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A Week In The Horn
Djibouti 's President presses UN for action over Eritrea 's attack on Djibouti
UK 's Minister for International Development in Ethiopia
Revised humanitarian requirements, October to December.
Seventh Horn of Africa Conference in Lund .
“Loyal Opposition” and the debate on the President's Speech
The United Nations Security Council, meeting at the request of Djibouti , yesterday urged Eritrea and Djibouti to resolve their dispute peacefully, with members of the Council warning Eritrea it must comply with the Security Council's demands of last June. These included a ceasefire, engagement in diplomatic relations and withdrawal to pre-conflict positions. According to a UN fact-finding mission to the region in July only Djibouti had withdrawn its troops as requested. Eritrea refused entry to the fact-finding mission. President Ismail Omar Guellah told the Council that Djibouti had repeatedly tried to engage Eritrea in dialogue without success. He noted correlation should be established between the current conflict and the one between Ethiopia and Eritrea . Those conflicts shared the same element-namely Eritrea -a country that was involved in all conflicts in the Horn of Africa. He said Eritrea 's aggression must not be ignored, remain unpunished, “or, even worse, be taken lightly by the Council.” If Eritrea still failed to comply with the Security Council demands within three weeks, then this refusal should trigger sanctions. Eritrea 's Permanent Representative to the UN did not address Eritrea 's refusal to pull back its troops or allow the UN fact-finding mission into Eritrea . Despite the photographic evidence to the contrary, he repeated the claim that Djibouti had been the aggressor and that Eritrea had not seized any land belonging to Djibouti . He referred to the issue as a “diversionary and fabricated conflict” but then tried to divert the discussion to Eritrea 's problems with Ethiopia , while conceding this had nothing to do with the issue under consideration. While most speakers supported further efforts at mediation through the African Union and the Arab League, they also called on Eritrea to withdraw its troops, co-operate with the UN and regional organizations and comply with the Security Council's demands of June 12. Costa Rica , for example, categorized Eritrea 's position as “a disregard of its obligations and a lack of respect for international law and for the provisions of the Council.” France and the United States both supported the need for action against Eritrea within a clear time frame. France proposed urgent consultations on a Council text to reiterate the demand for Eritrea 's withdrawal to its previous positions; the US called for “appropriate” action by the Council if Eritrea continued to rebuff its efforts.
In fact, M. Jean Ping, the Chairperson of the AU visited Eritrea last week, but Eritrea appears to have used the occasion of the visit to continue its criticisms of the continental organization. According to an official Eritrean website, President Issayas told the Chairperson that Eritrea had not seen any meaningful accomplishment by the organization, that it had become marginalized, and that none of its original expectations had been fulfilled. The AU needed to be reformed and renewed and restructured beginning with its headquarters. Following this comprehensive denunciation, the President added that he was not saying that the AU lacked principles or even goodwill, but these needed to be translated into action. This is not the first time for Eritrea to make remarks denigrating the AU and its activities. Nor is it a surprise as Eritrea is one of the difficulties that the AU has faced in the discharge of its mandate in support of peace and stability in Africa . Eritrea openly hosts, organizes and deploys terrorist groups, and has publicly admitted supporting armed groups operating against AU member states, in clear violation of the Constitutive Act of the Union . It has refused to cooperate in the resolution of disputes with its neighbors, most recently with the decision of the Peace and Security Council of the Union, strongly condemning Eritrea 's military action against Djibouti and demanding its immediate and unconditional withdrawal from the Djiboutian territory it occupied. As President Ismail Omar Guellah said it is now up to the Security Council to take decisive measures against Eritrea and failure to do so will have ominous consequences for regional peace and security.
