Kenya is facing its worst drought in a decade, with 2.4 million people expected to be going hungry by November. The fast-emerging humanitarian crisis is not only the result of two consecutive poor rainy seasons in the Arid & Semi-Arid Lands region—an arc of under-developed territory in the north and east of the county. Needs are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and chronic insecurity. Household maize stocks are well below the five-year average, and both livestock productivity and milk production have fallen, driving up prices. A glut in the livestock market, as people sell off their animals, is further eroding pastoralists’ earnings. They are already forced to walk longer distances in search of water and forage, resulting in a spike in inter-communal tensions. (Photo via Twitter)
In Episode 88 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg revisits his predictions from 20 years ago and from a month ago about what the world would look like on the 20th anniversary of 9-11. The attack, and Dubya Bush’s Global War on Terrorism, did not lead to a wave of new attacks within the US, as the jihad has proved more concerned with the struggle within Islam. But this has meant an invisible catastrophe for the Muslim world. The ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen get at least some international media attention. There are many more nearly forgotten wars and genocides: the serial massacres in Pakistan, the insurgency in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Boko Haram war in Nigeria that is now spilling into Cameroon, the mounting massacres in the Sahel nations. Even the insurgency in Somalia, where the US has had a military footprint, wins little coverage—despite the fact that it is spilling into Kenya. The insurgency in Mozambique has now prompted an African-led multinational military intervention. The insurgency on the Philippine island of Mindanao has been met with air-strikes. All waged by entities claiming loyalty to either al-Qaeda or ISIS. The new imperial doctrine appears to be that this violence is acceptable as long as it is not visited upon the West. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo: CounterVortex)
Despite hopes for a ceasefire in Tigray region last month, the Ethiopian conflict is expanding. The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the main rebel group in the country’s largest region, Oromia, warns that it is close to cutting off a major highway to Kenya—a move that could disrupt trade with the largest economy in East Africa. Having announced a pact with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the OLA claims it is advancing on the western and southern fronts of Oromia region, and holds parts of the southern Borena zone bordering Kenya. Meanwhile, as the humanitarian crisis deepens and Tigrayan rebels push on into Amhara and Afar regions, there has been a relaunch of diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting. Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok—rebuffed once by Addis Ababa—said he is still willing to mediate. Sudan, however, has its own dispute with Ethiopia over the contested al-Fashaga border region—an issue Khartoum reiterated is non-negotiable. (Map via Wikipedia)
Somalia severed diplomatic ties with neighboring Kenya, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and meddling in its internal affairs. Although the statement cited no specific grievances, it came exactly as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was hosting in Nairobi the president of Somaliland, a breakaway region in Somalia’s northwest that declared independence in 1991. Kenyatta and Somaliland’s President Musa Bihi Abdi signed a pact on increased security and economic cooperation—which is clearly viewed by Mogadishu as a step toward formal recognition. Two weeks earlier, Somalia ordered the expulsion of Kenya’s ambassador, accusing Nairobi of interfering in the electoral process in Jubaland, an autonomous region along the Kenyan border. Kenya maintains a military force of some 3,500 troops in Jubaland, where elections last year solidified the rule of the incumbent regional president, Ahmed Madobe, who is harshly at odds with Mogadishu. (Map: African Executive)
President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all the approximately 700 US troops in Somalia by mid-January. But the troops are not coming back to the US—they will be stationed just outside Somalia’s borders, in Kenya and Djibouti, ready to go back in as circumstances mandate. Air-strikes and drone warfare are to continue. Also remaining in Somalia will be a team of Pentagon advisors and a significant force of private contractors from the DC-based firm Bancroft Global, working with a US-trained elite commando unit to fight al-Shabaab and ISIS insurgents. (Photo: Nick Kibbey/US Air Force via Military Times)
The US Supreme Court ruled in Opati v. Republic of Sudan that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act permits a punitive damages award against Sudan for the role it played in the 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Plaintiffs in the case argued that Sudan had harbored al-Qaeda leaders who plotted the attacks, including Osama bin Laden. Officials in Khartoum have been seeking a settlement with the victims outside the court. Sudan is in a precarious economic situation following the ouster of long-ruling strongman Omer Hassan al-Bashir, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration made it clear that Sudan must settle all terrorism-related claims to get off the US list of “state sponsors of terrorism”—a precondition for Washington’s support for debt relief for the African country. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele is openly defying Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing the lockdown. His security forces have arbitrarily detained hundreds in containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the government may not continue using tracking capabilities developed by the internal security service Shin Bet in efforts to contain COVID-19, imposing a deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek legislative approval for the practice. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, already threatening to shoot lockdown violators, has escalated to warning of an imminent declaration of martial law. (Photo: Philippine National Police via Wikipedia)
It’s an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated: “When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total.” The media response has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump’s pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual “state of exception” in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently. (Photo of protest outside “morgue truck” in New York City: Donna Aceto/Rise and Resist)
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. China has also gained access to facilities in Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Seychelles and Oman as part of the maritime component of its Silk Road trade and infrastructure initiative. While the Silk Road is an ostensibly civilian project, China has also established its first foreign military base at Djibouti, leading Western wonks to warn that Beijing is seeking a "string of pearls" network of bases across the Indian Ocean. (Map via CIMSEC)
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 UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, with water reserves falling dramatically.
At least 100 Somali refugees previously cleared for resettlement in the US are stranded in Kenya in the wake of President Trump's travel ban.