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The constitution and the political programs of opposition political parties in Ethiopia



Authors: Yeheys Nardos Hawaz and Chen Xi (PhD)

Since 2018, the new administration of Ethiopia gained public support as it had shown a different position, political strategy, and structure than the previous administration. Most importantly, its apology and reconciliation call for political parties and opposition parties has created a great deal of political turmoil in the country, and has seen a vision of creating a multi-party nation, including the opposition parties. It has been three years since the political parties and politicians who were operating abroad agreed to return home and started the peaceful competition. These parties are the OLF, the ONLF, and the Ginbot 7 (which is later merged and formed Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice).

If the Ethiopian government has taken such a step to address the political instability in the country, what is the attitude of the political parties? Are these parties have a truly competitive or oppressive perspective? What is their political program towards the country’s constitution and election proclamation? These questions have not been answered clearly but only a few months away from holding elections in Ethiopia. To enforce the constitution, the registration of opposition parties as per the constitution and the election proclamation; the Electoral Board has the legal authority to conduct the country’s elections. These parties have been recognized for the election under these criteria.

Electoral law as a starting point

Ethiopian elections are held every five years. Pursuant to article 38 of the Constitution, every person over the age of 18 can participate in elections and may participate on behalf of the group to which he or she is a member voluntarily. It is clear that this group is a political party. This is how a political party is created. Nevertheless, the legal entity is directly related to the Electoral Board. Article 102 of the Constitution states that the Electoral Board shall be established in accordance with the law of the country in order to conduct free and fair elections. Accordingly, it is an institution that can grant, renew and revoke the licenses of political parties based on the registration criteria of political parties in accordance with the Constitution and the electoral proclamation, as well as allow and prohibit them from contesting elections.

According to the Ethiopian Electoral, Political Parties Registration and Electoral Code of Conduct proclamation 1162/2019, one of the requirements of the parties wishing to participate in the country’s elections is to inform their main political program. Every political party shall have a political program approved by the general assembly of the party to formulate its political beliefs. Article 66/4 of the proclamation stipulates that the parties are required to comply with the election law and related laws. However, it did not comment on the content of the party program. Consequently, it is expected that the party program will be in accordance with the constitution and other laws of the country, not contradictory.

These laws, for example, include the legal title (the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia), the government system(Parliamentary system),  the principles of the Constitution (ex. Secularism) and it covers other wide range of issues. There is no question as to whether political parties will review their programs based on these fact or against.

Recently, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) issued a directive on the obligations of national and regional parties (in accordance with Proclamation No. 1162/2011).  The department does not indicate that there is a system of submission and cancellation using the political program as a criterion.

The House of Peoples’ Representatives, in its recent regular session, have also amended election proclamation 1162. However, these amendments are not about the party programs but focused on articles 31/1 and 2 regarding the collection of signatures in support of private candidates and political party candidates.

Based on these issues, the NEBE has finalized the registration of political parties and preparing for the next election. There is no clear information on whether the appearance of political parties is examined in accordance with the constitution. Political parties are also stepping up their individual preparations. But what is the nature of political parties in Ethiopia in terms of the constitution?

The aspect of political parties in terms of the constitution

The question of how much the political program of Ethiopian political parties in line with the constitution is highly controversial. In addition to that, the fact that no one cares about the political parties’ programs is another surprise. The Joint Council of Political Parties in Ethiopia has 116 members, all of whom are active at the national and regional (sub-national) levels. However, not every party is in the next election as some do not meet the requirements for voter registration. There is no evidence that those who will run in the next election have been assessed per the Constitution, but with the directives issued by the electoral board. Certain parties can be used to show how the political their political program is viewed in terms of the constitution.

Ethiopian citizens for social justice is an organization formed byseven political parties. Semayawi Party, which had been widely associated with popular uprisings, focused on individual rights rather than the group on the contrary to the constitution, and Ginbot 7 which was mentioned as a terrorist organization under the country’s previous law are among the seven.

