Issues and Developments

UNDP-EUE: Recent Developments and Events in Ethiopia

A review of significant developments and events in Ethiopia compiled by the Information Section of the UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia from various sources including, wire service reports, local newspapers, news agencies and official statements.

Issue Date: 9 May, 2000

FAO warns of famine conditions: Failed belg rains and delayed rains in the lowlands of southeastern Ethiopia have led to a dramatic worsening of the exceptional hardship faced by many rural communities. In a special alert issued by the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System in April, the severe conditions, especially in the pastoral areas of the east and south, were said to be the result of three consecutive years of little or no rainfall during which large numbers of livestock have perished and which saw rising levels of malnutrition, particularly among children. The FAO report also highlighted the very serious situation in pastoral areas of northern and north-eastern Kenya, west-central areas of Somalia bordering Ethiopia, and north-eastern Uganda. In the Horn as a whole, about 16 million people were said to be in dire need of assistance. In addition, as the main cropping season approaches, prospects for recovery were considered poor as rains so far have been late and draught animals have been lost or severely weakened while most farm families have consumed seeds in desperation to ward off hunger. There are mounting fears that, if the rains expected in the coming few months fail again, the situation could worsen further (for the latest information on rains in Ethiopia, see last article in this report). (FAO-GIEWS, Special Alert 306 — Horn of Africa, April 2000)

Secretary-General names Special Envoy on the Drought: On March 30, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he had appointed WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini to be his Special Envoy on the Drought in the Horn of Africa. Bertini later led a multi-agency mission to the region with the task of raising awareness and understanding of the drought crisis among the international community, assessing the current situation, and recommending how the humanitarian response could be strengthened. In addition to appointing Bertini as his special envoy, Secretary-General Kofi Annan also announced the establishment of a special Task Force to develop a comprehensive strategy to mitigate the effects of recurrent drought and to achieve lasting food security in the region. Led by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, the Task Force will consult widely with governments, regional institutions, NGOs and others in the Horn of Africa before presenting its recommendations later in the year. (various UN sources)

International NGOs issue statement on drought: Thirteen international non-governmental organizations (iNGOs) have appealed for a "sustained" international aid effort to get Ethiopia through the current crisis. In a statement, the 13 NGOs stressed: "This is not a quick fix solution: the commitment must be sustained. It must be ensured that food is in the pipeline and getting to the people for at least the next six months without interruption." The agencies, including Oxfam, Save the Children-UK, Save the Children-USA, CARE and other relief groups, said: "The coping mechanisms of vulnerable communities are so fragile that minor climatic variations can result in crisis conditions. There is a pressing responsibility on the international community to respond quickly and to deliver on their pledges." The statement by the 13 aid organizations said the Ethiopian crisis had not yet reached the proportions of the 1984-85 catastrophe. "There is a critical situation in the South and East that could have been averted and a widespread crisis can still be averted," it said. "The crisis is not restricted to a few areas. Much of the country, and indeed most neighbouring countries are affected or at serious risk" The Somali region around Gode in south-eastern Ethiopia is currently the worst-hit area. "The cycle of crisis must be broken," the agencies' statement said. "The people of Ethiopia need peace, more development assistance and debt relief". (iNGO Statement, Addis Ababa, 12 April)

National HIV/AIDS Prevention Council established: A national HIV/AIDS Prevention Council has been officially established at a formal gathering at the National Palace in Addis Ababa. During the ceremony, President Negaso Gidada said combating HIV/AIDS could not be left to health institutions alone. Dr. Negaso, who is also chairman of the council, said all walks of life of the country have the responsibility to actively participate in efforts launched against the spread of the pandemic. With more than three million carriers of HIV, Ethiopia has become one of the countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, President Negasso said. Some 9.3 percent of the population aged between 15 and 45 are HIV-positive, according to experts. The council will coordinate efforts to contain the spread of the disease and will include top federal and regional officials, religious leaders and representatives of civil society and NGOs. "The absence of coordinating and integrating anti-HIV/AIDS initiatives made the fight against the killer disease in the past ineffective," Negasso said. Ethiopia initiated HIV awareness and AIDs projects after the fall of Mengistu Haile Miriam in 1991, when it faced the return and demobilization of some 400,000 soldiers, one of Africa's largest armies. In the early 1990's - in a tacit recognition of the size of the problem -consultants from Uganda were brought in. (BBC Monitoring Service quoting Radio Ethiopia external service, 22 April; AFP, 23 April; IRIN, 25 April)

