Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 1 January 2006

Slam Ethiopia’s Zenawi with sanctions


By Yohannes Woldemariam *

On December 14, 2005, John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN said,
One of the reasons we are in this dilemma is that the government of Ethiopia has never complied with its obligations under the 2000 agreement and the 2002 border demarcation... [And also because of] the council’s unwillingness or inability to confront Ethiopia’s three-year-long refusal to adhere to the very agreement it made in 2000. It is an example of what happens when the Security Council is not able to bring an international solution with a U.N. peacekeeping force to a prompt conclusion consistent with the wishes of the parties...It is incumbent on the council to use the contemporary dilemma over the Eritrean actions with regard to the peacekeepers to try to bring the underlying political dispute to a conclusion and to get the border dispute resolved rather than to drift as it has for the last three years.

Ambassador Bolton is referring to what Ethiopia and Eritrea signed in Algiers, on 18 June, 2000. It was the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, which called upon the United Nations, in cooperation with the Organization of African Unity, to establish a peacekeeping operation to assist in the Agreement’s implementation. On 31 July, the Security Council created the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), to monitor the cessation of hostilities, the temporary security zone and the agreed repositioning of troops from both sides. It was also determined that Eritrean forces will remain at a distance of 25 kilometers from the new position of the Ethiopian troops. Every inch of the 25 kilometers is in Eritrean territory.

Subsequently, the Algiers agreement established among other things, that the Eritrea and Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC) could decide once and for all where the border lies. Both countries agreed to abide by its ruling. There was no allowance for any revision or appeal. Yet, when the EEBC decision came in April 2002, Ethiopia after an initial praise and misrepresentation of the verdict decided to balk while Eritrea accepted the verdict in full. And hence the impasse! The Zenawi regime then began to bash the EEBC, forcing the chair, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht to respond as follows:

"... Ethiopia has continued to seek variations to the boundary line delimited in the April Decision, and has done so in terms that appear, despite protestations to the contrary, to undermine not only the April decision but also the peace process as a whole...it may be regrettable, but it is by no means unusual, for boundary delimitation and subsequent demarcation to divide communities..."

If Bolton’s statement above is motivated by a sincere desire to see the implementation of the EEBC verdict, then it stands to reason that the U.S. should apply its coercive sticks against the Zenawi regime. But Ethiopia continues to be the recipient of the most generous U.S. foreign aid for Africa, only next to Egypt.

It has already been over three years since the border decision and since demarcation was to take place. Ethiopian intransigence has prevented demarcation. As a result, 12% of Eritrea’s four million populations have been languishing in suspense along the border to defend the country and in anticipation of any eventualities. The intolerable stalemate has retarded economic progress in Eritrea while Zenaw’s regime continues to be a darling of the donor community. As preposterous as it is, Tony Blair even appointed Zenawi to be one of 17 commissioners in his “Commission for Africa.” Blair’s Commission for Africa urges rich countries - like medical doctors - to take a Hippocratic Oath on African policy. That is they should do no harm but help the continent. Yet, by appointing Zenawi in his Commission, harm is precisely what he did to Eritreans and Ethiopians.

Preoccupied by the war in Iraq and the events of September 11, the world forgot about the (1998-2000) poor people’s war in the Horn of Africa, which killed 70, 000 Eritreans and Ethiopians and disabled many more. In November 2005, Eritrea in frustration decided to restrict the movement of the UNMEE within certain parts of the demilitarized zone. Ethiopia had begun to move in its troops towards the border even earlier and it looks probable that a new war may erupt with disastrous consequences for the two countries and the region. But as the following exchange between Ms. Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and Senator Russ Feingold shows, there is no sense of urgency to deal with the dangerous and fast moving developments. Even worse, Sen. Feingold is so ill informed about the details of the issue that the he is talking about a non existent AU force that is supposedly going to stabilize the situation.

According to a Nov. 17, 2005 transcript the exchange went on as follows:

SEN. FEINGOLD: Okay. How are we helping on the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea? UNMEE said that we’re on the cusp of warfare there and I understand the A.U. hopes to have a preventative force, I think it’s called the Africa Standby Force, ASF, in this region by next year. How quickly can this nascent ASF establish stability and where do the A.U. forces come into play here?

MS. FRAZER: On the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, Senator Feingold, I’ve been focusing my attention on getting UNMEE back up and running. As you know, President Isiais has grounded UNMEE. We think it’s critical that UNMEE be allowed to operate and I’ve been really concentrating my attention on trying to get that mission back up and operating. So I’m not certain about the timeline for an A.U. force or specifically what role an A.U. force would play on that in terms of the boundary. I think the important thing is to concentrate on the U.N. mission that’s already there that has the legitimacy that has the mandate.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Keep me informed if you could of whatever developments are in that regard. And you obviously noted that prevention and mitigation are important in ensuring that tension does not erupt into a conflict here. Are we engaged in political diplomacy to prevent Ethiopian-Eritrean conflicts?

