A US air raid, carried with both warplanes and drones, killed more than 150 al-Shabaab militants in Somalia March 5, with the Pentagon citing an "imminent threat" to US and African Union forces. Spokesman Cpt. Jeff Davis said a "large-scale" attack was being prepared at the camp. The target, identified as "Raso Camp," was in Bulobarde province, about 200 kilometers north of the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has continued to launch frequent attacks in its bid to overthrow the Western-backed government—including the twin bombing at a busy restaurant in the Somali city of Baidoa that killed 30 on Feb. 28.
Five Ethiopian bloggers on Oct. 16 were acquitted of terrorism charges relating to publications on their Zone9 website. The publications, critical of the government, landed nine bloggers in court, with one charged in absentia, in April 2014, for violation of Ethiopia's broad anti-terrorism law. In July five bloggers were unexpectedly released after being cleared by the court. In the new decision, the court announced that documents provided by prosecutors were insufficient to prove terrorism, leading to the release of four bloggers. Although cleared of terrorism charges, one blogger remains detained on charges of inciting violence. The releases come as a surprise for a nation ranked as one of the world's least free.
UK-based advocacy group Survival International says it has received reports that violent conflict between Ethiopian soldiers and Hamar pastoralists left dozens dead last month. The Hamar are one of several tribal peoples of the Lower Omo Valley who are subject to the government's policy of "villagization." They are being forcibly relocated to government-created villages along new roads through the region, while their ancestral grazing lands are sold off to investors for commercial plantations. These land-grabs have already led to starvation in parts of the Lower Omo. Tensions have been rising as a result of these evictions; at the end of May, Hamar were reportedly attacked by soldiers with rifles and mortars. Survival says a "news blackout" imposed by the government makes it impossible to know the exact number of casualties, but one observer referred to what took place as a "massacre." The incident follows a pattern of abuses in the Lower Omo, including beatings, rape and arbitrary arrest. One displaced Hamar said, "The government told us that if we don't give in to them we will be slaughtered in public like goats." (Survival International, June 5)
Over the past two months, the ISIS international franchise has made foreboding gains from West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. In Nigeria, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in March, according to the anti-terrorist monitoring group SITE. The pledge, attributed to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, was made in an audio posted on Twitter (and since removed). "We announce our allegiance to the Caliph... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity," SITE quoted the statement. (Al Jazeera, March 8)
We don't use the word "fascism" lightly, but the growing consensus in Israel for a Jewish-supremacist state and genocidal solution to the Palestinian question has been further consolidated in the frightening election results. The coalition deal just announced forms the most right-wing government in Israel's history. Likud has signed a pact with the Jewish Home party, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the 61 Knesset seats needed to form the next government. The openly chauvinist Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett (who calls for annexing the West Bank settlements), won eight seats in the March elections. Under the pact, Bennett will hold two cabinet seats—education and diaspora affairs. The justice portfolio will go to the far-right party's Knesset member, Ayelet Shaked, while agriculture will go to Uri Ariel, another of its sitting Knesset members. The party is to get a further two cabinet posts, including that of deputy defense minister. Netanyahu has already formed coalition pacts with the centrist Kulanu Party (10 seats), the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party (seven seats), and the Shas Party (six seats). (Middle East Monitor, May 7)
US forces carried out air-strikes against Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, with casualties reported but uncertainty over the fate of the main target, Somali officials said Sept. 2. Godane was traveling in one of two vehicles hit in apparent drone strike, a member of the Islamist group said. The spokesman would not say whether Godane was among the six militants killed. The two vehicles were heading toward the coastal town of Barawe, Shabaab's main base, when they were hit. The Pentagon confirmed the US military carried out an "operation," and that it was "assessing the results." The US has a large drone base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, and also flies surveillance drones over Somalia from a base in Ethiopia. The Pentagon quietly deployed a small team of advisers to Somalia last October to coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from Shabab.
An Ethiopian court on July 18 charged nine journalists with terrorism and inciting violence under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law (PDF). The journalists, including six bloggers, were arrested in April and have been prevented from accessing their families or legal counsel since their arrests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in 2009, Ethiopian authorities have used it as a tool to limit journalism critical of the government. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly called upon the Ethiopian government to repeal the law, alleging that the government stifles the establishment of new media publications.
Another battle for control over urban space is heating up in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa—concerning plans to expand the city's municipal boundaries and absorb several smaller outlying towns where the traditionally excluded Oromo people are still dominant. The "Integrated Development Master Plan" has sparked a wave of protests, principally by Oromo students. Official figures say seven have been killed by police in the protests since late April, but independent reports claim the death toll is more than 20.