Eritrea & Ethiopia: The abyss and the seemingly glowing star

28 Oct

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
 

Already for more than a decade, Eritrea has carried itself as a proud nation. Among others, against TPLF fabrications it has stood on its feet and under sanctions. International aid and trade could not mediate its opening up to international investors.

Eritrean leaders claim from time to time that has been the only avenue for them to preserve their country as a sovereign nation.

And yet, Eritrea has hardly managed to clarify what that sovereignty is based on, i.e., whether it is in the typical African sense a sovereignty without real independence. For the outside world, including to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) that for long has dogged it like an ordinary criminal, it also remains uncertain.

Undoubtedly, the foundation of Eritrea’s governance is based on the sovereignty of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDF), not the individual citizens and the people as a collective, who have entrusted power to their ruling party that since independence has been in power without any elections.

Otherwise, Eritrea could not have lost those many young citizens as refugees. Without a daoubt, the image of Eritrea has been damaged by TPLF intrigues and its collaboration with foreign powers.

This does not excuse the fact that Eritrea has no constitution. Granted, we know from Ethiopia’s experience, a constitution has been just a useless piece of paper under the TPLF, the purpose of which is to serve as defense to foreign allies to claim to their taxpayers it is democratic. For all we know, the PFDF, much in the same manner as the TPLF, has managed to use the convenience of absence of legal instruments and independent institutions to ensure denial of justice, or be free to repress and enslave Eritreans, much as Ethiopians continue to be.

There are differences in some respects however. After the ravages of El Nino, when several Eastern and Southern African nations had to scour for edible grains for their populations, Eritrea has hardly exposed its citizens to wait for handouts from the international humanitarian community. It has been receiving its hand outs from the PFDF. I have no details of the mechanics, but Eritreans reportedly have hardly seen El Nino-induced famine in their country.

In Ethiopia’s case, hunger is still with the population, 9.7 million of them. While the rest of the world thinks and talks of the recently-inaugurated Chinese-built Djibouti-Addis Abeba railway line, as if the end of Ethiopia’s isolation as a landlocked nation has begun, the future of those hungry Ethiopians is not very promising. They still need several years more, if at all, to recover from El Nino’s after effects and the man-made disasters.

In the midst of that, the mantra of double-digit growths is quietly dying down now. With or without it, poverty in Ethiopia is still widespread. If at all there is progress in Ethiopia, the TPLF uses road construction and beautification of Addis Abeba toward its unattainable legitimization. Outside that, growth in Ethiopia is just TPLF’s numbers galore.

Unfortunately, at the World Bank it is like a change of religion. All economists in that place have become politicians that live to please the powers to be. In other words, it has been a while since the World Bank has forgotten being enamored by numbers and the real data!

Partial picture of Eritrea’s economy

Whereas undeniably a small country and small population of 5.4 million, its national preparations geared toward defence, Eritrea is, according to data by OEC, the 166th largest export economy, out of a total of 220 exporting nations. In 2014, Eritrea’s export earnings were $533 million, out of which $320 was spent on imports, leaving the trade account balance in surplus position.

Eritrea’s top export items are: cooper ore ($503 mil), precious metal ore ($15.6 mil), precious stones ($2.1 mil), COFFEE ($2.76 mil), non-knit mens’s shirts ($2.1 mil). Its top export destinations are China ($30 mil), India ($189 mil), South Korea ($18.7 mil), Bulgaria ($8.21 mil) and Egypt ($4.98 mil).

Interestingly, comprising the top of Eritrean imports are: cars ($18.4 mil), rubber tyres ($15.8 mil), wheat flours ($13.8 mil), raw sugar ($12.8 mil) and palm oil ($8.96 mil). Its top import origin nations are: China ($87.8 m), Egypt ($48.7M), Germany ($24.7M), South Korea ($18M) and Italy ($16.5M).

Doesn’t the once industrial Eritrea import even small chemicals, for proceesing in any of its manufacturing enterprises? If that be the case, the journey ahead is likely to be much longer!

The Ethiopian story

Regarding Ethiopia, the same source reports, i.e., OEC 2014, exports earning was $5.56 billion; this makes Ethiopia the 110th export economy, in the pool of 220 nations.

Shockingly, as a nation that lives on imports and debts, during the same period, notwithstanding the double-digit fantasy, Ethiopia’s import expenditures stood at $16.4 billion. This has ranked the country as the 84th nation fancying itself on an export-borrow-and-spend spree year after year.

I tried to consult the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) data for 2014-2015 to ensure veracity of the above OEC claims. It is not any different; it confirms the above in the following words:

“The deficit in merchandise trade during 2014/15 stood at USD 13.4 billion, widened by 29.1 percent relative to the preceding fiscal year mainly due to the significant growth in total import bills coupled with low performance in the growth of total export proceeds.”

The NBE report also points out:

“As a result of the external developments, the overall balance of payments was hit by USD 521.4 million deficit, compared with USD 96.9 million last year.

The trade deficit widened by 29.1 percent owing to a 20 percent growth in merchandise imports in contrast with a 8.5 percent drop in merchandise exports. Net private transfers also surged by 20.8 percent in the same period. Yet, the current account deficit (including official transfers) widened to USD 8 billion from USD 4.4 billion resulting in current account deficit to GDP ratio rising to 12.8 percent from 7.9 percent a year ago.”

Why is Eritrea so open at this moment to bombard twitter users with its achievements?

If the data bombardment by Eritrea on Thursday 27 October 2016 is anything credible, PFDF should be congratulated for its catch up efforts in development in the midst of sanctions, although of late European countries have quietly and systematically been removing the country’s isolation.

