Spotlight on the 29th AU Summit

A ‘low energy summit’ 

Early last week leaders of member states of the African Union (AU) descended into Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa for the 29th summit of the AU. Despite the disruption of the flow of traffic and the media coverage it attracted, this has in many ways been a ‘low energy’ summit.

Many leaders including Presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Macky Sall of Senegal, Muhamedu Buhari of Nigeria, John Magufuli of Tanzania, Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, Mohamed Abdulahi Mohamed of Somalia, Uhuru Kenyata of Kenya, Al Sisi of Egypt were absent.

The summit has clearly displayed that Africa today is in very short supply of leaders with strong pan-African conviction and clarity of continental vision. We are talking about, to quote from President Paul Kagame’s interview with the April 2017 edition of New African Magazine, ‘ the likes of Abdoulaye Wade, Obasanjo, Mbeki, Meles Zenawi, Bouteflika of Algeria, all of whom were driving matters of the continent in a positive direction’.

How else can one understand the lack of deliberation on the state of peace and security at the Summit? How about the nature of the debate on the reform of the Union?

An organisation Africa should have created if it did not exist 

President Kagame indicated in his interview with New African that leadership on continental affairs has now turned to the AU Commission. Despite the fact that his report ‘The Imperative to Strengthen our Union: Proposed Recommendations for the Institutional Reform of the African Union’ described the AU as ‘a dysfunctional organisation in which member states see limited value, global partners find little credibility, and our citizens have no trust’, President Kagame’s view that Africa seeks leadership from the AU is not completely off the mark. If the proceedings of the summit are anything to go by, indeed the star of the summit was the new AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamt, who, as outlined below, repeatedly provided insight and guidance even on some of the major areas of contention.

Indeed, as I told the Al Jazeera show Inside Story recently, the AU is an institution that Africa would have needed to create if it did not exist. With all its flaws the AU remains to be the only entity that serves as the big church that brings all African states under one platform. The question at any given point has never been whether Africa should have the AU. It has been and it still is about what kind of AU it should have.

Back to the 29th AU Summit 

So, even though the 29th summit has been underwhelming in many respects, it is still worth to note what transpired in the course of this summit and what the highlights of the major decisions of the summit were. This is the subject to which we immediately turn our attention.

On the theme of the summit – ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth’

 The AU Assembly adopted, without much debate, two decisions and a declaration. While the decision on the implementation of the theme of the year decided to institutionalize the African Youth Forum, the second decision endorsed the establishment of the African Youth Fund for which the AU allocated an amount at least equal to 1% of the Programme Budget of the AU Commission. The declaration highlighted the need for national level programs and international support and partnership on the subject including through advocating for a special session of the UN General Assembly.

It is difficult to see what these outcomes mean and whether they matter at all in addressing the demographic issues facing the continent. The best that can be expected is that they highlight demography as a major issue for the continent and may in the process leverage existing national level efforts or processes.

There were a few reports that attracted the most debate during the summit. One of them, unsurprisingly, was the report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This report often highlights human rights concerns relating to individual countries. This time around the language ‘occupied territory’ that has commonly been used in AU documents in reference to Western Sahara was another item that stirred debate. This was resolved only after Nigeria facilitated a negotiated formulation that sought to cater for concerns of Morocco and Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

On peace and security

The Assembly received the report of the Peace and Security Council on its activities and the state of peace and security in Africa. Despite the lack of debate on the draft decision, there were some issues that attracted major interest and some debate. While the Assembly decision covered all the conflict situations, this review focuses only on those that received new attention.

One such item was the conflict between AU’s newest member, Morocco, and the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic. AU Commission Chair Faki saved the difficult and divisive debate on the subject by proposing a new initiative involving the resuscitating the OAU ad hoc committee of heads of state for facilitating peace process. A declaration that the AU Commission proposed was adopted endorsing Chairperson’s proposal.

The summit has shown that AU member states are deeply divided between those supporting Morocco’s position and those holding to previous O/AU positions on the dispute.

Another item that received new attention was the border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea. Not surprisingly the two countries disagreed on what actually transpired. Eritrea insisted that all issues can be addressed within the framework of the 2010 agreement that Qatar facilitated and would not accept any parallel process. On the issue of whether Qatar communicated with the parties, AU Commission Chairperson Faki confirmed that he received a letter confirming that Qatar withdrew not only its troops from the Djibouti-Eritrea border but also from the mediation process itself. He also affirmed that a team was sent to the border areas of both Eritrea and Djibouti noting that while the team sent to Djibouti went to the ground, the team sent to Eritrea was unable to go to the ground.

As part of AU’s effort to calm the situation, the Chairperson informed the assembly that he would dispatch the Commissioner for Peace and Security Amb Smail Chergui to Asmara. Although this visit was planned to take place soon after the summit, on 9 July the AU issued a statement announcing that the planned visit was postponed to a time to be agreed.

With respect to Mali, the Assembly welcomed the G5 Sahel joint force involving Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. On the role of the AU in this respect, the Assembly requested the AU Commission ‘to organise, as soon as possible, a meeting of the member countries of the Nouakchott Process to discuss their support for the G5 Sahel initiative, within the framework of the AU Strategy for the Sahel Region’.

On South Sudan, the Assembly endorsed the decisions of the 31 IGAD Extraordinary Summit held on 12 June 2017, in particular the urgent convening of the High-Level Revitalization Forum of the Peace Agreement. In its statement during the Summit, South Sudan indicated that going back to negotiation would be opening of a Pandora’s box.

With respect to the AU Peace Fund, the Assembly endorsed ‘the communiqué of the 689th meeting of the PSC, in particular the governance structures and eligibility criteria of the Peace Fund, as well as the scope of operations to be submitted, on a case by case basis, for authorization by the UN Security Council and subsequent financing through un assessed contributions’. Significantly, the Assembly requested the AU Commission Chairperson ‘to take forward the political engagement to secure, in the course of 2017, a substantive UN Security Council Resolution on the use of assessed contributions to support AU mandated or authorized missions in 2017.’

It can thus be anticipated that this would be one of the items that would feature in the annual consultative meeting between the members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the Peace and Security Council (UNSC). This 10th year meeting is set to take place in Addis Ababa in early September 2017 during the Ethiopia’s presidency of the UNSC and Botswana’s chairpersonship of the PSC.

The AU also adopted a declaration on the Gulf crisis pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar. Expressing concern over the crisis, the Assembly urged for a peaceful and negotiated resolution of the crisis. The declaration also contained condemnation of all acts of terrorism and the funding of terrorism by any one.

On the reform of the African Union

The summit held a ‘closed-closed’ meeting on President Kagame’s report on the progress on the AU reform. The report gave update on the various steps taken for implementing the reform agenda including the structures put in place and the measures taken at the level of member states and the AU and the AU Commission. It acknowledged that a number of countries have raised various issues relating to various dimensions of the reform areas. The report also provided implementation matrix and schedule of implementation deliverables from the 29th until the 31st AU summits.

It has emerged from the ensuing discussion that Botswana presented a statement on behalf of Southern Africa region raising major concerns. Namibia and South Africa also spoke supporting Botswana’s statement and indicating that a number of countries are not yet on board the reform process.

When draft decisions of the Assembly were considered, the draft on the report of President Kagame was changed. Ghana supported by Egypt indicated that the decision should include a language that ensures that concerns of member states are accommodated in pursuing the reform process. The two countries negotiated with Rwanda on a formulation acceptable to them all.

Despite the fact that as part of the reform there was a draft decision on the dissolution of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee (HSGOC), it faced major opposition on the floor. Senegal pointed out that such a decision has to be taken after due consultation and should be deferred to another time. Its position received support from Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and South Africa. All indications are that this item is now put on hold.

