A Week in the Horn
News in Brief
Africa and the African Union
Italy is hosting a two day G7 Summit of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US in Sicily on Friday (May25). A major focus of the Summit will be Africa with sessions on Innovation and Development In Africa as well as human mobility, food security and gender equality. Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn of Ethiopia, President Kenyatta of Kenya and leaders of Nigeria, Niger and Tunisia were invited as well as representatives of the African Union, the African Development Bank, the UN and the IMF and the World Bank. Other areas of discussion will include foreign policy and security, the world economy and sustainable trade and global relations.
Africa, as well as Africans in the Diaspora, celebrated “Africa Day” on Thursday (May 25). Previously known as African Freedom Day and African Liberation Day, it commemorates the formation of the Organization of African Unity on 25 May 1963. UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a message said: “Humanity can benefit by listening, learning with People of Africa.” The African Union Commission, which noted Africa’s young people were an enormous resource for development,, said this was why the AU Assembly had declared the theme for 2017 as ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth’.
With the strongest negative Indian Ocean Dipole in 50 years, the drought in East Africa continues to affect pastoral and livestock-holding communities all across the region. Large-scale humanitarian response has so far managed to prevent famine in Somalia, but Somalia, like Kenya and Ethiopia, is still facing growing numbers of food insecure people and continuing urgent need for assistance. (See article)
Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission said this month that 7.78 million people were currently food insecure, up from 5.6 million in mid-January, a 39% increase; and a Food and Agricultural Organization report in mid May noted that 1.9 million households would require emergency livestock support this year.
A new report, Honest Accounts 2017, published on Wednesday (May 24) claims aid and loans to the continent are outweighed by financial flows to tax havens and costs of climate change mitigation. It says more than US$40 billion left than entered Africa. It said African countries received $162bn in 2015, mainly in loans, aid and personal remittances, but the same year US$203bn was taken. It identified the key factors contributing to this as unjust debt payments, multinational companies hiding proceeds through tax avoidance, and corruption. Illicit financial flows accounted for $68 billion a year, three times as much as the $19 billion Africa receives in aid. African governments received $32 billion in loans in 2015, but paid $18 billion in debt interest. The report emphasized that Africa’s natural resources were owned and exploited by foreign, private corporations. The NGO Global Justice Now, one of the groups involved in the report, said the City of London was “awash with profits extracted from the land and labour of Africa.”
The United States said on Wednesday it would provide an additional $329 million in humanitarian assistance to help provide food, water, medical care and shelter to people affected by famine and violence in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. This brings the overall U.S. humanitarian assistance for those four crises comes to $1.2 billion since the beginning of the 2017 fiscal year.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn left for Italy on Thursday (May 24) to attend the two-day G7 Summit in Sicily.
Prime Minister Hailemariam in a letter to UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, expressed his deepest sympathy to UK over the terror attack that took the lives of innocent civilians in Manchester Arena. He said Ethiopia stands in solidarity with the people and Government of the United Kingdom in such times of difficulty. He offered his condolences and sympathy to the families of those killed and wished a speedy recovery to all those injured.
Prime Minister Hailemariam met with Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation on Wednesday (May 24). The discussion focused on how to implement effective and modern agricultural practices; and Dr Shah said his foundation, which developed cost-effective and technology-assisted agricultural practices, was keen to assist Ethiopia’s ongoing green growth strategy. Resilience-building is also a priority of the Rockefeller Foundation. The Prime Minister urged the foundation to extend further support to the youth to engage in modern agricultural practice and share its experience on how to build a pollution-free city.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn after leading a delegation that included Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu to attend the Belt and Road Forum in China (May 14-15) paid visits to four of China’s largest provinces, Shandong, and Fujian, Hunan and Sichuan, holding meetings senior government officials and leading business leaders as well as taking part in investment fora. (See article).
Dr. Tedros Adhanom, former Minister of Health and Minister of Foreign Affairs, won the election for the position of Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday (May 23). Dr. Tedros replaces Dr. Margaret Chan (China) who had been Director-General of WHO since 2007. (See article)
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday (May 24) to see the progress of the repatriation process of undocumented Ethiopians from the Kingdom. The Minister, accompanied by members of the National Task-force for the Repatriation of Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia, visited two registration posts. Dr. Workneh also held discussions with Ethiopians residing in Jeddah and met with officials of the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On March 30 the Saudi government granted a 90-day amnesty for people who have been living in the kingdom without residence and work permits to leave the country.
Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia’s Labor and Social Affairs ministries signed a domestic workers’ recruitment agreement in Jeddah on Thursday this week (May 25).This will allow Ethiopians to work in Saudi Arabia if recruited by employment agencies licensed by both countries. The agreement will helps to protect the rights of Ethiopian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Workneh met with Ambassador Yoshifomi Okamura, Japan’s Special Envoy for TICAD, UN reform and Human rights, in Addis Ababa, on Monday (May 22). Dr. Workneh briefed the Special Envoy on peace and security issues and the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, stressing that Ethiopia under the auspices of IGAD was been actively engaged in encouraging an inclusive national dialogue. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to promote sustainable peace and stability in the region.
State Minister of Foreign Affairs Mrs. Hirut Zemene received Mr. Hugo Hans Siblesz, Secretary General, Permanent Court of Arbitration at her offices on Friday (May 26).
State Minister Dr. Aklilu Hailemkael met with Mr. Florian Serfaty, head of Business development of Jeune Afrique, a multimedia group dedicated to promoting Africa’s development on Wednesday (May 24), during which Ethiopia was invited to host the 6th Edition of the Africa CEO Forum.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Aklilu Hailemikael said this week Ethiopian artists could play an import role in helping to ensure the safe repatriation of undocumented Ethiopian nationals from Saudi Arabia and support the ongoing efforts of the government and other stakeholders. He told representatives of Ethiopian Artists Today they should use their skills to reach Ethiopian nationals in Saudi Arabia and their families at home to get the message across and ensure that “our nationals are repatriated safely within the given time.” With less than month before the Saudi Arabian deadline runs out, the number of returnees has been well below expectations.
Dr. Tekeda Alemu, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations, explains his work and the position of Ethiopia at the UN Security Council. (See article)
The European Parliament passed a resolution last week, on May 18, condemning Ethiopia for not respecting human rights. It made little effort to understand what has been happening in the country or to note any of the efforts being made to resolve the recent discontent. (See article)
The 16th edition of the African Economic Outlook report, released on Monday (May 22) says Ethiopia is set to be the biggest recipient of private equity in eastern Africa, outpacing Kenya with its friendly business environment and favorable industrial policy. Its development of industrial parks, focusing on textiles, leather, agro-processing and pharmaceuticals, as part of its Vision 2025 to make Ethiopia a light-manufacturing hub, has made it a magnet for manufacturing and service industries. It sets projected private equity inflows into Ethiopia this year at $4.4 billion compared to Kenya’s $1.3 billion. The report is prepared by the African Development Bank, the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Program.