My question is why is Eritrea on its over-drive gear now?

Is it to seduce Europe and America by its stability and indefatigability? Or is it to force comparison of the quiet in Eritrean regime circle relative to Ethiopia’s popular uprise that us determined to bring down the TPLF, Ethiopians now see as the corrupt mafiosi?

In a way, to me, both the above seem to be the case; no doubt, the TPLF has forced Ethiopia on a path of its unmaking, which I hope, the nation would overcome by stiffening its back and continuing toward normalcy without the bandits!

Here my advice for Eritrea is not to force its luck to pick up some dividends from this strictly internal Ethiopian situation, either to tip it through violence, or the unlikelihood of advice to a former comrade-in-arms. The best Eritrea could is being watchful to thwart any TPLF evil acts, such as surprise attack to misdirect its internal crisis.

If the assessment of the British Lawyer, Facilitator and Mediator Ruby Sandhu holds true, the danger from the Ethiopia situation should worry everyone near and far. The expert’s well-informed analysis anticipates the worst in Ethiopia, as the TPLF’s penalty for its violation of the rights and freedoms of Ethiopians. Of that, she writes:

“Ethiopia, once a poster child of US foreign policy and development largess, is now fending of allegations of a delinquent state. The “prodigal son” of the US, is now under scrutiny for alleged egregious human rights violations including ethnic cleansing particularly of the Oromo and lowland periphery populations, by the authoritarian and hegemonic policies of the minority, ethnically Tigrayan regime—the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).”

On the consequences for Eritrea, here is her perception:

    “There are credible concerns that the current civil unrest and upheaval in Ethiopia will spill into Eritrea. The US, acutely aware of the impact of war on regional stability, where an implosion in either of these two countries could potentially lead to religious or radical Islamism, will need to revisit its policy towards Eritrea. This is especially the case now as Ethiopia could try and deflect international attention from its internal situation by initiating a substantive attack on Eritrea. Concerns emanate from a number of recent border skirmishes with Eritrea, resulting in significant loss of life. These unprovoked hostilities, in the form of Ethiopian incursions into Eritrea, are continued violations by Ethiopia of the Algiers Peace Agreement signed between the two countries on the 12th December 2000, the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) ruling issued in 13 April 2002 and the Geneva Conventions.”

 
In fact, as part of the worsening situation in Ethiopia, citizens Thursday learned that every policeman, non-uniformed security guard is called upon “to save the constitutional order” in Ethiopia, by his/her use of ‘freedom of action’. If the situation in 2005/06 is any guide, this implies the right to kill freely and any one, according to ESAT sources. In other words, while both uniformed policemen and security guards of companies have felt inconvenienced by the instruction to kill anyone during curfew hours looking suspicious, or found near companies and farms, they have been given assurances by the TPLF they cannot and would not be charged for the actions they take under the state of emergency law in force.

Partly the pressure on the TPLF to act in this manner comes from European governments, some of which attach more importance to the investments of their citizens in Ethiopia over the lives of Ethiopians.

A spokeswoman for the Dutch minister of foreign trade and development cooperation told The Guardian Wednesday of the assurances her minister has secured saying, “Ethiopian authorities have assured us that they are giving the highest priority to protecting foreign companies”!

Alas! That is capitalism with its brutish instincts!

Seductive Eritrea on the world stage for everyone to see?

The indefatigable Eritrean Minister of Information Yemane G. Meskel must be on his phone round the clock. He twits and it is like a torrent sometimes. The following selected tweets are from last Thursday afternoon, which say something is in the ofging in Eritrea:

When this is compared with Ethiopia’s 41 per 1,000 live births, according to the World Bank. Assuming that the data has not been massaged, it means that Eritrea has done much better than Ethiopia.

Incidentally, infant and maternal mortality rates are higher in other regions of Ethiopia relative to Tigray. In Ethiopia 16 percent (UNFPA) mothers give birth in hospitals, whereas the figure for Tigray is about 60 percent, according to data from the region, reported by ENA.

Eritrea is just adopting Primary Health Care strategy for its national health care purposes. Ethiopia has had that for a while, but the program is not going well. In an article entitled Towards universal health coverage for reproductive health services in Ethiopia: two policy recommendations, appearing on the International Journal for Equity in Health (2015), there are also critical reviews, discussion and fresh recommendations by a group of physicians and experts four in Norway and one based in Addis Abeba.

In Nairobi, last August while Dr. Tedros Adhanom agreed at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) that Universal Primary Health Care represents a paradigm shift, he also revealed the following at the Japan-organized conference:

“In Ethiopia we have made the initial steps towards achieving UHC. We have created community based insurance schemes (CBHI) in four regions of our country that covers about 12 percent of the population. Membership to a CBHI is voluntary and the national average for premiums is about 200 ETB (roughly 10 USD). In addition, government subsidies are used to pay for the cost of health services for the poorest of citizens. Even within the little journey we have made towards UHC, we have faced several challenges: The institutional set up for managing prepaid health services is still weak plus we need to raise more public funding for UHC and increase donor support for UHC as health aid has been too fragmented and declining.”

Interestingly, the TPLF is silent on genital mutilation (FGM). Ethiopia , according to Valentina A. Mmaka, an African activist on the issue, Ethiopia has won the dubious title of being one African country with the highest rate of FGM. Her contention is with both the cultural practices and the ambiguity in the nation’s laws.

While Ethiopia’s penal code ratified in 2005, criminalizes FGM, the expert activist worries that it is toothless in terms of its enforcement capacity.

Should everything go wrong with the TPLF and in every sphere?

Pathetic!
 
*Updated.
 

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