[dehai-news] (GWU) US House hearing on Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan

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From: Biniam Haile \(SWE\) (eritrea.lave@comhem.se)
Date: Mon Mar 16 2009 - 17:08:02 EST

Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations

Committee on Appropriations

March 12, 2009
Horn of Africa: Priorities and Recommendations

by Amb. David H. Shinn

Adjunct Professor

Elliott School of International Affairs
The George Washington University
Testimony of David H. Shinn, Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of
International Affairs- George Washington University
Madame Chairperson and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the
opportunity to testify on priorities and recommendations for U.S. policy
in the Horn of Africa. My name is David Shinn, Adjunct Professor,
Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University,
and former ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. One-third of my
thirty-seven year career in the Foreign Service focused on the Horn of
Africa. I continue to follow the region closely as an academic.
Treat the Horn as a Region
The countries normally considered to constitute the Horn of Africa are
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan. Some include Kenya and
Uganda in the Horn. I will confine my remarks to the first five
countries. The challenges and the future of the Horn are interlinked to
an even greater extent than is the case in other regions of Africa. A
problem or conflict in one country has negative implications for one or
more of its neighbors just as political and economic progress benefits
neighboring countries. Any strategy that does not take into account the
implications for its neighbors of a policy towards one country is
probably doomed to fail. I believe that the Horn of Africa, taken as a
region, has been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end
of the Second World War.
The only serious U.S. policy effort that tried to deal with the
countries as an integrated region occurred during the Clinton
administration in the mid-1990s. It was known as the Greater Horn of
Africa Initiative. In addition to the five core countries in the Horn,
it included Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Its two main
goals were to focus U.S. resources on food security and conflict
prevention/mitigation. It achieved exceedingly limited success for a
variety of reasons, primarily because new conflict in the region
overwhelmed efforts to resolve existing conflict. In addition, there
was not a total commitment from all U.S. embassies in the field to
embrace a concept that did not have as its primary objective an emphasis
on bilateral relations. The Initiative was a good one; it is a pity it
did not have more success. It would be useful to review the lessons
learned from that effort before embarking on a new regional approach for
the countries in the Horn of Africa. For example, including Tanzania,
Rwanda and Burundi as part of the Initiative may have been too
ambitious. On the other hand, it is essential to include Kenya and
Uganda as they are critical to many of the issues that impact the Horn.
The United States and others have devoted considerable attention in
recent years to the major crises in the Horn: the failed state of
Somalia and especially its implications for terrorism, the civil war
between southern and northern Sudan and the crisis in Darfur, the war
between Ethiopia and Eritrea and periodic famine in several of the
countries. An even longer list of second tier problems such as conflict
in Ethiopia's Ogaden, the confrontation along the Eritrea/Djibouti
border and conflict in eastern Sudan have consumed much less U.S. time
and resources. There is a third group that receives very little U.S.
attention. These are largely local conflicts involving disagreements
over issues such as pasturage, scarce water sources, cattle rustling and
ethnic migration. It is not surprising and, in fact, appropriate to
focus on the most serious issues. On the other hand, it is a mistake to
exclude the second and third tier problems as they usually contribute to
the more serious problems. In a few cases, smaller local disagreements
may even lead to major conflict. A much overlooked technique in the
West for dealing with these localized issues is the use of traditional
conflict resolution mechanisms.
Most of these conflicts are exacerbated by a relatively high annual
population growth rate in spite of the negative effects of regular
conflict and HIV/AIDS. According to World Bank figures, the population
growth rate between 1990 and 2005 for Djibouti was 2.6 percent, for
Eritrea 2.5 percent and for Sudan and Ethiopia 2.2 percent. Somalia
lagged well behind at 1.4 percent. Each year, Ethiopia adds about 1.5
million people to its population. The country has not produced enough
food to feed its population for several decades and there is no prospect
that it will be able to achieve this goal in the foreseeable future.
