, ecosystems and biodiversity. Based on these findings, the IRN concludes that the report “confirms Egypt’s concerns that the project’s impacts could be significant”, and calls for construction to cease pending better analysis.

Not all independent analysts share this view, however. According to Dr Ana Cascão, a researcher at the Stockholm International Water Institute whose doctoral thesis analysed hydropolitics in the Nile basin, Egypt fought for the report to be kept secret. Cascão argues the study is largely optimistic about the Gerd’s impacts – “and that’s why Egypt was not happy for it to be released”. It is critical about the dam’s social and environmental impact, she says, “but otherwise – in terms of dam safety and even in terms of water going downstream – the report is quite positive”.

This is because the Gerd may eventually help to reduce the build-up of sediment in downstream dams like the Had, increasing capacity. The Gerd will also help to keep the Nile’s flow – which presently fluctuates according to the amount of rainfall, potentially causing problems for downstream farmers even in Egypt – constant throughout the year. In terms of structural safety, Sudan – the country most endangered by any catastrophe at the Gerd – is satisfied with its construction.

Egypt’s interests may actually be aligned with Ethiopia’s, since Ethiopia will ultimately want to see as much water flow through the Gerd as possible in order to maximise hydroelectric power. It is, says Cascão, Sudan’s intentions that may instead cause the greatest long-term concern for Egypt. The Gerd would allow Sudan to siphon off more downstream water for farm irrigation, potentially allowing the republic to take more water from the Nile than allowed by an agreement signed with Egypt in 1959.

Sudan has achieved this leverage by engaging positively with the dam’s construction; Egypt’s only means of reaching a grand compromise may be through similar engagement.

But it may now be too late. According to the Ethiopian government, an army of 8,500 builders, working 24 hours a day, has already completed about 30% of the 1,800 sq km site.

Source: The Guradian

Ethiopian police crackdown on anti-Saudi Arabia protest following migrant worker attacks

By Associated Press,

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian police have used force to disperse hundreds of people protesting against targeted attacks on Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia.

Police units Friday blocked roads to prevent the protest at Saudi Arabia Embassy from growing. Some two dozen people were detained.

The police forced some journalists to delete photos. The government’s spokesman, Shimelis Kemal, wasn’t immediately available for comment.

One protester, Asfaw Michael, who was beaten, said he didn’t understand why Ethiopia wanted to shield Saudi Arabia from the protest.

Many foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are fleeing or are under arrest amid a crackdown on the kingdom’s 9 million migrant laborers. Close to 500 Ethiopians have been repatriated.

Last weekend, Saudi residents fought with Ethiopians. Video emerged of a crowd dragging an Ethiopian from his house and beating him.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source : Washington Post