Historic Ethio-Kenya interstate relations increasingly cold-shouldering friendship at popular level; sign of future troubles

5 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

For a while now, we have been hearing many disturbing stories out of Kenya about mistreatment of Ethiopian refugees, normally, i.e., until five or six years ago uncharacteristic of the longstanding friendly relations between our two countries.

This needless difficulty is mostly caused by perpetration of violence by Kenyan police and robbery against the helpless immigrants. When such things happen in Kenya, without exception, usually the culprits are corrupt police; their action is motivated by desire to extract from the wazungu (Swahili for foreigners) some baksheesh.

A case in point is that of about 30 Ethiopian journalists that in late summer 2014 fled to Kenya because of TPLF harassment, many of have been on the receiving end of bad treatment by Kenyan police. For instance, journalists Daniel Dersha and Gizaw Taye March 3, 2015 were seized by police in new place they moved; their place was searched and finally the police took the little finances they had.

Moreover, the police told them that they cannot be seen in the streets or in public anywhere, since they have no status in Kenya. This misfortune has exposed them to all forms of threats and police robberies.

These attacks against helpless people have disappointed Ethiopians; what is troubling many is the fact that how the good natured Kenyans are allowing greed and corruption by the members of their corrupt police force to takedown with it the good neighborliness and human relations cultivated over long years and became the hallmark of the friendship between our two nations, both at the political and popular levels.

From our vantage point, we strongly feel and believe that we have the right to feel irked by this. It would not have surprised us if such things happened elsewhere, for instance in the Sudan or Djibouti or Yemen, since we do not have any such expectations of them. It should have been clear for our Kenyan neighbors that those Ethiopians have not trekked on safari mission. They were and are coming to their friends in search of protection because of the internal political and social hardships in Ethiopia, state violence the TPLF has been perpetrating on the people of Ethiopia.

Why do Ethiopians flee their country?

Politics and economics are the main factors for those fleeing Ethiopia. There is no denying that, unlike many other better off Sub-Saharan African states, Ethiopia is dirt poor country. The discomforts these entail are too burdensome and no easy and reasonable exit in sight, with the TPLF’s ethnic politics adding to it layers of complications that drags the country backwards.

Even the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance for 2014, which was released days ago showed that Ethiopia has fared badly on popular participation and sustainable economic development. This has relegated it to 32nd position, with poor performance in overall national governance 48.5 points, below the African average of 51.5.

Moreover, new national data from February 2015 reveal that from the 211,703 business currently operating in Addis Abeba, 63 percent of them, according to the City Administration, have only capital of ETB 20,000 each , which is the equivalent of $980.0 dollars. Only 18 percent have capital over ETB 100,000 ($5,000.0). This places heavy accent on the nature and depth of Ethiopian poverty in the entire country. The light this sheds to the world is truism, much better than any data by the World Bank, or TPLF’s hypocrisy and pretenses or the senseless sophistry of international think tanks and shenanigans of TPLF cadres.

Today, therefore, not surprisingly, Ethiopia has huge refugee population across the world and in all neighboring countries, even in war-torn and the failed state of Somalia. By January 2015, the UNHCR planning figure for Ethiopian refugees in Kenya shot up to 21,300; by then, the agency already had been assisting 19,510 of them. In addition, there are now another 8,840 Ethiopian asylum-seekers, whose status is being verified at the time of writing.

Given the dicey situation in Ethiopia, the number of Ethiopians seeking Kenya’s and international protection is likely to increase in the foreseeable future. This is happening notwithstanding mistreatment by Kenyan police and the constant abduction by the TPLF security agents from within the ranks of bona fide refugees.

Not only that action represents violation of Kenya’s sovereignty; but also it is a breach of international law on the part of Kenya itself because of the presumed collusion between senior TPLF agents and Kenya’s security structures.

Collusion between TPLF and Kenya security would have adverse consequences

The danger is that the two countries may reach a point when this would have adverse implications to the people-to-people relation. Many abducted refugees have already lost their lives because of tortures in TPLF’s prisons; already now many Ethiopians blame the presidency of Uhuru Kenyatta, as I indicated in my article of March 2014, in connection with his first official visit to Ethiopia, questioning his abandonment of his father’s legacies that founded Ethiopia-Kenya friendship.

In the past, whenever such incidents occurred Kenyan parliament used to speak out and the media also criticized it. Now under Mr. Kenyatta, that crime has become routine exercise, so long as the TPLF offered ‘plausible deniability’ regarding abduction missions, or corrupt police and intelligence operatives received the baksheesh. The last time it happened in August 2014 in Garissa County, local population apprehended the TPLF security agent and beat the hell out of him. The Uhuru government did nothing, as if such crime is no different from cattle-rustling.

For Ethiopians the important thing now is Kenya recognizing, given the severity of the political situation and economic in Ethiopia, to be hospitable. Such accommodation would not only be in concert with norms of international humanitarian law. But also it would be in accord with the longstanding relations Ethiopia and Kenya have had, which has been exemplary even at the popular level.

