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The Ethiopian Powder Keg Is a Regional Threat

Samantha Maloof

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When governmental forces killed at least 9 civilians in last week’s security operation in Ethiopia’s Oromia region to enforce the country’s state of emergency, popular outrage at the government reached new levels. Even if the killings were later labelled an “accident” due to wrong intelligence, and although apologies were sent to the families, these actions did little to calm the storm already brewing in the country. While the Horn of Africa has seen continual strife for years, the events that have been unfolding in Ethiopia risk spreading instability far beyond the country’s borders. The world should pay attention.

Tensions in Addis Ababa have been running high ever since a state of emergency was imposed on February 16th after the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. The government stated the state of emergency  was intended to protect the constitution and safeguard stability, but the main opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), fiercely rejected the decree as null and void after evidence of vote rigging in the procedures emerged.

The OFC, and indeed Ethiopia’s wider population, has good cause to be suspicious of the governments’ motives. After all, Addis Ababa has harnessed measures like this for nefarious reasons before. A state of emergency was declared for the first time in 25 years in the country in 2016, when anti-government protests rocked the Oromia region. Protesters of the Oromo ethnic group demanded greater autonomy and an end to the economic marginalization perpetrated by the ruling Tigrayan ethnic group. In response, former PM Desalegn eventually imposed emergency laws because “the situation posed a threat against the people of the country.” In reality, however, both emergency periods were used as a ploy to crack down hard on dissent.

International observers now fear widespread human rights abuses under the guise of ’protecting stability’, as the emergency measures severely curtail freedom of speech and assembly rights. They bar the distribution of writings that could incite violence – though what constitutes “inciting” tends to be arbitrarily defined by the authorities. And with its sweeping new powers, the military is authorized to suppress any form of opposition.

No wonder, then, that the recent killings are not regarded as the accidents the authorities want to make them seem. While peaceful protests in Oromia and the capital continue, where shops have shut down and public transport has stopped, Ethiopia’s population is more divided than ever. Next to the ethnic divisions paralyzing national politics, Ethiopia’s economy has ground to a halt, further widening inequalities between ethnic groups.

This is all bad news. Not only is Ethiopia the Horn of Africa’s economic engine, but its US-allied military plays a significant role in regional peacekeeping and the fight against terrorism. Should Addis Ababa spiral further into chaos, the glue that has been keeping a war-torn region together would melt away and instability would rapidly spread to Ethiopia’s neighbors, especially South Sudan and Djibouti.

Mired in civil war since 2013 following its split from Sudan, South Sudan is heavily reliant on Ethiopia’s peacekeeping forces and its diplomatic heft. Addis Ababa is the main contributor to the various UN security forces in the country and has played a key role in guaranteeing the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.

The chaos that would ensue in South Sudan if refugees and possibly even armed groups from Ethiopia were to be added to this volatile mix is hard to imagine. Besides the nearly daily massacres, South Sudan is already unable to feed its population, the majority of it internally displaced people. As of March 2018, more than 5.3 million people are in dire need for food assistance while 204,000 are seeking refuge in UN camps. With ceasefires routinely ignored, stability is unlikely to take hold any time soon.

Another country whose fate hangs in the balance is pocket-sized Djibouti. Much like South Sudan, the port nation is vitally dependent on foreign resources to sustain its economy and its people. Ethiopia provides most of Djibouti’s electricity, fruits and fresh water and is responsible for keeping the country’s ports busy. Since Ethiopia is a landlocked country 100 million strong, Djibouti’s ports are an essential part of its trade. As such, any conflict in Ethiopia threatens the supply lines that have thus far saved its diminutive neighbor from collapse.

Despite its semblance of stability, Djibouti’s iron-fisted ruler Ismail Omar Guelleh, has become increasingly volatile. In power since 1999, Guelleh has stepped up its suppression of human rights and dissent, while doing precious little to raise the fortunes of the country’s impoverished population. While shining new buildings dot the landscape in the country’s capital, most locals live in squalid suburbs lacking access to clean water or economic opportunities. Observers worry that an external shock to the country could reignite long-silenced protests in one of Africa’s poorest countries.

Much of Djibouti’s woes are its own doings. Other than Ethiopia, Guelleh has found an ally in China, which is playing a major part in keeping the Djiboutian economic engine going. While Beijing has poured $14.4 billion into its foothold since 2015, Guelleh has been eager to show his gratitude. In February, the government seized  the Doraleh Container Terminal, previously run by Dubai’s DP World, in an apparent favor to China. Such preferential treatment isn’t doing Guelleh any favors with the local population, already unhappy about the Chinese presence.

