Horn of Africa
The political heat is rising in Somalia over the determination of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, to cling to power despite his term having ended in February. On April 12, he embraced a decision by the lower house of the Federal Parliament to extend his (and their) stay in office for an extra two years, to allow the running of delayed elections. The move was rejected by the Senate as "unconstitutional. The Senate called on Farmajo to rejoin UN-led talks—which he has rejected. As the crisis deepens, there are reports of a troop build-up in the capital and the fragmentation of the security forces. Yet this political tussle is being played out in the Mogadishu bubble. In the countryside, where the government holds little sway, a new drought emergency is underway. Almost 40,000 people have been forced from their homes in the first three months of the year due to poor rains, joining the 1.3 million displaced in 2020 by combined humanitarian disasters. Another bad rainy season is forecast for April-June, but donor funding is roughly $1 billion short of the appeal target.
At least 29 were killed, including women and children, when gunmen attacked a church at Debos Kebele, a village in Horo Guduru zone of Ethiopia's Oromia regional state on March 5. Local residents were gathered in the church to celebrate the start of the two-month Lent fast by followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo rite. The massacre was the bloodiest in a wave of attacks on residents of the Amhara ethnicity in the region over the past months. The National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) blames the attacks on the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), but also accuses the central government of complicity. NaMA said that at rallies in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the region, Amhara are stigmatized and referred to by the pejorative "neftegna"—meaning "rifleman" or "musketeer," a reference to armed settlers in Oromia under the Amhara-dominated Abyssinian monarchy.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, on Jan. 14 expressed concern over the humanitarian conditions in Ethiopia's Tigray region and its impact on civilians, particularly Eritrean refugees living in four camps. Grandi said he continues to receive reliable reports and first-hand accounts of ongoing insecurity in the region and "grave and distressing human rights abuses including killings, targeted abductions and forced return of refugees to Eritrea." He also cited open-source satellite imagery from California-based company Planet Labs which indicates fires and other fresh signs of destruction at the two camps located in Shimelba and Hitsats. Grandi termed these "concrete indications of major violations of international law."
In a victory for the Trump White House, Sudan has officially signed on to the so-called "Abraham Accords," agreeing to peace and normalization of diplomatic ties with Israel. Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari signed the document in the presence of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Jan. 6. While Khartoum announced its intent to join in late October, the government waited to formally proceed until the US removed Sudan from its list of "state sponsors of terrorism" last month. Sudan paid $335 million in compensation to US victims of terrorism and their families as a condition of the removal process.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addressed allegations of human rights and humanitarian law violations in Ethiopia in a Dec. 22 statement, calling for an investigation into the claims, and urgent protection of civilians. The conflict between central government forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) began seven weeks ago, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Abuses were reportedly carried out by both central government and TPLF forces—as well as by the armed forces of neighboring Eritrea, which has entered the conflict on the side of the Ethiopian central government.
Somalia severed diplomatic ties with neighboring Kenya Dec. 14, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and meddling in its internal affairs ahead of scheduled general elections. Although the statement cited no specific grievances, it came exactly as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was hosting in Nairobi the president of Somaliland, a breakaway region in Somalia's northwest that declared independence in 1991. Kenyatta and Somaliland's President Musa Bihi Abdi signed a pact on increased security and economic cooperation—which is clearly viewed by Mogadishu as a step toward formal recognition.
The Russian government has for the first time weighed in diplomatically on the dispute between Somalia and the separatist enclave of Somaliland on the north coast of the Horn of Africa. Moscow's UN ambassador Vassiliy Nebenzia last week issued a statement urging both sides to find a compromise solution. "We are concerned about the breakdown...of talks between delegations of Somalia and the self-proclaimed Somaliland. We urge both sides to consider a compromise way of resolving the differences," Nebenzia said. "It is important to resume talks between the governments of Somalia and Somaliland."
President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all US troops from Somalia by mid-January, the Pentagon announced Dec. 4. The US currently has about 700 troops in the country, assisting local forces to fight al-Shabaab and insurgents operating in the name of the Islamic State. The Pentagon statement stressed that the order to "reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021" does not signify a change in policy: "We will continue to degrade Violent Extremist Organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition."