Ethiopia: The Road


March 18, 2013: Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, continues to follow the policies of his predecessor and mentor, Meles Zenawi. In fact it appears that Hailemariam is trying to create a cult of the personality around Meles. Government media continues to laud the deceased leader, who died in August 2012. Meles deserves great credit for improving Ethiopia economically and socially but he also ruled harshly and bullied and jailed his political opponents. However, keeping the memory of Meles front and center may be a very smart social and political move by Hailemariam. In a country where regional origins play a prominent role, he comes from the Wolaytan region and the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party is dominated by people from Tigray.

March 16, 2013: Just as many Kenyans were slowly breathing a sigh of relief, opposition candidate Raila Odinga filed an official petition asking the nation’s Supreme Court to declare the March 4th election result void. On March 9th Odinga’s opponent, Uhuru Kenyatta, was provisionally declared the winner of the presidential election. After Odinga filed his petition, Kenyan police in Nairobi had to disperse one crowd using tear gas. Still, 12 days after the March 4th national election, there are no reports of major tribal and political violence. This is good news for the country in general, 1,100 people died in the violence which erupted after the disputed 2007 election. This is also very good economic news, particularly for Kenya’s tourist industry. Kenya has a very successful tourist industry based on its game preserves and national parks. It is also expanding its tourist industry on the Indian Ocean. The violence after the 2007 election damaged the industry.

March 13, 2013: The UN has appointed another Ethiopian Army officer as commander of the IN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) peacekeeping operation in the disputed Abyei region, which lies between Sudan and South Sudan. Approximately 3,800 Ethiopian soldiers serve in Abyei.

March 12, 2013: Ethiopia and South Sudan ratified an agreement which will give South Sudan an alternative export route for its oil. South Sudan currently must ship its oil through Sudan. The Sudanese government (Khartoum) has its southern rival in an economic stranglehold. South Sudan has already negotiated a pipeline agreement with Kenya but that is years away from completion. In the interim, South Sudan will use trucks to carry crude oil through Ethiopia to Djibouti’s Red Sea port of Douraleh. The oil will then be shipped to international markets on oil tankers. The driving distance from South Sudan’s capital of Juba to the seaport is around 1,500 kilometers. That is quite a distance, but South Sudan has concluded escaping the Sudanese blockade makes the effort worth the cost. Ethiopia has several strategic interests at stake. The government has known for years that the nation must improve its road network.  The dilapidated (or in some cases, non-existent) transportation infrastructure exacts an economic price. Ethiopia is particularly interested in producing several high-value agricultural products (eg, exotic coffees). Though these products could be shipped by air from Addis Ababa, they must first be brought to the capital city. The military benefits from improved roads as well. Ethiopia is the major power on the Horn of Africa and its ace card in Somalia has been its use of tanks, light armored vehicles, and artillery. The oil trucking deals means Ethiopia will have to make extensive road improvements, at least on this trans-national route. The Ethiopian and South Sudanese legs of the oil truck route will have to be all weather roads. (Austin Bay)

March 10, 2013: The January 21st take-over of Eritrea’s information ministry by Eritrean Army soldiers and their televised demand for reform, continues to feed speculation that the government could face a coup. For several years Eritrean exile groups have claimed that disenchantment with president Isaias Afewerki is growing. There have been several major and very public defections. Recently 15 members of the national soccer team defected when they were visiting Uganda. A pair of air force officers commandeered the president’s personal jet when they defected. The biggest defection was the Information Minister, Ali Abdu Ahmed. He left the country in late January, after the armed take-over by the disgruntled soldiers.

March 9, 2013: Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the founder of modern Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, has been provisionally declared victor in the March 4 presidential race. However, his main opponent, Raila Odinga, has refused to concede. Odinga claims that fraud and voter intimidation occurred. Kenyatta’s margin is thin. According to the provisional tabulation, Kenyatta received just 8,000 votes more than he needed to avoid a run-off. Kenyatta remains under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, allegedly committed during the aftermath of the 2007 election. Kenyatta’s trial by court in The Hague, Netherlands, is supposed to begin in July 2013. Kenyatta vehemently denies the charges. Kenya has had four presidents since independence. Kenyatta is the third member of the Kikuyu tribe to serve. The Kikuyus are the largest single tribe in Kenya but they are only one of some 42 tribes. Odinga is a Luo. The ethnic distrust and razor-thin margin, however, has not yet resulted in major violence throughout the country. Leaders from all major political parties and tribes had vowed to avoid violence in 2013. So far so good.

March 4, 2013: As Kenyans go to the polls for national elections, the government announced that the Kenyan military (Kenyan Defense Forces, KDF) was reinforcing security units along the Kenya-Somalia border. The government is concerned that Somali Islamist Al Shabaab militants may launch attacks along the border and attempt to incite inter-tribal violence during and after the election. Al Shabaab has just published a new edition of its magazine and it encourages Kenyan Moslems to stand united against the Kenyan government. The Kenyan government dismissed the magazine (published in English and Swahili) as propaganda but acknowledges that al Shabaab continues to encourage attacks. Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia all claim that al Shabaab is suffering from infighting among sub-commanders. Al Shabaab’s defeat in southern Somalia spawned the infighting.

March 3, 2013: The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) claimed that the Ethiopian Army and its supporting militia force, the Liyu Police, have been occupying wells and other water resources in the Ogaden. The ONLF contends that the scheme is designed to control Ogaden pastoralists and is also corrupt. The army intends to illegally sell water rights to pastoralists in the area.

March 1, 2013: Kenyans are proud that Malik Obama, half-brother of the US president, is running for an office in Kenya (county governor in western Kenya). In 2010, Kenya reorganized its regional governments and created 47 counties throughout the country.

February 28, 2013: Despite a series of threats issued by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a Canadian oil company has decided to sign an exploration agreement with the Ethiopia government. The ONLF told the company that the Ogaden region is a war zone and that it would be a mistake not to give Ethiopia blood money for oil and gas rights. The threat is serious. In 2007, the ONLF attacked several oil production sites.

February 25, 2013: Kenyan security officials reported that police have found propaganda leaflets advocating violent action during and after the March elections. Officials said the leaflets were intended to incite fear and panic.

February 24, 2013: The chief justice of Kenya’s highest court claimed that he was personally threatened with violence if the court had barred candidate Uhuru Kenyatta from being eligible for the March presidential election. Kenyatta is under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity committed during the violence following the 2007 election.

February 22, 2013: Djibouti’s major opposition parties announced that they will participate in future parliamentary elections. This ends a decade-long boycott of national elections.


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