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South Sudan: A show case of Ethiopia's role as a regional peacemaker

By Haile Wondemu
Tigrai Onlne - December 31, 2013

Less than two weeks ago, the Horn of Africa faced a new challenge when fighting broke out in the new country South Sudan between troops loyal to the former vice President Machar, who belongs to the second largest tribe Nuer, and President Kiir, who belongs to the dominant Dinka tribe.

The President dismissed Machar last July and since then he has been leading a faction within the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and has also announced that he will run for the presidency in the 2015 elections.

However, on Dec. 17, the matter turned violent. Several people were reported wounded, and hundreds of others sought refuge at United Nations facilities in Juba. The city’s airport was closed, and the country’s borders with Uganda and Kenya have reportedly been shut.

According to President Kiir, the incident was a coup attempt that was orchestrated by a disgruntled faction in the army which had backed the former Vice-President. The coup plotters had moved into action after an SPLM meeting in Juba. An unidentified person had fired some shots in the air and this had been followed a little later by an attack on the army headquarters.

The President pledged that the SPLM is fully committed to the peaceful and democratic transfer of power and would never allow political power to be transferred through violence. He added that the government was in "full control of the security situation", though the authorities also found it necessary to move swiftly to impose a dusk-to-dawn curfew, suggesting that the coup plotters had caused real panic. The President believed that the situation was manageable, but he also expressed his deep concern that hostilities were escalating and tribal and civil war might occur unexpectedly.

However, former Vice-President Machar himself has denied any involvement in a coup. Machar claimed he was unaware of any attempt and blamed President Salva Kiir for fabricating these allegations to settle political scores and target political opponents.

Several countries and bodies made statements expressing "deep concerns over the fighting" and urging all parties "to cease hostilities and exercise restraint”. But it was Ethiopia who was immediately on the ground to help the South Sudanese restore peace.

Just two days after the incident, Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Tedros Adhanom went to Juba leading a delegation comprising Foreign Ministers of Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and accompanied by the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for United Nations Mission in Sudan and a representative from the Africa Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP).

According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the aim of the emergency visit to Juba, South Sudan was "to gain first-hand knowledge of the situation on the ground, and discuss ways to seek an all-inclusive and peaceful political settlement to the crisis and an end to the days of fighting."

Again, a few days later, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn went to Juba to hold talks with President Kiir accompanied by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Foreign Ministers of Ethiopia and Kenya, Dr Tedros Adhanom and Amina Mohammed. The meeting focused on the cessation of hostilities, the immediate start of talks to settle the crisis politically, the situation of the detainees who are suspected for “attempting the coup” and the humanitarian crisis. 

''Any solution to this crisis should be through political dialogue” and added that members of IGAD are working towards finding an amicable solution between the parties". Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Foreign Minister, Dr Tedros Adhanom travelled to Nairobi for an urgent IGAD Summit which will focus mainly on South Sudan ongoing crisis. Leaders are expected to discuss on the report from the meeting held with President Salva Kiir.

Now, for the third time, Dr Tedros is in South Sudan to follow-up discussions and deliver Prime Minister Hailemariam's message to President Kiir. Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin of Ethiopia is appointed as IGAD's special envoys for South Sudan of to spearhead mediation and broker peace accord between President Kiir and his former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar.

There are also efforts to gather all stakeholders to participate in face to face talks by 31st December 2013.

So far, the progress is encouraging. Following the discussions, the President committed himself to take a number of specific actions, including unconditional dialogue with former Vice-President Machar and other political leaders in South Sudan who had disagreed with their government’s position; a cessation of hostilities; to using the good offices of IGAD to contact Dr. Riek Machar and other members of the opposition, including Mme. Rebecca Nyanden. He said the armed forces of the Government of Republic of South Sudan will ensure protection of civilians and humanitarian workers; and that the dispute should remain exclusively at the political level and not become an ethnic, sectarian or tribal conflict.

The positions sanctioned by the two parties in the conflict create difficulty to start dialogue for the time being, however. President Kiir said he was willing to sit down unconditionally and discuss with the former Vice-President, but speaking from unknown place, Dr. Machar, who also said he was ready for dialogue and was determined to end the fighting that had killed hundreds of people and driven thousands from their homes, insisted that his detained allies including Pagan Amum were freed. He said they should be allowed to go to Addis Ababa. Once that happened, then dialogue could start immediately.

