Monday, 31 August 2009

Somalia: A journey to Hell on Earth, Denan [Opinion} 31 Aug 31, 2009 - 5:58:23 AM

By: Ali H. Abdulla

Let me take you on a journey to hell on earth as a recent video about Denan put it. Hell on earth is a small camp in the heart of a desert region in an area that the British Colonialists used to call “The Hawd and Reserved Area” before they maliciously handed it over to their fellow Christian monarchy in Ethiopia, instead of returning it to its rightful owners, the Somali nation. It is one of the numerous miserable legacies that the British Colonialists have saddled the Muslim World with: Kashmir, Pakistan, Western Somalia etc. In modern times, some call the desert region the Ogaden, while most Somalis rightfully call it Western Somalia.

The journey reminds me of the trek that the great prophet Moses took across the Sinai desert on his way to Midian to escape the wrath of the pharaoh, Ramses II. Scholars who associate ancient Egypt with Somalia, the land of Punt, may appreciate the theory that the name Ramses has a Somali meaning. It is composed of two parts, Ra’ and Ses. In Somali, the word “siis” means gift and the word Ra’, the Sun God of ancient Egypt, is found in many Somali words such as Gow-Rac, Gur-Rac and Ga-Rac. The literal translation of Ramses is the Gift of Ra’ which agrees with the Somali equivalent: RacSiis. I narrate this connection because of the recurrence of ancient oppressions in our modern times. The oppression of the people of Israel at the hands of a Pagan King is unfolding again in a remote desert on the same continent. The actors this time are Muslim Nomads and a despotic regime.

It reportedly took Moses 8 to ten days to reach Midian, the land of Jethro where he came to the aid of Jethro’s daughters by helping them water their sheep in a male dominated society that denied the weak to partake of the water until the last of the strong men had left the watering area. Moses helped the oppressed ladies despite his blistered feet and his empty stomach that almost got stuck to his back from thirst and hunger. Instead of partaking of the water first, he could not stand watching the oppression he witnessed and had to take action immediately.

For his bravery and rejection of oppression, Moses was eventually chosen by the Lord to free the people of Israel from the clutches of the pagan King Ramses II who ended up drowning when he tried to chase Moses and his people during the exodus, when the sea parted for Moses to lead his freed people to the Sinai.

The story of Moses is filled with valuable lessons. The Quran narrates these incidents to teach us not to accept oppression, and to come to the aid of the oppressed like Moses did. It also teaches us that all oppressors have a day of reckoning just like Ramses II.

Our current journey starts with a group of women and children just as helpless as the daughters of Jethro. Like Moses, they walked for 10 days in a desert bereft of trees and vegetation with no food or water. Some of them are barefoot. Some of them are wearing rags. Despite all that, they show dignity and pride. They are not as strong as Moses who endured hunger and thirst for 8 days and still managed to water Jethros’s sheep after managing to lift the huge stone that the Midian Shepherds put across the well. Many of them succumb to hunger and die before reaching their destination, the camp of Denan which can be truly described as hell on earth. The land they have just crossed is littered with the carcasses of sheep, cattle and camels as a result of drought and the scorched earth policies of Meles Zenawi and his military machine.

Denan is in the middle of the desert. It holds more than 7,000 refugees. Our group joins the camp’s swelling population. Unlike Moses who gets rewarded for helping Jethro’s daughters with food, water and shelter, our group come to a place that cannot sustain life as we know it. The food stores are almost empty and the camp has just run out of water. The head of the camp reserves the little food that is left in the stores for the new arrivals like our group. The others have to endure hunger and thirst for days. The camp has no doctor or nurse, and everyday a child dies of malnutrition and disease.

The Denan video shows starving women and children. Some cannot even sit, like the wife who had to be carried by her husband like a sack of potatoes for the film crew to see.

If watching this video does not move you into action, I do not know what else can. The film crew leaves Denan with the following words:

“On the day we left Denan, there were over 200 new arrivals. On the day we left Dean, they still had not received the food shipments. On the day we left Denan, they still had no water. On the day we left Denan, 3 year old Kadir died”.

There are probably a number of Denans scattered all over the desert. We are thankful to these brave individuals who risked their lives to bring this unfolding tragedy to our attention. It is our duty to help the people of Denan and to search for the other camps that I am sure are mushrooming all over Western Somalia.

We are in the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting in Ramadan is not about refraining from eating and drinking only. It is about reflection. It is about helping those in need. It is about giving. So let us start giving to the people of Denan and the many others like them in the desert of Western Somalia.

Please watch the video with your family, and after wiping away your tears, start thinking about what to do to help. Don’t just sit back and break your fast with the bounties that God has given you. Remember that there are thousands who are in a perpetual state of fasting.

Ramadan Karim

Ali H Abdulla

Hiiraan Governor Declares Independence from the Central Government

Beled Weyne, Somalia (HOL) - The Governor of Hiiran Region Sheik Abdirahman Ibrahim Ma’ow said today in a press conference held in Beledweyne that his administration is no longer part of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
The Governor said that his administration took the decision after it became apparent to him that the region’s power has gradually been transferred to Mogadishu and decision important to the region are being made in Mogadishu. He cited as an example the two times Ethiopian troops invaded Beledweyne city, the regional headquarters, which he said came at the request of Mogadishu and not his administration.
At the time of the press conference, the Governor was surrounded by elders from the region. Notable absent from the press conference were, however, the region’s commander of armed forces Gen. Mukhtar Hussein Afrah as well as senior officers and MPs the central government put in charge of the region’s security. It is not clear if the Governor’s decision came from him alone or if other senior officers and leaders of the region share with him.
It looks as if the Governor made the decision in few hours because after his arrival from Mogadishu where he had meetings with the country’s interim President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and the Prime Minister, he said that he had productive meetings with them and that from now on the region will cooperate with the central government.

Ethiopian Troops Reported to Leave Somali Town

Residents in the Somali town of Beledweyne are reporting that Ethiopian soldiers, who had apparently seized the town two days earlier, have partially withdrawn from the formerly rebel-held western part of town. Ethiopia's alleged military action on Saturday has been condemned by influential clan elders.

Somalia's Shabelle Radio says residents in Beledweyne, near the Ethiopian border in the Hiran region, saw a large number of Ethiopian troops withdrawing from the western side of town.

It was not immediately clear why the troops withdrew. But the report comes just two days after hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers allegedly crossed over the border and joined other Ethiopian troops deployed inside the government-controlled east side of Beledweyne.
Residents say the Ethiopians chased out Islamist insurgents from western Beledweyne early Saturday and seized the entire town.

Western Beledweyne is divided from the east by a river. The fiercely-contested area had been under the control of hard-line Islamist groups since Ethiopia ended its two-year occupation of Somalia in January.

A young member of an Islamic militia group leads the way with other fighters as they patrol in southern Mogadishu, 19 Aug 2009
A young member of an Islamic militia group leads the way with other fighters as they patrol in southern Mogadishu, 19 Aug 2009
The two main hard-line insurgents groups, Hisbul Islam and its al-Qaida-linked ally al-Shabab, also control many other key towns in southern Somalia.

In late July, Somali government forces launched a successful offensive to take full control of Beledweyne. But less than three weeks later, Somalia's hard-line Islamist group, Hisbul Islam, re-took western Beledweyne, dealing a blow to Ethiopia's hopes of keeping the strategically important border town out of insurgent hands.

