German carmaker Volkswagen have announced they plan to assemble cars in Ethiopia.
The announcement was made in front of the German president as he visited the country. The carmaker said in a statement that they will build a car plant and a training centre.
Ethiopia has the world's lowest rate of car ownership, with only two cars per 1,000 inhabitants, according to a 2014 Deloitte report. Many Ethiopians have found owning a car too expensive because of import taxes of up to 200%.
Violence between rival Ethiopian communities near the southern town of Moyale has escalated with eyewitnesses reporting that 13 people were killed on Monday.
Since the beginning of the month there have been sporadic clashes over land.
People from the Borana Oromo ethnic group complain that a referendum conducted in 2005 unfairly awarded what they consider to be their land to a Somali clan known as Garri.
Both are cattle herding communities and many herders carry guns. reports that ending the ethnic clashes in different parts of Ethiopia is the greatest challenge facing the reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Reforms currently sweeping through Ethiopia under the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed have implications for the relationship between Ethiopia and its neighbours. Ethiopia is seen as the de facto leading state in the region. But it has a history of clashing with neighbouring states.
The current reforms have the potential to bolster Ethiopia’s leadership role in the region. And an Ethiopia that is perceived as a unifying force could lead to more stability.
Two recent announcements stand out: the normalisation of relations with the northern neighbour Eritrea and the signing of a peace deal with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist movement that has sought self-determination for the Somali region of Ethiopia.
The reasons these two developments are so important is that the tension between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front have each contributed to instability in the region. The peace deal brokered between Ethiopia and Eritrea will not only affect internal tensions within Ethiopia. It’s also likely to signify a new chapter in the politics of the region.
For its part, the peace accord with the Ogaden National Liberation Front will end a long-standing conflict with the Ethiopian state. This conflict has shaped Ethiopia’s relationship with its Somali region, as well as Ethiopia’s relationship with the Republic of Somalia. The Somali region of Ethiopia is one of nine regional states under the current ethnic federal system in Ethiopia. It is mostly inhabited by Somali-speaking people.
Tensions – both within Ethiopia and between Ethiopia and its neighbours – are rooted in history. The formation of Ethiopia’s Empire state in the late nineteenth century was shaped by the absorption of smaller kingdoms in the south, east, and west of Shewa.
Shewa was Ethiopia’s political centre located north of the current capital Addis Ababa. By the late 19th century the incorporation of these territories was almost complete. By this time the capital had been moved to Addis Ababa.
This incorporation of territories is how the idea of the modern “Ethiopian state” emerged. But this imposition of state power on the new territories was contested. It has been the root cause of much of the country’s internal upheavals.
The importance of territory in Ethiopian statehood was further demonstrated by the 1952 incorporation of Eritrea as an Ethiopian province. Most Eritreans resisted the occupation and took up arms. The occupation was followed by nearly 30 years of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrean liberation movements.
Ethiopia has also been in conflict with neighbouring Somalia since Somalia gained independence in 1960. Shortly after its independence, the new government in Mogadishu began to prioritise clan loyalties as it formed a new centralised state. This pitted various clans against each other and widened the chasm between clan loyalty and nationality.
The foreign policy objectives of the new Somali Republic were influenced by the level of influence it enjoyed in the Somali-inhabited regions of its neighbours. This included the Somali region of Ethiopia.
Eventually, the push and pull between the republic and its diaspora contributed to the rise of a separatist narrative within the Somali-inhabited regions. This spawned organisations such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front. The front is a separatist rebel group fighting for the self-determination of Somalis in Ethiopia’s Somali region.
Conflict and territory
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Ethiopia was mired in conflicts that challenged its territorial integrity. One was the Ethiopia/Eritrea war.
Self-determination was at the core of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and Eritrean liberation movements. Throughout the conflict it was viewed as a civil war since Eritrea was regarded as a province of Ethiopia.
Similarly, the tension between Ethiopia and the Somali separatist movements was triggered by the Somali belief that their territory belonged to the Somali Republic.
These conflicts led to regional instability.