The problem is not solved yet and Ethiopia continues playing a leading role to find a political solution to the crisis in South Sudan.

Ethiopia's commitment and highly visible role in the on-going efforts to restore stability in South Sudan and the progress achieved so far is not an accidental rather a logical outcome of her foreign policy.

The gist of Ethiopia's Foreign and National Security is  the “determination to improve [citizens] lives by deploying everything for economic development and democratization free from arrogance and adventurism”, which .was summed up by the renowned scholar Alex De Waal as “Meles Zenawi doctrine”.

"The first objective of Ethiopia’s national security, not as having a strong national defence force—however important that may be—but as human security for Ethiopians. The centerpiece of what we might call the “Meles Zenawi doctrine” of national security was promoting and defending national economic development. For without the conquest of poverty, Ethiopia would remain weak and vulnerable, no matter how many tanks and helicopter gunships it might be able to deploy."

Even prior to the preparation of the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy document in 2002, Ethiopia’s handling of neighborly relations were deeply rooted in the principles of promoting peace, cooperation and economic diplomacy.

Especially since the reform of the party in 2001-2, Ethiopia engaged with more clarity of purpose to construct the architecture for the new economic and political integration in the Horn that enables herself and the region to exploit the opportunities to lift the people out of the quagmire of poverty and bring a permanent end to instability. Ethiopia employed a careful and creative study of its relations with every country—examining the best forms of integration with the neighbors, and the best forms of development partnership that each developed country had to offer.

This led to a strategic engagement with neighboring countries, with emphasis on the economic and infrastructural integration with all of its neighbors, especially in terms of transport, communications, and energy.

Adjacent to this is a parallel commitment to peace and security in the region. Ethiopia’s strong desire for peace and stability in the Horn of Africa is central to all its regional policies. Peaceful neighbors are good trade partners and regional stability enables a country to focus resources on addressing poverty and the development of good governance and the democratic developmental state.

Despite the challenges faced both in terms of unruly neighbors or ideological crusaders of all varieties, Ethiopia today enjoys largely cordial, indeed beneficial, relations with dozens of partners around the world.

Even in the face of high-handed tactics and at times violence, Ethiopia has taken care to avoid conflict at any level as far as possible in the clear understanding that only more progress in both poverty reduction and good governance can create the real answer to such ‘spoilers’ in the region. It has achieved excellent relations with almost all its neighbors on the basis of policies designed to encourage the highest levels of economic cooperation as well as close and friendly political and security relations based on mutual trust and confidence.

The central factor in Ethiopian policy in the Horn of Africa has been its aim to build and cement relations with all its neighbors on the basis that economic links are the bedrock of sustainable policies. This is what underlies Ethiopia’s involvement in, and commitment to, regional bodies such as the Inter Governmental Authority for Development, and its continuous support for the regeneration and revitalization of the Authority.

This two-fold approach paid off both in terms of the anti-poverty effort and the strengthening of Ethiopia's national security.

For example, Ethiopia's relation with Kenya reached a historic level of cooperation and bonds of close friendship. The close links between Ethiopia and Kenya have been particularly visible in the way the two countries have constantly supported each others positions in international forums in many different areas. Ethiopia and Kenya share a common understanding on such issues as cross-border terrorism, piracy, regional integration under the umbrella of IGAD and the prime importance of peace and security in the Horn of Africa and beyond. Their common involvement in IGAD provides a significant indication of the strength of their relationship. Both countries have consistently demonstrated their common interests through the organization, their support for revitalizing IGAD and for ensuring that it provides the basis for one of the AU's Regional Economic Units.

Ethiopia and Kenya have also cooperated closely over cross-border problems. One important element has been successful in organizing and expanding community-led peace initiatives in areas all along the border, including the Maikona and Dukana Peace Accords that have significantly reduced violent incidents among communities on the borders while enhancing peaceful interaction and resource sharing.

