Articles Egypt Ethiopia featured Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Politics

Egypt gets worked-up over manufactured frenzy, Ethiopia still rejects “historical share” claim

Egyptian media and foreign ministry spent the last week bogged down in a manufactured frenzy, (not to mention their gaffe in Nairobi which may hint at a behavioral pattern). The state media Al-Ahram and other complacent news outlets published a “misreading” of a statement of an Ethiopian official and the foreign ministry has “tried to calm” the frenzy that ensued. Let me give you the full story and my two cents.

I learnt from Egyptian news outlets that, Ethiopia’s government spokesperson, Minister Getachew Reda, gave an interview to the London based Arabic website Al-Ashraq Al-Awsat at the end of last week. The reports caught my eyes since they were carrying phrases like “Egyptians angry”…and the like.

In the interview, according to Egyptian outlets, when asked about the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Nile River, the spokesperson has apparently said “Renaissance Dam has become a reality… we haven’t promised to halt construction pending the completion of technical studies. No matter what happens things will not change. The people of the three countries will benefit from it. But if some parties believe that they will be harmed by it, then this is not Ethiopia’s problem.” I assume the news websites plucked 70% of the above quote out of thin air. Even if it’s true, what the spokesperson allegedly said is the position Ethiopia reiterated consistently over the years and I couldn’t see a reason for controversy.

Based on that statement, Egyptian media created frenzy by misquoting and suspicious misreading of the spokesperson’s statement. The state media, Al-Ahram put the quote like this: “If some parties believe that they will be harmed by it, then this is not Ethiopia’s problem.” and put a spin on it to make it sound as if Ethiopia rejected the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DoP) agreement and “by extension” Egypt’s “historical share”.

Wait! What does the DoP agreement got to do with Egypt’s water share?  

As of what I can learn from the leaked DoP document, the agreement signed between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt on March 2015 has these three relevant points.

I – Principles of Cooperation– To cooperate based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, win-win and principles of international law.

III – Principle Not to Cause Significant Harm– The Three Countries shall take all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm in utilizing the Blue/Main Nile.

IV – Principle of Equitable and Reasonable Utilization – The Tree Countries shall utilize their shared water resources in their respective territories in an equitable and reasonable manner.

[In ensuring their equitable and reasonable utilization, the Three Countries will take into account all the relevant guiding factors including the social and economic needs of the Basin States; the population dependent on the water resources in each Basin State; existing and potential uses of the water resources; conservation, protection, development and economy of use of the water resources; the availability of alternatives, of comparable value and the contribution of each Basin State to the waters…]

Photo - Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Photo – Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [Photo – Social media]

To begin with, I see no correlation between the DoP agreement and Egypt’s long-held claim of “historical rights”. And my default assumption is that the government of Egypt knows well the agreement it signed. Moreover, I found the agreement to only give basis for an impact study on the dam; and further cooperation/consultations on a consensus based implementation of the recommendations of the study. The agreement does not seem to contradict the alleged statement of the spokesperson since it leaves no room “for claims of harm the parties may make despite the findings of the study or “halt of dam construction pending the completion of the study”.

In fact, I found the agreement to promote “mutual no-significant-harm” policy which is in sync with Ethiopia’s long-held position of “mutual benefit.” On the other hand it seems to have ignored Egypt’s age-old policy of “historical water share”, because I assume Ethiopia never agreed on that. Plus, recognition of “historical rights” renders any cooperation pointless since it practically means all to Egypt and none for the rest. [Ethiopia, which is the source for about 85% of the Nile waters, has always rejected Egypt’s claim for “historical rights” as it is based on colonial treaties Ethiopia was excluded from. The colonial treaties allocated the waters to only two of the ten riparian states. Instead Ethiopia promotes a policy of “equitable share”].  

Hence, as a religious consumer of news reports on the issue, I see no ground to confuse the DoP with “water share” and nothing in the alleged remark to cause alarm. After all Ethiopia made countless remarks emphasizing no-halt to the construction of the dam, respect for the DoP agreement and its rejection of the “historical share” claim.

However, instead of clarifying that to the media, the Egyptian foreign ministry found it convenient to join the manufactured frenzy and got into the “calming down” business. The ministry apparently requested Ethiopia a clarification and according to its own website, got a response that “Ethiopia is committed to the DoP agreement”. That line, in my opinion, appears plausible.

When the story reached the Egyptian media though, the statement got altered to “Ethiopia assured it is committed to Egypt’s share of Nile waters”. The origin of this misinterpretation is yet unclear. Either the media willfully misinterpreted the clarification or the foreign ministry misinterpreted it for them.

On another follow-up report, Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid claimed to have gotten a clarification from the Ethiopian government spokesperson that “Ethiopia respects Egypt’s water share.” I highly doubt the spokesperson made a 180 on an official position. On the other hand, the contradiction between the verbal and published statements of Egyptian foreign ministry casts doubt on their integrity. The track record of Egyptians on the issue doesn’t let one to give them the benefit of the doubt.

We can inquire whether the media or the Egyptian foreign minister is the one playing with words. But I don’t think it matters since Egyptian government and media are known to finish each other’s sentences. The whole frenzy reeks of being manufactured.

Suspicious Frenzy

I’m of the opinion that there is not much of confusion among Egyptian media and officials on the agreed principles and the position differences of the two countries. Hence, I find it hard to take the frenzy as a result of an honest mistake or misquoting. Even more, the foreign ministry’s enthusiasm to indulge in this drama (and even add to the confusion) adds to my suspicion.

In my opinion, the root of the drama is Egypt’s refusal to part with the colonial era policy it held for long. One consistent tradition of Egyptian media and the government is playing fast and loose with facts and misinterpreting everything until it fits their interpretation. I assume Egyptian foreign ministry tried to exploit this manufactured frenzy to extract some kind of note suggesting Ethiopia’s recognition of its “historical right” claim. After all, not a week passes without Egyptian officials or media demanding for Ethiopia’s recognition of it. Hence, I see this as a continuation of that tradition. I suppose, failing to extract a letter of their wishes, the foreign ministry and media went on asserting their illusions anyway.