Five fallen Ethiopian peacekeepers who served with UNAMID and UNISFA were among 117 peacekeepers who posthumously received the Dag Hammarskjöld medal on Wednesday (May 24) at a ceremony held at the UN Headquarters on the occasion of the International Peacekeeping Day (May 29). The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers was established by the General Assembly in 2002, to pay tribute to all men and women serving in peacekeeping, and to honor the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.
Ethiopia is the largest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping and currently deploys more than 8,300 military and police personnel to five UN peace operations.
China has extended a loan of US$260 million for the industrial park to be built at Adama in Oromia regional state in cooperation with the Province of Hunan. The Exim Bank of China offered the loan following the Memorandum of Understanding signed in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, during Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn’s recent visit to China.
Addis Ababa City Administration, Lyon Town Planning Agency, and the French Development Agency (AFD) signed a cooperation agreement on Tuesday (May 23) to share the best practices and capacity building in urban development. The agreement was signed on the sidelines of a one-day workshop in Addis Ababa to mark the 20th Anniversary of AFD in Ethiopia
Djibouti inaugurated the 690 hectares Doraleh Multipurpose Port on Wednesday this week (May 24). The turnkey project, costing US$590 million, and built contracted by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, is intended to handle 10,000 deadweight tonnage at a time. Djibouti Port S.A. and China Merchants Holdings financed the construction. As well as handling Ethiopia’s needs, the port will eventually also service the needs of South Sudan.
Djibouti was one of four more African countries that signed the International Solar Alliance (ISA) on Monday this week (May 22) at an ISA meeting on the sidelines of the African Development Bank Annual Meeting in Gandhinagar, India. The ISA was launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015 by Prime Minister Modi and former French President Francois Hollande.
In an interview on the occasion of Eritrea’ 24th Independence Day (May 24) President Isaias spoke of agricultural development and water infrastructure programs, the need for regulation to curb price rises and government plans for housing. He underlined Eritrea’s warm bilateral ties with Egypt and said Eritrea was pursuing a policy of strategic engagement to ensure a stable region. He dismissed Ethiopia’s references to a “new policy towards Eritrea” as “hollow rhetoric”, and said they were merely meant to deflect attention from “the quagmire of its own making”. (See article)
A protest vigil was held outside the Eritrean Embassy in London last week to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the imposition of severe restrictions on Eritrea’s Christian community and the closure of churches affiliated to certain denominations. (See article)
President Kenyatta attended the two-day G7 Summit in Italy being held in Sicily, May 25-26.
President Mohamed Abdullahi met with US President Donald Trump on Sunday (May21) at the end of the US-Arab-Muslim conference in Riyadh. President Mohamed underlined the need for strong U.S support to defeat Al-Shabaab. He said the U.S administration promised 100% backing for the new Somali government to secure the nation and rebuild the country’s national forces.
President Mohamed Abdullahi arrived in Doha on Wednesday (May 24) on a working visit to the State of Qatar, after making a visit to Djibouti earlier in the week.
Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre concluded a series of meetings on Sunday (May 21) to evaluate the performance of his cabinet ministers. Ministers had to provide detailed explanations of their department’s achievements and performances over the last three months. The next evaluation will take place in three months. The Prime Minister has said he is determined to hold cabinet ministers accountable and responsible for their respective departments.
The Islamic State in Somalia claimed responsibility for a suicide attack which left five dead and 12 injured in Bosasso in Puntland State on Tuesday (May 23). ISIS fighters briefly seized the port of Qandala in December last year before being expelled to the mountains Puntland security services a few weeks later.
Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre assured journalists on Tuesday (May 23) that his government was committed to protect the freedom of the media and work closely with the journalists union to safeguard its members. He said a number of journalists had died as a result of doing their work and his government wanted put a stop to impunity. He also said the government would implement accountability of officials’ actions.
Somalia signed the International Solar Alliance (ISA) on Monday this week (May 22) at an ISA meeting on the sidelines of the African Development Bank Annual Meeting in Gandhinagar, India. It joins 16 other countries as a member of ISA, a coalition of solar resource rich countries to address their special energy needs and provide a platform to collaborate. The Indian Government has set aside US$2 billion for solar projects in Africa out of its US$10 billion concessional Line of Credit for Africa.
AMISOM completed a ten-day training course for Somali security on ways to deter use of child soldiers. The ‘Training of Trainers’ course ended in Nairobi on Friday (May 19) with a commitment to end recruitment and the use of child soldiers. The course was organized by the Protection and Human Rights and Gender unit in AMISOM and sponsored by the British Embassy in Somalia.
The Military Operations Coordination Committee of AMISOM held a meeting in Nairobi at the end of last week. It was attended by the Chiefs of Staff of AMISOM’s troop-contributing countries. (See article)
The National Independent Electoral Commission opened the political parties’ Registrar Office in Mogadishu on Tuesday (May 23). NIEC Chair, Ms. Halima Ismail Ibrahim said, “We are now starting the process to register political parties so elections in 2021 can be one-person-one-vote.” MPs, concerned that political parties might be involved in promotion of clan interests, warned that “Political parties should come up with a national agenda and should not become promoters of clan interests and nepotism.”
President Kiir, speaking on Monday (May 22) at the swearing ceremony for the 94 members of the National Dialogue Steering Committee, rejected the return of Riek Machar to participate in the National Dialogue. He said his return would only lead to another conflict, and he could only participate in the dialogue through people he could delegate to represent him and his movement. The President also declared a unilateral ceasefire effective immediately and said he had directed the prosecutor-general “to immediately review the cases of those who have committed crimes against the state, and ensure the necessary steps are taken to lead to their release.” Uganda’s President Museveni attended the inauguration of the steering committee for the National Dialogue.
Following the announcement that the National Dialogue committee would convene on Monday (May 22), Abel Alier-wal Kuai, former President of High Executive for Southern Sudan, co-chair of the National Dialogue, underlined the importance of reaching out to armed and non-opposition forces to ensure inclusivity. He said the committee would organize the dialogue process around a constituency-based system. This would be top-down, requiring as a matter of urgency the end of the violent conflicts; and bottom-up, on a community level through local dialogue forums where intra and inter-communal grievances would be addressed. The communities will then be able to select their own delegates to their respective National Dialogue fora. There would be regional dialogue fora for regional issues; and the final phase would be the National Dialogue Forum in which all the issues would be discussed and resolved through consensus.
