Archive for the ‘Ethiopian News’ Category
The prolonged absence of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s usually hyperactive prime minister, has sparked a covert succession struggle at home and prompted fears farther afield for a future without one of east Africa diplomatic and security linchpins.
Government officials say Mr Meles, who has not been seen in public since mid-June, is recovering from a serious illness, but they deny opposition rumours that he is dead or dying at a hospital in Brussels.
An African Union official said Mr Meles had been in regular contact with Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former president and AU envoy to Sudan, during recent negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. He has told AU officials he will be back next month to play a more hands-on role in the next leg of negotiations.
His absence has nevertheless launched a covert succession struggle that threatens to fracture the regime and expose ethnic faultlines at home at a time when the Horn of Africa is struggling to stave off fresh conflicts and overcome terrorist threats.
“We are very concerned about developments in Ethiopia, knowing how fragile the politics are there and the fact there is no clear successor,” Raila Odinga, neighbouring Kenya’s prime minister, told the Financial Times. He admitted that he and other regional leaders were in the dark on Mr Meles’s state of +health.
While Ethiopia is a small contributor to regional blocs such as the AU in financial terms, the Ethiopian premier’s vision and diplomacy has ensured the country has remained central to security affairs in a region threatened by terrorism and conflict. He has also become the voice of Africa on wider issues such as climate change and development.
“The competence vacuum [without Mr Meles] will be serious,” says Mehari Taddele Maru at the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa.
“Ethiopia plays an important role of balancing,” says Mr Mehari, pointing to Ethiopia’s pouring cold water on Uganda’s backing for South Sudan earlier this year, a provocation that threatened regional havoc after South Sudan had invaded a Sudanese oilfield, Heglig.
Mr Meles’s government has twice sent troops into Somalia to fight Islamist militants with US support and regularly brokers deals between fractious neighbours.
“Imagine if that influence is not maintained…Will there even be consensus on Somalia at the AU without him? If it was not for Ethiopia, the Sudan/South Sudan border conflict that erupted on Heglig could have turned into regional war.”
The Ethiopian leader’s adroit diplomatic abilities, honed in the 21 years since he led a Tigrayan guerrilla army to power in Addis Ababa, have furthered his pan-African role and he remains able to muster international support despite grave misgivings over his human rights record at home.
He presents a determined front welcomed by the west even though the regime has long suppressed dissent, closed newspapers and in 2005 shot dead dozens of protesters after elections marred by fraud returned him to power.
“Ethiopia avoids becoming a pariah like Burma because it’s so important to the west in the fight against Islamic terror in Somalia,” says a senior western diplomat who knows Mr Meles. “It is a dictatorship which will keep the people essentially close to the poverty line but charms people like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.”
Mr Meles announced his intention to retire from office several years ago and had been preparing to step down before the next elections, according to regime insiders. But they say his continued stay has been motivated partly by his desire to outlive his arch-rival, Issaias Afewerki, president of neighbouring Eritrea.
Even government-associated officials now acknowledge Mr Meles may have to step down sooner, saying the deputy prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegne, who is also foreign affairs minister and a technocrat groomed by Mr Meles, would take over.
The country is led by a notional coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, in which Mr Meles’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, the guerilla group from northern Ethiopia with whom he came to power, holds sway. “There will be no power vacuum, no political problem in the absence of the party,” insists Abel Abate, a researcher at a state think-tank in Addis Ababa. “Due to the federal system of government, no group or person will take over power. There is no strong man just like Meles in the front.”
But while regime stalwarts insist the party is stronger than Mr Meles himself, critics stress he has constructed an almost exclusive hold on power, firing senior military figures and stacking the military and intelligence echelons with young officers loyal to him alone. Succession is likely to bring strife to Ethiopia’s elite.
Other possible contenders for leadership include the minister of health, Dr Tewodros Adhanom, who is popular in the west, Ethiopian diplomat and senior TPLF cadre Berhane Gebre Kristos and Azeb Mesfin, Mr Meles’s wife.
The TPLF leadership is “campaigning against each other right now”, says Hailu Shawel, an opposition leader previously imprisoned by Mr Meles’s regime. “When somebody has moved the country from a party base to an individual person [Meles], how can you overcome that? Everybody wants to be that dictator.”
