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Ethiopia: Future of Tigray and Horn of Africa ‘in grave uncertainty’

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photo © UNICEF/Zerihun Sewunet

A year-long conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia has reached “disastrous proportions”, the UN political chief told the Security Council on Monday, warning of “grave uncertainty” surrounding the future of the country and stability of the whole Horn of Africa region.

Fighting began in early November last year, when forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked a federal army base in the region, leading the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to order a military offensive against the rebels, which has left thousands dead.

Last week, the UN human rights office reported that serious violations on all sides, which may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.The Government declared a state of emergency on 2 November, after TPLF troops and their allies, began pushing south towards the capital, according to news reports.  

Coordinating with the Oromo Liberation Army, Tigrayan forces have advanced towards Addis Ababa, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo said.

The Government of Ethiopia has declared a nationwide state of emergency and has stated it is fighting ‘an existential war’”, she said, noting the spread of fighting throughout the country. “Elsewhere, insecurity in the Oromia region continues to worsen, while the situation in parts of the Benishangul-Gumuz region remains tense”.

Catastrophic threat

Turning to growing speculation on how the crisis would unfold over the coming weeks, the UN official observed that in a country of more than 110 million people, over 90 different ethnic groups and 80 languages, no one could really predict what continued fighting and insecurity will bring.

However, she said that the political repercussions of intensifying violence in the wider region would be “immense” – compounding the many other crises underway in the Horn of Africa.

“But let me clear: What is certain is that the risk of Ethiopia descending into widening civil war is only too real. That would bring about a humanitarian catastrophe and consume the future of such an important country”, she said.

Cut off and hungry

While more than seven million people need humanitarian aid in northern Ethiopia today, efforts to mobilize assistance in Tigray – where more than five million lack food and an estimated 400,000 now live in famine-like conditions – are made more difficult due to the inability to move cash, fuel and supplies into the region.

“No aid trucks have reached Mekelle since 18 October amid continued airstrikes”, Ms. DiCarlo said, adding that since strikes on 22 October on the regional capital of Tigray, UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights have remained suspended while fuel shipments have been blocked since August.

While some emergency supplies have been moved, it has been four months since the last major shipment of medicines and health supplies into Tigray.

Humanitarian visit

Lack of access, has forced humanitarians to scale-back aid, just as life-saving humanitarian needs escalate rapidly in the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, as large numbers of people flee the spreading conflict.

Over the weekend, Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, travelled to Ethiopia to review increasing needs and plan for a greater humanitarian response.

Unfettered access to conflict areas remains key”, underscored Ms. DiCarlo.

‘Horrific suffering’

Recalling last week’s report of the joint UN-Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigation into the conflict in Tigray, she pointed to the “horrific suffering” of civilians.

“The report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict…committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law”, the UN official stated, adding that war crimes and crimes against humanity may also have been committed.

And amidst incidents of hate speech and an alarming increase in targeting ethnic groups “at an alarming rate”, she described the Council’s call for refraining from inflammatory speech and incitement to violence as “welcome and timely”.

Need for inclusivity ‘never greater’

There must be an immediate cessation of hostilities”, she spelled out, drawing attention to multiple calls for a lasting ceasefire and for an inclusive intra-Ethiopian dialogue to resolve the crisis, and eventually create the foundation for peace and stability throughout the country.

At the same time, Ms. DiCarlo noted that the July elections which returned the Prime Minister’s party to power, securing him another five year term, “demonstrated the people’s commitment to the democratic process”, and highlighted Abiy Ahmed’s commitment to resolve the ongoing challenges and launch a national dialogue.

The urgency for such an inclusive initiative has never been greater”, she said.

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Africa

Ramaphosa Faces Possible Impeachment for Corruption

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has fallen into turbulent waves and struggling to save his position and reputation. It has tainted image of and changed the global perception about South Africa, if Ramaphosa is finally impeached for corruption scandal similar to his predecessor Jacob Zuma. He, however, made corruption fight a top priority during the political campaign and has fallen victim himself.

Ramaphosa ousted former president Jacob Zuma in 2017 amid optimism that the new leader could rid the ruling party of graft and revitalise the economy. Zuma faces several corruption investigations, but denies wrongdoing.

He faces possible impeachment over claims that he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars stashed inside his commercial farmlands. Former State Security Agency director Arthur Fraser laid a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa in June over the theft in 2020. 