The UN Security Council on Wednesday (May 24) unanimously adopted a resolution renewing for another year a host of sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze imposed by its resolution 2206 (2015), on those said to be blocking peace, security and stability in South Sudan.(See article)
The UN/AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) on Monday (May 22) expressed deep concern over recent clashes between government forces and rebel groups in North and East Darfur states. UNAMID’s Joint Special Representative, Jeremiah Mamabolo said significant progress had been made on the road towards peace and security in Darfur, and it would be a serious setback to see these gains jeopardized. UNAMID called all parties involved to show restraint and use the peace process to resolve all outstanding issues. It reminded them “of their unilateral commitment to a ceasefire with a view to advancing the peace process”.
The Tripartite Committee of the Joint Approach to the International Community, established under the Cooperation Agreement of 2012 between Sudan and South Sudan to jointly pursue debt relief, lifting of Sudanese sanctions and economic assistance to Sudan and South Sudan, held its fourth meeting in Addis Ababa last Friday (May 19). Facilitated by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), the two sides recommitted themselves to work together to achieve international support for their economies and endorsed strategies and the next steps for engaging creditors and donors. They decided to promote joint development programs along their common border areas. Sudan inherited the entire external debt that existed prior to South Sudan independence and the two sides have yet to agree on how to split up the debt.
Prime Minister Hailemariam’s successful visit to four Chinese Provinces
Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn after leading a delegation that included Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu to attend the One Belt and One Road Forum in China (May 14-15) paid a series of visits to several of China’s largest provinces, holding meetings with senior government officials and major companies. The Belt and Road Forum focused on President Xi Jinping’s initiative which envisions creating connectivity in infrastructure, economy and people-to-people exchanges as well as policy cooperation. It also encourages Chinese manufacturing industries to relocate to Belt and Road countries. The Ethiopian delegation took the opportunity to promote Ethiopia’s potential and opportunities of investment to encourage anchor companies to invest in Ethiopia. The delegation visited the four largest provinces in China, Shandong, and Fujian, Hunan and Sichuan/Cheng /, home to a significant number of anchor companies. The Prime Minister was able to hold one-to-one discussions with high officials of these provinces and the leaders and CEOs of different companies to encourage enterprises to go to Ethiopia. The delegation visited different companies and industry zones to draw lessons and share experience. It also participated in investment and production capacity cooperation Fora detailing the promotion of investment opportunities available in Ethiopia, in which hundreds of investors participated. The format of the Fora included parallel sessions where members of the delegation also made sectoral presentations in areas of textile, leather, agro processing, pharmaceutical, tourism, infrastructure and mining.
The Prime Minister first visited Shandong Province in the coastal region of East China and one of China’s economic centers. With a gross domestic product (GDP) of one trillion US dollars, Shandong is the third largest economy among China’s provinces. It is home to many of China’s anchor companies engaged in manufacturing, chemicals, machinery, metallurgy, textiles and construction, among other sectors. The Ethiopian delegation led by Prime Minister Hailemariam participated in the Ethiopia-Shandong Production Capacity Co-operation Forum held in Jinan, the Shandong capital. The Forum was organized to promote Ethiopia’s potential to attract anchor companies engaged in different sectors, mainly in manufacturing and agro-processing industries in line with the priority of the government.
Fujian was the second destination of the Prime Minister. Fujian province is located in the south east China and is ranked 11th in general GDP and 8th in terms of the flow of Foreign Direct Investment of the 31 Provinces of the republic. Fujian is also home for many anchor companies and is already a major source of FDI to Ethiopia. Eight enterprises from Fujian have invested in different sectors with a combined capital of US$9 million. The Prime Minister and his delegation attended the Ethio-Fujian Investment Cooperation Forum. In his remarks to the Forum, the Prime Minister said Ethiopia prioritized China as a source of high quality manufacturing industry in its pursuit of development. He stressed that Ethiopia’s current focus was on industrialization and building a competitive manufacturing industry, adding “China is our top priority as a source of high quality manufacturing in key labor intensive sectors”. He further noted that Ethiopia should continue to be a favorite country for Chinese investors because of its affordable labor cost and trainable working force, its cheap energy and available land. The Prime Minister also noted that in addition to Fujian’s capacity in manufacturing industries, particularly in textile garment and leather, there was another area of investment opportunity for the provincial government and Fujian-based companies in the development and management of industrial parks in Ethiopia. He urged the government and companies to set up a special economic zone in Ethiopia, pledging to support them in their investments.
The third destination in the official visits was to Hunan province where companies produce advanced and high-tech construction machinery and are involved in petrochemical industries. An Ethiopia-China (Hunan) Investment Cooperation Conference was held to promote investment opportunities and the potential of Ethiopia. Several companies which already invest in Ethiopia shared their experiences of investing in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister held one-to-one meetings with a number of major Hunan companies, including Foton, the Hengyang Transformer Co. Ltd. (TBEA), and the Hunan Textile Association. Parallel meetings were also held by members of the delegation with various Hunan enterprises to discuss Ethiopia’s investment policy and the available opportunities.
Sichuan was the final destination of the visit, and there the Prime Minister attended the Ethiopia- Sichuan Investment and Trade Cooperation Forum, and held one-to-one discussions with potential investors and higher government officials. Coincidentally, Ethiopian Airlines commenced its inaugural flight to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province, on May 22.
Overall, the Prime Minister held detailed discussions with a considerable number of Chinese anchor investors and he expressed his satisfaction with a highly successful series of visits. He described his visits and the bilateral meetings held with provincial governors and leaders of major enterprises in Shandong, Fujian, Hunan and Sichuan, as excellent. The Prime Minister said the bilateral ties between Ethiopia and China were reaching a climax. The two countries had agreed to upgrade their relation to the highest level of diplomatic relations, an all-round strategic partnership.
In an interview with the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation at the end of his visit to China, the Prime Minister noted that economic structural change was vital for the sustainable development and growth of the state. Ethiopia aspires to become a middle income country by 2025, and to that end it needs its economic structure transformed from an agricultural basis to an industrialized one to provide for the continuity and sustainability of the already registered economic growth and development. It needed to attract more foreign direct investment particularly in the manufacturing sector. China was, therefore, a major target of Ethiopia’s interest. The Prime Minister also emphasized that in order to realize the necessary economic structural changes in Ethiopia the role of Chinese anchor company investment was significant. He said the discussions and meetings he had with premium Chinese companies in the four Provinces he had visited had been very successful and most of the companies had showed interest in investment in Ethiopia. In addition, the Prime Minister noted that each of the four provinces he had visited had pledged to organize their own industrial zones in the areas of Ethiopia where their investors operate.
