YOUR SUPPORT IS VITAL FOR OUR WORK Ethiopianist politics is being upended by increasing Amhara mistrust of federal intentions. Turmoil is growing in Amhara region as opposition grows there to federal policies
Eng. Belachew Chekene [PhD] Co-Founder, Wegenfund
Belachew Chekene (PhD) is a licensed chartered engineer with over 20 years of diversified academic and business expertise. He earned his BSc in Chemical Engineering at Addis Ababa University, followed by an MSc at Leeds University in the UK and a PhD from the University of Huddersfield, also in the UK.
Belachew has collaborated closely with cutting-edge industries while working in prestigious research facilities, and has published more than 45 articles in prestigious journals and conferences. He has held positions as a technical advisor for modeling, data validation, data management, and system development at UK’s major auto and power system companies. In Ethiopia, Belachew is the founder of Ethiopia International Professional Support for Abay (EIPSA), which is a volunteer professional association that has been working on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) since June 2013 with more than 270 professionals across the world.
Belachew and his business partner, Million Ajebe, from the UK, were behind Wegenfund – a platform Ethiopians are using to raise funds. In this interview with EBR’s Lidya Tesfaye, Belachew talks about how it started, and how the technology is shaping the long-standing culture of support among Ethiopians.6
Tell us how Wegenfund came about.
We once organized a campaign to raise funds for GERD. When we began encouraging people to donate to the dam, it didn’t take long for us and other colleagues to realize that there was no simple or convenient way to do so. That motivated me to act. In association with United Ethiopia for Peace and Reconciliation in the UK, we unveiled a temporary fundraising application, #itismydam, developed by EagleLion System Technology. The software was successful in creating convenience for individuals to make donations for GERD.
Soon after we launched that, a question was brought up about the platform and how it should not be restricted to fundraising for the GERD, but should be built as a permanent system so that people can serve charitable organizations in Ethiopia.
We have seen the technology, how it works, and what we need, including the payment gateway system. Accordingly, the idea of developing Wegenfund emerged. We setup Wegen Technology Solutions in Addis Ababa and developed Wegenfund in six months’ time. It was very challenging, especially as we were abroad. However, we built a successful crowd funding platform for both local and international donations.
So, generally, Wegenfund is an Ethiopian-based donation platform that enables charitable organizations and religious institutions to campaign and raise funds globally. It is one of the products of Wegen Technology Solutions PLC. It was launched on December 30, 2021, and was founded and created by myself and co-founder and lead developer Million Ajebe. We are really delighted to have created a technological solution for crowd funding in our country.
Ethiopians are used to raising money to support one another. What impact did technology have?
The fact is, Ethiopians have always helped one another. The society is used to raising money and donating, even through informal organizations like “Edir” and “Mahiber”. Especially in the rural area where I grew up, I remember how society provided the required resources, like providing wood and sticks to rebuild a house or purchasing an ox for a farmer who faced unforeseen challenges. In the metropolitan region, for instance, in Merkato, if a businessperson experiences a disaster at work, if the business is damaged, torched, or robbed, the community will pitch in to help him or her rebuild. People contribute money to a coworker who is having problems at his job. This culture has existed within us all along. Charitable organizations are established that provide such a service throughout the rest of the world, where such ways of supporting one another have already existed in Ethiopia.
Fundraising is important because it assists individuals or nonprofit organizations that are experiencing difficulties in overcoming challenges and in rebuilding what has been lost.
Fundraising used to be limited to a specific area and to a select group of individuals who knew one another personally. But now that technology has advanced, I can donate to charities and raise money without having to travel to Addis Ababa. Thanks to technology, I can hear your issues from anywhere in the world and offer assistance. That has been the case for other fundraising events that we have seen. The technology enabled individuals to donate to charitable causes and raise money for people they have never met in person, from anywhere in the world.
How does digital literacy affect technology-based fundraising in Ethiopia?
Let me take you back to two years earlier. Back then, it was difficult to do what we are doing now. Four main problems existed. One is that there was no payment gateway system that could facilitate payments. That means a person who wants to buy a product online cannot make a payment because there is no online payment gateway system. The other problem was that the Ethiopian financial system had no integration with the international financial system, besides direct bank transfers.
The third issue was the accessibility of technological infrastructure, especially internet access. Internet access two years ago was very limited. Of course, now, with the service that Ethio Telecom and Safaricom are providing, the accessibility of the internet has been enhanced. But still, in comparison with the demand, we are far from full access.
The fourth problem was an accumulation of the above three. As a society, we are just learning how to use technology, so some may still find it difficult to make payments online. These problems were there two or three years ago, but now there is a huge difference and positive change. Payment systems like VISA and Mastercard have been introduced. Different online payment gateways like Chapa, Arfipay, Kacha have also been introduced locally.
But the problem that remains is that each bank is setting up its own payment gateway, and there is no central system that enables them to work together. That means if you have a card from Awash Bank, you cannot make a payment for a transaction processed through the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. That is because banks are not yet integrated.
If you ask me what I wish would happen in the future, it would be for the banks to cooperate and work on common payment processes so that customers can get any service with any bank card. I am hoping the National Bank of Ethiopia will push the banks towards that. But for now, it remains a problem.
The success of technologies like Wegenfund is dependent on the development of financial technology and internet accessibility.
We have heard that there are more than 100 different fundraising causes registered on the Wegenfund platform. What were the criteria for cause selection, and which cause has earned the most funds so far?
We are not the ones who select the causes. Currently, the customers or users of Wegenfund are four kinds of groups: the first are charitable organizations. These are the ones that are registered with the Authority of Civil Society Organizations and have a license. They came to us and had their organization as well as their cause registered. The second is religious organizations, both Islamic and Christian. They [religious institutions] are not obliged to be registered as charitable organizations, as they are also legal entities. The third is an individual person. Anyone with a letter of approval from the medical board of directors to go abroad for medical purposes or who has been referred to local hospitals can register. The fourth is one that we launched last Thursday, March 9, 2023, which is crowdfunding for startup businesses, through which entrepreneurs bring their business ideas and raise funds.
When they come to fundraise on the Wegenfund platform, there is an online registration system, where they are requested to submit all the necessary documents. We will then review the documents, and, if the request is accepted, we will send the documents to the banks that we work with. It is after this process that they are given the final approval. Then they can create a fundraising campaign for the cause they chose, which can be promoted to people who will donate.
As I have said earlier, it is those groups that create the cause, not us. A charity can create more than one cause. That is why we have about 100 causes, but only 47 registered organizations as of March 13, 2023. There are many different types of causes. Funds have been raised for orphans in the war-torn areas of the country, for an elders’ association that looks into sustainable sources of income for the elderly like Mekedonia, and for people with medical issues. Of all those, the highest amount of funds was raised for two causes: for Mekedonia by comedian Eshetu and for the Wag Hemra Archdiocese’s war affected area, both of which raised almost one million dollars.
Moreover, since last year, we have been working on integrating our system with a local payment gateway so that anyone in Ethiopia can be part of the fundraising using our system. Now people can make payments through the payment gateway Chapa, and through Telebirr, Awash Bank, Wegagen Bank, Amole, and CBE Birr.
Tell us about the recently launched crowdfunding program for startup businesses. What convinced you to start this?
Donating and giving to a charitable organization is giving to those who cannot help themselves and who are facing problems, it is more of a humanitarian act when you give to people in need of help. But besides that, a country develops when people become entrepreneurs and work hard. That is a gap that Wegenfund wants to address. As the saying goes, it is better to teach a man how to fish than feed him/her a fish each day.
In general, there are four ways to crowdfund for startup businesses. One is donation. Through donations, you can donate to a business idea that you like or that you believe will bring about a change that many can benefit from, without expecting anything in return. The second is reward. Through this option, you will help the business that is on its way to being established and get something back, in kind. For instance, if a person wants to publish a book, he or she might come to us and register through his or her publisher. Then the author will introduce his or her book with some details and advertise the idea for fundraising to those who can “buy” an unpublished book. And when the book gets published, the author will give a signed copy to those who took part in the fundraising.