Though Djibouti seems unlikely to revolt as long as China is watching over it, even Beijing won’t be able to hold back the tide if Ethiopia collapses and the ensuing instability inevitably adds fire to notoriously fragile South Sudan.

Given the magnitude of the stakes, Ethiopia’s emergency laws have therefore become a pan-African problem. They are not just a threat to Addis Ababa, but to the entire region, which relies heavily on the country for trade and aid. Unless Ethiopia’s government changes its ways, abolishes the state of emergency and allows for free and fair elections to be organized, Addis Ababa might well be the spark that lights the fuse on the Horn of Africa.

Samantha is a freshly minted graduate in International Relations based in Cairo, currently working as a research assistant in a small think tank looking at development and inequality in Africa

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Africa

Water Diplomacy: Creating Spaces for Nile Cooperation

Abraham Telar Kuc

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The Nile River is the longest river on the earth, with eleven nation states sharing it and over 487 million people or about 20% of the African population living in the basin countries and they depend partly or fully on the Nile for their daily water use, foods and other economic benefits. The river drains 10 % of the African continent or an area greater than 3,176,541 km2, and its divided to ten different sub-basins with two main feeding sources’ the White Nile and the Blue Nile, which making it one of the worlds largest and complicated international trans-boundary river basins.

It’s very clear that the long and current regional disputes over the Nile’s waters between the upstream and downstream countries specially Uganda, Ethiopia and other upstream nations who are been the forehead leading the campaign for the lifting of colonial era treaties regarding Nile waters allocutions, governance, management, economic use and other Nile related issues and they been demanding renegotiating Nile river basin for fair shares and equal benefits and which they did in 2010 by reaching and signing of (Cooperative Framework Agreement or Entebbe agreement) to replace all the European colonial agreements, meanwhile the two downstream countries Egypt and Sudan in the other sides refusing to renegotiate or sign the Entebbe treaty and insists on maintaining the colonial era treaties  or what they called “the historical rights” which gave the lion’s share of the Nile waters and the absolute veto to only two Nile countries and ignored the rights of other Nile’s nations.

Egypt and Sudan for years been using what they called “the historical rights” guaranteed by the colonial era agreements and their diplomatic influence to block international development funds and loans a policy which its aims only to prevent the upstream nations from establishing or constructing any developmental or economical projects on the Nile River, while Egypt is warring about the potential impacts which could effect its water security level as a result of any construction on the Nile river, the other Nile Basin nations said they are addressing the undergoing  social, economic and environmental changes plus the population in the region is growing rapidly which will need more access to Nile basin resources in aim to provide water, food and energy to their people.

The looming conflict in the Nile Basin region over water recourses governance, allocutions and economic use has been a major security threat to the regional and international peace and stability, the risks of militarizing the Nile water dispute among the basin countries has been a growing serious security threat to the basin region as a result of lacking of middle point agreement on how to share, mange and benefit from the longest river fairly and equally.

In past years the downstream nations had already unilaterally constructed dams, used Nile waters for irrigation, industrial and other projects and with the upstream nations complaining about those unilateral projects done by the downstream nations and the none cooperative method and approach of Egypt and Sudan and as an outcome of years of disagreement over the Nile water issues and unilaterally decisions and actions taken by the individual countries claiming the Nile River waters and only favoring their own benefits over other Nile nations. The Entebbe Agreement came in to escalate the none cooperation situation more by geo-politically shifting the control of Nile basin waters away from the downstream nations and gave the upstream countries a legal frame to construct dams, establish different projects and increase their water use for different propos.

With some countries see themselves as victims of other Nile countries who had taken an advantage of certain period of time or situation that they were in, which let some of them to see no benefit now in been cooperative with the others concerning the Nile related issues and looks only at their national interests, but still the diplomatic dialogue and inclusive negotiations between the Nile basin nations is the only way forward to build confidence, trust and cooperation for sustainable future of the Nile and mutual and shared benefits for basin members countries. A positive engagement between the Nile basin members now can be observed in some steps taken by the countries were technical dialogue and diplomatic approach has increased the sharing of technical and hydrological data between the basin members countries, capacity building workshops and inter-nations trainings and seminars for technicians, policy and decision makers, government officials, diplomats, scientists, researchers, journalists, local and global think-tank institutions, NGOs, regional and other international stakeholders had really helped in easing the interstate political tensions and putting concord foundation for more regional cooperation which will contribute to a better understanding, enhancing the diplomatic relations  and cooperation among the basin nations.