The government in Addis Ababa denies any of its troops are actively engaged inside Somalia. And the Somali military commander in Beledweyne says only Somali forces are in town.

But U.S.-based Horn of Africa commentator and observer Michael Weinstein says Ethiopia is believed to be receiving tacit approval from Washington to provide militarily support to government and pro-government militias fighting to oust Hisbul Islam and al-Shabab from various Somali regions.

The United States previously backed Ethiopia's military intervention in Somalia in 2006, which ousted the Islamic Courts Union from power, but gave rise to Somalia's bloody insurgency.

"The U.S. is backing a strategy to have Ethiopians come in [to Somalia] and not fight alongside these militias, but to accompany them, give them logistical help, man checkpoints, and do arm searches," said Weinstein. "And this is a response to the frustration over the stand-off in Mogadishu - trying to have another track to displace the opposition."

Since early May, al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam have been trying to topple the U.N.-backed government in Mogadishu. But their attempts have been blocked, mostly by the presence of 5,000 African Union peacekeepers in the capital.

The four-month conflict has deepened Somalia's humanitarian crisis, which was already one of the worst in the world with millions displaced and in dire need of food aid and other assistance.

On Sunday, the spokesman of the influential Hawiye clan elders, Abdirisaq Sheik Mohamed, warned that inviting Ethiopian troops to conduct operations inside Somalia would badly discredit the government of Islamist President Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

The clan elder says if the Somali government is seeking help from Ethiopian forces to stay in power, then there is no difference between this government and the previous Ethiopia-backed government of Abdullahi Yusuf.

President Sharif is a former Islamic Courts Union leader, who had fought against Yusuf and the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia.

President Yusuf resigned and Sheik Sharif joined the government last year, under a U.N.-sponsored peace deal that brought more Islamists into the government. Hard-line groups were not impressed and dismissed President Sharif and his government as western puppets.

Source: Voice of America, August 31, 2009

Thugs Gone Wild in Kilil-istan!

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Rent-a-Thug Against Democracy

In a recent piece entitled “Mob Disrupts Political Meeting in Adama,” former Ethiopian President Dr. Negasso Gidada described how “an organized mob disturbed a public political meeting of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) in Adama, Oromia, and forced the discontinuation of the meeting.” Dr. Negasso explained:

Around 50 people started to disturb the meeting while Eng. Gizachew Shiferraw, Vice Chairperson of the UDJ was addressing the meeting. The disturbers were shouting, clutching and whistling from the rear of the hall. This mob came up running to the front and damaged a microphone while trying to grab it. They continued to shout: ‘This is Oromia’, ‘Oromo is our Language’, ‘You have to start the meeting by a blessing ceremony in accordance with Oromo culture’, ‘You can hold the meeting in Oromo language’, ‘If you do not speak in Oromo language, and you can not hold meetings in our country’. Several people tried to cool down the mob by promising that what is said would be translated in Oromo. But the mob would not heed the appeal. It even threatened to beat us up. Eng. Gizachew could not continue his speech. He was forced to announce that the meeting is adjourned because of the disturbance… The mob was not a spontaneous disturbing group. There were some OPDO/EPRDF cadres among the mob. I myself could recognize at least two OPDO cadres with whom I worked in the organization before I resigned from it in June 2001. It is obvious that the disturbance was an organized one.

In a separate Amharic piece on the subject, Seeye Abraha (the former defense minister and currently a member of Medrek (Forum for Democratic Dialogue in Ethiopia) who attended the Adama town hall meeting pointed to a discernable emerging pattern in the use of thugs and hooligans by the “EPDRF” to disrupt opposition meetings. He identified two other similar disruptions a few weeks earlier, one at a UDJ meeting in Debre Markos and another at an Arena Tigray meeting in Mekele. Seeye suggested that a dual strategy is being used to prevent opposition elements from having public meetings: 1) Deny meeting permits on the basis of absurd excuses; or 2) Issue permits but disrupt the meetings using hired thugs and hooligans. Seeye declared that opposition elements will not be intimidated by thugs and “vigilantes” and their outreach efforts to the people will continue. He also put the dictators and the Ethiopian people on notice that should they be victims of thug violence at such meetings, the “EPDRF” should be held responsible.

Thugs and the Triumph of Kilil-istan Chavinism (Tribal-based Ethnic Federalism)

This is Oromia… Oromo is our Language… You have to start the meeting by a blessing ceremony in accordance with Oromo culture… You can hold the meeting in Oromo language… If you do not speak in Oromo language, and you can not hold meetings in our country….

The sounds of such atavistic lyrics of ethnic chauvinism must make sweet music to the ears of Ethiopia’s dictators. It must bring them everlasting joy and ecstasy to have these divisive and truculent words become part of the lexicon of Kilil-istan chauvinism, which is the highest stage of ethnic federalism. No doubt, these words represent the purest expression of the capo dictator’s dream: An Ethiopia blinded, deafened and muted by ethnic, linguistic, tribal and cultural chauvinism. BRAVO!

For nearly two decades, the dictators in Ethiopia toiled ceaselessly to shred the very fabric of that ancient civilization and society, and sculpt a landscape balkanized into tribal, ethnic, linguistic and regional enclaves to establish their own version of a Thousand Year Reich (Reign). They crafted a constitution based entirely on ethnicity and tribal affiliation as the basis for political organization. Article 46 (2) of their constitution provides: “States shall be structured on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people.” In other words, “states”, (and the people who live in them) shall be organized as homogenous tribal homelands in much the same way as the 10 Bantustans (black homelands) of apartheid South Africa were organized to create ethnically homogeneous and “autonomous” nation states for South Africa's different black ethnic groups, effectively wiping out their South African national citizenship.

The tribal homelands in Ethiopia are officially called “kilils" (enclaves or distinct enclosed and effectively isolated geographic areas within a seemingly integrated national territory). Like the Bantustans, the Killilistans represent territory set aside for the purpose of concentrating members of designated ethnic/tribal/linguistic/cultural groups in nominally autonomous geographic areas. Ethiopia’s dictators have used a completely fictitious and ridiculous theory of “ethnic (tribal) federalism)”, unknown in the annals of political science or political theory, to justify and glorify these Kililistans, impose their atrocious policy of divide and rule against 80 million people and scrub out any meaningful notion of Ethiopian citizenship.

Big Thugs, Small Thugs and the Rule of Law

Article 9 of the dictators’ constitution provides that the “Constitution is the supreme law of the land…. All citizens, state organs, political organizations, other associations and their officials, have the duty to comply with this Constitution and abide by it.” Article 29 of this “supreme law” guarantees that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression without interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers,…” Article 30 further ensures, “Everyone shall have the freedom, in association with others, to peaceably assemble without arms, engage in public demonstration and the right to petition.”

In Thugland, no one seems to be particularly concerned about constitutional rights. Dr. Negasso, Ato Seeye, UDJ members and the other community attendees were peaceably assembled at an authorized meeting to engage in important political discussions. They have an absolute right to conduct their meeting peaceably without being molested by thugs, hooligans, criminals, gangsters, hoodlums, delinquents and hustlers. It is the supreme and solemn duty of those in authority to guarantee that the constitutional rights of those peaceably assembled is protected from “interference” by anyone. To be sure, the authorities had a legal duty to arrest the disruptive thugs and “vigilantes” and prosecute them for their egregious violation of the constitutional rights of all those in attendance at the town hall meeting. But as we have seen time and time again, the “supreme law” of the land does not apply to thugs because thugs are above the law of the land; indeed, thugs are the law of the land!