Sudan and Ethiopia pledge closer cooperation: Sudan and Ethiopia have pledged cooperation in fields of security, trade and agriculture in areas on both sides of the common border. Following a three day meeting in the town of Gedaref in east Sudan, senior officials of Sudanese and Ethiopian provinces either side of the common border signed what they named the Gedaref Declaration. The two sides also agreed to carry-out feasibility studies for building roads linking towns either side of the border and on maintenance of the Doka (Sudan) - Gondar (Ethiopia) road to be started before the upcoming rainy season. Headed by the governors of the Sudanese Gedaref Province and Ethiopian Amhara Region, the two sides agreed on reactivation of border trade, farming, health and veterinary agreements. They also agreed to hold regular meetings every six months with the coming one to be held in Bahir Dar next October. (AFP, 26 April)

Proximity talks suffer deadlock in Algiers: Indirect "proximity" talks aimed at ending the 23-month border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea have ended in disagreement after six days. The talks finally began in Algiers on April 30, just over a month after the talks suffered a last-minute postponement. Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin headed the Ethiopian delegation to the talks which were held at the invitation of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the current chairman of the Organization of African Unity. The Eritrean delegation was led by Foreign Minister Haile Woldensae. The delegations did not meet face to face but conducted the sessions in adjoining rooms, with Algerian diplomats serving as messengers between the two parties. The talks were attended by a delegation from the OAU led by the Algerian Said Djenit, OAU Assistant Secretary-General in charge of political relations. The talks also enjoyed the support of the USA, which sent a delegation led by Susan Rice, the US Assistant Secretary of State in charge of African affairs. The European Union was represented by a delegation led by the EU Presidency's special envoy, Rino Serri.

The talks were aimed at helping the two parties reach agreement on practical arrangements for the implementation of the OAU peace proposals. The discussions were supposed to start with important points of convergence between the two countries after which the OAU proposed to assist the two sides to reach an acceptable compromise on other issues. Unfortunately, according to an OAU statement, these talks on substantive matters could not get under way given that Eritrea had asked that the framework agreement, modalities and cease-fire be signed first, whereas Ethiopia maintained the stance it adopted in July 1999, namely that this agreement could only be signed after the technical arrangements are finalized. Efforts made by the personal representative of the current chairman of the OAU, Ahmed Ouyahia, failed to make Ethiopia and Eritrea adopt a more flexible stance. Consequently, the proximity talks ended in deadlock and had to be adjourned on May 5. Both the OAU and members of other delegations present at the talks called upon both parties to show restraint, reconsider their stance and indicate a willingness to continue the proximity talks at a later date. (BBC Monitoring Service quoting Algerian TV and Radio, May 1 & 5)

Election campaigns get underway: Independent candidates in the 14th May national and regional elections in Ethiopia have launched their electoral campaigns, focusing on urgent national issues, including unemployment, public health and housing in their manifestos. Addis Ababa, an autonomous region with a population of around three million, has been allocated 23 of the 550 federal parliamentary seats and 138 city council seats. A total of 11 parties, including the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and 81 private candidates, 15 of them women, are contesting for the seats. The ruling party is fielding 23 candidates for the federal seats and 138 for the city council seats. Ten opposition parties have 57 candidates vying for the federal parliamentary seats and 163 others for city council seats. In the campaign, four independent candidates, have called for the return of houses and shops nationalized by the former socialist regime. The campaigners also called for the privatization of rural and urban lands, reduction of high rent the city government imposed on nationalized rental shops as well as the need to fight unemployment and improve the sanitary conditions of the city. Elsewhere in the country election materials are being distributed in an effort to ensure that everything is ready for polling day. In South Welo Zone of Amhara Region local election officials say election ballots, leaflets, ballot boxes and other documents are already reaching the 22 constituencies in the zone. Meanwhile, in the Central Zone of Tigray Region, election documents are being distributed to 397 polling stations by various means of transport, including pack animals. Campaigning will end on 12th May. (PANA, May 4; Walta, May 3)

Ethiopian, Kenyan officials meet to improve border cooperation: According to Kenyan national radio, Ethiopian and Kenyan officials have jointly resolved to increase efforts to ensure peace and understanding prevails along the common border. During the 19th joint border committee meeting held in Moyale on May 5, the committee also discussed social and economic aspects of mutual benefit to the citizens of both countries living along the common border. The meeting resolved to enhance security along the common border and appointed sub-committees to meet once a month to further discuss issues of border cooperation. The Moyale meeting follows a month of internecine fighting around the north-east Kenyan town of Isiolo between the minority Somali Geri clan and the Borana and Samburu majority which it is claimed has left three policemen dead in addition to at least 40 civilians killed and seriously wounded. The government has sent additional police and security forces from neighbouring districts to help quell the fighting. The fighting has been linked to rising tensions between the various pastoral communities as a result of increasing competition over water and grazing and a rise in cattle rustling. It is also claimed that the Borana are assisted and armed by the Oromo Liberation Front, a militant Ethiopian opposition group that is allegedly operating from rear bases in remote areas close to the Ethiopian border. (BBC Monitoring Service Quoting "The People" Newspaper, May 5 and KBC radio, May 6)