The third is credit. You do not have to go to banks when you need credit, myself or any other person can give you that peer-to-peer (P2P) loan. With the loan, you will do your business and repay with a certain amount of interest. The fourth and biggest is equity. We believe that this one can bring a radical change to our country’s business startups. Through this option, the startups or business owners will bring their idea and advertise it on the Wegenfund platform. After which different investors and stakeholders will buy shares. Then, they will receive dividends based on their investment once the business is launched and starts making profits.
Due to the credit and equity options requiring tax and other legal processes, it’s the first two (donations and rewards) that are currently available on the Wegenfund platform.
If you ask me what the significance is, many people have noble ideas, but they face different challenges while implementing those ideas due to financial limitations. Banks request collateral. People with business ideas can come to Wegenfund, and Wegenfund will help them raise the funds they need.
People are familiar with GoFundMe and a few other crowdfunding platforms. What makes Wegenfund more convenient?
There are two reasons. First, platforms like “GoFundMe” and “JustGiving” are not available in Ethiopia that serves charities. When you open the GoFundMe website and try to fundraise for a cause, it will say the system is not available in your country. GoFundMe is only available in 19 countries across the world. To raise funds and to create a cause for Ethiopia, the person must be in America or in one of those European countries where the system is available. Otherwise, you cannot register because the system requires your address, bank details, and identity as a whole. So. there is no platform in Ethiopia that provides such a service. Therefore, there is no competition in the first place.
Some people create a cause and fundraise, engaging people living abroad, which can be a hassle. They will manage to collect the donations, but when they try to send the money to Ethiopia for the purpose intended, it is not an easy process. The system works when the fund is being raised, but after that, especially if the money is a lot, it will ask too many questions. It will ask where the money is going to be spent, exactly which international organization put the fund to the intended objective, and more. For instance, two years back, more than USD 3.5 million was raised by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church followers living in America, for people in Shashemene. But after that, the question was how and where to send the money. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church development and Inter-Church Aid Commission, had to transfer the money to the commission, and the commission distributed it to the people in need in Shashemene. But if the commission had not written a letter to GoFundMe, it wouldn’t have released the funds.
Previously, the main platform used to raise funds for Mekedonia was GoFundMe. Since Mekedonia is a charitable organization already registered in America, it was easy for them to pass through those processes. However, for other charitable organizations, it’s difficult. Wegenfund is the first crowdfunding platform in Ethiopia. So now, you can be anywhere in Ethiopia and register your charitable organization, create a cause, and fundraise. The money will enter the Ethiopian financial system the moment it is donated, and you will immediately be able to get the money in your account. This makes Wegenfund convenient.
The other issue is that it takes 15 to 45 days for GoFundMe to disburse the money raised. It may sometimes take up to 90 days. But during that time, if information, data, or any document requested is not presented, GoFundMe will give the money to other charitable organizations with a similar objective. Numerous funds have been raised for Ethiopia for various causes; however, GoFundMe distributed them for other causes. But through Wegenfund, based on the emergency of the need, it might only take as long as two days.
On another note, whether it’s a small or large amount, it helps collect foreign currency. There is no assurance that money given through GoFundMe will arrive in hard currencies like the US dollar, British pound, or European Euro. But every penny that is raised through Wegenfund will directly get into the system of the National Bank of Ethiopia. Therefore, we can earn foreign currency without any waste.
We can mention technological empowerment. If you recall, during the war in the northern part of Ethiopia, social media accounts supposedly supporting the betterment of Ethiopia were shut down, while those opposing peace were supposedly promoted and given more authority. Fundraising activities during those days used to be biased. With Wegenfund, fundraising is independent and helps achieve self-sufficiency for Ethiopians.
GoFundMe charges about 2.9Pct for the service it provides. There is also a bank transfer fee when the funds are transferred to Ethiopia. On Wegenfund, there are transaction and administration charges, but they are low compared to GoFundMe. And there is no bank transfer fee at all.
We, as Wegenfund, do not see our financial gain, rather, the way I see it, we are bringing technological empowerment to our country. We did all the work from beginning to end. And by enhancing and developing what we have now, we can introduce more technological empowerment to Ethiopians.
What feedback have you received from charitable organizations, religious institutions, and individuals?
There are about 3,000 charitable organizations that are registered with the Ethiopian Authority of Civil Society Organizations. We have the data for all of them and have reached out to them to introduce Wegenfund. We have also given trainings about how funds are raised. A few of them registered after that, and some of them wanted to wait and see. Those who saw our system and our presentation were short on words to express their appreciation. Some of them did not believe that it was true; they registered to test it, and when they received money through Wegenfund, it built their confidence, and they are now fully using it.
Even with the introduction of Wegenfund and the technology, many have not registered, for many reasons. For now, in one year, about 49 charitable organizations and religious institutions have registered and are raising funds. We will continue advertising it and giving training.
We have more than 120 million people in Ethiopia, of which about 67 million have mobile phones. If at least 10Pct of them donate one birr a day, it means we can raise ETB 6.7 million for charity daily. Using this system, a businessman in Moyale or a pastoralist in Afar can easily donate to his brother and sister in Borena. They may not be able to send goats or teff, but using the system, they can donate to a cause. We are working to make Wegenfund the “GoFundMe” of Ethiopia. We believe and are hopeful that it will come true.
What challenges have you faced so far, and what are the hopes that you are looking forward to?
We can see this in two ways. As a technological product, we are in a very good position because the system is reliable. Our system has not failed once since the launch. The system has been assessed and certified by the Ethiopian Information Network Security Administration (INSA), and it is a verified platform. We have now integrated it with local financial institutions, and everything is going well in terms of the technological aspects.
On the other side, there are some challenges regarding integration with a third party and assessing the different required support for crowd funding for startup businesses. There are about 3,000 organizations, but only 48 of them are registered on Wegenfund. Reaching the rest and creating awareness has been a challenge. Of course, in the coming days, we hope to register most of them. The other challenge is the payment processers, which I described earlier.
Technologically, in one year, we have refined Wefenfund. Wegenfund will be used across Ethiopia, and we also plan to expand to other African countries. And in no time, we will launch a massive product that can bring about a huge change in the financial flow of the country. Last year was a productive year for our company. But that does not mean there were no challenges; be we are working through them.
EBR 11th Year • April 2023 • No. 116
The Debate on Self-Sufficiency Before Export
Ethiopia has had one administration after another campaigning for food self-sufficiency. No single administration in the past several decades has been able to achieve it. When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) first announced his administration’s plan to export wheat, citizens briefly indulged in the idea that the country had achieved self-sufficiency and was able to put food on the table. To the contrary, the news of wheat exports has been overshadowed by the millions of citizens who are in dire need of food assistance. In this article, EBR’s Bamlak Fekadu explores the paradox of a nation that sells wheat to aid agencies that donate it back to its own citizens.
Ethiopia launched its first wheat export program in mid-February with the first round of production from the Bale Zone in the Regional State of Oromia. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.), Shimelis Abdisa, President of the Regional State of Oromia, and Ahmed Shide, Ethiopian Minister of Finance, were proudly present at the announcement, among other officials.
The announcement of the first batch of exports came four months after the plan to export wheat was made public in Tuli Guled District in the Regional State of Somali. It’s vital to note that it’s been three years since Dr. Abiy’s administration started a campaign for the mass production of wheat, adding a third cropping season by utilizing small and large-scale irrigation schemes as well as a cluster farming approach to effectively utilize agricultural machinery and equipment beginning with land preparation and ending with harvest.
The crawling effort of Ethiopia has borne exportable fruit by increasing its wheat cultivation area from 50,000 hectares in 2018 to 167,000 hectares in 2021 to as much as 405,000 hectares in 2022, helping the nation halt wheat imports. The government is now expected to step up its export bid and has already secured contracts with six countries, including neighboring Sudan and Kenya, keen to buy Ethiopian wheat.
Following the first shipment of 1.2 million quintals of wheat to the international market, the PM officially launched the start of Ethiopia’s wheat export with these remarks: “We have fulfilled what we promised our people, and today we have made Ethiopia’s wheat export dream a reality.” Abiy Ahmed’s administration aims to develop 5.2 million tons of wheat from the arable 1.3 million hectares to reach the neighboring countries. In recent months, international organizations have warned that around 350 million Africans face food insecurity, with 20 million children threatened by hunger and thirst in the drought-hit Horn of Africa region.
A month after the PM disclosed to Sputnik News that Ethiopia was preparing to supply USD 200 million worth of wheat to non-governmental organizations, including the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and announcing that the country had already signed a contract to export 300,000 tons of wheat to six countries, including Kenya and Sudan, the Minister of Communication Services, Legesse Tulu (Ph.D.), announced that the WFP and the World Bank are buying wheat from Ethiopia in foreign currency to feed citizens who are suffering from food shortages within Ethiopia.
In his briefing, Dr. Legesse stated that WFP bought 35,000 metric tons of wheat, while the World Bank bought 127,000 metric tons domestically from Cooperative Unions in foreign currency to support drought affected parts in east African countries.
Contrary to the government’s wheat export hype and hoopla, international humanitarian organizations such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are warning of a severe crisis in Ethiopia. Drought and violence have left 28 million people in need, with over 1.7 million Ethiopians facing starvation in the Borena Zone, and over 3 million cattle reportedly dying as a result of the drought.
Similarly, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published a drought situation update on March 10 that shows that 6.85 million livestock have died since late 2021, over 4 million people are currently living in drought-affected areas, and 11 million of them are estimated to be food insecure. OCHA also stressed that 13 million people require immediate life-saving relief and are seeking USD 2.05 billion in funding.
By July 2023, the Ministry of Agriculture projects that wheat production will reach a record high of 160 million quintals, which is predicted to provide the country with much-needed relief by saving between USD 700 million and USD 1 billion a year from importing wheat.
The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), along with the African Development Bank’s Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) project, helped promote an irrigated wheat project initiative to produce irrigated wheat to enable Ethiopia to work toward becoming the region’s breadbasket.
The TAAT project, launched in 2018, is an important part of the Bank’s 2016–2025 Feed Africa Plan, which aims to lessen food insecurity in Africa. The TAAT initiative aims to boost agricultural output in the continent by offering improved, climate-smart, high-grain yielding, better grain quality, water use efficient, and heat-tolerant wheat varieties able to grow on arid Ethiopian lowlands. The bank lauded the giant strides recorded under TAAT’s 1st phase, and has galvanized the investment of more than USD 800 million in agricultural value chain projects in 21 African countries including Ethiopia and neighboring countries such as Sudan and Eritrea.
The initiative has revolutionized Ethiopia’s agricultural policies, which have been heavily dependent upon crop production during the short rainy season, known as the Belg rains, from February to May, followed by the long rainy season of winter, known as the Meher, which is between June and mid-September. TAAT offers new and better seeds that could make Ethiopia self-sufficient within five years. In the past two years alone, TAAT organizers have bulked up supplies of five improved types of wheat seed and set up 20,000 hectares of irrigated farmland used by about 28,000 smallholder farmers in the country’s lowlands.
The irrigation-based wheat planting campaign was regarded as part of the effort to achieve food self-sufficiency in the country often hit by climate change-induced drought by cultivating the crop throughout the year. Ethiopian farmers cultivated 2.3 million hectares of wheat in 2021–2022, yielding 25 million quintals of grain—a notable achievement for a country without a long history of irrigated wheat production. The campaign, which supports smallholders pooling resources to purchase inputs, has increased the cultivation area to 1.3 million hectares from 400,000 hectares in 2022. The current fiscal year’s campaign, unveiled last year in October, plans to produce more than 52 million quintals of wheat through irrigation to harvest 4 metric tons per hectare.
Ethiopia’s Ten-Year Development Plan (2021-2030) places a strong emphasis on sustainable and top-notch agricultural initiatives as its national strategy to foster economic growth and provide national food security. Its 13 ongoing irrigation projects, which cover a total command area of more than 400,000 hectares, are funded mostly by irrigation investment. Irrigation investment, which is the main part of the plan, receives the majority of the total USD 582 million budget.
The summer wheat irrigation strategy that has been developed, introduced, and implemented in all parts of Ethiopia is a good start but its goal to reach self-sufficiency in wheat success has yet to be accomplished and remains questionable.
According to Fekadu Kassa, an irrigation engineer with three decades of experience, expanding irrigated and mechanized commercial wheat farming in the lowlands is necessary to meet the set targets for increasing production and achieving self-sufficiency, while also attempting to replace imports. The average smallholder’s land size is 0.5 hectares. With the cluster farming scheme and irrigation projects, they can significantly increase productivity by tripling their arable land to 1.5 hectares and harvesting across three farming seasons.
“Wheat is now grown in the lowlands of Ethiopia, a completely new area, due to heat-tolerant varieties and small and medium irrigation projects,” Fekadu says. Ethiopia’s irrigation practices date back to the time of King Lailibela, despite the expensive cost of building irrigation dams. Experts contend that, with the right direction, enhancing the traditional building irrigation methods may also be able to reduce costs and increase output.
The method would substitute commercial imports and foreign food aid with home production, saving millions of dollars and restoring national dignity. Yet, the implementation has violated investors’ rights in some lower locations, such as in the Regional State of Afar where officials have been witnessed pushing agricultural investors to harvest wheat against their will. Ethiopia’s wheat output has jumped by about 70 Pct this past decade but has failed to keep pace with rising demand.
“Ethiopia imports wheat and pasta for millions of dollars despite its rising wheat yield and output,” Fekadu notes. “Discussions on wheat exports may unnecessarily draw attention away from the most crucial goal of self-sufficiency.”
Agriculture is a key sector in Ethiopia, employing approximately 73Pct of the workforce and contributing 35Pct of the country’s GDP. It also contributes 70Pct of the export commodity. Wheat is an essential food security crop in Ethiopia. Currently, the country’s 6 million families produce only 5.52 million tons on 2 million hectares. Because of the expanding urban population and changes in food culture, such as increased consumption of bread, cookies, pasta, noodles, and porridge, there is a considerable imbalance between wheat production and supply. Ethiopia’s yearly wheat demand is estimated to be around 7 million tons.
On the last days of February, the government introduced a new directive that compels farmers in wheat growing areas to supply their wheat production to cooperative unions at a lower price than they usually sell it for. The new directive requires farmers to surrender their wheat to cooperative unions for ETB 3,200 per quintal for those in the Regional State of Amhara and for ETB 3,500 per quintal for those in the Regional State of Oromia, leaving many farmers and millers distressed.
The selling price cap set by the federal government aimed at stabilizing inflationary pressure, however, it left farmers displeased, as they perceived it as inconsiderate and unfair. Consequently, some farmers seem to hide yields and have been forced to engage themselves in smuggling their own product to sell at a price they prefer. The directive, which was introduced to secure exportable wheat, warns of punishment for those who hide their own products.
The latest game of cat and mouse between farmers and the government has also impacted mill factories and the market for flour. Consequently, the market has set a new trend of wheat smuggling into the black market. Wheat has now become a contraband item that no one can purchase or sell. The government’s plan to export wheat is affecting flour milling factories and manufacturers of related products. Disgruntled flour and pasta manufacturers complained that they have faced a critical shortage of wheat supply since the Ethiopian government started exporting wheat.
Currently, there are more than 600 small and large flour mills in Ethiopia, with a total production capacity of between 3 and 4.2 million tons of wheat flour a year, according to the World Bank. It is estimated that a third of these mills are located in and around the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. Due to a lack of wheat, the Ethiopian Milling Association (EMA) believes that its affiliate members are only functioning at 20 Pct to 30 Pct of their installed capacities, compared to an average national milling capacity of 50Pct.
The lack of wheat supplies to their plants is causing concern among EMA members. The association, which has over 220 member factories, typically utilizes its funds to purchase wheat from various states of the nation, such as Bale, Awash, Arsi and Gojam, depending on the season and type of wheat needed. As a result, the capital Addis Ababa and the Regional State of Oromia’s flour, biscuit, and pasta manufacturers are severely short on wheat. Currently, factories are running out of inputs, and some are halting their operations, while others are striving to buy wheat on the black market. Apart from the price hike witnessed on bread, the problem has also put pressure on the price of a kilo of macaroni, which has risen from ETB 40 to ETB 90, and the price of pasta rose by ETB 20 within a month, reaching ETB 70.
