Horn of Africa
Almas Elman, a prominent Somali rights activist, was killed Nov. 20 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. She became a dual Canadian and Somali citizen after her family fled to Canada in the early 1990s during Somalia's civil war. But she remained a leading voice for human rights in Somalia.
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, director of the Oromia Media Network and prominent advocate for the Oromo people, posted on social media Oct. 23 that security forces had surrounded his house, implying an imminent attempt on his life. Supporters surrounded his house and police retreated, but violence quickly spread, and the army has now been deployed to put down the protests.
Dozens of members of Ethiopia's National Movement of Amhara (NaMa) have been arrested in the week since the ethnic-based opposition party apparently attempted to seize power in Amhara state in a regional coup. In the June 23 uprising, the regional president and three officials were killed in Amhara's capital, Bahir Dar. The army's chief of staff, Gen. Seare Mekonnen, 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, both in Ahmara and neighboring Oromia. Established a year ago, 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, traditionally dominant in Ethiopia before the 1974 revolution, are growing increasingly restive under the rule of the EPRDF, which they perceive as dominated by the Tigray people. (Borkena, France24, Al Jazeera, The Reporter Ethiopia, DefenceWeb, BBC News)
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)