Cooperating with Other Players in the Horn
The United States can not and should not be expected to solve the
problems of the Horn on its own. It is essential to continue to work
with the countries in the region and the traditional donor countries
including the members of the European Union, Norway, Canada, Australia
and Japan. Egypt and some of the Arab Gulf states, which have a direct
interest in developments in the Horn, should be part of efforts to solve
problems in the region. China has become the principal non-African
influence in Sudan and has a growing presence in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
China will not always agree with western donors on the best approach to
the region, but it has cooperated in Sudan and Somalia and should
increasingly be brought into discussions concerning the Horn. The role
of Russia is more problematic as its primary interest seems to be
selling weapons to Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Nevertheless, it should
be part of the consultative process if for no other reason than to try
to minimize the potential negative impact of its arms sales and because
it has expressed a growing interest in investing in countries like
There are several other countries with important interests in the Horn
whose role has not received much consideration by the United States.
India is a major player, especially in Ethiopia, which is its principal
African recipient of economic assistance. In recent years, Turkey has
made a major effort to increase its relations in the Horn, especially
with Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Although Brazil's main African focus
is West Africa and the Lusophone countries, it is expanding ties with
Sudan and Ethiopia. All of these countries should be consulted in any
regional strategy towards the Horn that would benefit from their
material and/or political support. In addition, the United Nations and
its specialized agencies, World Bank, International Monetary Fund,
African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, African
Development Bank, Arab Development Bank and Arab League (Sudan, Somalia
and Djibouti are members) have the ability to influence developments in
the Horn.
One potential spoiler deserves special mention. Iran is taking a
growing interest in Africa generally and the Horn in particular. Iran's
goal is not clear, but there are concerns that it is primarily
interested in propagating its fundamentalist beliefs in the region. If
this is the objective, it will be a tough sell for Shi'ite Iran as
virtually all the Muslims in the Horn are Sunni with strong Sufi
beliefs. Nevertheless, Iran has an especially long-standing and close
relationship with Sudan and has made significant progress recently in
improving ties with Eritrea and Djibouti. Eritrean President Isaias
Afewerki visited Tehran in December 2008, and Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad went to Djibouti in February 2009, when he signed five
cooperation agreements with his Djiboutian counterpart. Iranian contact
with Ethiopia has been occurring at a lower level. Iran has also
engaged recently in high level contact with the leaders of Kenya,
Uganda, Tanzania and the Comoro Islands.
Ethiopia has been a good ally of the United States on a number of issues
while it offers challenges for U.S. policy concerning its human rights
practices and pace of democratization. As a result, U.S. policy towards
Ethiopia since the current government took power in 1991 has always been
a delicate balancing act. This will continue to be the case.
Ethiopia has been a strong supporter of U.S. counterterrorism policy in
the region. Even if the tactics change under the Obama administration
for dealing with terrorism, the United States will continue to look to
Ethiopia for support. Ethiopia has also consistently been responsive to
U.S. concerns about stability and peacekeeping operations in the region
and beyond. It supported U.S. policy on the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement in Sudan and provided support to the peacekeeping operation in
Darfur. It has contributed to peacekeeping efforts beyond the Horn of
Africa. Although in my view, both the United States and Ethiopia
followed a misguided policy in Somalia, they did it together. It is
just not possible to ignore the helpful role of Ethiopia on regional
issues that are important to the United States. In addition, the Meles
Zenawi government has established a solid economic track record for
which it does not receive much credit.
U.S. policy must weigh these positive factors against the need for
significant improvement on human rights issues and the democratization
process. Since 1991 there have been periodic large-scale arrests of
political dissidents, frequently among the Oromo who are perceived
rightly or wrongly to have ties to the Oromo Liberation Front, which
calls for the overthrow of the government. Although many are eventually
released, new groups of political dissidents are routinely arrested.
The government has a long history of harassment of the private press and
a reluctance to permit civil society groups to engage in advocacy work.
The new act covering charities and non-governmental organizations places
severe restrictions on their ability to conduct advocacy work.
Democratization in Ethiopia experienced a major setback following the
2005 national elections. Although the election process began well, it
ended badly. The political opposition must take some responsibility for
the violence that followed the election, but ultimately the government
is responsible for preventing violence and maintaining credibility in
the electoral system. The 2008 local elections were an opportunity to
put the democratization process back on track. They did not. The
government party won all but a handful of the 3.6 million positions.
The next national elections occur in 2010 and the outlook for serious
competition is not good.