Dr. Tedros of Ethiopia becomes first African to lead the World Health Organization
The demand for realistic representation, and consciousness of its lack of it, has been a central element in all the struggles of Africans and the black people of the world from the time of Marcus Garvey to Frantz Fanon and subsequently. This week, with Africa providing a unanimous call for a genuine place at the highest levels of at least one international organization, the World Health Organization, there was every reason to hope for the practical choice to be made. In January last year, the Twenty-Sixth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union unanimously endorsed Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s candidature for the next election of the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). The AU’s choice as the sole African candidate played pivotal role in his historic victory becoming the first African to lead the top UN health post, and putting the names of Ethiopia and Africa at the top of hundreds of digital and print media outlets.
President Dr. Mulatu Teshome and Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn congratulated Dr. Tedros Adhanom on his election and all Ethiopians at home and abroad and all Africans as well as friends of Ethiopia, on the victory. Prime Minister Hailemariam referred to Dr. Tedros’ victory as one more proof of Ethiopia’s notable and growing role in socio-economic and political issues on the international stage. Foreign Minister, Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, recalling Dr. Tedros’ achievements in his tenure as his predecessor as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, dubbed the victory a part of Ethiopia’s diplomatic success in the Global arena. He also underlined that his success was “an African Victory.” Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, who wished Dr Tedros a successful tenure at WHO, robustly working towards a better, healthier future for all people around the globe, said, “The world has chosen a consummate global health statesman with a strong track record of embedding global public health and health security as a vital cornerstone of human development.” The AU Commission affirmed its support for Dr. Tedros’ priorities and thanked African Ministers of health for united and steadfast support for Dr. Tedros during the campaign. The Executive Secretary of IGAD, Ambassador Maalim, sent his warm congratulations to Dr. Tedros and said his victory was “a symbol of an ever African rising unity in the international arena”.
Prior to his election as WHO’s next Director-General, Dr Tedros served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia from 2012 to 2016 and previously as Minister of Health of Ethiopia from 2005 to 2012. As Minister of Health, Dr Tedros led the comprehensive reform efforts of Ethiopia’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure. He was responsible for creating 3,500 health centers and 16,000 health posts; for expanding the health workforce by 38,000 health extension workers; and by initiating finance mechanisms to expand health insurance coverage.
During his tenure as Minister of Health, Dr. Tedros drastically cut the number of deaths from malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis and neonatal problems. Ethiopia was among the very few African countries on the road to decrease under-five mortality, lowering it by two-thirds by 2015. It also made significant progress in reducing the maternal mortality rate through the use of low-cost impact interventions. He was responsible for hiring outbreak investigators, improving the national laboratory, organizing an ambulance system and overseeing a tenfold increase in medical school graduates. The community health extension program which offers health care services across rural areas has proved a significant achievement, succeeding in bringing services closer to the people who previously lacked both voice and representation; people who “historically have had challenges in accessing health services.” Now, they have achieved serious levels of representation in the development of Ethiopia’s health services, and it was Dr. Tedros who very clearly put his fingerprints on that success story. His election as WHO Director-General shows the world believes that he will be able to replicate those success stories in the future.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Tedros also led the effort to negotiate the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, under which 193 countries have committed to the financing necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. At various times during these years, he has also served as Chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Chair of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Board; and as Co-chair of the Board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. Dr Tedros secured record funding for the two organizations and created the Global Malaria Action Plan, which expanded RBM’s reach beyond Africa to Asia and Latin America.
The campaign for the Director-Generalship has been going on for eighteen months or so. This election was more open and transparent than any previous one. Traditionally, WHO’s Executive Board (34 individuals, nominated by member states on a 3 year tenure) decided on the position of Director-General. This time, after the Board had reduced the candidates to a short list of three, Health Ministers and representatives of 186 WHO’s member states voted. The three finalists were Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Ethiopia), Dr. Sania Nishtar (Pakistan), and Dr. David Nabarro (UK), and the three each set out their vision for WHO in the future. In the first round of voting Dr. Sania Nishtar, a cardiologist and expert in non-communicable diseases, was eliminated after getting 38 votes. In the third round of voting, Dr. Tedros obtained 133 votes, sufficient to easily defeat Dr. David Nabarro’s 50, with three abstentions. Dr. Tedros replaces Dr. Margaret Chan (China) who had been Director-General of WHO since 2007.
In recent years, WHO has been heavily criticized for failing to act effectively, as in its response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic and it is seriously underfinanced. Dues from member countries make up less than third of its $2.2 billion budget, and the rest comes from large donors, including the United States, Britain, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International and Norway. WHO remains essential during crises as it alone can declare a global public health emergency. It oversees cooperation among national laboratories, turning them into a vast surveillance network for fast-moving diseases, and sets the global medical standards needed by poor countries, declaring which inexpensive generic drugs are safe and what are the best treatments for emerging diseases.
When setting out his vision for WHO, Dr. Tedros said: “Let’s prove the impossible is possible.”
He said he envisioned a world where everyone, regardless of who they are or where they live, can lead healthy and productive lives. WHO would be central to this goal. It was the only organization in the world that had the mission and mandate to protect and promote the health and wellbeing of all the people. He said achieving universal health coverage would be his top priority because it could deliver disease prevention, health promotion, and treatment for communicable and non-communicable diseases alike, while ensuring individuals were not driven into poverty because of high costs. He said he would ensure lessons and experiences–positive and negative–are shared across countries and regions, and work in close partnership with countries and regions to help them tailor their programs to their specific needs. He said the primary focus at WHO itself would be rebuilding confidence of member states and the global health community. This, he said, could start by ensuring honesty about the obstacles the organization faced and being willing to address them at their root. He also underlined the need to pursue increased and more flexible funding. He said it was necessary to invest in an organization that listened better, ensuring the diversity of member states was represented in the leadership team, and strengthening regional and sub-regional organizations to represent the interests of member states. The voices of the often marginalized and most vulnerable should be brought into the decision-making processes, to ensure policies and programs were inclusive, equitable, and meet the needs of as broad a group of people as possible.
In sum, he said, the challenges WHO now faced, “including achieving universal health coverage, managing the triple burden of communicable and non-communicable disease, combined with health emergencies, and addressing the health effects of climate change”, required bold action. It would not be easy, and WHO would not be able to do this alone. It would also require strong country ownership, smart, strategic partnerships among member states, civil society, the private sector, academia, and the media and a commitment to engaging communities in their own health. With the Sustainable Development Goals offering the mandate to aim for universal health coverage, this was “the opportunity to make progress on health equity the likes of which we could have only dreamt of 20 or 30 years ago.”
Ethiopia as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council
The Security Council rotates the ten non-permanent seats on the Council among the various regional blocks into which UN Member States divide themselves for voting and representation purposes. On January 1, this year, Ethiopia took its place as one of the three non-permanent representatives for Africa. It is, of course, one of the founding members of the United Nations and a member of the League of Nations; and has twice sat on the Security Council as a non-permanent member, in 1967-1968 and 1989-1990.