Thugs Here, Thugs There, Thugs Everywhere!

Paraphrasing Mark Twain, one could wonder out loud: “Suppose you were a thug. And suppose you were a member of a dictatorship. But I repeat myself.” The use of rented thugs to disrupt public meetings is the oldest trick in the Book of Dictators and Corrupt Politicians. Not long ago, Robert Mugabe’s (ZANU - Patriotic Front) thugs in Zimbabwe disrupted the Constitutional All-Stakeholders’ Conference (organized to write a new constitution) at the Harare International Conference Centre by lambasting and unleashing a torrent of profanity and vulgarity against the Speaker of Parliament. They also attacked delegates and officials with plastic water bottles. In the early 1990s, organized thugs, galvanized by the political ideology of "Majimboism", (a Kiswahili concept for “ethnic regionalism”, or “ethno-federalism”) instigated ethnic hatred against the Kikuyu. Recently, Prof. Maurice Iwu, Nigeria’s Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, reported to the Nigeria House of Representatives that the “sporadic outbreak of violence in several parts of the country [in the last election] was a fall-out of political thuggery.” The ultimate African thugs are represented by a militia known as the “Janjawid” – bloodthirsty packs of roving criminals armed and supported by the Sudanese government that have caused widespread atrocities including village destruction, massacres and rapes in the Darfur region.

Thugging it Out!

Seeye Abraha has noticed the Ethiopian people that should they be victims of thug violence, the “EPDRF” is to be held responsible. It may be overly optimistic to expect reason and respect for the law from thugs. The fact of the matter is that thugs will always be thugs; but law abiding citizens can fight back — thug it out, so to speak — by doing the right thing: Always tell the people the truth, and speak truth to thugs. Unite the people where thugs try to put them asunder. Promote harmony wherever thugs sow hatred, division and enmity. Fight to win the hearts and minds of the people wherever thugs seek to crush their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Never lower yourself to the gutter world of thugs, but capture, preserve, protect and defend the moral high ground. Never, never, never abandon the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. Always do the right thing, the fair thing, the just thing. As Churchill said, “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” Never yield to thugs! Never forget the truth that if we don’t stand up for the Land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine, thugs will gladly transform it into the Land of Eternal Darkness.

Inherit the Wind

In Proverbs 11 is written, “He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind.” Those who have wrought trouble on the Ethiopian family for the last two decades will in the end inherit a tornadic wind. That is foreordained! Their wicked efforts to destroy, dismember, deface and disfigure Ethiopia through the politics of hate and ethnic division will fail just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow. Their diabolical plan will amount to nothing! Like East Germany, ethnic federalism will be there one day and the next day it will be gone forever. Ethiopia’s best days are yet to come because her destiny rests securely in the palms of her bright, patriotic, industrious, conscientious, humble, forward-looking and God-fearing young people.

Is it not ironic that those of us who profess to champion the cause of justice, truth and morality far outnumber those engaged in the practice of evil, yet the few evil doers seem to outdo us nearly every time. As Dr. Negasso pleaded following his confrontation with the Adama thugs: “I call on all those who stand for the respect of democratic and human rights, for peace and stability of this country and for economic development of this country do something TODAY and not TOMORROW!!” That is why we should take to heart the aphorism, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil (thugs) is that good Ethiopian men and women do nothing” TODAY.

Time for Somaliland to re-envision itself in a changing Somalia

SUNDAY EDITORIAL | There is no question that Somaliland people have been held hostage by a leadership with deep ties to the collapsed Barre regime .

The people of Somaliland – a separatist republic in northwest Somalia – have been here before. The dictatorial tendencies of President Dahir Riyale, Somaliland’s leader since 2003, are undoubtedly practices he learned from his former master, Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, whose 21-year military rule in Somalia ignited the Horn of Africa country’s enduring civil war. Somaliland’s separatist leaders, who unilaterally declared independence following the Barre regime’s collapse in 1991, have entertained the Somaliland people with fallacies of international recognition and democratic governance. And so the Somaliland public supported separatism, hopeful that international recognition will pour in financial assistance and help recover the troubled economy. They even supported a war of aggression against Somalis in Sool region – in 2007, when Somaliland troops violently took control of the key town of Las Anod in a military development that saw 50,000 civilians flee to safety.

There is no question that Somaliland people have been held hostage by a leadership with deep ties to the collapsed Barre regime – starting with Mr. Riyale, himself a senior officer in the regime’s notorious NSS secret police, which specialized in suppressing domestic dissent. The lie told to the Somaliland public, time and again, has been that Somaliland declared independence following the Barre regime’s unjust bombardment of Hargeisa and Burao. There is even a MiG-21 jet sitting as a war-time monument in Hargeisa, forever reminding locals of a war from 20 years ago, as corruption and the undemocratic practices of the Riyale regime are overlooked. Indeed, Somaliland’s president, who was elected in a close contest in 2003, has remained in power far longer – in part due to a constitutional complexity. But an easier argument could be made that Somaliland natives have allowed Mr. Riyale and his henchmen to abuse public trust for years because they fear shattering the “Somaliland independence dream” that has been founded on and solely depends on the existence of a stable government in Hargeisa.

That Mr. Riyale sent soldiers to seize parliament to prevent meaningful political discourse on Aug. 29 marks a turning point in Somaliland’s contemporary history. Here is a region that long considered itself to be a model state for African democracy; today, its leader is directly engaged in the abusive and corrupt practices of the average African dictator.

The people of Somaliland must re-envision their region in a changing Somalia. The cheap idea that Somaliland is “peaceful” while Somalia is “chaotic” has reached an eventual dead-end. The Somaliland people must make difficult choices in the coming days and weeks. Mr. Riyale’s very presence in office is an offense to democracy. Yet, without him, simmering clan hostilities that showed its ugly face in the mid-1990s in Burao could re-emerge, potentially threatening peace and stability in the region.

Re-envisioning Somaliland will require brave Somalis willing to face reality. But can Hargeisa allow freedom of thought in today's state of fear-mongering?

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Ethiopia’s new famine: ‘A ticking time bomb’, 14 Million Starving Under Zenawis Dictatorial Rule.

By Kassahun Addis / Addis Ababa Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009

As Ethiopia remains caught in a deadly cycle of drought and famine, aid agencies warn that erratic rainfall and ever-rising food costs are compounding the problems carried over from last year's drought to leave 6.2 million people in need of food assistance, on top of the 7.5 million already getting aid from the government.

Close to 14 million Ethiopians — 20% of the country's total population — now have difficulty finding enough to eat, including, according to UNICEF, 62,000 children under five in the worst-affected areas who received treatment for severe acute malnutrition during the first half of 2009. And that number is set to rise. "There are growing concerns about the impact of relief food shortfalls on already vulnerable children," UNICEF said on Aug. 6. "As therapeutic feeding programs reach more hot-spot districts, the number of severely malnourished children receiving treatment will increase." The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says the problem in the ethnic Somali region, Ogaden, is complicated even further due to "insurgent activity and security operations" that are disrupting trade networks and the movement of people and livestock. (See pictures of Ethiopia's harvest of hunger.)

Reports of rising numbers of nutrition-related deaths and illnesses in Ethiopia are coming out amid tense times for humanitarian organizations, who face various obstacles in their attempts to deal with the effects of the drought. Unlike in previous years, the current crisis is not getting much play in the media. Part of the reason could be that after last year's drought put Ethiopia in the headlines, the country's government — no fan of negative attention — decided this time to take matters of food relief into its own hands, pushing international NGOs to the sidelines. "Giving publicity to the issue angered the government so much that this year they decided to handle most of the activities by themselves, far away from the spotlight of non-governmental actors," a coordinator of a European NGO (who requested anonymity) tells TIME. (See pictures on the front lines of hunger.)

Earlier this year, Ethiopia's parliament passed a tough new law seeking to regulate charities and foreign humanitarian groups in the country. The law, which labels as foreign any local organization that gets more than 10% of its funding from abroad, restricts charity work on issues related to gender, ethnicity, children's rights and conflict resolution, and bars advocacy activities. The government says the law is meant to ensure that charities focus on development, but many fear it will deter those working in the field from taking bold actions like advocating for the hungry. International aid organizations are also struggling with a shortage of supplies. So far this year, donors have contributed a total in cash and kind of almost $176 million, equivalent to 271,000 metric tons of food — less than 50% of last year's contributions. Many aid workers blame the financial crisis, but while recession-hit donors are keeping their wallets closed, the situation in Ethiopia is only getting more urgent. (Read: "Ethiopia: Pain amid Plenty.")

Ethiopia's rain-fed agriculture is "shockingly vulnerable" to small variations in the patterns of rainfall, says one Western diplomat, and the country has no chance to recover from the last drought before the next one hits. "The impact of last year works through this year," says Jolanda Hogenkamp, the World Food Program's Deputy Head of Programs in Ethiopia. "The picture we see now is more or less the same as last year. Largely the same numbers and same areas." (Read: "Famine: Hunger Stalks Ethiopia Once Again.")

Another top Western diplomat puts it more plainly: "This year's problem is very serious because last year's was serious." And with aid funding drying up and the Ethiopian government restricting help from NGOs, next year can only be more serious still.

Source: Time

Heroic OLA Freedom Fighters Killed 13 and Wounded more than 5 Invading Wayyaanee Troops

(OLF News, August 27, 2009) A report OLF News received from Eastern Oromia revealed that the heroic Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) freedom fighters operating in Western Harargee have killed 13 invading TPLF led government troops and wounded more than 5 others in two-day operations. On August 19, 2009, OLA freedom fighters have put the Wayyaanee army in a trap and killed 2 enemy troops who were terrorizing the Oromo population of the area, wounding several others in Western Harargee zone, Daaroo Labuu district at a place called Cirracha Qal’aa.

On another day of operation, OLA freedom fighters made a swift and coordinated attack on an enemy military camp in Western Haragee zone, around Dhungataa, at a place known as Dhuubbaa, instantly killing 11 enemy troops and wounding more than 5 others. Among the dead is a Woyyaanee army commander whose name is Ibrahim Lo’ed. The Wayyaanee troops have been forced to leave their camps and escape in disarray and their camp have fallen under the control of OLA freedom fighters.

In this operation our freedom fighters have captured 11 AK-47 automatic machine guns, several hand grenades and ammunitions, military uniforms, provision, confidential documents of the enemy, and made the property of the Oromo liberation struggle led by OLF.

It is to be recalled that OLF News has reported that on August 6, 2009 OLA fighters killed 16 enemy troops and wounded 9 others in Western Harargee zone. It is also to be recalled that OLF News has reported in Afan Oromo that on July 11, 2009 OLA fighters operating in Western Harargee zone have killed 6 enemy troops and wounded 5 others.

OLA Eastern Oromia command added that our freedom fighters will continue their attack on the invading Wayyaanee army until Oromia is liberated.

OLF News

Ethiopia’s regime jails two editors under obsolete law

August 26th, 2009 | Categories: Featured

New York (CPJ) — Two Ethiopian journalists were thrown in prison on Monday after a judge convicted them under an obsolete press law in connection with coverage of sensitive topics dating back several years, according to local journalists and news reports.

Ibrahim Mohamed Ali, editor of the weekly, Muslim-oriented newspaper Salafiyya, and Asrat Wedajo, former editor of Seife Nebelbal, a now-defunct weekly that was banned amid the 2005 government crackdown on the press, have begun serving one-year sentences at Kality Prison, outside the capital, Addis Ababa. Wedajo did not have a lawyer, but Ali’s lawyer, Temam Ababulgu, told CPJ he would appeal the verdict.

Federal High Court Judge Zewdinesh Asres convicted Ali and Wedajo on several charges under Ethiopia’s criminal code and its now-obsolete Press Proclamation of 1992, according to Ababulgu. The 1992 media law was reformed as the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation, which officially took effect in December 2008, according to CPJ research.

“Prime Minister Meles Zenawi assured CPJ in 2006 that his government would end the practice of sending journalists to prison on charges dating back several years,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “But independent journalists continue to be charged and intimidated using obsolete media laws.”

Wedajo was charged in connection with a 2004 story alleging human rights violations against the ethnic Oromos, the largest ethnic group in the country.

Ali was charged in connection with a piece written by a guest columnist and published in 2007, criticizing the Ministry of Education’s proposal to restrict headscarves for female Muslim students at public education institutions, according to Ababulgu. In 2008, the editor spent nearly two weeks behind bars, along with Al-Quds Publisher Maria Kadim and Editor Ezedin Mohamed for reprinting postings from the Web site EthiopianMuslims that criticized the ministry’s proposal to restrict religious practices in public schools. A magistrate acquitted Kadim but fined Mohamed 10,000 birrs (US$800) in July, according to local journalists. Mohamed told CPJ he is returning to court in September to face more charges over coverage of religious issues.

The Ethiopian government has had a longstanding practice of reviving years-old criminal cases, some of them seemingly dormant, as a way to silence critical journalists. The practice has persisted despite Zenawi’s pledge, made to a visiting CPJ delegation in March 2006, that the government would reconsider the practice. Pending criminal charges or the possibility of criminal prosecutions now hang over at least eight more editors of Amharic-language newspapers for their coverage of political and public affairs, according to CPJ research.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s worst backsliders of press freedom, a steady decline made worse by a recent draconian anti-terror legislation.

IMF comes to the rescue of Ethiopia's tribal junta once again

EDITOR'S NOTE: IMF keeps the dying genocidal dictatorship in Ethiopia alive by an infusion of a quarter of a billion dollars. The junta had just a few days of hard currency reserve left as remittances from abroad declined. This blood money will be used by the Woyanne junta to continue brutalizing and terrorizing the people of Ethiopia and the whole Horn of Africa region. The following is a press release from the IMF:

IMF Executive Board Scumbags Approve US$240.6 Million Arrangement for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Under the Exogenous Shocks Facility ruling tribal junta in Ethiopia

Press Release No. 09/289

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today approved a 14-month, SDR 153.755 million (about US$240.6 million) arrangement under the Exogenous Shocks Facility (ESF) to help Ethiopia cope with the effects of the global recession on its balance of payments. The arrangement (115 percent of Ethiopia’s quota) was approved under the high access component of the ESF, a facility designed to provide policy support and financial assistance on concessional terms to eligible low-income countries facing temporary exogenous shocks. A disbursement of SDR 73.535 million (about US$115.1 million) will become available following the Board’s decision.

