Reportedly, while speaking with Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump suggested Egypt could bomb the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The comment comes several months after President Trump ordered the State Department to cut around $100 million of US military aid to Ethiopia. Such attitudes will harm US interests in the region.
Over the last few months, Prime minister Abiy has faced several challenges that could have undermined his reputation and weakened Ethiopia. However, he has shown good acumen in navigating these issues, and in doing, so he has strengthened not only his position but that of Ethiopia. This does not mean that he has not been without criticism, as one can always do better.
Challenge One: The Tigray Regional Authority Elections
On 9 September 2020, the Tigray Regional Authority defying the federal government held regional elections. The election could have undermined the Abiy government, which showed great skill in managing the situation. Prime Minister Abiy merely referred to them as ‘shanty elections’ treating them as illegal. Abiy opted not to send in the military to quash the election, the standard practice of authoritarian leaders. Since then, the federal government has relied on the power of the purse, cutting direct dies with the newly elected government, and working directly with local institutions. Such a response ensured there were no casualties or international opprobrium, although arguably the federal government is merely postponing a potential conflict with the Tigray Regional Authority, as seen with Abiy’s decision to send the military into the province.
Addis Ababa’s relations with Beijing are at an all-time high.
In 2017, Ethiopia and China elevated their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation. The change is indicative of Beijing’s commitment to ensure Ethiopia remains friendly and open to them. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Report 2020 makes it clear that China is the largest foreign direct investment source in Ethiopia in 2019, accounting for about 60% of the newly approved foreign projects in Ethiopia. Chinese lenders supported the construction of the Dire Dawa Industrial Park in Somali State. It is believed that the Park could generate 20,000 jobs, in addition to the current 1000 jobs. Linked to the Industrial Park is a massive road construction initiative, aimed at connecting communities, and in doing so unite the country.
Beijing has provided Ethiopia with great support to address the Covid-19 pandemic and the locust infestation. Beijing and Jack Ma’s Alibaba Foundation supported the building of a Covid-19 testing factory, enabling Ethiopia to produce testing kits. Beijing has also provided much needed medical assistance and expertise in dealing with the pandemic. In response to the locust infestation, Beijing sent 72 tons of pesticides, 2,000 hand-held sprayers, and 20,000 personal protective gear. Such measures underlie China’s commitment to using soft power diplomacy to win allies in Ethiopia.
One suspects the Abiy government is confident it could secure lines of credit from China and Chinese lenders. Lines of credit and investment are crucial for Abiy if he is to continue with his commitment to ‘open’ up – privatize/de-nationalise – the economy, which is why the UNCTAD’s Investment Trends Monitor Report issued in October 2020 provided good news for Abiy, as it showed that whereas Foreign Direct Investment in sub-Saharan Africa was down 21 percent, Ethiopia drew in$1.1 billion in Foreign Direct Investment inflows during the first half of 2020, with China being a key lender, funding around a quarter of all newly approved projects.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)
Despite the kerfuffle with the US decision to reduce its military aid to Ethiopia in lieu of the deadlock over the GERD with Egypt, the federal government is secure. The decision not to make much of the reduction in military aid because it meant little in the grand scheme of things further empowered the Abiy government. Had it returned to the negotiation table because of the reduction in aid it would have been kowtowing to US pressure.
Things could still go wrong
In the immediate period, one major threat to stability is the locust infestation. The Food and Agriculture Organization has described the latest invasion as the worse in 25 years, with locust swarms destroying over 200,000 hectares (490,000 acres). Consequently, there are serious concerns about food production.
Concern over food security remains high because some models including one by IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre, suggest Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are also heading towards dry conditions between October and December. The models supported by Earth Observations suggest there is a particularly good chance of another poor rainy season from March to May 2021.
The Tigray Regional Authority election did not spark ethnic conflict. Nevertheless, threats of ethnic divisions remain as seen with events in the Afar Province but also in Western Ethiopia, in Wollega. There are lots of small disputes, with little evidence that Abiy is taking an active measure to address them.
One of the biggest challenges for Abiy is the state of the economy. Abiy rode to power intending to massively reform the economy, opening it up to foreign and domestic investors. Ethiopia has a national debt of $28 billion, of which $12 billion is owed to China and Chinese companies and agencies. The debt has come in part because of attempts to reform the economy; in 2014 in the hope of raising a billion dollars to finance electricity, railway, and sugar industry projects, Ethiopia issued an international bond. The ten-year bond has than six percent interest rates.
Ethiopia’s economy is still operating under the rules of a planned economy, which is why Abiy is committed to reform it. Ethiopia’s telecommunication sector serves as a good example of a sector that needs drastic change. Abiy has sought to open up the sector, and it is expected that within the new few weeks, the Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency would announce which of the twelve official bidders would receive a license to operate elements of the sector.
The challenge is that EthioTelecom carries substantial debt much of which is owed to the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of China and China Development Bank. The terms of the loan were harsh, as the government focused on the financing. Ultimately, ZTE and later Huawei were able to offer the support, which companies such as Ericsson and Alcatel Lucent SA, could not match because the Chinese could rely on state support. Putting the debt issue aside, it also means the telecommunication sector is dependent on Chinese equipment and expertise.
Prime Minister Abiy’s greatest challenge is the prospect of an economic slowdown. The Ethiopian economy is fragile, and so is food security, with the World Development Indicators notingthat Ethiopia’s poorest 20% subsist on around $250 a year. Nevertheless, there seems to be optimism within the government because
- There are no serious internal or external threats. Abiy’s decision to improve relations with Eritrea has paid enormous dividends.
- The public generally does not blame it for massive failure in dealing with the pandemic
- There is tremendous nationalist energy surrounding the GERD and hope it would help solve the currency and energy problem
- Abiy remains popular on the international scene, and more countries are turning their attention to Ethiopia.
Overall, there is momentum for change in Ethiopia, which is why the US should seek to work closely with Addis Ababa as the country would only become stronger over time.
The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan
Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.
The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.
In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.
Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.
The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.
While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.
Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine
As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.
“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.
Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.
The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.
The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.
Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,
Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter
A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.
The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.
Earlier in August 2021, UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.
August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.
Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.
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