Last week, Mr. Douglas Alexander, the UK Secretary of State for International Development (DfID) was in Ethiopia, visiting the Somali and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Regional States, as well as meeting with senior officials. On Thursday, last week, Mr. Alexander visited Korahe district, in Kebredehar Zone, and Kebredehar hospital, which runs a stabilization centre for the nutritional rehabilitation of young children. He and his delegation met with local government officials as well as representatives of UN and other humanitarian agencies. The next day, in the Southern Regional State, the delegation visited Kedida Gamela district to see an example of the country's largest development program in operation, covering the delivery of basic services and of the food safety net support. The delegation also saw various public work activities including soil and water conservation and road construction and visited a health post and a primary school. In a statement, yesterday, on Mr. Alexander's visit , DfID noted that with its support for delivering essentials, like health, water and education, as well as strengthening capacity to achieve development progress, Ethiopia will be in a better position to reach its present development targets which include: reducing maternal mortality from 673 to 600 deaths per 100,000 live births; reducing child mortality under 5 from 123 to 85 per 1000 live births; ensuring all households are within 10 kilometers of a primary health care facility; providing access to clean water and sanitation facilities for another 3.2 million people; training an additional 273,000 teachers and supplying 94 million more books; continuing to help 7.2 million people under the safety-net food support program.
Mr. Alexander also met with the Prime Minister and exchanged views on bilateral, regional and global issues of common interest. He raised concerns over the delivery of humanitarian aid in the Somali region and over the Charity and Societies Bill yet to be considered by Parliament. Parts of the Somali region are some of the areas that have been worst affected by the drought and the effect of sharply rising international fuel and food prices earlier this year. Mr. Alexander told Prime Minister Meles that although he was not able to announce any multi-year DfID funding for Ethiopia at the moment. Britain 's annual aid program to Ethiopia would remain unchanged. Regrettably, the headlines on a couple of stories in the London Daily Telegraph, and in the London Times, by journalists accompanying Mr. Alexander gave a different and highly inaccurate, if not entirely coherent, picture. The Times headline claimed “British minister withholds aid as Ethiopia hides famine victims”; while the Daily Telegraph only had a threat of withholding aid: “ Ethiopia risks £130 million of British aid by "hiding famine". The articles, in fact, gave no foundation for these allegations. Indeed, in an interview with the Ethiopian News Agency, Mr. Alexander emphasized that Britain had no plans to reduce or stop assistance to Africa . He noted that Africa might face financial challenges to its development activities due to the current financial crisis and called on donors not to overlook Africa 's problems. Mr. Alexander told ENA that the UK was one of the main development partners of Ethiopia , and he recognized that UK assistance was being properly utilized in the implementation of planned development programs. Earlier, Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, also held talks with Mr. David Fish, head of DfID's Eastern and Central African section. Their discussions covered various issues from development cooperation to the humanitarian situation in the Somali Regional State .
Earlier this year, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency and the Food Security Bureau of Ethiopia were merged within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, into a new Disaster Management and Food Security Sector (DMFSS). After some delay, a new Government-Partners Revised Humanitarian Requirements Document for October-December 2008 was issued last week. This notes that the continued drought situation, coupled with increases in food prices, has meant that the number of emergency beneficiaries has increased from 4.6 million to 6.4 million. The total cost of food and non-food requirements has now reached $266 million. This includes the Targeted Supplementary Food Program for children and pregnant mothers, and aid for the health and nutrition, water and sanitation as well as agricultural and livestock sectors. The federal and regional coordination mechanisms for this appeal will be carried out by the new DMFSS. The new body has two elements: the Early Warning and Response Department; and the Food Security Department. Coordination mechanisms are being strengthened at all levels, centrally and regionally. Last week's Revised Humanitarian Requirements Document is the third this year. Earlier assessment of the situation was carried out by multi-agency teams in April and June. This latest assessment incorporates the finding of the series of joint consultations with regional governments on the impact of the latest belg/gu rains. The Ethiopian Humanitarian Country Team, made up of WFP, UNICEF, WHO, FAO, UNDP, IOM, UNHCR, UNFPA, OCHA and NGO representatives from OXFAM GB, CARE and Save the Children UK, are continuing to work with government to coordinate humanitarian responses and support, and continue to provide support to strengthen Government-led Sectoral Task Forces at all levels.
