As rising strongmen in places like Poland and Ethiopia exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to postpone elections and 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. (Photo of Warsaw police action via Twitter)
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 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree. The Russian parliament has approved an “anti-virus” package that includes up to seven years imprisonment for serious violations of quarantine rules. Israel has joined South Korea in authorizing use of personal cellphone data to track the virus. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has declared a “state of catastrophe,” sending the military to public squares recently occupied by protesters. Military patrols are also enforcing the lockdown in Peru, Italy, Romania and South Africa. “We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close on the heels of a health epidemic,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. (Photo: Peruvian army demonstration video, via YouTube)
Somali troops clashed with forces from the country’s semi-autonomous Jubaland region 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 the new 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. (Map: African Executive)
Almas Elman, a prominent Somali rights activist, was killed in Mogadishu, struck by a bullet while riding in a car. She was apparently heading to the airport after attending a meeting at the Elman Peace Centre, which was founded by her mother Fartuun Adan in 1990. Elman came from a long line of activists. She was the sister of aid worker Ilwad Elman who was recently short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her father was the respected Somali activist Elman Ali Ahmed, who was himself assassinated in Mogadishu in 1996. In recent years, the Elman Peace Centre has documented rights abuses in Somalia by government troops, Islamist insurgents, Ethiopian occupation forces, rival clan militias, (Photo: RTN-TV via OkayAfrica)
In Episode 43 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the current wave of popular protest and uprisings around the world, and asks if the planet is approaching another moment of revolutionary possibilities, such as was seen in 2011. He examines the prospects for these disparate movements to build solidarity across borders, repudiate ethnic and national divide-and-rule stratagems, and recognize the enemy as transnational capital and the authoritarian states that serve it. With discussions of Hong Kong, mainland China, Indonesia, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Honduras, Costa Rica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Guinea. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: David Lynch via Twitter)
Nearly 70 people have been killed in Ethiopia’s central Oromia region following a week of unrest and ethnic violence. The eruption began after Jawar Mohammed, prominent advocate for the Oromo people, posted on social media about an imminent attempt on his life by security forces. Supporters surrounded his house and police retreated, but violence quickly spread. The army has now been deployed to put down the protests. Illegal sales of traditional Oromo lands to facilitate urban expansion on the outskirts of Addis Ababa has long been a grievance of the Oromo people. But anger has been unleashed on ethnic minorities in Oromia. In Sebeta, a town within the Oromia Special Zone surrounding the capital, eight members of Gamos people were killed, apparently by a mob of Oromo youth. Followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as Muslims have also been targeted, with both churches and mosques attacked. (Photo of gathering outside Jawar Mohammed’s home via Twitter)
Dozens of members of Ethiopia’s National Movement of Amhara (NaMa) have been arrested since the ethnic-based opposition party apparently attempted to seize power in Amhara state in a regional coup. In the uprising, the regional president and three officials were killed in Amhara’s capital, Bahir Dar. The army chief of staff was also killed by his own bodyguards in the national capital, Addis Ababa. NaMa has denied any link to the violence, and says 250 of its followers have been detained in the sweeps. NaMa has quickly come to challenge Amhara regional state’s ruling Amhara Democratic Party, which is aligned with the national ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The Amhara people are growing increasingly restive under the rule of the EPRDF, which they perceive as dominated by the Tigray people. (Photo via Twitter)
Following peace talks hosted by Eritrea, the government of Ethiopia announced a peace deal with the Oromo Liberation Front rebels. The deal guarantees rebel leaders the right to participate in Ethiopia's political process in exchange for laying down arms. The OLF has long been backed by Eritrea, and the pact comes one month after a formal end was declared to the two-decade state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with Ethiopia ceding its claim to the contested border town of Badme. This points to a softening of positions under Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. The Badme deal was also said to have been quietly brokered by the United Arab Emirates, which has emerged as politically isolated Eritrea's most significant foreign patron, part of an apparent design to encircle Yemen. (Photo: Yassin Juma)
Oromo activists in Ethiopia launched a "fuel blockade," occupying roadways to halt shipment of oil through the country. The action was called following a massacre at the village of Moyale, near the Kenyan border. Troops gunned down nine unarmed residents, apparently mistaking them for militants of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Nearly 5,000 have fled across the border to Kenya—some having directly run from gunfire. Ethiopia last year imposed a state of emergency in response to mounting Oromo protests. Roadblocks are reported from several points around the country, so far without violence. (Photo via UNPO)
The unrecognized but de facto independent republic of Somaliland made rare headlines when its parliament voted to instate criminal penalties for rape—actually a groundbreaking move in the region. The "official" government of Somalia still has no law against rape. And while Somaliland just elected a new president by popular vote, Somalila's president was chosen by parliament. Regular elections are impossible in Somalia due to the fact that the government has no effective control of its own territory—despite military support of an Ethiopia-led "peacekeeping" force.
Ethiopia's Amhara people are staging a local uprising to oppose a change to internal borders that would favor Tigray region, homeland of the country's ruling elite.
Ethiopian security forces have killed more than 400 since November, and arrested tens of thousands more, in efforts to quash protests in the Oromia region.