Friday, September 26, 2008

Global Climate Change and Draught in the Rift Valley System

Dear Patriotic Global Citizens and friends of Ethiopia/Africa:

Global Climate Change and poor access to Good Governance as well as population explosion is the real cause of the problems of draught and starvation in the Rift Valley System that stretches from Afar in Ethiopia to South Africa.

Time and responsiveness is critical. The population that is likely to be negatively impacted by this great demographic and geological climate change is up to 20 million or more. It is expected that resources to the tune of $1.4 Billion is required to address this challenge and yet only $700 million is pledged and not very much released in time.

It is time to alert the international community now is the time to act before it gets out of hand.

The scale of the problem demands regional and international attention. As the draught and impending famine covers a much wider area of the whole Rift Valley System the serious analysts of such crisis should be able to consider a more sinister and global climate change that has been raging in the region for more than one hundred years and its impact escalating each decade.

The Horn and South Eastern Ethiopia is most at risk. Yes, Ethiopia is the most populous country where almost 90% of this at risk population live. Yes, the Southern and Eastern regions of Ethiopia are most likely to suffer most due to the arid climate and the nomadic lifestyle of the locals. The recent regional terror expansion is aggravating the situation further.

The region around Somalis is becoming the epicenter of terror, famine, crime and lawlessness that is likely to spread or vanquish the local population. Poverty, disorganization is giving way to chaotic radicalization of the uneducated, starving youth and the regional Yemeni and Egyptian Terror network is abusing these vulnerable youth with hostage, pirate and out right terror activity and giving it rather ingenious religious brand that is making it even more difficult to access the most vulnerable children, seniors and women in general.

The crisis is natural and man made. However, the root cause and the fundamental problem is the draught that is advancing gradually from the lowlands to the highlands due to over population and abuse of the forests and grass lands for expanding animal feed and human fuel resource. Unless, there is active diversification of the economy with the ability to move assets from land, to agriculture and small scale industry, free cross border trade and easy communication with the locals and international community, the problems will persist.

Policies of the local governments and administrations are critical. They need to be enabling for effective emergency relief and strategic short and long term developments. The land tenure system and regional government policies of dealing with good governance landmarks of transparency and accountability should look at the cause of the problem and be responsive to the pressure of demographics, population movement and most of all diversification of the economy.

As capital markets are having global challenges, global climate change is also having local and regional challenges. With the current crisis of the Global Market, one needs to be careful on what will be most helpful to these circumstances. Unregulated markets are as dangerous as to highly regimented totalitarian systems of communism. The secret is to tread the line where Free Markets are Fair and where transparency and accountability is the process of managing business at all level.s

Within this bigger context the analyst below tends to be using more of a historical data rather than the current crisis due to the advancing global climate change and demographic shift that is likely to aggravate the situation in the future. It is the duty of all public and private institutions and international agencies to act soon.

Solutions should be regional and global as well as local. First, let us do the most important thing that is stabilizing the economy and ensuring the vulnerable people are safe. Then like the Trillion dollar bail out here in America, we should have measured and result oriented transparent system in place for the immediate future and the long term.

This is a serious challenge that will engage the best brains and institutions for a long time to come. I trust we will be able to address the crisis with the same level of rigor that is being seen to bail out wall street and the collapsing global capital markets and investment banks. People matter wherever they live, and this is the challenges of the Millennium.

Dr B
The Marxist roots of Ethiopia's suffering
By Geoffrey Clarfield, National Post | September 25, 2008

Once again, the twin spectres of drought and starvation stalk the land of Ethiopia. UN sources suggest that four million Ethiopians now need what they call "emergency assistance," while another eight million need what is more vaguely described as "food relief."

Already, thousands of people are dying. The first to expire are the very young and the very old. In some areas of the country, people are dying of starvation and malnutrition while their goats and sheep get fat eating crops that will not be harvested until late September.

Few saw this coming. Two years ago, Ethiopian officials boasted that food surpluses would allow their country to sell corn to neighbouring Sudan. The government has been investing more than a sixth of its budget in agricultural development, far above the average in other African countries. Child mortality has been reduced by 40%, and the agricultural sector has been growing by 10% annually over the last few years.

But in this part of the world, as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said, "one unexpected weather event can push us over the precipice." Only 1% of Ethiopia is irrigated, meaning that a lack of rainfall can produce catastrophic results for the five-out-of-six Ethiopians who eke out a living through subsistence agriculture.

Famine-relief food distribution is never a straightforward affair in an African country. Those (mostly southern) regions where voters did not support the regime in recent elections typically complain that they are cheated of food aid at the expense of more "loyal' parts of the country in the north.

Inter-regional friction is no stranger to Ethiopia. Five hundred years ago, Cushitic-speaking Muslim tribesmen from the desert plains of (what is now) southeastern Ethiopia and the borderlands of Somalia declared a jihad and attacked the Semitic-speaking Christian highland kingdoms whose emperors claimed descent from Solomon and Sheba.

With the timely help of Portuguese musketeers under the leadership of the son of Vasco da Gama, the southerners were repelled. The next 400 years of Ethiopian history led to a gradual domination and conquest of these southern tribes, who were vanquished once and for all by the last Emperor of Ethiopia, Hailie Selassie.

Selassie himself was overthrown by a group of Marxist revolutionaries, who plunged Ethiopia into a brutal civil war. Then came the famous drought of 1984, which brought us We Are the World.

One of the reasons so many people starved in Ethiopia during that time was that the ruling regime would not let food from food-rich areas go to food-poor areas -- because the latter were dominated by opponents of the government.

Nor would they allow people to migrate from food-poor to food-rich districts. "Starve or submit" became the watchword of this new regime.

The Derg, as this new regime called itself, was then ousted by a coalition of central and northern Semitic-speaking Ethiopians who considered themselves Marxists.

But when they came to power, the Berlin wall had fallen already -- so they made peace with the West, joined the war on terror, and started taking baby steps toward liberal democracy and the liberalization of their economy.

Nevertheless, the country remains riven by old conflicts. The governing elites are suspicious of the southerners, especially their newfound interest in radical Islam.

It comes as no surprise that, in the current crisis, some of the worst-affected and most neglected areas are in the southeast corner of the country, where Muslim peasants have been in open rebellion for over a decade.

According to "Radio Freedom" -- operated by the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Army -- on July 4, 2008, at least 13 Ethiopian government soldiers were killed; 15 others were reportedly killed in an attack in the Galalshe district.

The Ethiopian government claims these rebels get support from sympathetic Arabs, and has accused Qatar of meddling in Ethiopia's internal affairs. (Qatar, for its own reasons, supports the neighbouring Red Sea state of Eritrea, which just a few years ago fought a border war with Ethiopia and expresses support for Ethiopian rebels of Somali ethnicity in the southeast of the country.)

Ethiopia has neither confirmed nor denied that such attacks have taken place on its soldiers. But either way, it is understandable that Ethiopian government employees may be less than enthusiastic about personally overseeing food aid in the southern parts of the country.

Exacerbating these regional frictions, and this year's extreme weather events, are what may be considered the two root causes of the famine: population growth and land tenure.

In 1984, during the height of the drought and civil war, Ethiopia had just under 34 million inhabitants. The population now stands at 77 million: In just more than one generation, the population of the country has doubled.

Despite the government's investment in agriculture, overall investment in education has gone down, which stifles the possibility of rural innovation. And, although overall food production has increased, the World Bank has noted that per capita production has declined. That is to say, each peasant produces less food than he once did. Even during good years, 6% of the rural peasantry is supported by government-and donor-delivered food relief.

After the murder of Hailie Selassie by the Derg in the early '80s, the government revolutionized the land-tenure system by giving peasants enough land to till according to the number of children they then had.

This simplistic tenure system has been kept intact by the present government. Peasants do not have title to their own plots, and there is an incentive to get more land by having more children to till it. But there is little incentive to make that land more productive: Farmers are fearful that if they invest in any aspect of land improvement they could lose their plots to local elites with political connections.

As peasants do not own their own land, they cannot use it as collateral to get loans they need to buy seed or fertilizer, which could in turn be used to create a food surplus to be used in case of drought. They also are denied the right to sell their land and move somewhere else-- to a more fertile region or to the city to try their luck in urban occupations.

More food aid will help prevent mass starvation in Ethiopia in the short term. But in the long-run, it needs something else: a peasantry with the same right to own and control their land that most farmers in the world take for granted. Freed from government shackles, they will unleash a green revolution that will feed their families.

--- - Geoffrey Clarfield is a Toronto-based writer.
Source: National Post

A Week in the Horn

Al-Shabaab attacks AMISOM

Eritrea’s fixation on 'third parties'

Ethiopia’s first dry port to start operations next month

Observers at the EPRDF's Conference

Supporting Senator Obama shouldn't mean vilification of Ethiopia

The challenge of humanitarian aid

On Sunday, the two committees of the TFG and the ARS set up under the Djibouti Agreement ended a second round of discussions in Djibouti.

The High Level (political) Committee and the Joint Security Committee met for several days last week with representatives attending from the United Nations, the African Union, the EU, the League of Arab States and the Organisation of Islamic Conference, various interested states and Somali civil society. Progress was disappointing though the parties agreed to continue their political dialogue and make efforts to move forward on political co-operation, reconciliation, justice and human rights.

They agreed to set up sub-committees to address other areas including institutional capacity building and the constitution. They agreed to set up a Board to provide a mechanism to facilitate and co-ordinate responses to the humanitarian situation and called on the international community for urgent responses to the current crisis.

Over two and a half million people are estimated to be in urgent need of assistance due to drought, high food prices and conflict. On the security front the two parties agreed to conduct assessments in the field, and meet within fifteen days to jointly develop viable military modalities for carrying out the ceasefire agreed at the signing of the Djibouti Agreement on August 19.