To have a sustainable Nile Basin with equal benefits, comprehensive cooperation, joint management, and effective partnership the diplomatic approach and inclusive negotiations is the only solution to overcome years of mistrust and standoff in the Nile Basin region.

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Africa

Russia, Africa and the SPIEF’19

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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In 2019, four African countries – Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho Niger and Somalia – for the first time attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF’19) held on June 6-8 under theme “Creating a Sustainable Development Agenda” in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The Forum brought together a record-breaking number of participants: over 19,000 people from 145 countries, with 1,300 guests representing heads of companies. The sheer number of business community participants, variety of thematic events, and level of representation on both national and international levels underscore the status of SPIEF as a truly global economic forum.

Over the years, SPIEF has become an open platform to exchange best practices and key competences in the interest of providing sustainable development.

The main event was the plenary session, with the participation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Peter Pellegrini, and Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres.

During his address to the participants of the Forum, Vladimir Putin talked about the tasks the country is facing, as well as about the importance of national projects as a driver of economic growth in Russia.

The overall budget for the implementation of proposed development projects of Russia is about US$400 billion. The priorities are healthcare, education, research and development, and support for entrepreneurship. And, considerable funds will also be allocated to develop major infrastructure, transport and the energy industry.

Putin also stressed to the guests and participants for their friendly attitude to Russia, their willingness for joint work and business cooperation based on pragmatism, understanding of mutual interests and, of course, trust, frankness and clear-cut positions. That global inequality between countries and regions is the main source of instability. It is not just about the level of income or financial inequality, but fundamental differences in opportunities for people.

More than 800 million people around the world do not have basic access to drinking water, and about 11 percent of the world’s population is undernourished. A system based on ever-increasing injustice will never be stable or balanced.

As a first step, necessary to conduct a kind of demilitarisation of the key areas of the global economy and trade, that also includes utilities and energy, which help reduce the impact on the environment and climate. This concerns areas that are crucial for the life and health of millions, one might even say, billions of people on the entire planet.

Russia has embarked on implementing long-term strategic programmes, many of which are global in nature, it is important to hear each other and pool efforts for resolving common goals. Russia is ready for these challenges and changes.

During the four days of the Forum, over 1,300 speakers and moderators, including Russian and international experts, took part in discussions. They shared their knowledge, experiences and best practices with the participants of the Forum. There was special zone of the area that hosted interviews with politicians, government officials, representatives of big business.

On the sidelines, there were business dialogues between Russia and other countries, for example Russia–Africa, were very popular this year. President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Mabel Chinomona, was one of the African participants. State officials came from Botswana, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Mauritius, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

The Russia-Africa session featured Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa; Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission and Tatyana Valovaya, Member of the Board – Minister in Charge of Integration and Macroeconomics, Eurasian Economic Commission.

Isabel Jose dos Santos, Chairman, Unitel SA; Daniel Kablan Duncan, Vice President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire; Dmitry Konyaev, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors, URALCHEM JSC and Benedict Okey Oramah, President, Chairman of the Board of Director, The African Export Import Bank.

Sylvie Baipo-Temon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Central Africans Abroad of the Central African Republic; Nikita Gusakov, General Director, EXIAR; Boris Ivanov

Managing Director, GPB Global Resources and Nataliya Zaiser, Chair of the Board, Africa Business Initiative UNION; Executive Secretary, Russian National Committee, World Energy Council (WEC).

The participants noted that 2019 should be a historic year in the development of Russian-African relations. The summit of heads of state in October should take place amidst record growth in Russian exports to Africa. Russia is interested in new markets and international alliances more than ever before, while Africa has solidified its position as one of the centres of global economic growth in recent years.

In this context, the countries need to rethink the approaches, mechanisms, and tools they use for cooperation in order to take their relations to the next level as their significance grows in the new conditions of world politics and economics. What steps are needed to give a new impetus to bilateral economic relations? What are the key initiatives and competencies that can create a deeper strategic partnership between Russia and African states?

These are among the key questions on the meeting agenda for the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit planned for October in Sochi under the co-chairmanship of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Chairperson of the African Union.

