Archive for January, 2014

Part 2

African Union Commission, 7th June 2013, The African Border Day

“You see? Chigger yeullem! We made it!”, the taxi driver, who has just conducted an impressive race through the Addis morning traffic smiles triumphantly at me as his Lada rolls down Roosevelt Avenue to the GIZ-AU office, located directly opposite the AU compound. And true enough – against all odds – we made it just on time. The 7th of June officially commemorates the creation of the AUBP and is supposed to be celebrated annually both at the AU-level and within its member states as the African Border Day. High-level African and non-African politicians and diplomats in Addis Ababa, as well as various experts and official representatives have gathered in the Old Plenary Hall of the AUC.

The first photo below is when the German Ambassador is honoured with great applause as she hands over electronic copies of all archives, including maps, treaties and colonial documents, formerly held by the German Government, to the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security. It is a historic moment of success – both for the image of German Development Cooperation and for the AUBP which has requested this more than symbolic handover of political and state affairs concerning African boundaries into African ownership.

German Amb_Commissioner Lamamra_comp

The photo below shows the launch of the AUBP guidebook series by the Head of the Programme, Ambassador Aguibou Diarrah. For me personally, this was a moment of relief after several weeks of struggle to finalise the products, have them shipped to Addis, clear them from customs and eventually see them presented at the African Border Day. Just in time, but chigger yeullem…

20130607_African Border Day

Most touching, however, are the testimonies given by the two women shown in the following, one from Burkina Faso and the other from Mali. They shyly described in their respective languages the positive impacts of the Cross-Border Health Centre between their villages. It was a half day of ceremonious joy and optimism with praises to the AUBP and its partners but also a day of formality, which was impressive and exhausting at the same time.


Places and faces of Ethiopia

As usually more than 45 hours of the week were spent in the office or in other work-related settings, and thus one is tempted to seize any opportunity to balance every-day work life with experiences of “real” life in the host country. That said, it is difficult to express what “real life” implies in the Ethiopian context, especially due to the fact that there are such profound differences between habesha (Ethiopian) and expat perspectives. Indeed, although most ferenjis (foreigners) coming to Ethiopia indulge in the cultural richness of traditional food, textiles and music, it still seems impossible to touch more than the surface of the true identity of this proud nation. Behind many a smile there are every-day worries that ferenjis in the country might not always be able to fully comprehend. While one section of the society enjoys the highest and yet comparably “affordable” living standards, others have to cope with constant fear of losing their houses and homes in favour of “urban development”, inflationary food prices, and lack of freedom of expression. Poverty, politics, ethnicity and religion are highly sensitive subjects in this diverse nation, which is far from being as unified as it seems to be. Barely perceivable tensions between Muslim and Christian political groupings, as well as between the government and opposing movements are smouldering ‘flames’ which could burst into ‘fire’. The role of the international development community in reinforcing inequalities and increasing gaps between the rich and the poor in Ethiopia should also be subject to more critical scrutiny.

Yet, on a human-to-human basis, the hospitality of the local population is remarkable, as is its general sense of dignity. Equally stunning, in my own experience, is the way in which Muslim and Christian Ethiopians live not only side by side, but with each other, extending mutual invitations to Fasika (Orthodox Easter) and Eid (end of Ramadan), and attending Mosques next to Orthodox Churches, so that it is impossible to distinguish whose religious chants wake you from sleep in the wee hours of the morning. It is close to impossible to briefly capture in writing the richness of impressions I gained from Ethiopia on a daily basis. The following photos display but a tiny fracture of Ethiopian places and faces on the ground-level, absolved from the fictive worlds of politics and state diplomacy.


Megenagna bus station on the East-side of Addis Ababa


What does the bus bring? Mother and her barefoot child in their highland home. Miles away from the next public infrastructure.


Construction sites and modern glass buildings – banks, hotels, commercial centres, etc. – propping up everywhere. Many of them displacing the traditional homes of local residents.


Waiting in the wings. Professional Ethiopian runners at the 7km Coca Cola Race in Addis Ababa.


Out and about with habesha friends. The mountains surrounding Addis Ababa offer brilliant opportunities for hiking and refreshing weekend escapes from the city.


Tranquility above the crowds – an old man overlooking the Lalibela market


Camel market in Babile.

Kristin Fedeler

MSc Africa and International Development (2011 – 2012)

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Part 1

Addis Ababa, 7th June 2013, 07:55 am  

Chigger yeullem, eshi?” the taxi driver assures me time and again, “chigger yeullem, no problem!” An inconspicuous glance at my watch makes me doubt that such complacence is justified right now. Only 20 minutes to go until I am supposed to be at the office, heavy traffic jams to be expected at the infamous Mexico Square, which has become a tight bottleneck of a dirt-road between two large gaping holes ever since construction works began for a tram line supposed to cross the city from East to West (and people complained about the tram works in Edinburgh?!), and no sign that the old lada I chose for transport today might decide to start running again. As I watch all sorts of vehicles, fully packed buses, pedestrians, sheep, goats and donkeys pass us by, I feel an urge to get out of the taxi and join their flow – even more so, knowing the importance of this day and all the energy committed to its preparation…

The City

I landed at Bole International Airport early in the morning on 9th March 2013, therewith embarking on an eye-opening journey into many new worlds. The first one: Addis Ababa – the “New Flower” – a vibrant, most rapidly developing city of 4-5 million (probably more, if there were trustworthy demographic figures); a city of contrasts between “slums” (chika bets), condominiums of questionable durability, beautiful mountain villages, construction sites, banks, hotels, commercial centres and people, people everywhere – a most bizarre blend of people from the poorest ranks of society – surviving with far less than the UN’s $ 1.25 per day – to the ‘ordinaries’, perhaps earning a gross salary of  between ETB 3,000 – ETB 4,000 per month (1 British Pound = 30.86 Ethiopian Birr), to the ‘wealthy’ (Ethiopian business magnates and Western expats including aid workers and detached corps diplomatique) thriving on generous incomes. Addis Ababa the political capital of Africa, the world’s fourth highest host of embassies and diplomatic missions, also hosting several UN regional agencies as well as the African Union headquarters, which throughout 2013 embarked on commemorating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity.