They agreed to hold another meeting of the High Level and Joint Security Committees within thirty days. Prime Minister Nur ‘Adde’ returned from Djibouti to Mogadishu to brief the President on the Djibouti meeting yesterday, flying into Mogadishu airport. He held a press conference to brief journalists today at which he reiterated that those groups which had not participated in the Djibouti Agreement could still join in the national reconciliation process. The Prime Minister said progress on some issues has been made during last week’s talks, but others remained outstanding.

In fact, progress over the central issue of the ceasefire remains slow. There are still divisions within both parties. TFG leaders have continued to argue over the implementation of the Addis Ababa ‘road map’, and the guarantors of that agreement have been making their frustration clear.

Equally, disagreements remain within the opposition ARS and it is far from clear how much control the ARS actually has over some of the groups involved in fighting. It certainly has no control over Al-Shabaab which, in apparent response to the latest Djibouti meeting, launched a series of attacks in Mogadishu at the beginning of this week.

In full denial of any claimed Islamic credentials, Al-Shabaab has been continuing its attacks during the holy month of Ramadan. Nor has it confined its attacks to AMISOM or TFG security forces. As so often, Al-Shabaab attacks made little or no effort to pinpoint the alleged targets. On Tuesday night, for example, Al-Shabaab apparently intended to attack an AMISOM base. Its mortar fire reportedly killed at least 11 civilians and wounded 40. There were no AMISOM casualties.

It is hardly surprising that hundreds of civilians have fled the areas around the fighting. Indeed, Al-Shabaab has been strongly criticised by Mogadishu residents for its attacks on AMISOM forces and for the civilian casualties it has caused. Notwithstanding reports on the BBC and other news agencies, no Ethiopian troops have been involved in any of the fighting in Mogadishu this week.

In parenthesis, it mioght be added that the BBC report of heavy fighting today is simply untrue. Despite Al-Shabaab claims, it is clear that the presence or otherwise of Ethiopian forces is irrelevant to Al-Shabaab actions.

It has made it quite clear it is biding for power in Somalia for itself, and for the highly unpopular creation of a hard-line Salafi state in pursuit of which it is quite prepared to use extensive terrorist tactics against civilians, adding to its long-term policy of assassinations of moderates and government officials. Al-Shabaab has made it quite clear it is not prepared to negotiate in any way, putting itself firmly outside any process of peace or reconciliation.

Any successes of Al-Shabaab have actually been in propaganda not on the ground. During the week, it managed to persuade the international media that it had closed Mogadishu airport. It has not, in fact, done so, though its threats did deter local Somali carriers (with clan links to some Al-Shabaab leaders) from continuing to operate despite the fact that recent mortar attacks have failed to come near the runway and have mostly fallen well outside the airport perimeter, posing no threat to planes arriving or leaving. Prime Minister Nur ‘Adde’ today called on local airlines to restart their operations.

Similarly, the reports of Al-Shabaab taking over Kismayo and numerous other towns in southern Somalia are simply untrue. Some Al-Shabaab fighters were involved in the attack on Kismayo which ousted a local clan ‘warlord’, but since then there have been extensive discussions within the different groups holding the city over the distribution of authority.

Al-Shabaab has claimed numerous successes where local leaders, with no links to Al-Shabaab or even the small Asmara-based ARS faction headed by Sheikh ‘Aweys’, have established their authority ordering out TFG appointed governors.

In fact, three major regions, Bay, Bakool and Gedo, have elected administrative structures up to gubernatorial level. One of the main elements of the Addis Ababa ‘road map’ is the implementation of a similar administration of Benadir region, which includes Mogadishu. The recent attacks by Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu are clearly intended to try and impede progress towards this.

The Prime Minister met today with the temporary Benadir Administration, to urge it to move forward quickly to set up the consultative councils at district and regional level called for under the Addis Ababa ‘road map’. The committee which has a life of only fifteen days under the ‘road map’ has requested an extension in order to complete its work.

Meanwhile, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council meeting in New York on Monday welcomed the Djibouti Agreement and the Addis Ababa ‘road map’, encouraging all parties to work together and reiterated its call for member states and the international community to enhance the capacity of the TFG and its defence and security forces.

It condemned all acts of violence and terrorism and appealed once again to member states to provide support for AMISOM to allow it to reach its authorized strength, and stressed once again the need for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation to take over from AMISOM and support the long-term stabilization and post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia.

Two days later, on Wednesday, there was also a meeting of IGAD foreign ministers in New York to discuss the problem of the relationship between the leaders of the TFG. An understanding was reached to convene a summit in Nairobi as early as practical, to which the President of Somalia, the Prime Minister and the parliamentarians would be invited. It was felt that the situation warranted such a meeting as the fractured nature of the political process has now become the main threat to the establishment of an effective administration and the successful conclusion of the transitional period, which ends in ten months..

It has become something of a trademark of Eritrea’s foreign policy to launch violent attacks on any third party that fails to sympathize with its belligerent stance in its relations with its neighbours. At various times the United Nations, the African Union and, increasingly in recent months, the United States have been vilified for failing to force Ethiopia to succumb to Eritrea’s views on the settlement of disputes between the two countries.

The United Nations has been attacked for failing to impose mechanical demarcation of the boundary on Ethiopia. Despite its own violations of the Algiers Agreements, Eritrea wanted the United Nations to act as enforcer for its own position. Rebuffed by the UN, Eritrea has displayed characteristic outrage at being refused its demands, accusing the Security Council of abdicating its legal responsibilities and claiming Security Council resolutions had no legal substance. The African Union has long been vilified by Eritrea as an “ineffective” regional body. The reason is clear.

The AU, like the OAU before it, has consistently refused to applaud Eritrea’s adventurism in the region and the rest of Africa. In 1998, the then OAU requested Eritrea to withdraw its invading forces from Ethiopian territories it had illegally occupied. It also played a critical part of facilitating the negotiations which led to the signing of the Algiers Agreements and was one of the Witnesses to the Agreement. The AU has been similarly critical of Eritrea’s latest adventure in invading Djibouti.

Now the increasing focus of Eritrea’s criticisms has shifted to the United States, with almost daily, and increasingly virulent, attacks. It is worth noticing that these scurrilous attacks against the US and other western countries, do not indicate any genuine oppostioin based on principle, as Eritrea would like to pretend. Eritrea’s record provides clear evidence to the contrary.

Indeed it was only a year or two ago, that Eritrea was offering “blanket flyover rights, the use of Eritrea’s two major ports and the use of the new airport near the port of Massawa that is able to accommodate all types of aircraft”, to the United States.

Eritrean authorities were stressing that Eritrea’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa, with more than 600 miles of coastline along the Red Sea, located just across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, provided a unique resource for US use. However, when the US failed to see that “the time has come for the US to capitalize on this unique opportunity”, Eritrea’s attitude changed sharply.

The US became responsible for concocting “endless diversionary ploys and schemes.” It had misused its “leverage” in the Security Council to paralyze implementation of border demarcation. Earlier this year, President Issayas even wrote the President of the Security Council calling on the council to examine “the acts of destabilization that the US Administration is fomenting day and night in our region”. All this apparently because, in Eritrea’s view, the US refused to put the necessary pressure on Ethiopia to accept Eritrea’s position on border demarcation.

The Week in the Horn cannot pretend to speak for the US, nor for the UN nor the AU, but it is clear the real focus of these attacks on third parties is certainly Ethiopia. This is the kind of mentality that effectively blocks progress towards peace in this region. Solutions cannot be imposed by one side or the other, or by third parties.

Eritrea knows well that no government in Ethiopia would accept the sort of imposed solution of which it has been dreaming. That is why some of the unfriendly proposals on Ethiopia and Eritrea, coming from the US Congress, are so dangerous; they feed the delusions of Eritrea. This is why Eritrea still refuses to make any move towards dialogue and negotiation. Eritrea should realize that solutions for the boundary or any other dispute can only be found by the two parties working together in a peaceful and legal manner. Vituperation will not get either of us anywhere.

To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of cargo movement to and from Djibouti (which handles 80-90% of Ethiopia’s imports and exports), and minimize business costs, Ethiopia is introducing a new system of cargo transport. This is a multi-modal system to include different modes of transport covering all inland and maritime movement of imports and exports. Central to this new system is the establishment of dry ports. The Ministry of Transport and Communications proposed these two years ago and the Council of Ministers subsequently endorsed the creation of the Ethiopian Dry Ports Enterprise (EDPE).

Two dry ports are being set up. One is at Mojo in Oromia Regional State and will serve as a clearance centre for southern and central areas. It is nearing completion and should be operational early next month. The other is at Semera, in Afar Regional State, and is expected to act as a clearance centre for commodities from the northern part of the country. It is expected to become operational early next year. Each dry port will have the capacity to handle 13,824 loaded import containers; 11520 empty containers, and 9600 containers for export as well as 9000 Roll-on Roll-off cargoes. A number of similar dry ports are going to be constructed in other major economic centres.

Last weekend a workshop on multi-modal transport was organized by the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Adama. Participants included cargo forwarding, shipping and clearing agents and representatives of business associations as well as senior government officials. Central to the discussions were the importance of a multi-modal transport system in facilitating the fast growing foreign trade and investment activities of the country.

In his opening remarks, the Minister of Transport and Communications, Mr. Juneidi Sado underscored the vital role that multi-modal transport system will now be playing in sustaining the rapid and ongoing economic growth and development. The Minister emphasized that this new method for moving goods would enable Ethiopia to compete more effectively in world markets and handle an ever increasing volume of export and import trade.

Officials from the Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Dry Port Service Enterprise told the workshop that Ethiopia had been significantly affected by the natural inefficiency of the previous system. The dry ports are expected to alleviate many of the problems. The volume of Ethiopian import/export traffic through Djibouti rose from 3.9 million tonnes in 2006/7 to 4.6 million tones in 2007/8.