These two parties merged with the other five parties to form the Ethiopian citizens for social justice in 2019. Although the party’s website shows that the party is based on the principles of decentralization and works for the establishment of political and social justice based on citizenship, the political system is presidential which is contrary to the constitutional parliamentary system. Besides, the party has also taken a different stance on the constitutional interpretation and the flag, based on future constitutional amendments. These ideas are contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. If Ethiopian citizens for social justice wins the next election, a constitutional amendment is undoubted, one of the major issues to be addressed. However, as the procedure is unsated it might cause political chaos.

Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) was a party that fought for the liberation of the Ogaden through military struggle and agreed to fight peacefully at the behest of the Prime Minister. Accordingly, the party is one of the parties recognized by the electoral board to run in the next election. At the party level, the party is a regional, not a national party. The political agenda of the ONLF is very different not only from the political point of view but also from the constitution. The party’s political program begins with the statement, “Our country is a colony of Ethiopia without the consent of the people.” It further noted that the struggle of ONLF is with colonialist Ethiopia. It is a challenging question of whether this idea represents the people of the region and not the party.

According to the electoral law proclamation No. 1162/2011, the number of members required to form a regional political party is at least 100,000. The formation of ONLF was preceded by the proclamation. However, to be recognized by the NEBE, it must meet all the requirements. Of these, at least one hundred thousand members signed the memorandum, and at the same time, they were required to report on the political program and other related matters. If ONLF is recognized based on these requirements, it indicates that the NEBE have accepted the political program which is contrary to the constitution. In fact, given the size of the Somali population, the number of party members on the proclamation (hundreds of thousands) is unlikely to affect the region. However, there were no official records on the number of party members and public support. Based on these developments, the idea of ​​what to expect if the ONLF wins an election in the Somali region could lead to serious political conflict between the region and the federal government, with the probability of war.

Like the ONLF, OLF is a party that came into the country to peacefully compete following the call of the prime minister. According to the party’s mission, the Oromo people have been colonized by Abyssinia and the formation of the party is in opposition to this colonization. The party followed a policy which includes different prospect in security and armed struggle which is on the contrary to the constitution. Nevertheless, OLF has been recognized in NEBE to run in the Oromia region. There is no guarantee that the threat by the ONLF will not arise in Oromia with OLF.

Is it too late to take a common national consensus?

Although there is little time left for the election, it is still not too late to address some issues. The current situation and future of Ethiopia are still based on the constitution. However, at the institutional level, it must be careful not to do anything that could jeopardize the survival of the nation. As these parties have public support, they have also opposition. There must be a national position that continually safeguards the supremacy of the constitution if they win. The socio-economic and political crisis of the 2005 elections in Ethiopia continues to cast a shadow over the future. The impact of this shadow on the incoming election is even greater than in 2005.

Political program differences can easily lead to conflicts. Even though the recent extension of the election was approved by the national assembly, differences between the TPLF and the federal government have gradually grown which finally led to war. As the legislature of a country, the laws the house makes should be enforced by the executive. The House, per its constitutional mandate, has the power to legislate on constitutional rights and the conduct of elections and has also decided to declare the state of emergency as stipulated in article 93. The TPLF party has strongly opposed the decision of the House to extend the election. Sticking only to the constitutional term of election, TPLF has unnoticed the constitutional mandate of the House of Representatives, which has led to a major political crisis in the country.

Since the rule of law promotes peace and stability, political parties should learn from the recent war over the rule of law. It is first and foremost necessary to show compliance with the laws of the land. Amendment procedure can be included within the legal framework. However, the program of political parties has some scary aspects in terms of the law of the land. While improving the law can be considered as part of political party commitments, but designing a party program to oppose the law is another aspect. In such cases, the spirit of competition can be overwhelming by the opposition.

