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Ethiopia’s key security headache is Oromia, Amhara mistrust of federal forces

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The lack of trust for federal security forces in Ethiopia’s biggest regional states has been identified as the main security headache the country faces.

The Addis Standard news portal reported on Monday that two anonymous sources close to a Security Council meeting held late last week, said that strong resistance from parts of the Oromia and Amhara regional states was making the work of federal forces difficult.

“Concerns were raised by members of the national defense forces and the federal police regarding strong resistance from several parts of the public, particularly in Oromia and Amhara regional states,” a source is quoted to have said.

The Security Council meeting was headed by Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa and was attended by Premier Hailemariam Desalegn and other top security and police chiefs from across the country.

Clashes between especially the army and residents of Oromia has claimed a number of lives. The most recent being when about 19 people were killed in the town of Chelenko late last year. In October 2017, 10 people were reportedly killed in Ambo with another four deaths in the town of Soda.

The security situation between the Oromia and Ethiopia-Somali states has also been heated in the last quarter of 2017. The clashes led to hundreds of deaths with massive displacement of persons on both sides. The government has announced a resettlement plan.

Another area of concern according to the submissions was the ethnic-based killings that forced the closure of some universities in the Oromia, Amhara and Tigray regional states. The situation is said to have calmed down and most universities reopened.

Addis Ababa early last week announced political reforms to what has long been tagged a repressive region. Leaders of the four parties that form the ruling EPRDF coalition announced that political prisoners were to be released and a notorious jail, the Maekelawi, closed down and turned into a modern museum.

Ethiopia

Egypt, Ethiopia FMs meet over dam-building dispute

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CAIRO, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) — The Egyptian and Ethiopian foreign ministers discussed here on Wednesday the negotiations on Ethiopia’s dam building on the shared Nile River, Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The talks between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Ethiopian counterpart Workneh Gebeyehu came ahead of a joint meeting at the presidential level for the first time.

“Convening the committee at the presidential level will be a positive message for the public opinion in both countries,” Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said in the statement.

Ethiopia started the project of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in April 2011 when Egypt was suffering turmoil following an uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.

Previous tripartite meetings of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the GERD were fruitless, as Ethiopia and Sudan expect massive benefits from the dam construction while Egypt sees it as a threat to its share of the Nile River water.

Egypt is concerned about its annual share of 55.5 billion cubic meters of the Nile River water amid the reservoir’s rapid construction.

Last December, Egypt recommended the World Bank as a technical mediator in the issue of Ethiopia’s dam building, a proposal that has not been accepted by Ethiopia and Sudan.

Shoukry’s talks with Gebeyehu also covered the ongoing cooperation between the two countries in various fields as well as regional issues of mutual concern including the conflicts in Somalia and South Sudan.

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Ethiopia Is Falling Apart

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For a brief moment last week, Ethiopia seemed poised to shed its reputation as Africa’s Stasi state.

At a press conference on Jan. 3, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn vowed to free political prisoners and shutter the notorious Maekelawi prison, which has long served as a torture chamber for government critics, opposition leaders, journalists, and activists.

Desalegn’s announcement shocked Ethiopian citizens and observers alike. Initial reports indicated that the Ethiopian regime had finally accepted that mistakes had been made and serious abuses had been committed on its watch.

Indeed, the stark admission would have marked the first time ever that Ethiopia had acknowledged holding political prisoners in the country. (Human rights groups have estimated that they number in the tens of thousands.)

The outpouring of optimism did not last long. Within hours, an aide to Desalegn clarified the prime minister’s remarks, saying that “mistranslation” by the media was to blame for the confusion. And indeed Desalegn’s actual comments in Amharic were less clear-cut.

He spoke of the need to cultivate national reconciliation and to expand democratic freedoms, adding that “some political leaders and individuals whose crimes have resulted in court convictions or their ongoing trial” would be pardoned or have their cases withdrawn. A week after the press conference, it remains unclear how many people will be freed or when, if at all.

One fact remains clear, however. Following three years of escalating anti-government protests — mostly by the Oromo ethnic group and to an extent the Amhara, who together comprise two-thirds of the country’s 100 million people — Ethiopia can no longer afford to ignore demands for political reform.
For years, the regime has sacrificed respect for basic political rights and civil liberties on the altar of economic growth. And its claims of a rapidly growing economy have always been dubious at best. The status quo can no longer hold.

A staunch U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, Ethiopia is seen as a stable oasis in the troubled Horn of Africa region, which is plagued by both extremist attacks and ruthless counterinsurgency operations. This image of stability has been cultivated by well-oiled lobbyists in Washington and by an army of social media trolls on the government payroll. However, despite the outward veneer of growth and stability, all is not well in Ethiopia.

