Can Ethiopia break the vicious cycle of conflict?

Can Ethiopia break the vicious cycle of conflict?
Ethiopia has returned to a state of war over unresolved issues that date back decades. (AFP)
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Updated 26 November 2020

Can Ethiopia break the vicious cycle of conflict?

Can Ethiopia break the vicious cycle of conflict?
  • Government’s military offensive against Tigray region is the latest bout of violence to grip the African country
  • National dialogue viewed as the best solution to disputes that keep erupting between various ethnic groups

DUBAI: During the early hours of Nov. 4, as the results of the US presidential election monopolized international conversation, fighting erupted in a country considered a strategic partner of Washington.

Simmering tensions between the federal government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and authorities in the country’s Tigray region reached a flashpoint, sowing the seeds of yet another humanitarian crisis in Africa.

While there are no official numbers on casualties, it is believed that hundreds of lives have already been lost on both sides, many of them civilians.

The assault, officially termed “a law enforcement” operation, has included use of air force jets and ground troops against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party of the eponymous region. Abiy said he had no choice but to order the offensive after federal defense forces in the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, had their camp looted in an attack by the TPLF.

Regardless of which side is to blame for the escalation, the UN has warned that an additional 1.1 million people need aid, with at least 40,000 Ethiopians crossing into neighboring Sudan and the UN refugee agency preparing for up to 200,000 arrivals over the next six months. Meanwhile, journalists have become wary of reporting from the war zone after the detention of at least six Ethiopian media workers.




UN has warned that an additional 1.1 million people need aid. (AFP)

It is not just the media, though, that is being kept on a tight leash by the authorities. William Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group, was recently expelled by the authorities. “There’s a climate of fear; people are afraid to speak,” said Matt Bryden, director of Sahan Research in Addis Ababa. “There is no communication with Tigray at the moment. There is no internet or telecommunication there now. The few people I managed to speak to a week ago seem to have gone dark.”

A report in the magazine Addis Fortune says transactions on all Tigrayan accounts have been frozen, which means no one can move money into or out of the region. “There is also no humanitarian access to the Tigray,” Bryden told Arab News. “The government has indicated that they will not allow any opening (into the region) until the current (military) operation is concluded.” On Nov. 23, Abiy gave Tigray 72 hours to surrender as government troops advanced on Mekelle. The TPLF, however, has vowed to keep fighting.

Ethiopia has returned to a state of war over unresolved issues that date back decades. Trouble among its historically and culturally diverse ethnic groups, which number approximately 80, has been a feature of national politics since 1996, when the current constitution came into force and cut the country into nine ethnically based semi-autonomous regions.




Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve a border conflict with Eritrea, which had flared up in 1998-2000 and killed thousands. (AFP)

As with all the previous conflicts, there is plenty of blame to go around this time too. “This is not Tigray against the rest of Ethiopia. This is Abiy trying to take control over all of Ethiopia and, at the moment, he is dealing with Tigray,” said Martin Plaut, fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and author of “Understanding Eritrea.”

“There has always been a power struggle between the Tigray and Amhara regions over who runs Ethiopia. In 1991 when the Tigrayans took control of the country, they came up with a system of ethnic federalism. Instead of people declaring their allegiance to Ethiopia, they owed their allegiance to their ethnic group. When Abiy come to power, he tried to pull power back to the center and re-establish the traditional Ethiopian imperial structure, which had been lost under the Tigrayan system.”

Plaut was referring to the ascent to power in April 2018 of Abiy, the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother who was raised in a family of religious plurality. His reform agenda for Africa’s second largest nation and second largest economy quickly earned plaudits for its boldness from international organizations and political economists.

Many African and international observers saw Abiy as some kind of a savior for a country of 110 million people ravaged by decades of conflict and misrule. The 17-year civil war between government forces and Eritrean rebels triggered a famine that resulted in 1 million deaths.

The scenes of skeletal malnourished children in camps set up by aid agencies shocked the world’s conscience and prompted 72 rock bands to stage on July 13, 1985, the famous Live Aid concert, which raised an estimated $125 million to feed starving Ethiopians.

In 2019 Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve a border conflict with Eritrea, which had flared up in 1998-2000 and killed thousands.

But opinions of his merit vary. “The opening of the political space has led to extreme violence in the country,” said an Addis Ababa-based political analyst who did not want to be identified. “All of these dormant disputes over territory have erupted all over Ethiopia. Every week now there is a massacre of civilians in some area of the country.”

Through the decades, the Oromo, the Amhara and the Tigrayans have failed to agree on an amicable division of the spoils. Amhara elites traditionally dominated Ethiopia, but they were overtaken by the Tigrayans between 1991 and 2018 through the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), an ethnic federalist political coalition.

“Many Ethiopians, in particular dissidents, see Abiy as a reincarnation of (former dictator) Mengistu (Haile Mariam) because he is seen as harboring plans to govern Ethiopia in a centralized manner,” said the Ethiopian political analyst. “This perceived stance was used as a rallying cry in the several bouts of violence that have erupted in Oromia, where Abiy is from. You have his former allies who have turned against him for this reason too.”
 




