News Highlights: Ethiopian/Eritrean army converges on Aksum, New peace talks date, EP refuses to sign off Frontex budget

In this week’s new highlights: Ethiopian/Eritrean army captures towns in Tigray, converge on Aksum; New date for AU-led peace talks; Eritrea wants military victory, not peace, in Tigray; Aid worker killed in ENDF/EDF bombing of Shire; Warnings of genocide in Tigray as analysts say western diplomacy failed; Ethiopian federal government to seize key infrastructure in Tigray; War delays Ethiopian debt relief;  Calls for immediate ceasefire in Tigray; Mass grave of Ethiopian migrants discovered in Malawi; Somali government warns not to pay Al Shabab extortion fees; Understanding US involvement in the fight against Al Shabab; Somalia faces the worst famine seen in 50 years; Tribal clashes in Sudan’s Blue Nile State leave hundreds dead; Sudan’s pro democracy opposition presents vision for transition of power; Bodies of 15 migrants recovered on Tunisian beach; EP refuses to sign off on Frontex budget;  Declaration of the EU regarding the war in Tigray;  Germany hosts meeting to stop Balkan route migration; and Turkey forced migrants to cross border naked, say Greek authorities.

Greater Horn of Africa 

Ethiopia/Tigray: Ethiopian/Eritrean army captures towns in Tigray region, converge on Aksum
As of 19 October Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) say they have captured the towns of Shire, Alamata and Korem. According to BBC Tigrigna, Prof. Kindeya Gebrehiwot, member of the Tigray leadership, said on 19 October that the town of Korem in southern Tigray was under the control of Tigray Defence Forces (TDF). Kindeya added that heavy fighting is ongoing on multiple fronts. Bloomberg reports that ENDF/EDF troops are now converging on the town of Aksum, in their approach to the capital of Mekelle. Tigrai Media House (TMH) reports that a drone attack was carried out in the town of Aksum on 18 October, killing and injuring many people; the exact number of casualties is not yet known. TMH also reports widespread looting by Eritrean forces in Shire. Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees are living in Shire, and its strategic airport and location on the B30 highway, a strategic axis of communication in the mountainous region, says Al Jazeera. It remains to be seen whether Ethiopian authorities will fulfil their promise of restoring services and allowing humanitarian aid to reach areas under their control.

Ethiopia: New date proposed for AU led peace talks
The African Union has put forward the date of 24 October for a renewed round of talks on a peaceful resolution of the war in Tigray. Its efficacy as a peace broker, however, comes under increasing scrutiny, says The conversation. Redwan Hussein, advisor to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, confirmed the participation of Ethiopia in the talks. He criticised those who condemned what he referred to as “defensive measures” taken by the federal government in Northern Ethiopia. Tigrayan authorities have yet to confirm their presence for the new date, but previously agreed to AU-led peace talks, says AP News. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council met in private on Ethiopia this morning, 21 October 2022, on the request of Gabon, Ghana and Kenya. The briefers anticipated to talk at the meeting were OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi and AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo.

Ethiopia/ Eritrea: Eritrea strives for military victory in Tigray
According to Bloomberg, basing their analysis on the testimonies of three diplomats, the earlier delay of peace talks in South Africa was related to Eritrean President Afwerki pushing for a military victory in Tigray. Bloomberg asserts that Eritrea funds its military operations from the proceeds of businesses which are part of the Red Sea Corp., which it says is the secret sovereign fund of Isaias’s party, PFDJ. As the conflict continues with ongoing shelling and bombing of civilians and militarized starvation, Bloomberg talks with Harry Verhoeven, professor and Eritrea expert at Columbia University; drawing a profile of Afwerki. He paints him as a politician used to taking “extraordinary” risks and not caring about international isolation. A Kenyan-based activist comments that “war is the way for Isaias to stay involved in Ethiopia’s politics” and that as long as the TPLF remains a force, peace will not be an option for him.

Etiopia: Aid worker killed in ENDF/EDF bombing of Shire
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says one of their aid workers was killed in Shire on 15 October during the shelling of the city by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. The worker was “delivering life saving humanitarian aid to women and children” at the time of his death and another aid worker was wounded during the attack. The World Food Programme condemns all attacks on humanitarian workers and calls on belligerents to uphold humanitarian law. 