Commentators of the Nile issue has on several occasions advised the government of Egypt to stop keeping the public in the bubble of “historical rights”, to tell the people of Egypt that the era of colonial agreements gave way to the era of “equitable sharing” and quit the media spins that add no positive value in the outcome of the Nile sharing or the dam. Repetition of lies as if they are facts only entrenches old claims into Egyptian psyche and merely serve as a cause for future conflict, not cooperation. We can safely assume Ethiopia is not committed to colonial water shares, neither last week or in this one.

That’s just not happening.


Articles Education Ethiopia featured Media Opposition politics Politics Security

Sabotaging Exams is Only Irresponsible, Never Legitimate

A security breach occurred at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education and the National high school leaving examination is now postponed after leaks of the answers for the English language test were published online. Self-proclaimed rights activists claimed responsibility for the leak. They put forward the disruption of schools in some parts of Oromia this year, following the “master plan” riots, as an excuse. They apparently found the sabotage of student’s examination across Ethiopia and the rest of Oromia as legitimate cause.

It is true that students in several part of Oromia state missed classes from days in some areas to a couple of months in others, especially in West and South Shoa zones of Oromia. Disruptions of various magnitude also occurred in Konso areas of Southern state and Qimant areas of the Amhara state. This, unfortunately, is a common phenomenon as flooding, droughts and conflicts always disrupted schools, especially in Ethiopian Somali state and Southern Omo areas of Southern peoples state. The ministry of education however always preferred to conduct the examinations at the same day across the country. What happened this year is no different.

Several recommendations has been forwarded to address the troubles of the students in heavily affected areas of Oromia (not the entire state). One recommendation was to not conduct the tests in those affected areas. That in my opinion would be equivalent to a punishment as it robs a year from the students. That I assume was also the consideration of the ministry. If that was to happen, one can easily imagine the government being accused of punishing “Oromo students” for the protests.

Photo - Tana High School, Bahirdar [Credit - Chora, Inc.]
Photo – Tana High School, Bahirdar. 2010 [Credit: Chora, Inc.]

Another recommendation was to delay the examination for months. There is nothing wrong to ask students across Ethiopia to sacrifice a couple of months for their fellow citizens in those affected zones. The domino effect that such an unprecedented delay would create on the schedules of the universities can also be managed. However, the precedent set will force the ministry and the government to do the same for other states that face disruptions in the coming years. That’s not a hypothetical point but something that’s almost certain to happen, as I tried to show above. I assume the ministry and the government chose to not set such a precedent that will become an annual feature to haunt the examinations.

Despite this considerations the ministry made an exception and allowed more than a dozen woredas (districts) to take the examinations in July. That practically robs any excuses for the saboteurs. The irony lies in the fact that most of those “activists” asking for the delay of the examinations are those that are vowing and actively promoting the riots to continue.

The Cost and the Blame

A student’s preparation for examination is psychological as much as technical coverage of the content. Such disruptions affect the mental state of the students and the additional time adds little into preparation. With the nearing of the sowing season in the rural areas, the schedule mishap adversely affects students who will join the family farming activities in June. Hence, the biggest losers of this sabotage are students across Ethiopia. The other cost is the huge expenses laid to waste due to the sabotage.

The “activists” who organized the sabotage and their cheerleaders who attempt to defend such an irresponsible act with flimsy arguments also take a chunk of the blame. Even when they know the students in affected woredas has gotten an extension, they still preferred to sabotage the examination students from the rest of Oromia and the country has been preparing for. That cements the majority opinion that these self-proclaimed activists are only interested in attracting attention at any cost.

The blame also lies with the ministry who got itself infiltrated by saboteurs and made a security mishap in one of the biggest national undertakings. That calls for an enquiry and accountability of responsible officials.

Going forward, it is incumbent upon all of us to condemn such attacks on the public and not defend them as if the attack was against government, which while not always legitimate but somewhat understandable. This act, however, is wildly irresponsible and has no basis of legitimacy.


Articles Environment Ethiopia featured Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Politics Sudan

Renaissance dam and its impact on Ethio-Sudan ties

The relationship between the two neighbors, Ethiopia and Sudan, is an ancient one. The two neighbors share a long border and history in which some of it was spent with glorious achievements while most of it was spent with mutual suspicion and sabotage. The relationship at present has come a long way from that to and is astonishing in retrospect. In light of the 5th anniversary of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and its reaching of an irreversible stage, I found it the right time to take account of the dynamics of Ethio-Sudan relations and how the GERD impacted it.

The thousands of years long historical relationship begins from the civilizations of Axum and Merowe in which the two people lived under the one or the other civilizations. This long relationship has resulted in innumerable shared cultural, linguistic and ethnic values. However, since the independence of Sudan and especially after the end of WWII the relationship has exhibited an on and off pattern with the negative outweighing the positive. As in most other cases both bear the blame for the deterioration.

Ethiopia’s previous foreign policies were founded on a “siege mentality” in which the narrative was of a country surrounded by enemies. That narrative was seared into the Ethiopian psyche in turn to have an adverse effect on the relationship and dampen positive developments. The effect of that attitude still persists even though it faded after the establishment of a Federal Republic in Ethiopia and the near excellent relationship they had for a quarter of a century.

The relationship between the two has particularly gotten worse especially in the period of the fascist military junta that ruled Ethiopia from 1974-91. However, the junta was not the only one to blame as The Sudan was in internal turmoil with the sporadic manifestations of religious extremism. There were several attempts aided by The Sudan that were configured to make Ethiopia a victim of terrorism and also to spread religious extremism. These in turn fed into the siege mentality of its neighbor and created a contagion vulnerability for the old Ethiopia in which religious inequality was a feature. This was one of the reasons that harmed the relationships between the two countries.

The other, and maybe the biggest, reason was the strategic issues concerning the utilization of the Nile River. The 1959 agreement between the two lower riparian countries, Sudan and Egypt, excluding Ethiopia, which was the main source of the river, was damaging to the relationship between the two East African neighbors.

