Does the UK have an ‘Africa policy’? Magnus Taylor (Editor, African Arguments) and Hetty Bailey (Policy and Research Coordinator, Africa APPG) decided to find out. They have, between them, read all the main political party manifestos and summarised the main policies that will affect African countries and people from them.
Their conclusion: UK ‘Africa Policy’ is multi-faceted. Nowhere does a political party state an explicit policy towards the continent, but many policy areas such as defence, immigration, international development, tax and trade will affect the lives of people in African countries, and also those who might wish to visit or live in the UK. But the African continent, and indeed much of the rest of the world, is not a topic of major discussion in contemporary political discourse.
It is a truism to state that British general elections are decided by domestic politics. It is rare that events such as Iraq war cut through talk of domestic issues to be truly influential for the electorate. This year such a stereotype seems even more pronounced. Development policy, in particular, is relegated to the back-end of the manifestos. Foreign policy is about defending our borders or growing British trade. Africa’s non-appearance in the manifestos is a symptom of a wider disinterest in international affairs during this most insular of elections.
MT: The Conservative Party manifesto has two different, competing approaches to the outside world. First, it is a place that Britain must defend itself from: “… [we live] in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world, we will fulfil the most basic duty of government – to defend our country and keep it safe”. Policy towards immigration, defence and even the EU are influenced by this world view.
The second sees Britain as a brave mercantilist power, forging a path through choppy seas via its sharp businessmen and clever diplomats. This section is actually quite optimistic for ‘emerging economies’, into which classification, in this context, most African countries should be viewed.
For a start, the manifesto celebrates the fact that UK trade with emerging economies (particularly China) is up: “We have boosted our exports to emerging markets, opened new diplomatic posts in Africa, Asia and Latin America…to connect Britain to the fastest-growing economies in the world.” It’s a good point, the last ten years have seen unprecedented growth in African economies and opportunities exist to exploit this, both for the benefit of them and us. It also bemoans the fact that the UK is still too dependent on slow-growing European markets. British diplomacy is more than ever about ‘selling’ Britain Inc. to new buyers.
In the breezy optimism of David Cameron’s early days in opposition, a commitment to international development was used, in part, to help rid his party of its ‘nasty’ image. Five years down the road and it barely gets a look in. There is a predictable commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on international development, but this is somewhat hidden away, presumably to avoid antagonising the party’s right flank, vulnerable to being wooed by UKIP, which would drastically cut our aid commitments.
But aid, says the manifesto, should benefit us as well as its recipients: “[Aid] helps prevent failed states from becoming a haven for terrorists…builds long-term markets for our businesses…[and] reduce[s] migration pressures”.
The manifesto does have something to say on what is becoming a fashionable subject in development discourse, that of ‘tax and transparency’. This is a global problem, which cuts across definitions of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ and has created high-profile controversies in the UK itself with large companies and wealthy individuals accused of avoiding tax, mostly through sharp accountancy practises. David Cameron raised this at the G8 Summit in Northern Island in 2013. The manifesto says that a Conservative government would:
Push for all countries to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Commission.
Review the implementation of the new international country-by-country tax reporting rules and consider the case for making this information publicly available on a multilateral basis.
Ensure developing countries have full access to global automatic tax information exchange systems and continue to build the capacity of tax authorities in developing countries.
On immigration, once again we see the tension between the two parts of the Tory narrative. First, the manifesto claims that “[The Conservatives] will always be a party that is open, outward-looking and welcoming to people from all around the world”. But they also boast that “immigration from outside the EU has come down since 2010” (peculiar given their stated aim to trade more with ‘emerging’ economies) and often try to talk tough, such as with statements on how they have introduced the ‘deport first, appeal later’ principle for illegal immigrants (excluding those in asylum cases.)
Oddly, the only African country that gets a specific mention in the manifesto is Zimbabwe, where Britain is apparently committed to “stand up for the rule of law and human rights”, apparently more so than in South Sudan, Somalia or anywhere else.