Recently, mill factories and others affected by the latest development have organized a committee to appeal before the Federal Food, Beverage, and Pharmaceutical Industry Development Institute. They hope to lobby the government to prioritize the local market and demand.
Flour manufacturers were told that they would get the wheat through Unions. Then 12 entrepreneurs were selected and allowed to enter into business. However, flour manufacturers have not been able to get wheat,” says an operation manager at a mill in Adama, Oromia. Wheat growers in the Bale and Arsi zones, which are both known for their fertile land and high wheat production, had hoped to receive a premium price for their product. To their dismay, the Regional State of Oromia compelled the farmers to only sell their produce to unions and cooperatives at a lower price.
“It is unreasonable to require us to sell a quintal of wheat for ETB 3,200 when the cost of a quintal of fertilizer has risen to ETB 4,500,” a farmer in the Arsi Zone told EBR on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the authorities. “We were warned against selling our wheat to dealers and that any farmer who keeps more than ten quintals of wheat at home will be detained.”
When a quintal of fertilizer was sold for ETB 1,500, he and his partners were selling a quintal of wheat for ETB 4,000. A quintal of wheat in the producing localities has been sold at a price of four to five thousand birr. However, in Addis, the price has reached as high as ETB 7,000. The government has collected 1.3 million quintals of wheat for export from the State of Oromia. A grain trader in Asela, the capital town of the Arsi Zone in the State of Oromia, told EBR that they were warned against buying wheat from farmers.
“If we are observed transporting wheat from the Arsi and Bale zones, we will be arbitrarily detained and interrogated,” the trader stated.
Daniel Fikadu, an attorney of law specializing in business law, sees measures of the government as a paradox. He argues that the directive is just anti-competition trade practice and goes against fair allocation and distribution.
“The government’s ambitious plans violate national and sub-regional laws and regulations, including the COMESA Competition Regulation and international consumer protection laws and recommendations,” Daniel told EBR.
The government needs to concentrate on proper control so that traders do not improperly store goods or sell contraband, according to Daniel. The best solution to the problem is to let farmers sell their products to other regions and cities of Ethiopia that they believe will benefit them unconditionally and without control.
EBR 11th Year • April 2023 • No. 116
Transitional justice is a process that a country or people go through to move from a repressive regime to a better one, move from conflict and crisis to lasting peace, or secure the country’s future through the establishment of lasting peace and reconciliation after human rights violations. As a process, it is a form of justice that takes time and requires care.
There are many ways to achieve transitional justice, such as by prosecuting the perpetrators, granting amnesty when necessary, making the facts plain and detailed, etc. One or more of them can be implemented as the circumstance demands. Hence, one of the things that exists and is expected during transitional justice is the victims’ right to reparation.
Due to the war in northern Ethiopia, substantial human and material damage has been caused in the regions that were direct victims. Public service facilities, infrastructure, and individuals’ properties were looted and destroyed. Even animals have been intentionally killed, possibly the first time in the history of the world that animals have been intentionally killed in a conflict. Additionally; women were raped, families were separated, and many crimes were committed that are obscene to see and hear, showing a disconnect in the social fabric between people in the regions where the conflict took place. In addition, millions of citizens have been displaced from their homes and are forced to survive on aid by begging for help.
Many hoped that the Pretoria agreement between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, which was on a terrorist list, would bring about sustainable peace. In the meantime, the following questions remain: Will the TPLF and its leaders not be legally responsible for the material and human destruction they caused during the war? Shouldn’t they pay reparations to the victims? Shouldn’t the government rehabilitate citizens injured in war? What plan does the government have to compensate victims of war? Can there be lasting peace without helping injured citizens recover and get back to their lives?
According to international standards of transitional justice and the experiences of other countries, one of the conditions that must be met for the successful transitional justice process is enforcing the right to reparation of citizens affected by conflict. For example, the 2005 United Nations document states that citizens affected by conflict have the right to fair reparation, and Articles 64-66 of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy state that citizens who are victims of conflict are entitled to reparation.
At the beginning of the war in northern Ethiopia, the Northern Command of the Ethiopian Defense Forces was attacked. At that time, completely inhuman acts were committed against the army. Soldiers were slaughtered, and female soldiers were subjected to heinous acts like getting their breasts chopped off. Their families were killed, children were left without guardians, wives without husbands. Agreement made between the government and the TPLF without justice and reparation for the atrocities committed against members of the Defense Forces is ineffective.
After the war began, people were profiled and massacred based on their ethnic identity in Mykadra (where genocide is thought to have been committed), Chiena, Galikoma, and other places. It would be challenging to bring about lasting peace without holding the parties responsible for all the allegedly committed offenses, providing proper reparation for victims, and allowing them to return to their normal lives.
Although non-governmental bodies, individuals, groups, etc. may also participate in the process, the duty to make reparations to citizens is primarily the responsibility and obligation of the government. The government may not be able to compensate for all the damage done to the citizens, especially when there is great destruction, but the government has to show the public that it’s indeed working to make things right.
Although many things should be fulfilled in reparation, the following must be fulfilled. These reparations may include prosecution of offenders, cessation/assurance of non-repetition, restitution and repatriation, satisfaction, and rehabilitation.
First, an independent investigation should be conducted to determine the nature and extent of the damage. The findings of the inquiry should be presented and recognized as they are. If the findings reveal that the government’s failure is the reason for some damages and criminal acts, the government should acknowledge its fault and issue a public apology, for it is a psychological form of reparation. The government should also hold those responsible (officials) legally liable, as it is one form of compensation for the victims.
Citizens whose properties were destroyed should have them replaced or rebuilt. Simmilarly, others whose properties were stolen should have them returned, replaced or compensated. Those who were raped and abused must get justice, free medical services, and psycho-social support; while destroyed and damaged infrastructure should be rebuilt and repaired.
Public utilities such as water, electricity, and gas as well as health facilities and factories should be restored.
Religious institutions such as churches and mosques have been looted by TPLF soldiers and turned into arms caches, and damaged by attacks by heavy weapon. Priests were killed, monks were raped, and other obscene crimes against religious institutions were committed. Therefore, in the interest of reconciliation and lasting peace, religious institutions and followers should be publicly apologized to and appropriately compensated.
TPLF soldiers raided the Amhara and Afar regions, looting and destroying health facilities, schools, and others. Museums were also robbed. The government has the responsibility to take measures to locate all the stolen properties and return them to the two regions as a form of restitution.
Citizens displaced from their villages must be supported to return to their homes. Moreover, the government should not only make reparations to the victims but also guarantee that the crimes and abuses committed against them will not be repeated. Because transitional justice is the promise of “never again.”
Citizens who have suffered injuries should be provided with free or affordable medical services. Others who have suffered injuries due to the conflict, such as rape, loss of families, and related reasons, should be given free psycho-social support.
Citizens whose education was interrupted due to the conflict should be allowed to return to school for free.
Citizens affected by the conflict should be provided with job opportunities to cover the cost of their daily allowance to enable them to start earning a living.
Citizens who have suffered serious and permanent physical injuries should be admitted to a physical rehabilitation centre.
In addition to the regular annual budget, subsidies should also be provided to help the regions that have suffered heavily because of the war.
In the process of reparation, the government should support people in the different regions equally. Therefore, supporting one region and people preferentially will understandably create complaints and resentment instead of bringing lasting peace, which might lead the country into another round of conflict, so the government should be cautious.
As international laws and practices show, when it comes to making reparation to citizens who have been injured in a conflict, parties involved in the conflict and who caused the damage can/should be made to participate in the process of compensating the injured parties. Hence, as the government works towards ensuring reconciliation and lasting peace, they must take into consideration that the TPLF also has to make reparation to the injured regions and citizens and participate in the rehabilitation process.
Despite what has been said, bringing the officials who are responsible for all the crimes and atrocities committed by the TPLF forces to justice is one of the most important ways to make reparation for the people and injured citizens. Because transitional justice cannot only be achieved only by providing material reparation to the victims but also by providing justice. Therefore, when it comes to transitional justice, the government must consider bringing TPLF officials to justice who are suspected of committing crimes under Ethiopian and international criminal laws.