Even though Ethiopia’s potential to use the Nile for irrigation is limited due to its topography, The Sudan have a vast and fertile irrigable land and situated better than all the riparian states to greater utilization of the Nile waters. However, the 1959 agreement, has dubiously appropriated the right to the largest share of the Nile’s waters to Egypt which neither adds any volume nor have enough land for irrigation. This agreement was in addition of being an insult to Ethiopia, was also contrary to the national interest of Sudan. Many analysts attribute this outcome to the undue influence of Egypt on the internal politics of the Sudan.

The establishment of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia 25 years ago was a distinct turning point in the relationship between the two neighbors. One of the two main factors was the fact that the new republic was mainly spearheaded by the then rebel group with long and strong working relationships to the ruling party of Sudan. The EPRDF coalition, which overthrew the military junta, had used Sudan as a supply corridor (especially for food aid to the population in the area it controlled. The porous border with Sudan and the cold-war like relationship between the two countries has also created conducive environment for movements of rebel leaders. The working relationship built in the decades has its share in the unprecedented mutual trust that happened 25 years ago.

The other main factor was Ethiopia’s new foreign policy that took a U-turn in that it declared Ethiopia is neither surrounded by nor have permanent enemies. The policy was centered on the top strategic goal of the country which was set to be achieving an economic miracle and emphasized the need for regional interdependence to create a conducive condition to sustainable peace and development. The new policy direction and measures for security and economic cooperation that followed has definitely built on the initial mutual trust. That is the only explanation for why a number of hiccups in their relationship (such as the assassination attempt on Egyptian president in Addis Ababa by terrorists the Sudan sheltered) haven’t resulted in a major fallout.

Photo - Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, April 2016

Ethiopia’s Rise

The last decade was a unique chapter in the modern history of Ethiopia and the sub-region as the country registered an unprecedented double digit growth for consecutive years. That coupled with its nuanced regional diplomacy (with the personal qualities of its late statesman at the forefront) has earned her the respect of its neighbors, including those that only had a hostile historical relationship. Ethiopia rose to be a trusted regional broker as was seen by the preference of the warring Sudan and South Sudan for Ethiopian mediation and the only mutually acceptable military force for an African peacekeeping mission to be settled at their contested border. The Sudan, in contrary to those historical suspicions, has even insisted on the deployment of Ethiopian troops as peacekeepers in Darfur, its restive region. That was an unparalleled demonstration of the diplomatic feat Ethiopia has achieved in a troubled sub-region.

And then the GERD came to town…

The surprise announcement of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by the late statesman Meles Zenawi has once again brought back the old media talk of “water wars”. Not a few expected some sort of conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia and assumed the regional alliance of the Sudan with Egypt to continue. The assessment was fair when one takes into account the internal vulnerability of the Sudan and the historical meddling of Egypt into its internal politics which will not let Sudan afford to break from past Nile agreements in favor of its national interest.

However, geopolitics is a scene of surprises and that was what happened in this case. Egypt has learned it has lost Africa and especially the Nile basin region to Ethiopia in the intense shuttle diplomacy it conducted after the announcement of the GERD. Ethiopia has controlled the narrative with its leadership of African agenda in the international arena as well as with unrelenting decades long engagement in the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), an organ formed by all Nile riparian countries as a framework for fair allocation of Nile waters which resulted into the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) signed by all except the two lower riparian countries. Egypt on the other hand not only chose to pivot towards the Middle East for decades but also showed reluctance, if not hostility, towards the NBI and the countries in it. That turned out to be a strategic blunder.

As if the diplomatic debacle wasn’t enough, Egypt got itself mired in an turmoil for years as a result of the Arab Spring and that cost her a great deal of respect in the region. The perceived power of Egypt rested in its assumed national cohesion and its ability to create instability in the nations that dare to challenge her. That has evaporated in the last two decades as Ethiopia spearheaded and succeeded in elevating the state of cooperation in the sub-region. The troubled region has managed to form a regional organization for security and economic cooperation, established sub-regional standby peacekeeping force, instituted an arms trafficking control regime…which resulted in talks of economic integration instead of wars and sabotages of neighbors. Hence, the old tactic was no more potent in getting others in line. That changed state was added to the turmoil of Egypt has let Nile riparian countries to peruse their national interest. At that point the only option left for Egypt was to return to the negotiation table it once rejected, and that’s what she did.

The GERD, probably by design than coincidence, benefits the Sudan as much as, if not more, it benefits Ethiopia. The dam is being built a mere 40 Kms from the border with Sudan and it gives Sudan a number of benefits at zero cost. The Ethiopian leadership must have communicated the benefits early on as the Sudanese leadership was seen reluctant to jump into the Egyptian bandwagon of denunciations and even war threats in the early days of GERD.

After all the Sudan has agreements for hydropower energy purchase from Ethiopia, supplies oil to Ethiopia, is undertaking activities for Ethiopia’s use of its ports, enjoys strong border security and repatriation agreements and even hosts thousands of Ethiopian troops in its territory. Hence, she was with no inclination to spoil it all for Egypt, with no credible plan for triumph, and especially over a dam that is actually in her national interest. That’s probably why Sudan moved even closer to Ethiopia as time goes by and its statements on GERD has become softer and softer and even positive up to a point in which Sudanese citizens residing in Ethiopia started to invest in the GERD bonds. The attitude of Sudan, I believe, has a big role in forcing the Egyptians come to the negotiating table.

The geopolitical dynamics witnessed in the last five years after the annunciation of the GERD showcases a scenario in which a rising Ethiopia has freed the Sudan from the yoke of Egyptian dominance in which it pursues its national interest boldly. It won’t be long before Sudan moves the other leg forward to break with the past and join the future with its African neighbors by signing the CFA. Egypt will then follow the inevitable path.   

To sum it all up, the silent diplomacy followed by the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan and the refrain from inflammatory public rhetoric against each other when disagreements arise has definitely contributed to most smooth relationship they achieved than ever in their history. Ethiopia has reaped the benefits of its bold foreign policy initiative by managing to surround itself with allies instead of enemies. That is a policy to keep, except maybe with its northern neighbor run by suicidal sociopath. But that is a topic for another day.