Ethiopia: From the failure of western diplomacy in Ethiopia to warnings of genocide in Tigray
On 19 October, World Health Organisation Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that there remained a “very narrow window now to prevent genocide” from occuring in Tigray. In Foreign policy, Merkeb Negash Yimesel, a Tigray government representative based in Brussels, described the campaign of the ENDF/EDF as a genocide as well. He speaks of government forces evicting people and forcing them into internally displaced peoples’ camps as a means of separating the TDF from its base to better control the region and its strategic corridors to Sudan and Djibouti. Two western diplomats, speaking under conditions of anonymity, stated they believe that “concentration camps” could be created, which could then receive funding via UN, EU or aid agencies. An EU diplomat speaking to FP called the situation “a total failure of U.S. and European Union diplomacy”. On 19 October, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide called for tech companies to aid in limiting the spread of hate speech on their platforms, stating that the “atrocious abuses taking place are spurred by the deluge of ethnically motivated hate speech that is propagated online.” Guterres, UN Secretary General, and Türk, UN Human Rights Chief, both called for an end to hostilities; highlighting the catastrophic toll they have taken on the civilian population, pleading for a restoration of humanitarian access. 

Ethiopia: Ethiopian federal government seeks to seize key infrastructure in Tigray
The Ethiopian government published a statement on 17 October, announcing it wants to take direct control of “airports and other federal facilities” due to “the repeated attacks of the TPLF but also by its active collusion with […] hostile foreign powers”. The statement reiterated the claim that the conflict occurred as a consequence of Tigrayan aggression. Diplomatic sources confided to Al Jazeera that momentum for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict is lacking.

Ethiopia: Ongoing war delays Ethiopian debt relief
Plans to restructure Ethiopia’s debt have been delayed in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, with the war in Tigray playing a major role in the stalled negotiation, according to Eyob Tekalign Tolina, Ethiopia’s finance minister. Reuters says France and China, Ethiopia’s largest creditors, were on board but the IMF backed out. 

Ethiopia: Calls for immediate ceasefire
AU chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Tigray on 16 October. He urges that the conflict be halted so the delivery of humanitarian goods may resume, pleading for the parties to honour their commitment to a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Other international actors have also been calling for action. António Guterres, UN Secretary General, warns that “the situation in Ethiopia is spiralling out of control”. He calls for an immediate end to the Tigray conflict and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces and for all parties to allow humanitarian aid to pass. He reiterated his trust in the AU-led peace process. The Norwegian government and the embassy of Canada in Ethiopia published a statement expressing their concern regarding the situation around the town of Shire on 17 October. The European Council condemns the fighting in Northern Ethiopia and calls for all parties to honour their commitment to negotiation, reiterating the need for all to abide by international humanitarian law.

Ethiopia/Malawi: Mass grave of Ethiopian migrants discovered
In Lilongwe, Malawi, a mass grave containing the remains of 25 people, presumably Ethiopian migrants, was found; the bodies were exhumed and taken to a morgue for autopsies and are suspected to have been there for about a month, says Voice of America. According to Voice of America, the people were attempting to reach South Africa via Malawi. On 20 October a second grave was found containing four more bodies, says The Guardian.

Somalia: Somali government warns not to pay Al Shabab extortion fees
On 15 October the Somali government issued a statement stating they will punish businesses who paid ‘extortion money’ to Al Shabab. Experts say the group is able to rake in millions with its complex system of taxation and the ministry of commerce and industry stated that those who complied would be pursued to the full extent the law allowed, says Voice of America. The Somali government states that those who comply could be permanently banned from business in the country and see their property confiscated.

Somalia: Understanding US involvement in the fight against Al Shabab
In a new episode of The Take, a podcast by Al Jazeera, the US intervention in Somalia is discussed. It is approached from the angle of the increasing disconnect between military and media reports and the reality on the ground where the consequences of the frequent airstrikes are felt. It details the fight of local journalists and activists attempting to debunk the narrative of a victimless bombing campaign. In addition to this air campaign, the US will be initiating rounds of sanctions and providing military advice from US forces on the ground, says Voice of America. 