If Ethiopia wants to go through a successful transitional justice process, the reconciliation of TPLF and the ruling Prosperity Party is not enough. The reconciliation of the two groups and the absence of gunfire in Amhara, Afar, and Tigray regions alone may not bring lasting peace. Instead, citizens across the nation should also be protected. Those who killed people in cold blood, destroyed property, and displaced people in Benishangul region should be brought to justice and the citizens who were harmed by them should be supported and returned to their homes.
The government should immediately stop the displacement and death of citizens in the Oromia by the rebel group called OLA (Shene) and other organized individuals and group. Every year in North Shoa, a concerted attack is carried out on the people, and cities are destroyed like in the case of Ataye town and the surrounding area. Moreover, kidnapping of people in various places in East Shewa, killing them after receiving the ransom, eviction, ethnic cleansing, and other horrendous crimes are still taking place. In addition, interference by government bodies and other groups in religious institutions should be stopped completely to avert further damage that needs reparation.
The government of Ethiopia also has to make sure that leaders of the TPLF, who declared that they would not hesitate to go down to hell to dismember Ethiopia, be brought to justice. Hence, if it fails to do so under the pretext of bringing lasting peace and disregarding rule of law, lasting and sustainable peace cannot be achieved. In this respect, officials of Ethiopia, before letting allegedly suspected culprits escape, should consider fulfilling legal and other conditions like consultation with the people and the victims, as required by the AU transitional justice policy and other international laws.
Although in the current legal framework of Ethiopia there is no law governing the conditions for citizens who have been injured in a conflict to get appropriate reparation, in view of international law and practices, the government should help victims to the extent that the country’s capacity allows and coordinate with other bodies, to return them to their normal lives.
To go through a successful transitional justice process, the justice and reparation for the crimes committed by the TPLF leaders, its army and OLA (Shene), should be applied in the same way to the crimes committed and damages caused to the citizens in the Tigray region by the Ethiopian Defense Forces and other armed individuals and groups.
EBR 11th Year • April 2023 • No. 116
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Bridging the gap between OLA disarmament and a transitional government has become harder after hostilities flared again.
Despite recent talks between the Ethiopian government and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), escalating violence in Oromia has cast doubt on the prospects for peace.
Less than two weeks after the government and OLA completed their first round of discussions in Zanzibar, residents in Oromia accused government forces of burning houses belonging to individuals suspected of sheltering OLA fighters. Days later, the OLA accused the government of launching an “all-out offensive”.
According to OLA, they inflicted significant losses after government forces attacked them in various locales where they held sway, including East Shewa, West Shewa, West Arsi, West Hararghe, Horo Guduru, and in southern Oromia.
Reports of large-scale government offensives and the OLA advancing into towns and freeing political prisoners demonstrate that peace talks have thus far failed to halt hostilities.
This has raised concerns among some in Oromia that the government is not sincere in its stated intention to continue talks. The resumption of intense fighting suggests an end to the conflict may not be imminent.
“The government is losing on many fronts and I don’t think the second round of talks will take place in the near future,” a gloomy Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) official in Oromia told Ethiopia Insight on 18 May.
The Zanzibar talks began on 24 April and concluded on 3 May without a truce or a schedule for subsequent meetings. Some residents, Oromo activists, and politicians are advocating for the recommencement of the negotiations.
But their call was followed on 17 May by OLA accusing the government of new attacks to increase its leverage in the talks. According to the OLA, government tactics included killing civilians, burning homes, and forcing farmers to supply food for their troops and drafting them into local militias.
“This move starkly contradicts the understanding that de-escalation should be prioritized during negotiation processes,” OLA said.
OLA called for the international community to condemn the regime’s attempts to control negotiations through force. It said the Oromo movement could not be coerced into accepting a subpar political settlement and that a deal needed to respect “the aspirations and sacrifices” made by Oromos.
However, Taye Dendea, a State Minister of Peace, said in an interview that he’s not aware of the reported recent fighting. He added that he held a meeting in his parliamentary constituency in North Shoa Zone where attendees said they wanted to see peace.
It now appears unlikely a second round of talks will occur soon with the allegations of government offensives fostering more mistrust, exacerbated by the official silence on the matter.
“The trust level is too low as well. The 2018 Asmara ‘agreement’ left a bad memory,” said an Oromo analyst in Addis Ababa, referring to the peace deal that saw the OLF re-enter the fold of Ethiopian politics.
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The recent disclosure of a report by the Ethiopian Policy Studies Institute (PSI) proposing constitutional amendments that may erode self-determination rights has heightened tensions as it raises concerns for OLA leaders that the negotiations may merely serve to divert from the government’s hidden agenda.The PSI was formed in 2018 by merging two existing government think tanks.
Oromos have experienced historical oppression and discrimination, causing widespread opposition to the central government. OLF, the flagbearer of Oromo nationalism, has been fighting for Oromo self-determination since 1973.
Though both sides said the first round of negotiations were positive, the government wasn’t willing to accede to OLA’s demand for a transitional administration in Oromia. OLA leaders say forming a transitional government is necessary to ensure fair elections and Oromo self-determination.
Given the fragility of his coalition, Abiy may consider a transitional government risky, as Oromia is a key constituency and power-sharing would weaken the regional hold of his Prosperity Party there.
Conversely, OLA will not be keen to accept the continued presence of the 170 Prosperity Party members from Oromia in the federal parliament as this would leave the ruling party in control of its fate.
In that scenario, even if the OLA ran Oromia, the federal government could still exert control by, for example, by stifling the region’s funding, declaring a state of emergency, or continuing to deploy national troops to the region.
Another key sticking point, OLA leaders reject government calls for its disarmament before a political agreement is reached.
The Oromo analyst Ethiopia Insight interviewed worries that the parties are too far apart. “The government is so adamant on sticking to its position, and OLA is not ready for immediate disarmament,” he said.
OLA split from the OLF in 2019 when commanders opposed disarmament plans and other aspects of how the formerly exiled OLF’s return to Ethiopia was handled after signing a peace deal in Asmara with Prime Minister Abiy in 2018.
Since then, OLA has been waging an insurgency, often employing hit-and-run tactics, while government forces have waged a brutal counterinsurgency.
Officials accuse OLA of committing a slew of atrocities against mainly Amhara residents of Oromia, a charge OLA leaders deny. The Washington Post reported on 21 May that some attacks on Amharas have been carried out by a rival militia led by Fekade Abdissa.
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Ethiopia’s proposed national transitional justice mechanism cannot succeed in bringing about justice to victims, but any international process faces massive barriers.
Since Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power in 2018, Ethiopia’s human rights situation has deteriorated from bad to worse, and virtually nothing has been done to hold the perpetrators accountable.
As a way forward after the Pretoria Agreement was signed by the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) last November, Ethiopian domestic law – which is the basis for the transitional justice mechanisms vaguely outlined in the Pretoria Agreement – is unsuited to achieving accountability.
The reasons why a national transitional justice and accountability plan should be rejected include: (1) the government’s intent to hide crimes could result in selective accountability; (2) the impracticality of prosecuting Eritrean forces using Ethiopian criminal laws; (3) questions over the impartiality of national courts; (4) the potential of a state-owned justice system shielding government authorities from accountability, and; (5) gaps in the criminal law of Ethiopia.
The difficult truth is that, although internationally-led transitional justice and accountability would risk undermining the peace process in the immediate term, such mechanisms are the only way to address the legacy of impunity and deter future atrocities.
Ethiopia’s catastrophe is driven by extreme polarization, years of conflict, government security forces’ abuses, and attacks by insurgents across the country.
Serious and widespread human rights violations in recent years have arguably constituted war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide.
The scale of the devastation is vast.
The sites of horrific massacres and mass graves dot the country. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed, disabled, raped, displaced, and lost their property and loved ones. Some minorities, such as the Qimant, have faced threats to their survival as a group.
Federal authorities are directly or indirectly responsible for many of these crimes, while others have been committed by armed groups operating in Tigray, Oromia, Amhara, and elsewhere.