Ethiopia taking centre stage
Ethiopia has been on a path of reform since 1991. In the intervening years it has become the most economically dominant country in the region. This has cemented its leadership position. The current political reforms can be seen as part of a process of redefining Ethiopia’s role in the broader East African region – and the continent.
The governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front have been in peace talks since the early 1990s. The unsuccessful talks were accompanied by low-intensity conflict that severely affected the region.
That could be about to change. Thanks to Abiy Ahmed’s reform efforts, the front announced a unilateral ceasefire in August 2018, and by September peace talks had begun with the Ethiopian government and a peace deal was signed. There is cause for optimism that the deal will last because of the current leadership in Addis Ababa.
The peace deal with Eritrea has already had a number of positive outcomes that could contribute to regional stability.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afwerki have met several times to announce concrete evidence of the peace deal. Abiy also recently hosted his Eritrean and Somali counterparts to cement regional ties.
Ethiopia’s ruling coalition has re-elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as its chairman. This means that Ahmed will continue as prime minister until the next party congress. It is with this certainty that he has taken the opportunity to reassemble his cabinet for the second time this year.
The latest reshuffle has downsized cabinet departments from 28 to 20. Ten of the new ministerial appointments are women, meaning that Ahmed has achieved a 50% gender balance in his new team.
This is a significant milestone. But perhaps of more importance is the creation of a ministry of peace. Ahmed has made it clear that peace is central to his reforms agenda. The new peace ministry is therefore an effort to ensure that this agenda remains on course. The question is: how effective can it be in the long run?
The new peace ministry will oversee intelligence and security related agencies, federal affairs, immigration and others. It has been created with the hope that it will improve ethnic relations in the country, and work towards reconciliation among communities ravaged by unprecedented levels of ethnic violence over the last two decades.
This is a broad mandate, which one single ministry might not be able to achieve. Ahmed’s intent, nonetheless, is to show his administration’s desire to pursue a peace agenda with the view to building a stable and more tolerant nation state.
But his ‘peace ministry’ approach might prove problematic.
Firstly, it will need to recognise the root causes of ethnic tension in Ethiopia. So far, Ahmed’s administration has continued to prioritise ethnic politics and the furthering of the rights of groups over the rights of individual citizens. This approach has historically pitted ethnic groups against each other, often resulting in inter-ethnic violence.
Secondly, the power structure in Ethiopia has not changed. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front remains the most powerful political force in the country. If Ahmed wants to transform Ethiopia, he must also take strides to create democratic change within the coalition. The front must embrace internal, ideological reforms for peace and security to be achieved in Ethiopia at large.
Revolutionary democracy, or the idea that the enlightened élites should lead the unconscious masses to the revolution, has been the ruling coalition’s main political and economic ideology. In Ethiopia, it has prioritised the party agenda over the sanctity of the country’s constitution, which is also problematic. If the coalition refuses to expand its democratic space, Ethiopia’s history of exclusion and oppression may continue uninterrupted.
The creation of a ministry to work exclusively on peace and security matters is admirable. However, Ahmed’s administration must also attempt to reform the country’s ethnic federal system of government, which is built around regional administrations.
Disparities between these administrative regions pose serious challenges to Ethiopian unity. Some regions like Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and the south are considered developed. While others, like Gambella, Benishangul Gumuz, Somali and far flung regions, are still developing. This economic inequity has precipitated ethnic competition, a race for resources and evictions of people from certain areas.
The ruling coalition must also look beyond the demands of survivalist politics. Ahmed and his peers in leadership therefore need to focus on legacy, rather than short-term gains.
An important legacy would be the peaceful co-existence of ethnic groups, and the re-imagining of Ethiopian nationalism. This can be achieved by encouraging citizens to participate in politics, not by constraining their rights to associate freely. Thus, if Ahmed’s administration maintains a clear focus on the rights of every Ethiopian, it could end up being one of the most consequential political administrations in Ethiopia’s modern political era.
