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Archive for August 2011

EU funding Terrorism in Ethiopia

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The EU Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) in Ethiopia assessed in 2010 that ‘the electoral process fell short of international commitments for elections, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties’.

This article was written for the Bureau by MEP Ana Gomes, a Portuguese politician who is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

An unsurprising conclusion: results of 99.6% in favour of the ruling party reflected the lack of credibility of the elections. Tellingly also, the Ethiopian government refused to allow the EUEOM report to be launched in Addis Ababa, as it had already refused in 2005.

Elections 2010

For anyone familiar with Ethiopia, it was highly disturbing that the EU decided to observe the 2010 ballot. Previous elections in 2005 had been stolen and followed up with brutal repression, as the EUEOM denounced at the time.

I led the more than 200-strong team of observers of the EUEOM in May 2005. The electoral campaign had been relatively open and citizens flocked to the polling stations massively, as never seen before.

Ana Gomes – Flickr/European Parliament

But once confronted with a landslide victory for the opposition in the capital, the ruling party, Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), prevented EU observers from continuing to watch the vote counting in rural areas and the aggregation and tabulation at the national level.

Overnight, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi imposed a curfew, forced independent media to shut down and declared victory in the next days, bypassing the National Electoral Commission.

In Addis Ababa alone more than 200 peaceful protesters were massacred on June 8 and on November 2.

Crackdown on critics

Thousands were wounded and thousands more were arrested throughout the country.

Politician Birtukan Mideksa

Hardest hit were the most oppressed regions, such as Oromia, Gambela and Ogaden.

All main opposition leaders remained jailed until mid-2007.

Waves of people have been fleeing the violence since then, depriving Ethiopia of real opposition.

In 2008 Meles Zenawi re-arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment a brave young woman who persisted in leading a main opposition party, Birtukan Mideksa, preventing her from running for the 2010 elections.

All critical voices were silenced: the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) considered more restrictive than similar legislation in Zimbabwe or Russia, drove all independent NGOs to cease human-rights activities or close down.

Ethiopian and foreign journalists were jailed, intimidated or expelled, as was in 2006 Anthony Mitchell, an outstanding British reporter for AP, now deceased.

Meles Zenawi boasts that his regime jams radio’s ‘Voice of America’ and ‘Deutsche Welle’.

Conspicuous silence

Despite the blood being fresh on his hands from the June 8 massacre, Zenawi was invited by Tony Blair to join the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in 2005. He was never shunned to speak internationally about good governance, sustainable development, the fights against poverty and against climate change.

Meles practices none at home, where the people are now confronted with the devastating impact of the land grabbing promoted by his regime.

Western leaders, yet, delight in politically correct jargon and disregard reality and deeds. So does the African Union, well placed to know, with headquarters in Addis Ababa. Or the UN and the World Bank, keeping conspicuously silent.

Despite violating human rights clauses in the Cotonou Agreement biding it with the EU, Ethiopia continues to be one of the largest beneficiaries of European support and the second largest recipient of global aid, after Indonesia if you exclude war-affected Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the interests of ‘stability’

Human Rights Watch published in October 2010 the report ‘How Europe contributes to Ethiopia’s repression’, describing how the Ethiopian government ensures that aid is handed out in exchange for support for the ruling political party, without EU monitoring.

Despite European Parliament concerns, the EU Commission and Council did not even bother to investigate these extremely serious claims.

Western leaders resist speaking up against Zenawi’s repressive regime by invoking stability interests. Besides attempting to depict Ethiopia as a success story of development assistance, EU and the US like to portray their ‘aid darling’ as a partner in the fight against terrorism and a crucial actor for stability in the Horn of Africa.

Turning a blind eye

But Zenawi’s rule is, in fact, a source of regional instability, as Somalia is showing. As many predicted, the Al Shabab militia have only grown stronger and survival has been made more difficult, as current famine attests, since Ethiopian troops invaded in 2006, at the behest of George W. Bush.

Western leaders also refuse to put pressure on Zenawi to abide by the international arbitration on the border demarcation with Eritrea. This provides his cousin, Isaias Afewerki, with an excuse to repress even more brutally the Eritrean people and to keep meddling in conflicts anywhere in the region, from Somalia to Sudan.

By turning a blind eye to gross human-rights violations, fraudulent elections, impoverishment and dispossession in Ethiopia and on the impact of Ethiopian policies on neighbours, the EU is not only misusing European taxpayers’ money, but supporting an illegitimate status quo, letting down all those who fight for justice and democracy and increasing the potential for conflict in Ethiopia and in Africa.

Rebel Government Opens Libyan Embassy In Washington

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Washington — The Libyan Embassy in Washington officially re-opened Thursday under the control of the Transitional National Council, a senior State Department official and the new Libyan ambassador told CNN.

