Africa in the news: Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Somalia updates

Supporters of President Denis Sassou Nguesso celebrate after the election commission announced his re-election In Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, March 23, 2021. REUTERS/ Olivia Acland

Ethiopia confirms presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray; international pressure to end crisis heightens

On Friday, March 26, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office released a statement stating that Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from the Tigray region. His statement comes just a few days after his office confirmed, for the first time since the violence erupted, that Eritrean troops were present in Tigray. On Tuesday, Abiy also confirmed reports of atrocities in Tigray, though he tempered the statement with accusations of “propaganda of exaggeration” by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

For months, Eritrean and Ethiopian forces had denied the presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray despite statements from on-the-ground Ethiopian and Tigrayan officials. Earlier this month, amid reports of civilian deaths, rape, and widespread destruction, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for an independent assessment into the reports, and, on March 17 agreed to an Ethiopian request for a “a joint investigation into allegations of serious human rights violations by all sides” in Tigray. On Wednesday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission confirmed reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that Eritrean soldiers killed more than 100 civilians in a November massacre in the town of Axum. The instability and violence in Tigray also threatens to break other fragile relationships, including that between Sudan and Ethiopia, who already are at loggerheads over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Much of the international community had been calling on Eritrean forces to withdraw. On March 10, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken condemned “acts of ethnic cleansing” in the region, though the U.S. has not officially declared the crisis “ethnic cleansing,” a designation that requires multiple agency review. In response to Blinken’s statement, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry responded, saying, “[The accusation] is a completely unfounded and spurious verdict against the Ethiopian government. … Nothing during or after the end of the main law enforcement operation in Tigray can be identified or defined by any standards as a targeted, intentional ethnic cleansing against anyone in the region.” On the request of U.S. President Joe Biden, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) will soon head to Ethiopia to meet with Abiy to relay U.S. concerns over the crisis.

Republic of the Congo’s President Nguesso wins reelection; opposition leader succumbs to COVID-19

This week, Republic of the Congo’s electoral commission announced that incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso has won reelection in Sunday’s presidential poll, extending the 77-year-old president’s accumulated 36 years in power that was enabled by a 2015 referendum that dissolved presidential term and age limits. Nguesso, according to provisional results, captured 88.57 percent of the vote. Notably, Nguesso rival, opposition candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, died from COVID-19 on election day, shortly after landing in Paris for treatment.

President Nguesso’s victory comes amid a boycott of the election by the main opposition party, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (PAUSD). The PAUSD had publicly stated that they would not field a candidate in Monday’s presidential election, citing a lack of the freedom of speech and corrupt processes. A near-total internet blackout preceded and persisted throughout the day of the presidential election, according to Netblocks, a watchdog organization that monitors cybersecurity and governance of the internet. Statements by election observers have been sparse, but in the lead-up to the vote, according to al-Jazeera, the Catholic Church raised questions over its fairness, citing the government’s rejection to deploy over 1,000 observers.

Two refugee camps close amid increasingly strained relations between Somalia and Kenya

According to Reuters, on Wednesday, Kenya ordered the closure of two refugee camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, that currently serve hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia. The Kakuma camp is the largest refugee camp in the world. Kenya informed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that it had two weeks to come up with a plan to do so, or, according to The Daily Nation, Kenyan authorities will relocate the refugees to the border. Kenya ordered the closure of the Dadaab camp, but that order failed when the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court of Kenya found the request unconstitutional without consulting stakeholders.

As of this writing, there has been no response from Somalian authorities on the issue. As for UNCHR, on March 24, the agency released a statement saying that the commissions is, “grateful to the people and Government of Kenya for generously hosting refugees and asylum-seekers for several decades and recognize the impacts this generosity has had.” The statement ends by urging the Kenyan government to make sure that solutions are sustainable and suitable so that those who need protection can continue to receive it.

This threat is the most recent in increasingly strained relations between the two countries, though the Kenyan Foreign Ministry has clarified this decision is unrelated to other diplomatic tensions between the two countries. In fact, late last year, Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Kenya, accusing of Kenya meddling in Somalia’s internal affairs given tensions in the Jubbaland region within Somalia. Earlier this year, Somalia accused Kenya of harboring a fugitive Jubbaland minister and of violating Somalia’s sovereignty by encroaching border areas. In early March, Nairobi reported that fighting in Jubbaland had spilled over the border into Kenya, stating “Foreign soldiers—in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions—engaged in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera. … This action amounts to an unwarranted attack by foreign soldiers with the intention of provoking Kenya.” Kenya and Somalia also have a long-standing dispute over a maritime boundary that came to a head in 2014 when Somalia sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice for unlawful operations in the territory. This area, located near the Indian Ocean, is not only important for fishing it is also rich in gas and oil.