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Archive for October, 2014

Tenth annual conference on peace and security in the Horn of Africa held in Nairobi, Kenya

By Merkeb Negash

A two day annual conference on peace and security in the Horn of Africa, with the theme “Consolidating Regional Cooperation While Protecting National Security Interests- Diametric Opposition or Precondition for Peace and Stability?” was held on 21 and 22 October 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Organized by Friedrick Ebert Stiftung, the annual conference brought together policy makers and experts from the region with the purpose of enhancing dialogue and debate on current security issues, and developing joint regional policy recommendations to support the resolution of ongoing crises in the region.
The 2014 conference, which feeds its reflections and discussions from the FES regional project titled “Mapping National Security Interests In The Horn Of Africa” intended to address “The Dilemma Between Foreign Policy Dominated By Unilateral National Security Interests Versus The Need For And Different Approaches To Regional Security Cooperation”. In so doing, it identified competing and coinciding national security interests, and explored different avenues for security cooperation with in the Greater Horn of Africa region.
The conference had five sessions with respective particular sub-themes. While the first session dealt with the overall national security interests of governments in the Horn of Africa, the second and the third sessions discussed the national security interests of the governments and neighbors of Somalia and South Sudan, respectively. The fourth session addressed the national security interests of the regional states versus regional organizations and mechanisms with a due emphasis on IGAD. The fifth session concluded the conference by discussing the roles of regional and international institutions in South Sudan and Somalia.
In this conference, Ethiopia was represented by three delegation teams from the Prime Minister Office, The Policy Research and Analysis Department (PORAD) of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and The Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD).
A delegation from The Policy Research and Analysis Department (PORAD) of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs led by Professor Mekonnen Hadis (Chief Advisor to the Ministry) included Ambassador Abdulazez (Deputy Chief Advisor to the Ministry) and Ato Merkeb Negash (Senior Researcher at PORAD), presented the security interest of Ethiopia in Somalia and the wider region. After briefly elucidating on the pillars of Ethiopia’s national security policy and strategy (i.e human security and regional integration), Professor Mekonnen stressed on the need for tackling the root causes of terrorism in Somalia. He noted that there are structural foundations conducive for terrorism in Somalia and the wider region, and urged for a regional effort to address terrorist threats in Somalia as al-Shabbab is not just a threat to a single state but a threat to all the peoples of the wider region. He also stressed that the nature of this regional effort needs to focus on addressing the fundamental causes of terrorism (such as unemployment, economic destitution and political stagnation) than an exclusive focus on military strategy. Prof. Mekonnen concluded by noting that Ethiopia’s commitment to peace and security in Somalia is not just rhetorical but a foreign policy imperative based on firm national interest.
H.E. Ato Getachew Reda (Spoken Person of the Prime Minister) and H.E. Ato Tsegay Berhe (Security Advisor to the Prime Minister) presented Ethiopia’s security interests in South Sudan and its role in helping to resolve the ongoing crisis. Discussing the security implication of the ongoing crisis in South Sudan, Ato Getachew Reda pointed out, among others, the negative repercussions that the civil war does have on our regional integration efforts, its vulnerability of being a stepping stone to all anti-Ethiopian elements, and the conflict’s spillover effect to our people on the Ethio- South Sudan border. He also raised the danger of regionalization of the conflict which might open an additional space for “traditional spoilers like Eritrea”. Ato Getachew also informed the audience about the role Ethiopia is playing, in collaboration with regional and international institutions, in resolving the current crisis in south Sudan.
Ato Sibhat Nega represented The Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD) on the annual conference.
By and large, the Ethiopian team presented, discussed and elaborated on Ethiopia’s national security interests and its strategies towards neighbors and the entire region, and made sure that Ethiopia’s foreign policy directions and strategies were clearly communicated to the participants of the conference.