On Multilateral cooperation

An item that raised some contention during the PRC and the Executive Council meetings was the proposed change of the nomenclature of the partnership with the European Union (EU). With the partnership framed as EU-Africa, the EU had selectively left out from invitation to EU-Africa summits certain African States. AU member states were opposed to the format of this partnership and the exclusion of certain member states. Morocco fought hard to keep the current format of the partnership with the EU. It was however finally decided that the nomenclature for the partnership with the European Union to be: “African Union (AU) – European Union (EU) Partnership” instead of “Africa – EU partnership”. Under this format one can anticipate that all members of the AU including SADR to participate in the AU-EU summit. The next summit is scheduled to take place in September 2017. 

Statute for Emperor Haile Sellassie and PM Meles Zenawi

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo delivered a statement noting that it was high time that the AU shows in concrete its appreciation for the role Ethiopia played including in hosting the continental body for over half a century. To this end he proposed that Ethiopia’s leading pan-African figures namely Emperor Haile Selassie I and former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi are given recognition in the same way the contribution of Ghana’s founding father Kwame Nkrumah was given recognition by erecting a statute on the AU grounds. This statement was accepted with acclamation and a statement of appreciation from Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegne.

 Next summits

While the 30th AU summit is as usual scheduled to take place in January 2015 in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, the 31st summit is planned to take place in Mauritania in on 1-2 July 2018. Interestingly enough, in President Kagame’s report on implementation of the AU reform the 31st AU summit was envisaged to take place in January 2019. This is not surprising given that enhanced integration within the framework of Agenda 2063 and the AU reform would mean that there is a need for a more, and not less, hands on engagement of member states. Experience from the EU also suggests that one would anticipate more summit level meeting and not less.



In Niamey, Niger

One of the things that I like about my work is the opportunity it avails for traveling on the African continent and beyond. I am particularly excited about my visits in the continent. I get to see and experience first hand the culture, politics and socio-economic conditions of fellow Africans.

I am delighted that I have arrived in Niamey, Niger. It took five hours of direct flight from Addis Ababa on board ET 937.

As we were descending to Niamey, we were informed that temperature on ground was a high of 38 degrees – such a hot reception was what I felt. Coming from rainy and cold Addis Ababa, it was a testimony to the contrast and diversity that is characteristic of our continent, which is true even beyond whether.

I sat more than an hour to have my luggage collected. I protested (despite my linguistic incapacity, speaking English is not certainly enabler here) about the length of time I was made to wait; the plane with which I arrived was moving to take off.

Then a ride to the Hotel. My colleague Reginald, who picked me up from the airport asked me if I ever visited any country in the Sahel-Sahara region. I told him this was my first experience to a country in the Sahara. That I was landing in the Sahara was apparent from my view from the window of the plane – brownish dry land, absence of vegetation, sparse settlement, plain dusty surface with no hills.

As we drove to the Hotel where I will stay for three weeks, perhaps due to my latest consciousness about rail lines (curtesy of the Addis City light rail system) my attention was drawn to a rail line crossing the middle of the city. It is not run down, it actually looked rather very recent. When I inquired about it, i was told it is not yet operational. As I suspected, I found from wikipedia that the line was in fact inaugurated in 2014, although not operational. I was pleased to learn that it is part of the AfricaRail project that connects Niamey to Cotonou in Benin – a physical evidence of African infrastructural development projects.

When we arrived at the Hotel, named Soluxe Hotel, I was informed that it is the only five start Hotel in town. Although there is another Hotel with better architecture and located on a direct view of river Niger, this is apparently the best quality Hotel for Niamey’s population of 1.3 million.

Once inside, it was apparent that it is a Chinese built and chinese run/owned establishment. Chinese characters are used alongside French. Chinese paintings are hung on the walls. The team that came to fix the air-conditioning in my room was led by a Chinese.

Late in the afternoon, I ventured out to check out the city and get a bite. Passed through the area through which the River Niger passes, what a beautiful sight. My eyes caught the imposing sight of a curvy building. I successfully read what was posted on the front wall of the building – it is the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Despite the fact that its benefits are not visible on the streets of Niamey, Niger is a resource rich country. Among others it has uranium. The Uranium from this country  fuels the Nuclear energy in France. Indeed, uranium is the primary source of energy for Niger’s former colonial ruler.

On departing from the Hotel, I asked Abdoul, the driver (with whatever little French I can think of —not speaking any French in this French is really debilitatingly limiting –I have made a decision to start French class on my return and I suggest you too do the same if you don’t speak French) to take me to a cafe named Le Cafe. Instead of Le Cafe, Abdoul first took me to an Italian Restaurant Le Pilier, the first restaurant that appears on He asked a couple of gentlemen standing outside for Le Cafe. We continued the ride, passed through the market area and when we arrived, it was another restaurant, La Cabane, a restaurant with Lebanese and European dishes.

I perused the Menue and went for a simple meal. I ordered chicken burger. I also drank expresso late. Despite the fact that Niger’s uranium fuels France’s energy, my internet connectivity at the restaurant failed so many times due to recurrent power interruption.

When I asked for the bill, I was provided with a receipt of 6000 CFA, and instead of the 1800 CFA that I saw on the menu, the price for the burger indicated in the receipt was 4000. After a frustrating exchange  and explaining the discrepancy as convincingly under the circumstances- I lament my French disability again – , I paid the full price while protesting.

Heading back to the Hotel, we passed a number of toyota picks ups on which armed soldiers and the gendarmerie are loaded, indication of a country facing a security challenge. Although Niger successfully withered the spillover of the disintegration of Libya, it is one of the countries in the Sahel affected by terrorist attacks including from Boko Haram and various groups in the Sahel and North Africa.

In a clear testimony that we are in a desert territory, we also passed at the centre of the city a camel carrying hey and walking with a camel’s long and awesome movements. It is not also difficult to notice that in Niamey, as in many other African cities, motorcycles are very common and serve as major means of transport.

My first day over. I am looking forward to more of Niamey. I hope to learn even a great deal more on the state of human rights in Africa – at Africa’s major gathering on human rights at the 60th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Au revoir, Bonne Soiree, A plus tard, Salut!

Decisions of consequence from the 28th AU summit: Part I AUC Chair Elections

The outgoing Chairperson of the AU Commission (AUC) told the packed audience at Mandela Hall that Ethiopia is not a sovereign country like other, all of us (Africans) have a stake in the city of Addis Ababa. At no other time is this true than at the time of the AU summit. The citizens of the city take a back seat; their roads are blocked or otherwise chocked and access to some places made beyond their reach.

With the 28th AU summit having ended and Addis resuming its routine, the time comes for reflecting on whether the inconvenience to which Addis Ababan’s were subjected was worth the trouble. The AU Assembly took 18 decisions, two declarations and two resolutions. Going to the summit, the major issues on the agenda of the summit were three: the consideration of the report of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda on the reform of the AUC, the election of the members of the AU Commission and the consideration of Morocco’s request for admission to the AU.

Although they are not of the same weight, the debates and the decision on these three major issues are of consequence to the AU.

Election of the AU Commission leadership

The elections for the position of the chairperson and the deputy chairperson of the AU was held on 30 January 2017. The process started at 4:30 with distribution of the voting keypads and reminder by the Office of the Legal Counsel of the AU on the procedures to be followed in the conduct of the elections.

The AU assembly first conducted the election of the Chairperson. There were five candidates vying for this position. Two of them, Foreign Minister of Botswana Moitoiun Pelonomi Venson and  Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy, run in the unsuccessful elections held in Kigali Rwanda during the 27th AU summit. The three new candidates were Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, and Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed.

The two frontrunners for the election were Mohamed of Kenya and Mahamat of Chad. While the candidates that run during the Kigali summit lost from the support they had in Kigali, Bathily, despite his qualities and credentials, had the disadvantage of the unfavourable perception towards his country.

Although Mohamed led the first round with 16 votes followed by Mahamat’s 14 votes, Mahamat sustained the lead he received during the second round when he received 21 votes to Mohamed’s 15 votes. At this stage, while Bethily and Venson received 8 votes each, Equatorial Guinea’s Mokuy had only two votes.