The cooperation bore fruits in economic matters as well. Both countries have embarked upon a number of joint development programs in road construction, commerce and trade and other areas.  Ethiopia has been exploring the possibility of using Mombasa as a port, and is taking a keen interest in the discussions about the creation of a new port at Lamu and the possibilities of rail links with other areas. One major new project has been the development of the Omo River valley which alarmed some conservationists in Kenya, worried about the impact on Lake Turkana. In fact, the series of dams in the Omo Valley, in particular Gilgel Gibe III, will generate nearly 2,000 MWs of hydro-electric power. A significant amount of this will go to Kenya, and as Kenya’s Environment Minister said “Gilgel Gibe III should brighten not threaten our future.”

Similarly, Ethiopia and Somalia are now enjoying all-round relations despite the scars left by past regimes. Since 1991, the two countries had entered a new stage of working for mutual cooperation, which had allowed the relationship to build on a solid foundation. They currently enjoyed consolidated relations in the areas of peace, security and economy on the basis of mutual trust and benefit.

The people and government of Somalia have developed solid trust and confidence that the people and government of Ethiopia were cooperating in the areas of peace, security, economy and politics. There are also agreements at ministerial level to ensure a healthy economic integration. The people and government of Somalia gave credit to the sacrifices paid by the Ethiopian forces to maintain peace and security in their country.

The relationship between our two brotherly people by far predates our official relations. Our people living on both sides of our long border have always been a bridge connecting our two sisterly Countries. For most South Sudanese, Ethiopia is a second home where they trace their birthplace, started their first education and found their partners in life. On the Political front, regardless of political persuasions all governments in Ethiopia had recognized their just cause and had supported their long march for freedom. These are strong foundations on which our current and future relations can be built.

The relation with South Sudan is indeed another showcase of Ethiopia's responsible and far-sighted foreign relations direction. During the six year interim period, before the independence of South Sudan, the governments of Ethiopia and South Sudan had taken important steps to consolidate our bilateral relations. Umbrella agreement on technical, economic, social and cultural cooperation was signed on December 2007. On the basis of this agreement, the government of Ethiopia has provided limited capacity building support in the form of scholarships and trainings to South Sudanese personnel.

Since the formal deceleration of South Sudan's independence last July new avenues for consolidating our bilateral relations have been created. Both countries have upgraded their missions to an embassy level and have appointed Ambassadors to each other's country. Various spheres of cooperation agreements are now on the table. These sectoral agreements are expected to  transform the general framework agreement signed in 2007 into concrete framework of cooperation and bring the dream of closer cooperation into fruition.

Indeed, Ethiopia has persistently used multilateral institutions like IGAD, COMESA, the AU, the UN and other institutions to pursue shared interests. This is not confined to infrastructure and economic development. It also aims to build political trust and discourage disorder in the region. Ethiopia has played a major role in supporting IGAD’s peace and security activities, including the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan and the peace process for Somalia. It has been active in deterring cross-border conflicts in pastoral areas through IGAD’s Conflict Early Warning Response Mechanism (CEWARN).

Indeed, Ethiopia has become a very real force for peace in the East Africa region. Enjoying the trust of both Khartoum and Juba, it has been brokering efforts to resolve the disputes between South Sudan and Sudan. It has sent troops to the joint UN – AU peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) to help maintain peace and stability in that troubled region. It has also deployed 4000 troops in Abyei to maintain peace and stability for the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). Again, it has cooperated with the Somali government to fight terrorism and extremism. It has been playing a vital role facilitating dialogue and providing support to enable the Jubbaland administration and the Federal Government of Somalia to work jointly in building the Federal State of Somalia.

Indeed, Ethiopia's active role in the current crisis in a demonstration of her pragmatic and scientific Ethiopia's foreign policy, which is summed up as:

"Our policy in the Horn of Africa should, like all our other policies, be free of different sentiments and proceed from a sober analysis of the situation, keeping in constant view our development and democracy agenda.  It should understand that the success of our development and democratization has a positive contribution not only to Ethiopia but to all neighbors as well; and that a policy that is free of arrogance and greed would contribute to changing the entire region.  These are the premises on which our policy is based. 

On the other hand, although our neighbors have little direct influence on our economic development, their role could grow in time, and as they would then have a bigger capacity to adversely affect our peace, our policy should focus on developing the culture of dealing with contradictions through discussion and negotiation while reducing our vulnerability to danger and to ad-dress security threats appropriately."

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