Monday, February 19, 2018

The US War In West Africa

Ethiopia: The Road Less Traveled


The Road Less Traveled

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned out of the blue last week in an attempt to ease the nation into political reforms demanded by parts of the electorate after years of unrest.
The move is unprecedented in Ethiopia. Political transitions in the continent’s second-most-populous nation and East Africa’s fastest-growing economy have been marred by coup, Marxist rebellion and dictatorial takeover.
That means Hailemariam’s voluntary resignation could put Ethiopia on a political road less traveled, but only if a successor comes to power who represents the interests of the nation’s two most numerous ethnic groups, Bloomberg reported.
Ethnic Oromo and Amhara peoples make up some 61 percent of Ethiopia’s population, but say they have been politically, economically and socially marginalized for decades, Al Jazeera reported.
The political parties of the two groups are in a catch-all coalition government that comprises the entirety of the Ethiopian parliament, but they’ve been denied prized cabinet posts by the Tigray minority, which makes up 6 percent of the electorate. Though small, the Tigray have dominated Ethiopian politics since spearheading the uprising against Ethiopia’s communist regime in 1991, Stratfor reported.
For years, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization was thought to be controlled by the Tigray camp, but it’s molded itself into a type of opposition movement with the rise of a series of charismatic politicians seeking to wrest back control, the Economist wrote.
The Oromo and Amhara began rebelling in 2015. Despite crackdowns in which hundreds were killed and thousands arrested – resulting in a state of emergency that lasted for the better part of a year – the government ultimately caved into pressure, agreeing last month to release thousands of political prisoners.
“The pressure from the popular movements and also the reformist members of the ruling coalition forced the resignation to come early,” Befekadu Hailu, an Ethiopian writer and activist, told Al Jazeera.
Now at a crossroads, the government must make a choice between an elite successor, or one who could respond to the needs of protesters without silencing them through violent means, Reuters reported.
“Whoever replaces him (Hailemariam) has to have in mind a transition,” said former opposition lawmaker Girma Seifu. “Otherwise it will only be a false start.”
But with a government still divided, it might be the case that Hailemariam’s successor can’t address protesters’ grievances quickly enough, Stratfor wrote, only exacerbating instability.
Regardless, the very fact that a transition in power came without bloodshed or forced resignation – as was the case last week in South Africa – is a start.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ethiopia: The Center Cannot Hold


The Center Cannot Hold

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned Thursday, following violent protests that forced his government to release several high-profile political prisoners.
The resignation was “just a matter of time” following the release this week of two prominent journalists who spent seven years in prison and Bekele Gerba, one of the country’s most important opposition figures, who was jailed in 2015, the New York Times quoted a local political analyst as saying.
A regional powerhouse and US ally in the war on terror, Ethiopia has faced violent unrest for more than two years, as protesters demand economic and political reforms.  Hailemariam had attempted to ease some of the pressure by releasing hundreds of political prisoners in January, but his government had continued to hold some of the most high-profile leaders in detention.
Earlier this week, as many as 20 people were killed during protests in the province of Oromia intended to speed further releases, while a broader crackdown on protesters has killed at least 669 people over the past two years, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Egypt: Using nEw Archeological Discoveries To Attract Tourists

Land of Plenty

With tourism in sharp decline since the Arab Spring, Egypt is trying to boost visitors’ interest by showcasing recent archaeological discoveries – of which there are plenty.
Archaeologists recently discovered, for example, the 4,400-year-old tomb of a priestess in Giza, home to the pyramids, NPR reported.
It belonged to Hetpet, a priestess to the fertility goddess Hathor. Hetpet lived during Egypt’s prosperous Fifth Dynasty, which lasted from about 2465 BC to 2323 BC – the era in which pyramids were built.
Female priests were uncommon, but a number of them were in service to Hathor.
Hetpet’s tomb was excavated in an area known for having large cemeteries that archaeologists have been uncovering for nearly two centuries, according to Live Science.
Inside, archaeologists found engravings of Hetpet’s titles, as well as a mix of biographical and whimsical paintings about ancient Egyptian life and beliefs.
“There are colored depictions of traditional scenes: animals grazing, fishing, bird-catching, offerings, sacrifice, soldiers and fruit-gathering,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Agence France-Presse.
The tomb is just one of many finds made in the area since the beginning of 2017, NPR reported.
“This is a very promising area,” Waziri added. “We expect to find more.”
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