In the third round, Bathily lost five votes from the earlier round to both Mahamat and Mohamed. While Mahamat added three more votes from the second round, Mohamed added two. Mokuy’s position did not change.

With none of the candidates receiving the required 2/3rd majority, after the third round the rules require that the candidates with the least votes were eliminated, leaving for the next round only Mahamat and Mohamed.

In the fourth round, Mohamed took the lead from Mahamat when they received 26 and 25 votes respectively. There were three abstentions in this round. During the fifth round both Mohamed and Mahamat received one additional vote each from those who abstained during the fourth round.

The election reached another elimination stage during the six round. In what proves to be a decisive phase of the election, Mahamat once again took the lead from Mohamed when two countries switched their votes from Mohamed leading to her elimination from the race.

The question of the countries who switched their votes has since become a matter of some debate in the East Africa region with some countries, particularly Uganda forced to issue statement denying reports that they did not back Mohamed. Unless they indicate how they voted, it is however difficult to tell the identity of the countries who switched their votes away from Mohamed.

In the final round, Mahamat won the election with 39 votes and becoming the next Chairperson of the AUC. Following his swearing in, Mahamat assured his competitors that he would call on their support and active participation in the work of the AU.

The elections for the position of the Deputy Chairperson had three candidates. This election run only for two rounds. The election would have ended in the first round if  Ghana’s candidate former deputy foreign Minister and career diplomat Ambassador Quartey Thomas Kwesi had the additional two votes to meet the 2/3rd majority requirement. During the second round, he won the election with 44 votes and receiving the most confidence from the AU membership.

The two top positions of the AUC are now held by men. Although it remains to be seen how this affects the outgoing Chair’s derive for bringing women to leadership of the AU at various levels, women representation in the leadership of the AUC remains high. Four of the six commissioners elected by the Executive Council of the AU are women.



AU’s Shakespearean Morocco dilemma: To admit or not to admit?

There is a rich menu of issues on the agenda of the 28th African Union (AU) summit. It is sure to be a historic summit. Its historic importance is arguably in the league of the May 1963 Addis Ababa conference founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), predecessor to the AU and the July 2002 Durban summit inaugurating the AU.

What makes it historic is not the election of the new chairperson of the AU Commission expected to take place on 30 January 2017. It is not either the much-anticipated report of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on the restructuring of the Union.

What makes the 28th summit of the AU historic is the AU’s Shakespearean dilemma of admitting or not admitting the Kingdom of Morocco.

Since its withdrawal from the OAU in 1984, the northern Africa Kingdom has been the only African country remaining outside of the pan-African body, the AU. The O/AU has since grown from strength to strength with expanding political muscle and assuming increasing role on continental affairs. As it becomes alive to the reality of AU’s continental and global profile, Morocco sought to end its self-imposed diplomatic exile. 32 years after its departure, the Kingdom is now seeking to be part of the continental political fold.

After its very publicized announcement on its desire to have a seat on the AU table at the 27th AU summit held in Kigali Rwanda, Morocco formally submitted its request for admission to the AU in September 2016. Most recently, it signed and ratified the Constitutive Act of the AU, the founding treaty establishing the regional body.

Morocco’s charm offensive: Laying the groundwork for AU membership

As part of his visit to Kigali during the 27th AU summit, King Mohammed VI stated that although his country has left the organization, ‘it never quit Africa’. Indeed, despite severing its institutional ties, Morocco has over the years built strong economic and political ties in francophone Africa, where it enjoys its strongest backing.

In recent years, the Kingdom sought to extend its reach by deploying African wide diplomatic outreach. The Kingdom has opened embassies in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. In a diplomatic offensive that combined high level visits and wide-ranging economic cooperation agreements, Morocco sent some 20 high level missions to some 15 African countries during the past three years.

The King and senior officials also paid a visit to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda during the last six months of 2016. Morocco has signed 19 economic agreements with Rwanda and 22 with Tanzania, the later one a firm traditional advocate for decolonization and natural supporter of Western Sahara. Following his visit to Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the AU, King Mohammed VI announced the signing of a deal for building a $3.7 billion fertilizer company in Ethiopia, the largest single investment made outside of Morocco.

Reaping the fruits of its campaign

Morocco’s diplomatic overtures to obtain support from the wider membership of the AU did not go unrewarded. Although its attempts to get a hearing for its cause during the 27th AU summit was dead on arrival, in a display of strong support for Morocco 28 member states were reported to have signed a motion for the suspension of Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) from the AU.

Following the communication by the AU Commission Chair Dr Dlamini-Zuma to AU member States on Morocco’s official request for membership in the AU, more than half of the members of the AU responded assenting to Morocco’s request. It was following the receipt of support from majority of AU member states that the Chairperson of the Commission put the issue on the agenda of the 28th summit of the AU.

 A dilemma like no other

 Given the ambition of the continental body for the unification of Africa, one of the founding ideals pan-African institutionalism, Morocco’s absence in the AU is an anomaly. At the same time, its return to the AU could mark one step to a more perfect union.

Yet, unlike South Sudan’s accession to the AU, Morocco’s raises a dilemma like no other. Morocco left the continental body in protest of OAU’s admission of the SADR as a member of the OAU. While Morocco was the founding member of the OAU, with the transition of the OAU to the AU, the SADR has become one of the founding members of the AU whose name is inscribed into the Constitutive Act, the founding treaty of the AU.

Other than the various geo-strategic changes that happened in Africa and the Middle East, as far as the reason for Morocco’s withdrawal is concerned nothing has changed. SADR remains a part of the AU.

Although no one disputes the pan-African roots and the African membership of Morocco, understandably, its move for joining the AU is not seen as a manifestation of the Kingdom’s affection for the continental body. There is legitimate concern that Morocco’s return carries serious peril for the Union. It threatens to create unprecedented split within the membership of the Union, exacerbating existing fault lines continuing to impede continental unity.

Apart from Algeria, the staunch backer of the Western Sahara cause, other major regional powers on the continent also firmly support Western Sahara. Western Sahara has its strong regional support in Southern Africa. In an opinion piece published recently, South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Minister Maite Nkoana- Mashabane expressed South Africa’s unequivocal support for SADR affirming that South Africa remains ‘committed to continue to walk with the people of Western Sahara until they are free to live in their own land and able to determine their own future.’ SADR can also count of no less a firm support from such countries as Zimbabwe. It also enjoys support in East Africa from countries such as Uganda. Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister, who is also one of the frontrunners of the candidates for replacing AUC Chair Dr Dlamini-Zuma, announced her plan to push for holding of the referendum on the right to self-determination of Western Sahara.

The applicable legal processes  

The legal process to be followed in determining Morocco’s request for readmission to the AU has been outlined in a briefing that the Legal Counsel of the AU, Prof Vincent O. Nmehielle, gave to the Peace and Security Council of the AU on 12 August 2016. According to the Legal Council, there is a three-stage process for approving a request for AU membership under the AU Constitutive Act.

The first stage of this process is stipulated in Article 29 of the Constitutive Act. This involves the formal submission of a request for membership in the AUC Chairperson, the communication by the Chairperson to member states indicating the request. The second phase depends on whether simple majority of member states approve of the request for member ship. The second phase envisaged under Article 7 of the Constitutive Act involves the presentation by the Chairperson of the AUC to the AU Assembly of the request and the number of support from AU member states for the request.

The final stage of the process involves the consideration and deliberation by the AU Assembly of the request. In a communiqué it issued following the Prof Nmehielle’s briefing, the PSC stressed the need for the state requesting admission to the AU ‘to commit itself fully to upholding and respecting the principles of the Union as outlined in Article 4 of the Constitutive Act’. The PSC communiqué further urged member states to comply with the provisions of the AU Constitutive Act as the only legal framework that should guide the accession of any state to the AU.