Its current membership of the Security Council comes at a time when it is calling for the enhancement of peacekeeping operations as well as for expanded cooperation between the United Nations and regional and sub-regional organizations. Ethiopia has made it clear it is keen to play a key role in the ongoing reform of the UN’s Peace and Security architecture and it has strongly underlined the necessity for further cooperation between the African Union Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council. As Ethiopia has always responded to UN calls for collective action on international peace and security, and membership of the Security Council gives Ethiopia a well placed position to discharge any mandated responsibilities, properly and transparently. It has the commitment, the strength and the ability to offer real and valuable support to multilateralism and pan-Africanism.
Dr. Tekeda Alemu, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations, in a recent interview with Ethiopian Business Review magazine, detailed the objectives Ethiopia tries to advance. He said this could be seen at three levels; national, continental and global. One priority, obviously, was to promote the interest of one’s own country, to be done without underlining the interests of others. This was because Ethiopian foreign policy was anchored in commitment to mutual accommodation and win-win outcomes.
As a member of the AU, and fully committed to Africa’s agendas, Ethiopia, he said, had a responsibility to advance the interests of the continent in accordance with the decisions of the AU and AUPSC. It, therefore, acts along with the other current African members of the Security Council Egypt and Senegal, to promote African agendas. Equally, as a member of the world community, Ethiopia stands for global peace and security.
Dr. Tekeda made it clear that Ethiopia shared a number of problems and issues with Egypt and Senegal including the necessary response to terrorism. By and large, he stressed, Ethiopia expected to have a common consensus with the other African non-permanent members on continental and global issues. He noted that there was a working group on “Prevention and Resolution of Conflict in Africa”, chaired by Ethiopia. Ethiopia had solicited the advice of Egypt on how to make the group more effective. It had also taken the unprecedented initiative of conducting a joint meeting with another committee chaired by Senegal.
Ambassador Tekeda emphasized that Ethiopia’s contribution for peacekeeping was well recognized by the UN. The former Secretary-General used to mention this often; Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also said the same repeatedly. In this context, Dr. Tekeda noted Ethiopia’s representation in the UN Secretariat, particularly in the Department responsible for peacekeeping, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, was “dismal”. The same was true with respect to other departments with related mandates: Political Affairs and Field Support.
Dr Tekeda concluded by noting that the most important thing for Ethiopia now was to perfect what it had started to build with wisdom and patience. This was critically needed at this juncture in its history. If it managed to do this, he said, Ethiopia could continue to achieve a greater success and be one of the African countries that are a source of pride not just for Africans but for the black people throughout the world.
AMISOM Military Operations Coordination Committee meets in Nairobi
The Military Operations Coordination Committee AMISOM convened its 23rd meeting in Nairobi on Friday last week (May 19). It was hosted by the Kenyan Defence Forces and attended by the Chiefs of Defence Staff of AMISOM Troops-Contributing Countries (Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda) or their designated representatives attended the meeting which was chaired by the African Union Commissioner of Peace and Security, Ambassador Smail Chergui. Representatives of the Somalia National Army and partner countries, United Kingdom, United States, European Union and United Nations, also participated.
The meeting followed an earlier meeting held in Addis Ababa on 24 January 2017 where participants had reiterated the need for a comprehensive approach to security in Somalia. They had suggested this should be anchored on a combination of mutually reinforcing factors relating to the promotion of immediate security, the extension of state authority, the building of capable Somalia National Security Forces, and preventing violent extremism. At last week’s meeting, the Chiefs of Defence Forces were briefed by the AMISOM Special Representative, the AMISOM Force Commander and the Police Commissioner, as well as by US, EU and UNSOS representatives. Among the issues discussed were MOCC’s reiterated commitment to carry out the Juba Corridor and North East Coastline Operations to clear those areas of Al-Shabaab activities. The meeting also took further note of the objectives of the Joint AU-UN Review of AMISOM. This will offer options for support and enhancement of the Somali national security plan. The meeting stressed that this comes at a critical juncture of AMISOM operations and the security- building of the Somali national security institutions, as well as the Exit Strategy for AMISOM forces which is due to start in October 2018 and be completed in 2020.
On the margins of AMISOM Military Operations Coordination Committee meeting, AU Commissioner Chergui, together with the Chief of Defense Staff of the Somali National Army, inaugurated the Joint African Union – Somalia Taskforce. This had been agreed between the AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, President of Somalia when the President made an official visit to the African Union Commission Headquarters, in Addis Ababa, on May 4. This was to follow up on the agreement to create conditions for better coordination and harmonization of activities and support of the partners of Somalia in pursuit of sustainable peace, security, governance and development. Commissioner Chergui reiterated the AU’s commitment, in conjunction with other partners, to support Somalia in implementation of its national security architecture. The Chief of Defense staff of the SNA welcomed this new and important tool and appreciated the AU’s vital support. He and the Commissioner agreed to identify priority areas for enhanced intervention and to operationalize implementation of the Joint Task Force.
The UN Security Council is briefed on South Sudan
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for South Sudan and head of UNMISS, David Shearer, briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in South Sudan on Wednesday (May 24). He urged the Security Council to unite behind a common strategy for advancing the political process and peace in South Sudan. Addressing the Council via a video link, he said “unity of purpose will send the best signal to South Sudan’s political leaders to focus first and foremost on the plight of their citizens.” Mr. Shearer called for a “coherent and unified regional position” to aid political developments in the country, noting that Governments in the region hold “significant influence” on political developments to end the three-year war but are not communicating the same message.
The briefing on Wednesday came as President Salva Kiir again declared a unilateral ceasefire and pledged to review the cases of political prisoners. Mr. Shearer said these announcements were “very welcome” but expressed some scepticism over their reality: “the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.” He noted that there would be close scrutiny on the number of prisoners released and whether the ceasefire-monitoring group can perform its work. Mr. Shearer welcomed the formal launch of President Kiir’s National Dialogue, which is meant to end the conflict begun in December 2013, but he also noted that the President excluded his political rival and former deputy, Riek Machar. Mr. Shearer said that inter-communal conflicts persisted across the country, though the signing of a joint cessation of hostilities agreement between the Bor and Pibor communities in Jonglei, the result of UNMISS mediation, was welcome.