HB: The Labour Party manifesto puts international issues requiring a global response at the centre of its foreign policy approach. These include climate change, security and tax. Their manifesto recognises the influence that Britain has in the world and intends to utilise this to uphold and advance ‘British values’ and interests.
Nestled in the turbulent Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest independent modern nation-state and second most populous. Discourse on Ethiopia has traditionally revolved around poverty, conflict, disease, and famine, yet in recent years it has experienced considerable economic growth, making it amongst “Africa’s top performing economies,” and the country has also made significant progress on several of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Furthermore, regional political maneuvers and ambitions have seen Ethiopia touted as “Africa’s Next Hegemon.” Although these developments are widely heralded within the new Ethiopian narrative, other critical issues have often been overlooked.
For example, while Ethiopia’s economic “miracle” has been much celebrated, it remains the second poorest country in the world according to the United Nations Development Programme and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’sMultidimensional Poverty Index, the country continues to rank extremely low upon various socio-economic, governance, and development indicators, it still receives significant amounts of military, economic, and food aid, is plagued by considerable regional and ethnolinguistic-based inequalities (many arising through government cronyism), and it is also burdened by significantly high levels of unemployment (partly fueling mass migration).
Problematically, Ethiopia’s state-led development strategy is riddled with pervasive, systematic human rights abuses. Since the beginning of work on Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam project in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the regime in Addis Ababa of forcibly driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the indigenous Turkana community. Survival International, a UK-based rights group, has warned that the “Kwegu people of southwest Ethiopia are facing a food crisis, severe hunger, and the loss of their water and fish supplies due to the destruction of surrounding forests and the drying up of the river on which their livelihoods depend.”
The brutality characterizing the Gibe III Dam project is mirrored by the violence and repression accompanying Ethiopia’s “villagization” program, a vital component of the state’s agricultural development strategy. Dating back to the days of the murderous Dergue regime, and condemned by a spate of international rights groups, villagization entails the forcible relocation of indigenous communities from locations reserved for large foreign-owned plantations. Reports by rights groups list a plethora of human rights violations including beatings, killings, rapes, imprisonment, intimidation, and political coercion by the government and authorities. The program has also led to greater food insecurity, a destruction of livelihoods, and the loss of cultural heritage of ethnic groups. The deleterious effects of villagization are displayed in a report (based on first-person testimony) recently released by the Oakland Institute (OI), an international rights, advocacy, and environmental group. OI’s report vividly describes how, via “strongarm tactics reminiscent of apartheid South Africa, the Ethiopian regime has moved tens of thousands of people against their will to purpose-built communes that have inadequate food and lack health and education facilities to make way for large, foreign-owned commercial agriculture projects.”
In essence, Ethiopia’s socio-political climate is characterized by torture, oppression, and crackdowns on any perceived signs of dissent. Reports “detailing the arbitrary detention, beatings, and torture of journalists, bloggers, youth, and governmental opponents are widespread, including Ethiopia’s use of surveillance equipment to monitor the speech and interactions of the Ethiopian diaspora.”
However, there are signs that long-simmering grievances and tensions may boil over.Disenchantment and disillusionment, marked by claims of “repression, inequality and unemployment” have inspired large, frequent protests against the regime over the last few years. Last year, mass protests by Oromo civilians, especially students, were brutally crushed by Ethiopian authorities, while last week, a government organized rally, arranged in the aftermath of ISIS’ brutal murder of Ethiopian migrants in Libya, witnessed numerous arrests, injuries, and widespread clashes between security forces and protesters. During the rally, the government trumpeted political slogans, with an eye on upcoming elections, while government spokespersons urged potential migrants not to risk their lives by using dangerous exit routes. Demonstrators erupted in anger, denouncing the government as “thieves” and condemning the fact that Ethiopian migrants were only in Libya due to the deplorable conditions in Ethiopia.
With national “elections” on the near horizon, periods historically marked by boycotts, corruption and vote-rigging, violence, and repression, Ethiopia’s internal socio-political dynamics merit attention and should not be overlooked, particularly due to potential domestic and regional humanitarian and security implications. The migrant tragedy in Libya and the regime’s ongoing crackdowns display clearly that the “African Lion” is unwell. Moreover, they could augur that additional instability, upheaval, uprisings, and even a long-sought socio-political change are to come.