Impending showdown

AU is clearly poised to have one of the most unprecedented showdowns between states supporting Morocco and those upholding the 1984 decision admitting SADR, currently the last African territory falling under the 1960 UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples as the International Court of Justice held in its Western Sahara, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1975. While there are those calling for Morocco’s admission without any conditions, for others Morocco’s admission without accepting the right of Western Sahara for self-determination is an abomination to the liberation ideals of the continental body. There are also those who, short of insisting Morocco’s acceptance of SADR’s self-determination, demand that Morocco gives guarantee that it does not dispute SADR’s membership in the AU.

As the recent walkout of Morocco from the Africa-Arab summit held in Malabo in protest of the presence of SADR shows, the indication is that Morocco, if admitted, is unlikely to coexist within the AU on an equal status with SADR.

AU  Shakespearean Morocco dilemma of admitting or not admitting Morocco is unlike any similar dilemma before. Nothing less than the very fate of the Union is on the line. As one diplomat from an East African country put it to me, the AU is corned into ‘dropping its policy position on SADR or Morocco will return to break it from within.’ It is no wonder that Dr Dlamini-Zuma, in one of her tweets on 25 January 2017, cautioned that ‘Whatever we do at this (28th) Summit, we must ensure that we preserve the precious and principled unity of this continent and our Union’.


Gambia’s recipe for Africa in resolving a crisis of transition with no drop of blood

The troubled transition in The Gambia was resolved peacefully. No gunfire was shot, no drop of blood spilt.

Surely, no single factor or line of story fully accounts for this remarkable development. It represented an exemplary triumph of the work of African led diplomacy. As such, it is now sure to become Gambia’s recipe for peaceful resolution of crises of transition elsewhere on the continent.

The descent to a preventable crisis of exit

The political turmoil in the Gambia that forced some 50,000 Gambians into neighboring countries, as I argued previously, was a crisis of exit arising from what I call ‘the curse of electoral defeat of an authoritarian’ – involving questions of clarifying the fate of the outgoing president (terms of exit) when and after handing over power and the handling of the politics of transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.

The crisis ensued when on 9 December 2016 Jammeh, rescinding his earlier concession of defeat, announced his rejection of the election results. Although Jammeh blamed problems relating to the election process, it was trends of politics of anger, not uncharacteristic of post-authoritarian transitions, which put his future into question that pushed him to make a face about on his acceptance of the election results.

Indications were that, Jammeh was resigning into retirement. In preparation for soft landing and following on acceptance of his electoral defeat, on 5 December Jammeh’s government released 19 political prisoners, including Ousainou Darboe, the leader of Barrow’s United Democratic Party (UDP), followed by 12 others on 7 December.

Instead of seizing Jammeh’s acceptance of the outcome of the election to negotiate an exit strategy ensuring peaceful transfer of power, as Rwanda’s newspaper New Times’ commentator Lonzen Rugira summed it, the message coming from some in the opposition involved ‘there would be no immunity; they’d return to the ICC; they’d seize Jammeh’s assets and prevent him from traveling abroad; and they’d prosecute him in less than a year and possibly within the next three months because they wanted to “move fast.”’

Enter the ECOWAS led coercive diplomatic efforts

Despite his wishes to the contrary, Jammeh’s act attracted swift regional response that culminated in the peaceful resolution of the crisis. Central to the success of the diplomatic efforts were its three important features.

The first was regional leadership. ECOWAS took the lead both in setting the agenda and launching the diplomatic process. Rather than mediating between Jammeh and the president elect, the initiative of ECOWAS focused on the agenda of enforcing the outcome of the 1 December election. The subject of the diplomatic effort was thus rightly about negotiating an exit framework that ensures Jammeh’s departure and the ascent of the president elect to power.

The other feature of the ECOWAS led diplomatic process was the formation of a united front between regional and international actors. The agenda of ECOWAS on Jammeh’s departure received firm support from the continental body the African Union (AU), which expressing full support to ECOWAS warned Jammeh of ‘serious consequences’ and the UN as well as other international actors including the European Union and major powers like the US.

Third, the diplomatic effort around the agenda of Jammeh’s departure was backed by a credible threat of use of force. Apart from its 17 December summit decision to ‘undertake all necessary action’, a euphemism for use of force, ECOWAS member states mobilized their troops into The Gambia upon the expiry of a 19 January deadline they set for jammeh to leave power.

Collapsing of Jammeh’s regime from inside

As much as the caution that ECOWAS exercised (for exhausting diplomatic efforts that involved five rounds of presidential missions to Banjul mobilizing a total number of six African presidents), while showing firm posture, the crumbling of Jammeh’s regime and his alienation by his own army was a catalyst in bringing Jammeh into accepting the terms of his departure.

The string of cabinet resignations followed by the departure of longtime vice president Isatou Njie-Saidy forced Jammeh to dissolve his cabinet entirely. Despite declaration of state of emergency and parliamentary extension of his term of office for three months, the military chief announced that he had no plan to fight the ECOWAS troops marching into the Gambia.

Pulling the rug of power from Jammeh’s feet

Instead of its initial threat of ensuring the inauguration of Mr Barrow in the Gambia, ECOWAS opted for an extraordinary choice for the swearing in of the president elect Adama Barrow in the Embassy of the Gambia in Senegal’s capital, Dakar. Despite Jammeh’s claim to power with a parliamentary decision extending his power for a further period of three months, in an act that pulled the rug of power from Jammeh’s feet the president elect was sworn in as Gambia’s new president on 19 January.

This act sealed Jammeh’s political demise, paving the way for the AU and others to withdraw their recognition of Jammeh and welcom Mr Barrow as the legitimate president of The Gambia.

The most critical political act

No doubt the combination of all of the foregoing factors contributed in ending the crisis. Yet, the most critical political act for the crisis to be resolved peacefully was the eventual successful negotiation of Jammeh’s exit. Following the last rounds of diplomatic efforts involving Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Guinea’s Alpha Conde, Aziz aptly summed the essence of the agreement on the exit of Jammeh saying ‘We have reached an agreement that saves the Gambia, guarantees peace, and assures security, dignity and honor for the outgoing president’.

The clear lesson from the crisis in The Gambia is that for a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy to be successful a free and fair election should be accompanied by a negotiated agreement on exit that encourages the authoritarian ruler into retirement and allows the country to move forward with an inclusive transition.

Lessons for diplomatic response for crises of transitions of power

From the perspective of diplomatic engagement, the successful resolution of the crisis shows the importance of various factors including a) regional agreement around a single agenda of the diplomatic effort, b) unity of regional actors and cohesive regional leadership that sticks around the same agenda c) willingness of the region to enforce such agenda and d) mobilizing and securing firm continental and international support and engagement based on and around the agenda set.

Obviously, it would be difficult to replicate the model of diplomacy employed in the Gambia in another situation. The fact that Gambia is a small country with one of the smallest and weakest military force has arguably made an easy case to handle with a threat of credible military action.

Although the model may not be and should not be replicated as is for other cases, it still offers a useful template that can be adapted as appropriate and used for other cases. Accordingly, in cases where a regime is backed by a relatively strong army and its components remain firmly together, this model needs to be complemented by such other measures as applied in Cote d’Ivoire after the November 2010 elections including suspension of membership, economic sanctions etc before using the threat of force.

Is there another side to the single story on the crisis in The Gambia?

The current crisis in The Gambia has a simple story, or so it seems. Here is how it goes.

On 1 December 2016 presidential elections were held in the country with the incumbent Yahya Jammeh and the opposition leader Mr Adama Barrow as frontrunners. The following day, the Independent Electoral Commission of the Gambia announced a surprising result, Jammeh lost the election by 39.6 % to Barrow’s 43.3 % of the votes cast.

Rescinding his concession of defeat made in a televised telephonic call to the winner of the Election on the same day, Jammeh announced his rejection of the election results, pushing the country into a political turmoil unprecedented in his 22 year authoritarian rule.