MS. FRAZER: We are engaged in political diplomacy. We’ve had a number of consultations with Kofi Annan. He’s talked often with Secretary Rice on this issue. We feel that it’s extremely important to move towards demarcating the boundary. We believe that it’s also important to get both countries to reduce the tensions between them and we think it’s extremely important, as I said, to get UNMEE up and operating again. And so we’re working with the U.N. We’ve had conversations at a high level both with Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles as well as with Eritrea. So there is definitely quite a lot of diplomacy taking place right now to try to lower the tension.

There is a way to break this impasse between Eritrea and Ethiopia and it has nothing to do with an AU force or a standby ASF force. I suspect that Senator Feingold is confusing Darfur and Eritrea and perhaps even assuming that they are one and the same. There is an ASF force organized by the AU with regards to Darfur but no such thing has ever been proposed for the Eritrea/Ethiopia border. What is really needed to break the impasse between Eritrea and Ethiopia is some tough love applied against the intransigent Ethiopian regime. In this regard the Dec. 30, 2005 action by the EU, World Bank and UK to withhold direct budgetary support of $375m is an encouraging start but far from adequate.

The United States and the guarantors of the Algiers agreement need to take a bold diplomatic offensive to compel Mr. Meles Zenawi’s compliance with the Hague verdict. Coercive diplomacy against the Zenawi regime is the best available way to change his behavior. That means cutting the flow of the so called foreign aid going to Ethiopia from the US, EU and the international financial institutions. The so called foreign aid is fungible in Ethiopia and there is no doubt that a significant portion of it is being used to buy expensive military gadgets from Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Russia and China.

Can the Zenawi regime be coerced?

The Zenawi regime like any other can be coerced. A single, overarching consideration drives his policy-Zenawi’s quest to remain in power. If there was any doubt about this before, his brutal actions against his domestic opponents gave us the irrefutable proof. Any distinction between his personal will and that of the Ethiopian state is an exercise in semantics. Therefore, if one seeks to coerce Zenawi’s regime, it is important to understand his psychological profile and the system he has created. Zenawi is not irrational. Rather, his record reveals that he is a judicious political calculator. His outlook is dominated by a messianic Marxist inspired vision of himself as the great struggler pursuing Tigray’s revolutionary destiny. In pursuit of this dream he is not constrained by conscience; his only loyalty is to Meles Zenawi. Thus, commitments and loyalty are matters of circumstance, and circumstances change. His willingness to use whatever force, including the extreme brutality witnessed against the unarmed Ethiopian demonstrators is part of an elaborate facade, masking a deep underlying insecurity driven by a strong paranoid orientation. This conspiratorial mindset enables Zenawi to believe himself surrounded by domestic and foreign enemies. It is this political personality—messianic ambition for unlimited power, absence of conscience, unconstrained aggression, and a paranoid outlook—that makes Zenawi so dangerous. His malignant narcissism and the destructive personality serve to unify and rally his downtrodden supporters by blaming outside Eritrean enemies and domestic Amhara, Oromo and Ogadeni rivals labeled by him as Interhamwe (The Rwandan genocidaires).

The system Meles Zenawi has created is dominated by a single, precarious social premise—the preferential treatment of Tigreans at the expense of the larger Oromo and Amhara populations. Because Tigreans could do his regime great harm, Zenawi goes to tremendous lengths to satisfy them. He relies heavily upon nepotism. Resources have been appropriated and concentrated and structured according to ties of region, bloodline and kinship in Ethiopia. Zenawi’s TPLF developed powerful commercial wings, interlocking investment and trading conglomerates. (For more on this, please see http://www.sudantribune.com/article.php3?id_article=9931 ) He has created a sinister special forces known locally as Agazzi and a repressive police state. The state-run media propagates his message, portraying him as the savior of the Ethiopian people. Most Ethiopians no longer listen to or read government media; instead they rely on foreign news services like VOA and Deuche Welle. The private press is severely crippled with most journalists in jail awaiting trial on tramped up treason charges. Furthermore, the regime vigorously vilifies Eritrea branding it as the true source of the country’s suffering, when Zenawi himself is the one obstructing an international verdict, preventing the demarcation of the border between the two countries.

The Hague Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia is still the best and only way to solve the issue. But the ruling will only have clout if the guarantors manage to pursue it via the UN Security Council. Yet, the prospects for effective action against Ethiopia in the UN remain tenuous because the United States supports Ethiopia under the pretext of an alliance against the “War on Terror.” (For more on this, please see http://www.sudantribune.com/article.php3?id_article=12757)

The significant thing about what the ICJ did was that it was a verdict that was not dictated by the balance of power, by politics, or by exceptional pressures. It was a ruling that merely did what courts do when they carry out their duties: they stand for what is just and legal. But when the ruling is fair to “the weaker side”, the court may not be able to do anything to come to its rescue. And herein are the problem and the danger with the verdict of the ICJ. It ruled that the flashpoint of the conflict, the town of Badme belongs to Eritrea, which Ethiopia continues to occupy and refuses to give up. However, Badme is a mere pretext and Zenawi’s insistence on “dialogue” prior to demarcation is an endless mind game with a sinister intention of undoing the hard earned Eritrean independence.