In an effort to boost lagging exports, authorities devalued Ethiopia’s currency, the birr, by 15 percent last October. The country is also struggling to mitigate the effects of massive youth unemployment, high public debt, rising inflation, and a shortage of foreign currency. The economic woes that have beleaguered Ethiopia have fueled the increasing unrest.

Amhara and Oromo protesters decry economic marginalization and systemic exclusion at the hands of powerful ethnic Tigrayan leaders. The economic dividends of the country’s modest growth are not broadly shared outside the wealthy business class and associates of the ruling party. To make matters worse, a long-simmering border dispute between the Oromia and the Somali regions has left hundreds of people dead and more than 700,000, mostly from the Oromo ethnic group, internally displaced.

Taken together, these burgeoning crises have raised credible concerns about the risk of state collapse. And there are good reasons to be worried. Western donors and foreign investors alike are increasingly jittery about the political uncertainty and growing popular unrest. In its annual Fragile States Index, which predicts risk of state failure, the Fund for Peace ranked Ethiopia 15th out of 178 countries surveyed, up from 24th in 2016.

Adding to the creeping sense of doom is an internal power struggle that is ripping apart the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has been in power since 1991. The EPRDF is a coalition of four unequal partners, including the Amhara National Democratic Movement, the Oromo People’s Democratic Party (OPDO), and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Ostensibly, each party is meant to represent the vested interests of its ethnic region within the EPRDF.

In theory, Ethiopia is a federation, based on decentralized ethnic representation. In practice, the federal system has for years enabled the domination of the country’s political space, economy, and security services by ethnic Tigrayans. The TPLF represents the Tigray region, home to only about 6 percent of the country’s population. Yet the party gets the same number of votes as the OPDO, which represents the roughly 40 percent of Ethiopians who are ethnic Oromos.

This inherent tension broke the surface in October 2016, when newly elected OPDO leaders began to openly embrace protesters’ grievances and calls for reform. This marked the first sign of a split within the EPRDF and set the stage for the ongoing power struggle over how to respond to the increasingly deadly and destabilizing Oromo protests.

The Oromo protest movement has amplified the OPDO’s voice within the EPRDF. At the press briefing held with Desalegn on Jan. 3, Lemma Megersa, the head of the OPDO and president of Oromia, accused TPLF officials of planting cronies inside his party and viewing political power as their own personal property. He made this claim in the presence of the TPLF chairman — a stunning public rebuke.

On the surface, the ruling coalition now appears open to correcting course. Instead of blaming its failures on terrorists, “anti-peace elements,” or diaspora-based opposition groups as the EPRDF has done in the past, Desalegn acknowledged the need for reform.

To stop Ethiopia from falling apart, however, the government will need to go much further than the halfhearted concessions hinted at by the prime minister. It must undertake a host of long-overdue political and legal reforms, including dismantling the fusillade of draconian laws it has enacted over the last two decades to stifle dissent, decimate civil society, and muzzle the opposition.

A number of prominent Ethiopian opposition leaders, activists, and journalists — some of whom are expected to be freed after Desalegn’s remarks — have been unjustly detained and convicted under a noxious trio of laws, namely the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation, the Charities and Societies Proclamation, and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.

To ensure that prisoners who are pardoned do not end up back behind bars, and to truly reckon with the abuses committed during the EPRDF’s 27-year rule, Ethiopia’s leaders should immediately begin dismantling the machinery of oppression by repealing and replacing those laws, which have been routinely condemned for failing to meet international standards.

In addition, to turn the page on its checkered past, the EPRDF regime — which now controls 100 percent of seats in parliament — must also implement a process of national reconciliation based on the principles of inclusivity and genuine political dialogue. In his Jan. 3 statement, Desalegn cited the need for social healing as a reason for the pardon of some prisoners.

It was a historic moment. But for it to translate into real change, the country’s leaders must resolve to release all political prisoners without delay or preconditions; fully implement the country’s rarely applied but progressive constitution; ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; end unchecked impunity for corrupt officeholders and security officials; and hold to account those responsible for the death and displacement of hundreds of Ethiopians.

No one expects change in Ethiopia to occur overnight. The reform process will undoubtedly be lengthy and fraught with potential obstacles. But to rescue the country from the undue weight of its own repression, EPRDF leaders have no choice but to change course.

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Ethiopian PM says they will continue to develop Berbera Port so Ethiopia and Somaliland can benefit

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