Cyclical rains in South Sudan are shortly expected to make roads impassable for the next four months. This will help limit hostilities, but it will also greatly complicate the problems of providing humanitarian assistance to those in need. The rains make some 60% of the country impossible to access by road or airstrip. They also bring the danger of cholera. Mr. Shearer said the humanitarian focus this month had been on the 20,000 civilians who fled to Aburoc in Upper Nile, fleeing fighting between the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army and the SPLA-IO. Most, he said, had arrived in a weak state making them highly vulnerable to cholera. He praised the short-term deployment of peacekeepers who were helicoptered in by UNMISS to provide “confidence” for humanitarian aid to follow. Mr. Shearer also praised the work of humanitarians throughout South Sudan, saying this was one of the toughest operational environments. He condemned “the unacceptable levels of violence that continue to be directed towards aid workers,” including detention, threats, arrests, assault and killings.
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution renewing until 31 May 2018 the sanctions imposed by resolution 2206 (2015) on those designated to be blocking peace, security and stability in South Sudan. The sanctions include a travel ban and asset freeze on selected individuals.
Food insecurity remains acute in Somalia and parts of Kenya and Ethiopia
A large-scale humanitarian response has so far managed to prevent famine in Somalia, but the extended drought and failed harvests over several seasons continues to have a major impact on rural families and food security. According to a report from the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia two weeks ago, there is still a high risk that famine could break out. The FSNAU data show over half of the country’s population, 6.7 million people, are now acutely food insecure. This is up from 6.2 million in February. Of these, 3.2 million are classified as “severe food insecurity (IPC phases 3 and 4). The April-June rains that support Somalia’s main Gu growing season and rejuvenate pastoral lands have now started; but they began late and in many cases the rainfall has been below average. In addition, displacement, disease and compounding needs are causing food security to deteriorate further. FSNAU said: “While large-scale humanitarian assistance has reduced household food consumption gaps and contributed to reduced staple food prices, there remains an elevated risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) due to the combination of severe food consumption gaps, high acute malnutrition, high disease burden, and reliance on humanitarian assistance.”
The January to March Jilaal season was drier and hotter than normal and pasture and water resources were extremely limited. April field reports indicated that households in northern and central areas have lost 40-60% of their livestock since the Deyr 2016/17 assessment and households in southern regions lost 20-40% of their herds, due to distress selling and livestock deaths. Off-season Deyr cereal production was 93% t below average, attributed to limited water availability for cultivation and farmers who sold their crops at the vegetative stage for fodder, when the price and demand were high. The prices of local staples remain well above average, although price increases have been affected by large-scale humanitarian assistance. Terms of trade remain significantly below normal, but food access has been somewhat better than originally projected in February. Data from the UNHCR indicates that an estimated 437,530 persons have been displaced in the first quarter of 2017 due to drought or drought-related factors. The majority of these were people migrating from rural to urban areas.
Large-scale humanitarian interventions are ongoing. According to the Food Security Cluster, humanitarian partners distributed emergency assistance to approximately 500,000 people in January, over 1,100,000 people in February, and nearly 1,800,000 people in March. Assistance in March reached over 60% of the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4). The numbers reached in April appear to have been larger. Nevertheless, levels of acute food insecurity remain severe and are expected to persist throughout 2017 given the high likelihood of a third consecutive poor harvest in July. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely in most areas of the country through at least the peak of the lean season in July. The October to December Deyr rains this year are forecast to be average to above average, but despite this more favorable forecast, current food security needs are expected to persist throughout 2017.
In Kenya, food security has also deteriorated significantly since the end of 2016 with UNICEF reporting a significant increase in severe acute malnutrition. Nearly 110,000 children under-five now need treatment, up from 75,300 in August last year. Waterholes and rivers have dried up, leading to widespread crop failure and livestock depletion. Surface water in most counties either dried up or its level dramatically reduced. One result has been that the price of maize flour has risen by 31%, milk by 12% and sugar by 21% per cent. Areas in Somalia and coastal Kenya affected by the current drought have registered crop failures of between 70 and 100%. Overall inflation rose from 9.04% in February to 11.48% in April. UNICEF describes conditions as dire in half of Kenya’s 47 counties. Livestock and milk production has declined, adversely affecting food consumption levels for communities, particularly women and children. Malnutrition is widespread among children, and in the hardest-hit counties of Turkana, Marsabit and Mandera, a third of children under 5 are acutely malnourished.
President Uhuru Kenyatta declared a national drought disaster in February 2017 and committed US$128 million towards the national drought response. The Government has allocated resources for food aid and monthly cash transfers through its Hunger Safety Net Program, and its Livestock Insurance Program has offered a lifeline to affected pastoralists, enabling them to purchase animal feed to keep their herd alive during drought. In addition, off-take programs have been helping farmers to sell off their herds and providing the option to restock as necessary when conditions improve. However needs are fast outpacing the response. The World Food Program and partners have developed a US$30 million plan to intervene with supplementary feeding in nine northern hotspots, but only 10% of the required funds have been committed. There were over 2.6 million Kenyans in urgent need of food aid when the Government declared the drought a national disaster. The agencies say this figure will increase unless the appeal for US$166 million to support the most needy is met; less than a third of that amount is available so far.
Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission said this month that 7.78 million people were currently food insecure, up from 5.6 million in mid-January, a 39% increase; and a Food and Agricultural Organization report in mid May noted that 1.9 million households would require emergency livestock support this year. US$42 million was required for the humanitarian response for Ethiopia’s agriculture sector in 2017; and the FAO needed US$20 to assist 1 million farming, agro-pastoral and pastoral households this year. The humanitarian needs in Ethiopia were increasing primarily in southern and southeastern pastoral areas due to the failure of the 2016 deyr/hagaya rains and with gu/genna, March to May, rainfall below average, there was concern that the situation would continue to deteriorate, further compromising the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of people in the worst-affected areas. The FAO report noted that a glut of livestock in poor condition in the markets had resulted in significantly lower than normal prices paid to sellers; milk production had largely ceased, and as a result income generation had fallen very low. Terms of trade for pastoralists had become particularly difficult in southern zones of the Somali Regional State. The rising cost of staple foods was further constraining households’ ability to withstand the crisis. The impact was likely to continue until the next deyr/hagaya rains, due in October.
An additional problem has been the infestation of a pest new to Ethiopia, the fall armyworm. This is raising concern over the potential impact on food security and nutrition in the crop-dependent central, western and northern parts of Ethiopia. First reported in the SNNP Regional State in March, it has since spread to neighboring Gambella and Oromia Regional States. The fall armyworm affects crops, such as maize and sorghum, at all growth stages, thereby representing a significant risk to Ethiopia’s national cereal production. The Government-led post-belg season assessment is due to commence later this month, and teams of FAO technical experts will be deployed to provide support on the ground. An earlier FAO/Government assessment on the fall armyworm infestation found that 32,116 ha of maize (12.5%) of the total area planted with the crop were infested, but 77% percent of the affected crops have been controlled or treated. According to the findings of the 2017 Seed System Security Assessment in March a majority of farming households have sufficient access to quality and preferred types of seed and planting materials. This, the report said, “is extremely positive following mass seed insecurity in 2016 resulting from the El Niño-induced drought.”
