News Highlights: CoHA evaluation modalities agreed, Famine “fast approaching” in Somalia, Italy increases pressure on NGO rescues

The news highlights will take a break and they will be back in the second week of January. The Situation Reports will continue to update you on breaking news in the Horn. 

In this week’s News Highlights: Tigrayan and Ethiopian negotiators reach agreement on CoH Agreement evaluation modalities; Ethiopians voice their fears and hope about peace; Urgent aid needed for Somalia’s rural communities; Somali troops return from Eritrea starts; Government forces continue offensive against al-Shabaab; Somali government orders media to submit content for approval; Sudanese security forces disperse pro-democracy protesters; al-Bashir admits role in 1989 coup; New expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan designated; Over 260.000 in need of humanitarian support in South Sudan; UN Special envoy for Libya warns of signs of partition; Irregular migration into Europe on the rise; Statement of the European Commission and High Representative on international migrants day; New rules to fight trafficking in human beings in the EU; New rules for private search and rescue operations in Italy; and Deglobalisation of food systems amidst worsening hunger crisis.

Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Agreement on monitoring of CoH Agreement reached
On 21 and 22 December the negotiation teams of Tigray and the Ethiopian federal government met in Nairobi to discuss the next steps in the peace process, says Voice of America. According to The East African, they have found an agreement on the modalities to be used in the evaluation of the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement. This paves the way for the work of the AU monitoring team to begin, says The East Africa. The meeting came as Eritrean troops continued to hinder humanitarian aid access to the region. In parallel banking services have been progressively restarting, says Al Jazeera. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia has restarted services in certain areas but according to testimony the reopened banks in Shire do not allow cash withdrawals, only deposits and cash transfers abroad. Telecommunication services have also returned to certain areas of Tigray under ENDF control, says AP News. It reported on the emotional ups and downs coming with the first phone calls in a year and a half for relatives unable to contact each other under the enforced prolonged blackout of the region.

Ethiopia: Ethiopians voice their fears and hope about peace
A town hall meeting composed of people from the Ethiopian diaspora was held in the Voice of America headquarters in Washington DC. The “Ethiopia: Paths to Peace” televised event brought together activists, scholars and others from multiple ethnic groups. It created the opportunity for inter-community dialogue on a two year conflict that tore the country apart, says Voice of America. Participants acknowledged the importance of this sort of dialogue with panellist Etana Habte, an Ethiopian scholar specialising in the political history of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, stating: “To move forward beyond ethnic divisions, it is important to debate and negotiate to get clarity”. He recognised that “The problem in the country isn’t something that started in a day or two. A problem that was caused in a day can be solved in a day. The problems in this country date back 150 years”.

Somalia: Urgent aid needed for Somalia’s rural communities
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations stated that famine is “fast approaching” in Somalia and 700.000 people could face starvation next year. They  state that with rapid large scale investments it is still possible to meet the needs of some of the most at risk rural communities adding that investments in resilience and livelihood support will be crucial to breaking the cycle of hunger. Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia states that although current levels of assistance are helping to prevent “extreme outcomes” they are not enough to prevent a famine beyond a few months. He states that rural pastoralist communities have been the most susceptible to the shock as their livestock is inextricably linked to their survival, and livestock has been dying at alarming rates. He calls for a focus on preserving and replacing said livestock as a means of sustaining long term livelihoods. 

Somalia/Eritrea: Troops return from training in Eritrea
Somalia’s government announced that the 5000 soldiers sent for training to Eritrea would return with the first group arriving in Somalia on 21 December and the rest expected “in the coming days”, says AP News. The number and state of health of the returning soldiers is unknown. Family members stated that the soldiers were forced to join the military in Eritrea and the UN reported that some fought in Ethiopia. Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur welcomed the soldiers’ return and stated they would be “part of the ongoing fighting against [extremist group] al-Shabab in several regions of the country”. The recruits were first sent in 2019 but this was only acknowledged earlier this year and had previously been kept secret, says AP. 

Somalia: Government forces continue their offensive against al-Shabaab
The operation led by the Somali military and allied militias against al-Shabaab in the Middle Shabelle region has culminated in the capture of the town of Runirgod, the last city held by the terrorist group, stated Somalia’s Defense Ministry Spokesman Abdullahi Ali Anod. The operations this week reportedly resulted in the deaths of over 150 al-Shabaab militants with two US strikes contributing a further 15 deaths in the Hirshabelle State. Critics state that the government risks losing control of operations where it allows local militias to take the lead. The federal government said early this month it will be launching operations in the Jubaland and South West state regions. This goes against the advice of analysts that fear it would result in a dilution of limited government assets.

Somalia: Government orders media to submit content for approval
Somalia’s government’s latest directive is that local media is now to submit content for approval prior to being distributed to the public, says Voice of America. Mohamed Abdiwahab, Risaala Media Corporation’s managing director, stated: “The objective was censorship, because directing [the media] to send the items is just singling out the items that they don’t like. Therefore, its implementation is risky to Somali media and cannot be implemented”. Deputy Information Minister Abdirahman Yusuf Adala told Voice of America that he was not aware of such a directive. Several media houses in Mogadishu told VoA this week that they had received the directive from the President’s communications Office.