Divisive, and inflammatory hate speech by government officials, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, helped drive various ethnic-based conflicts. Some of this hate speech, particularly targeting Tigrayans, is reminiscent of the language used during the Rwandan genocide, with political leaders comparing the TPLF to “viruses” and a “cancer” that needed to be eradicated during a period when virtually all Tigrayans were suspected of being part of or supporting the TPLF-led armed resistance.
The federal government has also spent vast amounts of taxpayers’ funds fighting its own people rather than developing the country and its economy. It even invited foreign Eritrean forces to fight its citizens and stood by as they committed unspeakable brutalities against Tigrayans.
After two years of deadly war in Tigray, a fragile peace deal was signed by the warring parties in Pretoria last November. While the Pretoria Agreement was critical in silencing the guns in the north, it cannot change the tragic reality of the crimes already committed.
Moreover, armed conflicts of varying magnitude persist in various locations, including in Amhara and Oromia regions.
Many of the federal forces fighting in Tigray were redeployed to Oromia – where a more low-level but nonetheless brutal war has been raging since 2019 – after the conclusion of the Tigray conflict. Violence has generally abated somewhat in recent months, and peace talks were initiated between the rebel Oromo Liberation Army and the federal government.
Instability in Amhara is spiraling and threatens to produce another sustained insurgency. The wartime partnership between Amhara nationalists and the federal government against Tigray has crumbled, destabilizing the region as the two former allies turn on each other.
Amid this turbulence, federal authorities have shown no willingness to punish those responsible for abuses and have instead sought to undermine any form of investigation and bury the truth.
The common practice of governments past and present in Ethiopia has included the torture and detainment of opposition party members, journalists, activists, critics, and writers. Many are held without charges and are arbitrarily detained without court hearings for long periods.
The last few years in particular have been marked by the government’s use of violence to silence dissent, notably in Tigray, Oromia, and Amhara. Arbitrary arrests and detention justified through anti-terrorism legislation have been used to crush anti-government protests.
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The federal government has repeatedly silenced dissent through violence and hiding documentation of its crimes, repeatedly shutting down telecommunications, switching off the internet, and expelling, arresting, and deporting foreign journalists.
For example, journalists from the New York Times and The Economist were expelled, a reporter from Associated Press was arrested, and the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst was deported. Meanwhile, there are few avenues for private media in Ethiopia and all state-owned media funded by taxpayer dollars serve as government mouthpieces.
In addition, human rights organizations were prevented from accessing Tigray and federal authorities tried to shut down the AU Commission of Inquiry and UN panel of experts. The only investigation that was allowed involved the UN working in tandem with Ethiopia’s state-funded Human Rights Commission on Tigray, and still many crime scenes were not visited across the region.
There are several bottlenecks to achieving justice in Ethiopia. For instance, Eritrean involvement in the Tigray conflict was particularly brutal, but it’s impractical to try and bring Eritrean leaders and forces to justice using Ethiopian criminal law.
The impartiality of Ethiopian courts is also doubtful, as they repeatedly intervene in cases to support the authorities. Under pressure from political figures, courts have withdrawn cases and freed those who suspected of serious crimes.
It seems an unrealistic dream to fully realize justice and accountability for atrocity crimes in Ethiopia when the rule of law is undermined and authorities act above the law.
The Ethiopian government is clearly trying to devise a state-owned transitional justice mechanism to shield itself from external accountability for atrocity crimes. This modality opens the door for selective accountability to exempt high-ranking authorities.
It would be a mistake to think government officials will effectively prosecute themselves and those who acted on their behalf.
What’s more, this poorly defined state-owned transitional justice plan focuses only on atrocity crimes committed in the northern part of Ethiopia while neglecting mounting crimes across the country, particularly in Oromia.
Gaps in Ethiopia’s Criminal Code present another serious obstacle. While it criminalizes genocide and war crimes, specific mention of crimes against humanity is absent.
The code’s Articles 270–280 criminalize crimes committed in the context of armed conflicts, such as murder and sexual assault. But it doesn’t recognize crimes that did not occur during armed conflict that still amount to crimes against humanity.
Likewise, forced displacement of people is not recognized even as a standalone crime under Ethiopian criminal law.
This raises serious questions about how the perpetrators of these crimes can be prosecuted as there appears to be no possibility of trying such crimes as crimes against humanity. It’s possible the courts plan to prosecute these acts as ordinary, separate crimes that do not reflect the scale of the atrocities and fail to send an effective deterrent message.
The U.S. Secretary of State recently argued that “those in positions of command must be held accountable” for atrocity crimes. Yet meanwhile it has begun to normalize bilateral relations and embrace officials for making peace, including Prime Minister Abiy.
To avoid further crises in Ethiopia, the government should allow an external process of justice to proceed, including accountability for the crimes it committed.
Disappointingly, the UN Human Rights Council and European Union (EU) acknowledged the state-owned plan for transitional justice and accountability as the way forward. As such, the international community failed to prevent the numerous crimes committed across the country and is now seemingly abandoning the pursuit of effective justice procedures.
This raises the question of why the international community is so reluctant to launch an external process to achieve justice and accountability in Ethiopia.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) route would be complex as Ethiopia and Eritrea are not party to the Rome Statute. However, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin for serious crimes perpetrated in Ukraine even though Russia is not a state party to the Rome Statute. The ICC should therefore apply the same procedure to Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Given the many national and international obstacles, achieving justice for atrocity crimes committed in Ethiopia looks impossible. However, unless an effective deterrent is sent to actors committing atrocity crimes, regimes across the world may be further emboldened.
Probing atrocity crimes alone is not a success unless there is justice and accountability. The lack of punishment for past violations haunts the present in Ethiopia and they will continue unless deterred.
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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.
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Addis Ababa, May 17, 2023 (Walta) – The four-times winners of the African best Airline award, Ethiopian Airlines, launched a direct flight to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in Atlanta City last night, making its US destination six.
Speaking at the inaugural ceremony at Skylight Hotel, Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO, Mesfin Tasew, indicated “We will be using the ultra-modern Boeing 787 aircraft in this route providing all the comfort the current technology offers to the passengers.”
The CEO in his inaugural speech said that the airline flies to Atlanta four times a week with the goal of making it daily eventually. The flight will increase the number of flights per week in the US to 28.
American Embassy charge de’ affair in Addis Ababa, Ambassador Tracy Ann Jacobson, on the occasion, said that this new flight to Atlanta emphasizes the history of the relationship between Ethiopian and American aviation.
She pointed out that the new flight to Atlanta which connects the two aviation hubs, could bring people together, and develop people-to-people relations throughout North amerce and Africa.
On the significance of the commencement of the direct flight to Atlanta, Addis Ababa City administration Mayor, Adanech Abebie, said, “The direct passenger flight channels enhanced flow of people, businesses, tourism, technologies and ideas among others.”
Mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickson on his part said that since Ethiopian Airlines flies to 38 destinations across Africa, this new flight brings together Georgia and the African continent.
He said, “Another mutual benefit comes from the connections among the people, among the businesses, among the cultures of both these countries.”
The airline started flying to Karachi, in Pakistan a week ago, it will start a new flight to Copenhagen, Norway on May 22. It will also commence a direct flight from Abidjan to New York by the end of May.
By Tewodros Sahile
By: Zelalem Demissie
Addis Ababa, May 15, 2013 (Walta) – For a very long time in memory, Egypt has been the principal hegemon state in the Nile Basin, exploiting the Nile’s water as it will.
Egyptians often refer to an unfounded identity based on a 4th-century legend that claimed Egypt to be the gift of the Nile. Besides, Egypt has for centuries aggressively pursued a policy of controlling the Nile while doing everything in its power to prohibit upstream countries from utilizing the Nile’s waters.
It even tried military means to control the river in its entirety. Notably, in the 19th century, Egypt went to the extent of attempting to annex the sources of the Blue Nile and incorporating Ethiopia under its rule. To the dismay of the Egyptians, all the military maneuvers ended in humiliating defeats at the hands of the Ethiopians.