Coffee and tea export earnings rising: According to the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority, foreign exchange earnings from the export of coffee has risen to an average of US $322 million per year since the beginning of the five-year plan of action in 1996. In spite of sharp fluctuations in prices on the world market, coffee has remained the country's principle foreign exchange earner. Meanwhile, the production of tea has increased meeting domestic consumption requirements and allowing the development of export markets. Prior to the beginning of the five-year action plan an average of 62,000 MT of coffee was exported every year, that figure has now risen to an average of 113,000 MT. The number of exporting companies has also grown from 88 to 183 while the number of countries importing Ethiopian coffee has increased from 23 to 38 in the same period. The five-year plan has included the launching of the extension package in the coffee sector, improvements to the market information exchange system and the enhancement of promotional and training activities. (Walta Information Centre, May 2)

Former-IMF official commends Ethiopia’s pro-poor policies: A former chief economist of the World Bank said that of the 20 or so countries that have been through fundamental transformation over the last decade, Ethiopia was one of the very few that have emerged successfully. Joseph Stiglitz, who is now a fellow at the Rand Foundation, an independent think tank, said: "Looking back at what has happened since the end of the Dergue regime, almost ten years ago, I think it is an occasion for considerable celebration." Stiglitz was speaking to participants of the symposium convened in Addis Ababa to review Ethiopia's socio-economic performance between 1991-1999, which ended April 29. Stiglitz said that Ethiopia has adopted "pro-poor policies", which he said are absolutely essential in maintaining political and social stability, long before the idea become fashionable in Washington. He, however, cited several problems that Ethiopia faces at the present, including the high illiteracy rate, the scourge of AIDS and food security issues as an immediate source of concern for the people and the government. "The celebration of success should not turn away our eyes from the fact of how far Ethiopia needs to go", the economist warned. He also emphasized the need to make the best out of Ethiopia's "high level social equality", the absence of which he said is the source of much discontent and instability in some countries. (BBC Monitoring Service Quoting Walta Information Centre, April 30)

PM says famine threatens Ethiopia's existence: The looming crisis in southern Ethiopia "symbolizes" the many perils threatening the country's very survival, says Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. "The current drought-induced crisis we are facing symbolizes in a very painful manner the enormous challenges we face to ensure the survival of our country and a dignified existence for our people," Meles said at the opening of a conference on the country's economy and society in the 1990s. "Our agricultural sector is our Achilles' heel and the source of Ethiopia's vulnerability," Meles said. "Drought situations are not simply for us a recurring phenomena taking place at more or less given intervals, but rather part of our regular agricultural life which will require new approaches to effectively combat their consequences," he added. The conference, organized by the non-governmental Inter-Africa group, was attended by several ministers, diplomats, UN and aid agency representatives and economic experts. (AFP, April 26)

Rains finally arrive: After several months of exceptionally dry conditions, the weather over much of Ethiopia finally broke towards the end of April. Though late by several weeks, the rains in central, northern and western areas of the country have brought some welcome relief to highland farmers anxiously waiting to prepare their land ready for the planting of main season crops. The rain, however, has come too late for farmers in the traditionally belg-dependent areas, such as parts of Welo and North Shewa, to plant their normal long-cycle crops (wheat and maize), but as accomplished opportunists, where seeds are available, these farmers are planting other crops in the hope weather conditions in the highlands remain favourable thereby enabling them to obtain some harvest later in the year. The rains have also helped to improve pastures and reports from northern Ethiopia indicate animals are generally in good health and livestock markets stable. During the last few days of April and early May, the rains extended further to the south-east of Ethiopia, bringing localized but occasionally heavy rain to southern parts of Afar, much of the Somali region and parts of Borena. Rains in the Somali have hampered flights to Gode and disrupted the delivery of relief supplies moving by truck south of Degahabur and to places such as Fik. Following good rains in the Haraghe and Bale mountains, the Shebelle river has been rising steadily and there are reports that the river has broken its banks between Kelafo and Fer Fer, the latter on the border with Somalia. In short, the rains have so far been a mixed blessing in the lowlands. While undoubtedly helping to replenish much depleted ground and surface water sources, the rains have also effectively killed large numbers of animals already weakened by months of drought and are threatening the health of people crowding into towns such as Gode looking for assistance. In addition to the dangers of pneumonia brought about by prolonged exposure to the cold, aid agencies are warning of possible outbreaks of dysentery and malaria among people already made vulnerable by months of hunger and poor nutrition. (AFP, May 4 & 5; plus anecdotal reports)

9 May 2000

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