Merkeb Negash

PORAD analyst

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Michael Laub and Antonio Skarmeta
Two Superb Latin American Novelists
Michel Laub’s haunting novel, Diary of the Fall, develops from layers and layers of deceit and what the unnamed narrator will eventually call the “nonviability of human experience,” which is his belief that nothing can ever be done to change one’s fate—or, to extend this, the fate of mankind in general. That’s the realization he makes when he is forty, after he’s recorded much of his earlier life beginning at age thirteen. Getting to that stage has not been easy, and that applies also to his father and his grandfather. Moreover, an added burden is that they are Jewish.
There’s a horrific incident when he’s still thirteen, attending an elite Jewish school where all the other students are Jewish, except for one Catholic boy named João. João’s father scrimps and works two jobs to pay the school fees and provide his son will a quality education. When João is thirteen, his father decides to give him a birthday party in an attempt to replicate the bar mitzvah that all the Jewish boys celebrate. It’s a modest enough event, limited because of his father’s resources, and at the end a number of boys decide to throw the birthday boy into the air, catching him thirteen times. That’s been done to all of them at their own thirteenth birthday parties.
But the boys plot in advance that on the thirteenth toss into the air, João will not be caught but crash to the floor. It’s a cruel plan with terrible results: the boy is seriously injured and needs to spend months in hospital. João had always been ostracized at the Jewish school, bullied, except by the narrator. Yet he, too, participates in the awful plot. Afterwards, the other boys deny that the incident was premeditated, but the narrator—in his guilt—confesses. And the result of the incident is that both João (after he is released from the hospital) and the narrator transfer to another school.
The narrator’s family is filthy rich, quite a contrast to João’s situation. The narrator has a violent argument with his father when he tells him that he wants to transfer to a new school, and on that occasion the thirteen-year-old learns that his grandfather was a survivor of the Holocaust, specifically, Auschwitz. In context, this is where the deceit begins, because the boy’s father did not learn about his own father’s time at Auschwitz until his father died. And the boy’s own father has kept those details from his son for the longest time. Thus, although Diary of the Fall is about surviving the Holocaust, it is also about the deceit that is necessary to cover up unsettling events in one’s life. For the narrator, that means his participating in the prank that almost resulted in João’s permanent crippling.
Here’s one example: “My grandfather lost a brother in Auschwitz, and another brother in Auschwitz, and a third brother in Auschwitz, and his father and his mother in Auschwitz, and his girlfriend of the time in Auschwitz. And who knows how many friends in Auschwitz, how many neighbors, how many work colleagues, how many people he would have been quite close to had he not been the only one to survive and set off on a boat for Brazil and spend the rest of his life without ever mentioning any of their names.”
At forty, the narrator has not been able to get beyond the incident involving João’s injury. He’s gone through multiple careers and marriages and become an alcoholic, using João’s “fall” as an excuse for all of the failures of his life. The implication is that João’s tormentors were just as despicable as the Germans who slaughtered Jews at Auschwitz, tormenting the innocent, narrowly avoiding crippling him. Yet these boys—and the narrator—are Jews. What will it take, Laub has his narrator ask, to break the pattern? Is it even possible? Layered within this deeply satisfying novel are the answers to those two questions. And although I would never say that Diary of the Fall has a happy ending, it does have a hopeful one. And with Margaret Jull Costa’s superb translation Michael Laub’s expansive story will haunt you long after you encounter the resolution.
To shift to Antonio Skármeta’s A Distant Father is to continue the pattern of conflicted relationships between fathers and their sons. Skármeta (who is Chilean) is perhaps best known in the United States for The Postman, the movie that was made from his novel, Il Postino. But this, too, in a memorable work, almost delicate in its sparseness—a novella that you will read in little more than an hour. Skármeta, it should be noted, is also blessed with a talented translator, John Cullen.
Twenty-one-year-old Jacques, who is a schoolteacher in a remote village, is suddenly jolted by his father’s abandonment of him and his mother. His father is French, his mother Chilean, and on the day Jacques returns to the village to begin his teaching, his father departs without a word of explanation for his leaving. Jacques has a hunch that his father has returned to France, but months later, when he goes to a neighboring city—intending to lose his virginity in a brothel—he encounters his father, who is pushing a stroller with a baby. Nothing more needs to be said about the engaging story, other than to say that A Distant Father also ponders issues of deceit and faithfulness. Moreover, Jacques realizes that he is the only one who can change the situation involving his father, his distraught mother and himself. Cleverly, Jacques manipulated their lives (and those of several others in the village), correcting their mistakes.
A Distant Father is never so grim as Diary of the Fall but an equally compelling story of how it is sometimes possible to restore dignity to people who have made terrible mistakes in their lives. I read both novels in one day and found the sense of respect for others something not only hopeful but something close to elation.
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email: clarson@american.edu.

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