Following the Executive Board discussion, Mr Takatoshi Kato, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, issued the following statement:

“Ethiopia’s economy has been adversely affected by a series of shocks, first from surging commodity prices in 2008, and most recently from the global recession. While the authorities have been successfully implementing a macroeconomic adjustment package since late 2008 to help lower inflation and build up international reserves, the global recession is now putting renewed pressure on the external position as export receipts and remittances weaken and inward direct investment slows.

“The authorities have adopted an appropriate program for 2009/10 to address the strains on the balance of payments and to keep inflation low. Seeking a balance among conflicting objectives—limiting inflation, rebuilding reserves, accommodating higher capital outlays, unwinding recent real exchange rate appreciation—their program calls for a continued tight fiscal stance (though eased somewhat from 2008/09), a slowing of the pace of monetary growth, and gradual real exchange rate adjustment, aided by a step depreciation of the birr on July 10, 2009.

“The general government budget for 2009/10 envisages some easing of the tight limits on public spending instituted last year, financed by a mix of external and domestic borrowing. Public sector domestic borrowing will be contained to 3 percent of GDP, with the government acting to improve controls over borrowing by public enterprises and monitoring carefully external debt levels to ensure debt sustainability. The authorities are committed to crafting a tax reform strategy, aimed at reversing the decline in the tax-to-GDP ratio recorded in recent years.

“Monetary policy focuses on entrenching single-digit inflation by providing a strong nominal anchor. The monetary program seeks to limit broad money growth to 17 percent for 2009/10, with the National Bank of Ethiopia seeking to enhance its control over reserve money by systematic use of the regular Treasury-bill auctions to manage liquidity.

“Prudent implementation of this program, accompanied by planned reform measures, will provide a sound macroeconomic environment for economic growth. The financial support being provided under the Exogenous Shocks Facility, coupled with the new allocation of SDRs, will further boost foreign reserves, thereby enhancing confidence in the sustainability of the government’s economic program.”

Recent Economic Developments

Ethiopia has faced a turbulent external economic environment in the past two years, stemming from sharp movements in import prices and then the global slowdown. Surging import prices helped push reserves down to some US$900 million (1.2 months of imports) by mid-2008 and contributed to an exceptional jump in consumer price inflation. The global recession is now putting renewed pressure on the external position via weaker export receipts and remittances and slowing inward direct investment.

The authorities implemented a macroeconomic adjustment package from late-2008, which was supported by the IMF’s January 2009 disbursement of SDR 33.425 million (about US$52.3 million) to Ethiopia under the rapid-access component (RAC) of the ESF (see Press Release No. 09/13). The adjustment program has met key policy targets. Inflation in the 12 months to June declined to 3 percent, aided by falling food price levels, while foreign reserves, helped by increased donor assistance, reached some US$1.5 billion (1.8 months of import cover) by end-June 2009.

Key Program Policies and Objectives

The authorities’ program for 2009/10 includes:

• Limits on domestic borrowing by the public sector, although the limits are eased slightly from 2008/09 levels

• Some easing of the fiscal stance, tightened sharply under the 2008/09 adjustment program

• Further slowing of the pace of monetary expansion

• Judicious exchange rate adjustment in a manner that does not destabilize expectations or fuel consumer price inflation.

• Supporting structural measures, focusing on tax reform, the control of public enterprise borrowing, and the control of liquidity through indirect instruments.

The policies supported under the arrangement, coupled with the Fund’s financial support and Ethiopia’s increased allocation of Special Drawing Rights (see Press Release No. 09/283), are expected to contribute to the rebuilding of international reserves to 2½ months of imports by 2010/11, while maintaining a sound macroeconomic environment for growth and poverty reduction.

In Search of Peace: Ethiopia's Ethnic Conflicts and Resolution

June 10th, 2009 | |

By Messay Kebede

Whether opposition parties opt for armed struggle or peaceful methods in their attempt to overthrow the existing regime in Ethiopia, they must all come up with a vision and a political solution that can heal decades of ingrained conflicts and reconstitute national unity. Since the ethnic conflict is by far the most divisive and pernicious issue of present day Ethiopia, the endeavor both to defeat the regime and establish a post-TPLF political system presupposes an approach dealing with ethnicity. It is illusory to assume that ethnicity will simply go away if the TPLF is defeated. What follows is an attempt to show how a correct theory of ethnicity and lessons from the past history of Ethiopia can help us frame a political arrangement that favors the establishment of peace and democratic governance in our country.

Theory of Ethnicity

For one school of thought called primordialism, ethnicity is about self-determination; it is a primordial and emotional attachment to fixed social characteristics, such as blood ties, race, language, region, and custom. Such an attachment naturally longs for political sovereignty as a necessary means to protect and develop the treasured characteristics. The best way to resolve ethnic conflicts, so primordialists conclude, is to allow peoples the right to live in the state of their choice, even by seceding from existing states.

Opposed to this line of thinking is the school of instrumentalism, which argues that the solution of redrawing political borders on the basis of self-determination often advances neither democracy nor achieves the peaceful resolution of ethnic conflicts (India-Pakistan, Ethiopia-Eritrea, the former Yugoslavia, etc). It maintains that ethnic conflict is less about attachment to primary identity and more about competition for the control of state power. Ethnicity is how elites vying for state power mobilize people in the name of ethnic identity. Since ethnic conflict is primarily about politics rather than about culture, a political arrangement allowing decentralization and power-sharing can promote a peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Instrumentalism comes up against a major objection, which is that it views ethnicity as a product of elite manipulation. Such an understanding is unable to account for the emotional mood and violent methods that are often characteristic of ethnic conflicts. It is difficult to see why the masses follow with great fervor the discourse of elites unless it awakens their own deep affective longings.

In an attempt to correct instrumentalism, the school known as constructivism underlines that, rather than reviving already existing primary attachments, the ethnic discourse invents new identities. It argues that mistreatments and the need of liberation drive marginalized elites to imagine communities embellished with thrilling characteristics, thereby successfully mobilizing the people with whom they identify. The promise of deliverance activates affective components that impart an emotional dimension to what is but an invented identity.

Sustained reflections on Ethiopia’s ethnic conflicts lead me to believe that the constructivist correction of instrumentalism does not fully answer the question of knowing why the invented discourse of elites moves the masses to the point of violent confrontations. True, the element of imagination is liable to arouse emotional forces, but there is also no denying that the ethnic discourse works with past materials associated with common descent and cultural legacy to which people are naturally attached. What is achieved is thus the creation of ascriptive rights with exclusionary intent, which largely involve sentiments derived from nature rather than merely from human imaginative capacity. I also question the idea that constructivism constitutes a distinct school, all the more so as it loses much of its explanatory force if a great dose of instrumentalism does not support it.

Instead of setting apart, I propose to fuse instrumentalism with constructivism if only because such an attempt seems to recover whatever is valid in primordialism. Indeed, what is the most effective way of promoting interests if not through the mobilization of affective and cultural forces, especially when said interests are challenged or denied? Accordingly, ethnic mobilizations are better understood if cultural construction is itself an instrument whose purpose is to optimize a political claim. Such an approach retains the powerful role of culture without, however, losing sight of the material component of ethnicity. While I admit that the emotional force of ethnicity cannot be explained without appealing to primordial impulses, I argue that the impulses do not provide the inspiration; rather, they are used to maximize definite interests.

This approach insists that ethnicization is more than a mere protest against mistreatment. Indeed, had ethnicity been about the equal recognition of rights, mobilization around individual rights, as prescribed by liberal democracy, would have been the appropriate response. On the other hand, if the fight is over the control of the state, then the strategy is to mobilize group rights so as to use ascriptive characteristics (common descent, language, culture, etc.) to exclude political rivals as aliens. The use of ethnic criteria thus maps out constituencies that function as a reserved power base for vying elites.

