Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Money from the Middle East fuelling tensions in the Horn of Africa:SABC News

Money from the Middle East fuelling tensions in the Horn of Africa

Friday 10 February 2017 07:00
The Conversation
The Conversation
A squadron of UAE Mirage fighter planes such as this one at the Dubai Airshow are stationed in Eritrea for Yemeni operations. (REUTERS)
Relations between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula go back centuries, with trade playing a key component in binding their people together. Religion has also played a part. The expansion of Wahhabism – the interpretation of Islam propagated by Saudi Arabia – has been funded by the massive oil wealth of the kingdom.

Mosques, Koranic schools and Imams have been provided with support over many years. Gradually this authoritarian form of Islam began to take hold in the Horn. While some embraced it, others didn’t.

Somalia is an example. While most Somalis practised a moderate form of Suffi Islam, the Islamic fundamentalists of al-Shabaab didn’t. Soon after taking control of parts of central and southern Somalia in 2009 they began imposing a much more severe form of the faith. Mosques were destroyed and the shrines of revered Suffi leaders were desecrated.

The export of faith has been followed by arms. Today the Saudis and their allies in the United Arab Emirates are exerting increasing military influence in the region.

But Saudi Arabia and other Arabian gulf states aren’t the only Muslim countries that have sought influence in the region. Iran, for example, has also been an active player. In the case of Eritrea, a struggle for influence between Riyadh and Tehran has played out over the past few years. This has also been true in neighbouring Somaliland and the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland.
These are troubled times in the Horn of Africa. The instability that’s resulted from Islamic fundamentalism, of which al-Shabaab are the best known proponents, have left the region open to outside influences. The French have traditionally had a base in Djibouti, but they have now been joined by the Americans and the Chinese.

The growing Arab military, political and religious influence is only the latest example of an external force taking hold in the region.

New powerful forces in the region

The Eritreans had been close to Iran and supported their Houthi allies in the Yemeni conflict. This was of deep concern to the Saudis, who are locked in conflict with Tehran. This is a battle for influence that pits Iranian Shias against Saudi Sunnis. Eritrea is just one of the fields on which it’s being played out.

As a US cable leaked to Wikileaks put it in 2010, the Saudi ambassador to Eritrea is concerned about Iranian influence, says Iran has supplied materiel to the Eritrean navy, and recently ran into an Iranian delegation visiting Asmara. He claims Yemeni Houthi rebels were present in Eritrea in 2009 (but is not sure if they still are), and reported that the Isaias regime this week arrested six Eritrean employees of the Saudi embassy.

Since then Eritrea has switched sides. Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki paid a state visit to Saudi Arabia in April 2015. Not long afterwards Eritrea signed a 30-year lease on the port of Assab with the Saudis and their allies in the Emirates. The port has become a base from which to prosecute the war in Yemen. The United Nations reported that 400 Eritrean troops were now in Yemen supporting the Saudi alliance.
They are a powerful force in the region, projecting an Arab influence as far as Madagascar and the Seychelles.
The United Arab Emirates has constructed a major base in Assab – complete with tanks, helicopters and barracks. In November 2016 it was reported that a squadron of nine UAE Mirage fighter planes were deployed to Eritrea from where they could attack Houthi targets on the other side of the Red Sea. In return the Gulf states agreed to modernise Asmara International Airport, increase fuel supplies to Eritrea and provide President Isaias with further funding.

Since then the United Arab Emirates has announced its intention to increase its military presence in the Horn. In January it signed an agreement to manage the Somaliland port of Berbera for 30 years. It also sought permission to have a naval base, Somaliland foreign minister Sa’ad Ali Shire told reporters.

It’s true that the United Arab Emirates has submitted a formal request seeking permission to open a military base in Somaliland
The UAE are also active in the neighbouring Puntland. They have been paying for and training anti-piracy forces for years, while also financing and training its intelligence services.

They are a powerful force in the region, projecting an Arab influence as far as Madagascar and the Seychelles. It’s not surprising that the United Arab Emirates was labelled “Little Sparta” by General James Mattis – now President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defence.

Ethiopian concerns

These are worrying times for the Ethiopian foreign ministry. Once the dominant force in the region, its influence over the Horn is now in question.

To its north the Eritreans remain implacable foes, as they have been since the border war of 1998-2000 that left these neighbours in a cold no-war, no-peace confrontation.

Addis Ababa is concerned that Eritrea’s hand has become stronger in recent years. Its mining sector is looking increasingly attractive with Canadian based firms now joined by Australian and Chinese companies.

Asmara’s role in the ongoing war in Yemen has allowed Eritrea to escape diplomatic isolation. The government in Asmara is now benefiting from funds and weapons, despite UN sanctions designed to prevent this from taking place.