The economic and security interdependence Ethiopia and Sudan built in the past two decades has so far shown to be a far sighted investment for both and The GERD has a potential to take this mutual interdependence to a higher level and come to be an irreversible point for a lasting partnership between these two neighbors.


Articles Ethiopia featured Media MEDREK party Opposition politics Politics State Department Tigrai

VOA Spending American Tax Dollars in Fomenting Unrest in Ethiopia

The past two months were high time for Anti-Ethiopian groups. The El Nino drought and the unrest in Oromia state were a rare opportunity for diaspora based groups that always wished and tried to violent overthrow of the constitutional order. However, they were denied of options except holding photo-ops in Eritrea. This year was different, it was like a dream come true, for them off course.

The El Nino drought affected nearly 20% of the population, an economic slowdown that creates fertile ground for discontent. The drought and its handling didn’t generate enough trouble for them to utilize as was seen from the level of their activities. But then comes the unrest in Oromia. The unrest, which was the result of an exceptional bad governance in the state, ended up in the people airing their grievances. The diaspora based far right groups were reluctant at first on whether to back the protests, after all the protesters are the antithesis to everything they stand for. As months went by the attempted to co-opt and even hijack the Oromia protests, only to end in failure.

It was then that they came up with a new unrest plan that will give them a cause to rally their ideological base and also pile on Ethiopia’s troubles. They resuscitated a long settled issue and intensified their shrill using all possible media opportunities. The issue is off course a piece of land they claim was taken away from “their region” by Tigrai state a quarter of a century ago. I know I know…It sounds absurd for a far right groups who trumpets ultra-nationalist “Ethiopianism” mantra to cry this hard for regional ethnic borders. But their Ethiopianism placards never fooled anyone anyway.

Returning to the background story, these groups organized a committee of 20 guys at Gondar city (neighboring Tigrai state) and made two public meetings endorsed by the city mayor in which they managed to gather a maximum of 300 people. The participants, the organizers and the funders were not even the dwellers of the Wolkait area and chose the neighboring city as a base, probably due to the absence of a four-star hotel in Wolkait.

The Voice of America, run by State Department for (don’t laugh) “promotion of democracy” was instrumental in this campaign. The station, in unprecedented fashion, prepared a special coverage from a temporary studio in Gondar and conducted a lopsided interview with the committee. The coverage introduced a narrative that the people of Wolkait (an area found in Tigrai) are supposedly claiming “they are not Tigrean even though the speak Tigrigna”, (FYI their name, the villages and even the mounts all bear Tigrigna names). The claim was bewildering for any sane person except for the far right crowd on the social media. The journalistic conduct of the VOA anchor Tizita Belachew was embarrassing for any self-respecting media that worries about its image. But then again VOA has never attempted to portray itself as fair and balanced, so no surprise there.

Map - Nationalities in northern Ethiopia [published by Derg regime]
Map – Nationalities in northern Ethiopia [Derg regime]

What followed was a war of words in the social media and a successive demonstrations of an outraged public at Wolkait. The VOA, after a torrent of criticisms from many quarters attempted to re-balance the slanted coverage by announcing “it tried and failed to contact” one Tigrean guy who posted criticism on VOA on Facebook. The anchor could have asked influential social media personalities for his address or even contact other influencers to give their idea. But then again ‘balancing the coverage” was not a serious endeavor, just a mockery. After such a provocative coverage, the people of Wolkait, Tigrai continued on their marches debunking the wild claims of the diaspora far right groups and their State Department funded media. Those series of marches poured water on the fires lit by VOA and almost killed the agenda.

But the VOA wasn’t going to give up easily. The station asked local opposition groups for a comment. The opposition coalition MEDREK, in which a “Tigrean” opposition party named ARENA is a member, responded favorably. The coalition asked for “a peaceful resolution of the identity question”, a seemingly harmless response with a tacit endorsement of the VOA’s claim of existence “an identity question” and “an unrest” on the ground that led MEDREK (ARENA) to ask for “peaceful resolution”.

That statement drew an ire from Tigreans of different political orientations on social media. Arena, probable with the hope of getting some of the huge diaspora funds going to local opposition parties, doubled down on its statement by announcing its rejection of the flag of the federal republic in favor of the old Unitarian flag. That was, even though insignificant, a success for the diaspora far-right groups. But so far, the diaspora groups and the VOA failed to create unrest in the area even though they managed to raise ethnic discord and war of words in the social media. They however succeeded in diverting attention from people protesting at bad governance in Oromia state, get some attention to themselves.

The VOA intensified its campaign by keeping the issue significant coverage at a time when real troubles are happening in several places in Ethiopia, except in Wolkait, where the VOA is interested. The supposed “re-balancing of coverage” continued in being a mockery of epic proportions. For more than two months the VOA, instead of inviting constitutional historians and respected unbiased historians, preferred to call upon individuals who were part of the old feudalism and have no education in historical analysis. Even they weren’t given professional interviews in which the journalist is supposed to raise the questions that need to be raised. At this point, it’s fair to assume that wasn’t an accident but by design.

The criticisms on the station has forced to allow one renowned historian named Gelawdios Araya to present the real historical account the VOA chose to shun. But that was too little too late to make up for the months of one-sided coverage. The ethnicity census results and ethnic maps of Ethiopia which were prepared by the previous far right “socialist” government (it claimed to follow “Ethiopian socialism”, a hybrid of non-multicultural Ethiopianism and Stalinism) weren’t mentioned in all this coverage.

No one on VOA questioned the phony committee how come they spoke and were named in Tigrigna if they weren’t Tigrean. It was like an election campaign newspaper asking its own candidate fluffy questions. I wonder what the American tax payer say if it knew his/her tax dollars are going to unethical State Department radio in the business of fomenting yet another unrest in a poor African country. Especially when the country is a staunch ally of the United States in the fight against terror and one of few places where the America is viewed favorably.

The government of Ethiopia, however, knows what is being cooked and have a responsibility of protecting the nation from foreign subversive propaganda. It bears the responsibility for the failure to do that.