At the government level, there is still time to consult with political parties on constitutional issues. Political parties should also agree that the idea of ​​amending the constitution should be per the rule of law and not in the interests of the political party. It is better to evaluate the political program of parties from a constitutional point of view to save Ethiopia from chaos. If the parties win the election, it is expected, they will be as quick to change ideology while If they lose, they may be showing that they have been deceived by their political views. Following this, greater preparation is needed to reduce the conflict between support and opposition.

The Electoral Board is still responsible for upholding the rule of law as the country is still governed and elections are held under this constitution. Recognition of opposition organizations that openly oppose the constitution will not contribute to national unity and national consensus. Therefore, it would be good if the amendment of the Political Parties Proclamation includes these requirements.

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Critical Views On Russia’s Policy Towards Africa Within Context Of New World Order

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In September WhatsApp conversation with Matthew Ehret, a Senior Fellow and International Relations Expert at the American University in Moscow, he offers an insight into some aspects of Russia-African relations within the context of the emerging new global order. 

In particular, Matthew gives in-depth views on Russia’s valuable contribution in a number of economic sectors including infrastructure development during the past few years in Africa, some suggestions for African leaders and further on the possible implications of Russia-China collaboration with Africa. Here are important excerpts of the wide-ranging interview:

What are the implications here and from historical perspectives that Russia is looking for its allies from Soviet-era in Africa…and “non-Western friends” for creating the new world order?

Russia is certainly working very hard to consolidate its alliances with many nations of the global south and former non-aligned network. This process is hinged on the Russia-China alliance best exemplified by the integration of the Eurasian Economic Union with the Belt and Road Initiative and the spirit of cooperation outlined in the the Feb. 4 Joint Statement for a New Era of Cooperation.

Of course this is more than simply gaining spheres of influence as many analysts try to interpret the process now underway, but has much more to do with a common vision for instituting a new system of cooperation, creative growth and long term thinking uniting diverse cultural and religious groups of the globe around a common destiny which is a completely different type of paradigm than the unipolar ideology of closed-system thinking dominant among the technocrats trying to manage the rules based international order.

Soviet Union, of course, enormously supported Africa’s liberation struggle and resultantly attained political independence in the 60s. What could be the best practical way for Russia to fight what it now referred to as “neocolonialism” in Africa?

Simply operating on a foundation of honest business is an obvious but important thing to do. The African people have known mostly abuse and dishonest neo-colonial policies under the helm of the World Bank and IMF since WW2, and so having Russia continue to provide investment and business deals tied to the construction of special economic zones that drive industrial growth, infrastructure and especially modern electricity access which Africa desperately needs are key in this process.

African countries currently need to transform the untapped resources, build basic infrastructure and get industrialized -these are necessary to become somehow economic independent. How do you evaluate Russia’s role in these economic areas, at least, during the past decade in Africa?

It has been improving steadily. Of course, Russia does not have the same level of national controls over their banking system as we see enjoyed by China whose trade with Africa has attained $200 billion in recent years while Russia’s trade with Africa is about $20 billion. But despite that, Russia has done well to not only provide trains in Egypt, and has made the emphasis on core hard infrastructure, energy, water systems, and interconnectivity a high priority in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit and the upcoming 2023 Summit.

Generally, how can we interpret African elite’s sentiments about Russia’s return to Africa? Do you think Russia is most often critical about United States and European Union’s hegemony in Africa?

I think the over arching feeling is one of trust and relief that Russia has returned with a spirit of cooperation. According to all the messaging from Lavrov who recently completed an important Africa tour late July, I can say that Russia is very critical of the USA and EU approach to hegemony in Africa. As Museveni and the South Africa Foreign Minister have recently emphasized, they are sick of being talked down to and threatened by western patronizing technocrats, whereas we see a sense of mutual respect among the discourse of Russian and Chinese players which is seen as a breath of fresh air. 