Typical’ of an African election, election was held, the opposition won, the incumbent refused to accept the results and a crisis ensued. Well, the only deviation is that for a ‘typical’ African authoritarian leader, it is not ‘typical’ to convene free and fair election, let alone to concede defeat.

As the story goes, it is no one but Jammeh to blame for this crisis. As in all stories of good versus evil, you have to take out the villain to safeguard the good. In the context of The Gambia, this means that the result of the election should be upheld and Jammeh should be forced out as declared by ECOWAS, AU and the UN.

Check any major news outlet covering the crisis including those in Africa, this is the line that is consistently narrated without exception.

In her now famous 2009 TED Talk Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie eloquently argued against a “The Danger of a Single Story.” Her point was that the complexity of a human experience cannot be reduced to a single narrative and when reduced to such narrative it is sure to lead to dangerous outcomes.

So could there be another side to the single story on The Gambia? Is this yet another single story with a danger?

Another side of the story?

In an opinion piece published on Rwanda’s newspaper New Times, commentator Lonzen Rugira took issue with the single narrative. He argued that there is more to the situation in The Gambia than meets the eye. His point as captured in the tile of his commentary is that ‘the international media and human rights organizations’ are to blame for the ‘unforced’ errors of the opposition that triggered the crisis.

For sure, this is a kind of analysis that one may push aside as counter intuitive, if not down right apologist for giving an excuse to what all agree to be a defeated authoritarian ruler. Well, even if one disagrees with him on blaming externals for the current woes of The Gambia, the truth is that Rugira is not without a point.

True that #Gambiahasdecided that Jammeh should go. As is the case with elections, this decision left the question of Jammeh’s exit, namely what happens to him and his camp when and after leaving power, unanswered.

Curse of loss of election by an authoritarian leader

The descent of The Gambia into this crisis is a result of what I call the curse of loss of election by an authoritarian ruler. While the electoral defeat of Jammeh the authoritarian ruler is a welcome development, it also presents the country with major issues. These include the questions of clarifying the fate of the outgoing president (terms of exit) after handing over power and the handling of the politics of transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.

In a context like that of the Gambia, these issues affect whether there would be smooth transfer of power leading to inclusive politics and deepening democratization or to a period of political instability and uncertainty.

Lost opportunity

More than the electoral victory of Mr Barrow, Jammeh’s acceptance of the result was crucial for peaceful transition. In a sign of good will, going beyond conceding defeat, on 5 December Jammeh’s government released 19 political prisoners, including Ousainou Darboe, the leader of Barrow’s United Democratic Party (UDP), followed by 12 others on 7 December.

This presented the Gambia a unique opportunity for a mutually agreed transition in which both smooth transfer of power to the winner of the election and secure exit for the outgoing president would have been assured.

As it turned out, this did not happen.

Instead of seizing the opportunity for an agreed transition, trends characteristic of post-authoritarian politics of vengeance started to emerge. Long suppressed members of the public did not take long before venting their understandable anger towards Jammeh including in desecrating images of him. Perhaps in a move that pushed him to make a face about, talk of the uncertain future fate of a president who conceded defeat crept into the post-election political discourse.

As Rugira observed, the message coming from some in the opposition camp was ‘there would be no immunity; they’d return to the ICC; they’d seize Jammeh’s assets and prevent him from traveling abroad; and they’d prosecute him in less than a year and possibly within the next three months because they wanted to “move fast,” a senior official was quoted saying.’

A preventable crisis

Without a doubt there is a lot of blame to be attributed to Jammeh. Yet, it shouldn’t have been allowed to wreck havoc on the transitional process. After all Jammeh was not expected to act in any way differently from what he did. In terms of steering the transition to success, at the very least the opposition camp should have avoided any missteps.

The Gambia’s was a preventable crisis. An exit strategy could have been negotiated leading to peaceful transition.

The lesson from the crisis in The Gambia is clearly that for a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, free and fair election by itself alone is not enough. In such context, peaceful transfer of power and successful transition to democracy depends on an agreed political roadmap on how to manage the curse of loss of election by an authoritarian leader.

Could other African countries with similar situation be spared from similar trouble?

The Gambia is not unique in having an authoritarian ruler. There are many other African countries under the grip of Jammeh’s kith, some of whom with a record worse than Jammeh.

If these other rulers are not to take the wrong lesson and be encouraged into convening free and fair elections, the question that opposition parties, the citizenry and African regional and continental organizations should ask is whether they are willing to have an exit strategy that encourages these rulers into retirement and help the country move forward with peaceful transfer of power and inclusive transition. This is sure to determine whether other countries will have the same troubled transition as The Gambia.

African lessons for transitional justice from Colombia’s peace deal

The peace deal that the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Groups of Colombia (FARC) struck has relevance far beyond Colombia. First, it brings an end to one of the world’s long running conflicts. Surely, this on its own is a cause for celebration in a world awash with violence. Second and perhaps importantly, what makes it particularly relevant for other parts of the world, notably Africa, is the example it sets for navigating the vexing terrain of peace versus justice.

In Africa’s evolving peace and security architecture, no other issue has emerged to be more challenging than how the demands of peace and justice are addressed in African societies transitioning from conflict to peace. It is only logical that those engaged in the process of pursuing peace and justice in Africa follow Colombia’s peace process with interest.

As recent experiences on the continent show, the dilemma is how to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable without compromising the possibility of negotiated settlement. Sequencing is viewed as one way achieving this balance but remains problematic.

Although many point to the example of South Africa as another option, legal developments internationally with the emergence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and within the African Union (AU) generally mean that the use of amnesty even on South Africa’s model is frowned upon, if not rejected as a license for impunity. The result is that the question of peace and justice is often framed in the stark ‘either or’, black and white terms. As the recent spate of African withdrawals from the Rome Statute show, such antagonistic formulation of peace versus justice has become the hallmark of the controversy over the International Criminal Court in Africa.

Part of the problem has been no good model of peace settlement that successful struck the right balance and compromise between peace and justice has been found.

Now with Colombia’s peace deal one can find a useful model. The negotiated peace deal has offered Colombia the opportunity to end more than half a century conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. The peace serves the interest of justice by preventing the violations and victimization that the continuation of the war would unavoidably have created.

In terms of Africa’s experience with transitional justice, Colombia’s peace deal has many parallels to South Africa’s negotiated transition. As in South Africa, Colombia’s peace deal crafts a common political future for all sides to the protracted conflict. FARC undertook to lay down arms, eradicate the illegal drug economy, remove landmines, admit responsibility for violations of humanitarian law and human rights and offer reparations for victims. In return, the deal obliges the Colombian government to provide the FARC security guarantees conditions and facilitate its integration into mainstream politics as a political party with 10 seats in Congress for the next two terms. As in South Africa, despite the referendum setback the peace deal is subject to democratic approval, in its revised form, at least by congress.

In accord with the international and African legal developments, Colombia’s peace deal corrected aspects of the limitations in South Africa’s transitional justice. In a breath of fresh air to the discourse on transitional justice, Colombia’s peace deal laid to rest the issue of the use of amnesties. Thus unlike in South Africa, Colombia’s peace deal rejected the use of amnesty in exchange for truth. Accountability is framed to go beyond and above truthful confession of violations. Yet, Colombia’s peace deal shows that for countries that seek to achieve a negotiated end to armed conflict the alternative for amnesty is not retributive justice.

In addition to truth telling, accountability entailed sanctions and obligations to redress victims. As one of the elements of the peace deal, the truth and reconciliation process entails that perpetrators of human rights and humanitarian law violations from both FARC and government security forces who confess their crimes would be eligible for a reduced sentence of up to 8 years of restricted liberty and community labor to repair damages to victims. Those who do not comply with these conditions will face a special court and prison sentences up to 20 years.