The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe publicly refused a handshake from the King of Zulu: The Man behind the Xenophobia mantra. What is your take on this? He was also quoted as on the picture below
The man allegedly behind the xenophobia attacks on Africans in South Africa, the king of the Zulu. President Mugabe refused a handshake from him (the Zulu king) publically in the eyes of everyone and letter drops the hammer on South Africans
”It’s only in South Africa that an illiterate villager thinks a qualified Medical Doctor from another African country is the reason for his unemployment”
Within a week, Ethiopians were hit with a quadruple whammy. On April 19, the Libyan branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)released a shocking videopurporting to show the killings and beheadings of Ethiopian Christians attempting to cross to Europe through Libya. This came only days after an anti-immigrant mob in South Africakilled at least three Ethiopian immigrantsand wounded many others. Al Jazeera America reported thatthousands of Ethiopian nationalswere stranded in war-torn Yemen. And in the town of Robe in Oromia and its surroundings alone, scores of people were reportedly grieving over the loss of family members at sea aboard a fateful Europe-bound boat that sank April 19 off the coast of Libya with close to 900 aboard.
These tragedies may have temporarily united Ethiopians of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. But they have also raised questions about what kind of desperation drove these migrants to leave their country and risk journeys through sun-scorched deserts and via chancy boats.
The crisis comes at a time when Ethiopia’s economic transformation in the last decade is being hailed as nothing short of a miracle, with some comparing it to the feat achieved by the Asian “tigers” in the 1970s. Why would thousands of young men and women flee their country, whose economy is the fastest growing in Africa and whose democracy is supposedly blossoming? And when will the exodus end?
After the spate of sad news, government spokesman Redwan Hussein said the tragedy “will be a warning to people who wish to risk and travel to Europe through the dangerous route.” Warned or not, many youths simply do not see their dreams for a better life realized in Ethiopia. Observers cite massive poverty, rising costs of living, fast-climbing youth unemployment, lack of economic opportunities for the less politically connected, the economy’s overreliance on the service sector and the requirement of party membership as a condition for employment as the drivers behind the exodus.
A 2012 study by the London-based International Growth Center noted (PDF) widespread urban unemployment amid growing youth landlessness and insignificant job creation in rural areas. “There have been significant increases in educational attainment. However, there has not been as much job creation to provide employment opportunities to the newly educated job seekers,” the report said.
One of the few ISIL victims identified thus far was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 2013. (Saudi deported more than 100,000 Ethiopian domestic workers during a visa crackdown.) A friend, who worked as a technician for the state-run Ethiopian Electricity Agency, joined him on this fateful trek to Libya. At least a handful of the victims who have been identified thus far were said to be college graduates.
Given the depth of poverty, Ethiopia’s much-celebrated economic growth is nowhere close to accommodating the country’s young and expanding population, one of the largest youth cohorts in Africa. Government remains the main employer in Ethiopia after agriculture and commerce. However, as Human Rights Watch noted in 2011, “access to seeds, fertilizers, tools and loans … public sector jobs, educational opportunities and even food assistance” is often contingent on support for the ruling party.
Still, unemployment and lack of economic opportunities are not the only reasons for the excessive outward migration. These conditions are compounded by the fact that youths, ever more censored and denied access to the Internet and alternative sources of information, simply do not trust the government enough to heed Hussein’s warnings. Furthermore, the vast majority of Ethiopian migrants are political refugees fleeing persecution. There are nearly 7,000 registered Ethiopian refugees in Yemen, Kenya has more than 20,000, and Egypt and Somalia have nearly 3,000 each, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
As long as Ethiopia focuses on security, the door is left wide open for further exodus and potential social unrest from an increasingly despondent populace.