All eyes are now trained on the new peace ministry, headed by Muferiyat Kamil. The former speaker of the house has a hefty job on her hands, given the high expectations that have been placed on her ministry. She is privileged, however, to have a self-professed reformist as an ally at the helm of government.
The creation of the ministry has been lauded but it has also been criticised for concentrating political power in Kamil’s hands. She is one of Ahmed’s most loyal allies in the ruling coalition.
A time for reform
Since Ahmed became prime minister he has taken great strides to transform Ethiopia’s politics.
The historic peace agreement signed with Eritrea has also had a transformational effect on the greater East Africa region. Regional peace discussions are slowly being replaced with talks of economic integration.
Unfortunately, Ahmed’s reform agenda has been threatened by flurries of ethnic conflict in his own backyard. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted from their homes because of their ethnicity. Going forward, this could challenge the stability of the Ethiopian state.
Moreover, questions are beginning to arise about Ahmed’s sincerity and commitment to genuine political change. When 25 people were killed in Addis Ababa a few weeks ago, the city’s youth staged demonstrations to call for better security. The government responded with undue force; scores were killed and thousands stayed in unlawful detention for over a month.
After their release some of those who spoke up for them were arrested by the security forces. Among those arrested was Henok Aklilu, a young lawyer and human rights defender. International organisations like Amnesty International demanded and successfully secured his release but others remain in detention. Amnesty released a statement saying that his arrest
… highlights the difficulties human rights defenders continue to face despite the Ethiopian government’s stated commitment to open up space for dissenting voices.
It’s safe to say that Ahmed’s push for political change is now under scrutiny. He must regroup with haste and address the injustices that have been meted out by the state infrastructure for decades.
Roses and champagne have been given to passengers on the first commercial flight between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 20 years.
Ethiopian Airlines said its "bird of peace" flew to Eritrea, after the end of the "state of war".
Passengers sang and danced in the aisles during the 60-minute flight. But they wept once they landed in Eritrea's capital Asmara, as they met relatives and friends for the first time since the 1998-2000 border war.
This led to the closure of air and road travel between the two nations.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has spearheaded a peace process with Eritrea since he took office in April. He signed a "peace and friendship" agreement with Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki on 9 July, declaring that the "state of war" was over.
The deal was signed in Asmara, during the first visit by an Ethiopian head of state to the country in 20 years. Mr Isaias made a reciprocal visit to Ethiopia about a week later.
The two leaders agreed to restore diplomatic ties, and resume air and road travel.
Who was on the flight?
Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was among the passengers on the historic flight. He told the BBC's Emmanuel Igunza that he was emotional about making the trip.
"It's a golden moment for the two countries and the two people," he said.
Family members separated by the war hugged and sobbed when they met in Asmara. Flight attendants had handed out roses and had served champagne to passengers in all classes during the flight.
The passengers included 33-year-old Izana Abraham, who was deported from Eritrea during the war because he was born in Ethiopia.
"I'm super excited. You have no idea," Mr Izana was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.
"This is history in the making," he added.
More than 450 passengers were on board, Ethiopia's privately owned Addis Standard news site reported. Demand was so high that a second flight left within 15 minutes, AFP reported.
Why is this a big deal?
Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993. Five years later, their armies fought over disputed territory along their border. Some 80,000 people were killed in the conflict.
A UN-backed boundary commission ruled in 2002 that Ethiopia should cede the town of Badme to Eritrea. It refused, and the two countries remained in a state of "no war, no peace".
Mr Abiy has promised to hand over territory, but it is unclear when this will happen.
This week Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed visited neighbouring Eritrea, to be greeted by President Isaias Afwerki. The vast crowds that thronged the normally quiet streets of Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, were simply overjoyed.
They sang and they danced as Abiy’s car drove past. Few believed they would ever see such an extraordinarily rapid end to two decades of vituperation and hostility between their countries.
After talks the president and prime minister signed a declaration, ending 20 years of hostility and restoring diplomatic relations and normal ties between the countries.