Additionally, unlike criminal prosecution, which puts its focus on punishing the perpetrator, Colombia’s peace deal has put victims at the center of the peace process by including them in the peace process, emphasizing restorative justice and according them major role in the transitional justice process. It is no coincidence that the peace deal received the most support from parts of the country most affected by the conflict.

As Virginia M. Bouvier rightly noted, rather than throw criminals in jail (generally at a high cost without many positive results), the transitional justice system under the peace deal seeks to establish a dialogue between victims and victimizers that satisfies the rights of the victim to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition of the wrongs committed. It addresses the structural conditions for the armed conflict.

For conflict affected societies, the challenge they face is crafting a settlement which at ones guarantees security of the present through a negotiated end of armed conflict, confronts the wrongs of the past through restoring victims and holding perpetrators accountable as well as rectifying the root causes and engineers a common future through rehabilitated integration of warring parties to mainstream politics. With Colombia’s peace deal, which received the support of the UN, EU, US and Amnesty International, it is now possible to negotiate a peace that meets the demands of the past, present and future of African societies in transition within the bounds of relevant international and AU norms.

ICC withdrawals: Too good a crisis to waste!?

The Fifteenth Session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute Scheduled to take place on 16 to 24 November comes after the month of October brought the International Criminal Court’s Africa problem to yet another crescendo. It was in October 2013 that the tension between ICC and Africa ‘reached a new height’ when the African Union (AU) in an unprecedented move convened an extraordinary summit dedicated to addressing ICC’s role in Africa.

While at the time the proposal on the withdrawal of African state parties from the Rome Statute did not sound more than an empty barking, my observation was that ‘the extraordinary summit on withdrawal from ICC challenges not only the legitimacy but also (and importantly) the very future of the ICC’. I similarly wrote elsewhere that despite the fact that no decision was taken on withdrawal during that summit ‘the worst (in ICC’s troubles in Africa) may still be to come.’

Spates of withdrawals

This last October marks the beginning of the arrival of the worst that was feared of in previous years. Now the barking of October 2013 is accompanied by a biting. African State Parties to the Rome statute have started the process of withdrawal.

On 19 October South Africa’s foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane signed an “Instrument of Withdrawal”. Earlier in the same week Burundi’s parliament adopted with an overwhelming vote a law on the withdrawal of the country from the Rome Statute. The Gambia, from where the current ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda hail, joined the bandwagon by declaring its decision to withdraw on 26 October.

The false choice between justice and impunity

Unsurprisingly, this latest development has sent shockwaves unleashing fierce debate in its wake. As in past developments that attracted heated controversy over ICC’s role in Africa, this time as well the debate is largely cast in stark black and white terms as a struggle that pits the good against evil, constituents of justice against those of impunity.

Some decried South Africa’s announcement of its withdrawal from ICC as ‘a blow for victims of international crimes’. Reacting to the announcements of Burundi, South Africa and the Gambia, Secretary-General Ban ki Moon reported to have said that withdrawal from ICC raises doubts about ‘commitment to justice’. To the extent that one agrees with these sentiments, one should hold non-membership in ICC of major powers (China, Russia and the US) and other notable countries like India as a show of lack of commitment on the part of these countries. These reactions and similar others seem to suggest that the withdrawals manifest an indictment on international justice.

Beyond the binary choice

While the concern that these reactions raise is not without merit, the narrow and stark formulation renders the issue into a zero-sum debate. The issue that arises from the withdrawals is however much more nuanced and less straight forward than a simple choice between justice and impunity.

The withdrawals are not an indictment on ICC in its entirety per se, even less on the ideals of international justice. Instead they represent an indictment on the structural flaws underlying the international legal order. As it stands, the international legal order is more a mirror image of George Orwell’s animal farm than a society bound by the rule of law that applies equally to all countries, big or small. Such is a legal order characterized by ‘the absence of a moral equivalence’ in the implementation of legal principles across all countries regardless of size and political and economic endowment’ and hence with features that tend to allow might to be right.

Not only that the ICC is part and parcel of this international legal order but by its design it has been made to reinforce and entrench the Orwellian animal farm character of the system by vesting the veto holding members of the UN Security Council with the power to refer situations in some countries while shielding themselves (or close allies) from scrutiny by the ICC. As one observer put it the resultant ‘prevalence of Northern hegemony, and an implicit hierarchical … order … makes it acceptable for African leaders to be prosecuted but makes the indictment of American or British leaders inconceivable.’

Seen in this light, the withdrawals accompanying several years of discontent express Africa’s challenge to the enormous influence that the hegemonic dominance of countries of the traditional power center of the international legal order exert in shaping the conduct of the international legal order including that of ICC.

As far as ICC itself is concerned, the withdrawals relate to concerns raised over the years on how ICC has gone about implementing its mandate in Africa. The first concern was about the launching of prosecutions with respect to ongoing armed conflicts for whose resolution mediation efforts are underway. The AU seems to hold the view that in a situation of an ongoing war at the very least peace and justice must be sequenced in such a way that priority is accorded to ending violence of armed conflict and creating the conditions for peace. In its instrument of withdrawal South Africa, South Africa stated that it ‘has found that its obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the International Criminal Court of obligations contained in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court’.

Related to this is also the concern around the prosecution of seating heads of state and governments, which, in the context of Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire, is seen as a euphemism for regime change in the name of pursuing ICC’s agenda of prosecutorial justice or as a breach of the sovereign electoral choice of citizens in the case of Kenya. It is to be recalled that it was against the background of the democratic election that brought Kenyata and Ruto to power that the extraordinary summit of 2013 took the decision of the summit that ‘no charges shall be commenced or continued before any International Court or Tribunal against any serving AU Head of State or Government or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity during their term of office’.

The issue of temporal official immunity for the duration of the term of office of heads of state and government was particularly prominent in South Africa’s withdrawal. Explaining South Africa’s decision the Minister of Justice Michael Masutha argued the ‘implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act, 2002, is in conflict and inconsistent with the provisions of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act, 2001.’

No mass withdrawal but more withdrawals to come

There is going to be no mass withdrawals. This much has become clear from the debate on mass withdrawals, which featured prominently on the extraordinary summit of the AU in October 2013 and the July 2016 Summit in Rwanda. Yet, the three countries are unlikely to be the last of African states parties to withdraw from ICC.

It is expected that more African countries are expected to announce their withdrawal, with Chad, Kenya and Namibia all likely suspects. Kenya has gone far towards withdrawal with the parliamentary resolution awaiting Cabinet’s decision, as the president’s spokesperson recently reported. Similarly, Namibia’s minister of information announced in November 2015 that his government had decided to withdraw from the ICC. Uganda, which has also been vocal against the ICC, is another state party that may jump on the withdrawal bandwagon.

Where to from here?

ICC’s battered relationship with Africa is on the verge of a breaking point or so it seems. As they meet later in the month, one hopes that Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute would heed the adage that a crisis is too good an opportunity to be wasted. As Max du Plessis pointed out, at the level of the ASP there is a possibility for ‘a political solution to the question of whether serving heads of state should have immunity’. There is already a South African led working group at the ASP on the same subject that offers an avenue for seizing the opportunity that this crisis presented for reforming the issues bedeviling ICC. These reforms would include not only ICC’s target of prosecution (particularly as they relate to seating heads of state and governments until end of their term of office) and the exercise of the Prosecutor’s discretion with respect to both when and who to prosecute having regard to considerations of peace and security but also a conception of justice that embraces and supports measures for addressing the structural conditions that make atrocities possible. Such reforms would remove the steam from the apparently persistent opposition to ICC, enable the court to reduce the challenges of hegemonic influence to the minimum level possible and allow flexibility for pursuing the court’s mandate in a way that supports rather than stifles the transformative justice befitting societies coming out of armed conflicts and/or authoritarian violence.


Ethiopia’s worst bad habit

In a recent article that featured on Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt of Harvard University made the fascinating observation that ‘most (all?) states have some ‘bad habits’ – well-established but questionable practices that remain in place even when the justification for them is no longer apparent (if it ever was)’.