The Investigative Committee has concluded its report which report found the president may have breached anti-corruption laws. The African National Congress, the ruling party, has called for him to step down. But, Ramaphosa has denied wrongdoing.

“We are in an unprecedented and extraordinary moment as a constitutional democracy as a result of the report, and therefore whatever decision the president takes, it has to be informed by the best interest of the country. That decision cannot be rushed,” according to the spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya.

A panel report that found preliminary evidence that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated his oath of office is a “troubling moment” for the government and governing party, South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor said in an interview with the Reuters.

Pandor added that she was still reading the panel report on the robbery at Ramaphosa’s farm and that she did not want to rush into the public space with additional comments.

The panel’s findings come less than a month away from an elective conference that will decide if Ramaphosa gets to run for a second term on the African National Congress ticket in 2024 polls.

According to his biographical record, Ramaphosa is an anti-apartheid champion, and later South Africa’s wealthiest businessmen and then its most powerful politician and president. Born in Johannesburg on Nov. 17, 1952, the son of a retired policeman. Ramaphosa is a staunch member of the African National Congress (ANC).

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Russia-Africa Summit: Sergey Lavrov Embarks on Courtship and Assessment Tour

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Behind lofty summit declarations, several bilateral agreements and thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges, Russia has been at the crossroad due to the  ‘special military operations’ it began late February in Ukraine. It has achieved little these few years after the symbolic summit held in 2019. With preparations for the next African leaders summit, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to undertake two African tours during the first quarter 2023.

At the heat of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and within the context of the current geopolitical and economic changes, Lavrov made a snapshot trip to four African countries July 24-28 this year. The four African countries on that travel agenda: Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo. 

In January-February 2023, Lavrov will first focus on North Africa. Why the Maghreb is a strategic region for Russia? It is true that despite the appearance of competition between Europe and the United States, between Russia and China as well as the Gulf States, Russia has intensified its relations aims at raising its influence in the Maghreb.

Worth noting that Egypt already has significant strategic and economic ties with Russia. With the geographical location of Egypt, Lavrov’s frequent visits there has some tacit implications. Last July trip, for instance, concretely aimed at explaining the perspectives for Russia’s actions in neighbouring Ukraine, to frame-shape its geo-strategic posture in the region and solicit support from the entire Arab world. It followed U.S. President Joe Biden  official visit to the Middle East. Biden visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia.

Reports from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that Lavrov plans to undertake two “coordinated working visits” and first trip will focus on Arab-speaking North African region popularly referred to as Maghreb. For several decades, the Maghreb region has been a multifaceted conflict region, in fact one of the most volatile geopolitical frontiers, and which includes Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This vast area inhabited by some 120 million people – 80 per cent of them in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco – is landlocked between the huge Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert.

Historically, Russia has had long-standing good political relations not only the North but also with sub-Saharan Africa down to Southern Africa since Soviet times, provided tremendous support for liberation movements that culminated in decolonization and ultimately the rise of the economies in Africa. The continent is rife with rivalry  and competition, attracting foreign players especially this time of emerging new global order.

According to official reports, Russia is interested in expanding multifaceted cooperation, and making feverish attempts for a collaborative mechanism to upgrade its relations. It seeks to work closely in developing a new architecture necessary for participating in development projects, promote infrastructure, trade and other viable economic ties. It held the first Russia-Africa summit three years ago, signed many bilateral agreements and issued an impressive joint declaration as a roadmap for the future directions.

On the agenda for the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg, there are matters relating to building a new global architecture in the context of strengthening multi-polarity and the international security, food and energy security, healthcare and humanitarian cooperation, education, science and culture. 

With rafts of sanctions imposed on Russia, it becomes expedient for both Russia and Africa to find alternative ways of collaboration (between Russia and Africa) that do not rely on Western currencies or sanctions policy. Of course, illegal sanctions imposed on Russia continue to have a negative impact on foreign economic relations, necessitating an urgent reconfiguration of strategies for pushing further cooperation.

The reports always note that Africa is one of the most important and fastest growing region for Russian producers. Moscow understands the significance of engaging and achieving sustainable development there. For example, Russia faces the challenge to promote the creation of a reliable infrastructure for the production and transportation of African energy products and the development of domestic markets. It faces the challenge of setting admirably its economic influence in the continent.