The seventh Horn of Africa Conference in Lund , Sweden , was held last weekend, 17th – 19th October. This year's subject was Faith, Citizenship, Democracy and Peace in the Horn of Africa. The objective was to bring together religious and political leaders, diplomats, scholars and representatives of NGOs involved in the region to share experiences and examine how harmonious relationships built between different ethnic and religious groups could promote democracy and peace. The purpose was to enhance the capacity of stakeholders in the region with new ideas and tools. Among those participating were the Deputy Prime Minister of the Somali Transitional Federal Government, and the Secretary-General of the ARS opposition, representatives of the UN Secretary-General to Somalia , and the Special Envoy of Sweden to the Horn of Africa as well as the Ambassador of Ethiopia to Scandinavia and the Eritrean charge d'affaires. There were two days of papers and a third day devoted to three workshops on faith, ethnicity and aid. Terrorism and conflict were two of the focuses of the conference and a third major interest was the Djibouti Agreement signed in August between the TFG and the ARS, and on the possible role of the international community to bolster the window of opportunity that the agreement had opened. There was general agreement that Somali political parties should seize the possibility this offered for a move forward, and participants, though the tone varied, appealed to Somalis all over the world to become involved in the process. The Ethiopian Ambassador highlighted his government's position on the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops. Ethiopia intervened at the invitation of the TFG and because of the extremist threat to Ethiopian national security. The threat had now been addressed but, he emphasized, any future threat would be dealt with swiftly and decisively. The Ambassador stressed that the international community's engagement in Somalia was not commensurate with the need and he urged it to be more active. The conclusion of many participants was that this year's conference had been less polemical than the previous year.
On Thursday last week, Ethiopia 's Parliament debated President Girma's opening speech laying out the government's planned intentions for the new parliamentary session. Opposition parties filed fifteen amendments underlining their concerns over the economy, including the rate of inflation and increased public expenditure, as well as drought and the humanitarian crisis, how much longer Ethiopian troops might remain in Somalia and other issues. Opposition MPs suggested, for example, that the President's speech should have included more on issues of conflict resolution between neighboring states as well as plans to end the Ethio-Eritrean conflict peacefully, and a timetable for withdrawal from Somalia . In his response, the Prime Minister said Ethiopia would withdraw when Somali leaders, and the international community, were ready to shoulder what was expected of them, without jeopardizing regional peace and security. There was no disagreement on the principle of withdrawal. On Eritrea , he said the government was committed to a peaceful resolution of the dispute. Similarly, he noted that the President's speech had stated that there would be renewed efforts to enhance development and contain inflation. He agreed that the brain drain and fertility rates had an impact on economic growth and said policies to deal with these were under implementation including incentives to try to minimize professional migration.
The debate attracted substantial attention from the public and in the media. For the first time it was apparent that the statements of opposition and of government reflected shared concerns. The opposition was raising issues that Parliament could and should discuss even if they were matters of detail not appropriate for a debate on the President's opening speech of the session. As the Prime Minister emphasized, the issues, if not the details, were all ones on which the government and opposition could essentially agree. There is clear agreement on the principle of the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces in Somalia , as well as room for discussion on the detail and timing of any such action. In other words, the government and the opposition demonstrated broad agreement on Ethiopia 's national interests. At times, perhaps unavoidably, technicalities of the debate made this difficult to discern. Nevertheless, the debate, the questions asked, and the amendments tabled, suggested the opposition was really moving towards the well-known, if difficult, concept of “loyal opposition” within a parliamentary democracy.
The idea of a “loyal” or an “official” opposition appears to be a contradiction in terms, and that a government should pay people to oppose it is considered bizarre by many people. The concept, however, is quite clear. It is that one can be opposed to the specific actions of a government or a ruling party without being opposed to the constitution or to the political system itself. Within any such framework, the opposition has a constitutional function: to scrutinize government legislation and actions. Most developed democratic political systems have a similar concept, even if the terminology may be different. Democratic parties accept the legitimacy of the constitutional system under which they operate, including the procedures to change the constitution itself. This is exactly where some opposition party members in 2005 in Ethiopia demonstrated their failure to understand democracy. A significant number of opposition leaders were quite clear that their participation in 2005 was no more than a device to try and raise support for an “orange” revolution, to overthrow the constitution. They had no intent to operate within the democratic framework of the constitution, and underlined this by the violence of their post-election activities. They refused to accept results of the election, refused to accept the seats which they had won in the election, betraying the constituents who had elected them, and then attempted to overthrow the constitution by force. In other words, despite participating in the electoral process, once they found they had lost the election, they rejected the democratic and constitutional system under which the elections were held. This failure by some opposition leaders after the May election to participate in the democratic process to which their constituents had so willingly subscribed, demonstrated a fundamental flaw in their approach to democracy. Indeed, the more recent activities of some now abroad show clearly that they have no interest in democracy as well as no understanding of it. Surprisingly, some of their mentors from Europe , who encouraged them to think in terms of non-democratic efforts to change the constitution in 2005, still appear to support this approach. In fact, by their very presence in parliament, parliamentary opposition parties recognize the legitimacy of the system under which they operate, and indicate that they share many of the views of government, not least those pertaining to the constitution under which both government and opposition operate, and acceptance of the country's national interests. Refusal to accept electoral results or take up seats in parliament inevitably indicates the opposite.
Members of an opposition in a parliamentary system are essentially called upon to act as a brake on government, ensure legislation receives serious discussion allowing opposing and diverse points of view to be aired. They offer vigilance and diligence, to help ensure that there is responsible government. Backbenchers within a parliamentary system such as that of the UK or Ethiopia cannot expect to have any direct influence on legislation, but all elected MPs, whether in UK or Ethiopia , have a right (and indeed a duty) to articulate the interests of the constituents that they represent. This, of course, means all those in their constituency not just those who voted for them. They also have the right and duty to scrutinize the actions of the government and, in opposition, present alternative policies to the public, either in parliament or through the media. This applies to members of the larger parties as much as any smaller ones. There are 17 parties represented among the 546 members of the House of Representatives in Ethiopia and one independent.
The core of parliamentary democracy (or as some would have it, its genius) is that adversarial politics are not simply negative but can be an integral part of the shaping of government policy. Indeed, it might be emphasized that this is a necessity. A parliament cannot function seriously without advocacy and persuasion from all its members. In a parliamentary democracy, the government has a right, and a duty, to govern; the opposition has a right and a duty when it believes public interest is involved to oppose the government's policies and actions by every legitimate parliamentary means, laying the basis for convincing the electorate in the next electoral campaign. This is part of the fundamental constitutional principle of responsible government, under the constitution to which both governing and opposition parties must be committed in a parliamentary democracy. Preserving and enhancing the role of the opposition is critical to democratic legitimacy. It is the opposition which is responsible for holding the government to account, asserting the right of the legislature vis-à-vis the executive – but it can only do this in parliament, not outside it. Indeed, “the best guarantee of good government is still the vigilance of an effective parliamentary opposition.”
But it is not easy to develop the political culture necessary for assuming this responsibility. Of what does this responsibility consist? First of all, it assumes that an opposition sees the ruling party not as an enemy but as a partner in governance. It assumes that the opposition views the ruling party as a partner for advancing and protecting the national interests of the country. There might be differences, indeed there should be, on how to promote national interests in various areas, most importantly in respect to national security. For Ethiopia of course, the fight against poverty and economic issues are matters of national security. Therefore there is a critical need for the ruling party and the opposition to view each other as allies in the fight against poverty and in bringing about speedy economic development in Ethiopia . These are the objectives that the government, the ruling party, and the opposition must share. It is only then that we will have laid the foundations for a political culture which can underpin the concept of the “loyal opposition”, and that is when we can be fully confident of the long-term viability of the nation.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs