News Highlights: Russia visits Eritrea, 200.000 refugees enslaved in Libya, EU ministers ponder controversial migration reforms

In this week’s news highlights: Russian foreign minister visits Eritrea; Ethiopian PM visits Sudan; Eritrean troops announce withdrawal from Tigray, but forces remain; Reform of regional administration in Tigray proposed; Military exercises and weapons inflow in Ethiopia; Ethiopian Orthodox Church in tension as three Archbishops break away; Fighting continues in Oromia; Experts warn against normalisation of relations with Ethiopia and Eritrea; IDPs in Abbi Adiy suffer lack of food and medicine; US Airstrikes in Somalia; ICC Prosecutor urges Sudan to cooperate in Darfur trial; Horn of Africa drought forecast for 2023; Digital education in East Africa; 200.000 refugees and migrants estimated enslaved and tortured in Libya; EU migration reforms start with demands for walls and externalisation; EU Foreign Affairs Council yields nothing on Ethiopia; Greece boasts of 260.000 refugees and migrants halted; Irish rescue ship prepares for mission; and UNODC warns victims of trafficking less often identified.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Russia visits Eritrea
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov paid a one-day visit to Eritrea on 26 January. Lavrov is on an Africa-tour to call up support for Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry stated ahead of the meeting that Lavrov would meet Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed. “The discussions centered on the dynamics of the war in Ukraine & enhancement of bilateral ties on sectors of energy, mining, information technology. education & health,” stated the Eritrean Minister for Information on Thursday evening.  In March 2022, Eritrea was the only African country to vote against a UN Resolution that rebuked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The visit comes just two weeks after the Eritrean Ambassador to Russia announced a Memorandum of Understanding between the Eritrean port city of Massawa and the Russian naval base Sevastopol. The ambassador also stated the countries sought closer ties.

Ethiopia/Sudan: Abiy visits Sudan
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Sudan for the first time since the 2021 military coup. According to statements, Abiy met army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti). The leaders discussed the border dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Abiy also met representatives of the Forces of Freedom and Change in Sudan.

Tigray: Eritrean troops seemingly withdrawing, but witnesses state they are still there
The international community responded positively to news of Eritrean troops leaving Tigray, but eyewitnesses state that troops still remain. Citing eyewitnesses, Associated Press reported that Eritrean troops started withdrawing in large convoys from Axum, Shire and Adwa earlier this week. Some witnesses Agence France-Presse spoke to stated Eritrean troops were still present in substantial numbers in Shire and Adwa. In Shire, Eritrean troops were seen patrolling with ENDF forces on Sunday 22 January. The Washington Post has verified photos and videos taken over the past two weeks in Aksum, showing Eritrean forces in their characteristic uniforms and sandals. Eyewitnesses also noted Eritrean forces in Adigrat and other cities. Eyewitnesses told The Post that as of 24 January, Eritrean troops were still present in Aksum, Sheraro and Adwa. Doctors in the three cities also note that women continue to report rapes by Eritrean soldiers. Continued reports of looting of food, animals and equipment, including phones, also reached The Post. Eritrean forces are blocking humanitarian support from reaching Tahway Adiabo district, reported Dimtsi Woyane. The Tigray regional government President Debretsion said Eritrean and Amhara forces are still occupying the territories of Tigray and “torturing people.” He called for their full and swift withdrawal. Eritrean and Amhara troops have reportedly raped 211 women, killed 2116, injured 298 and kidnapped 680 people in North Western zone of Tigray since the signing of the CoH Agreement, says Dimtsi Woyane.

Tigray: Reform of regional administration proposed
According to Dimtsi Woyane, a regular meeting of the Tigray regional state council occurred earlier this week to review the status of the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement. Some sources also reported that the council is discussing possible reforms in the regional government based on the CoH agreement.  In the council meeting, Tigray regional President Dr Debretsion Gebremichael reportedly proposed to reorganise the executive body of his government. Some members of the regional Council said reorganising the executive will expand political and administrative space and enhance the capacity of the government Getachew Reda said on 22 January that an agreement has been reached to have reform based on the security and survival needs of the people of Tigray. He added that no arrangements have yet been made in relation to the intended reform.

Ethiopia: Military exercises and weapons inflow continue
The Ethiopian federal government continues heavy military training. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed observed a joint military parade conducted by the Air Force and Mechanised Infantry at Awash Arba technical school on 21 January, reports Ethiopian Press Agency. High level ENDF commanders including Field Marshall Birhanu Jula and his Deputy Chief of Staff General Abebaw Tadesse attended the event. Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed called on the Ethiopians to work to reaffirm its internal unity and pass on the state to their children, reports The PM said: “currently, the political commodity and political marketplace of racism and bigotry by religion and place of origin is focused on divisions. When you go one step lower from Ethiopianism, it is humiliation, disintegration and chaos.” According to various sources, Ethiopia has bought 32 Chinese SH-15 ( PCL-181) artillery systems. The systems were seen in pictures and on satellite images. The artillery is a self-propelled Howitzer reportedly used by the People’s Liberation Army of China. 

