ETHIOPIA: What Ethiopia Needs to do to Continue its Fight Against Terrorism: Poverty-Reduction and Territorial Integrity – Keys to Regional Stability
Ambassador Kassahun Ayele

Speech by H.E. Kassahun Ayele, Ambassador of Ethiopia to the United States of America, at the National Press Club on March 29, 2004

Honorable Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa, a region beset by poverty.  It is also a region of rampant conflict, touching the countries of Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.  One of those countries, Somalia, is a stateless country with a power vacuum yet to be adequately addressed.

With its strategic location between East and West, the international community cannot escape the fact that the Horn of Africa region rests precariously at the edge of two possibilities: on one hand, there is a great potential for peace, economic development, and democracy; on the other, there are also the increasing threats of regional instability, abject poverty and, as a consequence, political lawlessness.  I believe that many countries in the region, including Ethiopia, rest on this precipice, and the international community can largely affect the outcome.

My purpose, therefore, in speaking to you today, esteemed guests, is to outline to you what Ethiopia is doing to tackle poverty and build democratic institutions.  I will also discuss what Ethiopia needs to continue its fight against international terrorism.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on earth.  But, my Government is committed to fighting poverty, an enemy that far surpasses the threat of terrorism in the region.  Since the current government took power in 1991, it has instituted many positive changes towards the development of a free market economy, democracy and rule of law.

In 1991, Ethiopia implemented policies that began the massive shift from a state-controlled economy to a free market economy.  Having inherited a devastated economy and an infrastructure in shambles, the current government, with support from the U.S. and other development partners, began rebuilding and introducing reforms to the country.

For example, in these past few years, Ethiopia has made great strides in education; nationwide female primary school enrollment alone jumped from 26 per cent to 47 per cent between 1997 and 2001.  It is one of the 23 countries that have been awarded fast track status under a recent World Bank initiative aimed at assisting developing countries in reaching the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015.

Ethiopia is undertaking extensive civil service and other wide-ranging reforms to consolidate the gains achieved so far in democratic governance.  Likewise, economic reforms are being implemented in the areas of industry, agriculture, trade, investment and privatization in order to capitalize on the progress that has been made since Ethiopia’s transition from a command economy to a free market economy.  Ethiopia is working, wholeheartedly, with the support of the international community to overcome poverty, and its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper has been reviewed and accepted by the IMF.  As an element of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, a comprehensive food security program that aims to eliminate food aid dependency within a period of three to five years is currently being implemented.  The plan involves not only the government and its international development partners, but also the entire rural population of the country.

In terms of political development, the Ethiopian Constitution, which was ratified in 1995, guarantees full civil and political democratic rights to all Ethiopians.  Ethiopians are free to practice their respective religions peacefully and without any government restriction or intervention.  All Ethiopian languages enjoy equal state recognition. The Constitution guarantees freedom of press, making it possible for over 80 private newspapers and magazines to be published in Ethiopia, free from government censorship.

In fact, Ethiopia’s press law is being revised to reflect the achievements made in the development of the private press over the past five to six years.  The new press law has been drafted and discussed in various forums with the private press, civil society groups and other stakeholders.  It was also shared with members of the diplomatic community based in Addis Ababa, who have provided additional input.  Many of the views expressed by the aforementioned stakeholders have been incorporated into the draft legislation, which is now being debated in the parliament.  There are also over 60 registered political parties in Ethiopia.  Thus pluralism, although nascent, is indeed taking root.

But, despite the proactive efforts of my Government, much remains to be done.  In this respect, Ethiopia requires much more from the international community—not only in terms of aid, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in terms of pro-development policies.  For example, Ethiopia’s debt burden is rendering it incapable of true progress.  Issues of fair access to trade for Ethiopia and other developing nations must also be addressed.  Furthermore, the global coffee crisis is also crippling the agricultural sector, with coffee prices at 30-year lows.  As you may know, coffee is by far the largest export commodity in Ethiopia, but it is now being replaced by some farmers with the narcotic crop Chat, which fetches a much higher profit.

My country has benefited from the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and is looking forward to the extension of its life beyond 2008.  Ethiopia is also grateful to the European Union for a similar market access opportunity known as the “Everything-But-Arms” (EBA) initiative that it has provided to the benefit of the Least Developed Countries of the world, among which is Ethiopia.   These are two very effective initiatives that have provided Ethiopia and other poor countries with fairer access to world markets, which is exactly what is needed to strengthen free-market economic systems in these countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Another grave concern is HIV/AIDS.  Ethiopia is one of the countries that are most heavily affected by this pandemic: with just one percent of the world"s population, Ethiopia contributes nine percent of the worldwide cases of HIV/AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  And the situation is only deteriorating.  The U.S. National Intelligence Council has reported that the spread of HIV/AIDS could triple in Ethiopia by the year 2010.