Ethiopians will head to the polls in a few weeks. Typically, elections are occasions to make important choices and vent anger at the incumbent. But on May 24, Ethiopians will be able to do neither. In the last decade, authorities have systematically closed the political space through a series of anti-terrorism, press and civil society laws. Ethiopia’s ruling party, now in power for close to 24 years, won the last four elections. The government has systematically weakened the opposition and does not tolerate any form of dissent.
The heightened crackdown on freedom of expression has earned Ethiopia the distinction of being the world’sfourth-most-censored country and the second leading jailer of journalists in Africa, behind only its archrival, Eritrea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
There is little hope that the 2015 elections would be fundamentally different from the 2010 polls, in which the ruling party won all but two of the 547 seats in the rubber-stamp national parliament. The ruling party maintains a monopoly over the media. Authorities have shown little interest in opening up the political space for a more robust electoral contest. This was exemplified by the exclusion of key opposition parties from the race, continuing repression of those running and Leenco Lata’s recent failed attempt to return home to pursue peaceful political struggle after two decades of exile. (Lata is the founder of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front, fighting since 1973 for the rights of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s marginalized majority population, and the president of the Oromo Democratic Front.)
A few faces from the fragmented and embittered opposition maybe elected to parliament in next month’s lackluster elections. But far from healing Ethiopia’s gashing wounds, the vote is likely to ratchet up tensions. In fact, a sea of youth, many too young to vote, breaking police barriers to join opposition rallies bespeaks not of a country ready for elections but one ripe for a revolution with unpredictable consequences.
Despite these mounting challenges, Ethiopia’s relative stability — compared with its deeply troubled neighbors Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti — is beyond contention. Even looking further afield, across the Red Sea, where Yemen is unraveling, one finds few examples of relative stability. This dynamic and Ethiopia’s role in the “war on terrorism” explains Washington’s and other donors’ failure to push Ethiopia toward political liberalization.
However, Ethiopia’s modicum of stability is illusory and bought at a hefty price: erosion of political freedoms, gross human rights violations and ever-growing discontent. This bodes ill for a country split by religious, ethnic and political cleavages. While at loggerheads with each other, Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups — the Oromo (40 percent) and the Amhara (30 percent) — are increasingly incensed by continuing domination by Tigreans (6 percent).
Ethiopian Muslims (a third of the country’s population of 94 million) have been staging protests throughout the country since 2011. Christian-Muslim relations, historically cordial, are being tested by religious-inspired violence and religious revivalism around the world. Ethiopia faces rising pressures to choose among three paths fraught with risks: the distasteful status quo; increased devolution of power, which risks balkanization; and more centralization, which promises even further resistance and turmoil.
It is unlikely that the soul searching from recent tragedies will prompt the authorities to make a course adjustment. If the country’s history of missed opportunities for all-inclusive political and economic transformation is any guide, Ethiopians might be in for a spate of more sad news. As long as the answer to these questions focuses on security, the door is left wide open for further exodus and potential social unrest from an increasingly despondent populace.
Hassen Hussein is an assistant professor at St. Mary's University of Minnesota.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.
Ethiopia’s upcoming national elections on May 24 are the first to be held since the 2012 death of longtime Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who presided over a highlyrepressive political system that decimated the country’s independent media and civil society. Initially, there was a guarded hope that the ruling party—the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—might ease restrictions and allow some level of competition, in order to appease growing discontent with its authoritarian rule and maintain stability within its own ranks.
However, this hope has been dashed over the past year, as EPRDF has cracked down on dissent and used its thorough control over state institutions to cripple the opposition and block any threat to its 24 years of entrenched political dominance.
Control of the media and public discussion
The space for public dissent has long been constrained by a host of draconian laws, media censorship, and aggressive prosecutions. But the government signaled its intent to silence any remaining criticism ahead of the 2015 elections in April 2014, when it arrested six members of the Zone 9 blogging collective along with three journalists and charged them with terrorism-related offenses. (Later that year, security forces detained and raided the homes and offices of four prominent young opposition leaders who had just begun holding leadership positions in their parties and gaining popularity on the national stage. They too are facing terrorism charges.) The attack on independent media continued throughout 2014, leading more than 30 journalists to flee the country as several of the publications they worked for were shut down amid criminal prosecutions.