That however in November 2021, a policy document titled the ‘Situation Analytical Report’ presented at the premises of TASS News Agency was very critical about Russia’s current policy towards Africa. While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are little definitive results from such meetings, according to that authoritative report researched and put together by 25 Russian policy experts headed by Professor Sergey Karaganov, Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. 

The report pointed to the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa. For the past three decades, Russia plays very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry. Many bilateral agreements, at the top and high political levels, have still not been implemented. A lot more important issues have received little attention since the first African leaders summit held in Sochi.

Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community hardly pays attention to the significance to, and makes little efforts in leveraging unto the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people. 

In an interview with Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), explained that Africa is a busy geopolitical arena, with many players, both old and new, operating. Apart from EU countries, China and the US. There are players such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, the UAE, Japan and others. Russia has to compete against them, and distinctively remain focused its efforts with strategies. 

On the other side, Russia uses the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in its engagement with Africa, and that it is fighting neo-colonialism from the West, especially in relations with their former colonies. It sees France as a threat to its interests in Francophone West Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel.

Russia brings little to the continent especially in the economic sectors which badly need investment especially building infrastructure. Undeniable fact is that many external players have also had long-term relations and continue bolstering political, economic and social ties in the continent.

“I would largely agree that there is a divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialized on the ground. There is more talk than action, and mere intentions and ideas have been officially presented as initiatives already in progress. There needs to be a lot of tangible progress on the ground for the second summit to show impact. It will be interesting to see what has been concretely achieved in reports at the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for this 2023,” he assertively argued.

Of course, Russia aims at restoring and regaining part of its Soviet-era influence, but has problems with planning and tackling its set tasks, lack of confidence in fulfilling its policy targets. The most important aspect is how to make strategic efforts more practical, more consistent and more effective with African countries. Without these fundamental factors, it would therefore be an illusionary dream considering multifaceted partnership with Africa.

As a direct result of Russia’s ‘special military operation’ aims at ‘demilitarization and denazification’ in the neighbouring post-Soviet republic of Ukraine since late February, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries.

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…Africa is a Continent and not a Country

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Russian officials are highly educated and knowledgeable people, but are often confused to make the difference between a continent and a country. Africa is mentioned in reports even when dealing with a single African country. Referring to dictionary definitions can help to understand the distinctive meaning of these and how to use them in official phrases and reports.

Any English dictionary gives the meaning and shows how to use them. For example, Britannica and Webster dictionaries say “a country” is a distinct part of the world, such as a state, nation, or other political entity. It may be a sovereign state or make up one part of a larger state.

Both Britannica and Webster, additionally, explain that “a state, a nation and a country” are interchangeably used, but what is important to note is “it is a territorial entity, with a permanent population, defined borders, and a government that effectively controls the territory.

What is under simple discussion here is that Russian officials oftentimes and frequently confuse “a continent” with “a country, nation and state” in speeches and reports. In geography, history and social studies at all schools throughout the world, teachers explain that Africa is a continent but not a country. 

In this context, Africa as  a continent consists of or made up of 55 states or countries, and a state or a country is an individual entity.

Take for example: The first ship with 20,000 metric tons of Russian fertilizers on board sailed from a Dutch port to Africa on November 29. Does this mean sending 20,000 metric tons to entire Africa or just to one African country? This shipment is only meant for Malawi. The Russian fertilizes will be carried by sea to Mozambique and then delivered by land transport to Malawi.

Take for example: President Vladimir Putin said during the first Russia-Africa summit that “Russia has written off $20 billions of Africa’s debts to the Soviet Union” and that was an act of generosity.

What is noteworthy here is Moscow’s decision to write off African debts that were accumulated mostly through weapons and arms delivery to a number of African countries during the Soviet era. The politics of Africa’s debt write-offs has had historical chronology. Always referring to Africa’s debts et cetera.

The simple question here is that not the entire Africa bought Soviet weapons and military equipment. How many African states bought military equipment from the Soviet Union? Records, however, show that some of these countries include Angola, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Benin, Tanzania and Zambia.

Reports from the Foreign Ministry generalizing that Russia is helping Africa with humanitarian food deliveries is completely wrong. Not the entire Africa is benefiting but a few countries.

There are too much generalization in diplomatic rhetoric and phrases, most probably to draw or solicit sympathy from Africa. With food supplies to Africa, it is necessary to specify African countries benefiting from this free delivery and humanitarian aid. It is not the entire Africa, of course not. With questions relating to Russia-Ukraine crisis and about the food deliveries, these are going to Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Malawi. 

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