Members of the Ethiopian community in Winnipeg recently called on Canada to sanction the North East African country. The protesters are angry about the regime's violent crackdown in the Oromiya and Amhara regions of northern Ethiopia. Hundreds of peaceful protesters have been killed and many more jailed since unrest began over a land dispute 10 months ago.
As protesters called for sanctions in Winnipeg, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development Katrina Gould was in Addis Ababa. During a meeting with the foreign minister she was quoted saying, "Ethiopia has managed to be a sea of stability in a hostile region."
Gould's trip follows on the heels of Harjit Sajjan's visit last month. According to an Ethiopian News Agency summary, the defence minister told Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn "Canada values Ethiopia's contribution in trying to bring stability to Somalia and the South Sudan."
In 2006, 50,000 Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia, which saw about 6,000 civilians killed and 300,000 flee the country. Washington prodded Addis Ababa into intervening, and the U.S. literally fuelled the invasion by providing gasoline, arms and strategic guidance, as well as by launching air attacks.
U.S. President Barack Obama inspects the Ethiopian Honour Guard ahead of a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn in Addis Ababa on July 27, 2015. (Photo: AFP PHOTO/ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER)
The invasion/occupation led to the growth of al Shabab. Since the Ethiopia/U.S. invasion, the group has waged a violent campaign against the foreign forces in the country and Somalia's transitional government. During this period, al Shabab has grown from being the relatively small youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union to the leading oppositional force in the country. It has also radicalized and has turned from being a national organization towards increasing ties to al-Qaida.
The Stephen Harper Conservative government's public comments on Somalia broadly supported Ethiopian/U.S. actions. They made no criticism of U.S. bombings, and when prominent Somali-Canadian journalist Ali Iman Sharmarke was assassinated in Mogadishu in August 2007, then-foreign minister Peter Mackay only condemned "the violence" in the country. He never mentioned that the assassins were pro-government militia members with ties to Ethiopian troops. The Conservatives backed a February 2007 UN Security Council resolution that called for an international force in Somalia. They also endorsed the Ethiopia-installed Somali government, which had operated in exile.
In what was perhaps the strongest signal of Canadian support for the outside intervention, Ottawa didn't make its aid to Ethiopia contingent on withdrawing from Somalia. Instead they increased assistance to this strategic U.S. ally that borders Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia. In 2009 Ethiopia was selected as a "country of focus" for Canadian aid and this status was reaffirmed in 2014. As one of the top donors, Canada has been spending over $100 million a year in the country.
Providing aid to Ethiopia has been controversial not only because of the invasion and occupation of its neighbour. An October 2010 Globe and Mail headline noted: "Ethiopia using Canadian aid as a political weapon, rights group says."
Canada's current policy seems to be enabling Ethiopia's repressive and interventionist policies.
Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne claimed Ottawa contravened its Official Development Assistance Accountability Act by continuing to pump aid into Ethiopia despite its failure to meet international human-rights standards. In addition to arbitrary detentions, widespread torture and attacks on political opponents, the Ethiopian government systematically forced rural inhabitants off their land. This "villagization" program cut many off from food and health services.
Canadian aid to Ethiopia faced another challenge. In February 2012 the family of a Somali-Canadian businessman sued Harper's Conservatives to prevent them from sending aid to Ethiopia until Bashir Makhtal was released from prison. In January 2007, Makhtal was "rendered" illegally from Kenya to Ethiopia, imprisoned without access to a lawyer or consular official for 18 months and then given a life sentence. The lawsuit was a last ditch effort by the Makhtal family to force Ottawa's hand.
Ottawa should take the recent protests by Ethiopian Canadian activists seriously. It can start by reversing it's near-total silence about the recent repression, which included dozens of demonstrators shot dead three days before Sajjan's visit. While severing aid to pressure a government is often fraught with complications, Canada's current policy seems to be enabling Ethiopia's repressive and interventionist policies.
"Canada's aid to Ethiopia has been a failed experiment in turning brutal dictators into democrats," Ethiopian-Canadian human-rights activist Yohannes Berhe told the Globe and Mail. Ottawa's policy is "tantamount to encouraging one of the most repressive regimes in Africa."
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Refugees are brought to the transit center here in Dollo Ado to be registered by ARRA and UNHCR before being transported to one of five refugee camps in the area. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
The Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs told Jesuit Refugee Service recently that the flow of refugees from Somalia into the Dollo Ado area has increased from about 300 a week to 1,000 a week. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
A woman at the transit center demonstrates the correct method of turning on the water faucet to a new arrival. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
The influx is blamed on a militant group. Refugees told JRS the militants force rural Somalis to make a harsh choice: give up a son to join the fighters, or pay the militants off with camels or cash. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
The Somali subsistence farmers cannot afford to lose what livestock they may have, nor can they afford to pay the cash in order to make the militants go away. So they pack what they can and begin the long journey across the desert to find refuge in Ethiopia. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Refugees typically stay at the transit center for no more than 15 days, with the newest arrivals in the oldest accommodations — ragged remainders of what were once crude tarpaulin shelters. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Refugees who have been at the center for several days live in functional tents, which offer some shelter against the blowing sand and direct sunlight, but which provide little relief from the heat. As these refugees move to the camps, the newer arrivals take their places and so refugees are constantly cycled through the shelters. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Several refugees JRS spoke to at the transit center in Dollo Ado last month told us they had walked six days to cross the desert frontier before finding Ethiopian authorities. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Jesuit Refugee Service operates several projects in the largest of the camps, Melkadida, which is about 42 miles from Dollo Ado. More than 40,000 refugees live in tents at the camp. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)