U.S. policy must continue to balance the need for Ethiopia's cooperation
on regional issues with its desire to influence positively the human
rights' situation and democratization process in the country. Putting
pressure on Ethiopia will become increasingly difficult for the United
States and other western countries as Ethiopia continues to strengthen
its relations with countries such as China and Russia.
U.S. relations with Eritrea during the past year reached their lowest
point since Eritrea became independent in 1993. They would have fallen
even further if some persons in the previous administration had had
their way and managed to place Eritrea on the list of state sponsors of
terrorism. Fortunately, this did not happen and the door remains ajar
for a possible dialogue with the Isaias government.
There is much standing in the way of better relations with Eritrea.
During the past year, the rhetoric on both sides has been harsh. There
have never been national elections in Eritrea and the democratization
process is virtually non-existent. Eritrea believes that the U.S. has
almost single-handedly made it possible for Ethiopia to avoid
implementation of the binding arbitration agreement that delineates the
Ethiopian-Eritrean border. Eritrea has been aiding and abetting
extremists in Somalia in an effort to put pressure on Ethiopia. Asmara
serves as the headquarters for the Oromo Liberation Front that
periodically launches attacks across the border into Ethiopia. Eritrea
sent troops to the border with Djibouti, which it continues to taunt for
reasons that are not clear. Eritrea is making a major effort to improve
relations with countries such as Iran, which according to an Eritrean
opposition group has deployed or intends to deploy Iranian troops in the
Eritrean port of Assab. There is no independent confirmation of this
Any U.S. attempt to improve relations with Eritrea faces huge
challenges. A new administration has the advantage, however, in that it
can look at old problems in new ways. It may not be possible to improve
relations with Eritrea, but the effort still needs to be made.
U.S. relations with Djibouti are good and generally problem free.
Djibouti hosts the only U.S. military base in Africa, Combined Joint
Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Its main purpose is to counter
terrorist activity throughout the region, including Yemen. Djibouti
extracts a rental fee for this base; these negotiations have not always
been easy. It would be useful to conduct an independent assessment of
CJTF-HOA to determine if its costs justify the benefits that it
provides. The countries of greatest concern are Somalia and Yemen.
CJTF-HOA reportedly has no involvement in Somalia and limited ability to
conduct activity in Yemen. As I understand it, U.S. military components
other than CJTF-HOA have conducted the actions in Somalia.
Although there is no indication that Djibouti desires to alter its close
relationship with the U.S., its recent high level contact with Iran
bears watching. Djibouti serves as the port for nearly all of
landlocked Ethiopia's exports and imports that depart/arrive by sea.
Ethiopia has an even greater interest in cordial relations with Djibouti
than does the United States. Because Djibouti hosts CJTF-HOA and
Ethiopia is dependent on the port, Djibouti becomes an important part of
a regional policy for the Horn of Africa. It is also in the interest of
the United States to quietly support Djibouti in its dispute with
Eritrea. Even better, the United States, if it is able to improve
relations with Eritrea, might be in a position to help this problem go
The United States essentially abandoned Somalia following the departure
of U.S. troops from the country in 1994 as part of the UN peacekeeping
operation. It continued to provide diminishing amounts of humanitarian
aid. Following 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, the
U.S. feared that the Taliban might move to Somalia and largely relegated
its engagement in Somalia to counterterrorism. This excessive focus on
terrorism led to poor U.S. policy decisions that helped to ensure a
takeover of most of Somalia by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The
United States then supported the secular Transitional Federal Government
(TFG) and its Ethiopian allies in forcibly removing the UIC from power
only to witness in late 2008 creation of a new government of national
unity that combined the TFG and elements of the UIC. U.S. policy
towards Somalia in the past year has been realistic; it now supports the
new unity government.
The situation in Somalia is especially fluid. It is up to the new
government to prove that it can rally most Somalis to its more moderate
agenda. The first priority is the difficult task of reestablishing
security. An enlarged African Union peacekeeping force is not the
answer, although it can continue to play a useful role by keeping the
port and airport in Mogadishu out of the control of radical groups. The
African Union does not have the capacity, funding, experience or
willingness to defend the new Somali government against its opponents.
