Africa Theater

Tigray region defies Ethiopia election postponement

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.

Trump wades into Egypt-Ethiopia fight over Nile

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)

Moment of truth for Sudan peace process

Sudan’s power-sharing government signed a peace deal with an alliance of rebel groups this week, sparking hopes of an end to decades of conflict in the country. The agreement will see rebels given government posts, power devolved to local regions, and displaced people offered a chance to return home. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok dedicated the deal—one of his main priorities following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir 14 months ago—to children born in refugee camps, while the UN commended an "historic achievement." But there are reasons to be cautious. Two of Sudan's main armed groups in Darfur and the southern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan refused to sign. Abdul Wahid, leader of a faction of the holdout Sudan Liberation Movement, said the deal was "business as usual" and unlikely to address root causes of conflict. With Sudan's economy in freefall, it's also unclear how the transitional government will be able to afford the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to make it workable. Previous agreements in 2006 and 2011 came to little. However, with al-Bashir now out of the picture—perhaps soon facing the ICC—things could be different this time around. With violence rising in Darfur and in other parts of the country, there's a lot riding on it.

Mauritians take to street over oil spill

Thousands of people demonstrated in Mauritius on Aug. 29 over the government's handling of a recent shipwreck that spilled 1,000 tons of oil into the seas around the island nation. In what appears to be the latest toll in the incident, dolphins and whales have beached close to where the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio freighter ran aground and broke up. Thirty-nine of the mammals have beached in the week leading up to Aug. 28. Social media is awash with photos of the stranded animals, including mothers and calves. At a press conference Sudheer Maudhoo, the Mauritian minister of fisheries and marine resources, called the beachings a "sad coincidence." Though a link between the deaths and oil contamination has yet to be established, disaffection has swelled in the aftermath of the spill. Protesters in the streets of the capital, Port Louis, wielded an inflatable dolphin with "INACTION" written on it.

Flooding, fighting threaten South Sudan 'catastrophe'

President Salva Kiir declared a state of emergency Aug. 13 in South Sudan's central Jonglei and Pibor regions following flooding and communal violence. More than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes as water levels rose by 1.5 meters in some areas after heavy rains. Flooding has also affected neighboring Upper Nile and Unity states. The government has called on humanitarian agencies to provide immediate aid, but inter-communal unrest in Jonglei and Pibor—in which aid workers have been killed—will complicate operations. The conflict between Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic militias has displaced 100,000 people since the beginning of the year. They will miss the current planting season—deepening their food insecurity. Pre-positioned food stocks were also looted in the violence. South Sudan is in the lean period before the November harvest, and "emergency" levels of food need are widespread. The US-funded Famine Early Warning System Network is anticipating their highest "catastrophe" level in some areas of Jonglei affected by fighting, and says "urgent and sustained food assistance" will be needed even after the harvest.

CAR: accused war criminal runs for president

Amid rising tensions and insecurity in the Central African Republic, deposed former president François Bozizé has announced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for December. Bozizé is currently under UN sanctions and subject to an arrest warrant issued by the government for "crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide." Authorities show little sign of moving to execute the warrant; Bozizé announced his candidacy July 25 before a large crowd of supporters at a congress of his party, Kwa na Kwa (Work, Nothing But Work in the Sango language), in the capital Bangui.

Troops to Darfur as war re-escalates

The Sudanese government is sending more forces to the restive Darfur region, following a new escalation in violence there. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said the troops are to protect people during the farming season. Dozens of people have been killed and several villages destroyed in Darfur over the past weeks. The most recent outburst came on July 25, when some 500 armed men attacked Masteri village, West Darfur, killing at least 60 people from the Masalit ethnic group. In a separate incident that same day, another armed group attacked the Um Doss area in South Darfur, killing at least 20 people.

Sudan reforms harsh Islamist legal code

After more than 30 years of Islamist rule, Sudan's interim Sovereignty Council has unveiled a sweeping reform of the sharia-based legal code. Announcing the changes, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari told the BBC, "We are keen to demolish any discrimination that was enacted by the old regime and to move toward equality of citizenship and a democratic transformation." He said the amendments aim to bring Sudan's laws in line with the Constitutional Declaration that established the country's transitional government a year ago, and included guarantees for basic rights and freedoms. Most significantly, the amendments abolish the crime of "apostasy"—meaning conversion from Islam, which had carried the death penalty and was widely used to target political opposition.

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