1 September 2004

Lloyd Axworthy must need a senior international job very badly. His influential friends and former counterparts have been trying to accommodate him for over six months by pressing for him to play a "special" role between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Kofi Annan is leading the push. But so are members of the Security Council and the European Union. Without due consultation with the countries directly involved, his appointment as Special Representative raised many questions. To begin with, there is already a Special Representative of the Secretary General to Eritrea and Ethiopia. He is Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, who as a member of the Security Council had helped elect the Secretary General. There are also TWO Assistant Secretary Generals in that mission and over 4000 peacekeeping troops deployed in the buffer zone. What Axworthy will actually do remains a mystery. The only difference in his title than that of Legwaila is "over" rather than "to" the two countries. In hair-splitting it would imply that the Canadian will not have to reside in the area while the African should. Or that Axworthy will do high-level discreet contacts around the world (at whose budget?!), while our friend from Lesotho keeps talking to officials in Asmara and Addis Abeba.

Kofi Annan is the first Secretary General to specialize in appointing uniquely unqualified representatives to points of conflict. Witness Cyprus, Kosovo and other disasters, when for the first time ever the people the U.N. is supposed to help are denouncing its leadership. In Cyprus, there are too many variations on Annan's name to count and in Kosovo -- after a series of exclusively expedient appointments -- the majority, with no electricity, water, or real security, are threatening a rebellion. Now comes Axworthy. When Asmara in particular was reluctant, politely turning him down, a story appeared in some papers including the Financial Times (Ed Mortimer's former employer) that "U.N. fears new war in Horn of Africa." My God. Is a job for Axworthy worthy of beating the drums of war to justify it?!

Ethiopea and Eritrea are among the poorest countries. But they are experienced and sharp enough to see through this. Their border conflict does not blind them from their profound mutual links throughout history. And they have been exploited enough. Meles Zenawi and Issayas Afewerki have a dispute but they have always been brothers in arms. Eritrian Popular Front troops waited for their counterparts to take over Addis before they entered Asmara. What's between them is between them. The role of the international community is to encourage them to get together again rather than sow tensions for whatever ulterior motive.

Zenawi sensibly confirmed publicly that Ethiopia will not go to war but was taking "sensible precautions" in a rough neighborhood. His priority is "to talk and find a way around this problem through dialogue." Afewerki stated that the international community itself had contributed to the current stalemate. "It is WEAK," he said; and there is no question of Eritrea dealing with Axworthy. That is, if you owe "that man" a job, go elsewhere!