To Ethiopia’s west lies Sudan, which is also now involved in the war in Yemen, providing troops to the Saudi and United Arab Emirates backed government. These ties are said to have been cemented after the Saudis pumped a billion dollars into the Sudanese central bank. In return, the Sudanese turned their backs on their former Iranian allies.

To Ethiopia’s east, the situation in Somalia is also of concern. No Ethiopian minister can forget the invasion of the Ogaden under President Siad Barre in 1977 when Somalia attempted to re-capture the lands lost to their neighbors during the expansionist policies of Emperor Menelik II in the nineteenth century. Siad Barre may be long gone but Ethiopian policy since the invasion has been to keep Somalia as weak and fragmented as possible.

Ethiopia has intervened repeatedly in Somalia to hold al-Shabaab at bay as well as to maintain the security of its eastern region. Addis Ababa’s policy of encouraging the inherent fragmentary tendencies of the Somalis has paid dividends: the country is now a federation of states and regions. Some of these only nominally recognize the authority of the government in Mogadishu. Somaliland, in the north, is close to being recognized as an independent nation. Others, like Jubaland along the Kenyan border, are under Nairobi’s

Ethiopia-Sudan border development conference kicks off on Thursday - Sudan Tribune

February 14, 2017 (KHARTOUM) - The 18th session of the conference on development of the joint Sudanese-Ethiopian borders will be held on Thursday in Mekelle, capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, said governor of Gadaref State.

JPEG - 45.1 kb
A road leading to Ethiopia-Sudan border (Photo
The two-day conference, which is held alternately between Sudan and Ethiopian regions, will discuss issues pertaining to farming in the joint borders, trade exchange and smuggling.

Governor of Gadaref State Mirghani Salih Sid Ahmed told the official news agency SUNA, that the conference would be held with the participation of the border states of Gadaref, Blue Nile, Sennar and Kassala from the Sudanese side and Benishangul-Gumuz and Amhara regions from the Ethiopian side.

He pointed that his state has completed its arrangements to participate in the conference, saying they would seek to retrieve the agricultural lands confiscated by Ethiopian farmers..

According to the governor, Gadaref state delegation will focus on issues to promote bilateral ties between the two countries besides ways to enhance trade exchange particularly after establishing the free-trade zone at Al-Galabat border area.

Sid Ahmed added that their delegation would raise the issue of preventing Ethiopian farmers from growing Sudanese lands according to the 2004 agreement between the two countries.

Farmers from two sides of the border between Sudan and Ethiopia used to dispute the ownership of land in the Al-Fashaga area located in the south-eastern part of Sudan’s eastern state of Gedaref.

Al-Fashaga covers an area of about 250 square kilometers and it has about 600.000 acres of fertile lands. Also there are river systems flowing across the area including Atbara, Setait and Baslam rivers.

Sudan and Ethiopia agreed in 2004 to demarcate the 1,600 km-long border after tension over the distribution of disputed land to Ethiopian farmers following the intervention of the Ethiopian army to clear some Sudanese villages on the border.

However, the Ethiopian opposition accuses the ruling party of abandoning Ethiopian territory to Sudan.

Also, the border between the two countries is considered a major passageway for illegal migrants and human trafficking activities.

Ethiopia and Sudan are engaged more and more in joint economic projects particularly on the border areas for the benefit of the people from the two sides.

In the past, Sudan worked for a tripartite regional cooperation including Eritrea but the border conflict between Asmara and Addis Ababa prevents for the time being such realization.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Recycling army in Ethiopian capital fear livelihoods at risk as city modernizes | Reuters

