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Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism is being tested

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FOR centuries the city of Harar, on the eastern fringes of the Ethiopian highlands, was a sanctuary, its people protected by a great wall that surrounded the entire city. But in the late 19th century it was finally annexed by the Ethiopian empire. Harar regained a bit of independence in 1995, when the area around it became the smallest of Ethiopia’s nine ethnically based, semi-autonomous regions. Today it is relatively peaceful and prosperous—and, since last month, a sanctuary once more.

In recent weeks thousands of Ethiopians have poured into areas around Harar, fleeing violence in neighbouring towns (see map). Nearly 70,000 people have sought shelter just east of the city. Several thousand more are huddling in a makeshift camp in the west. Most are Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. Its members clashed with ethnic Somalis in February and March, resulting in the death of hundreds. The violence erupted again in September, when more than 30 people were killed in the town of Awaday. Revenge killings, often by local militias or police, have followed, pushing the death toll still higher. In response, the government has sent in the army.

Ethnic violence is common in Ethiopia, especially between Oromos and Somalis, whose vast regions share the country’s longest internal border. Since the introduction of ethnic federalism in 1995, both groups have tried to grab land and resources from each other, often with the backing of local politicians. A referendum in 2004 that was meant to define the border failed to settle the matter. A peace agreement signed by the two regional presidents in April was no more successful.

When the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) swept to power in 1991 after a bloody 15-year civil war, federalism was seen as a way to placate the ethnic liberation movements that helped it to power. The previous regime had been dominated by the Amhara, the second-largest ethnic group (the Eritreans broke away to form a new state). Eventually ethnic loyalties would wither as people grew richer, went the thinking of the Marxist-inspired EPRDF.

But the way federalism was implemented caused problems from the start. New identity cards forced people to choose an ethnicity, though many Ethiopians are of mixed heritage. Territories often made little sense. In the Harari region, a minority of Hararis rule over much bigger populations of Oromos and Amharas, a source of resentment. Boundaries that were once porous became fixed, leading to disputes.

For years the EPRDF sought to dampen the tension by tightly controlling regional politics. But its grip has loosened over time. Local governments have grown stronger. Regional politicians are increasingly pushing ethnic agendas. The leaders of Oromia, the largest region, have drafted a bill demanding changes to the name, administration and official language of Addis Ababa, the capital, which has a special status but sits within Oromia. They have stoked ethnic nationalism and accused other groups of conspiring to oppress the Oromo.

Politicians in the Somali region are no more constructive. They have turned a blind eye to abuses by local militias and a controversial paramilitary group known as the Liyu. The region’s president “has a fairly consistent expansionist agenda”, says a Western diplomat. “He may have spied an opportunity.” The federal government, now dominated by the Tigrayan ethnic group, was rocked by a wave of protests last year by the Oromo and other frustrated groups.

Many complain that the rulers in Addis Ababa are doing too little. They have been slow to respond to the recent violence, fuelling suspicions that they were complicit. “We are victims of the federal government,” shouts Mustafa Muhammad Yusuf, an Oromo elder sheltering in Harar. “Why doesn’t it solve this problem?”

Federalism may have seemed the only option when it was introduced in 1995. But some now suggest softening its ethnic aspect. “In the past the emphasis was too much on ethnic diversity at the expense of unity,” says Christophe Van der Beken, a professor at the Ethiopian Civil Service University. “The challenge now is to bring the latter back.”

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Unity v diversity”

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Djibouti

Ethiopian Government Cancels Ethio-Djibouti Fuel Pipeline Project

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THE REPORTER — The Ethiopian government canceled the planned Ethio-Djibouti fuel pipeline project, reports the Ethiopian weekly English newspaper, the Reporter.

In 2014 the South Africa-based infrastructure investment group, Black Rhino, proposed to the Ethiopian government to build a 550km long pipeline to transport diesel, gasoline and jet fuel from the Port of Djibouti to central Ethiopia.

A senior Ethiopian government official stated that the government has canceled the project due to financial reasons. The official said though the pipeline project is viable, the government wants to protect the Ethiopian Railway Corporation which will soon start transporting petroleum products.
“We have built a new railway line to Djibouti with an investment cost of four billion dollars. And 100 fuel tanker wagons are ready to transport fuel from Djibouti. We have to maximize the use of the railway and pay back the loan to the Export Import (EXIM) Bank of China first,” the Ethiopian official said.