Ethiopia initially tried to preempt The Hague’s ruling via a premature declaration of victory. Ethiopian ’justice’ collided with a more just international justice. But The Hague is a mere extension of the UN which is now paralyzed. It can point, and issue rulings; but it can neither follow up nor implement its rulings. Implementation brings us back to the real world of politics. But why is the United States-which initially supported and encouraged the resort to ICJ now refusing to go after the Zenawi regime? More to the point, what choices do Eritreans have now that all doors have been slammed shut in their faces? The problem is that the powers opposed to the ICJ’s ruling have the ability to violate it. They are the very same powers that make light of international legitimacy and believe that they have enough political and military power to transform their injustice into a fait accompli.

In the real world we live in, the power of international law in matters of this sort has never had the same reach as national laws. Koffi Annan through his hypocritical call for “dialogue” is in effect asking Eritreans to surrender to arbitrary and unjustified revision of the “final and binding” ICJ verdict. But the ICJ, the highest and most neutral and fair judicial body in the world have issued its unambiguous verdict. Moreover, the ICJ left it to the Security Council to ensure that its verdict is upheld. But the Security Council under the “leadership” of Koffi Annan will not do the right thing because it is under American control. For more on Koffi Annan’s role, please see http://www.sudantribune.com/article.php3?id_article=13099 for more on US double standard please see, http://www.sudantribune.com/article.php3?id_article=12182

Had the ICJ’s verdict been fairly implemented, the matter would have immediately been turned over to the UN Security Council based on Chapter Seven of the UN Charter resulting in a sanctions regime against the regime of Mr. Meles Zenawi. There are reasons to believe that the approach would succeed; yet even if it is doomed to failure, by making the attempt the United States would demonstrate that the Zenawi regime’s belligerent and intransigent attitude is the root of the problem. But the White House’s masters and spokesmen came out with newspeak and doublespeak. The latest statement (12/28/05) by Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Donald Yamamoto is a continuation of the same song that apologists for Ethiopia have been singing in the State department. He said, “Ethiopia is a cornerstone for US foreign policy and also for international policy in Africa. It is one of the four cornerstone countries in Africa not only for the US but for the international community because it is important not only for a strategic position but also because it is a chair for the African Union.”

The Bush administration has waived concerns about human rights and international law and provides Zenawi with millions in “counterterrorism assistance” irrespective of Zenaw’s domestic and international crimes. Once again, rhetorical support for democracy gives way in practice to an expansive view of the war on terrorism under which it seems that anyone anywhere grappling with a group of rebellious Muslim citizens can count on unconditional U.S. backing. Americans may or may not pay attention to such details. But the people of the world do pay attention to what America does in their neighborhoods, so it should hardly be surprising that this maze of contradictions has badly damaged U.S. credibility. To save the shaky and undemocratic Zenawi regime, Washington is now trying to turn The Hague’s rulings into nothing but ink on paper. U.S. inaction on the scandal caused by the Ethiopian intransigence illustrates its double standards and low regard for international law. We should now realize that Washington, which claims to be sponsoring the peace process as a guarantor is one of the main obstacles in this process, and indirectly a detonator of violence, war, extremism, and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

An add ional danger is that the ICJ’s ruling has the ability to suggest to some gullible Eritreans in the ranks of the opposition that the verdict relieves Eritrea from preparing what is necessary for ensuring the ruling’s implementation. The belief in the justice of our cause has always led us to the expectation that right will automatically follow. As a result, some in the Eritrean opposition had been complacent and even worse in some cases have gone to bed with Zenawi, naively believing that a mere ICJ verdict will cure the problem. There is no worse crime that an Eritrean can commit against Eritrea than allying with the Zenawi regime under the objective conditions that exist between the two countries. A credible Eritrean opposition has no business allying itself with a regime in Addis Ababa, which is still trying to find a way to undermine and subvert Eritrean independence and sovereignty.

There is a piece of advice that makes sense. The duty of Eritreans is to collide with those who reject or attempt to water down the verdict. Any Eritrean who does not do this is in danger of being caught up in the tangled consequences of Zenawi’s plan. It will not be easy for any such Eritrean to sermonize about the use of “negotiation” or “dialogue” as a means of struggle. The resort to the International Court in a conflict of this sort is absolutely the gentlest of such means. We should call for sanctions against Zenawi and for the U.S., UN, EU and China to do the right thing. Doing the right thing can save African lives and African lives do matter!

* Yohannes Woldemariam is An Eritrean based in the United States.

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