Reading the piece got me into asking what Ethiopia’s worst bad habit is. In the light of the widespread protests and the difficult but necessary political tumult in Ethiopia, this is a question of poignant concern.

Surely, there are several bad habits that many may easily put their fingers on. However, there is one that has always bothered me and occupies a nightmarish presence at the back of my mind and perhaps those of many others: Ethiopia is a country constituted and held together through iron and blood.

With no exaggeration most, if not all, Ethiopians and observers of Ethiopian politics may easily agree that the foremost worst bad habit of Ethiopia is indeed state violence. Historically force is at the heart of the making of the Ethiopian state. If Charles Tilly’s famous line ‘war made the state, and the state made war’ is anything to go by, Ethiopia is not unique in this.

Most notable is the fact that all of Ethiopia’s governments have used it as the main means of maintaining power. It has become so wired into the mindset and institutional tradition of the Ethiopian state. No change of time and conditions has been able to change it.

True, all of the country’s governments drew on other sources of legitimacy as well. The Emperor used religion and the legend of descent from King Solomon along with the modernization initiatives. Even the murderous Derg also tried to use its socialist and Ethiopia First slogans to prop up popular support. For EPRDF apart from its struggle credentials, it has banked its rule on the constitutional affirmation of the equality and self-determination of the diverse ethno-national groups making up the Ethiopian state and state led socio-economic growth.

While the other sources of legitimacy clearly varied with change of government, the use of violence has remained constant across these different governments. The Emperor built a modern security system able to instill fear, imprison and kill those defying and threatening his rule.

Going even farther, the Derg made the establishment of a military and police rule in the country its mission. At the height of its rule, it had the reputation of building the largest army on the continent. It built a notorious (in)security machinery that killed, imprisoned, tortured, disappeared and persecuted any one with opposing views either individually or in an organized platform.

Undeniably a lot has changed under the federal system that the 1995 Constitution put in place. A fair amount of the changes were for the better. Yet, this worst bad habit has not been broken under the EPRDF as well. Whatever improvements made towards democratization did little to dent, let alone undo, the hold of this bad habit. Indeed, the hold of this bad habit has been tightened during the past decade including through securitizing otherwise legitimate political and civic activities with draconian laws such as the press, civil society and anti-terrorism laws.

In the experience and imagination of ordinary people, the one institution that has become an embodiment of the bad habit of rule by brut force in present day Ethiopia is the Federal Police. Just ask any one on the streets of Addis or protestors in the Oromia region. For most, if not all, there is little else that Federal Police represents other than its chilling brutality. Following the small protests in Addis Ababa on 6 August, a minor illustration of this was circulating in various international media outlets showing a Reuters news agency video of federal police kicking and beating protestors with batons and sticks.

Although security institutions are supposed to be non-partisan, it is rightly observed that they ‘have in large part been taken over by political operatives of the incumbent’. The result is that the state’s worst bad habit gets expressed in a partisan way protecting the incumbent and tormenting ‘opponents’.

In its May 2016 edition, the monthly Addis Ababa based English magazine Addis Standard had the infamous Maékelawi as its cover story. Recalling that this was one of Derg’s institutions used for torture, abuse and terror, the sub-title of the story reads ‘Why is Ethiopia still running a “Torture chamber” from the past?’ Despite its notoriety and being a relic of the Derg’s repressive past, it is indeed outrageous that Maékelawi still operates serving as the site of the Ethiopian Federal Police Central Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Even more outrageous is that its past practices are thriving. The same interrogation methods involving life changing physical and psychological suffering during the Derg time are not uncommon today. Apart from the testimonies of those who spent time in Maékelawi for investigation and prosecution, the record of the court files of people held there is replete with accounts of torture and various other abuses.

A further test to find out that this worst bad habit continues in present day Ethiopia is to ask some simple questions. What has happened to opposition political parties, journalists, activists, and bloggers acting, speaking or writing in a manner threatening to EPRDF’s rule? What has happened to protests that erupted in Addis Ababa University at various points in the 1990s and early 2000s? How did EPRDF deal with the 2001 split in the TPLF? What happened in the aftermath of the contested elections of 2005? How about the protests in Oromia and Amhara regions of Ethiopia?

In a widely read article he wrote on the current political situation in Ethiopia, Tsadkan G/Tensai, former chief of staff of the armed forces of Ethiopia, observed regarding the expulsion of some senior members of the TPLF after the 2001 split that ‘those persons were expelled from the party not based on the rules of the party but under duress and using security apparatus’ (emphasis added). Explaining how this was done, he stated that ‘the legislative (sic) was summoned to pass laws designed to detain and keep in prison a few persons perceived by some as threat. Some were thrown to jail even after bail was secured from a court of law.’

With respect to the protests and political upheaval that Ethiopia faced in the aftermath of the 2005 disputed elections, General Tsadkan observed that ‘EPRDF contained the resistance from the opposition by killing hundreds of people and throwing the opposition figures into jail.’ In a report that the US Institute of Peace published in 2007, it stated that ‘[i]t is now confirmed that at least 193 people died and hundreds of others were injured (following the June and November 2005 confrontation between protestors and security forces). By most estimates, tens of thousands were detained, many released without charge after some months, and some charged later with criminal offenses.’

The Dimtsachin Yisema movement involving members of the Muslim community has similarly been responded with a security crack down. Many of its leadership (pardoned on the occasion of Ethiopia’s 2009 new year) were prosecuted with charges of terrorism.

The shooting of protestors carrying no firearms, the killings and maiming and the mass imprisonment of protesting youth have again become evident in the recent protests the engulfed the Oromia and Amhara regional states, the two most popular unites of the Federation that together make up more than 65 per cent of Ethiopia’s close to 100 million people.

In another cover story it featured earlier in the year with a heading ‘Why is Ethiopia killing its people again’, the editorial of Addis Standard observed on the outcome of excessive use of force by security forces in Oromia that ‘[s]ince November 12th 2015, when the first protest broke out in Ginshi, a small town 80km from Addis Ababa, countless households have buried their loved one; young university students have disappeared without trace; hundreds have lost limbs and countless others jailed.’ While government sources indicate a much lower fatality figure, various sources reported that several hundreds lost their lives from the months of protests in Oromia region.

The protests in Amhara region first started in the historic city of Gonder. It resulted from a confrontation following attempts by forces of the anti-terrorism task force to arrest individuals who are members of the Wolkait Amhara Identity Question Committee, a group campaigning for the recognition of the Amhara identity of Wolkait, which in the current federal arrangement forms part of the Tigray region.

When protests were first held in Gondar city at the end of July 2016, it ended without incident. Yet, subsequent protests have turned violent. It was reported that a confrontation that arose between protestors and security forces on 5 August 2016 resulted in death, bodily injury and rounding up of various people. As the protests spread to other parts of the region including the capital Bahir Dar, ‘[t]the city became the scene of unspeakable horror’, William Davidson, one of the foreign journalists covering the situation wrote in a recent article. He went on to say that a ‘peaceful anti-government demonstration there turned violent after a security guard at a government building opened fire on the crowds, provoking an angry backlash from protesters, according to witnesses. Security forces then gunned down dozens of demonstrators, killing at least 30.’

Not surprisingly, the protests in Oromia held on 6 August, which reportedly covered large parts of the region, were responded with no less brutal force than before. In the context of sporadic incidents of chaos during the protests, security forces reportedly shot and killed around 100 and rounded up many more.

There is thus very little to disagree with the view that, ‘[I]t looks like all that the EPRDF government got in its tool boxes to address popular grievances and policy reform demands are only guns and more guns.’

Taking into account its persistence across different governments, one can identify some seven manifestations of Ethiopia’s bad habit. First is the belief or political thought that force is central to governing the Ethiopian people. This belief has for generations defined the relationship between the people and government not in terms of citizen and agent but that of a subject and a ruler. This thinking still lingers on in one way or another.

