Home to 193 countries, the United Nations is one of the most influential international organizations.
Less than a year ago Ethiopia sent none other than its veteran diplomat, former state minister of Foreign Affairs Tekeda Alemu [PhD] as its Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Dr Tekeda recently led a successful effort by Ethiopia and its neighbors to have the Eritrean government face stiff sanctions for its continued actions to de-stabilize the region. Speaking before the Security Council approved a resolution [watered down from first draft due to Russian and Chinese objections], Dr Tekeda explains to Capital’s Kirubel Tadesse why The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) fought for sanctions against Eritrea in an exclusive interview in New York, USA.
Capital: As a host country and with our participation at the African Union our presence is widely felt across Africa. What about here? How do you asses Ethiopia’s standing here at the UN?
Ambassador Tekeda Alemu [PhD]: At the present time the image of the country has been enhanced tremendously. The way in which the country is viewed now, the esteem with which it is held has reached a very amazing level. I mean that without any exaggeration. I think we have come a long way over the last twenty years particularly over the last decade or so; we seem to have made major strides in that regard. There are a number of situations where Ethiopia leads by example…. sometimes it is difficult for those of us involved in the work of government to talk about that because it would seem self aggrandizing but truth be told that is a reality now.
Here in New York at the UN mission, if you are asking me whether the image is commensurate with the image the country has managed to create, I would say no. We would need to do much more in order to claim that level of achievement. The New York mission would need to be more proactive, starting from the ambassador to all levels; we need to do more.
Capital: Ethiopia was recently selected as a member of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). How significant is this and what efforts have been made to join other councils such as the UN Security Council?
Ambassador Tekeda: We have now become a member of the ECOSOC. This is one of the very important organs of the UN with a responsibility in economic and social areas. It is a body which oversees the activities of agencies and UN regional originsations such as the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) for example. To be in this council is a tremendous opportunity to contribute to the work of the organization in social, economic and related areas and at the same time to be able to ensure that our interest and interest of Africa is promoted in the Council and organizations overseen by the ECOSOC.
With respect to the Security Council, the last time we served in the Council was in 1989-1990; therefore it has been over 20 years. It would have been proper for us to seek membership at the Council for a non-permanent seat this time around. In fact we were contemplating doing precisely that. Next year there will be a turn for an East African nation; East and South Africa alternate. It will be the right of an East African country and there was an opportunity for us to present our candidature and as I said we were contemplating that. However, since 2014 will be the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide, Rwanda wanted to be a member at that time. Rwanda is a very friendly country therefore we decided against running.
Capital: The draft resolution proposing tougher sanctions against the Eritrean Government is currently under negotiation in the Security Council. Eritrea says the African Union doesn’t support the draft resolution, is that the case?
Ambassador Tekeda: The Gabonese draft resolution was submitted with support from Nigeria and South Africa as well; notwithstanding the various stories that we hear in the corridors, as far as we are concerned South Africa supports the draft resolution. The draft resolution was submitted by African members of the Security Council as they should because they have a responsibility to do that and because the African Union has taken a position on the matter.
Not only in July 2009 when the AU requested that the Security Council imposes sanctions on Eritrea, the Council subsequently made such a resolution in December 2010; after the passage of that resolution the AU Summit again [in January 2010] requested that the council expedite the implementation of the provisions of the resolution imposing sanctions. Therefore this talk about the AU not having been consulted is absolutely groundless. What Gabon and Nigeria, including South Africa are doing by tabling the resolution is really discharging their responsibilities as responsible members of the AU. It is rather mindboggling if they were to fail this.
This time around the resolution came following a report by the Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia; a monitoring group which is established by the Security Council; it was not established by Ethiopia or the United States or Russia or China. The monitoring group was established by the entire membership of the Security Council, so it is an independent body; this is what people need to pay close attention to and the people should not be mislead by what Eritrean propagandists have been saying that this is an Ethiopian driven draft resolution – it is not.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) heads of state again requested for the Security Council to strengthen the sanctions resolution because it became apparently clear that Eritrea was not desisting from its dangerous activities; in fact they began terrorist activities. Not only the January plot to bomb the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa which failed, but what the monitoring group says is that the people who were involved in that attempt both at the level of leadership and operational level are also active in the region; they are active in Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti. The monitoring group has warned countries of the region that similar events might take place in their capitals. So these countries are worried and it is because of that that IGAD has decided on July 4 to request the Security Council take additional measures.
Capital: Do you think the Security Council will adopt the draft resolution? Do you expect it in its entirety or do you anticipate there might be amendments as we have been hearing some countries are concerned it focused too much on economic measures that may hurt humanitarian conditions in Eritrea?
Ambassador Tekeda: One thing that I can tell you is that it is a foregone conclusion the resolution will be adopted. However, all the draft resolutions do not come out of the process the way they went in; there will be negotiations and give and take.
There were a number of questions raised in respect to the zero draft. The questions and concerns raised were in fact unjustified because the intent of the drafters of the resolution is not to inflict damage to the people of Eritrea. The underlying sentiment of the resolution, which is valid, is that this Eritrean government is not committed to ensuring the development of the country and to alleviating the social and economic concerns of the people of Eritrea. If it were such a government, of course it could have easily achieved a harmonious and understanding relationship with all countries in the region. However, this government is engaged in destabilizing the whole region; Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia. Therefore the argument that the resources which would be denied to the government of Eritrea, which is harming its people, will in turn harm the people of Eritrea is not really valid.
In any case the intent of the drafters is not to inflict damage to the people of Eritrea; it was rather to make it impossible for Eritrea to have access to resource which it is using to destabilize the region. The aim is to prevent Eritrea from forcing their Diaspora to contribute money- the so called two percent tax. The Mining sector is again one area where the government will have the opportunity to use resources for the purpose of destabilizing the region; that was the focus of the drafters. Therefore concerns expressed in that regard were not very convincing; nonetheless there have been instances where attempts have been made to take into account those concerns and there have been amendments made accordingly.
Capital: Lately the Eritrean government has been engaged in dialogue with some countries; the president came to address the UN General Assembly and promised cooperation with neighbors including by promoting the IGAD. Are you encouraged by the latest signs coming from Asmara?
Ambassador Tekeda: No. These latest essentially antique activities are designed to hoodwink the international community especially members of the Security Council.
The Eritrean president previously was not willing even to accept phone calls from the Secretary-General of the UN and few foreign affairs ministries of major countries. However, when it became clear that the results of their dangerous activities in the region were coming to haunt them through the report of the monitoring group; that is when they began to show these so called changes of behavior. As I said it was designed to mislead the international community, it has absolutely no base of genuine change of behavior.
Immediately upon hearing that the monitoring group is about to submit its report. The Eritrean president decided to go to Juba for the celebration of independence of South Sudan. That is where the Eritrean president for the first time met the UN Secretary-General even though the Secretary-General has been trying to see him for years. Mind you the previous chairperson of the AU commission was not able to see the Eritrean president despite the fact that he asked to talk to him repeatedly. The current chairperson of the AU as far as I know is yet to meet the Eritrean president. Of course now they would be willing to see him; they would be prepared to meet anybody because the intention now is essentially to scuttle the process underway the Security Council; this is the only objective they have.
If the Eritrean government is really committed to be a constructive and peaceful member of the region, there is absolutely no reason why countries of the region should not embrace Eritrea; we would have no reason. But the Eritrean government is not ready to do that; they want to appear humble, reasonable and committed to stabilize the region which is far from the truth. However I don’t think that too many people have been deceived by that.