Egypt’s policy towards the Nile, however, remained unaltered. Apparently, successive ‘agreements’, especially colonial ones, provided Egypt with absolute rights to utilize the waters while prohibiting upstream countries from doing so. These agreements, in addition, enabled Egypt to effectively maintain what it calls a ‘historic right’.
This status quo remained unchallenged until Ethiopia, which contributes 86% of the Nile’s waters, announced that it had decided to construct Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), on the Blue Nile, writes Mahemud Tekuya, a law expert at McGeorge School of Law, USA.
The fact is, even before Ethiopia’s announcement of its decision to construct a dam on the Blue Nile (Abay), Egypt considered Ethiopia a threat that needed to remain in perpetual misery and discord. Expectedly, Egypt outright opposed the project, declaring that it would significantly affect their interests.
Ethiopia did not begin a significant Nile project until 2011, which seems to have encouraged Egypt’s denial.
Such is the case when more than 60 percent of Ethiopians still live without electricity, while Egyptians enjoy 100 percent access to electricity.
The Nile River influences how Egyptian foreign policy decision-makers think, given that 95% of their population lives outside the basin. Generally, Egyptian foreign policy is based on securing the majority of the Nile River using any available alternative, regardless of whether it was suggested by the British or any other party, say Segni and Zerihun, Ethiopian Nile experts.
Even so, “since the project began, the Ethiopian government has been transparent in declaring the technical aspects of the construction. Assurance was also given to the upper riparian states that the project, essentially a non-consumptive one, would cause no significant harm. In this regard, a tripartite committee has been deliberating on the project at various levels since 2012”, wrote Drs. Samuel Berhanu and Yohannes Eneyew for the Australian Institute of International Affairs.
This is unprecedented for Ethiopia to be at the same time the net contributor of the Nile waters and, to heed Egypt’s demands, a downstream country with zero contribution. It is an astounding paradox. In the majority of cases involving trans-boundary Rivers, writes Gashaw Ayferam for the Horn Africa Insight (2020), upstream countries are hydro-hegemons; they mostly disregard the needs of downstream countries and utilize any amount of water they deem necessary for their own cause.
This has been the case with Turkey controlling the Tigris and Euphrates; Syria or Iraq are not the hegemons.
It was China that built as many and as large hydropower stations on the Mekong River—not Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, or just Vietnam.
By the same token, the U.S. does what it wants on the Colorado River, not Mexico.
Be that as it may, it does not discourage Egypt, a downstream country that enjoys hydrohegemony regardless of its zero contribution, from viewing the GERD as an existential security threat.
In fact, Egypt doubled down, along with feet-dragging and smokescreen negotiations, on the alternative strategies it employed for centuries to discourage Ethiopia from realizing the GERD project.
Hoping to continue with its complete control of the Nile waters, it carried on making threats to use force, engaged countless hours in activities that undermined the sovereignty of riparian states, especially Ethiopia, to prevent it from spending its resources on harnessing the Blue Nile, and more.
This entails one of Egypt’s long-held strategies: the securitization of the Nile waters. For Egypt, any planned project, such as that of the GERD, is an existential security threat. In other words, fueled by its ‘Natural Right’ political rhetoric and deep-seated sense of entitlement to solely monopolize the water resource, any project on the Nile for Egypt is perceived as a national-security threat.
Securitization is about how a securitizing actor frames a problem of normal politics to legitimize an extraordinary measure it contemplates taking against a socially constructed threat. And by framing the GERD as an existential water-security threat, Egypt aims to perpetuate a ‘no-dam-construction’ sanction against Ethiopia indefinitely, writes Gashaw.
Nonetheless, many argue that the securitization of the Nile River by Egypt is more of a political process than one of survival. For instance, discussed in Segni and Zerihun’s piece was the fact that agriculture, which takes 86% of the available water, accounts for only 14% of Egypt’s GDP, and Egypt imports 50% of its food consumption annually.
That is why, at each stage of the negotiations so far, Egyptian negotiators have emphasized that Egypt’s water security constitutes a “red line that cannot be crossed.” To this end, in addition to blatant verbal threats against Ethiopia, Egypt has gone so far as to pursue what it called a “charm offensive” throughout Nile riparian countries.
A case in point is that, following the overthrow of Sudan’s longtime ruler, Omar Al-Bashir, in 2019, Egypt exploited the troubled transitional government in Sudan and had it turn against the interests of Ethiopia and, worse, the interests of the Sudanese people.
Following, particularly the start of GERD filling in 2020, Egypt has been speaking with two mouths: one using its own and two using that of Sudan. The two countries even had a ‘synchronized’ rejection of what they labeled ‘Ethiopia’s unilateral filling of the GERD’.
In an apparent move to pressurize Ethiopia and at a time when Ethiopia was dealing with its internal security issues, Egypt and Sudan jointly conducted massive military exercises round after round. These exercises and drills even had lexicons: “Nile Eagles-1” and “Nile Eagles-2,” as well as the “Guardians of the Nile” joint military drills.
In the meantime, the Egyptian grand plan of executing its plans through Sudan has, it seems, already faced setbacks as Sudan is currently at war with itself.
On top of its maneuvers in Sudan, Egypt went on to sign military, intelligence, and economic cooperation agreements with countries such as Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, all Nile riparian countries. This is a natural course of action between independent and sovereign nations, and the signings are not illegal. But intentions matter in establishing cooperation of this nature. It definitely matters to Ethiopia. The issue of the GERD and the Nile has now become, therefore, as much a security matter for Ethiopia as it is for Egypt.
Of course, there was time when Egyptian diplomatic establishment thought they had won a big prize upon signing a defense cooperation pact with Kenya. Surely, they must have thought they could exploit the almost nonexistent water dispute between Ethiopia and Kenya.
The epitome of Egyptian greed, especially after the start of GERD filling, was its futuristic, sinister plan to lobby Djibouti into chocking Ethiopia, a landlocked country that relies almost entirely on Djibouti for its imports and exports. In the first visit by an Egyptian sitting president since 1977, El-Sisi traveled to Djibouti to ‘discuss the GERD dispute’, according to Egyptian media outlets. Ironic!
Egypt’s securitization of the Nile waters illustrates its negotiation strategy of win-lose, not win-win. Egypt will never be ready to give even a ‘drop of water’. We would like to remind readers that Egypt is the source of zero percent of the Nile’s waters.
Born in 1965 in Addis Abeba, Myriam Tadessé has lived in Paris since 1978. An actress and stage director, she has taught theatre and dance, written and directed documentaries, and published an account of her life titled L’instant d’un regard focusing on her childhood experiences in revolutionary Ethiopia.
Since 2017 she decided to devote herself to writing and has published a book Blind Spot, a memoir exploring the realities of being a mixed or biracial French citizen. “What the French word métis—which translates to “half-breed” or “mixed-race”—hides is how central the notion of race actually is in a society that claims to repudiate it, says the publisher’s description of the book. “The French film and theater world, in which Tadessé has made her career, appears unable to confront the individuality of the performers. They are required to correspond to categories—often based on race—that don’t allow for biracial identities. This classification not only contradicts France’s asserted ideals but also views as anomalies those who defy ethno-racial assumptions,” the description reads. Read the excerpt below.
April 1978. A young girl stands, ramrod straight in front of unfamiliar faces. They observe her in silence. ‘Let me introduce your new classmate.’ The principal’s voice reaches her from a distance behind her heart banging in her head. Whispers, some stifled laughter. It’s her coat, they must be laughing at the ugliness of this chequered thing that compresses her. She feels ridiculous, old-fashioned, held in. If only she could take it off, go sit with the others. Not be exposed to their mocking gaze. She’s scared, sweats from shyness, feels trapped in this room with its piss-yellow walls. There are bars on the windows, how horrid those bars, is this a prison or what, and the teacher, she’s dry and insipid, everyone looks drab, even the students, they all have the same greyish face, just like the windows looking out onto a grey that’s not even grey, a lack of colour everywhere, from floor to ceiling to the entrance gate, the street, all colorless. ‘She’s from Ethiopia,’ it feels weird to her to hear this word coming from the outside, when she always heard it inside her, in Amharic, and now it sounds like a foreign country, an abstract, distant entity, a lesson in geography, size-population-climate, an all-consuming over-there that defines it as away-from-here, but here, who is it? What does she know of countries, she doesn’t come from Ethiopia, she had to leave it, she comes from a family, a house, a city, a past torn to shreds. France, she doesn’t know either, Paris, yes, her grandmother and her aunt, yes, the imitation lace oilcloth on the table, macaroni with grated gruyere cheese, the Disney films she’d go to see on Christmas with her mother, the bouts of bronchitis because she was sure to catch a cold after a museum visit, the yellow of Van Gogh. Here, it was holiday time, a short stay, passing through, and now . . . Now it’s over. She can go sit down. Darkness.