Somalia: Somalia faces the worst famine seen in 50 years
According to the United Nations, Somalia is currently facing the worst famine in half a century. James Elder, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesman, believes things are only going to get worse as the country nears its fifth consecutive failed rainy season. According to Elder, the comparaisons to 2011 when 260.000 people died fail to represent the scale of the ongoing catastrophe; he believes the population currently affected is twice that of 2011 and growing. In addition to this, 2011 saw 3 failed rainy seasons instead of 5 here. 7.8 million people are currently affected by the droughts, 213.000 of which are currently at risk of famine, says the United Nations. 

Sudan: Tribal clashes in Sudan’s Blue Nile State leave hundreds dead
Between Wednesday and Thursday, at least 150 people were killed in the Blue Nile state of Sudan. The Hausa tribe stated it was under attack, but did not mention a specific tribe. The CSO Resistance Committees blamed the military for a lack of security in the region. In addition, 19 people were killed in clashes in West Kordofan, announced OCHA. According to Reuters, the clashes between members of the Miseryia and Nuba tribes in the town of Lagawa was brought under control by the intervention of the army police and Rapid Support Forces. The UN says 1200 people were displaced due to the violence. Analysts believe the increased violence in the region can be attributed to a power vacuum following the fall of autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir and compounded by the economic difficulties currently experienced by the region. 

Sudan: Sudan’s pro democracy opposition presents vision for civilian transition of power
On 17 October Sudan’s civilian coalition presented their vision for a post-military administration Sudan after an 11 months stalemate between them and the ruling armed forces, says Reuters. The proposition seeks to include rebel groups that remained with the government after the coup, political groups outside the coalition who participated in its drafting as well as civil society groups. The inclusion of rebel groups that aligned with Omar al Bashir has been rejected by resistance committees.  The proposition plans for a retraction of the military from all organs of power and civilian control over the military.

North Africa

Tunisia: Bodies of 15 migrants recovered on a beach
Tunisian authorities recovered the bodies of 15 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean near the town of Mahdia. Most were Tunisians but some originated from Sub-Saharan Africa, says AP News. AP News reports that, faced with increasingly difficult economic conditions, an increasing number of Tunisians are undertaking the dangerous crossing towards Europe.


European Parliament: Parliament refuses to sign off on Frontex budget
The European Parliament voted in a Plenary Session on 18 October not to sign off on Frontex’s 2020 budget, in protest of reports of serious misconduct and human rights concerns about Frontex’s operations. Frontex is accused of aiding illegal pushbacks of migrants and refugees. The action by the Parliament obliges the European Commission to address the Parliament’s concerns, but has no direct legal consequences, says AP

European Union: Declaration of the EU regarding the war in Tigray
On 17 October, the EU High Representative made a Declaration on behalf of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council, clarifying the position of the Union regarding the intense fighting in the north of Ethiopia. The statement contrasts the stated intentions of peace with the renewed offensives around Shire and Adi Daero, deploring the ongoing loss of lives and killing of humanitarian workers. The European Union calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the area. It counts on neighbouring countries to contribute to the efforts towards peace and reaffirms its support to the ongoing AU led peace effort. 

Germany/EU: Germany hosts meeting to stop Balkan route migration
Germany hosted a meeting on 20 October with EU representatives and several European countries including those along the Balkan route, to discuss curbing of migration along the route. The package of measures proposed includes, among others, effective border protection and speed-up of deportations. Migration expert Gerald Knaus commented that closing of the Balkan route has not worked thus far, and that the current pressure mostly comes from legal migration from Ukraine. 

Greece: Turkey forced migrants to cross border naked, say Greek authorities
Greek authorities have alleged that Turkish authorities forced 92 migrants and refugees to strip naked and cross the border to Greece by boats. Turkey denies the allegations. Greek police stated that some of the people were injured. The UN Refugee Agency called for a full investigation, stating that they were distressed by the reports.