The already horrific conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray state seems set to escalate after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced Nov. 17 that a three-day ultimatum for local forces to surrender had expired, clearing the way for a government offensive on the regional capital Mekele. At least 20,000 refugees have fled to Sudan amid air-strikes and mounting reports of atrocities on both sides. Neighboring Eritrea has also apparently entered the conflict—ironically on the side of the Ethiopian government, long its bitter enemy. The state government of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) accuses Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of troops over the border to support Ethiopian federal forces. Although this is denied by Eritrea, Tigray state forces have fired rockets into the Eritrean capital, Asmara. Mekele has also fired rockets at the airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar in Ethiopia's Amhara state, whose local forces have joined the conflict on the side of the central government. (CNN, UN News, Reuters, Jurist, Jurist, TNH, Horn Daily, Al Jazeera)
Ethiopia's attorney general filed charges on Sept. 19 against 24 activists for alleged terrorism and incitement to violence. Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, two leading opposition politicians of the Oromo Federalist Congress, were among those charged. Despite being the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Oromo have historically faced political and economic marginalization. Jawar and Gerba actively oppose the Ethiopian government and have called for the federal state to give "self-rule" to Oromos and other ethnic groups in regions where those groups constitute the majority of the population.
Elections to fill the 190 seats in the regional parliament were held Sept. 9 in Ethiopia's restive northern region of Tigray—in defiance of a federal government order suspending all polls. Elections in Ethiopia's nine regions had been scheduled for August, but indefinitely postponed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The central government in Addis Ababa is refusing to recognize the election. Authorities barred journalists from travelling to Tigray to cover the election, with security officers even removing several reporters from a plane bound for the regional capital, Mekele.
Reportedly at the direct instigation of President Donald Trump, the US State Department has ordered a suspension of aid to Ethiopia over its move to begin capturing water behind a controversial new mega-dam on the Blue Nile that has been opposed by Egypt and Sudan. A State Department spokesperson said the decision to "temporarily pause" some aid to Addis Ababa "reflects our concern about Ethiopia's unilateral decision to begin to fill the dam before an agreement and all necessary dam safety measures were in place." The statement said the decision was taken by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "based on guidance from the president." The freeze could affect as much as $100 million in aid. The reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) began filling in July, over the protests of Egypt and Sudan. (Al Jazeera, Sept. 3; AP, Sept. 2)
The military has been deployed in the Ethiopian capital amid a general uprising by the Oromo people that broke out after the assassination of a popular singer. Hachalu Hundessa, shot dead while driving on the outskirts of Addis Ababa on June 29, was an icon of the Oromo protest movement that has been mounting since 2015. His songs, such as "Maalan Jira?" (What Existence is Mine?) and "Jirraa" (We are Here), have been hailed as the "soundtrack of the Oromo revolution," and he was named "Oromo Person of the Year" by cultural advocates in 2017. Police say two have been arrested in connection with the killing, but rebellion continues to spread across Central Ethiopia. At least 80 have been killed and many detained. The prominent Oromo leader Jawar Mohammed is among those arrested.
As strongmen around the world exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to "normality." In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new "Alert Level 2" rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of "enforcement officers" to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (NZH)
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)
Somali troops clashed with forces from the country's semi-autonomous Jubaland region last week in a flare-up of violence that is raising tensions with neighboring countries and may play into the hands of the militant group al-Shabab. Tensions have been rising since August, when Jubaland's incumbent president, Ahmed Madobe, won regional elections that Mogadishu described as "not free and fair." The central government wanted a loyalist candidate to win, as it seeks greater control over Somalia's regions ahead of upcoming national elections. Kenya, which has troops deployed as part of an African Union peace enforcement operation, is on the side of Madobe, who it sees as an ally against al-Shabab, while Ethiopia has aligned with Mogadishu. Kenya accused Somali troops of encroaching on its territory and destroying property during last week's violence, while the US said that the clashes are a distraction in efforts against al-Shabab. An estimated 56,000 people have been uprooted by the recent fighting. according to the UN.