China's Massive Investments In Africa


No Return Policy

It’s no secret that China has sought to expand its influence in recent decades over the African continent by way of large-scale infrastructural and business investments.
Recent figures by cross-border investment monitor fDi Markets place Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa at over $25 billion in 2017 alone – a number that dwarfs US investment in Africa many times over for that same year.
But the shiny new buildings, railways and government buildings in Africa that have come to symbolize the strength of the Sino-African alliance come with risks not mentioned on the original price tag.
The French daily Le Monde recently reported that the African Union’s new Chinese-funded headquarters in Addis Ababa had one feature not laid out in the original blueprint: a backdoor into the African Union’s computer network that allowed China to spy on the institution for five years.
The BBC reported that the Chinese ambassador to the AU quickly rebuffed the claim. But that didn’t stop the African Union from debugging the institution and rebuilding cybersecurity programs from the ground up.
Such a violation of trust would have surely put a kink in most bilateral relationships – think of the scandal that ensued after it was suggested that the NSA had wiretapped phone calls involving German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But just days after the Le Monde report was published, Ethiopia and China announced plans to strengthen their partnership, according to Chinese state news.
Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, has greatly benefited from Chinese largesse – Beijing has built entire neighborhoods in Addis Ababa, a $475-million light-rail system and the $200-million AU complex, the Los Angeles Times reported.
That’s not to mention other projects across Sudan, Nigeria and Kenya – where China recently finished another $4-billion railway.
Such investments are a strategic move for China, which once sought to win the hearts and minds of Africans through the construction of passion projects like stadiums, but now is seeking to cement a strategic geopolitical and economic position on a continent largely ignored by the West, the Financial Times reported.
It’s working: By 2014, trade between China and Africa had risen 20-fold to $220 billion compared to where it stood in 2000, and a 2016 Afrobarometer survey of 36 African nations found that 63 percent of Africans thought China’s influence was “somewhat” or “very positive.”
Influence isn’t just a one-way street, either, writes Quartz. More and more Chinese are setting up shop permanently on the African continent, while one can find African entrepreneurs running factories and other companies in China.
China sees Africa as a testing ground for its strategy of exporting authoritarian development models by way of large-scale investments – the exact opposite of Western efforts to spread liberal democratic capitalism, the Economist reported.
But Beijing still runs the risk of everything being for naught if its billions invested don’t produce economic gains, the Economist posits – and such expensive buys often don’t come with a return policy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

South Africa: Drying Up


Drying Up

Due to the worst drought in over a century, rapid climate change and a swelling population, Cape Town is expected to run out of water in less than three months, USA Today reported.
At the same time, people across South Africa are speculating about the future of their country as President Jacob Zuma’s well of political influence dries up, too.
On Tuesday morning, after a marathon overnight meeting, the ANC decided the president should quit, the Associated Press reported. So far, he has refused. If he continues to resist, the party could tell its lawmakers to use their majority in parliament to vote him out of office.
Zuma gave in to judicial pressure last month and announced that an investigation would be opened into his role in the powerful Gupta brothers’ alleged influence peddling, Reuters reported.
The wealthy Guptas are accused of having doled out government posts to those who could bend state decisions in favor of their business practices, and the judicial inquiry will evaluate whether the Guptas may have received special treatment over a coal business linked to one of Zuma’s sons, wrote Bloomberg.
Zuma is already accused of hundreds of counts of corruption. He and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.
Even so, Zuma’s giving in to external pressures is enough to signal he’s on the outs.
That was only confirmed by his party’s recent election of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC. Ramaphosa vowed to spearhead the fight against corruption during his inaugural speech in December, AFP reported.
Leaders’ actions “should always be a source of pride and not a cause for embarrassment,” he said – a statement that was quickly interpreted as a snub to Zuma.
With two spheres of power within the ANC, analysts say Ramaphosa quickly needs to deal with Zuma if his party wants to keep its absolute majority in parliament come election time next year.
Pressure is on for Zuma to resign, and it’s likely he will before he’s termed out in 2019, Bloomberg reported. The trick is to do so without uprooting Zuma’s vast network of supporters, which could crumble South Africa’s fragile political system and economy.
“If you have to remove him, you have to dismantle a very complex system (and) that cannot be done overnight,” said Ralph Mathekga, an independent political analyst based in Johannesburg. “Ramaphosa is being diplomatic and rightfully so. He cannot come out in public and say that there are plans to remove Zuma.”
But such speculation has actually boosted Ramaphosa’s – and the economy’s – standing, CNBC reported: Markets reacted positively after Ramaphosa’s election to party chair, and the politically sensitive rand grows nominally stronger every time there’s a rumor of Zuma’s ouster.
Even so, cantankerous external factors rocking stability in South Africa – aside from water issues, electricity can be scarce and unemployment is high – could be exacerbated if Zuma leaves in a messy manner.
“South Africa is approaching rough waters, and a Jacob Zuma facing an inglorious and humiliating end to his presidency will be a Jacob Zuma at his most dangerous,” Roger Southall wrote for the Conversation.
Meanwhile, what happens in South Africa matters, says the Financial Times.
“In the post-apartheid era, South Africa became the informal spokesman for a continent,” it wrote. “The drama of South Africa’s recent history and the sophistication of its economy means that it inevitably has become a standard-bearer for Africa.”

Monday, February 12, 2018

South Africa: After The Deluge


After the Deluge

Drought-hit Cape Town rejoiced Friday after a brief rain alleviated fears that the city will soon run dry.
Cape Town, which has been plagued by drought for three years, faces strict water rationing due to fears the city could run out of water by April. So residents took advantage of Friday’s 8 millimeters (0.3 inches) of rain to fill barrels and buckets. But the rain only pushed back “Day Zero” to May 11, the BBC reported.
Meanwhile, South Africa as a whole is anticipating another kind of D-Day – as African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa all-but pledged to oust President Jacob Zuma at a meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee on Monday, Bloomberg said.
So far, Zuma has defied pressure to resign, partly due to corruption allegations. But in an address to some 3,000 supporters on Sunday, Ramaphosa promised “closure on this matter,” saying, “our pe