A UN peacekeeping force would be somewhat more effective, but only if
there is a peace to keep that all Somali sides endorse. For the time
being, security will be messy as the new government uses its own militia
to deal with groups that oppose it, especially the extremist al-Shabab
and freelancing militias.
The United States and the international community should begin to help
Somalia train a professional, community-based police force that draws
its recruits from all regions of Somalia. The Arab countries, which
have a stake in a stable Somalia, should help finance this effort. If
it is possible to neutralize al-Shabab and independent militias, a
Somali police force, which has a long tradition of professionalism in
the country, should be able to ensure security until Somalia creates a
national army.
The United States should continue to support the new government in spite
of its imperfections, while remaining in the background. It should give
the Somali government an opportunity to build a functioning coalition,
neutralize support for al-Shabab and co-opt opposing political
organizations. Somalia's new prime minister has stated that he is
prepared to sit down with al-Shabab, although its leaders continue to
oppose the new government. As much as the United States disagrees with
al-Shabab, it is necessary to let Somalis work through their differences
in their own way. This is also the time for the United States to eschew
military activity in Somalia. The United States should continue to
provide humanitarian assistance, help to establish a police force and be
prepared to step in quickly with development aid as soon as the security
situation permits. In the meantime, the United States should increase
development assistance to Somaliland, which has generally avoided the
instability endemic in Somalia.
Sudan poses a serious challenge for U.S. policy. The United States has
four major goals in Sudan: ensure implementation of the Comprehensive
Peace Agreement (CPA) or at least avoid a return to civil war between
the north and south; end the crisis in Darfur; improve the overall human
rights situation; and continue to receive the cooperation of Sudan on
Achieving these goals requires a combination of pressure, frank talk and
acceptance of some unpleasant truths. The government in Khartoum is
highly flawed. While the United States has no interest in supporting
the government, it must deal with it as a fact of life. The United
States should continue to press both the Bashir government and the
leaders of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to implement the CPA.
In fact, this should be the highest priority. A resumption of the
north-south civil war would result in more death and destruction than
has occurred so far in Darfur. The United States should also continue
to press the Bashir government and the Darfur rebel groups to reach an
accommodation in Darfur. The Sudanese government is primarily
responsible for the situation in Darfur, but the rebel groups have
increasingly contributed to the carnage. In the immediate future, the
United States has minimal ability to influence the human rights
situation in Sudan.
If the United States is to be taken seriously by the Bashir government,
there are two U.S. positions that need to be reconsidered. In view of
the universally hostile attitude towards Khartoum in Washington, I
realize that I am stepping in front of a fast-moving eighteen wheeler by
challenging conventional wisdom. Nevertheless, these points need to be
made if the United States is to have meaningful discussions with Sudan.
First, U.S. policy is not well served when it says that genocide is
continuing today in Darfur. Alex de Waal, one of the world's leading
authorities on Darfur, recently made an analysis of the violent deaths
that occurred in 2008. The figures he worked with exclude any excess
mortality caused by hunger and disease, sexual violence and forced
displacement, although he does not believe these numbers are unusually
high. In 2008, UNAMID reports there were about 1550 violent deaths in
Darfur. Less than 500 were civilians, more than 400 were combatants and
about 640 died in inter-tribal fighting. The Sudan government armed all
of the militia involved in inter-tribal fighting and is ultimately
responsible for these deaths. This is a deplorable situation to be
sure, but it is not genocide. Using the term genocide today to describe
the situation in Darfur adds an emotional quality that distorts the
discussion. It is time to acknowledge that the situation has changed in
Second, the United States appropriately put Sudan on the list of state
sponsors of terrorism in 1993. Again, the situation has changed. Sudan
began even before 9/11 to open the door for cooperation with the United
States on counterterrorism. It significantly expanded that initiative
after 9/11. The State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism for
2006 stated that "The Sudanese government was a strong partner in the
War on Terror and aggressively pursued operations directly involving
threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan. . . . With the
exception of HAMAS, the Sudanese government did not openly support the
presence of extremist elements in Sudan." The State Department's
Country Reports on Terrorism for 2007, the most recent one, reaffirmed
Sudan's cooperation and added, "While the U.S.-Sudanese counterterrorism
relationship remained solid, hard-line Sudanese officials continued to
express resentment and distrust over actions by the USG and questioned
the benefits of continued cooperation. Their assessment reflected
disappointment that Sudan's counterterrorism cooperation has not
warranted rescission of its designation as a state sponsor of
terrorism." The report went on to note that Sudanese authorities
uncovered and largely dismantled a large-scale terrorist organization
targeting western interests in Khartoum.