By Tom Gardner
ADDIS ABABA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Every morning as Addis Ababa wakes up, thousands of men roam the city streets collecting all kinds of recyclable waste, from plastic and clothing to fridges and electrics.
By sundown these men, known as Quralews after their morning refrain calling out for scrap metal, make their way to Minalesh Terra, a highly-organised section of Merkato, the largest open-air marketplace in the Ethiopian capital.
Here craftsmen transform these discarded materials into an array of new goods - from stoves and furniture to household appliances and religious items - for re-sale in city stores, eventually reaching households in Ethiopia's nine regions.
This is the "beating heart" of Addis Ababa, "a place where almost anything you could imagine can be produced, bought and sold", said researcher Bisrat Kifle from the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development.
A 2013 study estimated nearly 5,000 Quralews, mostly young men, roamed the city as part of the informal industry that supports as many as 300,000 people - from the Quralews to craftsmen, middle men and shop keepers.
But as Ethiopia's capital expands and prime land becomes more valuable - a trend echoed across Africa which has some of the world's fastest growing cities - long-time residents of Minalesh Terra fear there might not be room for them in the district's future.
"The government has seen how valuable this land is. It might now try to take it from us," said Wosene Kassa, representative of one group of recyclers and craftsmen in Minalesh Terra.
Built during the five years of Italian occupation between 1936 and 1941, Merkato – of which Minalesh Terra is the largest, and most informal part - is in dire need of modernization.
Situated in the capital's elevated north-east, most of its ramshackle buildings in tightly packed alleys are decades old and made of mud, straw and corrugated iron, creating a health and environmental hazard, according to urban planning experts.
Increasingly, however, government attention has focused on the loss of tax revenue from the market's thriving small, informal businesses and unregistered trade networks.
Formalizing the area and legitimizing these businesses has been a government objective for more than a decade with a city master plan envisaging a modern multi-storey marketplace but this has not come to fruition.
"It is super ambitious," said Kifle.
New plans to redevelop the "informal" and "unplanned" parts of Addis Ababa were first announced in 2011.
In Ethiopia all land is owned by the state and, under the project, large plots of city land, including areas long occupied informally, were offered for lease to investors.
Strict rules on how the land could be developed were imposed as were time limits on construction but with a deadline for completion of 2020, the plan sparked conflict, pitting residents against developers and informal traders against investors.
Meanwhile prices in central Addis Ababa hit unprecedented heights with the average price of a square meter of land soaring to 31,850 birr ($1,450) in 2013/14 from 2,000 birr in 2008/09.
"We need to use every square inch of land," said Mathewos Asfaw, general manager of the Master Plan Project Office.
According to housing experts an auction system used to sell land in the city has contributed to the rise.
Last year a record bid of 355,555 birr ($16,000) for one square meter of land in Merkato was made by an investment company, making land in central Addis Ababa some of the most expensive in Africa, according to analysts.
While many Minalesh Terra traders welcome the prospect of modernization, they fear these prices will drive out the poor.
Workeneh Legesse, who repairs fridges in Chide Terra, a sub-district on the southern edge of Minalesh Terra, said his father - like himself - worked in the area for over 50 years.
"He thinks the place needs to change. But it needs to be done carefully, otherwise it will be a tool to get rid of us," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
City authorities deny this. Asfaw told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that occupants of Minalesh Terra would be encouraged to continue serving the city.
"The area will be upgraded and supported by modern technology and services," he said.
Endale Wagaye, a tradesman who has recycled bottles for three decades, fears his livelihood will disappear if redevelopment pushes ahead without proper consultation.
"The government sees this place only as chaos," he said. "As a citizen it should be our right to develop this place ourselves."
Wagaye has joined many of his fellow traders who have created about 21 local associations - known as share companies in Ethiopia - to try to assert control over development.
His association, of which Kassa is secretary, is known as the Barrels and Bottles Share Company and represents 128 tradesman who have invested a considerable portion of their savings over the years.
This pooled capital has been used to design a multi-storey mall on the main street of Minalesh Terra which also contains an open-plan workspace for recycling. The local association hopes to have this approved by the authorities next year.
Fasil Giorghis, an architect and academic based in Addis Ababa, said past attempts to bring in big local and foreign investors for mass development of the area "scared everybody".
"The only way to stay in business was for occupants to form associations and propose their own multi-storey buildings," he said, adding the government had encouraged this involvement.
"The authorities favor associations as a policy matter."
While private investors have to bid for land through public auctions, associations are able to seek formal leases for their land at low prices through private negotiation with authorities.
"The government is tempted by the huge amount of money that private leasing brings but but politically their instincts are with associations," Kifle said.
($1 = 22.3300 birr)
(Reporting by Tom Gardner, Editing by Paola Totaro and Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A state of emergency has brought calm to Ethiopia. But don't be fooled Washington Post.

