Africa in the news: Kenya-Somali relations sour, Cyclone Eloise hits Mozambique, and tensions in and around Ethiopia escalate

Residents of the Praia Nova neighbourhood seek shelter from Tropical Cyclone Eloise, in Beira, Mozambique, January 23, 2021. Picture taken January 23, 2021. UNICEF/Franco/Handout via REUTERS   NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY

Kenya-Somali relations continue to deteriorate

Tensions between Kenya and Somalia continued to rise this week, with Somalia’s information ministry releasing a statement accusing Kenya-funded and -trained rebels of crossing into Jubbaland. As of Thursday, 21 people have died and at least 30,000 have fled their homes because of the disputes in Jubbaland.

Kenya has vehemently denied the accusations. The two countries cut ties late last year as Somalia accused its southern neighbor of interfering in its internal affairs. Meanwhile, Jubbaland Vice President Mohamud Sayid Adan has reported that the attackers were deployed by the Somali government itself, as the regional government continues to feud with Mogadishu. The Kenyan government warned in a statement this week that “if the fighting continues unabated, the situation could further destabilize the region, complicate the security situation and reverse the gains made in the fight against terrorism.”

Somalia also threatened to leave the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), after a fact-finding mission to the troubled Jubbaland reported no evidence of Kenya violating Somalia’s sovereignty. Somali Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Mohamed Abdirazak rejected the report, stating that the investigators were “biased, partisan, unfair, compromised and predetermined to exonerate Kenya.”

In other Kenya news, a new tax on digital transactions came into effect at the beginning of the year. Such a tax is not uncommon in the region, as neighboring Tanzania and Uganda have also recently introduced similar measures. The law imposes a 1.5 percent tax on all gross income made through the digital marketplace. Affected transactions include digital content like streaming services and downloadable apps, books, and movies. According to the Kenya Revenue Service, “For residents and companies with a permanent establishment in Kenya, the Digital Services Tax will be an advance tax that they will offset against the income taxes due in the course of the year.” The country hopes to collect 5 billion Kenyan shillings (over $9 million) in its first six months.

Cyclone Eloise creates humanitarian crisis in Mozambique

On Saturday, January 23, Cyclone Eloise hit the eastern shore of Mozambique. While it has since devolved into a tropical storm upon moving further inland, it continues to cause heavy rains, flooding, and mudslides in Zimbabwe and is expected to bring heavy rains and flooding in South Africa and Botswana.

Already, in Mozambique, the cyclone has displaced thousands, destroyed homes, and damaged infrastructure. In response, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has established 32 centers to accommodate approximately 1,500 displaced families in the heavily affected province of Sofala and city of Beira. Compounding the tragedy, experts worry, is that crowded shelters may have created ideal conditions for the spread of the coronavirus, as people are packed into tents and lack access to face masks and soap.

In addition to displacing residents, the cyclone has also caused extensive flooding of crop land and destroyed farm tools and seeds. The U.N.’s World Food Program warns that expectant April harvests and subsequent replanting will be affected, exacerbating already high levels of food insecurity in Mozambique. Already, the World Food Program has announced it will mobilize 640 metric tons of food warehoused in Beria in response to the anticipated shortage.

US calls on Eritrea to remove troops from Ethiopia’s Tigray region

This week, the U.S. pressured Eritrean government officials to “immediately” withdraw their troops from the Tigray region, according to the Associated Press (AP). In a correspondence with AP, a State Department spokesperson reported that the U.S. officials have insisted that Eritrean soldiers vacate Tigray, citing “credible reports of looting, sexual violence, assaults in refugee camps and other human rights abuses.”

Also this week, four former U.S. ambassadors to Ethiopia sent a joint letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressing worry over the escalating ethnic tensions across the country and the involvement of Eritrean troops. The letter, which the authors published in Ethiopia’s “The Reporter,” pointed to“proliferation of hate speech and rising ethnic and religious violence” and postulated that the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray could “jeopardize Ethiopia’s territorial integrity.” At the same time, Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to deny the participation of the Eritrean military in the conflict, a position that contradicts dozens of on-the-ground witnesses and statements by diplomats and an Ethiopian general.

On Wednesday, the spokesperson for Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, Mansour Boulad, denied Ethiopia’s recent claim that the Sudanese army had occupied Ethiopian territory near the al-Fashqa region of Sudan. However, Boulad did acknowledge the redeployment of the Sudanese army along the nation’s border, saying, “Our choice so far is that we must deal with the situation according to the mechanisms of good neighborliness and cooperation between the two countries, but if Ethiopia does the opposite, we will have another position according to the circumstances.” Notably, despite several treaties on the matter, the exact demarcation of the al-Fashqa region remains disputed between the two countries.