The Government and partners commenced the 2017 mid-year needs assessment this week covering Afar, Somali and Borena, Guji and West Guji zones of Oromia regions; it will extend to other parts of the country in the first two weeks of June. This will gauge the level of food and nonfood needs in spring (belg-gu-ganna-sugum) rains-receiving areas across 177 targeted woredas. Representatives from Government, UN, NGOs and donors will take part in the three-week assessment. The assessment results inform the review of the 2017 Humanitarian Requirements Document (HRD) for the second half of the year. UNOCHA has also noted the need for a scaled-up response critical to curb the spread of Acute Watery Diarrhea affecting the Somali Regional State in particular. In the Somali region, the Federal Ministry of Health and the Regional Health Bureau are supported by international partners in implementing a coordinated, multi-sector (health, WaSH, nutrition) response; and the Government and its partners have prepared a 90-days (April – June) National Health and Nutrition Emergencies Preparedness and Response Plan. This provides for increased partners’ presence, supplies for the management of AWD, logistics and surveillance staff. Communities in the drought belt are most affected by population displacement, food insecurity, livestock deaths and associated rising levels of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and outbreaks of epidemic-prone diseases as well as shortages of water.
With the strongest negative Indian Ocean Dipole in 50 years, the drought is regional in scale, affecting neighboring pastoral and livestock-holding communities in Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda as well as Ethiopia. As a result there have been unusual migrations and movements of people and livestock across borders in search of water and pasturage, high livestock mortality rates, outbreaks of disease and extreme emaciation. Thousands of livestock, the report says, are unable to stand without assistance. Demand remains high for water trucking for affected communities, and hundreds of thousands of livestock require supplementary feed to survive. With many households not yet recovered from the El Niño drought of 2015/16 that caused widespread crop shortages, livestock losses and food insecurity, this current crisis is making an already precarious situation more difficult.
Eritrea’s 26th anniversary of de facto independence
Twenty-six years ago on May 24 1991, Eritrea’s 30-year war of independence against Ethiopia ended with Eritrean freedom fighters marching into the capital, Asmara. The anniversary is, of course, celebrated widely in Eritrea and by Eritreans in the Diaspora. The main celebrations take place in Asmara where the President delivers a nationally televised speech highlighting the achievements and challenges of the country.
This year President Isaias’s address referred, as usual, to the claims of continuous conspiracies against Eritrea, ranging from the repeated allegation that the international community uniquely failed to support Eritrea’s struggle and that as a result the people “without any external succor” vanquished the biggest army in Sub-Saharan Africa, to the post-1991 efforts to foil a continuous series of further threats. Eritrea had, he said, successfully dealt with a number of border disputes, from Hanish Islands to Badme and Ras Dumeira. These had been “willfully concocted to deny the Eritrean people time and space to rebuild their nation”. He went on to claim these forces had not accepted their failures and continued to foment crises, trying to cover up “their incessant failures”, by “mendacious smear campaigns”. So Eritrea’s “impeccable fight against terrorism” had been distorted. The result, the President alleged, was spurious accusations and unfair sanctions imposed by UN Security Council. As if this wasn’t enough, these unnamed forces had then “resorted to demonization and farcical campaigns falsely accusing Eritrea of “human rights” violations,” involving themselves in various malicious schemes. These included: “subtle subterfuges woven to destroy Eritrea’s economy; transparent campaigns waged to bring about diplomatic “isolation” of Eritrea; incessant psychological and propaganda wars peddled “day in and day out”; and even an open military assault last year.
Despite all this, the President averred that the people and Government of Eritrea had vanquished all machinations and subversions, consolidated their national unity and cohesion, overcome formidable economic challenges including those created by the machinations of Eritrea’s arch-enemies, and registered spectacular achievements. Now, he said, Eritrea must build on the national progress achieved so far and continue its struggle during what he called “the last phase of the global crises spurred by misguided policies in a unipolar international order.” It must work for more robust, comprehensive and sustainable development. He also called on the UN Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities and to ensure eviction of occupation from Eritrea’s sovereign territories, and for it to rescind the unjust “sanctions” imposed on Eritrea and to redress the damage that this has caused.
Others, particularly in the Diaspora, felt there was little to celebrate. The Executive Director of PEN Eritrea in exile noted that the international media had limited access and, as a result, their coverage of Eritrea was limited to a shallow narrative focusing on “indefinite military conscription” and “refugees”. Eritrea was far more complicated than this though there was little to celebrate. Abraham Zere noted the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea in 2016, which declared the Eritrean state guilty of “crimes against humanity” and the failure of the government’s short-sighted economic policies. In a country that is not even close to supporting itself on local commodities, he said, importation of goods has been outlawed since 2003, allowing the single and ruling party and its organs import and ration basic food items. There was no rule of law or constitution. The 1997 draft constitution was never ratified. The President in his Independence Day address in 2014 had announced that another constitution would be drafted. This has ended up being an excuse to buy time and divert attention from the country’s problems. The PEN Eritrea Director noted that Eritrea had ranked last (No 180) on the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index for the last eight years; it been named the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists. He said state propaganda is recycled ceaselessly, and described print and online medias having deteriorated into private photo albums of the president and calling the national TV station, ERI-TV, as “essentially a giant selfie-stick for the president”. He also pointed out that denial of freedom extends to religious practices with all Protestant denominations banned since 2002.
This was something that was underlined last week when a protest vigil was held outside the Eritrean Embassy in London in the name of the 25 Christians known to have died in captivity in Eritrea, as well as to commemorate a rather different anniversary, the fifteenth anniversary of the imposition of severe restrictions on Eritrea’s Christian community and the closure of churches affiliated to certain denominations. In March 2002, the government outlawed all religious practices outside of Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran or Orthodox denominations of Christianity and Muslim practices outside of Sunni Islam. It began a campaign of arrests targeting unsanctioned denominations. Eritrea’s Christian population is estimated to be roughly 47% of the population with the remaining majority being Muslim.
The closure of the churches in 2002 marked the beginning of an open and ongoing campaign of repression that at its height saw an estimated 3,000 Christians imprisoned without charge or trial. Members of the authorized faiths also suffer repression, as demonstrated by the treatment of Patriarch Antonios. Arrests have continued. According to CWS, in March this year two Pentecostal Christians reportedly died in hospital after a hunger strike to protest against abuse they suffered in prison. It said details were just emerging about arrest of ten people following a raid on a prayer meeting in Ghinda, and of other arrests in Adi Quala. In December last year “a significant number of Christians were arrested in Asmara after being found praying together. Other arrests were reported in various places including nearly 80 people rounded up during a wedding in May last year. Muslims also continue to be targeted. In January 2009, the government arrested 60 influential Muslim figures, branding them as “radical Islamists”; less than half have been released.