Second is what John W Whitehead calls a nation of suspects. This is a politics of paranoia manifesting a sheer lack of trust towards members of society, particularly those with no active allegiance to the regime. It also entails the branding of those the government wishes to target as banda or traitor, reactionary or counter-revolutionary, secessionist, terrorists, etc.

A necessary corollary to this and the third manifestation is best captured in the famous line from George Orwell’s book 1984 that ‘big brother is watching you’. People are followed, constantly checked, harassed, intimidated and controlled. The surveillance is so pervasive and intrusive. It uses not only human intelligence but also electronic technologies to monitor and keep record of the movements and speeches of citizens, their phone conversations, their emails and social media activities.

Fourth is the establishment and use of a security institution both as an instrument and symbol of enforcing the regime’s power over the citizenry. As illustrated by Africa’s post-colonial authoritarian governments perverted reliance on colonial laws they fought against, this also involves the maintenance of the institutions and practices of repression of the oppressive old regime. The case of Maékelawi was earlier mentioned as an example.

Fifth is a rule by law. In this context, the government of the day uses draconian laws for clothing its authoritarian rule a façade of legality. A case in point in present day Ethiopia is the anti-terrorism law, which has been used to stifle political opposition and dissent. Reaching obscenely absurd level, it did not even spare bloggers of Zone 9, mostly new young graduates with passion for their country and politics.

Six is the use of the police and military force as a means of handling political contestations. As a hammer treats everything as nail, all manners of political conflicts are viewed as security problems and dealt with security tools.

Seventh is the lack of meaningful legal recourse for citizens against violations. Either no transparent and independent investigation is undertaken or no one is held for violations including killings. Even complaints of torture and other abuses presented to courts in the course of ongoing prosecution receive no sanction.

It was Frantz Fanon who wrote in his famous book Black Skin White Masks ‘[w]e revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breath’. Indubitably, the reasons for the protests in Ethiopia are many. However, it is sure that the country’s worst bad habit is one of the principal reasons.

There are various developments that make the continuation of Ethiopia’s worst bad habit untenable. There is less and less disposition on the part of the public to tolerate or acquiesce into submission to the state’s bad habit. Central to this are the important demographic changes the country has witnessed in recent decades.

Like in other parts of the continent, the young generation makes up the single largest section of the population. The size of the population having literacy and going to school has grown exponentially. Although its pace is not aggressive, the country has also been experiencing a process of urbanization and expansion of the middle class. Additionally, despite all its problems, use of mobile phone and the Internet has brought easy access to information to more and more people across the country.

All in all, today there is a high level of political consciousness and rising demand for democratic and responsive system of governance. All this is very good.

If the recent spate of protests in various parts of the country is to end and Ethiopia stands real possibility of genuine democratization – which is central to its survival, the government should end this age-old worst bad habit. This should start with acknowledging that we indeed have this problem, and it is so grave that we should relieve ourselves of it. More concrete immediate measures that should be taken to this end include ending the resort of security forces to the use of excessive force in dealing with protestors, establishing an independent national commission of inquiry for investigating and reporting on all acts of excessive use of force against unarmed protestors. Similarly, the thousands of people who have been rounded up and being held in detention centers as part of the security crack down should also be released.

In the medium to the long term, transparent rules on the independent regulation of the activities of the security institutions in accordance with the Constitution should be put in place. Additionally, the laws relating to the press, political parties and terrorism should be revisited to put them out of the realm of security and ensure their conformity with the rights in the Constitution and the various international human rights instruments such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to which Ethiopia is a party.

It is also key that those in government and society at large are able to disabuse themselves of the political thinking that force is central to governing the Ethiopian people. This also demands a mind set shift towards a political thought that Ethiopians are to be governed by and on the basis of just laws made in accordance with democratic constitutional principles.

While Professor Walt in his insightful article warns unsurprisingly that ‘breaking a bad habit is not easy’, he is clear that a nation’s bad habit can indeed be broken. Breaking Ethiopia’s worst bad habit is not beyond the realm of the possible and it holds the key for the stability of the country.

The views are my personal views and are in no way attributable to any of the institutions I am associated with

Taking the Ethiopian protests to Rio

Various protests were held in the months since end of 2015. Most were held in three parts of Ethiopia, in Oromia and in recent months in Amhara and Addis Ababa. Such protests were not staged at a world stage in full view of the international media. This was true until Feyisa Lelisa reached the crossing line during the Rio men’s marathon competition.

Well, like previous memorable Olympics, Rio will take a place of honor in Ethiopia’s Olympic history. Unlike other times, this history is not just made by breaking world athletics record only. Indeed, this one will be remembered for the political issues that it highlighted and the attention it drew beyond the track.

This story started to be written by Robel Kiros. His apparently overweight body and slow swimming became a media sensation. One might say like a good friend of mine said that all the talk about the size of his stomach would have elicited little attention if his swimming was good.

Curiously, this was the guy who was given the honor of holding team #Ethiopia flag during the opening ceremony. When asked about it on one of the local FM stations, he said ‘he was asked to carry the flag a mere 15 minutes ago and it was an opportunity that any one could not have refused’ and indeed he grabbed.

He did not care whether he deserved it and whether there were other world class Ethiopian athletes, particularly women, in the team who could have deservedly fly the flag high. Yet, he is less to blame for this than those who lead the team to Rio. Not surprisingly and particularly at this historical juncture when any suspicious event is put to serious political scrutiny, this has been a major subject on the social media.

The issue that this event brought to the fore was whether he was there in the first place deservedly and whether he benefited from the fact that his father is part of the officials of Ethiopia’s Athletic Committee who led the team to Rio. This is the question of favoritism, one of the major factors underlying the current political storm in the country.

As far as adding to Ethiopian record of making athletics history in the competitions was concerned, we were able to hold our heads high thanks to our women. A case in point is Almaz Ayana. She made history for herself and Ethiopia by decimating the Olympic record. Not even some of the racist commentaries attributing her incredible success to doping reduced from the celebration and ray of light that her gold produced for Ethiopia and Africa.

She also put the less known region of Benshangul, from where she hails, at the forefront of the Ethiopian socio-political map. She deservedly received the praise and admiration of many in Ethiopia and across the African continent. Rightly, her success overshadowed the negative publicity that Robel elicited. With her other medal, she gave birth to yet another new record breaking athlete to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia witnessed another history of a different kind in Rio on the last day of the Olympics. Feyisa Lilesa, who won silver in the men’s marathon took the recent protests in Ethiopia to Rio. On two occasions, he displayed the arms-crossed-over-head gesture associated with the more than nine months #Oromoprotest. He first held his hands corssed over his head at the finishing line. He repeated the gesture at a press briefing he gave.

Although widely expected to repeat the act when receiving his medal, he did not however show the sign during that occasion. Perhaps, someone might have reminded him that displaying political signs during can result in him being sanctioned by the OIC, the world athletics body.

Not surprisingly his name and act is trending on social media. It is sure to remain a headline subject of discussion for the days to come. After all, his act not only draws attention to the protests but also puts the government on the spotlight.  When asked about it, he indicated that he did show the sign in solidarity with his people who have been staging protests for a number of months. He also expressed concern about the risks he faced for displaying the protest sign if he were to return home. So whether or not he returns home is not a matter of his will but ability to do so without risking any reprisals.

Without a doubt, it will be a major loss if he is unable to return to Ethiopia. But the uncertainty of his return, like the protests at home, put the ball of the responsibility of guaranteeing his safe return in the court of the government. As with responding to the fundamental issues (facing the country) that the protests have raised, the onus of whether Lelisa is able to return home together with other members of his team is now on the government.  How would it respond to this (to a protest at a world stage in Rio)?  One hopes that it will not be treated as an act against any one but for all of Ethiopia, the peace of the country.