In response to the threat of this pandemic, my government has been proactively and aggressively applying its limited resources to fight it.  A national policy on AIDS has been formulated and put into action, and the head of state leads the National AIDS Council.  Local and international organizations, including religious institutions, are working hand in hand with the government and Ethiopia’s development partners to provide counseling, testing, education and anti-retroviral medicines.

In spite of our efforts, however, much more is needed from the international community.  The epidemic has already reached crisis proportions, with Ethiopia’s adult population having been decimated to a large degree.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, Ethiopia is a staunch partner of the U.S. in the war against terror.  The U.S. Joint Taskforce for the Horn of Africa, based in Djibouti, is actively working with Ethiopia and other nations in the region to train their respective militaries to effectively deal with this ongoing threat of terrorism.  There is also cooperation in the areas of intelligence gathering and sharing, and the two militaries are working jointly to apprehend terrorists, which have resulted in the prevention of planned terrorist attacks in the region.

But Ethiopia is no newcomer when it comes to fighting terrorism: it has a history of dealing with international terrorism long before 9-11.  Throughout the 90s, and into the 21st century, Ethiopia has dealt with terrorism in many forms.  In the mid 1990s, fundamentalist forces hatched a plot to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as he arrived in Addis Ababa for an Organization of African Unity summit in 1995.  Terrorist groups, such as Al Ittihad al Islamiya, used stateless Somalia as a staging ground to conduct subversive activities within Ethiopia’s borders, involving the destruction of railways and hotel bombings with considerable civilian casualties, as well as political assassination attempts.

Ethiopia is working along with its partners in regional organizations to address this threat of terrorism.  The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), comprised of seven countries in the Horn of Africa, and the Sana’a Forum of Ethiopia, Yemen and Sudan, are both mechanisms through which Ethiopia is partnering with other countries in the region to fight terrorism.  It is also working with the United States out of a mutual interest in the defense of their people against this scourge.

This being the case and given our continued efforts, what Ethiopia needs is assistance from the international community to fight its worst enemy: poverty.  It is well known that poverty and political instability in any country leave the population of that country at great risk of succumbing to terrorism as a result of hopelessness and degradation.  That is why pro-development policies are crucial to our fight.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One other challenge that Ethiopia has, unfortunately, been confronted with, is the unresolved problem of border demarcation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  As you know, Eritrea became an independent state by referendum in 1993.  For the first five years after that, the peoples and governments of both countries enjoyed what was considered amicable relations by all standards.  In 1998, the Eritrean government invaded and occupied Ethiopian territories along the undemarcated border while a joint commission was working to demarcate the borderline.  This invasion was followed by calls from the OAU (now the AU) and the UN, and other nations in the international community, for Eritrea to reverse the forceful occupation of Ethiopian territory, to return to the status quo ante of May 6, 1998, and for both countries to resolve the border issue peacefully.  Since the Asmara regime failed to heed this call, Ethiopia was left with one option: to exercise its right to self-defense.

At the conclusion of the war, Eritrea was ejected from the contested territories.  Thereafter, a peace agreement was signed in Algiers in 2000.  Both countries, as mandated by the Algiers Agreements, accepted the April 2002 delimitation decision of the Ethio-Eritrea Boundary Commission.  The Commission eventually acknowledged anomalies in its decision, and had confirmed that such anomalies would be rectified in the demarcation process.  However, it later failed to do so for reasons unknown to Ethiopia.  It is in this respect that Ethiopia is now calling for a comprehensive dialogue that would ensure a lasting peace between the two countries.  Ethiopia has also stated its willingness to begin demarcation immediately of all of the border except those few sections where the parties disagree as to the correct implementation of the Boundary Commission’s award.

In conclusion, Ethiopia is very grateful to the people and government of the United States of America for the quick and generous humanitarian assistance in times of need, and also for the continued support to help the country achieve its development objectives.  But, as you can see, there is much work to be done before Ethiopia, on its own, is capable of tackling poverty, strengthening democracy and safeguarding its borders from terrorism.  The support of the international community is therefore paramount in assisting the region in resolving all these challenges, in the hopes that the East Africa of today will be a region of peace, stability and prosperity of tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for being here today.