 If there is any hope of achieving a more productive discussion with
Sudan about those issues of concern to the United States, a good place
to start would be discontinuing references to genocide in Darfur in the
present tense and taking steps to remove Sudan from the list of state
sponsors of terrorism. Most, if not all, U.S. sanctions against Sudan
would remain in place even after it is removed from the list. It is not
possible to know if taking these steps would result in more responsible
actions by Khartoum in Darfur and in implementing the CPA, but these
steps would send a signal to Sudan that the U.S. is prepared to
acknowledge a new reality.
Operational Issues
I would like to associate myself with testimony by former ambassador
Prudence Bushnell before this Subcommittee on 25 February 2009
concerning ways the Foreign Service needs to do its job securely and
effectively. Ambassador Bushnell's comments apply to the Horn of Africa
as well as the rest of the continent. I want to underscore several
points. Ambassador Bushnell commented that security concerns have
trumped policy objectives. I fully agree. While the bombings in 1998
of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam necessitated changes in
the structure of U.S. embassies in the region and beyond, the fortress
embassy concept has been carried to an unnecessary extreme. The embassy
in Khartoum, where I served for three years in the mid-1980s, is totally
unsatisfactory from a security standpoint and must be moved. The State
Department is building a new structure. It will be a fortress in an
isolated part of the city, effectively cutting it off from the Sudanese
public. The embassy in Addis Ababa, the same structure where I served
from 1996-1999, has put security procedures in place since the late
1990s that effectively cut it off from the Ethiopian public other than
visa applicants. The U.S. has no mission in Somalia and the security
situation there now does not permit the assignment of American
personnel. I am less familiar with the current situation in Djibouti
and Asmara.
In 2007, I visited a number of missions in Africa and was appalled at
the lack of contact between host country nationals and American embassy
personnel. Much of the problem was due to the physical isolation of the
embassy or consulate in cities like Pretoria, Abuja and Cape Town where
terrorism is not even a significant threat. The only antidote to
fortress embassies is embassy leadership that forces American staff
regularly to get out of the fortress and move around the city and the
country. My recent experience suggests that all too often this is not
happening. Part of the problem is the enormous amount of time spent in
some capitals escorting visitors to the same locations and too few
personnel completing reports required by Washington. But some of the
problem is unwillingness to move around the country for security
reasons. The Foreign Service is a career that by definition requires a
reasonable amount of risk taking. I believe most Foreign Service
personnel accept this. I fear that U.S. embassies in much of Africa and
perhaps the world generally are becoming too risk averse. The security
tail is wagging the diplomatic dog.
One way to get around the fortress embassy concept is to establish more
American Presence Posts staffed by one Foreign Service Officer and a
couple of local employees. Advances in communications make this
solution imminently feasible. There are several cities in Ethiopia and
Sudan where the U.S. could formulate more enlightened policy if it had a
better understanding of the situation on the ground. I understand,
however, that security personnel are reluctant to expand significantly
these one person posts because of the possible risk encountered by the
American officer.
A corollary to the American Presence Post is the need to increase
language training. Persons assigned to one person posts in the northern
part of Sudan must have some Arabic. Any American assigned outside
Addis Ababa should have Amharic, Afan Oromo, Somali, Tigrinya, etc.,
depending on the location of the assignment. When it becomes safe to
reopen an embassy in Mogadishu, there must be at least one American on
the staff who speaks Somali. With the huge number of Somalis who now
have U.S. citizenship, this should not be an overwhelming obstacle.
Teaching these languages is expensive and can only be accomplished if
Congress authorizes funding to increase the number of Foreign Service
personnel to take account of down time for long-term language training.
Thank you for your time and consideration.


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