Meanwhile, EPRDF exercises absolute control over state media and numerous party-affiliated outlets, allowing it to dominate public discussion. As voters head to the polls on May 24, they will not be informed by any national debate on competing policy platforms. Instead, the extent and scope of the political discourse has been framed months in advance, presenting EPRDF’s “developmental democracy” model as a panacea for the economic and social woes facing the country.
Marginalization of opposition parties
EPRDF blatantly uses institutions of the state to block and undermine the activities of opposition parties. Its near-total control of the federal and regional legislatures has for years denied opposition parties a prominent role in lawmaking and government oversight that would allow them to build public support. Even local councils have been rendered effectively out of reach for the opposition since 2008, when EPRDF changed electoral rules to increase the size of each kebele (the lowest-level administrative unit) council from 100 to 300 seats. As a result, during the latest local and municipal elections in April 2013, the well-resourced EPRDF fielded more than 3.5 million candidates, winning a similar number of seats throughout the country, while some beleaguered opposition parties managed to field only one candidate.
It is worth emphasizing that such local administrative structures are the primary tools for maintaining EPRDF’s dominance, as they are linked to a network of operatives that reaches down to the household level in both urban and rural settings. Moreover, municipal officials across the country routinely deny permission for opposition rallies, and police forcibly disband and arrest peaceful protesters, playing a crucial part in suppressing dissent.
Given this virtually uniform control of federal, regional, and local government bodies, the stage is set for a repeat of the 2010 elections, in which EPRDF claimed to have won 99.6 percent of legislative seats nationwide.
Manipulation of the electoral system
As part of its preparations for the May 24 elections, EPRDF coordinated a massive voter registration effort with local government operatives, essentially ruling party officials, who went house to house urging citizens to register to vote during the 50-day registration period. Local officials employ a mix of threats and promises to woo largely apathetic voters, particularly in urban centers. Less than three weeks into the registration period, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) reported a 127 percent rate of voter registration in the Somali region, where an active counterinsurgency operation is being conducted and past elections have been delayed due to security concerns, casting further doubt on the credibility of the entire process.
EPRDF also mobilized its extensive network of state and party operatives to make sure that opposition efforts to reach constituencies met with a multitude of administrative barriers and politically motivated red tape. In February, the NEBE went out of its way to delegitimize popular leaders of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party by exploiting its internal disputes. As a result, prominent UDJ leaders, including a sitting member of parliament, lost their platforms to run as candidates. Instead, the EPRDF-controlled election board promoted a hitherto unknown faction within UDJ and installed them as the new leadership of the party.
With independent civil society crippled as a result of restrictions imposed by the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP), voter-education and election-observation activities have also become the exclusive domain of the NEBE and EPRDF-affiliated “mass associations.” Ethiopian “civil society” election observers deployed under the auspices of the NEBE in 2010 quickly declared those elections “free, fair, and democratic,” even as an EU Election Observation Missionconcluded that they were “marred by a narrowing of political space and an uneven playing field” and fell short of international commitments for a free and fair election. In what appears to be an attempt to forestall similar criticism in this election cycle, EPRDF has started downplaying the role of international observers very early, repeating the mantra that the elections need to be credible only to the Ethiopian people.
An orderly formality
The May elections are set to be held against the backdrop of multiple terrorism trials of dissidents who were thrown in jail for expressing their views, a divided and persecuted opposition that must simultaneously campaign and struggle for its very survival, a muted international response to EPRDF’s growing repressive measures, and the absence of credible international election observers.
All technical aspects of the elections, from voter registration through casting ballots on election day, may proceed without any major flaws. But the election environment is nowhere near conducive to a free and democratic expression of the will of the Ethiopian people. Instead of providing Ethiopians with the opportunity to freely engage in political discourse and nurture a genuine multiparty democracy, the elections have been reduced to a mere formality for extending EPRDF’s iron grip on power for another five years.
Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.