Articles Ethiopia Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) featured Jawar Mohammed Opposition politics Oromo Protests Politics Politics and Legal

Jawar Mohammed: ‘The scary image of Agazi needs to be reexamined’

Characterizing the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) as “Tigrean army” is a commonplace among the diaspora opposition. The exact composition of top-level commanders is unknown, as the military is secretive about everything. Anecdotal information suggest the dominance of the armed struggle veterans in the command structure of the army.

Yet, that doesn’t stop some from misrepresenting the composition of the entire active military personnel, which is 29%Amhara, 24%Oromo, 22% from the south (SNNP) and 18% from Tigray. Especially, the Agazi division of ENDF which was dispatched following the 2005 post-election crisis, is claimed to be entirely Tigrean. That claim was incessantly promoted by Jawar Mohammed, director of Oromia Media Network, in the past months in connection with the protests in Oromia.

Photo - Jawar Mohammed facebook post
Jawar Mohammed facebook post on Dec. 11, 2015 [Credit: HornAffairs associate Nebyu Kahssay] Note: HornAffairs visited the area and learned the post was fictional.

However, that appears to contradict to what Jawar Mohammed himself wrote in 2011, shortly after the Arab spring. At that time, he wrote:

It is common to refer to the current Ethiopian military as the TPLF army. This is factually incorrect because members of the military come from all corners of the country and Tigreans make up no more than 10%.

The scary image about the “Agazi” division that was involved in quashing the 2005 protests needs to be reexamined. This division is described as a Tigrean only unit or sometimes as being full of mercenaries. Anecdotal evidence shows that there are several non-Tigrean Ethiopians within the rank and file of the division including the command.  

Read below excerpts from Jawar Mohammed’s 2011 article titled “Nonviolent Struggle: Ethiopian Exceptionalism?”


(Jawar Mohammed)

The long oppressed citizens of Tunisia and Egypt have freed themselves. Libyans are almost there. Bahraini, Yemeni, Algerians, and Moroccans are in the middle of a fierce struggle. Our neighbors, Djiboutians have also risen up. In Ethiopia, debate is raging over whether the current wave of people’s uprising should, could or would reach Meles Zenawi?  While the successes in the Arab world have a visibly energizing effect, skepticism is still dominating the discourse in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Fortunately, in the last month, most of the misconceptions about nonviolent resistance have been debunked. Thanks to the tantalizing nonviolent discipline demonstrated by the Egyptian protesters, the cultural determinism school of thought, which long declared Arab and African societies as incompatible with ‘civilized’ politics have been practically refuted.  The growing successes of civilian movements against the brutal regimes in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain have disproved the belief that nonviolent resistance works only against soft-authoritarians who value human life.

Skeptics are using “Ethiopian Exceptionalism” to argue that nonviolent strategies would not work in Ethiopia. Three of the most repeated arguments are: ethnic fragmentation, composition of the military and low Internet penetration. These arguments have strong factual bases and do not warrant outright dismissal. However, Ethiopia having a different condition from Egypt or Tunisia does not necessarily prevent waging a successful nonviolent resistance. It just requires a strategy specifically tailored for the exceptional realities in Ethiopia.

Composition of Military

The Egyptian army was showered with praises for its neutrality, and rightly so. However, too much credit is given to the “professionalism” of the army than other factors such as the role of the United States and most importantly the strategy organizers deployed to restrain the military. By emphasizing the ‘professionalism’ of the army, the planners made a tactical choice long before the confrontation. Once repeated by analysts and pundits alike, the army was systematically put under moral pressure to protect its image.

The primary duty of every military is to protect the government of the day. The degree of its loyalty could be different depending on connections with the ruler. A lot has been said about the loyalty of the Ethiopian military to the system. Much of the discourse focuses on the top commanders’ ethnic identification with Meles. It is true that Meles has assigned Tigreans to most of the key command positions. And the primary rationale for this is a cold strategic calculation rather than favoritism (see my article on Tigrean Nationalism).

Unfortunately, the opposition has been attacking the strength of this strategy. They attack the military because they seem to have resigned to the assumption that all those officers are loyal to Meles. This was exactly what the strategy was designed to achieve. This strategy must change now. Correcting factual errors and myths about the composition and internal dynamics of the military is crucial. It is common to refer to the current Ethiopian military as the TPLF army. This is factually incorrect because members of the military come from all corners of the country and Tigreans make up no more than 10%.

Most of the soldiers below the rank of colonel were not part of the rebel movement. As such, they have little ideological or personal connection with the rulers. The majority of the TPLF’s rebel soldiers were demobilized early on to engage in business activities and some were purged while many others have retired.

The scary image about the “Agazi” division that was involved in quashing the 2005 protests needs to be reexamined. This division is described as a Tigrean only unit or sometimes as being full of mercenaries. Anecdotal evidence shows that there are several non-Tigrean Ethiopians within the rank and file of the division including the command.  Most dictators have ‘presidential’ guards composed of elite soldiers who have proved their loyalty; this is certainly the case for Agazi. Most of the misinformation is provided by the regime to create a terrifying image of the military and a hostile situation between the army and the people. Critics of the system have further exaggerated, the ‘otherness’ and cruelty of this division, which further terrifies the public.

Despite its role in strengthening loyalty, ethnic composition of the military does not make it more effective against nonviolent resistance. The apartheid system in South Africa had almost an entirely white military. But it did not save the system from crumbling under the weight of people’s power. Nonviolent strategies avoid the regime’s strong pillars and target its weakest links—what Gene Sharp calls Achilles’ heels. Instead of taking the military head on, South African strategists organized a nationwide boycott of white businesses. There was nothing the security and military could do, besides harassing and arresting the key organizers. As months went by, the economic costs were unbearable even to the most racist businessmen. Thus, the cost of repression against the Black community was systematically transferred to the White community that was previously ambivalent or supported the regime.  When the going got tough, the White South Africans turned up the heat on the regime, and the resulting crisis brought down the government.   The hardliner P. W. Botha was replaced by a moderate F.W. De Klerk, opening the door for ‘pacted’ (bargained) transition.