Sudan: Security forces disperse pro-democracy protesters
Sudanese pro-democracy protesters led by the Resistance Committee took to the streets in Khartoum on 19 December to mark the fourth anniversary of the uprising that toppled al-Bashir, says Al Jazeera. Security forces dispersed the crowd with tear gas and reportedly wounded protesters while dispersing the crowd that protested that called for the military to be held accountable for the killing of 120 people since taking power on 25 October 2021 and the transitional agreement signed earlier this month. 

Sudan: al-Basir admits role in 1989 coup
Former Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir has taken full responsibility for the events in 1989 that brought him to power in the midst of a military coup. The statement occurred on 20 December during his trial in Khartoum, says Reuters. He also shielded officials who participated in his administration, stating that they had been in office with the intention to help Sudan in a difficult period but had not planned or carried out the coup. The trial is expected to continue for several months and if al-Bashir were to be convicted of leading a military coup he could face a death sentence. 

Sudan: New expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan designated
The UN Human Rights Chief, Volker Türk, has designated Radhouane Nouicer as his expert on the human rights situation in Sudan. He will be replacing Adama Dieng who stepped down from this position in October 2022. He has assumed his duties as of 16 December, the day of nomination. His profile is that of an expert on humanitarian and refugee issues as well as protection of civilians in post conflict countries with experience in Africa and the Middle East. 

South Sudan: Over 260.000 in need of humanitarian support
UN Humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths has made 14 million USD available to provide direct assistance to 262,521 South Sudanese persons affected by increased violence and severe flooding, says UN News. Sara Beysolow Nyanti, Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, stated that “This funding will support reducing people’s vulnerability and protection risks through activities implemented by the United Nations humanitarian agencies in South Sudan”. The fund will benefit people located in the Unity, Upper Nile, Northern Bhar el Ghazel, Jonglei and Warrap states as well as in the Abyei Administrative Area and will be used to scale up existing programmes. As of 13 December, the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan was funded at 67.3% and long term solutions to close the funding gap are needed to sustain development, warns the UN.

North Africa

Libya: UN Special envoy for Libya warns of signs of partition
The UN Special envoy for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, warned on 16 December that signs of partition were evident in the country and urged “influential” nations to pressure rival factions in Libya to finalise the constitutional basis required to organise elections, says AP News. Bathily warned that if an agreement would not be reached, an alternative way to hold elections should be found. He believes the continuing disagreement between two rival speakers, Libya’s east-based parliament, Aguila Saleh, and Khaled al-Mashri, the president of the High Council of State based in the country’s west in Tripoli, “can no longer serve as a justification to hold an entire country hostage.”


Europe: Irregular migration into Europe on the rise 
According to Frontex the number of irregular migrants entering Europe has continued to rise with 308.000 people entering the EU in the first 11 months of 2022. This represented an increase of 68% since 2021 and the highest number since 2016, says Frontex. The Western Balkans, Central Mediterranean and Eastern Mediterranean saw the largest number of arrivals with 139.525, 93.805 and 39.850 arrivals respectively. The Mediterranean crossing has remained particularly deadly with 2.000 finding death in an attempt to cross it. UN migration agency chief Antonio Vitorino has urged the European Union to do better, stating “Migration has to be managed, not by closing borders, but by opening legal channels”.

European Commission: Statement of the European Commission and High Representative on international migrants day
On the occasion of International Migrants Day the European Commission and High Representative produced a joint statement. It mainly emphasised the need for safe, secure and legal pathways into the EU. They commented on the positive externalities of facilitated legal migration both on the migrant and recipient state, stating that the Pact on Migration and Asylum would continue to recognise and facilitate these relations with third countries to “harness the potential of human mobility”.

European Commission: New rules to fight trafficking in human beings
The European Commission is seeking to strengthen the rules to prevent trafficking in human beings. They state that a recorded 7.000 people fall victim to human trafficking every year in Europe, a figure expected to be much higher in reality. The updated rules will provide stronger tools for law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities as well as putting forward new procedures for earlier identification and support for victims via a European referral mechanism, says the Commission. 

Italy: New rules for private search and rescue operations
Italy is planning on introducing a new compulsory code of conduct for NGOs involved in refugee and migrant rescue at sea, humanitarian groups warn it would limit their ability to save lives. Italy’s  interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, stated a new law will be introduced that will force ships to disembark rescued people immediately after rescue, no longer staying at sea to look for more victims or transferring rescued persons to larger ships to enable continued search. Piantedosi states the objective of the law is to separate ships embarking on genuine rescue operations and those “in cahoots with traffickers”. He accused NGOs of an organised campaign to bring migrants to Europe, not supporting these statements with evidence. He states that NGO ships that do not abide by this code will be denied entry in Italian ports and if they persist in entering Italian waters will be fined and their ships impounded. 


World: Deglobalisation of food systems amidst worsening hunger crisis
In an opinion article published by Al Jazeera, Siera Vercillo, Fellow of Development and Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo, and Alex Park, journalist and researcher, make the argument for strengthened local food supply chains as they believe the pandemic and Ukraine war among other events have exposed just how vulnerable the globalised food system is to shock, leaving those most vulnerable at the mercy of events outside of their reach. They fear that the US commitment expressed at the US-Africa Leaders’ summit to be “all in” on Africa may further weaken local food chains. They call on the US to commit in the “right way” especially regarding food. They particularly criticise ongoing agri-food campaigns like USAID and the “climate smart agriculture” launched at the COP27 that they perceive to be “greenwashing” of carbon heavy agricultural practices on a continent that is direly suffering from climate change and associated shocks.