Identity politics is all the more mobilizing when ruling elites are made responsible for economic plights of ordinary people. What is common in ethnic discourses is the framing of culprits with the consequence that it unleashes anger. The revival of traditional identities, in addition to portraying elites as saviors of their community, thereby upgrading their authority, frames social relations in terms of culprits and victims. Just as the Marxist concept of class exploitation politicized poverty, so too the ethnic discourse politicizes identities by portraying the possession of some characteristics (language, descent, religious beliefs) as reasons for mistreatment. In so doing, it stirs up anger that it directs against those who hold power.

On top of deriving the emotional component from the construction of imagined communities, my approach thus adds the important factor of the vilification of ruling elites, which often results in the them/us dichotomy with high normative overtones. The use of moral qualifications turns the confrontation between ethnic groups into a struggle between the good and the bad, the virtuous and the vicious. This moral classification is then used to justify the resort to violent means.

To understand the wide impact of ethnic discourse, one must go beyond the negative role of inciting anger by adding its restorative function. Discriminatory treatment as a result of the hegemony of one ethnic group has a deep impact on the self-representation of dominated or marginalized groups, since it activates feelings associated with humiliation. This explains why ethnicity is so violent when compared to class conflict, which is mostly about justice and fair distribution, and not about human pride. Not only does the ethnic construction highlight humiliation, but it also proposes a curative solution in the form of self-determination or self-rule. While the solution supports the political ambition of elite groups, it is also largely accepted as a necessary step toward the removal of humiliation. According to the logic of ethnicization, pride is restored only when governments by non-kindred people, however democratic they may claim to be, are replaced by governments of kindred-people.

The significance of my hypothesis transpires as soon as one asks what specific ideas it contributes to the paramount issue of the peaceful resolution of conflicts. The importance of having the correct approach is that it enables us to find relevant solutions: if we know what causes ethnic conflicts, then we can devise institutional mechanisms that remove the causes and, therefore, ease ethnic tensions.

The primordialist approach has no other option than the secessionist solution, since it reduces ethnic conflicts to cultural incompatibilities. The instrumentalist approach has the merit of deriving ethnic conflicts from elite rivalries for the ownership of the state. In agreement with instrumentalism, my approach suggests that the main solution to ethnic conflicts is to open up the power game by devising institutions that decentralize power, as in the case of federal arrangement with large autonomy. Nevertheless, my analysis of the cultural dimension as a maximizing factor argues that autonomy should go to the extent of allowing the implementation of group rights and self-rule. I thus take into consideration the powerful emotional forces unleashed by the ethnic discourse. Unless these forces are appeased, a mere decentralization will not be enough.

In addition, my view, which can be termed “maximism,” suggests the possibility of displacement (in the Freudian sense of the word). One way of reducing tensions would thus be to shift the emotional forces to trans-ethnic or multiethnic institutions and symbols. My assumption is that multiethnic institutions can supersede ethnic exclusiveness if access to higher levels of national government represents, not the surrender of ethnic identity, but its graduation from local to national statures. Such institutions together with the celebration of diversity will help cultural conversion to multiethnicism as an imagined community.

Ethnicization of Ethiopia

My thesis, namely, ethnicity as a maximizing factor in elites’ struggle for the control of power, finds a perfect confirmation in both the origin of ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia and Ethiopia’s experiment with ethnic federalism. A strong argument for this would be the fact that the Ethiopian system, besides being imposed, is deliberately established to encourage ethnicization. Whereas other countries, such as Nigeria, India, etc., used federalism as a devise to dilute ethnicity so as to safeguard national unity, all the practices and constitutional provisions in Ethiopia tend to strengthen ethnic identity to the detriment of national integration.

The explanation springs to mind: both to mobilize the Tigrean people so as to overthrow the dominance of the Amhara elite and to establish a federal system that favors it, the TPLF had to fracture Ethiopia along ethnic lines, thereby speaking of the country as an ensemble of nations and nationalities. So fractured, the political struggle becomes focused on self-rule and the control of regional states, leaving the federal government to the TPLF. Such a system develops local elite groups that have common interests with the ruling power without, however, making them competitors.

Scholars who study the Ethiopian case marvel about the radical nature of ethnic federalism, but they also observe shortcomings. They thus underline a disparity between theory and practice, especially when it comes to the autonomy of ethnic regions. This disparity proves that the wrong understanding of ethnicity actually inspires those who speak of shortcomings. A consistent and comprehensive view of the discrepancy is achieved only when it is admitted that ethnicity is less about democracy than it is about the control of state by elite groups.

The primordialist position is completely unable to explain the disparity between practice and theory. If primordial sentiments exclusively motivate ethnicity, then the victory of the TPLF should have led to the secession of Tigray or the implementation of a real system of decentralization and self-rule. What is more, the TPLF wholeheartedly supported the Eritrean independence on the basis of primordialist criteria, but refuses to recognize the claim of secessionist movements in the regions of Oromia and Somalia. These apparent contradictions vanish if it is shown that calculations of interests condition the TPLF’s decisions.

The involvement of interests becomes manifest when we remark that, though the Ethiopian system encourages ethnicization, it remains very centralized. The centralization is realized through a party system, the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front), which is a coalition of ethnic parties in which the TPLF is the dominant partner. Thanks to the democratic centralism governing the coalition, the TPLF thus controls the whole federal system and intervenes extensively in the administration of regional and sub-regional governments. What comes to mind is the Soviet model of federalism based on the tight control of the communist party.

What this means is that regional autonomy is not how a region is allowed to decide and control its affairs; rather, the system creates client parties that allow the center to maintain its controls through dependent local elites. That is why, as I wrote in a previously published article titled “The Underside of the Eritrean Issue,” it is perfectly sound to state that the TPLF politely but firmly expelled Eritrea from Ethiopia because it understood that the EPLF will never agree to become a dependent partner. The system and the way it works make sense only if we assume that it is purposely designed to maintain the hegemony of an elite group claiming to defend the interests of a minority ethnic group.

The presence of interests in ethnic claims is also attested by the fact that there is no shortage of elite-groups seeking to become clients. To the imposition of ethnicity as a primary criterion of federal arrangement, local elites responded by creating political movements that endorsed the criterion. So that, ethnic identities that used to be weak are restructured as primary for the simple reason that the TPLF-dominated federal government rewards ethnicization.

Be it noted that instrumentalism cannot explain the ethnicization of Tigray without interpreting ethnicity as an imaginative reinvention of identity. Though Tigray has been part of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) for at least 3000 years and Tigreans and Amhara–– the dominant ethnic group during Haile Selassie’s long reign–– share the same culture and political system, the TPLF constructed Tigray as a nation by emphasizing language difference. While this reinvention supports constructivism, a complete view is achieved only if it is inserted into my interpretation of identity politics as a maximizing factor.

