Last time I looked, the Ivory Coast was still not in the Horn of Africa.  One could be forgiven for thinking it had moved across the continent since its politics increasingly resemble the dysfunctional or authoritarian politics of the Horn, though it does so in its own way. That’s my excuse for bringing it up here.

Meles confidently insists that ‘Arab Spring’ turmoil will not reach Ethiopia.  He keeps the press on a short leash, jails opposition leaders and lets a few of them choose exile.  The economy does seem to be growing, in part fueled by billions of dollars of foreign aid over the past few years.  The brain drain continues; educated Ethiopians don’t find the prospect of living in a censored, heavy-handed, security-obsessed state very attractive.

On the other hand, the growing Ethiopian diaspora, increasingly prosperous and showing a level of entrepreneurial energy and talent that no regime in Ethiopia has ever been liberal enough to tap, is sending growing amounts of money back home, building lavish houses that they rent to NGOs and embassies for extraordinary amounts.  Now a few expats are starting businesses, recognizing that a country of 80 million+ will eventually have a real economy. The government, foreseeing that some of these businesses will be profitable one day, is now fingerprinting — in the US, with our government’s consent — all Ethiopian citizens with residency in the US.  The explicit goal is to make it easier to tax them.

Isaias still maintains Eritrea’s near total isolation.  In a reverse of the ‘roach motel’ model, Eritreans can check out — they flee by the thousands every year — but few can check in. This is why there are so many Eritreans in Libya, who are now unfortunate collateral damage victims.  Libya is on their route to Europe.  Visitors to Eritrea are few and thoroughly screened.  Even journalists are rarely allowed in, and only under strict conditions.

Economically, Eritrea has long been a basket case. Until now.  The government has literally struck gold.  The first of several modern mines — Canadian-owned and operated — went into production in February and has already produced $1 billion worth of gold, at today’s record prices.  Eritrea invested nothing in the venture but is collecting huge royalties that will go directly to Isaias, since “The Government, C’est Moi”. It remains to be seen where the money will go.  The mine has created few jobs for Eritreans.

Maybe we should resurrect an old line and just ‘let Somalia be Somalia’. The bad guys seem to be on a decline at the moment, but that’s because outsiders are doing the ‘government’s’ fighting.  What is laughingly referred to as the Transitional Federal Government is still chasing its tail. There is no there there.

Djibouti, with less than a million people, is having an election this week.  Foreign observers were evicted a few weeks ago.  The strongest opposition candidate decided to stay in London because he expected to be arrested if he went home to campaign.

Oh yeah.  I started to say something about the Ivory Coast.  What I intended was to provide a link to a short, useful background piece on recent history there, taken from the British newspaper, The Guardian.  Gbagbo and Ouattara have been rivals for a long time, it turns out.  So here it is:    Ivory Coast’s turbulent recent history