Her first class at lycée Jules-Ferry, Paris, eighteenth arrondissement, Place de Clichy Métro station. It’s snowing. Bell rings. The other students leap up, laugh, call out to one another, she stays seated. A boy pops up in front of her, a globe in his arms, thumps it down on her desk, puts Africa right under her nose and orders: ‘Show me! Where’s Ethiopia?’ Short, brown hair, the surly look of the very shy, but eyes sparkling with curiosity. She complies. He stares at the point with such concentration that she feels like he’s actually travelling across the country. Satisfied, he picks up the globe and disappears as suddenly as he’d appeared. Darkness.
The silent melancholy of a young girl in the spring light and the beginning of a friendship on the steps of the school. Fog.
Paris starts at the cinema. A beaming moon winks at me, a cloud turns into a razor blade and slices an eyeball, a Pierrot frantically calls his beloved as she’s swallowed up by the carnival crowd. I’m submerged in a stream of marvelous, terrifying, uncanny images. An unsuspected world opens up to me, calls me, sweeps me away. I want to be among them, to stay with these bold, fanciful characters, who play with their lives as if they were tossing balls in a juggling act. Light. The old man with a bald round head sitting next to me smiles at me. ‘It’s Marcel Carné,’ whispers my mother who came with me for this tribute to Méliès. My first evening outsince we came to Paris a few months ago. I owe it to a thoughtful lneighbour of my aunt, the grandson of Méliès. Champagne, petits fours and shows of respect. At thirteen, I may be young, but I know the misery hidden behind the decorative lights. This may even be the first characteristic of my métissage. This ability to see under the surface of people from here or there, being as I am part of here and there. Of both continents, social classes, worlds, time frames at once, I have a twofold gaze. Who knows, on that evening, for instance, and who cares, how the great Méliès’s grandson lives? People greet him, congratulate him for his precious contribution to the evening, he looks proud, happy, and yet . . . . What I see is the sadness in his eyes, the insecurity of an operetta singer from another time, another age, that no one listens to anymore, which is what leads him to have to walk through my aunt’s apartment every evening, when he’s not on the road, to get to his ‘maid’s room’, reiterating how sorry he is for the inconvenience. In the thick fog of those first months through which I move like a robot, it is to this gentle, shy, old man, with his beige overcoat and plaid scarf, that I owe my first dream of cinema and my first glimmer of hope. Ever since I’m here, living at my aunt’s, 58 rue Caulaincourt, not on holiday, not passing through on my way to Addis Ababa, but waiting to find a place to live, because there will be no going back, everything has become alien and distant to me. I’m somewhere else. An elsewhere of experience rather than of geography. The split caused by a revolution that shook up the course of my life and my outlook on the world around me.
From the book “Blind Spot” by Myriam Tadessé.Copyright © 08/25/2021. Published by Seagull. All rights reserved.
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Plans to hold elections in Tigray next Ethiopian year signal progress in consolidating stability despite obstacles to transforming the region’s politics.
The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) plans to hold elections in Tigray region pursuant to last November’s peace deal that ended large-scale fighting between the federal government and Tigray forces.
NEBE Deputy Wubishet Ayale made the announcement on 10 May when he provided an update to a parliamentary committee on the board’s work in recent months, mentioning issues that have caused election delays in some areas.
According to Wubishet, NEBE is planning to hold a remedial election in areas where the 2021 general election was not conducted due to several reasons, including in Tigray due to the war. The vote is expected to take place next Ethiopian year, meaning between 11 September 2023 and 10 September 2024.
NEBE’s decision to hold elections comes months after the establishment of the Tigray Interim Regional Administration (IRA) and appointment of Getachew Reda as the region’s president on 23 March.
A successful poll would mark another step away from the constitutional dispute that led to war in Tigray and towards implementation of the Pretoria Agreement, as it would mark a return to a fully constitutional regional government.
NEBE is likely to face logistical challenges, financial constraints, and security concerns due to lingering effects from the conflict.
Ensuring voter registration, distributing electoral materials, training electoral staff, and establishing polling stations may prove difficult in a region affected by widespread displacement, infrastructure damage, and insecurity.
Additionally, NEBE will have to deal with the issue of disputed areas in Western Tigray that are under the control of Amhara and Eritrean forces.
The fact that the IRA was established only two months ago exacerbates the administrative challenges.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front-led IRA may face significant hurdles in establishing its structures in all areas of Tigray due to the two-year war that weakened the local administrative setup and because it no longer controls parts of its territory.
Given the limited time for preparation and the weakened institutional capacity as a result of the war, other opposition parties from Tigray may encounter difficulties in ensuring their voices are heard.
Moreover, these parties could face opposition from the IRA, which is controlled by TPLF. It is unclear whether federal and regional authorities will allow free and fair elections to be held.
At the same time, Tigray’s population, still recovering from the war’s devastating effects and dealing with the conflict’s trauma, is more internally divided than ever and may have other priorities than a competitive democratic process.
In addition to reestablishing trust in political actors, for the voters, fully engaging in this process requires healing and reconciliation measures that have not yet been implemented.
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Notably, transitional justice has not been addressed, leaving parts of the populace and opposition parties dubious about whether elections can help address the region’s political quagmire in the absence of accountability.
Tigray has been severely impacted by human rights violations and abuses that occurred during the two-year war. TPLF leaders, though, may use accountability as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Addis Ababa.
Holding new elections in Tigray was a central aspect of the peace agreement reached in November, as a constitutional dispute over Tigray’s last election was the immediate spark of the civil war that engulfed the region for over two years.
Tensions increased in late 2019 between the sparring federal government and TPLF when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attempted to merge the four constituent parties of the ruling EPRDF coalition (and five allied regional parties) into his own Prosperity Party.
The EPRDF’s founding member, the TPLF, resisted the merger and the feud escalated in mid-2020 when Tigray made plans to hold a regional council election, which the federal government declared illegal based on its decision to postpone all elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the federal government’s rejection, Tigray’s government went ahead with the poll in September 2020, saying it was a constitutional necessity, and TPLF secured an overwhelming majority. After the two governments subsequently deemed each other illegal, the path to conflict was set.
The federal government said the war started when TPLF-commanded forces attacked federal military bases on 3 November 2020 while Tigray’s leaders said they faced imminent federal military intervention to remove them and so launched a preemptive strike.
The conflict, which was also fought in Afar and Amhara regions, lasted until 3 November 2022 and killed an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people. It involved several parties warring against the TPLF, including the federal military, Eritrean troops, Amhara forces, and those from other regions. During the war, Tigray’s opponents largely blocked trade, aid, and services to the region’s approximately six-million people.
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Main Image: Tigray woman voting during the Tigray regional election; September 2020.
Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
Addis Ababa, May 9, 2013 (Walta) – Ethiopia-Pakistan Business Forum, aiming to foster commercial and investment ties, is opened today in Karachi.
State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, Ambassador Mesganu Arga, on the forum, stated that Ethiopia has been working diligently over the past five years to strengthen its diplomatic and trade relations with Pakistan.
He stated that the Ethiopian Government is working towards increasing trade volume between Ethiopia and Pakistan.
Up on the importance of Ethiopian Airlines’ resumption of direct flights to Karachi, Chief Executive of Trade and Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), Muhammad Zubair Motiwala, stated,” Ethiopian Airlines flights to Karachi will give Pakistan a chance to improve its relations with Africa in addition to Ethiopia”.
He underlined that Ethiopia is key to Pakistan’s relations with Africa.
The forum is attended by senior government representatives from various institutions as well as members of the business community.