American aid to the country once called Zaire appeared to have an amazing effect. The more the US gave its ruler, Mobutu Sese Seko, the shorter Zaire’s roads seemed to get. By the time Mobutu was overthrown in 1997, after two decades of American and other western largesse, his country had just about one tenth of the paved roads it had had at independence in the early Sixties. Once US aid shrank, the roads started getting longer again.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, began a tour of Africa this month with a thinly veiled warning that China is out to plunder the continent and its governments would do well to huddle under the protective wing of America’s commitment to freedom. Clinton told an audience in Senegal that, unlike other countries:
"America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep the resources flowing."
She didn’t mention China by name, but everyone got the message. The US secretary of state is getting at a point made by other critics of Beijing’s role in Africa: that China is so hungry for resources it does deals with authoritarian regimes and doles out aid without consideration of issues such as good governance.
That sounds an awful lot like what the US and its allies got up to for decades – with the difference that Chinese aid does sometimes deliver something tangible, such as thousands of kilometres of new roads in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Whereas US aid mostly disappeared into Mobutu’s buoyant bank accounts, or was used to buy off the army to keep him in power, China’s deal with the DRC government – trading thousands of kilometres of new roads and rehabilitated railway track for copper and other minerals – is transforming lives by linking up parts of the country cut off from each other for decades except by air.
None of this happened with US and western money. US aid to Mobutu was tied up with the cold war, his support of US-backed rebels fighting Angola’s Marxist government and his general hostility to communism. Barely a word was said – by successive US administrations – about Mobutu’s dire human rights record. Few questions were asked about how, despite the billions of dollars thrown at Kinshasa, Mobutu went on getting richer while the people he ruled got poorer and his country’s infrastructure fell apart.
Mobutu was always welcome at Ronald Reagan’s White House, where the president called him "a voice of good sense and goodwill". Only after the end of the cold war did US policy shift. Washington didn’t need Mobutu anymore. Finally, it could afford to talk about principles without much cost.
It was much the same story with western aid to Rwanda. Hundreds of millions were poured into the tiny country, with France leading the way, to support a regime that would ultimately resort to genocide in an attempt to hang on to power. Yet, it took the Chinese to lift towns such as Kibuye out of their isolation.
Kibuye is just 120km, or 75 miles, west from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Twenty years ago, the journey was as much as an eight-hour drive, depending on the rains and on whether, as seemed to happen most days, a bus or lorry was stuck in the deep muddy ravines that opened up on what could only be loosely described as a road. China’s road-builders changed all that, and the journey now is well under two hours – with all the benefits to trade, education and family life that brings.
The pattern across Africa was US support for ideological allies, which included Washington siding with the apartheid regime in South Africa while banning Nelson Mandela’s ANC as a terrorist organisation. It also entailed funding of wars against opponents. Human rights and democracy were too often buried under the needs of cold war realpolitik, as Washington saw them.
US officials argue that "that was then", and it’s different now. But is it? For sure, Washington will make a stand on "democracy and universal human rights" where it does not conflict in a major way with other interests. But where money or security are involved it’s another matter.
Take Equatorial Guinea. Washington had plenty of public criticism for its appalling and bloodstained dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled since 1979. The US even pulled out its ambassador, John Bennett, in 1993 after he was accused of being a witch on state radio and threatened with violence. In his departure speech, Bennett named the regime’s worst torturers and Washington closed the embassy three years later. Then, large reserves of oil were discovered in the 1990s: American companies started pumping and everything changed.
Or take Ethiopia. The US is the largest contributor of aid to Addis Ababa, which has been ruled by the same man, Meles Zenawi, for 20 years. He’s received billions of dollars in aid, since American largesse rose sharply after the 9/11 attacks (from a little more than $200m a year to close to $1bn) because Washington came to regard Ethiopia as a frontline in the "war on terror", owing to the presence of Islamist fighters in neighbouring Somalia. The CIA also used Ethiopia as a base for the secret interrogation of hundreds of detainees abducted from other countries, which was likely to have involved torture.
While some of that aid money has benefited ordinary people, a Human Rights Watch report two years ago said Zenawi was "using aid to build a single-party state". It accused the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front of exercising "total control of local and district administrators to monitor and intimidate individuals at household level" and charged that foreign governments, including the US, were colluding in this repression.
A BBC investigation last year exposed how "the Ethiopian government is using billions of dollars of development aid as a tool for political oppression." It reported that villages failing to support Zenawi are starved of food, seeds and fertiliser.
For all of Clinton’s assurances, the US still finds it easier to look the other way.