While the west is obsessed with “appropriate green technologies” for Africa while chastizing the continent for its corruption problems (which is fairly hypocritical when one looks at the scope of corruption within the Wall Street- City of London domain), Russia supports all forms of energy development from coal, oil, natural gas and even nuclear which Africa so desperately needs to leapfrog into the 21st century.

Understandably, Russia’s policy has to stimulate or boost Africa’s economic aspirations especially among the youth and the middle class. What are views about this? And your objective evaluation of Russia’s public outreach diplomacy with Africa?

So far Russia has done well in stimulating their youth policy with expanded scholarships to African youth touching on agricultural science, engineering, medicine, IT, and other advanced sectors. Additionally the Special Economic Zones built up by Russia in Mozambique, Egypt have established opportunities for manufacturing and other technical training that has largely been prevented from growing under the IMF-World Bank model of conditionality laced loans driven primarily by the sole aim of resource extraction for western markets and overall control by a western elite. Russia has tended to follow China’s lead (and her own historic traditions of aiding African nations in their development aspirations) without pushing the sorts of regime change operations or debt slavery schemes which have been common practice by the west for too long.

Sochi summit has already provided the key to the questions you have, so far, discussed above. Can these, if strategically and consistently addressed, mark a definitive start of a new dawn in the Russia-African relations?

Most certainly.

Geopolitical confrontation, rivalry and competition in Africa. Do you think there is an emerging geopolitical rivalry, and confrontation against the United States and Europe (especially France) in Africa? What if, in an alliance, China and Russia team up together?

China and Russia have already teamed up together on nearly every aspect of geopolitical, scientific, cultural and geo-economic interest imaginable which has created a robust basis for the continued successful growth of the multipolar alliance centered as it is upon such organizations as the BRICS+, SCO, ASEAN and BRI/Polar Silk Road orientation. This is clear across Africa as well and to the degree that this alliance continues to stand strong, which I see no reason why it would not for the foreseeable future, then an important stabilizing force can not only empower African nations to resist the threats, intimidation and destabilizing influences of western unipolarists. 

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Sahel security crisis ‘poses a global threat’

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Refugee women prepare food in a displacement site in Ouallam, in the Tillaberi region of Niger. © UNOCHA/Michele Cattani

Rising insecurity, including the proliferation of terrorist and other non-State armed groups, coupled with political instability, is creating a crisis in the Sahel that poses a “global threat”, the UN chief warned Thursday’s high level meeting on the vast African region, which took place behind closed doors at UN Headquarters in New York.

“If nothing is done, the effects of terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime will be felt far beyond the region and the African continent”, said Secretary-General António Guterres, in his remarks issued by his Spokesperson’s Office.

“A coordinated international breakthrough is urgently needed. We must rethink our collective approach and show creativity, going beyond existing efforts.”

The insecurity is making a “catastrophic humanitarian situation even worse”, he said, leaving some beleaguered national governments, without any access to their own citizens.

‘Deadly grip’ tightening

Meanwhile, “non-State armed groups are tightening their deadly grip over the region and are even seeking to extend their presence into the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.”

The indiscriminate use of violence by terrorist and other groups means that thousands of innocent civilians are left to suffer, while millions of others are forced from their homes, Mr. Guterres told the meeting of national leaders, during the High Level Week summit.

Women and children in particular are bearing the brunt of insecurity, violence and growing inequality”, he said, with human rights violations, sometimes committed by security forces mandated to protect civilians, “of great concern”.

Climate factor

And the crises are being compounded by climate change, said the UN chief, with soil erosion and the drying-up of water sources, “thereby contributing to acute food insecurity and exacerbating tensions between farmers and herders.”

“Against a global backdrop of turmoil on energy, food and financial markets, the region is threatened by a systemic debt crisis that is likely to have repercussions throughout the continent.”

The conventional international finance remedies are not helping, the UN chief said bluntly, with more and more countries forced to channel precious reserves into servicing debt payments, leaving them unable to pursue an inclusive recovery, or boost resilience.

