Horn of Africa
More than 60 were killed in US air-strikes that targeted "a known al-Shabaab encampment" near southern Somalia's Gandarshe town Dec. 15-6. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) asserted that no civilians were killed and that the strikes were launched to "prevent terrorists from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks." These were the deadliest air-strikes in Somalia since November 2017 when the US said it killed 100 militants. The targeting of Shabaab increased after March 2017, when the Trump administration loosened restrictions on the US military to use force against the insurgent army. The US military has now struck Shabaab targets 45 times in 2018, compared with 31 times last year. The US has a huge military base in neighboring Djibouti, from where it launches air-raids on the militants. (Long War Journal, BBC News)
Well, this is all too telling. Seeking to legitimize his regime now that he's reconquered most of Syria (with massive Russian military help), Bashar Assad has just welcomed the first Arab League leader to Damascus since the war began in 2011—and it is none other than President Omar Bashir of Sudan, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. As BashirWatch recalls, Bashir has been evading justice for 11 years. The Assad regime's official news agency SANA said the two dictators discussed the "situations and crises faced by many Arab countries," stressing the need to build "new principles for inter-Arab relations based on the respect of the sovereignty of countries and non-interference in internal affairs." (Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye)
Following peace talks hosted by Eritrea, the government of Ethiopia announced a peace deal with the Oromo Liberation Front rebels Aug. 7. 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.
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. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
A crisis over the Yemeni island of Socotra was resolved this week, as the United Arab Emirates agreed to withdraw and turn control over to Saudi forces, which will in turn restore full Yemeni rule there. The island, just off the very tip of the Horn of Africa, has been ruled by Yemeni governments for centuries between periodic episodes of control by various European powers, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique flora and fauna, hailed as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean." Emirati forces seized it at the beginning of the month, and raised their flag over the airport and other strategic points—sparking angry protests from the island's inhabitants. Hashim Saad al-Saqatri, Socotra's governor, condemned the UAE move as an "occupation," saying it represented "a flagrant violation of Yemeni sovereignty." Even after the de-escalation, suspicions remain. Yemen's ambassador to UNESCO, Ahmad al-Sayyad, charged that "there is synergy between the roles of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There is a hidden inclination to divide Yemen." (Middle East Eye, May 18; Al Jazeera, May 17)
The United Arab Emirates announced April 16 that it is ending its military training program in Somalia, as the governments of Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu trade charges back and forth. Ostensibly the move comes in response to the seizure of millions of dollars from a UAE plane by Somali security forces last week. But tensions between the two governments have been on the rise over Emirati plans to build a military base in Somaliland, the self-declared republic that is effectively independent from Mogadishu. The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 for the weak and fractious Mogadishu government. But Mogadishu sees establishment of a foreign base at Somaliland's port of Berbera as a move toward recognition of the breakaway republic, calling it a "clear violation of international law."
Oromo activists in Ethiopia have launched a "fuel blockade," occupying roadways to halt the shipment of oil and gasoline 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 March 10, 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 were reported from several points around the country March 13, so far without violence. (Africa News, OPride, AFP, Addis Standard via UNPO)
The unrecognized but de facto independent republic of Somaliland made rare headlines when its parliament on Jan. 8 voted to instate criminal penalties for rape—which was actually a groundbreaking move in the region. Forty-six of the 51 MPs present in the lower house approved the law, which must now go through the upper house before being signed by the president. Convicted rapists may now face 30 years in prison. (AFP) Until now, a victim's family would often force her to marry her rapist to avoid being "shamed." Once again, the stable, secular and unrecognized government of Somaliland outpaces in social progress the unstable, reactionary and basically fictional "official" government of Somalia. As BBC News sadly notes, "There is still no law against rape in Somalia."