Stabilizing Power in East Africa

ADDIS ABABA/BERLIN/MUNICH | | aethiopien

ADDIS ABABA/BERLIN/MUNICH (Own report) - The German government plans to hold talks on possible new operations in Somalia at the Munich Security Conference, in early February. This was disclosed in a report on the German Minister of Development, Dirk Niebel's visit to Ethiopia. As reported by the Ethiopian government, last week, during Niebel's visit to Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi made reference to the development of the situation in Somalia, which, in his opinion, calls for "serious initiatives". Niebel then invited him to attend the Munich Security Conference. Since some time, the Ethiopian government has been seeking to play itself up as the West's stabilizing power at the Horn of Africa, which is why it is being groomed by Berlin. Human rights organizations' grave accusations against Addis Ababa have dissipated without effect. The most recent accusations are about the leasing of gigantic plots of Ethiopian land to foreign - including German - agro-businesses for the low-priced cultivation of agricultural export goods, while Ethiopians are starving. At his meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, German Development Minister Niebel called for legal safeguards favorable to German investors, to induce more profitable German activities in this East African country.

New Interventions

As reported by the Ethiopian government, the development in Somalia was among the themes discussed between Prime Minister Meles and German Minister of Development Niebel last week, wherein Meles expressed "serious apprehension" at the fact that the West up to now has shown no "serious initiative" against anti-western forces in Somalia. Following the meeting, Niebel announced that he had invited Meles to this year's Munich Security Conference (Feb. 4 - 6).[1] Ethiopia, which intends to remind the conference of the need for renewed operations against Somalia, has already invaded that neighboring country several times with western coordination - with disastrous consequences. Ethiopia harbors territorial claims on segments of Somalia and the Somali population views the Ethiopian troops as invaders. Human rights organizations report that Ethiopian military personnel committed serious war crimes.[2] Still the West considers Ethiopia useful as the stabilizing power at the Horn of Africa, because, with its invasion of Somalia, it took over the burden of western armies. Its armed forces are considered militarily unrivaled in the region.

Protect Maritime Routes

The discussion of possible new operations against Somalia is taking place at a time when Berlin is worrying about maritime traffic off the Somali coast, not just because of pirates, who, in spite of the multi-national naval presence in those waters, are still occasionally successful in hijacking vessels. German naval experts are pointing to the fact that India and China are strengthening the presence of their fleets in the Indian Ocean, which, perspectively, would include the area off the coast of Somalia and the entry to the Red Sea. In addition, the Yemeni government is losing control over a portion of its territory to anti-Western forces.[3] Before arriving in Addis Ababa last week, Development Minister Niebel visited Yemen to initiate new stabilization measures. Niebel warned that, if the situation in the country gets out of hand, both countries at the entrance to the Red Sea - Somalia and Yemen - would no longer be assessable. "That is one of the reasons for our engagement and our aid in stabilization."[4] The Red Sea is the transit route for a large portion of German commerce with Asia, which is constantly growing in significance, particularly thanks to the booming economy of the People's Republic of China.

Human Rights

Because Ethiopia is very important for maintaining western control over the Horn of Africa and the entry to the Red Sea, the accusations raised against the Ethiopian government by human rights organizations are ineffective. For years, Addis Ababa has been sharply criticized for grave human rights violations. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5]) In last years elections, the party forming the government claims to have won more than 99 percent of the parliamentary seats - a parliamentary opposition, de facto, does not exist. Most recently, Human Rights Watch denounced the fact that the Ethiopian government is systematically using western development aid funds to silence opposition forces. The western countries - including Germany - have precise information that Addis Ababa is administering financial aid on the basis of loyalty, but they are doing nothing against it.[6] The oppression has reached the point, where critics are warning of the possibility of violent uprisings, as in Tunisia. "There is a great deal of anger in the population over the government's repressive measures and corruption," says Seyoum Habtemariam, director of the Ethiopian Human Rights Committee in Germany, in his conversation with german-foreign-policy.com, "a small spark may suffice, to set off a large catastrophe".[7]

Export Rather than Food

The Ethiopian government recently came under sharp international criticism, not just for human rights crimes, alleged electoral fraud or misappropriation of so-called development aid funds, but also because of leasing out huge plots of land to foreign agro-companies at extremely low rates. These are, in most cases, used to produce food, flowers and non-food oil for cosmetics and bio-fuel - for export, while a sizable portion of the Ethiopian population remains hungry and dependent for survival on support from western charity enterprises. To be able to place enough land at the disposal of foreign export companies, the government has forced hundreds of thousands to resettle. In the region of Gambella, in the southwest of the country, serious conflicts are currently expected with the population which is told to turn over the land that, until now, had been their source of survival, so that it can leased out. The Addis Ababa government's plans indicate that the resettled rural populations will be concentrated in a few localities near the sites where the agro-companies have set up their businesses. Given the fact that the new parcels of land accorded to the resettled population will not suffice for their sustenance, the resettled could then serve as cheap labor for these companies.[8]

Non-Food

The German Acazis AG (formerly Flora Ecopower, based in Gilching near Munich) is among the companies making large scale leases of Ethiopian land to produce export articles. The company has a 50 year lease on 56,000 hectares and concessions for another 200,000 hectares. Taken together, this amounts to 8.5 percent of the total, nearly 3 million hectares, Prime Minister Meles places at the disposal of foreign agro-companies. Above all, Acazis intends to plant jatropha and castor palms, to produce non-food oils. This company has come under strong criticism, already in the past, for its beginning to clear an area located in a nature reserve for elephants, until environmentalists protested.[9] In the spring of 2010, the company was again in the headlines for having withheld for months its employees' pay.[10]

Increase Investments

Years ago, Berlin and Addis Ababa signed an agreement, not intended for the protection of the Ethiopian population from dubious activities of German firms, but rather to protect German investors from intervention from the Ethiopian side. Minister Niebel has now reminded Prime Minister Meles to register this investment protection agreement at the United Nations. Niebel declared that it is a "good basis for increasing German investments in Ethiopia."[11] In June, Germany and Ethiopia are scheduled to renew government negotiations - to further expand cooperation between the two countries - to the benefit of business expansion of German companies and geostrategic cooperation in controlling the Horn of Africa.

Please read also the Interview with Seyoum Habtemariam, director of the Ethiopian Human Rights Committee in Germany.

Please read also on Germany and Ethiopia: Key positions, Indispensable Rights, Governance Aspects, Interests of the Superpowers, Adequate Persistence, Stabilizing Factor, Military Aid for Africa (I), Human Rights in Africa (I), Complicity, Aiding Dictators and Inherent Racist.

[1] Nation's food security endeavor bases on subsistent farming: Meles; www.ena.gov.et 11.01.2011
[2] see also Stabilizing Factor. S. auch www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIWjwCrbPZA
[3] see also The New Front and Die neue Front (II)
[4] "Noch haben wir eine Chance"; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.01.2010
[5] see also Indispensable Rights, Human Rights in Africa (I) and Aiding Dictators. S. auch Human Rights Watch: Äthiopien: Entwicklungshilfe fördert Unterdrückung; www.hrw.org 19.10.2010
[6] see also Disziplinierungshilfe
[7] see also No Place for Human Rights
[8] Public Backlash Against Forced Evictions in Ethiopia; ecadforum.com 06.01.2011
[9] Pack den Elefanten in den Tank; www.focus.de 30.05.2008
[10] Ethiopia: German biofuel company fails as employees abscond with assets; www.afrik-news.com 27.04.2010
[11] Bundesentwicklungsminister Dirk Niebel beendet Reise nach Jemen und Äthiopien; www.bmz.de 14.01.2010