The use of ethnic criteria to reinforce a political goal is what explains the deep contradiction of ethnic movements in Ethiopia. Whether we take the Eritrean, Oromo, Tigrean, or other ethnic movements, all trace their emergence back to the imperial regime, which they defined as the imposition of Amhara culture and interests in a tightly centralized political system. The democratic solution would have been decentralization together with the recognition of Ethiopia as a multiethnic country. Ethnic movements did not opt for such a solution; instead, they brandished self-rule and group rights. The definition of ethnic groups as nations and nationalities means that they revert back to the nation-state model that they had previously rejected in the name of multiethnicism. Only the goal of capturing state power by amplifying cultural incompatibilities can explain the reversal.
The factor of maximization becomes fully manifest when we notice the rise of dissident ethnic parties accusing the TPLF of not being consistent. Such movements are often secessionist and they become so by stretching cultural disparity, that is, by adopting an even more primordialist language. Dissident ethnic parties cannot hope to compete successfully against client elites working with the TPLF unless they change identity into a primordial commitment overriding everything. In particular, the works of intellectuals of Oromo origin clearly show how they combine vilification and utopia to create the “Oromo” nation. The vilification inherent in the thesis of Abyssinia’s colonization of Oromia and the myth of democratic Oromia before the colonization both testify to the invention of Oromia as an imagined community.

From Theory to Practice

Since democratic rules guaranteeing the proper application of federalism are not followed in Ethiopia, ethnic federalism, as it is now implemented, only succeeds in radicalizing and multiplying dissident ethnic groups. As a result, there is a growing danger of disintegration that will lead to violent confrontations, not only inside Ethiopia, but also in the entire Horn of Africa, unless a reverse process toward reintegration is put in place. In other words, what puts the country in danger is less ethnicity than the lack of democratic governance, itself originating from an eccentric group’s shortsighted and vain goal of preserving indefinitely the control of power.

The theory of maximization and its attendant, namely, the possibility of displacement, suggest a way out through the creation of national symbols and institutions encouraging ethnic cooperation. In other words, the crystallization of ethnic identity could be diluted if national offices are made dependent on moderation. The lure of higher political rewards through moderation could thus produce a displacement mitigating the exclusionary practice of identity politics.

This means, of course, that the main solution to ethnic conflicts is the democratization of the state through decentralization and large local autonomy. However, I emphasize that the autonomy must go to the extent of allowing the implementation of group rights and self-rule, the only way by which the affective element can be dealt with. Since in denouncing alien rule, the ethnic discourse has awakened the feeling of humiliation, only the provision of a local or regional administration controlled by culturally kindred elites can satisfy both the masses and the competing elites.

My thesis also predicts that, as soon as grudge is removed through the granting of self-rule, ethnic groups will lose their original compactness and give way to diversity and the appearance of sub-group elites vying for the control of local power. In due course, this will reintroduce issues of individual rights that will be useful both to democratize the local community and to rebuild the national unity.

My solution is then to open up the power game in conjunction with the creation of institutional mechanisms that work toward unity. The tendency to unity should grow from the political dispersion, that is, from the implementation of group rights, itself leading to intra-ethnic rivalries. From this diffused power game must rise national ambition forcing elite groups to moderate their views if they want to extend their power and influence beyond their ethnic groups. Moderation as a prerequisite to national leadership can also be used to prevail over local rivals.

Appropriate institutional mechanisms can further fortify the appeal of moderation. So that, the peaceful and lasting solution to ethnic conflicts seems to be the device of a political system in which centripetal forces (national institutions and symbols) counter centrifugal forces (ethnicity). While federalism with large autonomy and self-rule should satisfy ethnicity, political institutions making national positions dependent on moderation should encourage unity. As much as I support the political recognition of ethnicity, unlike primordialism, I think that the reconstruction of unity is also necessary for a lasting peace.

One way of balancing centripetal and centrifugal forces is the creation of a presidential figure with large political and symbolic meanings. If the election of the president depends on majority vote of the people, in addition to encouraging the expression of individual rights in conjunction with group rights, candidates for the presidential office will have to become attractive to voters outside their ethnic groups. This arrangement encourages moderation, but also creates national figures.

History Lessons

My theory of ethnic management finds a validating argument in the proposal that it is but a modernized version of the political system of traditional Ethiopia. Seeing the long duration of the political system, which even resisted repeated colonial assaults, it is sound to contend that the provision of an open power game based on the interplay of centrifugal and centripetal forces was the secret of the long survival of Ethiopia (for detailed explanation of the traditional system, see my book, Survival and Modernization).

Indeed, while the nobility with often ethnic definitions controlled regional power, the imperial throne and the Orthodox Church represented centripetal forces. Another crucial centripetal force was the active role of the national intelligentsia (debtera), which was the product of a common system of education whose pillars were use of the Geez language, the centering of Ethiopia, and the propagation of its divine mission (the Kibre Negast).The system defined the emperor as king of kings: the recognition of regional leaders as kings meant nothing less than the acceptance of large autonomy and self-rule. That Tigray preserved its language and ruling elites for centuries even though the Amhara were numerically superior and often in control of the imperial throne proves how extensive was the autonomy that regions enjoyed.

What is more, regional lords could freely compete for the imperial throne, since the system did not institute any exclusive definition of the heir to the throne, except for the vague and inclusive concept of Solomonic descent. Decentralization and competition for the imperial throne encouraged intra-ethnic competitions resulting in the emergence of rival sub-regions in Amhara and Tigray. These conditions never allowed the crystallization of ethnic identity; instead, they enabled the emperor to emerge as a divine-elected protector of Orthodox Christianity and unifier of a multiethnic community. In other words, political dispersion or regional autonomy was coined as a source of rivalry setting the stage for the intervention of God’s express choice of the emperor. Often based on military prowess, God’s choice became formal the moment the Church anointed the elect.

The working principle required not only the respect of large local autonomy with self-rule, but also that the various regions of Gondar, Gojjam, Wollo, Shoa, and Tigray had comparable powers. Witness: when the central system collapsed during the Era of the Princes, no one was really able to prevail until the rise of Tewodros, who also failed partially. Menelik was able to triumph because the southern expansion of Showa created an imbalance that favored the Shown nobility. The loss of balance changed the political game: the political dispersion necessary to set God’s choice in motion was replaced by entitlement derived from the Shoan hegemony.

The unrivalled power of Show cleared the way for the establishment of Haile Selassie’s autocratic rule and his hereditary monarchy. In the name of modern nation-building, Haile Selassie put an end to the decentered power game through a tight political centralization and Amharization that naturally favored the Amhara nobility. Its outcome was the slow but steady exasperation of ethnic conflicts through the instigation of elites from marginalized ethnic groups.

The traditional system teaches us that wisdom lies in creating regional units that are balanced, but also open to intra-group competitions. The latter together with centripetal institutions and symbols prevent the crystallization of ethnic identity to the benefit of multiethnicism. The shift results from the open power game that defines national positions as graduations of ethnic identities to trans-ethnic representations.

The present policy of the TPLF prevents the emergence of national ambitions and intra-ethnic group competitions by the method of democratic centralism, which protects client parties from competition. Moreover, the principle of balanced power does not command the establishment of federal units. In particular, the two big regions of Amhara and Oromia create a serious imbalance endangering national unity. Wisdom advises the fracturing of these two regions into smaller units as a necessary condition of promoting ethnic cooperation.

What we learn from the traditional system is thus the recapture of the culture tolerating diversity, which culture was sidelined by the uprooting imitation of Europe’s model of the nation-state. The expression “Amhara or Tigrean hegemony” would be incomprehensible to the people of traditional Ethiopia who understood ethnicity in terms of rivalry, and not as a system of hegemonic government. The other important lesson is the need to couple ethnicity with centripetal institutions and visions, whose outcome is the promotion of multiethnicism. A strong presidential figure who would be elected on the basis of majority vote among all ethnic groups would be to the modern system what the emperor was to the traditional polity.