The 7th Organizational Conference of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was held at Awassa from September 15 to 19. It followed congresses of the four parties that make up the EPRDF, the Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front, the Amhara National Democratic Movement, the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Democratic Movement. Last week’s conference was attended by representatives from a number of foreign political parties who took the opportunity to exchange experiences.

Among those present were delegates from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the National Congress Party (NCP) of Sudan, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the General Congress Party of Yemen, the Indian National Congress (INC), the National Resistance Movement of Uganda, the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the Eritrean Democratic Alliance. The presence of these parties at the EPRDF conference is a clear indication that friendship does not require the sharing of a common ideology or philosophy.

In a solidarity message the Chinese Communist Party delegate said that the results registered in development and peace, and in the socio-economic sectors since the downfall of the Derg’s regime, had been laudable. He praised the efforts to extricate people from poverty through the realization of rapid growth.

The delegate from National Congress Party of Sudan noted the peoples of Sudan and Ethiopia had similar cultures and added that the friendly relations the EPRDF had forged among neighboring countries and its contribution to peace and stability in the Horn provided an exemplary example for other African countries.

The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) delegate emphasized the gains from giving priority to rural development and democracy in alleviating poverty. The Indian National Congress delegate on his part said the INC and EPRDF shared great similarities as both stood for the farmers and the poor as well as working to enable people, with various languages, religions and cultures, to live in harmony through democracy in a federal state.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front delegate expressed her deep gratitude for the consistent support the government and people, and especially the EPRDF, had given to Rwandans at the time of their fight against genocide. The Eritrean Democratic Alliance delegate noted that the present gap in economic growth and development between Ethiopia and Eritrea demonstrated the appropriateness of the ERPDF’s strategy in the struggle against poverty and backwardness. Also participating in the conference were representatives from the EPRDF Support Forum, of Ethiopians living in the Diaspora, who underlined Diaspora support for EPRDF efforts to build a single economic and political community in Ethiopia.

Last week, US Congressman, Representative Donald Payne (Democrat, New Jersey) addressed a gathering of Ethiopians in Washington, D.C. The apparent purpose was to urge the community to support the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, in his bid to become the next President of the United States. We do not, of course, have any intent to be involved in the domestic politics of another state, even of a close friend. However, when a US Congressman uses a domestic political campaign event to vilify Ethiopia, it does raise some questions why he goes to such lengths to try to tarnish Ethiopia’s image and damage the good relations between Ethiopia and the United States.

In his address to the meeting, Representative Payne claimed he was particularly concerned by political and human rights conditions in Ethiopia. He cited a litany of unsubstantiated allegations of violations. Ethiopia, of course, does not claim to have a perfect record in its efforts to build a strong democratic society, but it is, nevertheless, a country that has regular free multi-party elections, a thriving free press, a constitution and mechanisms to address human rights issues including a Human Rights Commission and an Ombudsman's Office. Is there room for improvement? Certainly. That is why both government and people continue efforts to strengthen the judicial and political institutions necessary to achieve and sustain improved performances in all areas of democratization including the protection of human rights.

If Representative Payne is really genuine in his frequently stated concern for human rights and democracy, it is surprising that he has made so little of Eritrea, a country he visited early this year. Eritrea, after all, has no constitution, refuses to hold elections, only allows one political party, the ruling Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice, does not allow any independent media, has been designated as a country of particular concern for severe violations of religious freedom for the last four years,and has been roundly criticized by Reporters Without Borders and by all Eritrean Human Rights organizations, all of which are obliged to operate from exile.

Mr. Payne is also no doubt aware of the eleven ministers and senior officials, and a number of journalists, rounded up by the Eritrean government on September 18, 2001. Held incommunicado, without charge or trial, for seven years, nothing has been heard of them. Thousands more are detained indefinitely, again without charge or trial, many for attempting to escape national conscription which for tens of thousands has lasted for more more than a decade. Representative Payne's reluctance to comment on Eritrea's appalling record on human rights while continuing to vilify Ethiopia, suggests he is driven less by any concern for human rights than by his own personal anti-Ethiopian agenda.

Representative Payne also told his audience that under an Obama administration, “we will not turn a blind eye to abuses just because some governments pretend to be allies in the war on terror.” This is obviously an allusion to Ethiopia which the United States certainly considers a friend. We have no knowledge whether Mr. Payne is accurate in his view of Senator Obama's possible policies. However, his effort to raise support for Senator Obama among members of the more extreme Ethiopian opposition elements in the Diaspora, by promising hostility to the present government of Ethiopia, is scarcely a friendly act.

It is also perhaps unfair to the Presidential candidate himself who appears far too statesmanlike to associate himself with such disgraceful activity. We would recall that Representative Payne was the main architect of HR 2003, a much criticized bill which he claimed would support human rights and democracy in Ethiopia. The bill failed to materialize in part because it was seen as ill-conceived and hardly conducive to good US/Ethiopian relations, nor, we might add, to US/African relations either. In his speech last week, Representative Payne made clear his regret for the failure, claiming that the Government of Ethiopia had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to kill it. The Government did not: it had no need to.

It is no secret that Ethiopia has once again been affected by drought and consequent food shortages, as have most of the countries in our region. In the last few months, Ethiopian Government institutions, donor governments and international institutions, government or non-government alike, have redoubled efforts to assist those in need.

Efforts are continuing and a number of governments have donated extra assistance for those suffering from drought and rising food and energy prices. Reports indicate the situation is beginning to stabilize in some of the originally affected areas and the main maize harvest is due to start soon in the south, but with different agro-climatic zones and a variable time-frame for rains there are still areas of serious need.

The Ethiopian government and people are eternally grateful to a multitude of institutions and selfless individuals for making it possible for Ethiopians in need to be cared for at this most difficult and trying time. These institutions and individuals know that the victims of natural vicissitudes are not to blame for the calamity they face. But the charitable convictions of such institutions and individuals are now being overshadowed by increasing attempts to politicize humanitarian aid. This is an emerging, indeed a disquieting, phenomenon and one worth scrutinizing.

Humanitarian assistance, for people affected by natural disasters and the sort of complex emergencies from which Ethiopia is currently suffering, has a long history. Originally, the organizations devoted to humanitarian assistance were limited in their numbers and capacities.

They generally adhered to principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality, and scrupulously complied with these in human catastrophes of any magnitude. Any divergence was rapidly denounced by the organizations themselves.

It was these principles that constituted the link between the organizations, the state authorities and those in need. Over the years, however, the numbers of organizations providing humanitarian assistance, and the amount of money they manage, have increased exponentially, largely due to the almost biblical proportions of new humanitarian challenges.

Many of these new bodies were no longer prepared to provide food aid or medicine. Their members were also political activists, focused not just on the catastrophes that required aid and assistance but on other issues. They were no longer neutral, independent and impartial, operating out of moral conviction, but political actors in their own right, lobbyists for their cause and important constituents of a political elite.

They can and do sway votes in national elections, and have political roles in their own countries while using their humanitarian organizations. Parallel to this, the attention and coverage of the international media has also been transformed, and these organizations and the media happily feed off each other. The media publicizes the work of the humanitarian agencies and the organizations benefit from the outpouring of public sympathy for their actions and assistance for the victims of disaster.

This in turn propels politicians in the aid-sourcing countries to take their opportunity, and respond to the concerns of their constituencies. Recipient countries and direct beneficiaries all-too-often become no more than the objects of patronizing hand-outs and providers of graphic, often obscene, pictures for prime-time television and newspapers.

This, in turn, encourages involvement of state actors and further politicizes humanitarian work. They feed upon each other rather than impact usefully on the supposed objects of their charity. Inevitably, growing numbers of non-governmental groups in any one geographical area have consequences for increased politicization, resource mobilization and expenditure.

Ethiopia has been one of the areas most affected by these developments in humanitarian aid. Before the fall of the military regime, most such organizations were kept out. Subsequently, Ethiopia has hosted a significant number of non-governmental organizations claiming to provide humanitarian assistance or undertake development projects.

Many have complemented government developmental efforts and assisted in the provision of aid to people in need, making up one element of government strategy. In the long run, of course, it is economic development, investment and democratization which will ensure the well-being of those affected, for example, by drought.

As part of its efforts to mitigate the effects of such problems, the Government put in place an early warning system for the prevention of natural disasters, working closely with international agencies. The agency involved has recently been restructured, enlarging its responsibilities to meet the challenges that such emergencies represent more effectively. The Government will continue to strengthen the institutional and legal structures responsible for identifying and providing lasting solutions to such humanitarian crises.

One critical aspect of these efforts is the empowerment of local communities to participate in finding lasting solutions in the design and implementation of development polices. In fact, the decentralization of decision making to local level will eventually make widespread inroads in tackling some of the existing structural problems.

The current process of enacting legislation for charities and societies is part of the Government's effort to create an enabling environment for the operation of the still increasing number of non-government organizations and actors. This will ensure transparent and predictable processes for accreditation, and allow such bodies to carry out their mandates in full compliance with Ethiopian law.

The draft legislation is a work in progress. It has involved extensive consultations with stakeholders and external partners, and the draft is now undergoing its third revision. The institution of a modern legal framework, drawing on the best practices from around the world, together with the efforts to restructure Government agencies providing for early warning, prevention and response to emergencies, is meant to guarantee that no fatalities will be caused by a lack of the necessary structures.

The Government is determined to do its utmost to ensure all those in need receive care. It is a major priority. Certainly, in the long run, the socio-economic development of the country is the only way to provide a sustainable response.

In the meantime, however, it is necessary to address these challenges, of provision of assistance at need and of providing an acceptable framework in which all non-governmental organizations can operate in accordance with acceptable norms of humanitarian assistance and respect for the minimum standards of objectivity, independence and impartiality. Indeed, it might be argued that it is now time for the United Nations and other forums to deliberate on suitable solutions to restore integrity and confidence in the real ideals of humanitarian aid.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Horn in the week of September 20 2008

A Week in the Horn


Strong criticism of Eritrea from a UN Fact-Finding Mission

Political rather than security problems in Somalia

Senator Feingold's lack of knowledge

Professor Lyons, HRW and the Washington perspective again

A Japanese trade and investment mission in Ethiopia

Dialogue and African solutions: the Zimbabwe agreement.

The Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Djibouti-Eritrea Crisis has now been presented to the United Nations Security Council. The Mission visited the region from 28 July to 6 August. Eritrea refused admission to the mission.

According to the Eritrea Permanent Representative to the UN, Eritrea refused to co-operate because in June the UN Security Council had urged both sides, particularly Eritrea, to show maximum restraint and pull back their troops. This, according to the Ambassador, clearly demonstrated the UN had already condemned Eritrea.

The President of the Security Council, Ambassador Michael Kafando of Burkina Faso, regretted the mission had been unable to visit Eritrea and expressed appreciation of Djibouti’s co-operation. He also noted that UN Security Council had expressed its concern over the tension and militarization on the border. The Mission identified the situation as a threat to Djibouti’s stability and said if not resolved it could have a major effect on the entire region and more widely. Solutions must be found as a matter of utmost priority.

The report, which provides significant detail of Eritrea’s invasion of Djibouti territory and the events that followed, places the onus on Eritrea to co-operate with the UN, suggesting that if Eritrea continues to be obdurate the issue should be referred to the Security Council for further action.

This refusal to cooperate, of course, has become something of the norm for Eritrea. It has consistently rejected any diplomatic efforts to resolve its dispute with Ethiopia and any mechanism intended to assist in the peaceful resolution of conflict. It is, as usual, being intransigent, towards Djibouti and to the international community, just as it has been in its constant refusal to hold a dialogue with Ethiopia.

Rather more surprisingly, the report on Djibouti and Eritrea also attempts to link the Eritrean invasion of Djibouti to the Eritrea-Ethiopia dispute, suggesting that progress in resolving the latter would help solve the former. It produced no evidence for this assertion, though it noted that much of the instability in the region arose from Eritrean efforts to counter Ethiopian interests in Djibouti and Somalia.

The report in fact fails to appreciate the fundamental strategic position of Eritrea, that it does not subscribe in any way to the idea of co-existence with the Government of Ethiopia. Indeed, Eritrea has made it clear that its own strategic objectives in the region include the removal of the Government of Ethiopia.

It has devoted almost all its efforts to the destabilisation of Ethiopia and has recently added the dimension of extra anti-Ethiopian media broadcasts in several local languages.

Far from wanting any resolution, Eritrea’s strategy calls for continued widening of division between the two countries and the nullification of any or all efforts to try to build up mutual confidence or progress towards any settlement of differences. The contrast with Ethiopia’s strategic objectives could hardly be more marked. Ethiopia does not reject co-existence with the regime in Asmara; it is committed to resolving the dispute as quickly as possible.

The International Contact Group on Somalia met on Tuesday in Djibouti, with the UN Special Representative for Somalia, Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdullah chairing. This was the first time the ICG had met since January in Addis Ababa and it continued to take a more positive approach, focusing on ways to help implement the Djibouti Agreement, formally signed on August 19, and the Addis Ababa ‘road map’.

The ICG pledged political and financial support for the implementation of the agreement, and in a communiqué urged the TFIs to enforce the Transitional Charter fully, “including the development of the constitution and the formation of local administrations”. These are currently operating in Bay, Bakool and Gedo regions, and Benadir is being set up.

The ICG also condemned attacks on AMISOM and called on the international community to provide more resources to allow for its full deployment. It called for the immediate cessation of all hostilities and for the free and unhindered access for humanitarian aid, and emphasized that no individuals or groups should be allowed to obstruct the peace process, and urged all parties to join it.

Participants included representatives from the UN, the AU, the EU and the European Union Secretariat, IGAD, the Arab League, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, the US and the UK.

The ICG meeting coincided with another session of the TFG/ARS (Djibouti) talks, with both Prime Minister Nur ‘Adde’ and Sheikh Sharif in attendance. This meeting, also held in Djibouti, is finalizing the formation of the political and security committees called for under the Djibouti Agreement.

The setting up of the security committee will allow for work to start on the details of the ceasefire due to be implemented today. The discussions have been complicated by apparent divisions within the ARS delegation which found it difficult to present a unified view on some topics. There were even indications that some members were inclining to positions inimical to the Djibouti Agreement and the peace process.

At the beginning of this week Al Shabaab threatened to shut down Mogadishu airport as of Wednesday. The airport, which is guarded by AMISOM, is used by UN and AU flights as well as government and commercial flights. Several local Somali airlines use the airport and local business leaders and clan elders have expressed their concern at Al-Shabaab’s threat even though Al-Shabaab is not believed to have the capacity to implement it.

As a Ugandan plane landed this afternoon, a couple of mortar shells failed to reach anywhere near their presumed target. It is seen more as an attempt to persuade local airlines to direct their operations away from Mogadishu and out of the reach of the TFG.

In fact, despite appearances, the security situation is rather better than portrayed. Much of the current activity is not the work of Al-Shabaab which is becoming more of a broad, if fragile, umbrella group made up of a small core of Al-Shabaab terrorists, and various hard line opposition groups including a number of straightforward criminals.

Equally, many of Al-Shabaab’s claimed operations, as at Kismayo, have little or nothing to do with Al-Shabaab but relate to the traditional sub-clan conflicts which have led to numerous changes of control in Kismayo over the last seventeen years.

More significant than the security situation now are the political differences which have meant that less progress than expected or needed is being made with the implementation of the Djibouti Agreement or the Addis Ababa ‘road map’.

As agreed in Addis Ababa, the decree dismissing the Benadir administration was issued last week. The Benadir administration has now been handed over to the new appointees. However, Parliament and the executive are still at loggerheads over the issue of the resigned and reinstated ministers. Parliament is insisting at looking at the ‘road map’ in detail rather than as a package. There are still differences over implementation.

However, the capacity building teams involved in areas of information, finance, security and others areas, have been making substantial progress in working out the details of their planned activities.

Inevitably, it comes as a considerable surprise when a US Senator, and one who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on African Affairs, sees fit to equate the democratic credentials of a prime minister duly elected in a successful multi-party election with a president who seized power by military force.

It suggests a frightening level of misunderstanding at best; at worst....Senator Feingold’s speech this week at Georgetown University, like his remarks introducing his recent bill on Ethiopia in the Senate, displays a serious level of ignorance.

There are two serious issues here. One, of course, is whether any government, whether the US or any other one, has the right to legislate in an attempt to dictate policies to another government. Senator Feingold’s S3457, like Congressman Payne’s HR2003 previously, is a deliberate attempt to allow US interference in Ethiopia’s judiciary, media, electoral processes, economy, national security and foreign affairs.

It will seriously affect the currently close relations between Ethiopia and the US. Indeed, whatever Senator Feingold’s intentions, and he praises Ethiopia for being a good friend of the US, there’s no doubt, as he must be very well aware, his bill will pose a very real threat to US-Ethiopia relations. This was heavily underlined in his speech casting aspersions on the Ethiopian leadership in what virtually amounted to a call to subvert the democratic process in Ethiopia.

The other issue here is that many of the claims made in the bill, and in Senator Feingold’s speeches, are quite simply wrong, in many cases out of date, in others just inaccurate.

The reasons for this appear to be that Senator Feingold, like Representative Payne before him, has relied on the allegations and claims all too often repeated by Eritrea, whose approach is dedicated to bringing down this government for its own ends. Eritrea, of course, has no need to take into account what has been achieved in Ethiopia in recent years. One wonders, however, what might be the common objective of Eritrea and members of the US Congress.

This, incidentally, raises the issue of what US Congressmen are doing, trying to legislate in the US Congress on behalf of externally based Ethiopian opposition groups, a number of which are openly committed to armed struggle and employ terrorist tactics. The most egregious error is to ignore the undeniable fact that the EPRDF convincingly won a multi-party election in 2005.

It wasn't perfect, any more than the US elections of 2000 and 2004 were perfect, but even discounting all irregularities there is no doubt the EPRDF won. All serious observers and analysts would agree. Similarly to suggest that it is only “Ethiopian reformers” who try to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law, demonstrates that Senator Feingold has been almost totally mislead about the way the political situation has developed in Ethiopia.

In fact, Senator Feingold’s comments suggest he has been listening far too much to the more extreme elements of the US-based Ethiopian opposition, some of whom are in cahoots with Eritrea actively determined to destabilize the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

It is equally surprising that Senator Feingold and others are prepared to give credence to these complaints without looking a little more closely into the background and the reality on the ground. The same is true of Senator Feingold’s understanding of the democratic process in Ethiopia, of what happened in 2005, of the operation of the judiciary and of events in the Somali Regional State.

The reality in every case is seriously different from his allegations as the briefest of investigations would demonstrate.

Senator Feingold should look more carefully at the reality of what has been achieved in Ethiopia in recent years, at the progress made in the democratic process, in the economy, in progress towards the MDGs, and in human rights, including the reform of the National Electoral Board, the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman and the creation of a Human Rights Commission, the provision of proper training for riot police, major improvements in the judicial system and extensive training for security forces and the military in international human rights legislation.

One cannot avoid being surprised at the paradox contained in the major theme of Senator Feingold’s speech. The Senator is apparently unhappy with the way in which the current US administration has attempted to introduce “democracy and freedom” in the Middle East. The Senator believes that the challenge that the US faces in Iraq is a result of that particular approach.

In short, Senator Feingold in the first part of his speech is vehemently opposed to meddling by the US in the internal affairs of other countries. Then, in the second part, where he begins to focus on Ethiopia, and his bill, the principled approach expounded earlier is abandoned and a blatantly hubristic call for political intervention in Ethiopia’s affairs takes its place. What a paradox! It might be appropriate here to remind the Senator that Ethiopia is a sovereign and independent country. One might also wonder just how the interests of the United States can be promoted by Senator Feingold’s proposals.

Senator Feingold has not been alone in the last week or two in making highly inaccurate and ill-informed comments about Ethiopia. Professor Terrence Lyons of George Mason University entitling a piece ‘Ethiopia: Domestic and Regional Challenges’ virtually managed to ignore Eritrea's central role in the collapse of the Algiers Agreements making no reference to continuous Eritrean violations of the Temporary Security Zone and its enforced withdrawal of UNMEE, both central elements of the Algiers Agreements.

These deliberate actions by Eritrea were carried out despite Ethiopia's full and unreserved acceptance of the Boundary Commission Decisions in November 2004. It really shouldn't be necessary to repeat this fact again and again. Professor Lyons knows it very well.

Since then it has been Eritrea which has consistently and repeatedly refused to agree to demarcate the Boundary Commission's Decisions in accordance with international norms or to open any discussions on demarcation or on the normalization of relations. We would remind Professor Lyons that normalization of relations was also an integral element of the Algiers Agreements.

Nor does Professor Lyons appear to have realized that the boundary issue now has nothing to do with the technicalities of demarcation or of territory, and everything to do with the one basic strategic issue: Eritrea is not prepared to negotiate with the present government in Addis Ababa; it is only prepared to do everything it can to remove it, using every effort to destabilize Ethiopia.

This includes an alliance with the ICU in 2006, providing arms and support; the provision of arms, support and training to the ONLF and the OLF, and indeed to any other opposition movements prepared to commit themselves to armed struggle.

Eritrea has even allied itself with terrorist organizations like Al-Shabaab and the small Asmara-based fragment of the Somali opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, now led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir 'Aweys'. Incidentally, one glaring example of Professor Lyons’ capacity to ignore fact in favor of fiction is his claim that Ethiopia is “bogged down” in Somalia. It is not; it can, and probably will, withdraw at any time.

Professor Lyons makes much of the 2005 elections, an issue on which he has been equally inaccurate on other occasions. Whatever the claims of the Ethiopian opposition in the Washington Diaspora, no serious observer of the 2005 election, then or subsequently, doubts that the EPRDF won, and won convincingly. It is therefore very simple to see why the 2005 elections “failed to usher in an orderly transition based on peaceful multi-party competition” - the opposition lost.

Professor Lyons claims that “cynicism and disillusionment with electoral politics have replaced the hope and optimism that characterized the period leading up the 2005 vote.” The hope and optimism he refers to are misleading. The opposition leaders believed in 2005 that if they participated in the election they must win. When they lost they immediately claimed this could only have happened through manipulation.

They refused to accept one rather important fact – that parties can lose as well as win elections. Even today, when the evidence is clear enough, those opposition leaders who sent their followers out on the streets to cause violence in which people died, still claim they won. They didn't. The boycott of parliament by CUD leaders in 2005 wasn't just a “miscalculation” as Professor Lyons so carefully puts it.

It was a deliberate betrayal of the constituents who elected them, a quite calculated and conscious denial of parliamentary democracy. Most of their own party actually rejected the arguments of their leaders. In meetings before the decision to boycott, 65% of the CUD central committee voted to join parliament. It was the leadership who insisted on the boycott, and it was their action which split the party, with one of the four groups in the CUD walking out. Revealingly, after the arrest of the leadership, almost all the CUD MPs, apart from the ten or so detained, quietly joined Parliament.

Incidentally, to use a Gallop poll of a thousand people in Addis Ababa and quote its figures for honesty of elections, confidence in the judiciary, confidence in the government, is hardly meaningful. And hasn't Professor Lyons seen any of the figures for the US or the UK on how politicians (or academics or journalists) are regarded? It is difficult to see how 137/138 seats in Addis Ababa, won by the CUD in 2005 represents a firm basis of support for the CUD, while 137/138 seats won by the EPRDF in 2008 translates into “cynicism and disillusionment”, making the EPRDF's ability to govern “precarious”.

It is certainly true that the EPRDF is far better organized than any of the opposition parties. It is, as Professor Lyons grudgingly admits, an extraordinarily effective party, but this does not mean a lessening of political space, though it would certainly be better if the opposition were more effective.

Professor Lyons, apparently quoting directly from HRW and AI, accepts their claim that the draft Charities and Societies Bill (it is not yet a proclamation) is an “assault on civil society” and a narrowing of political space.

He appears not to have studied the proposed bill himself with any care, making a series of assumptions based less on the provisions of the bill than on HRW's own distorted view of Government policy and aims. HRW made another “analysis” of the bill last week.

As usual it made little or no effort to obtain clarification or query allegations, preferring to reiterate them without qualification or query, a technique it has repeatedly used with reference to alleged abuses in the Ogaden or in Somalia. None of this reflects either the theory or the reality of Government practice or activity, and is simply not borne out by the facts, many of which HRW ignores, deliberately or inadvertently. Limiting political space is a nice catchy phrase, but the bill doesn’t do that.

It lays down improved mechanisms to monitor NGOs, but given the casual, free-for-all, approach adopted by many NGOs that's hardly surprising. The bill requires NGOs to take a lot more care in planning and in carrying out activities, in drawing up its statutes, using proper book-keeping and proper audits. Most countries do this as a matter of course. Given that seventeen NGOs had to be closed down for irregularities last year alone, the bill is hardly surprising. Indeed the squawking of horror from NGOs faced by the prospect of stricter controls and oversight, or the need to be checked every three years through a process of re-registration, underlines exactly why the Government finds the bill necessary.

Some of the provisions may sound tough, but the gratuitously offensive and cavalier approach of some NGOs, including HRW, makes the reason clearly understandable to any one who looks at the evidence rather than respond to HRW's usual hysterical reflex. Indeed, one of the reasons for HRW 's concern appears to be that the bill requires organizations like HRW, or AI and other international human rights organizations, to obtain permission to carry out activities in Ethiopia.

In fact, for NGOs, the real problem with the Charities and Societies Bill is that it demands that NGOs recognize and respond to their responsibilities and are accountable. Given, for example, the efforts of HRW to move outside its own remit and deliberately attempt to interfere in the electoral process as it did with reports specifically designed to influence voting in 2005 and 2008, this is nor unreasonable.

It is deeply depressing to see that “the view from Washington” as enunciated by Professor Lyons, by HRW, and by Senator Feingold, still continues to be based on a series of exaggerations, half-truths and inaccuracies, or, perhaps to be generous, even misunderstandings.

A Japanese mission to promote trade and investment visited Ethiopia this week, from September 14-16.

The delegation, led by Mr. Nobuhide Minorikawa, Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, included 36 representatives drawn from both public and private sectors. The visit followed the commitment made by the Japanese government at the TICAD IV Conference in Yokohama in May, to dispatch economic missions to enhance its engagement in trade and investment in Africa.

This Joint Mission, which is also visiting Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, is to explore trade and investment opportunities. Three separate missions have been dispatched to various parts of the continent.

During its stay in Ethiopia, the Joint Mission was briefed by Ato Sufian Ahmed, Minister of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED), by the Ministers of State of MOFED, of Trade and Industry, and of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as senior officials from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and Foreign Affairs, and the Ethiopian Privatization Agency. Discussions focused on the political and economic climate in Ethiopia and the investment incentives and opportunities available to Japanese Companies in the areas of agriculture, mining, power and energy and other sectors.

The Joint Mission paid a courtesy call on President Girma Woldegiorgis and visited the Japanese Garden at the National Palace. They also met with leaders of the Ethiopian and Addis Ababa Chambers of Commerce and members of the business community.

The Joint Mission visited the site of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange and a flower farm in Holeta, and attended a dinner hosted by the State Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Mission arrived only a few days after the Japanese built 'Hidasie' Millennium Bridge over the Blue Nile was officially inaugurated. Described by Prime Minister Meles as a symbol and a living monument to Japanese-Ethiopian friendship, it is moving Ethiopia into its 21 century.

The bridge, which cost $14 million, is part of a road upgrading project from Gohatsion to Dejen. Under a memorandum of understanding signed between the Ethiopian Roads Authority and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency in November 2003, the cost is fully covered by the Government of Japan.

In Zimbabwe an agreement was finally signed, on September 15, between President Mugabe and opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, under the aegis of South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki. The agreement marks a dramatic turning point for Zimbabwe. It provides for a government of national unity with Mr Mugabe to remain an executive president and Mr Tsvangirai as an executive prime minister.

There is, of course, still room for problems to emerge and not all details yet appear to have been fully worked out. Indeed, implementation of the deal may prove difficult, but even to have reached this stage, an agreement between two groups who have long been bitterly at loggerheads, is a notable achievement to the credit of an African solution to African problems.

It appears both sides are committed. President Mugabe was notably complimentary towards President Mbeki, praising his determination and his generosity, thanking Zimbabwe’s neighbours for coming to its assistance once again, and describing President Mbeki’s work as noble.

Mr. Tsvangirai referred to the agreement as “the best opportunity for us to build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Zimbabwe”. It should be remembered that President Mbeki had earlier come in for a lot of criticism especially from the western press and others for his “quiet diplomacy”, which was even described as “a method of conferring respectability on a policy of appeasing Mugabe’s domination” and claims that he was denying the crisis and preventing regional and international intervention in defence of human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe.

The most striking factor in this mediation is that it was achieved within the African context. President Mbeki was first given a mandate to mediate by the South African Development Community (SADC), and this was subsequently endorsed by the AU at its Sharm el Sheikh summit, at the beginning of July.

It was notable that the AU Executive Council expressed its deep concern over the situation in Zimbabwe and its implications for political stability, supported the efforts to assist the parties to find a peaceful and lasting solution, called on all parties to exercise restraint and put an immediate end to violence and intimidation and urged the parties to refrain from any actions that might negatively impact on the climate for dialogue, and to commit themselves to a peaceful solution to the current situation through dialogue. The AU very specifically did not call for sanctions or resort to threats.

This contrasted sharply in tone and intent with a UN Security Council draft resolution a few days later which demanded the beginning of a substantive and inclusive political dialogue, but called for condemnation and sanctioning of Zimbabwe under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, calling it a threat to international peace and security in the region.

The draft would have imposed an arms embargo, and a travel ban and a financial freeze. Fortunately wiser councils prevailed, and the draft was rejected, allowing President Mbeki the space necessary to carry out serious and substantive negotiations that would have been impossible if the heavy handed approach of the international community had been adopted.

There are considerable lessons to be learnt from this implementation of an African approach to African problems. President Mbeki was emphasizing a peaceful, low key, approach based on dialogue and discussion, avoiding any sense of exclusivity and stressing the necessity of inclusively.

He resolutely refused to demonize, something that certain elements of the international community have made the central element of their approach to Zimbabwe. President Mbeki consistently made it clear he was seeking the middle ground between the protagonists rather than trying to widen the gap which appeared to be the intent of those who proposed the UN draft resolution.

This use of an African style of mediation, and the particularly African insistence on dialogue rather than confrontation, provides a welcome lesson. It isn’t a question of parochialism, and it isn’t indicative of any necessary rejection, principled or otherwise, of other alternatives or an insistence on any uniquely African approach.

What it emphasizes is that in such cases, African states are, perhaps, closer to the problem, in a position to understand the dangers and the implications of selected courses of action rather than others. There is no doubt, for example, that if the approach outlined in the UN draft resolution had been adopted, it would have done nothing to maintain stability in Zimbabwe, and done much to encourage instability.

This reminds us of the experience we had in Ethiopia in 2005 during the post election period when highly provocative, and inaccurate remarks by the head of the EU’s Election Observation Mission, and the leaking of documents, were largely responsible for bringing opposition supporters out onto the street and encouraging the opposition into violent confrontation.

In other words, the violence that occurred was not solely the product of the Ethiopian political scene. There was external third party involvement by people whose knowledge of Ethiopia was minimal, whose sensitivity to potential problems was non-existent, and who had no attachment to the interests of Ethiopia, only to their own. In the end this meant that no dialogue proved possible, and led, almost inexorably, to the riots of November, and the totally unnecessary loss of life, both of police and civilians.

It was a political crisis that could have easily been avoided by discussion and dialogue, as demonstrated last year when the efforts of the traditional Council of Elders provided mediation which allowed for the pardoning of convicted opposition leaders.

It is clear that the first approaches of the international community to the crisis in Zimbabwe had nothing to do with dialogue and everything to do with the threat of external intervention from outside Africa. Once this was dropped and a more conciliatory mode adopted, coupled with mediation by people involved in the region, knowledgeable and prepared to take the time, interest and energy to produce a settlement in the interests of the parties concerned, a peaceful solution became very possible. We might, at this point, ask what are the lessons we should draw from the experience we have had in Zimbabwe.

First of all it is very clear that what was in the interests of Africa might not be supported by the international media. Prudent approaches that would help maintain peace in Africa and contribute to national reconciliation might be ridiculed. It is only when they succeed that their validity is accepted, and even then only grudgingly.

All this means that any potentially effective methods of resolution of African problems must be pursued with patience, determination and consistency even in the face of what appears to be almost unanimous opposition from the international community. For Ethiopians, of course, this is confirmation of the soundness of the policy their government has been following both in domestic and foreign affairs. That is why we continue to insist that for Ethiopia and Eritrea there is no alternative to dialogue, and to consistent and determined commitment to peaceful resolution of the dispute.

Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Millennial Security Strategies: Pre-empting terrorists in the Horn and Arabian Penninsula

Ethiopia says Eritrea "incapable" of another war
Fri 12 Sep 2008, 12:05 GMT

[-] Text [+] ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia has said its neighbour and foe Eritrea is "incapable" of launching a war across its border even as regional diplomats fear the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers has heightened that possibility.

"Eritrea could not risk another war with Ethiopia, because its troops do not match the power of Ethiopian armed forces. They are not capable," Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Thursday night in the latest rhetoric between the two.

At the end of July the U.N. Security Council disbanded its peacekeeping mission on the volatile border where Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 1998-2000 war that killed 70,000 people.

The two governments intensely dislike each other and still do not agree on their frontier despite its "virtual demarcation" on maps by an independent boundary commission.

Both say they do not want another war, but keep their militaries on alert and accuse each other of fomenting tensions.

"Eritrea also knows the consequences of igniting another conflict with Ethiopia," added Meles in a statement on state TV.

Because it knew it could not win on the battleground, Eritrea was trying to destabilise Ethiopia by "sending armed terrorists" into its neighbour and round the region, Meles said.

"As the whole world knows, Eritrea is now engaged in training, arming and dispatching armed terrorists to destabilise countries of the Horn," he said.

Eritrea backs, but denies concretely aiding, Islamist insurgents fighting Somalia's Ethiopian-backed government.

It also denies backing rebel groups inside Ethiopia.

Asmara accuses Ethiopia of "occupying" Somalia, and scoffs at claims against it in the constant toing-and-froing of accusations between the two nations.

© Reuters 2008. All Rights Reserved. | Learn more about Reuters

Mimi Alemayehu, the first Ethiopian bron Afican Development Bank CEO and the Ethio-Japanese Renaissance Bridge vulnerabilities

View contact dBBC 20 September 2008

Hunger levels soar in East Africa Rising food prices have hit Ethiopia hard
Nearly 17 million people in the Horn of Africa are in urgent need of food and other aid - almost twice as many as earlier this year, the UN has said.

Some $700m (£382m) in emergency aid is needed to prevent the region descending into full-scale famine, it said.

Top UN humanitarian official John Holmes said food stocks were critically low in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, northern Kenya and Uganda.

The area has suffered from drought, conflict and rocketing food prices.

The number of those at risk could rise still further "as the drought deepens and the hunger season continues", Mr Holmes said.

"What we need essentially is more funds, and more funds now, otherwise the situation is going to become even more catastrophic than it is today."

The estimated total for the rest of this year for those in need is $1.4bn. Almost half of that has been raised, Mr Holmes said, but there remains a shortfall of $716m.

"We may need significant funds after that period - this is not the end of the story," he said.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation blames worldwide rises in food prices for helping to push 75 million more people into the ranks of the world's hungry last year - bringing the total to 925 million. Mimi Alemayehou’s Journey to Success

The first African-born, U.S.-educated Executive Director of the African Development Bank is headed to Tunis, Tunisia.

New Era

Being lucky is where opportunity meets preparation” is the motto Mimi Alemayehou lives by, and that’s evident in her hefty resume: founder of Trade Links Inc., a company that managed the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded project to help African Growth and Opportunity Act-eligible countries in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to increase their exports to the United States, a former program manager at the International Executive Service Corps., Director of International Regulatory Affairs at the Worldspace Corporation., graduate of West Texas A&M Unviersity and Tufts business school.

And now, Mimi is prepared to tackle her latest opportunity. Nominated by President George W. Bush to be the United States director of the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Kenyan-raised (age 8-12 years-old) has been tasked with the responsibility of a lifetime. It’s a good thing she’s spent a lifetime preparing to rise to the challenge.

The Prep Work

Mimi has had an incredible sense of direction for many years and a lot of guidance along the way. Mimi says, “[t]hroughout most of my life, I made personal and professional choices which prepared me for a focused and challenging role – to serve as a bridge, an enabler, between our country of opportunity, and the continent of Africa, with its tremendous yet far from realized potential.” And she saw this potential early on.

Mimi was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and at 8 years old moved to Kenya when her father suddenly received a work transfer. The family, including Mimi and her two brothers, were to depart within two days. “I can’t leave! I finally got the lead role in school play!” She panicked. “I remember clearly being chosen to be the orator and had been memorizing my lines for month. How could I tell my drama teacher?”

In the end, Kenya provided her many valuable lessons.

“It was a shock my proficiency for English was lower than I initially believed it to be,” she recalls. Her fellow students came from Morocco, England, Israel, and Indonesia to name a few. Hearing the names of her classmates’ home countries for the first time, Mimi realized she was a minority in a global village.

Her family left Kenya in time for Mimi to start her junior year of high school in California and the culture shock was immense. She had a hard time understanding how 16-year-olds were driving away from campus for lunch and often asked “You have your own car?” The differences were distracting, but she had her own goal to focus on: college. Mimi was encouraged by family members to become a doctor or engineer.

“I was initially pre-med. I was always good at biology chemistry,” she says, but the smell of hospitals made her nauseous. “Going to Paris and painting was not an option,” she jokes, she loved watching C-SPAN debates.

The College Years

West Texas A&M University’s affordable tuition drew Mimi in and the school would be her training ground for life lessons as well as a greater understanding of the U.S. political system. Texas gave Mimi a new perspective on America: there wasn’t a large Ethiopian community near the Canyon, Texas campus.

Her school was located in the “Bible Belt,” and she remembers having open conversations about religion and reproductive rights. She found the community down to earth and STILL has a strong relationship with her ‘foster parents.’ After leaving Texas she served as an aide on Capitol Hill.

Later she earned a Master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University majoring in both International Business and International Law & Development.

Mimi became the co-publisher of the African Yellow Pages, the first phone directory targeting the large African immigrant community in the US. She served on the board of directors of the Tahirih Justice Center, the leading advocacy group providing pro-bono legal service to women immigrants and refugees, and sat on the board of the Citizens League of Ethiopian Americans.

Mimi was a member of the pioneering staff at the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA). She also worked in the Public Relations Department at the World Health Organization in Geneva where she focused on publicizing the devastating impact of tuberculosis in Africa with the aim of raising funds from donors to help alleviate the situation.

“I find a lot of Ethiopian-Americans stay in America and do not take the opportunities to explore the world,” she contends.

She says it’s important to see how development works in places from Brazil to Cambodia—not just in her native Ethiopia. “They have the same challenges in development issues. I think it’s important for people to explore what they do in life, to make you face insecurities that you may have a place you’ve never been to.”

The Opportunity

At Mimi’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations she said, “It would … be a privilege to work with Secretary [Henry] Paulson, the Treasury Department, and Congress to increase the African Development Bank's impact and effectiveness.” The moment was a culmination of her life’s work doing what she loves.

“This doesn’t happen responding to an ad in the paper. It’s over 10 years of Corporate Council on Africa, I was working for Africa before AGOA and before AIDS awareness,” She notes her unique skill set has led her to one of the most important institutions for Africa’s development.

“I started TradeLinks in order to assist AGOA eligible member countries in the regional grouping of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) so that they may increase their exports to the U.S.

While I enjoyed working with the African governments and U.S. officials, I took the most pleasure from working with African entrepreneurs with great skills and products but were in desperate need of basic tools.

They were in need of training or adequate equipment so that they can produce consistently high quality goods on a meaningful scale and in a tight timeframe.” Mimi further adds, "I feel very honored the president nominated me for this particular job".

If the past is any indication, she'll have no problem tackling the challenges facing AfDE and Africa. Reporter, Ethiopia Monday, 15 September 2008 Landslide incidents warrant follow-up care for the newly-built Abay Bridge Hayal Alemayehu

Landslide incidents at the Abay River Gorge called for a close follow-up for the newly-built bridge crossing the river, it was learnt.

Stretching 303 meters, the newly-built bridge was completed (except for minor finishing works) three years after the construction commenced and was on Wednesday inaugurated by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

“Although the design of the bridge takes into account the geological phenomenon at the Abay gorge [characterized by land slides], the newly built bridge needs a close follow-up as an earth-slide incident in the river gorge is increasing,” Ziad W.Gebriel, general manager of the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA), said at the inauguration ceremony.

“I believe that the government of Japan, which has good experience and expertise in landmass constructions associated with phenomenon such as earth slides, will continue to provide us with its technical support.”

Across the road along the Abay gorge which leads to the newly erected bridge, signboards warn the possible incident of rock slides while cracked asphalt are evident at some spots across the road.

Located some 205 km north-west of Addis Ababa, the new bridge was built adjacent to the old one in service for the last 60 years. It is part of the 40.45 km asphalt road traversing Abay gorge stretching from Goha Tsion to Dejen, a town some 220 km north-west of the metropolis.

Fully financed by the government of Japan, the project cost stands at 320 million birr, the construction of the bridge accounting for 40 percent of the total, according to ERA’s manager.

The Ethiopian government requested Japan to finance this project for its widely known expertise in managing landmass tuned to landslide on a grand scale, Kassu Ilala, Minister of Works and Urban Development, said at the inauguration of the bridge, which was attended by ministers, ambassadors, diplomats and other guests.

“This bridge is unique in Ethiopia,” the Minister said. “It required a unique solution intimately linked to the unique characteristics of the gorge which dictated a location and approach of the road to it.”

Having a width of nine meters, the new bridge will, unlike the old one, allow a two way traffic.

The bridge is expected to open to traffic in October, two months earlier than scheduled.

The construction of the bridge, dubbed extra dosed type, was undertaken by the Japanese construction firm Kajima Corporation.

The first of its type in the country, the bridge is reinforced by cables fastened to the major towers carrying the girder, like most such facilities in use in the western world.

The girder has a height of 55 meters from the river base, while the major towers stood 14 meters above the bridge. It is constructed approximately 145 meters upstream from the old bridge, standing some 20 meters taller.

The road project, which is being financed by the government of Japan and executed by Kajima, stretches from Addis Ababa to Debre Markos. The upgrading work of 186 km road from Addis Ababa to Goha Tsion was completed in 2005.

With the total road project measuring some 220 km finalized, the 10-hour drive route will be shortened to four hours.

“This great work will remain symbolic and a living monument to the Japanese government's cooperation with Ethiopia for the latter’s development,” Meles said on the occasion, reflecting the economic and historical significance of the Nile coupled with the 21st bridge technology the newly-built facility features.

“This new bridge will herald the beginning of the erection of more bridges, dams, and other development activities across the river that will turn the Nile into becoming ideal in spinning up the country’s economy rather than being a bottleneck for development.”

The Prime Minister named the newly erected facility renaissance bridge.

The Japanese Ambassador to Ethiopia, Kenechi Kohamo, on his part said the newly-built bridge will continue to be a living symbol of friendship between Ethiopia and Japan and opening a new state of industrial and development cooperation between the two countries.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Can a huge famine that involves more than 15 million lives be hidden from integrated Global Community? My Iphone says no, what have you say?

Dear Patriotic Global Citizens and Friends of Ethiopia/Africa

Re: Can any one ever hide such Gross famine Epidemic that is raging in the Rift Valley System?

Are we Ethiopians that smart to effectively hide Gross famine that involves one in ten person inthe country as this writer implies.

How can one hide famine in the first place. People, animals die and their deadbodies smell so the wind will take it all over the world.

Besides, the satelites navigating around the earth, even my iphone gps system can show such details.

Is this writer really telling the truth? Can some one make him accountable?

Ethiopians and Friends of Ethiopia should declare that we have nothing to hide

Dr B

Ethiopia accused of hiding famine as millions starve
Army ‘is keeping food from rebel areas’

A goat herder in the Ogaden desert. Herdsmen say that their children have died from eating poisonous buds from trees for lack of anything else to eat

Jonathan Rugman in Jijiga

Ethiopia has been accused of deliberately underestimating the scale of a deadly drought facing millions of its people, some of whom are being deprived of emergency food aid by the country’s military.

The humanitarian crisis, caused by three years of failed rains, currently affects about 4.6 million people, though the official number could jump to as high as 6.7 million this week.

United Nations agencies say that the real number at risk is above 8 million, an estimate disputed hotly by Addis Ababa, which is insisting on publishing a much lower figure.

“The figure has risen very substantially, maybe even doubled,” said Sir John Holmes, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, who visited Ethiopia earlier this month. “Any government doesn’t want to be perceived as always in the position of receiving aid.”

The crisis is at its most worrying in the vast deserts of the Ogaden region, where the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says in a confidential alert to donors that it is receiving “increasing reports of hunger-related mortality”. About two million people are at risk until the main rains fall next spring – if they fall at all.

The Ogaden is Ethiopia’s biggest and most remote state.

Nomadic tribes there are resorting to eating dead leaves and cactus fruit to survive the worst drought since the famines of 1984-85, when an estimated one million Ethiopians died.

A twenty-mile trek on foot into the bush revealed mediaeval mud-hut villages, where ethnic Somali herdsmen say that their children have died after eating poisonous buds from trees, for lack of anything else to eat. Others say that they depend on camel milk and meat because cattle, sheep and goats have perished in their thousands.

“I am ill and hungry,” said one man, removing his shirt to reveal his rib cage visible through taut skin. “Because of the drought we have nothing to eat. The only people who receive food are the military forces.”

The UN has raised about 60 per cent of $325 million (£181 million) it is seeking in emergency relief for Ethiopia and says that it is suffering a shortfall of about 300,000 tonnes of aid.

The WFP has told donors that it blames Ethiopia’s “delays in recognising the extent of need” for causing the rapid depletion of existing food stocks. But a Channel 4 News investigation tonight claims that the army has withheld food from villages in the Ogaden deliberately as part of a “scorched earth” policy against separatist rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Herdsmen in villages almost completely cut off from the outside world said that many of their animals had been killed by Ethiopian soldiers, who also deprived them of water.

“We walk for eight hours to collect water,” said Abdi, a villager about three hours from Jijiga, the regional capital. “Then the military take the water from us. They say the rebels pass through our villages and that we give them supplies. But what can we give? We are dying of hunger. We have nothing to give to our own children.”

The UN says that it has negotiated with the Ethiopian army for the military’s role in food distribution to be kept to a minimum. “If there is a situation where food is taken by the military, we protest,” said Mohammed Diab, the WFP’s Ethiopia director.

However, a confidential investigation by USAid, the US Government’s disaster relief agency, complained in March that “literally hundreds of areas . . . have neither been assessed nor received any food assistance”, with “populations we met terrorised by the inability to access food”.

“This situation would be shameful in any other country,” the report concludes. “The US Government cannot in good conscience allow the food operation to continue in its current manifestation.” The US is spending more than £230 million on food aid for Ethiopia this year but is hamstrung from being too critical in public; Washington sees Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, as an ally in the War on Terror after Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2005, which ousted an Islamist administration from power.

Britain has doubled its annual aid to Ethiopia in the last three years to £130 million, including £15 million this summer through the UN’s Humanitarian Response Fund, while Save the Children (SCF) is halfway through a campaign to raise £10 million for the country.

Two SCF workers were expelled from the Ogaden last year amid allegations – rejected by SCF – that they had diverted food to ONLF rebels. The British charity abandoned a full-scale feeding programme, fearing supplies could be diverted.


Belai Habte-Jesus, MD, MPH
Global Strategic Enterprises, Inc. 4 Peace & Prosperity
Win-win synergestic Partnership 4P&P-focusing on 5Es: Education+Energy+Ecology+Economy+Enterprises;
C: 703.933.8737; F: 703.531.0545

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Millennial Challenges of Ethiopia surrounded by terrorist region Toronto Sun, Canada
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ottawa provokes diplomatic flap or a terrorist in a civilian dress provokes Canadian Immigration law!


17th September 2008
This is one of those stories that defies reason and underscores the occasional lunacy of bureaucracy.

The government of Canada -- or rather our ministries of both foreign affairs and immigration -- have denied a visa to the foreign minister of Eritrea on grounds that he participated in Eritrea's war of liberation against the tyrannical Marxist regime of Ethiopia that ended 17 years ago.

Foreign Minister Osman Saleh was denied a visa to visit Canada's large Eritrean community because (according to a letter delivered to Eritrea's ambassador in Nairobi, Kenya, from the Canadian counsellor): "You were a member of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) between 1979 and 1991 ... a group that engaged in the subversion of a government by force."

The letter added: "Canadian federal court jurisprudence confirms that membership in a group that attempts to subvert even a despotic government is sufficient to render inadmissibility."

Holy mackerel! It was a war that the EPLF was fighting -- and won in 1991, gaining independence and sovereignty in 1993. It is now a member of the African Union. (Eritrea had been an Italian African colony and after World War II the UN made Ethiopia its "guardian").

It was a war the Tigryan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) also fought -- and won -- against Ethiopia's homicidal regime of Col. Hariam Mengistu. The TPLF leader, Meles Zenawi, is now Ethiopia's PM - and presumably would also be denied a visa to Canada for "subverting" an existing government.

Most of the countries of Africa, at one time or another, overthrew the previous existing government by coup or force.

By the standards applied to the Eritrean foreign minister, Canada should deny a visa to Nelson Mandela because he was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) seeking to subvert the white apartheid government of South Africa. Today Mandela is an honorary Canadian citizen.

With what seemed a sigh of relief, a Canadian foreign ministry spokesman said the visa decision was not theirs, but the immigration department's.

An immigration spokesman acknowledged she knew of the Eritrean case, but "I can't speak to specific cases" (privacy and all that). As far as she was concerned, the case stands. She said the only one who could give permission to speak about the case would be the prime minister.

Eritrea's ambassador to Canada, Ahfrom Berhame, is puzzled and appalled at the Canadian decision. He said foreign minister Salah meets all the qualifications to be accepted, and to call the EPLF a "subversive organization" makes no sense, since it comprises the core of the Eritrean government today.

"We have always had good relations with Canada," he said.

"Canadian businesses operate in Eritrea. Your soldiers were peacekeepers after the 1998 border war with Ethiopia. In the war of liberation, my wife was a fighter. I was a fighter. We were all EPLF. Why is Canada doing this?"

The Eritrean government is indignant, and its foreign ministry noted that some nations were "slow" to take cold war references to African rebels off their old terrorist lists -- as U.S. lawmakers recently did by removing the "terrorist" designation for Nelson Mandela.

Their foreign ministry called it "an unheard act from a country that enjoys full diplomatic ties with Eritrea (that) would, in itself, construe an embarrassing aberration in diplomatic conduct. What makes it more horrendous is, however, the reasons ... given to explain their provocative act."

In condemning what it called "this hostile act," Eritrea wonders if it is "sheer ignorance by a junior government official, or a deliberate desire by the government of Canada to desecrate Eritrea's legitimate struggle against colonial occupation that exacted more than 60,000 of our best sons and daughters?"

One hopes it is the former. At very least an apology seems in order -- unless Canada knows something about foreign minister Saleh that no one else does.


Militant threat paralyses Mogadishu airport
Wed 17 Sep 2008Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Mogadishu's main airport was largely shut down on Wednesday after militant Somali Islamists threatened to attack any planes using it.

Staff at the airport said carriers using the sea-front facility in south Mogadishu had decided not to take any risk following the threat by al Shabaab to target aircraft landing or taking off after midnight on Tuesday.

Al Shabaab, which is on Washington's list of terrorist groups, is spearheading an insurgency against the Somali government and its Ethiopian military backers.

"Turning deaf ears to what al Shabaab said means planes will be burned and staff assassinated at their houses," an official at the airport said. "We have agreed not to land planes."

A weekend statement by al Shabaab said the airport was a legitimate target because it was used by the Somali government, the Ethiopian military, and African Union (AU) peacekeepers, whom it perceives as propping up the government.

About 4-5 flights daily were going through Mogadishu airport before Wednesday.

The AU, which has 2,200 peacekeepers in Somalia, mainly based at the airport, condemned the threat, saying it would harm locals because it would block medical supplies.


AU spokesman Barigye Ba-Hoku said the peacekeeping mission had no immediate scheduled flights, but it would continue to use the airport. "For us it is still open but we shall not take the threat lightly. We are alert 24 hours," he said.

"This threat is nothing new because the airport was subjected to attacks since we first arrived," he added.

The airport has suffered a string of attacks since Islamists launched an Iraq-style insurgency in early 2007 that has killed nearly 10,000 civilians and an unknown number of combatants.

Al Shabaab's threat against the airport reflects the growing confidence of one of the main protagonists in the Somali war. The group last month led an Islamist takeover of southern Kismayu port, giving it a strategic base near the Kenyan border.

The United Nations' special envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who is in Djibouti trying to promote a peace deal between the Somali government and moderate opposition figures, condemned al Shabaab's move.

"If any plane is downed ... they will be held responsible," said Ould-Abdallah, who chaired a meeting on Tuesday of the International Contact Group (ICG) in Djibouti.

The multi-nation group, which is trying to help broker peace, condemned ongoing violence and urged all Somalis to back the tentative peace pact signed in Djibouti earlier in the year.


2008-09-15-voa54.cfm VOA Horn of Africa Piracy Spurs International Action
Alisha Ryu
15 September 2008

Nairobi Maritime specialists say a surge in pirate attacks on ships between Somalia and Yemen is affecting global commerce and they are urging the international community to quickly find a solution to the crisis. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, what began as a group of Somali fishermen trying to protect their territorial waters has evolved into a sophisticated, multi-million-dollar criminal business.

The head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center, Noel Choong, tells VOA that he and his staff are overwhelmed by the number of calls the center is receiving every day.

"Our hands are full," Noel Choong. "We have so much work here, you know. A lot of ships are being attacked. We have so many ships calling in for help."

The International Maritime Bureau, based in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, used to focus most of its attention on activities taking place in the pirate-infested waters off Singapore and in the Malacca Strait near Indonesia.

Choong says the piracy problem there is small now, compared to the problem in waters off the coast of Somalia - particularly in the Gulf of Aden - a narrow, 885 kilometer-long stretch of water that lies between Yemen and Somalia. The waterway is considered vital for global commerce because it provides the shortest maritime route from the Far East to Europe.

This year, more than 50 commercial ships and private vessels have been attacked in Somali waters. The majority of those attacks have taken place in the Gulf of Aden. Eleven vessels, including a South Korean cargo ship seized by pirates in the area last Wednesday, have been hijacked in the past six weeks.

The head of the Seafarers' Assistance Program in Mombasa, Kenya, Andrew Mwangura, says the alarming increase in Somali pirate activity is being fueled by enormous ransoms being paid for the release of seized vessels and their crew.

On average, ship owners are paying more than $1 million per vessel. Mwangura says the potential for riches through piracy has lured a legion of poor young men to join various pirate groups that have been operating in Somalia since the fall of the country's last functioning government in 1991.

"In the past five or six years, there were less than 100," said Andrew Mwangura. But now, we have information that there are between 1,100 and 1,200."

One of the first pirate groups, the National Volunteer Coast Guard based near the southern town of Kismayo, was established by a group of fishermen who used guns and speedboats to chase away vessels they believed were illegally fishing and waste-dumping in Somali territorial waters.

The group then began seizing the vessels and demanding ransom, spawning a lucrative pirate industry along the country's eastern coastline.

Pirate activities in Somalia stopped briefly in 2006 under the Islamic Courts Union, the group that seized power from Mogadishu-based factional leaders and quickly gained popular support by restoring law and order in many parts of the country. A ban on piracy was strictly enforced.

As the Islamic courts began consolidating under the control of militants, neighboring Ethiopia, with the support of the United States, intervened in December 2006, ousting the Islamic Courts Union and installing a secular - but deeply unpopular transitional government.

That move sparked a bloody Islamist-led insurgency in Mogadishu and elsewhere. Acts of piracy also began to rise, especially off the coast of Somalia's northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland. Rampant piracy hampered deliveries of much-needed aid to millions of Somalis caught in a prolonged drought and in the insurgents' war with Ethiopian and Somali troops.

Many Somalis believe a powerful syndicate of factional leaders and businessmen runs the piracy operation in the country. The syndicate, with bases in Kenya and in the United Arab Emirates, is said to be using the bulk of the ransom money to fund a variety of operations, including drug and weapons smuggling and human trafficking.

There have also been reports that a portion of the money is being diverted to a homegrown, al-Qaida-linked Islamist group called the Shabab. Maritime specialist Andrew Mwangura says he also has credible information that the syndicate is sharing some of the spoils with high-ranking Somali officials.

"Some officials within the government of Somalia, as well as some Puntland authorities, are part of the activities of pirates in Somalia," he said. "So, both parties are gaining something from this commercial crime."

The cost of sending ships through the Gulf of Aden has increased 10-fold in recent months because of soaring insurance premiums. Noel Choong at the International Maritime Bureau says he fears pirates could eventually shut down one of the world's busiest and most important transport routes.

"Before it gets out of hand, someone has to step in to control because the pirates are going out, attacking the ships and bringing them back," said Noel Choong. "There is no deterrent at all."

Earlier this month, allied naval forces responsible for maritime security in the region announced they would increase their presence in the Gulf of Aden. Combined Task Force 150, which includes the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Pakistan, and several other allied countries, says the new campaign will provide a more concentrated look at who comes and goes in the area.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, Lieutenant Stephanie Murdock, acknowledges that the task force is facing a huge challenge in their vast area of operation.

"It extends pretty much from the Gulf of Oman through the Arabian Sea, through the Gulf of Aden, through the Red Sea," said Lieutenant Murdock. "Now, that is a very large expanse of water. We have ships that cover a number of different missions while they are there. It is not just piracy. We are also covering drug smuggling, human trafficking, and any other destabilizing activities. So, we always respond to distress calls from mariners and we have set up a more focused area. But there are going to be times when a coalition asset cannot get to a ship because the distance is just that great."