The project is estimated to cost 1.5 billion dollars. The Ethiopian government had reviewed and accepted the proposal in principle. Backed by the US investment group Black Stone, Black Rhino has undertaken a feasibility study on the project, which was going to be the first fuel pipeline in Ethiopia.

He said that while the country has a newly-built railway line, the construction of another expensive infrastructure cannot be justified. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the investment arm of the World Bank – had expressed interest in financing the planned Ethiopia-Djibouti fuel pipeline project.

“It is not that the project is unable to secure loan but while we are having the railway line in place building another fuel transport infrastructure is not economically a sound decision,” the Ministry of Transport official said. However, he said the construction of the pipeline can be considered after four or five years.

Ethiopia’s annual fuel import, which is growing at a rate of ten percent, has reached 3.8 million MT. The country so far uses tanker trucks to transport the fuel from the Port of Djibouti to central Ethiopia costing the country dearly. Fuel theft, adulteration and waste are also other challenges with the road transport.

The governments of Ethiopia and Djibouti signed a framework agreement on the planned pipeline construction in 2015.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia summons diplomat over misconduct in Turkey

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The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday revealed that it is investigating the alleged misconduct that an Ethiopian diplomat committed while on duty in Turkey recently.

Various media outlets reported earlier this week that an unnamed staff member from the Ethiopian Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, was involved in two accidents, and refused to cooperate with police forces.
The diplomat was also reported to be involved in a car accident on same occasion, after his car hit another car and caused it to collide with a taxi, an incident that injured one person.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a statement on Friday that it has summoned the diplomat following his alleged misconduct.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia has summoned an Ethiopian diplomat who was assigned at the Ethiopian Embassy in Ankara, Turkey following his alleged misconduct occurred over the weekend,” the ministry said.

According to the ministry, Workneh Gebeyehu, Ethiopian Foreign Minister, has ordered the establishment of a committee to make inquiries into the case.

The ministry has also pledged to deal with the case with “no tolerance” and subsequently plans to take appropriate disciplinary measures.
The diplomat has returned to Ethiopia to appear before the recently established committee, according to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ministry, however, did not disclose the identity of the diplomat.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia Plans to Close 27 Refugee Camps

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VOA — The government of Ethiopia says it will close all 27 refugee camps in its territory over the next 10 years and integrate residents into local communities.

“There will be a gradual transition from a camp-based protection model to supporting refugees directly within host communities,” Zeynu Jemal, deputy director of the Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), told VOA’s Horn of Africa Service.

Ethiopia hosts more refugees than all but one other country in Africa, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). More than 850,000 refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Eritrea live in camps jointly run by the U.N. and the government.

In September 2016, European leaders pledged to support the creation of jobs for refugees in sub-Saharan Africa with the aim of curbing migration to Europe.

Ethiopia was assured of a $500 million aid and loan package from the European Investment Bank in exchange for providing work permits to refugees.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has told European officials that his country will create 30,000 jobs for refugees and allow them to work in newly established industrial parks.

“We are creating economic opportunities in Ethiopia,” Zeynu Jemal told VOA. “Agriculture creates jobs if they have the skillset, we provide access to micro-financing to boost entrepreneurship, and we are also building industrial parks that can create jobs.”

Ethiopia itself faces enormous unemployment rates with nearly a fourth of its predominantly young population out of work. The Horn of Africa nation is hoping to capitalize on refugee job creation pacts where the international community helps build opportunities both for its citizens and refugee population.

In doing so Ethiopia has secured much-needed capital for its projects and hopes to create at least 60,000 jobs for its citizens, in addition to the jobs for refugees.

The European Union is on board with the plan and has begun funneling funds to build infrastructure and economic activities in Ethiopia.

“The pledges Ethiopia made and the actions it is taking today are exemplary and inspire many African states,” said Daniel Endres, a UNHCR official.

U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Rayon expressed his government’s willingness to support Ethiopia and the UNHCR in their efforts to implement the project.

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