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Russia joins Gulf states in coaching Sudan’s military

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Russia has emerged as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ silent partner in assisting the Sudanese military’s efforts to weaken, if not defeat a months-long popular revolt that has already toppled president Omar al-Bashir.

Documents leaked to The Guardian and MHK Media, a Russian-language news website, by the London-based Dossier Centre, an investigative group funded by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, disclosed Russia’s hitherto behind-the-scenes role in Sudan.

Laying out plans to bolster Russia’s position across Africa by building relations with rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of leaders and undercover agents, the documents included details of a campaign to smear anti-government protesters in Sudan.

The plan for the campaign appeared to have been copy-pasted from proposals to counter opposition in Russia to president Vladimir Putin with references to Russia mistakenly not having been replaced with Sudan in one document.

Russia advised the Sudanese military to use fake news and videos to portray demonstrators as anti-Islamic, pro-Israeli and pro-LGBT. The plan also suggested increasing the price of newsprint to make it harder for critics to get their message out and to discover “foreigners” at anti-government rallies.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg-based businessman and close associate of Mr. Putin, complained in a letter to Mr. Bashir before he was overthrown that the president was not following his advice.

Mr. Prigozhin, who was indicted by US special counsel Robert Mueller for operating a troll factory that ran an extensive social media campaign that favoured of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was according to the documents a key player in efforts to enhance Russian influence in Africa.

Mr. Prigozhin accused Mr. Bashir and his government of not being active enough and adopting an “extremely cautious position.”

If a visit this week to Sudan by foreign journalists at the invitation of the military to show them medical facilities that had allegedly been ransacked by protesters and demonstrate that hospitals that had been attacked by notorious paramilitary forces associated with Sudanese army were returning to normal, is anything to go by, Mr. Prigozhin’s criticism may have merit.

“It must have seemed like a good idea to somebody, although I cannot imagine why. The plan was to show us how terribly the protesters had behaved. If the world could see what they were really like they would understand that the regime had no choice but to send in the militia. Except from the moment we arrived at the first medical facility things started to go wrong,” said the BBC’s Africa editor, Fergal Keane.

To Mr. Keane, the omnipresence of paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) made the paramilitary headed by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo aka Hemedti, believed to be a Saudi and UAE favourite because his troops fought in Yemen and his reputation for ruthlessness, look “more like an army of occupation than an internal security force.”

Widely viewed as ambitious and power hungry, General Dagalo resembles in the eyes of protesters Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the autocratic general-turned-president who in 2013 staged a Saudi-UAE-backed military coup that toppled Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president.

Defending the UAE’s contacts with the military council, Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said his country’s “credibility is our means to contribute to enhancing peaceful transition in a way that preserves the state and its institutions.”

Human Rights Watch this week called on the United Nations Security Council to halt the withdrawal of peacekeepers from Darfur, noting that the Rapid Support Forces “have a long track record of abuse. They carried out highly abusive counter-insurgency campaigns in Darfur, and the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions over the past five years, in which they attacked villages, killed and raped civilians, and burned and looted homes.”

Witnesses outside a medical facility and a hospital that Mr. Keane visited countered the military’s tale, describing how troops stormed the buildings and looted and destroyed facilities. “”The international community has to intervene. There is no peace here in Sudan. People are suffering a lot… I am frightened for my country,” said a man as he drove by Omdurman Hospital.

The failed public relations tour, the crackdown, the Russian guidance and stalled talks between protesters and the military fits a Saudi-UAE promoted pattern that has evolved across the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 popular Arab revolts. It’s a pattern that aims to defeat popular protest at whatever cost.

The Sudanese protest movement has emerged from the crackdown that doctors said killed at least 118 people and efforts to delegitimize it battered, divided and potentially weakened but still standing.

A general strike declared at the beginning of this week initially paralyzed the capital Khartoum but within a day or two appeared to be weakening.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Dirir said on Tuesday that the protesters had agreed to end the strike while the governing Transitional Military Council (TMC), headed by officers with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, was ready to release political prisoners, one of several key demands of the protesters.

Mr. Dirir said the two sides had also agreed to “soon” resume talks to resolve the crisis even if they were nowhere near narrowing differences of returning Sudan to civilian rule. It was not clear what soon meant.

“Negotiation – even if it happens soon – will circle back to the same issue: will the military cede power to a civilian government? Nothing about the generals’ actions has indicated that this is an imminent possibility. The fear is that they will use any negotiations to try to divide the opposition while security pressure is maintained on the streets,” Mr. Keane said.

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