Ali Aujali, the former Libyan ambassador to the United States, was formally accredited Thursday as the head of the Libyan mission.

“This is a message that Gadhafi can no more rule Libya,” Aujali said in a phone interview. “The recognition of this embassy under the leadership of the TNC is a clear message to the regime the U.S. recognizes the council and they recognize the new Libya.”

Calling the re-opening of the embassy “a great day for Libyan-American relations,” Aujali said “the Libyan people appreciate this very much.”

The move also allows Aujali to regain control of the embassy’s frozen bank account, worth about $13 million. Aujuli said he talked with State Department officials Thursday about the Obama administration’s efforts to help the TNC gain access to some $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets.

In March, the State Department ordered the embassy closed and expelled diplomats loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Aujali had resigned his post as the regime’s ambassador to the United States in February and has since represented the opposition in Washington.

The United States on July 15 recognized the rebel movement based in Benghazi as Libya’s rightful government.

The re-opening of the embassy comes amid internal strife in the rebel movement. Libyan Transitional National Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil has dismissed the rebels’ 14-member executive board following the death of the rebel government’s military commander, Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis, on July 28. But concerns have been raised that the mysterious assassination of Younis might have been carried out by feuding rebel groups.

NATO has been bombing Libya for more than four months under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians from troops loyal to Gadhafi. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli was shuttered and American personnel evacuated by sea and air in late February after the revolt erupted.

Libyan and U.S. officials held face-to-face talks in Tunisia last month, but Washington says the sole point of the meeting was to repeat its demand that Gadhafi “must go.”

Independent Incredible India Celebrates Corruption

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By Nick Langton

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ascends the ramparts of Old Delhi’s Red Fort on Monday to address the nation on the 64th anniversary of its independence, it will be as a political leader whose government, party, and personal reputation are seriously bruised. This will be Singh’s seventh Independence Day address since becoming prime minister in 2004.

Although Prime Minister Singh continues to be regarded as a man of personal integrity, the scandals on his watch have raised serious questions about his leadership. Photo: Flickr user World Economic Forum.

The speech is an opportunity to review his government’s achievements during the past year, highlight national challenges, and outline a vision for the future. At no point in Singh’s tenure, the longest of any Indian prime minister except Jawaharlal Nehru, has he or his party seemed so embattled.

The immediate problem is a string of high-level corruption scandals that has wracked the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. A year ago, Singh devoted one line of his Independence Day address to the issue of corruption, stating that government programs should be managed “more effectively, minimizing the chances of corruption and misuse of public money.” His reference to systemic corruption gave no hint of the grand corruption that would surface in subsequent months. First came charges of favoritism and kickbacks during preparations for the October 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, which led to the arrest of organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, a Congress Party stalwart. Next was the Adarsh Housing Society scam where the government was accused of irregularities in allocating expensive apartments in downtown Mumbai. The most debilitating blow was the 2G spectrum scam in which the now jailed telecommunications minister, A. Raja, was charged with under pricing licenses at an estimated cost to the government of a staggering $40 billion in lost revenues.

Corruption scandals are hardly new in India, but the scale of the alleged transgressions is unprecedented and public reaction strong. In April, veteran Gandhian activist Anna Hazare went on a hunger strike demanding that the government establish a lokpal, or ombudsman, office with broad powers to investigate corruption. Although Hazare’s India Against Corruption (IAC) movement has been criticized for its tactics, middle-class following, and alleged partisan bias, it raises widespread public concerns that cannot be ignored. The corruption debate has paralyzed parliament for months, with the political fallout spreading both within and outside of the UPA. In late July, in a move to protect its own credibility, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) removed its powerful chief minister in Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa, on charges he misused his influence to allot valuable mining land to his sons.

Although Prime Minister Singh continues to be regarded as a man of personal integrity, the scandals on his watch have raised serious questions about his leadership. A technocrat not known for his skills as a political street fighter, he is often at the mercy of competing interests, including those within his own Congress Party led by Sonia Gandhi. Since the UPA government holds only 262 seats in the 552-seat Lok Sabha, it must piece together support from an on-again-off-again collection of allies to retain a majority. The government’s actions in response to the corruption scandal have reinforced the perception of weakness. A cabinet reshuffle in July was viewed as little more than window dressing. That the draft Lokpal Bill placed before parliament last week exempts the judiciary and elected officials from oversight, including the prime minister’s office, has compounded the problem. Whether or not the legal and constitutional arguments for the bill’s construction are valid, it is a public relations debacle. Anna Hazare has threatened to publicly burn copies of the draft and begin a new fast on August 16 if the government does not withdraw the current bill.

The corruption scandals and parliamentary gridlock have also raised economic concerns. Capital expenditure dropped during the first quarter of 2011, a possible sign of reduced investor confidence. In his Independence Day speech last year, Prime Minister Singh cited India’s relative success in avoiding the global economic slowdown. He noted high inflation as a challenge, especially for the poor, but said he was confident that the government would tackle it. Economic growth has dropped slightly during the year, with the prime minister’s Economic Advisory Council recently reducing its 2011-12 projection from 9 percent to 8.2 percent. While the government has been successful in bringing food inflation from a 22 percent high in February 2010 to 8.3 percent today, overall inflation hovers around 10 percent. This is above the government’s target of 5 percent, which is considered a safe threshold level if the economy is to avoid overheating.

In response to financial jitters following Standard and Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. government’s credit rating last week, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee asserted that India would not be affected because its “fundamentals are strong.” But how strong are they? Despite a robust growth rate, industrial production slowed during the past year, and the government has not made progress on reforms in the energy, land, and education sectors that are needed for India to maximize its advantages, such as the “demographic dividend” from a growing workforce. As finance minister in 1991, Manmohan Singh played a historic role in unleashing the economic transformation that India has undergone during the past two decades. As leader of a weak coalition today, he seems unable to push through the second generation of economic and governance reforms that would help to secure his own legacy as a transformational leader.

While Prime Minister Singh’s speech on Monday is unlikely to outline bold new initiatives, it provides an important opportunity for him to candidly address the nation’s challenges and outline his personal vision. To some extent, India’s economic growth and continuing rise as a global power are inexorable given the current momentum, but riding the wave is not enough. Long-term growth that is stable and inclusive requires effective leadership and good governance. Corruption scandals during the past year and parliamentary dysfunction have hindered the ability of Prime Minister Singh and the UPA government to drive needed reforms, especially as coalition members begin to eye elections in 2014.

India’s Nationalists vs Separatists

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In a rather peculiar demand, the opposition BJP on Wednesday sought the resignation of Home Minister P Chidambaram for Tuesday’s police action on its youth wing workers in Delhi. The party stalled Parliament on the issue, and sensing an opportunity to play the nationalist card, asserted that the UPA government had allowed separatist elements to congregate in the Capital while it “brutally” cracked down on those who raised the issue of corruption.

Though the main opposition party stalled both Houses – which drew criticism from the CPM with its leader Brinda Karat terming the stalling of Rajya Sabha as a “joint operation” of the BJP and the government – sources said the demand for the resignation or sacking of Chidambaram was mere posturing and the party would allow Parliament to function on Thursday.

Chidambaram wanted to give a statement in the House and he conveyed this to Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and his deputy S S Ahluwalia when Chairman Hamid Ansari met them in his chamber in the morning. But the BJP was not willing to listen to a statement “prepared by the Delhi Police”, and insisted Chidambaram offer his resignation.

Three killed in India land protest

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Three people have been killed after the police fired on a group of protesting farmers on a highway in western India.

Land acquisition is a highly sensitive issue in India

More than 20 policemen were injured in the clash which took place on the highway connecting the cities of Mumbai (Bombay) and Pune on Tuesday.

The farmers were protesting against the proposed diversion of water from a local dam to factories in the area.

The police said it fired after protesters turned violent and refused to lift the blockade.

Reports said that thousands of farmers had gathered on the busy highway to protest the planned “diversion of water” from the nearby Pavana dam to the industrial township of Pimpri-Chinchwad.

The farmers say there would be a scarcity of water for farming and drinking once the proposed pipeline cutting through farmlands is built to supply water to the factories.

They also fear that their land would be acquired by the government to build the pipeline.

The police said the protest became violent after a meeting of the protesters on the highway.

“After the meeting got over, they started hurling stones at policemen and damaging police van. We had decided not to use force but when the farmers got violent we had no option but to open fire,” police officer Sandeep Karnik was quoted as saying by The Hindu newspaper.

The Pune demonstrations are in a series of protests in the country over attempts to acquire land for industry or infrastructure development.

In May two policemen and a farmer were killed in northern Uttar Pradesh state after protests against land acquisition by the government turned violent.

In August 2008 at least four farmers were been killed and 50 others – including policemen – injured in clashes in a suburb of the capital Delhi.

The farmers were demanding compensation for land brought by the government.

Correspondents say acquisition of land for the expansion of cities and industrialisation in India has become a very sensitive issue as about 65% of the population is dependent on farming.

According to law, government can requisition any private land for a “public purpose”.

For India’s prime minister, corruption refuses to stay ‘at arm’s length’

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NEW DELHI – Like an honest man surrounded by thieves, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is finding that his own reputation for personal integrity is proving hard to maintain.