The Ethiopian National Defense Force is combat tested and is relatively in good shape but lacks experience in dealing with civilians. It has been expanding officer’s colleges and also increased production of its own light weaponry. But due to poor infrastructure and outdated vehicles, its tactical mobilization is rated poor. Yet there are several units stationed in barracks within close proximity of the capital.  Thanks to Meles’ deeply anti-military sentiment (due to fear of a coup) the morale of the soldiers is low. They draw a small salary from the regime and the rising cost of living has made it difficult, particularly for long serving career officers.  Due to perceived ethnic favoritism, mutinies and high profile defections have been taking place. The regime has responded by purging or ‘grounding’ almost all Oromo and Amhara senior officers and replacing them with Tigrean loyalists. This strategy might have prevented potential coups but makes the regime extremely vulnerable to nonviolent strategies. Since the majority of the soldiers feel marginalized, they identity with the grievances of the people, likely to turn on the system on the first sign of weakness on the part of the regime.


Ethiopia featured Health News Politics

Breaking news: H1N1 “swine flu” virus outbreak in Ethiopia

HornAffairs has learnt H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak has been detected in Addis Ababa.

The virus has been detected this week in Yekatit 12 hospital, Tikur Anbesa (Black Lion) hospital and Ras Desta hospital, a health specialist told HornAffairs on condition of anonymity.

The Ministry of Health have not announced the matter yet. However, sources in the ministry say the subtype of the influenza detected in Addis Ababa is less dangerous than others and Ethiopia has testing and treating capabilities.

Yet, test samples are sent to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) of United States for further investigation as a matter precaution, according to HornAffairs sources.

Multiple cases have been detected so far and a couple of deaths have occurred. Sources say the deceased were TB and diabetes patients whose resistance had been weakened.

Photo - H1N1 Swine Flu

According to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “H1N1 is a flu virus. When it was first detected in 2009, it was called “swine flu” because the virus was similar to those found in pigs. The H1N1 virus is currently a seasonal flu virus found in humans.”

The CDC says, typical influenza symptoms include fever with abrupt onset, chills, sore throat, non-productive cough and, often accompanied by headache, coryza, myalgia and prostration. It could become fatal mainly to the elderly and to individuals with pre-existing chronic diseases.


Agriculture Articles Economy & Business Ethiopia featured Horn of Africa drought 2015-2016 Hunger Ministry of Health

Beware the drought, the MDG successes are at stake

Ethiopia is rising and poised to reach middle income status after a decade, according to World Bank. Ethiopia is experiencing the worst drought in decades and now has almost 10% of her population under emergency aid.

Those two are facts that describe the East African rising giant.

I find the current drought to be a concerning setback. What makes it concerning isn’t the loss in the annual agricultural output or a likely drop in the expected economic growth rate. In fact, not even the food shortage. I said that not because that’s not such a bad thing but because it grabbed the main focus of all and is currently being addressed with intense relief works.

What keeps me up all night is rather the long-term impact of the drought. The focus of the government is on ensuring people-in-need get the basic required amount of food to survive the drought, and rightly so. In such a situation, however, other considerations and efforts for human development will most likely take a back seat, at least temporarily. This temporary shift in focus is what I fear to pose risk of a lasting regression in Ethiopia’s substantial progress in the social indicators of the Millennium Development Goals.

Photo - Ethiopian farmer

The performance of African countries on reducing hunger varies markedly. Since the millennium, many gains have been made: the number of people living in extreme poverty in the developing world has shrunk from half of the population to a quarter; Enrollment in primary education has increased to 88%, with the largest gains being made in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia; And the deaths of children under five has continued to decline. However, in the battle against hunger, unforeseen difficulties keep arising, such as the ever-changing climate situation, which this year has thrust the fastest growing horn of Africa region into humanitarian crisis. We are seeing that drought years are coming more and more frequently, often successively, making life increasingly difficult for people living in drought prone areas.

Ethiopia on its part has registered tremendous progress in the millennium development goals. According to reports from international organizations Ethiopia registered significant reduction with respect to the goal to “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” that it is now only 5 percentage points away from reaching the target. The significant reduction in poverty in recent times in Ethiopia and Rwanda has been attributed to the rapid growth in agriculture. And with respect to the target of halving the prevalence of underweight children [below age 5] Ethiopia reduced it by about by 25 percent.

However, this success is now under threat. The successes of the MDG are not irreversible, or at least not free from regression. Many of the goals Ethiopia has shown progress are vulnerable to the impacts of drought.

One of the MDG goals, poverty reduction, will likely be hampered due to reduced agricultural output that leads to loss of farm income and also the loss of livestock and farm animals that will pull especially the pastoralist back to poverty. In addition, a possible food inflation could rob consumer’s disposable income and savings affecting the progress in poverty reduction. A slowdown in the rate of economic growth following a reduced hydro power energy output could derail the potential growth in industrial and service sectors.

The most serious of all are malnutrition and health problems related to poor water quality which are the most likely impacts of a drought of such magnitude. Malnutrition is basically characterized by a wide array of health problems, including extreme weight loss, stunted growth, weakened resistance to infection, and impairment of intellect. Children suffer from the effects of food shortage faster than adults.

According to recent studies on Ethiopia, children aged five or less in drought-prone areas are 36 percent more likely to be malnourished and 41 percent more likely to be stunted if they are born during a drought year. This is estimated to translate into some 2 million ‘additional’ malnourished children. This shows the seriousness of the issue under discussion. In addition, Food price hikes that usually follow droughts is another key factor that hampers progress in nutrition levels. These could severely derail the achievements in the goals to reduce child mortality and the prevalence of underweight children.

The relationship between food shortage and poor education, bad health is dynamic and long lasting, creating a vicious cycle that often propagates pervasive linkage. For instance, malnourished children have weak immune systems and die prematurely from communicable diseases that are usually preventable and treatable, such as dysentery, malaria and respiratory infections. They start school late, learn less and drop out early. Malnourished mothers are also at a greater risk of dying in childbirth and of delivering low-birth-weight babies undermining the huge progress Ethiopia made in this regard.