(Dr Messay Kebede can be reached at

In Somalia, troops for peace end up at war

African Union soldiers contend with a vague and underfunded mission with no cease-fire to enforce. Among the troops who have died, some apparently succumbed to illness due to malnutrition.
Somalia peacekeeper

A Ugandan peacekeeper guards the presidential palace in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. There are 5,000 troops in the African Union mission; their mandate mainly allows only self-defense, and they hold just 8 square miles. (Mohamed Dahir / AFP/Getty Images / August 26, 2009)
By Edmund Sanders

August 29, 2009

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Reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia - When a mystery illness swept through the African Union peacekeeping mission here, killing six soldiers and sickening dozens, doctors were stumped.

With help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they ruled out swine flu, tropical infection, rat-borne bacteria and even deliberate poisoning, as claimed by Somalia's insurgents.

But the culprit, doctors fear, is just as alarming: beriberi, a vitamin-deficiency disorder typically seen only in famines. Simply put, African Union soldiers appear to have died from a form of malnutrition.

It's the starkest example yet of how the mission in Somalia, which is authorized by the United Nations and largely funded by Washington, has become one of the most dangerous, yet least supported, peacekeeping operations in the world.

More than two years after the AU launched its effort to try to turn around this Horn of Africa nation, only 5,000 of the pledged 8,000 troops are on the ground, nearly all from Uganda and Burundi. Experts say even the full 8,000 would be half of what's really needed.

Though the new commander says he is intent on taking a tougher stance against insurgents who have growing ties to Al Qaeda, his force covers only about 8 square miles -- roughly one-third of Mogadishu, an area that includes the capital's airport, seaport and a cluster of buildings around the presidential palace that are occupied by the weak, internationally backed government.

The mission's projected $800-million-a-year budget has never been fully funded, with the U.S. contributing about $200 million this year. Funding shortfalls have forced commanders to depend also on donations, such as the new hospital building paid for by Britain and food rations from the U.N.

U.N. missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the western Sudanese region of Darfur each have four times as many troops, even though Somalia is the only operation in Africa where peacekeepers are routinely targeted by insurgents with mortars, roadside bombs and suicide attackers. Also, unlike other missions, there is no cease-fire agreement or U.N.-brokered treaty to enforce.

"How do you do a peacekeeping mission in a place that has no peace?" asked Maj. Anthony Lukwago, an AU commander from Uganda.

At a hillside AU outpost along Mogadishu's craggy coastline, soldiers have learned to improvise. They aim their 120-millimeter mortars using three sticks in the dirt, capped with upturned old cigarette packs marking the direction of insurgent strongholds miles away. Only recently did soldiers receive upgraded flak jackets and armored personnel carriers capable of withstanding the kind of roadside bombs they face.

On the campus of Mogadishu University, now serving as headquarters for Burundi's contingent, soldiers face roadside bombs virtually every time they leave the base. Nevertheless, they can't get basic bomb-detection devices to sweep the streets or equipment to defuse the bombs.

Their solution? Drive fast and travel at irregular hours, according to Brig. Gen. Prime Niyongabo, commander of the Burundian contingent.

"There is so much we need," he said.

Erin Weir, a peacekeeping advocate with Refugees International, credited the AU presence with preventing Somalia's transitional government from being chased out of the country altogether, but added that the worsening security situation has altered the character of the mission. "What they are doing is not peacekeeping," she said. "It's more a military task."

It's little surprise that the mission has become one of the deadliest in Africa. Thirty-three AU soldiers have been killed, mostly by roadside bombs. Eleven of these troops died in a suicide truck attack this year. An additional 20 have succumbed to malaria and other diseases, AU officials said, including last month's suspected beriberi outbreak

Most of those sickened were recovering thanks to vitamin B1 injections, according to AU doctor James Kiyengo. That treatment was followed by preventive thiamine supplements for all soldiers and a reexamination of meal plans. Soldiers complain that the mission supplies them with meat just two or three times a week, no eggs and only rarely fresh vegetables. Commanders said they hadn't come to a conclusion as to what caused the illness.

The peacekeeping mission has also grappled with a vague, ill-fitting mandate that tightly restricts troops' ability to combat insurgents, who scarcely existed when the mission started. The mandate calls for the AU to protect the government and its institutions. Safeguarding Somalia's beleaguered civilians, half of whom survive on international aid, is not part of its responsibility.

As a result, the mission, known as AMISOM, is frequently dismissed as weak and ineffective. "If they are going to hide behind their sandbags while people are suffering, they should go back home and enjoy a glass of wine," said Mahdi Ibrahim, 23, a frustrated Mogadishu resident.

AU officials have attempted to court public opinion by sharing their water supply with neighbors and opening their clinics to the public.

But officials said the mission's mandate mainly permits self-defense. Insurgents "could have a party in front of our gate and we couldn't do anything unless they attacked us first," said Maj. Barigye Ba-Hoku, the mission's spokesman.

Speaking at AU headquarters inside a whitewashed, bombed-out mansion overlooking the Indian Ocean, Ba-Hoku said insurgents use the AU's mandate and rules of engagement against it. For instance, he said, they often fire mortar shells from residential neighborhoods because they know AU troops won't fire back at civilian areas.

He said that once a busload of insurgents disguised as civilians approached an AU base, singing as if members of a wedding party. As they left the vehicle, they drew guns and attacked.

Soldiers say they've grown tired of being on the defensive -- and of the criticism that comes with it. Many are itching for a fight.

"We could overrun Mogadishu in no time at all," Lukwago said, noting that the AU force is the only one in Somalia with tanks, Katyusha rockets and long-range mortars. The troops' foes, he added, "are not military guys."

"They are a bunch of boys. They are not trained."

Until recently, AU political leaders and the U.N. resisted requests by AU military commanders that their troops be allowed to go on the offensive, fearing such a move would only escalate the violence and allow insurgents to taint the soldiers as "foreign invaders."

But the newly arrived force commander, Ugandan Maj. Gen. Nathan Mugisha, said he had received a green light to get tougher. "We can preempt," he said. "We don't have to be like sitting ducks, waiting to be beaten like a drum."

In an instance of the new approach, AU troops last month responded to an insurgent attack on the presidential palace by engaging for the first time in a sustained street battle, pushing the insurgents back more than four miles. It was the farthest AU troops had fought beyond their zone.

Two weeks ago, in a show of force, an AU convoy patrolled through an insurgent stronghold, drawing fire. No one was hurt.

Somalia's president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is encouraging the AU to jump into the fight, saying operations against insurgents are justified under the mission's mandate to support the government.

"Mogadishu is the seat of the government and it should be free of insurgents," Ahmed said in an interview at Villa Somalia, the heavily guarded presidential palace. "There are many different forms of self-defense. Preemptive defensive action can be taken."

Ahmed said the AU's positions in the capital have allowed his army, which is really a collection of allied militias, to take its battle to different parts of the country. In recent weeks, government forces have made headway near the Ethiopian border.

But analysts worry that unless more international support is forthcoming, the AU force will become overstretched. Michael Weinstein, a Purdue University political science professor, blamed Somalia's limbo on the international community's hesitance.

"The West has been reluctant to go full throttle, and they've ended up with a wishy-washy policy," he said. "Meanwhile, AMISOM is stranded. They're stuck in a box."


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