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Tracing Roots: The Conflict in Ethiopia

The Tigray region faces some of the toughest development challenges in Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Zerihun Sewunet

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In her book ‘New and old wars’ Mary Kaldor argues that one of the main reasons behind Yugoslavia slipping into civil war, and the subsequent Balkanization, was in part due to institutionalisation of ethnic differences.

The consensus was that the Balkans were an inherently unstable area held together by a strong state. Once the power of the federal government waned, a process called Balkanization began. If the ethnic divide was masked by an overt Yugoslavism, how could people of different ethnicities live side by side for a long time?

Decentralization of totalitarianism

The answer lies in the federal structure of the former Yugoslavia. To prevent a particular ethnicity from dominating the government the regime had put in place several checks and balances creating an extremely complex system and inadvertently institutionalizing ethnic difference. The result was that, in the end, each republic and autonomous province had its own communist party catering to its ethnic majority.

This was a dangerous proposition and one that Kaldor argues is rare in a totalitarian society. It was effectively the decentralization of totalitarianism. The power vacuum created by decentralization was filled by national communitarian identities adding fuel to the fire.

The analogies between the Yugoslavian case and Ethiopia is striking. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front(EPRDF), which was a coalition of all major ethnic parties in Ethiopia and led by the TPLF(Tigray People’s Liberation Front; A political party for the Tigrayan ethnic group)  came to power after replacing the communist Derg regime of General Mengistu and established a system called ethnic federalism.

Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia

The EPRDF under Mr. Zenawi divided the country into 9 states along ethnic lines thereby intentionally institutionalizing ethnicity hoping this would hold his country together. The fault lines emerging today are a legacy of this misadventure. Instead of promoting a unified national identity, the EPRDF at the time established a state based on ethnicity; a system convenient for the Tigrayans who went on to dominate proceedings in Ethiopia.

Mr. Abi Ahmed, who hails from the Oromo group, is trying to wind down the clock on ethnic federalism. He has been trying to shore up pan-Ethiopianism and the newly established Prosperity party, which is a coalition of all parties in the EPRDF except TPLF, is a step in this direction. The Absence of the TPLF from the coalition would have warned Mr. Abi of what was lying in store for him.

It is possible to say that the current conflict in Ethiopia can be traced back to the basic structure of the Ethiopian state. Mr. Aby expressed a clear desire to centralize the state and weaken the ethnic based federal system in hope that pan-Ethiopianism can spur a new nationalistic identity. It is inevitable that he will run into roadblocks since no region would want to give up its powers as mandated to them under the current structure.

War in Tigray

The ongoing tussle between the federal government and the Tigray region has its roots in this dynamic. The war between Addis Ababa and Mekelle is driven by bitter divisions over power-sharing. After Mr. Abi Ahmed came to power, the TPLF lost most of its disproportionate influence over the federal government. The Nobel Prize winner then floated a new national political party called ‘prosperity party’, which the TPLF refused to join in.

The real spark that ignited the conflict arrived when the Tigray government conducted elections in defiance of the federal government. To uphold its legitimacy it was imperative that the federal government intervened.

A conflict spiralling out of control

Ethiopia is an upholder of peace and stability in an already war torn Horn of Africa. It is crucial that the conflict doesn’t spiral out of control. A recent report by Amnesty International suggests a damning account of the presence of Eritrean troops on Ethiopian soil systematically killing hundreds of civilians in what may amount to crime against humanity. Eritrea is one of the most repressive countries in the world, repressive enough to give North Korea a run for its money.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has ruled the country with an iron hand. No information, except propaganda, comes out of the Eritrean camp. Meanwhile, the Ethiopians are refraining from admitting or denying the presence of Eritrean troops; thus shielding away from making a decision on the ground. The Presence of Eritrean troops has made the situation a lot complicated.

The United States issued a statement demanding immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray, but the Ethiopian government has expressed displeasure over apparent US efforts to influence ‘purely internal matters’. Invoking hard sovereignty is usually a larger symptom of something wrong in a state.