Fortunately, there is a health-nutrition system that seems well funded and to be working well especially in battling child malnutrition. Recent media visits into drought affected areas has revealed the much lauded health extension program is working well with respect to under-five children, shielding them from the impacts of the drought that the adults are well experiencing. There was, however, a visible gap in children above the age of five who seem to have fallen into the crack of the system as they are not covered in a scheme designed with the aim to reduce infant mortality and halving the prevalence of below age five underweight children. That is something which requires immediate attention.

It is crucial that we be wary of relief efforts shifting attention away from the development goals we were committed to achieve. We should in fact strengthen the system in place with equal priority as our relief works. If Ethiopia is to get through this setback and continue its development march, losing focus of the MDG’s is not an option.


Articles Environment Ethiopia featured Gibe III dam Reality-Check

Gibe is not Gila: Anti-dam activism gone awry

“Dam on Ethiopia’s Omo River Causing Hunger and Conflict”. That was the tittle of Sandra Postel’s alarming piece on National Geographic. Any sane person would (and should) be upset upon reading peoples’ suffering due to government-made disasters. That is what many feel at first reading. The only problem? It’s far from the reality.

The writer, a Freshwater fellow of the National Geographic Society, is a veteran anti-dam activist that focused on American rivers and dams. In what looks like career diversification, Postel took the usual route and looked to Africa in the quest for a new cause. And she was handed over or stumbled upon a massaged story by NGOs with a track record of using debunked allegations in their aggressive campaigning against Ethiopian dams.

Let’s fact-check some of the assertions in Sandra Postel’s piece that are both dispiriting and fascinating.

Postel: “The filling of the reservoir behind Gibe III Dam on the Omo River is holding back the flows needed by some 200,000 indigenous people in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya to sustain their food production and livelihoods.”

Reality: It is true, there is an ongoing drought in the Omo basins. What is also true is that the drought extends far beyond the Omo basins, in fact it covers the entire East Africa. That, you would expect to be a cue for any researcher who’s attributing a cause for an effect. Alas, that didn’t happen in this case. In a typical ex-post facto argument the writer attributed the blame for the drought to Gibe Dam instead of the reigning El-Nino phenomenon.

Postel: “Scientists have warned that the lake could shrink dramatically with the completion of Gibe III.”

Reality: Only one study claimed that. On the contrary, the UNEP report of February 2012 on “the Gibe III Dam and its Potential Impact on Lake Turkana Water Levels” shows that there could be no “dramatic shrink” because of Gibe III. “The lake levels actually fluctuate three to four meters seasonally in any one year at the moment in any case. The most comprehensive study of the impact of the dam, done in 2010, calculated that the hydrological impact would be a fall of up to 2 meters, no more.” It said.

Likewise, nearly all donor country ambassadors, UN agencies and international financial institutions concerned including a rigorous Gates Foundation research discredited the social and hydrological impact warnings made so far.

Photo - Gilgel Gibe III dam 2015

Postel: “Donor countries that provide aid to Ethiopia could help by putting pressure on the government to remedy the tragic consequences now unfolding.”

Reality: The Gibe dam is fully funded by the Government of Ethiopia and hence it’s out of donor dominion. What’s worse is though the aid-freeze Postel suggested will only harm the same people she claims to care for. After all, the aid Ethiopia receives are not infrastructure support but humanitarian and any aid arm-twisting will endanger the supply of food and medicines to aid beneficiaries.

What’s even worse is an ‘environmentalist’ suggesting arm-twisting on a third world nation by the greatest polluter nations (a.k.a. Donors). The nations that the environmentalist seems to rest her hope on are same actors that, with their irresponsible environmental policies, are pushing the world to “Hunger and Conflict”.

Postel: “…the tribal people who have lived sustainability in the Omo Valley for centuries”.

Reality: Omo river valley is an area where people suffered from the overflow of the Omo River for recorded history. Flooding into downstream areas has been claiming thousands of lives and decimating livelihoods. The perks of modernity, including electric power, that we all credit for easier and our better life standard were absent. I wonder what’s “sustainable” about such type of living. Whoever founds this sustainable should leave his/her high carbon footprint house and try it for a month to deserve an audience.

In what sounds like an attempt at supporting a preconceived anti-dam conclusion using unrelated disaster, the anti-dam crusader laundered discredited allegations and aid-freeze recommendations of International Rivers, an NGO that is the source of most of the linked content in the smear piece. The writer provided nothing to substantiate her multiple claims except one “anonymous” source and a dubious study by Oakland Institute.

Anyone that followed the issue for years will easily see this piece for what it is, an embarrassing attempt to validate those debunked doomsday predictions on Omo basin. It was meant to be an “I told you so” moment for those in the environmental activism business, those who will then use it as an independent researcher’s validation of their warning shrills. Imagine a piece written using those two NGOs as sole source being used by those same organizations as proof. That’s a brilliant scheme. And one that we should always be cautious of not falling for it.

Postel quotes a catchy statement of Daniel P. Beard, the author of “Deadbeat Dams” in another article titled “Dam Ideology”. “When it comes to water, concrete trumps common sense. We seem to have a need to build something – anything – even when the project makes no sense at all.”

Yeah well, that could be true for dams of New Mexico but they are definitely not the case here. Ethiopia, even-though it is currently the fastest growing country in the world, it is still one of the poorest nations on earth with literally zero spare cash for “nonsense dams” built to satisfy a “need to build something”. Everything we are building we do it with great financial pain and belt tightening in a hope of economic returns that may help us escape the poverty we refuse to get used to. Gila maybe a billion-dollar boondoggle but Gibe is a lifeline.

Anti-dam activism built on antipathy towards American politician’s desire to build “nonsense” dams is highly misplaced in East Africa. That’s something the writer seems to have missed.


Addis Ababa Articles Ethiopia featured Oromia Oromo Protests Politics

Why we shall embrace Oromia protests despite tumult

Oromia, the largest state in Ethiopia, had parts of it in turmoil especially in the last two weeks. The protests started on November 19 in Ginchi town (Western Shewa zone) following local officials transferring part of a land that belonged to a school for another use. The protests spread to several towns with other regional and national demands featuring in them.