Representatives of churches and non-governmental organizations from the UK and Ireland joined members of the Eritrean Diaspora in the vigil in solidarity with prisoners detained indefinitely in Eritrea. Father Shenouda of the Eritrean Orthodox Church requested prayers for the wellbeing of Abune Antonios, the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church who was illegally removed from office after criticizing government interference in Church affairs. He has been held incommunicado under house arrest since 2007; his health is causing serious concern.
Dr. Berhane Asmelash, Director of the NGO Release Eritrea, said: “Our government started arresting Jehovah Witnesses. At that time, we said nothing because we felt they deserved to be persecuted. Then they started to persecute the handicapped, handicapped ex-fighters. Some of them were shot. At that time we said nothing because we weren’t one of them… I was in Eritrea when our government started to arrest journalists and some political prisoners and we said nothing because we thought they were all the same. Then, in 2002, they started to shut churches and arrest Christians and we thought our government was going to release them. But after 15 years things are getting worse.”
As the protest vigil drew to a close, representatives from Church in Chains, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Release Eritrea delivered a letter to the Embassy. Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said CSW would stand in solidarity with the Eritrean people “until every prison door is opened and every prisoner of conscience set free, regardless of their creed.” He was particularly concerned about Abune Antonios now in his 90th year. He said, “We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release and reinstatement of Patriarch Antonios, and urge the international community to remind the Eritrean Government that it will be held accountable for ensuring his continued wellbeing.”
A flawed EU parliamentary resolution
The European Parliament passed a resolution last week, on May 18, condemning Ethiopia for not respecting human rights and calling for the release of Dr. Merara Gudina. The resolution, however, makes little effort to understand what has been happening in the country or to note any of the efforts being made to resolve the recent discontent let alone any recent proposed changes. In fact, it fails to appreciate the reality of the situation in Ethiopia, whether in reference to the State of Emergency, human rights generally or the arrest of Dr. Merara Gudina.
Following the unrest that occurred in some parts of Ethiopia last year, a number of measures have been taken to ensure peace and order as well as meet the demands of society. These have included: ongoing government reforms to address the problems of governance and issues of inclusivity in pursuit of national development and democratization; initiatives to reform existing electoral laws to give space for proportional representation in the voting process; the launch of a Youth Mobile Fund to address the growing challenges of unemployment; and ongoing and practical efforts to widen political dialogue with opposition political parties. The resolution failed to mention that a dialogue between ruling and opposition political parties began in January and after several meetings has agreed on a sustainable framework for discussions. Further meetings will be taking place.
The State of Emergency was implemented to preserve the stability of the country not for any political motives. Following violent protests and unrest, the Council of Ministers declared a State of Emergency on 9 October 2016 and the Ethiopian Parliament approved this in conformity with the provisions of the Ethiopian Constitution. A number of the restrictions including controls on mobile data network and social media, and arrest of suspects and conducting searches without search warrants, have already been lifted, offering a positive signal of the progress made in resolving the problems.
Disregarding the fact that Ethiopia has its own investigation mechanisms, the Resolution of the European Parliament called for an international investigation into the protests. On April 18, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission presented its second report to the House of Peoples Representatives. It found a total of 669 people had been killed in the unrest, 495 people (33 security personnel) in Oromia, 140 people (30 security personnel) in Amhara and 34 people in the SSNP Regional States. The Commission also said in most cases, measures taken by security officers were legal and proportionate, however it also found security officers used unnecessary force in several incidents and recommended action to be taken. Of those detained in connection with violence, nearly 90% were released after being briefed on the constitutional rights and obligations of citizens. The others will face court proceedings.
Ethiopia has its own framework to improve human rights. The second National Human Rights Action Plan has been approved by the House of People’s Representatives to provide for a comprehensive mechanism to advance the respect, protection, and fulfillment of human and democratic rights. The Action Plan covers civil, political economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the rights of vulnerable groups and raises issues including freedom of thought, opinion, expression, and of association among others. It would be hoped that the European Parliament could find ways positively and constructively to support Ethiopian government institutions in the implementation of this framework.
The resolution of the European Parliament in mentioning the arrest of Dr. Merara Gudina and calling for his release totally ignored the reasons for his detention. Dr. Merara met with the leader of an armed group whose members have been designated as terrorists under Ethiopian law and by the Ethiopian Parliament. Equally, under the State of Emergency meeting with individuals or organizations proscribed by the Ethiopian Parliament as terrorists is prohibited. Dr. Merara was fully aware of this and in meeting with the leader of a proscribed organization in Brussels in November last year; he deliberately violated State of Emergency regulations. As a leader of a political party, Dr. Merara should be particularly responsive to respect and protect the laws of the country. He should know that anyone who breaches the law will be held accountable; the European Parliament should also acknowledge this.
Ethiopia and the EU jointly embarked on a strategic engagement last year. This aims to transform their longstanding relations to more comprehensive, reinforced and structured ties, focusing on six sectoral dialogues ranging from countering terrorism and violent radicalization to good governance and human rights. This year a consultative forum on good governance and democracy has already been successfully held. It is regrettable that the European Parliament appears reluctant to acknowledge this initiative. Ethiopia strongly believes that regular meetings and consultations with high-level representatives of the European Commission will significantly deepen its strategic engagement with the EU.
When Ms. Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, was in Addis in March, the Government made every effort to ensure the discussions between the official and opposition political parties took place. In the first week of April, when the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis was in Ethiopia, as part of the strategic engagement on human rights and governance, he held constructive meetings with government officials. With Government cooperation and facilitation, the Special Representative also met members of opposition political groups and civil society representatives as well as visiting prisons.
As Prime Minister Hailemariam emphasized to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, earlier this month Ethiopia has a responsible government, fully engaged in promoting and protecting human rights because it knows full well, as a matter of history, that this is a necessity for continued existence. In Ethiopia, the issue of human rights is not, in any sense, a luxury; it is a necessity. The government has never waited to be reminded by others of the importance of human rights and democracy. It has acted to implement these necessities from the outset, not to please outsiders, but for the sake of the Ethiopian people. Equally, it is, of course, a learning process after many years of undemocratic rule prior to 1991.
Ethiopia would hope that European Parliament would be willing to assist the broad and deep reform programs currently being carried out in Ethiopia and would welcome implementation of the rule of law. A constructive approach to support Ethiopia on its path to sustainable development, peace and stability, the promotion of human rights and democratization would be welcome. Ethiopia will continue to do its best towards ensuring an expanding and mutually beneficial relationship with the European Union, built on the principles of equality on the basis of realities on the ground. It would hope the European Parliament would be prepared to do the same.