India’s Parliament has been in uproar this week as the opposition demands that Singh answer accusations that he deliberately turned a blind eye to rampant corruption within his cabinet and party.

The damage to his reputation is significant and is only going to get worse, political analysts say.

“It doesn’t suggest he had his hand in the till,” said columnist and broadcaster Karan Thapar. “But it is either negligence, a lack of vigilance, or he was aware and deliberately turned his eye in the other direction – which is perilously close to complicity.”

The main charge is that Singh was in the know when then-Telecommunications Minister A. Raja gave away valuable telecom licenses for dirt-cheap prices in 2008, cheating the exchequer of up to $40 billion.

Singh even wrote to Raja at one point asking him to adopt a fairer system of allocating the licenses. After his advice was brushed aside by the now-jailed minister, Singh asked to be kept “at arm’s length” from the process.

The prime minister’s office says Singh was merely keeping his distance because he did not want to be seen as favoring any particular company, while Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari says Singh was guilty of nothing more than trusting a colleague.

Others say the prime minister just needs to explain himself better. Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s former media adviser, blames “incompetence” in the communications team at the prime minister’s office since Baru left.

But there is no denying that Singh’s image has been dented.

The prime minister is also accused of ignoring warnings from his ministers about rampant corruption in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, for which games organizer and former Congress stalwart Suresh Kalmadi has been jailed.

Abroad, Singh’s reputation soars above most of the world’s political leaders, for his humility, integrity and intellect. President Obama calls him a good friend and says “the whole world listens” when Singh talks. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and an Egyptian presidential challenger, once described him as “the model of what a political leader should be.”

But at home, cartoonists show Singh drowning in a sea of corruption. Forbes magazine may have ranked Singh the 18th-most-powerful person in the world, but political analysts in India wonder whether he controls even his own cabinet.

“He has let himself down, and he has let the people of India down,” said historian Ramachandra Guha. “He appears weak and indecisive . . . and he is seen as lacking authority to implement his own decisions.”

Critics say Singh, who holds an unelected position in the upper house of Parliament, lacks political credibility within his party by virtue of never having won a constituency seat in India. But the soft-spoken, almost timid economist-turned-politician also lacks the deftness to survive in the rough and tumble of Indian politics, commentators say, and the ability to forge alliances within his rowdy coalition and with the opposition.

He was also dealt a poor hand right from the start, when he was nominated as prime minister in 2004 because Congress leader Sonia Gandhi did not want the role – a convenient frontman for a party that remains deeply divided and corrupt.

Then, after elections in 2009, Singh appeared to have had little role in the formation of his cabinet, as coalition allies demanded – and received – particular ministries in return for their support.

“They chose portfolios where everybody knew you could make money, where discretion was involved and massive investment was taking place,” said Bharat Bhushan, editor of the Mail Today newspaper. “The PM was never his own master.”

Singh will always have a place in history as the finance minister who ushered in sweeping reforms in 1991 that unleashed the Indian economy’s potential and set the stage for two decades of growth.

But that record has arguably also been tarnished in the past year as the government drags its feet over a second round of economic reforms the country still desperately needs, as the economy slows and inflation runs rampant.

For now, Singh, 78 years old and the survivor of two heart bypass operations, is likely to continue as India’s leader until elections in 2014, partly because he has no serious challengers from within the Congress party, analysts say. But as one leading magazine proclaimed in a recent cover story on Singh, the latest allegations may represent “The End of an Aura.”

Netanyahu: Israel ‘ready to negotiate borders’

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By Adrian Blomfield

The offer, which emerged tonight appeared to represent a major climb-down by Mr Netanyahu, who has consistently refused to discuss specific borders of a future state.

Benjamin Netanyahu and a masked Palestinian youth standing on top of a demolished building waves in the West Bank

A government official in Jerusalem told The Daily Telegraph the offer was dependent on the Palestinians dropping their campaign for statehood at the United Nations next month and accepting Israel as a Jewish state.

The offer appears to cross Palestinian red lines, and it seemed likely to be rejected – although the onus is now likely to be placed on the Palestinians to present a counter offer.

Mr Netanyahu reacted angrily when the 1967 proposal was made by Barack Obama in May but was now said to be offering to trade Israeli territory on its side of the line for West Bank land where its main settlements were located.

“We are willing in a framework of restarting the peace talks to accept a proposal that would contain elements that would be difficult for Israel and we would find very difficult to endorse,” said an official, answering a question about the Obama proposal.

The Palestinians said they had not received a proposal from Israel.

They have demanded that Israel stop construction in its West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem before peace talks resume. Mr Netanyahu was said to have wanted talks with no preconditions where issues such as settlements and borders would be discussed.

The ceasefire line dates from June 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.