A state of emergency has brought calm to Ethiopia. But don't be fooled.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post.
METI, Ethiopia - Earlier this month, hundreds of high school students in the small Ethiopian town of Meti gathered for a demonstration.
They were supposed to be celebrating the country's Nations and Nationalities day, which commemorates the much-vaunted equality of Ethiopia's 80 ethnic groups. Instead, they defied a two-month-old state of emergency to voice their anger over stalled political reforms and endemic corruption.
The protest was quickly dispersed and arrests were made, locals said, and calm returned to the village. But the incident is a sign of the simmering resentment that threatens to shatter Ethiopia's enforced quiet.
The United States, one of Ethiopia's biggest backers, is urging the government to address the widespread dissatisfaction and open up the country's politics before it is too late.
"We feel it has reached an inflection point where some hard decisions are going to have to be made," said Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, in an interview during a recent visit to the capital, Addis Ababa. "Otherwise, a lot of the achievements could be jeopardized, and we know from the country's history what a true crisis could look like."
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Ethiopia to Africa's stability. It has the continent's second-largest population - nearly 100 million people - one of its fastest growing economies and a powerful military that helps stabilize a string of troubled countries around it.
The United States - and many other countries - have invested extensively in aid programs to help the Ethiopian government wrest the country out of poverty and bring it to middle-income status. If it succeeds - and becomes a democracy as well - it could be a model for developing nations everywhere.
Ethiopia has witnessed double-digit growth in the past decade. But this rapid economic expansion has resulted in strains, especially when new factories and commercial farms are being built on land taken from farmers. The central Oromo region, which has historically felt marginalized - despite having the largest segment of the population and some of the richest farmland - has been particularly hard hit.
Protests erupted there in November 2015 over the land grabs, corruption in the local government and lack of services such as running water, electricity and roads. The demonstrations later spread to the northern Amhara region, which has grievances of its own with a government that residents maintain is dominated by the Tigrayan minority group.
It has been the worst unrest in Ethiopia since Tigrayan-led rebels overthrew the Marxist government in 1991. Amnesty International estimates at least 800 people have died in the suppression of protests over the past year.
People have also increasingly singled out Tigrayans for their woes, blaming them for getting the best jobs or dominating the economy. There have been cases of attacks on Tigrayans in the north of the country, and there are fears the unrest could take on a more ethnic dimension.
After dozens were killed during a botched attempt to disperse a crowd at an Oromo religious festival in October, mobs attacked factories and commercial farms across the country and the government declared a state of emergency. Violence has since dropped off, and the government has said it is addressing grievances and has already made significant progress, especially in the Oromo region.
"The reform in Oromia has been far ahead when compared to other regions," insisted government spokesman Negeri Lencho in a recent news conference. "Ethiopia is in a state of reform - the reform began at the cabinet level . . . and is now continuing at other government levels to the lowest levels."
But a dozen people interviewed by The Washington Post in the Oromo region said there have been no changes.
"The previous officials are still in office," complained a spry, old man walking with a cane from a weekend market in the town of Ejere. Like everyone else interviewed, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns for his safety.
He paused under an acacia tree overlooking his village to complain how nothing had improved. There had been no effort to address calls for paved roads or installing electricity, he said.
"The people are resentful of the local officials and don't want to discuss things with them," he said. The local administrator also had not shown much interest in talking to the people, he said, though he admitted a potential reason why: Villagers burned down his house last year.
A middle-aged woman dressed in a floral print dress and white shawl butted in. "We need the government to respond to the demands of the people," she said, her voice rising. "What we need is for the killings and imprisonments to stop."
Villagers described a climate of fear, with late-night raids targeting young people who had been accused of protesting. Few doubted that demonstrations will resume once the state of emergency is lifted.
The government has promised a new electoral system with proportional representation so that opposition politicians have a chance to get elected. Currently, the opposition has no seats in the parliament or on local councils.
"What the government says is simply astonishing, what they are saying is totally different from what we see on the ground," a young Oromo said in a village not far from the capital.
"On one hand, they talk about a dialogue with the opposition. But on with the other hand, they are arresting the head of the main opposition party," he added, referring to the Dec. 1 arrest of the country's most prominent Oromo opposition leader, Merera Gudina.
Most of his party's top and mid-level leaders have also been imprisoned over the past year despite the government's talk of the need for dialogue with all political parties.
"The effect of the state of emergency counteracts the aspirations they have articulated," Malinowski noted. He acknowledged that while the Ethiopian government is suggesting reforms, little has materialized. "The problem is they haven't done any of it yet, and even with unqualified commitment and speed, these things are going to take quite some time to achieve."
As the countryside seethes, time is not on the government's side. The United States has urged a number of confidence-building measures such as releasing opposition figures.
The government may be starting to respond. Following Malinowski's visit in mid-December, it released 9,800 of the nearly 25,000 people detained during the state of emergency.
But years of overwhelming election victories by the ruling party and its allies have left people deeply cynical about the possibility of change.
"During the past elections, those that came to power were not the ones chosen by the people," said a 32-year-old farmer standing by the side of the highway near the town of Ambo. "We don't know where the ballots of the people go."
With opposition groups in the Ethiopian diaspora often preaching violence, Malinowski said the people must be shown that peaceful change within the political system is still possible.
"If they lose faith in that, they are not going to stop asking for change; they will just be more likely to listen to people who seek more extreme goals by more extreme means," he warned.
Keywords: Ethiopia, Ethiopia protests, Tom Malinowski, Ethiopia Oromo, Ethiopia US, Ethiopia violence, Ethiopia government, what's going on in EthiopiaWoyane's irridentism in Ethiopia:

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