Prospects of peace look distant, unless Ethiopia can win a decisive victory over the rebels. But that will not be done without causing significant damage to life and property. Eritrean intervention will only help to increase the resolve of the rebels in Tigray. If Eritrean troops are not expelled immediately, it will hamper negotiations with the Tigrayans and the Federal government; prolonging the conflict and causing serious trust deficits.

The Tigrayan leadership has failed its people by leading them down into a protracted conflict with devastating consequences but Mr. Abi will be disappointing the entire world if he doesn’t take a decisive decision to expel the Eritreans.

I am a post graduate scholar at the school of politics and International relations, Pondicherry University, India.

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Africa

Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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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.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

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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More African Countries Register Russia’s Sputnik Vaccine

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Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU) that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

During the outbreak of the coronavirus, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), was established by African Union, as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy and was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government on 20th of August 2020.

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has emphasized: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has a timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

An official media release in February 2021, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team from the African Union (AU) informed that Russia would supply and deliver 300 million Sputnik V vaccines to Africa. That step was intended to support African countries to attain their targeted immunization of 60% of the population by the year-end. That vaccine story disappeared, but instead what become so common is the speedy registration of Sputnik V on bilateral basis in various African countries.

According to the latest, Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. The use of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been approved in Nigeria, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in an official statement.

“The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund) announces the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria (NAFDAC). Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. Total population of all countries, where Sputnik V is approved for use, now exceeds 3.7 billion people, which is nearly half of the global population,” the statement said.

“Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, and the approval of Sputnik V will provide for using one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world. Sputnik V is based on a proven human adenoviral vectors platform and is successfully used in over 50 countries. Approval in Nigeria will make an important contribution to the country’s fight against the pandemic,” CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev said.

Besides Nigeria, other African countries have registered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Reportedly, the vaccine has been registered in Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine, of course, offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has made efforts promoting the vaccine using all its channels. But supply and delivery have largely lagged behind, the pledges have simply not been fulfilled. Russian authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), with profit motivation, has attempted supplying the Russian vaccines through, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to a number of African countries. For instance, the Republic of Ghana reportedly signed US$64.6 million contract for Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in the media.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted, in a speech early September, that advanced countries that produce vaccines against the coronavirus do little to protect humanity from the pandemic.

“The benefits of vaccination are enjoyed mostly by advanced economies. The bulk of the vaccines is made there, and it is used to protect their own population. But very little is being done to protect humanity in the broad sense,” Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Far East of Russia. “This is very bad for the producers, because all this boomerangs around the globe. For instance, in Africa the level of protection with vaccines is minimal, but contacts with the African countries continue. There is no getting away from this. This infection will return again and again.”

According to an official release obtained late February, the Sputnik V vaccine the following advantages:

• Efficacy of Sputnik V is 91.6% as confirmed by the data published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals; It is one of only three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%; Sputnik V provides full protection against severe cases of COVID-19. 

• The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years. 

• Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots. 

• The safety, efficacy and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades. 

• The developers of the Sputnik V vaccine are working collaboratively with AstraZeneca on a joint clinical trial to improve the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine. 

• There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V. 

• The price of Sputnik V is less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world. 

In February, peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet published an analysis from Phase III clinical trial of the Russian vaccine, showing its 91.6-percent efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. The Sputnik V vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Sputnik V was registered in Russia on August 11, 2020 as the world’s first officially registered coronavirus vaccine. Russian vaccines have advantages as no deaths have been reported after vaccination with the Sputnik V, Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Center, the vaccine developer, said and was reported by TASS News Agency. “As of today, no deaths after vaccination with Sputnik V have been registered,” he said.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy. RDIF’s management is based in Moscow.

In Africa, during first of September, the coronavirus-related death toll has topped 196,190, while more than 6.9 million recoveries have been reported. South Africa accounts for a majority of coronavirus cases and deaths across Africa – 2,777,659 and 82,261 respectively. The death toll in Tunisia climbed to 23,451, and 664,034 cases have been confirmed. Egypt recorded 16,736 deaths and 288,441 coronavirus cases.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia is ranked second to South Africa (308,134 cases and 4,675 deaths) and is followed by Kenya (235,863 cases and 4,726 deaths) and Nigeria (191,805 and 2,455). The total number of COVID-19 cases has reached almost 8 million in Africa, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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