Such is Ethiopia-Kenya closeness that Kenyan tourism commercials do employ them in their efforts to attract tourists; they claim that the only foreigners that can stay in Ethiopia 365 days without a visa are Kenyans, while the reciprocity in Kenya is rather ice thin and theoretical when it comes to Ethiopians. Nonetheless, we have a lot to be grateful for the great understanding both countries have had since day one.

Emperor Haile Selassie and President Jomo Kenyatta (Credit: via Standard)

Emperor Haile Selassie and President Jomo Kenyatta (Credit: via Standard)

    New twists since arrival of Uhuru Kenyatta

    Ethiopia has always enjoyed excellent relations with Kenya, thanks to Emperor Haile Selassie’s diplomacy. As a grateful nation, on the Ethiopian side this is partly because Ethiopia had to both fight and defend itself against Italian invasion using Kenyan territory, although Kenya at that time was under British occupation.

    In the entire 20th century history of Ethiopia and Kenya, the southern frontier was the only corner that was relatively peaceful and where Ethiopia has always felt safe. Unusual as it might sound for the TPLF, it has even shown a degree of honesty regarding this. It has so stated in public, admitting after all for the first time that something good has been achieved in Ethiopia’s past in that regard.

    Of this, the TPLF foreign ministry last month The Week in The Horn observed:

    Kenya is one of the countries with which Ethiopia enjoys excellent relations of cooperation and bonds of close friendship [as if the abduction by its security forces is not disturbing the carefully maintained relations]. Indeed, Ethiopia has always attached great importance to its relations with Kenya and its people going back many years, though formal relations date to 1954 when Ethiopia established an Honorary Consulate General in Kenya. Ethiopia appointed its first Ambassador to Kenya in 1961, and six years later Kenya opened an Embassy in Addis Ababa. Earlier, during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, Ethiopian forces were able to operate across the common border, getting medical and other supplies from Kenya. Similarly, during the Mau Mau liberation struggle for Kenya’s independence, Kenyan fighters were able to operate from Ethiopian territory.

    After Kenyan independence, the personal friendship between President Jomo Kenyatta and Emperor Haile Selassie cemented existing ties and both countries embarked upon joint co-operation in a number of areas…”

In writing this piece, I have always been aware that Ethiopia can rely on Kenya’s friendship. This is in spite of the many arm twists by Meles Zenawi and some other senior TPLF members to bring Kenya into its circle of friends that try to prevail through intrigues and conspiracies to advance the TPLF ethnic dominance policies and ideologies over Ethiopia via the IGAD forums.

Ethiopia and Kenya’s good fortune is that this has not become a successful venture for the TPLF. This was in large measure due to Kenya’s openness and desire to be on the right side of international law and our nations friendship. This continued until Uhuru Kenyatta came to power, who sitting on his father’s chair, and chose to start imitating Meles’s heavy-handedness, even in his dealings with his own people.

Regarding these friendly ties between Ethiopia and Kenya, the Kenyan newspaper Standard Digital in its December 28, 2013 issue turned its attention to citing examples of the excellent ties at the level of the states and at the popular level and wrote:

    There are only three avenues in Kenya’s capital: Kenyatta, Moi and Haile Selassie Avenues in honour of our first and second Presidents…and [the third one that of] Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I.”

The paper then geared up to implying rather than explaining that honor and friendship cannot be scattered everywhere. By so doing, it amplified the rationale for the fewer road names in one of the Africa’s most vibrant and promising cities thus explaining:

    “The reason Nairobi has an avenue named – not after a local freedom fighter – but a foreigner is not accidental. First President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was a very good friend of the Emperor. According to biographer Jeremy Murray-Brown in his 1972 effort, Kenyatta: A biography, the founding father kept the red, green and gold Ethiopian flag in his room at 75 Castle Road in 1931 England -a year after Haile Selassie was crowned Emperor having resisted colonization by Fascist Italy.”

Better explaining the rationale is Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, which stated, while still studying in London Kenyatta breaks through a police cordon at the London Railway Station in 1936 to express solidarity with Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

President Kenyatta greeting his people (Credit: Africa Voice)

President Kenyatta greeting his people (Credit: Africa Voice)

Such was the friendship between the emperor and the Kenyan president that the flywhisk he always used was a gift from Ethiopia. Those who know closely the meaning say, “It’s a sign of authority; it’s a sign of peace. When you do that, you’re telling people peace.”

The Maleda Times claims Kenyatta was so fascinated with a man with a long name – “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God”, Kenyatta was so fascinated and vowed that Haile Selassie would be the first foreign dignitary to visit his country during the celebration of the Jamhuri Day in June 1964.

At that time, the leader of another African independent country, William Tubman had arrived. Kenyatta instructed his people that the visiting dignitary, according to reports, should stay in a ship until the Ethiopian emperor finished his visit.

The point of reiterating these is not because they are new to Ethiopians and Kenyans. It is just to ask where and why that institutional and people-to-people exemplary relations have melted away and now that Ethiopians are being treated like animals in Kenya?

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