The controversial draft plan for the integrated development of Addis Ababa (a.k.a. Finfine) and surrounding Oromia towns was the main thrust of the protests while various other demands featured in various localities. The draft plan was also the reason for the 2014 protests that seemed to halt its progress.

Massive displacement of Oromo farmers, making Affan Oromo a federal working language, unfair fees levied on farmers for local militia uniforms, restrictive licensing laws, corruption and other maladministration issues were raised by the protesters.

Maladministration as an underlying cause

Prime Minister Hailemariam chaired a upper-level government panel last month to discuss a study on good governance practices and failures. The Panel centered on the findings of the study, how far good governance is practiced, challenges faced and the way forward. The study squared on rent-seeking as a major challenge, especially with regard to the land administration sector.

The failures on good governance, which were also affirmed by the congress of the ruling coalition, constituted a major share of the protest demands and the grievances that led to it. There is a silver lining to the saddening loss of life and the ensuing chaos. What happened provides the government a powerful push for a real drive towards improving good governance and implementing the maxims of its congress.

Photo - Oromo protests 2015

The Master-plan and the cost of neglect

The relationship between Addis Ababa and Oromia is not of closeness but that the capital is totally encircled by Oromia. Hence, Addis Ababa is part of Oromia. Currently Addis Ababa is serving as the capital city of the Federal government of Ethiopia as well as Oromia state. However, Apart from maladministration, the main demands showed the protesters feeling that the capital is not a bit Oromo, culturally or administratively.

The Constitution ties Addis Ababa and Oromia together by recognizing the “special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Ababa” regarding social, economic and administrative affairs. The reason to bind them together emanates from geography and history.

Article 49 (5) of the Constitution rendered: “The special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Ababa, regarding the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Ababa within the State of Oromia, shall be respected. Particulars shall be determined by law”.

The particulars, however, are not yet determined. The neglect was partly due to weaker push from the state government and partly due to a federal government that is not fond of ceding power to states.

It was in this background that the “Master-plan”, intended to bring integrated development of Addis Ababa and its surrounding Oromia towns came to the public spotlight. The plan claimed to streamline development in the Oromia towns came to be seen suspiciously by the new generation youth who got frustrated by the neglect of the constitutional promises and became less trusting of the federal government intentions.

We all missed signs of this frustration when aired at the time of Oromia state government’s later reversed move of its capital to Addis Ababa a decade ago. The 2006-07 Burayu-Kolfe border dispute and other similar encounters in the last decade also fell short of highlighting the root issues starkly. Now the issue is clearer than ever.

The current situation where Oromia shoulders the negative effects of urban expansion (such as environmental pollution, employment and population displacement) without getting its constitutional interests on the City respected is unsustainable. The capital’s provision of social services such as schools in Afaan Oromo, permanent allocation of a percentage of seats of Addis Ababa city council to Oromia, addition of Affan-Oromo as the working language of the city, tax and revenue sharing arrangements… are some possible actions that can remedy the frustrations.

The way forward

The determination of the role of the Federal government and Oromia state on Addis Ababa shall be clearly determined in a multilateral and long lasting manner in a way that follows the spirit of the constitution.

Another proffer for relieving the tension surrounding Addis Ababa may be decentralizing the seat of the federal government. This could serve in reducing the historically deep-seated belief, perceived and real, that the center ergo the federal government and not the states hold greater power in the federal arrangement. The curtailing of this belief will foster strong and proactive states and bring public accountability to state governments. This is the heart and soul of our constitution. In addition to diffusing the strain, it will help in development of other contending cities in a way catering to a goal of equal development.

It is obvious that outward-bound growth of Addis Ababa is inevitable. Oromia must turn this growth to its own advantage by strongly pushing for its constitutional interests in Finfine (Addis Ababa) as well as integrating its capital with its surrounding.

What we should take from the events of the past weeks is that the opposition to the master plan wasn’t against development but perceived encroachment of state interest by the historically strong center (the federal government and its capital). In essence, the protests against the plan, at least the demands, are inherently in the defense of the constitution. This is a sign of how the principles of the constitution got entrenched among the new generation and we should embrace it as the materialization of the goals of the constitution.

The ugly turn of events and the foiled attempt of anti-constitutional elements to hijack it shouldn’t lead us to view the protests negatively. The conflict of state-federal interests is the feature of federalism, not a malfunction. The protests are a timely nudge to the nation to address its constitutional and good governance deficits. How it’s dealt with will determine the future of the constitution as the supreme social contract all Ethiopians believe in. Going forward, well thought actions and wise handling are the order of the day.

*Originally published on Ethiopian Herald on the 24th of December 2015

Eritrea Ethiopia featured Humanitarian News Security

Eritreans in Ethiopia celebrated 54th anniversary of armed struggle

Eritrean refugees and opposition parties in exile in Ethiopia celebrated the anniversary of “the start of the struggle for independence” from Ethiopia. Eritrea won its independence in 1994 through a referendum.

The Eritrean struggle for independence is said to have started 54 years ago on September 1, 1961 after Emperor Haileselasei dissolved the federation established by the United Nations.Photo - Addis Ababa - Eritrean refugees commemorating start of independence war

The celebration was attended by more than 3000 members of the diaspora including scholars and singers.

Ethiopia harbors about 180,000 Eritrean refugees in generous conditions providing them scholarship and special work permits.

The organizers has stated that the Eritrean dictator Isayas Afewerki has hijacked what was a struggle for freedom and democracy and created a pariah state where its citizens flee in masses. Ethiopia is treating us with utmost friendliness despite the propaganda of the regime in Eritrea claiming Ethiopia to be the enemy, they said.

The participants also pledged to remove the dictatorship and build a country that lives in harmony with its neighbors.

Close to 5,000 Eritreans flee the Horn of Africa nation every month trying to reach refugee camps in neighboring countries like Ethiopia while many others try to make it to Europe through deadly boat travels across the Mediterranean sea.