Background: “From Barriers to Bridges: Support to the African Union Border Programme”

Addis Ababa is also the headquarter of the African Union Border Programme (AUBP) within the AU Peace and Security Department, and the corresponding project of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, labelled From Barriers to Bridges – Support to the AUBP. It is with this GIZ project that I have been an intern and consultant for the past nine months.

As a continental Programme, the AUBP is the embodiment of the high-level political ambition to link up peace, security, development and regional integration, first and foremost, by means of clear demarcation of and firm agreement upon Africa’s international boundaries. Already in 1964, at the First Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government, a consensus emerged for OAU Member States “to respect the borders existing on the achievement of national independence”, considering that “borders constitute a grave and permanent factor of dissention”. Despite not explicitly referring to the uti possidetis iuris principle, Resolution 16(1) of the Cairo Declaration from 1964 thus laid the legal foundations for the intangibility, even sanctity, of African borders, as they were geographically defined during colonial times, aiming to forestall potential disputes related to territorial sovereignties.

Nevertheless, African borders have often been perceived as “barriers” to development, particularly due to their historical creation, their contested nature and, in most cases, their lack of physical visibility (demarcation) on the ground. Indeed, borderlands are areas with high conflict potential. To quote from the GIZ project offer:

 “When African borders were determined [most prominently at the Berlin Conference of 1884/85], ethnic groups were arbitrarily divided or put together in multinational states; in many cases with no consideration of the interests of the people involved. The borders drawn on the maps were never precisely demarcated, especially in inaccessible areas. For pragmatic reasons, natural but imprecise orientation points, such as rivers or mountains instead of boundary posts, often served to demarcate sections of the border. For fear of provoking (new) conflicts by redrawing the borders, the independent African states took over these badly and imprecisely demarcated territorial borders – a legacy of the colonial period – in 1964, and these were confirmed in further OAU and AU Declarations and Resolutions. In the course of the ensuing decades, some of the dysfunctional borders became a recurring bone of contention, particularly in the context of conflicts over resources.”

In this vein, the African Union Border Programme (AUBP) was created in 2007 on behalf of the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government with the vision of “uniting and integrating Africa through peaceful, open and prosperous borders.” Commissioned by the German Federal Foreign Office, GIZ supports the implementation of the AUBP at the continental, regional, national and local levels. Rendering technical, financial and strategic assistance, GIZ and AUBP are currently involved in 15 African countries through respective staff and partners on the ground.

Operationalisation of the Programme

As a matter of state sovereignty, borders are primarily managed on a bilateral level. Two African states must officially agree to demarcate their joint border by erecting boundary pillars which mark the end of one jurisdiction and the beginning of the other. As opposed to demarcation – which is (almost) a plain field operation – border delimitation is a more complex (and more politically charged) process, necessitating solid reference material for the definition of the boundary line. Not only historical maps, treaties and contracts play a legal role here, but also the analysis of up-to-date satellite imagery depicting the topography, infrastructure and human settlements of the borderlands.

At the same time as supporting AU member states in conducting desk and field work for border delimitation and demarcation, the AUBP actively promotes cross-border cooperation. For example: A border dispute between Burkina Faso and Mali had been settled by the ICJ in 1986, and GIZ/AUBP facilitated the complete demarcation of the border by 2010. Yet, land use and resource conflicts continued to persist between local populations and nomadic tribes in the borderland. To alleviate tensions, upon consultation with respective village representatives, jointly managed granaries and a cross-border health centre, equidistant from Ouarokuy (Burkina Faso) and Wanian (Mali), were installed to facilitate good-neighbourly relations between the border communities.

As a third component, the AUBP seeks to build African support capacities to enhance the future sustainability of African border management. This includes strengthening relations with African universities, research and training institutes, and encouraging the creation of academic/training modules to develop an African knowledge infrastructure which inspires pragmatic approaches to border management. A material output of this effort is the publication of a series of guidebooks, available via this link: http://www.aubis.peaceau.org/guide-books-and-documents-african-borders.

Regional Meeting in Zambia

It was an enriching experience for me to participate in the biannual review/planning meeting between four AUBP implementation countries in Siavonga, Zambia. The delegations from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, are usually constituted by Surveyor Generals and their staff, working within their national government ministries dedicated to border issues. Every reunion includes a site visit.  In July 2013, this was the Kariba Hydro-Electric Power Station, one of the largest dams of the world, dividing the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and representing another landmark of cross-border cooperation.

Photos: Zambezi River – Kariba Dam (constructed between 1955 and 1959) – Zimbabwean tourists



Back in Lusaka, a thriving capital with American-style malls and infrastructure not to be imagined in Addis yet, a visit at the Zambian Survey Department under the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environment, provided insights into the technicalities of the mapping, survey and cadastral services of the Department and served as primary source for the GIZ needs assessment (particularly in relation to necessary material procurements). 


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Photos: Photogrammetric stereo-plotter (mainly used for the production of topographic maps), Map section of the Zambia-Malawi border which crosses local infrastructure (Katete School).

Kristin Fedeler

MSc Africa and International Development (2011 – 2012)

(To be continued next week)

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