Assessing the Political Situation in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and ChadDonald Yamamoto, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Remarks to Voice of America
June 2, 2006
Interviewer: I'm here with Donald Yamamoto, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us for this interview.
Mr. Yamamoto: Thank you very much for having me.
Interviewer: Mr. Secretary, I know the Ethiopian situation is something you've spent a considerable amount of time on. Of course, you've visited the country on your latest trip to the region. From your prospective, where does the political situation in Ethiopia stand today?
Mr. Yamamoto: It remains ongoing; we've had some successes and areas that we haven't made enough progress on. The issue of course… I'll give you an example is the Addis Ababa City Hall technocrats have been selected to take over, instead of the opposition, because of the lack of agreement between the opposition and the government. We continue to work, though, on the positive side, which is other countries such as from: UK , India , and another country, Germany , on the political reform and how the parliament is to operate. We're working on media law and media in general. And hopefully, this can help with the process of political reform. But again, we have a long way to go and many issues to tackle.
Interviewer: Of course, as you know, Mr. Secretary, the opposition, of course, maintains that those appointed to take over the administration of the Addis Ababa city government are not duly elected and the duly elected ones are actually in jail…
Mr. Yamamoto : Right
Interviewer: And so, this may not help move along the peace process, but the United States has repeatedly called for the release of opposition leaders, journalists, and other activists. And while, indeed, a number of lesser-known detainees have been released, the key opposition leaders, journalists, and others still remain in jail. Have you seen any movement at all, in this regard?
Mr. Yamamoto: You're quite right. They say that the official position of the United States is for the release of the detainees, period. I've visited the detainees and had great discussions with them. And, in fact, in some cases, they're able to hear the Voice of America. So, the Voice of America is critical…very important to gain information in Ethiopia . As far as, has there been any progress made, the trials continue. We have not seen any movement towards the release of the detainees, but again this is one area that we'll continue to push very hard on.
Interviewer: Mr. Secretary, of course, many Ethiopians do applaud your efforts to promote political reconciliation in the country, and yet many of them also ask, how can you have reconciliation, when literally the entire elected leadership of the largest opposition party remains in prison?
Mr. Yamamoto: That's a very valid question, and how do you resolve those issues? And you know that the Ethiopian government's position is that they committed a crime, and that they need to go through the trial process, and the acts of the judicial process, and the decision will be made whether they're exonerated, pardoned, or spend time in jail. That's their decision, but we have argued that they should be released and take up their seats in parliament. Now again, before the process began last summer, we had urged these opposition leaders to take up their seats. At first they said no, not until certain conditions were met, and I thought we were pretty much on the road to getting that type of agreement, and violence occurred both in June and November and the arrests happened. Again, we remain hopeful that this thing can be resolved. Because I think for Ethiopia 's political future, we need to move forward.
Interviewer: Regarding the Ethio-Eritrean border conflict, following your meeting with Prime Minister Meles and other Ethiopian officials you're quoted as saying, “A lot of progress was made on discussions of this issue.” In more specific terms, what exactly does that mean?
Mr. Yamamoto: Let me say that the process is very frustrating, because it's not going as fast as we would like, but for the EEBC -- Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission to even meet with both Ethiopia and Eritrea has been a milestone. Because, as you know, Ethiopia did not attend the meeting before March, but now they are attending, and we have agreement to set up the survey offices in Asmara and Addis, and then after that, to start the survey. But again, that's only a technical aspect of demarcation, there's a bigger problem that needs to be resolved, and that is the normalization of relations. Because we can demarcate the border, and if we can't resolve the problems that gave rise to the war, then demarcation only leads to another war. In other words, we need to also have normalization talks, in addition to demarcation. The other issue that's important is in the demarcation process, some 30 towns and villages will be divided. I think we need to discuss as the demarcation process is being conducted, what's going to happen to these people who are going to be caught on either side of the border. Again, that's an issue that makes normalization talks critical, because we don't want these divided towns and villages to be the source of another war or conflict.
Interviewer: Correct, and keeping in mind these outstanding issues as they were, when we say there has been progress, in what sense are you saying that?
Mr. Yamamoto: The progress is that the issues are not being ignored; they're being addressed directly. Because once Ethiopia came to the meeting, then it forced Eritrea to come up and decide how are they going to start to address the questions and problems. It can't be ignored; they have to be addressed. They want a success with the demarcation process.
Interviewer: Now, of course, the border issue involves the two countries Ethiopia and Eritrea . You discussed the issues with the Ethiopian officials in Ethiopia . Any particular reason Eritrea was not part of your itinerary?
Mr. Yamamoto: You know what… we went to Eritrea earlier in the month, but we only saw one official. The President did not see us, nor did his other senior officials see us. And it's very difficult to talk to a country, if they're not willing to talk with you, or meet with you. And we've made repeated requests to talk to President Isaias, and he's ignored us at every step, and until we can have some type of meeting, the only people who have opened their doors have been Ethiopia and not Eritrea, and we find it very frustrating, but also very disappointing.
Interviewer: Donald Yamamoto US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs thank you very much Mr. Secretary.
Mr. Yamamoto: And thank you very much for having me.