Through the decades, the Oromo, the Amhara and the Tigrayans have failed to agree on an amicable division of the spoils. (AFP)

Observers say in order to achieve his aim of “stabilizing” Ethiopia, Abiy has sidelined and antagonized many regional elites and interest groups.

Bryden puts it this way: “You are talking about a country as old as Ethiopia, with over 100 million inhabitants, many of whom are rural, barely literate, if literate, living at subsistence level. When you are trying to introduce these kinds of changes, you are creating opportunities for other elites to challenge your vision and your authority. Yet people believed in Abiy’s vision, and with the EPRDF gone, that life could only get better.”

By many accounts, the opposite has turned out to be true. Eritrea has said it was targeted by the TPLF on Nov. 13 and 14 ostensibly for allowing the Ethiopian military use of an Eritrean airport to attack Tigray.

The reported clashes have renewed long-simmering tensions between Eritrea and the TPLF as well as raised the specter of a multi-sided conflict that could destabilize the wider region.




While there are no official numbers on casualties, it is believed that hundreds of lives have already been lost on both sides, many of them civilians. (AFP)

A parallel feud already exists between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which sits on the Blue Nile near the border with Sudan. Ethiopia hopes the 6,000-megawatt dam will turn it into Africa’s top hydropower supplier. Egypt and Sudan, however, fear the project will substantially reduce their water share and affect development prospects.

According to analysts and rights group, the only way out of the current conflict is a national dialogue. Ethiopia’s regional leaders “could come up with a plan that satisfies many of the current demands that go back five decades to Mengistu’s era,” said the Ethiopian political analyst. “Unless we are able to have a national dialogue, the country will remain locked in this cycle of violence.”

As of Wednesday, however, the idea of national dialogue sounded far-fetched. Ethiopia has opposed what it calls "unwelcome and unlawful acts of interference" in its affairs, referring evidently to the military operation. According to a statement by Abiy, “the international community should stand by until the government of Ethiopia submits its requests for assistance.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
Updated 5 sec ago

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
  • London cut foreign aid spending by billions last year to manage pandemic
  • Poverty, child labor, child marriage will persist until aid budget increased, charity tells Arab News

LONDON: Britain’s plans to increase foreign aid spending back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 have been welcomed by charities, but some have told Arab News that the delay could have serious humanitarian ramifications.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday that London would return to its legal obligation to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product — around $5 billion in real terms — on foreign aid by 2024, up from the current 0.5 percent implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our improving fiscal situation means we will meet our obligations to the worlds’ poorest,” Sunak said while delivering the Treasury’s annual budget announcement. “Today’s forecast shows that we are in fact scheduled to return to 0.7 percent in 2024 and 2025.”

The cuts were forced through Parliament after much resistance from cross-bench politicians, who warned that massive reductions to the UK’s aid spending would have dire real-world consequences for countless people the world over, including many in the Middle East.

Some charities and humanitarian organizations have welcomed Sunak’s pledge to increase foreign aid spending back to 0.7 percent.

“We welcome the projection for UK aid funding to return to 0.7 percent in 2024/25. In the meantime, UK aid remains a critical lifeline for millions of people in need of urgent assistance, with humanitarian needs soaring, due to a mixture of COVID-19, climate and conflict,” Richard Blewitt, an executive director at the British Red Cross, told Arab News.

“We call on the government to ensure aid continues to be allocated on the basis of need. UK aid needs to be prioritized for the most vulnerable communities in the world where suffering is reaching unprecedented levels.”

But others have warned that the three-year delay could have serious consequences for vulnerable Syrians, Yemenis and others, as well as a negative impact on the UK’s security and the country’s post-Brexit ambition to become “Global Britain.”

Charles Lawley, head of communications and advocacy at Syria Relief, told Arab News that “the most optimistic scenario is that there is only a minor increase in suffering, and the NGO community and other donors are able to fill the gaps left by such a huge aid budget reduction” until the aid is increased later in the decade.

“However, it is likely that the cuts will mean a rise in poverty and a rise in negative coping mechanisms such as selling assets, child labor and early marriage.”

His organization has been providing life-saving aid and support in Syria throughout the country’s brutal war.

Because of the aid cuts, “the most vulnerable in Syrian society will be exposed to even greater risk,” Lawley said.

“A situation that creates desperation usually results in a poorer security situation. People could very well look for income through groups that do pose a threat to UK interests,” he added.

“These are not the actions of the ‘soft-power superpower’ that ‘Global Britain’ was meant to be. This is the action of a short-sighted little England.”


France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row
Updated 11 min 51 sec ago

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row
  • France could notably step up border checks on goods from Britain

PARIS: France on Wednesday released a list of sanctions that could come into effect from Nov. 2 if sufficient progress is not made in its post-Brexit fishing row with Britain and said it was working on a second round of sanctions that could affect power supplies to the UK.
France could notably step up border checks on goods from Britain and prevent British fishing boats from accessing French ports, if the situation regarding the fishing licenses did not improve, the Maritime and European Affairs Ministries said in a joint statement.


Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA
Updated 27 October 2021

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA
  • Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies: ‘He’s obviously the person that fired the weapon — all options are on the table at this point’
  • Sheriff Adan Mendoza: ‘We’re going to determine how those (live rounds) got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there’

LOS ANGELES: Criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin, who shot dead a cinematographer and wounded a director on the set of his latest movie, have not been ruled out, the local district attorney said Wednesday.
“He’s obviously the person that fired the weapon,” said Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, whose area of responsibility covers the set of “Rust.”
“All options are on the table,” she told a news conference, adding: “No one has been ruled out at this point.”
An investigation into last Thursday’s fatal shooting has recovered 500 rounds of ammunition from the set in New Mexico, Sheriff Adan Mendoza told reporters, adding detectives believe they were a mix of blanks, dummies and live rounds.
“We’re going to determine how those (live rounds) got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there,” Mendoza said.


WHO: Europe had most COVID-19 cases, deaths over last week

WHO: Europe had most COVID-19 cases, deaths over last week
Updated 27 October 2021

WHO: Europe had most COVID-19 cases, deaths over last week

WHO: Europe had most COVID-19 cases, deaths over last week
  • WHO said cases in its 53-country European region recorded an 18% increase in COVID-19 cases over last week
  • In WHO's weekly epidemiological report on COVID-19, Europe also saw a 14% increase in deaths

GENEVA: Europe stood out as the only major region worldwide to report an increase in both coronavirus cases and deaths over the last week, with double-digit percentage increases in each, the United Nations’ health agency said on Wednesday.
The World Health Organization said that cases in its 53-country European region, which stretches as far east as several former Soviet republics in central Asia, recorded an 18 percent increase in COVID-19 cases over the last week — a fourth straight weekly increase for the area.
In WHO’s weekly epidemiological report on COVID-19, Europe also saw a 14 percent increase in deaths. That amounted to more than 1.6 million new cases and over 21,000 deaths.
The United States tallied the largest number of new cases over the last seven days — nearly 513,000 new cases, though that was a 12 percent drop from the previous week – and over 11,600 deaths, which was about the same number as the previous week, WHO said.
Britain was second at more than 330,000 new cases. Russia, which has chalked up a series of national daily records for COVID-19 deaths in recent days, had nearly a quarter million new cases over the last week.
WHO officials have pointed to a number of factors including relatively low rates of vaccination in some countries in eastern Europe. Countries including Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Georgia had some of the highest rates of infection per 100,000 people in the last week.
Overall, WHO’s vast Americas region — which has tallied the most deaths of any region from the pandemic, at more than 2.7 million — saw a 1 percent uptick in deaths over the last week, even as cases fell by nine percent. Cases in WHO’s southeast Asia region, which includes populous countries like India and Indonesia, fell 8 percent even as deaths rose 13 percent over the last week.


Greece blames Turkey after migrants drown in Aegean

Greece blames Turkey after migrants drown in Aegean
Updated 19 min 25 sec ago

Greece blames Turkey after migrants drown in Aegean

Greece blames Turkey after migrants drown in Aegean
  • Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi: ‘Four bodies were retrieved without carrying personal lifejackets — the victims were aged four, 11, 25 and 28 years old’
  • Notis Mitarachi: ‘The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source — these journeys should never be allowed to happen’

ATHENS: Greece has blamed Turkey for a migrant boat sinking in the Aegean that claimed the lives of four people including two children, noting that Ankara should prevent smugglers from risking peoples’ lives at sea.
“Four bodies were retrieved without carrying personal lifejackets. The victims were aged four, 11, 25 and 28 years old according to the coroner’s report,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told a news conference on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Mitarachi tweeted four children died after the accident near the island of Chios in which 22 people were rescued.
On Wednesday, he said one to four people were thought to be missing based on the testimony of survivors. Three people were still in hospital, the minister said, adding that the migrants had come from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea via Turkey.
“The Turkish authorities must do more to prevent exploitation by criminal gangs at source. These journeys should never be allowed to happen,” Mitarachi tweeted on Tuesday.
In a statement, the coast guard said the boat had set out from Turkey amid strong winds, and that none of the occupants had been given a life vest by the smugglers.
Merchant Marine Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis said the smugglers had shown “criminal disregard for human life.”
The coast guard added that in addition to the adverse weather conditions, the boat was overloaded and as a result, its underside came off.
“All those rescued are in good health and were taken to Chios harbor,” it said.
In a statement earlier, the coast guard had said 27 people were thought to be inside the boat, according to the survivors.
Coast Guard patrol boats, a NATO vessel, nearby ships and fishing boats and two helicopters were participating in the search.
According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, more than 2,500 people have crossed the Aegean from neighboring Turkey this year, compared to over 9,700 in 2020.
Over 100 people died or are missing in migrant boat incidents last year, the agency’s data show.
Greece blames Turkey for not taking sufficient action to curb smugglers who send out migrants in unsafe boats and dinghies from its shores.
“This is the reality of the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs in the Aegean — unscrupulous smugglers putting lives at risk in heavily laden unseaworthy dinghies,” Mitarachi said on Tuesday.