The first indication that these historic events might be possible came on June 4. Abiy declared that he would accept the outcome of an international commission’s finding over a disputed border between the two countries. It was the border conflict of 1998-2000, and Ethiopia’s refusal to accept the commission’s ruling, that was behind two decades of armed confrontation. With this out of the way, everything began to fall into place.
The two countries are now formally at peace. Airlines will connect their capitals once more, Ethiopia will use Eritrea’s ports again – its natural outlet to the sea – and diplomatic relations will be resumed.
Perhaps most important of all, the border will be demarcated. This won’t be an easy task. Populations who thought themselves citizens of one country could find themselves in another. This could provoke strong reactions, unless both sides show flexibility and compassion.
For Eritrea there are real benefits - not only the revenues from Ethiopian trade through its ports, but also the potential of very substantial potash developments on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border that could be very lucrative.
For Ethiopia, there would be the end to Eritrean subversion, with rebel movements deprived of a rear base from which to attack the government in Addis Ababa. In return, there is every chance that Ethiopia will now push for an end to the UN arms embargo against the Eritrean government.
This breakthrough didn’t just happen. It has been months in the making.
Some of the first moves came quietly from religious groups. In September last year the World Council of Churches sent a team to see what common ground there was on both sides. Donald Yamamoto, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, and one of America’s most experienced Africa hands, played a major role.
Diplomatic sources suggest he held talks in Washington at which both sides were represented. The Eritrean minister of foreign affairs, Osman Saleh, is said to have been present, accompanied by Yemane Gebreab, President Isaias’s long-standing adviser. They are said to have met the former Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, laying the groundwork for the deal. Yamamoto visited both Eritrea and Ethiopia in April.
Although next to nothing was announced following the visits, they are said to have been important in firming up the dialogue.
But achieving reconciliation after so many years took more than American diplomatic muscle.
Eritrea’s Arab allies also played a key role. Shortly after the Yamamoto visit, President Isaias paid a visit to Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia – aware of the trip – encouraged the Saudi crown prince to get the Eritrean president to pick up the phone and talk to him. President Isaias declined, but – as Abiy Ahmed later explained – he was “hopeful with Saudi and US help the issue will be resolved soon.”
So it was, but one other actor played a part: the UAE. Earlier this month President Isaias visited the Emirates. There are suggestions that large sums of money were offered to help Eritrea develop its economy and infrastructure.
Finally, behind the scenes, the UN and the African Union have been encouraging both sides to resolve their differences. This culminated in the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, flying to Addis Ababa for a meeting on Monday – just hours after the joint declaration. Guterres told reporters that in his view the sanctions against Eritrea could soon be lifted since they would soon likely become “obsolete.”
It has been an impressive combined effort by the international community, who have for once acted in unison to try to resolve a regional issue that has festered for years.
Risks and dividends
For Isaias these developments also bring some element of risk. Peace would mean no longer having the excuse of a national security threat to postpone the implementation of basic freedoms. If the tens of thousands of conscripts, trapped in indefinite national service are allowed to go home, what jobs await them? When will the country have a working constitution, free elections, an independent media and judiciary? Many political prisoners have been jailed for years without trail. Will they now be released?
For Ethiopia, the dividends of peace would be a relaxation of tension along its northern border and an alternative route to the sea. Families on both sides of the border would be reunited and social life and religious ceremonies, many of which go back for centuries, could resume.
But the Tigrayan movement – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) - that was dominant force in Ethiopian politics until the election of Prime Minister Aiby in February, has been side-lined. It was their quarrel with the Eritrean government that led to the 1998–2000 border war.
The Eritrean authorities have rejoiced in their demise. “From this day forward, TPLF as a political entity is dead,” declared a semi-official website, describing the movement as a ‘zombie’ whose “soul has been bound in hell”. Such crowing is hardly appropriate if differences are to be resolved. The front is still a significant force in Ethiopia and could attempt to frustrate the peace deal.
These are just some of the problems that lie ahead. There is no guarantee that the whole edifice won’t collapse, as the complex details of the relationship are worked out. There are many issues that have to be resolved before relations between the two countries can be returned to normal. But with goodwill these can be overcome, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity from which the entire region would benefit.