“It is absolutely necessary to change the rules of the game of the financial reports of the world. These rules of the game are today completely against the interests of developing countries, and in particular the interests of African countries”, said Mr. Guterres, “with debt problems, with liquidity problems, with inflation problems, with instability, necessarily posed by this profound injustice in international financial and economic relations.”

Democracy, constitutional order

The UN chief called for a “renewal of our collective efforts to promote democratic governance and restore constitutional order” across the whole Sahel, which stretches from Senegal in the west to northern Eritrea and Ethiopia in the east, a belt beneath the Sahara of up to 1,000 kilometres.

The rule of law and full respect for human rights are indispensable for ensuring security and sustainable development, Mr. Guterres said.

Addressing national leaders and senior politicians from the region, he said the UN “stands ready to work alongside you, with urgency and solidarity, for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Sahel.”

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South Sudan: Extended roadmap for lasting peace deal, a ‘way point, not an end point’

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Since 2018, the Revitalized Agreement between the key players in South Sudan’s long-running civil war has provided a framework for peace, the Head of the UN mission there, UNMISS, told the Security Council on Friday – “despite continued outbreaks of intercommunal violence”. 

UN Special Representative Nicholas Haysom said that although key provisions of the Agreement are set to end by February, the parties agreed in August on a Roadmap that extends the current transitional period by 24 months. 

While a welcome development, he reminded that “there is no alternative to the implementation of the peace agreement”. 

“Let me underscore that the roadmap is a way point, not an end point”, he said. 

Inclusive political process 

The UNMISS chief flagged the importance of an inclusive political process and the opening of civic spaces as “essential conditions” for a robust and competitive electoral process. 

He then outlined some steps underway – from President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar’s agreement to resolve the parliamentary impasse, to the graduation of the first class of joint armed forces recruits – for which budgetary resources, integration and deployment, are vital to allow a broader security sector transformation. 

“Failure to address these critical issues…have the potential to reverse the gains made,” Mr. Haysom warned. 

Violence continues 

He went on to describe violence on the regional level, marked by cycles of cattle raiding, abduction, and revenge killings along with fighting in Upper Nile state that has displaced thousands of people. 

The Special Representative reported that while conflict-related violence is also increasing, UNMISS continues to support prevention through policy frameworks and other areas. 

“The Mission is strengthening its support to the justice chain in each state…to address crimes that risk destabilizing the peace, including those involving gender-based violence,” he told the ambassadors. 

‘Double pivot’ 

Mr. Haysom said that UNMISS has managed to accomplish a “double pivot” in its focus and operations, by channeling resources towards the political process; proactive deployment to violent hotspots; and expanding its protection presence for civilians. 

He assured that South Sudan’s natural resources have “tremendous potential” for either conflict, or cooperation.  

“It is always political that can make the difference”. 

Turning to the humanitarian situation, he acknowledged that food security continues to deteriorate, leaving some 8.3 million people in need and outstripping available funding. 

Noting that the Humanitarian Response Plan is only 44.6 per cent funded, he urged donors to fulfil their pledges. 

‘Litmus test’ 

He asserted that the next few months would be “a litmus test” for the parties to demonstrate their commitment to the Roadmap, warning against “delays and setbacks”. 

In closing, the Special Representative reaffirmed the importance of the international community’s support. 

“Our collective task now is to support the parties in fulfilling their obligations to the people of South Sudan as per the timing of the Roadmap,” he concluded. 

Indispensable timelines 

Meanwhile, Lilian Riziq, President, South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network discussed a broad-based and inclusive process for all key participants, underscoring the need for a new transitional governance process.  

She underscored that election timelines are indispensable, noting that four years on, levels of revitalized agreement implementation have not brought security or ended humanitarian misery. 

She also highlighted ways that precious oil revenues in South Sudan, have been heavily misused. 

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