Ethiopia: Orthodox Church faces challenge from three Archbishops
The Orthodox church in Ethiopia faces a split after three Archbishops appointed 26 Bishops without prior consultation. The aim of the appointments was reportedly for the bishops to replace those currently appointed in the region of Oromia and parts of southern Ethiopia. All bishops of the Orthodox Church (in Ethiopia) were called to convene in Addis Ababa. Borkena announced that all three Archbiships were excommunicated after they did not appear for an apology. One of the breakaway Archbishops, Abune Sawiros, earlier said ”they made the move to save those followers of the church who were led by clergy that was not diverse or inclusive and who did not understand their language,” according to the BBC. The head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Abune Mathias, expressed his concern and he denounced the break-away as illegal. Sources note that Defense Minister Abraham Belay arrived unannounced at a meeting to resolve the looming split in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Ethiopia: Fighting continues in Oromia
The Associated Press spoke to several witnesses about clashes between the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Amhara forces, in which several dozen civilians were killed. A witness stated that in Jewuha town in the Amhara region, over 20 Amhara Special Forces were killed when the OLA attacked a camp. A witness in Ataye town in the Amhara region stated that thousands of people were fleeing clashes between the OLA and Amhara special forces. A doctor at the Shewa Robit hospital has been reported as seeing the bodies of “several people” since Monday 23 January,  as well as seriously injured people. The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA)  reportedly attacked Ataye town in North Showa Zone of Ethiopia’s Amhara Regional State on 24 January, allegedly killing an unknown number of civilians including children, reports Amharic news outlet referring to eyewitnesses. Sources state that fighting in Oromia has cut off the road between Ethiopia and Djibouti. The Ethiopia Peace Observatory (EPA) noted that some violence in Oromia targeted civilians, naming three events where the ENDF, Oromia regional special forces, kebele militiamen, and Fano militia members targeted civilians. This included targeting civilian houses, killing five prisoners in Bofa, and Fano militia shooting and killing an unknown number of civilians in Serar Kulla.

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Experts warns against normalisation of relations
The US’s Biden Administration should avoid going back to business as usual in its relations with Ethiopia, warns Senior Fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Michelle Gavins. “Standing firm in support of accountability is an essential element of any lasting peace even though it will undoubtedly complicate the U.S.-Ethiopian relationship,” states Gavin. Gavin also warns that the “United States will need to assess the degree to which Ethiopia has become an instrument of Eritrea’s agenda in the region, which is fundamentally at odds with U.S. interests in a stronger, freer, and more stable Horn of Africa.” International Committee of the Red Cross President Mirjana Spoljaric has arrived in Addis Ababa for a two-day visit. She will discuss the humanitarian situation and the impact of conflict with Ethiopian officials and AU leaders, says ICRC.  

Ethiopia: IDPs suffering lack of food and medicine
54.000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Abiy Addi are suffering from a severe shortage of food and medicine supplies, local officials told Addis Standard. Due to the severe shortages, some IDPs have been forced to move to other areas. 

Somalia: US airstrikes kill militants and “senior ISIS leader”
The US Africa Command stated on Saturday that a US airstrike killed 30 al-Shabaab militants and destroyed three vehicles. The airstrike was reportedly conducted about 260 kilometres northeast of Mogadishu near Galcad, Somalia, as the Somali National Army was fighting against an “intense attack by more than 100 al-Shabaab fighters.” The US Secretary of Defense stated that on 25 January, a US airstrike had killed Bilal al-Sudani and 10 other fighters. al-Sudani was “assessed to have supported ISIS’ expansion and activities across Africa and beyond the continent,” stated a US administration official to CNN

Sudan: ICC Prosecutor states Sudan is uncooperative in Ali Kushayb trial
Karim Khan, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, briefed the UN Security Council (UNSC) in relation to the trial of Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (Ali Kushayb), who is a leader of the Janjaweed militia in Darfur, Sudan.  Ali Kushayb is charged with 31 war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Darfur conflict which started in 2003. Khan accuses the Sudanese government of not cooperating with the trial. Among other things, he noted that “Sisyphean efforts are required in order to simply obtain a single entry visa.” A UN SC  press release stated that the “unfortunate truth is that the Government of Sudan is not meeting its cooperation requirements under Council resolution 1593 (2005), with Sudanese authorities restricting key access to documents and witnesses while ignoring requests for assistance and approval.”Council members urged Sudan to cooperate in this trial and others accused of human rights abuses in Sudanese custody, notably Omar al Bashir, Ahmed Harun, and Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein.

Horn of Africa: Drought alarm bells for 2023
The World Food Programme published the 2023 drought response plan for the Horn. It warns that 22 million people in the Horn are acutely food insecure and rain forecasts are not promising. Regardless of rain performance this year, WFP estimates it will take years to recover from this drought.  Reena Ghelani, United Nations Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator, visited the Somali region of Ethiopia. She describes that due to the drought, women in Birlays wait for the daily rations of water, so that they can boil and grind wheat until it is soft enough for small children to digest.  Axios summarises forecasts for the coming rainy season in the Horn of Africa region. They warn that the sixth rainy season in a row may be poor, while the last five rainy seasons failed. It notes that the drought is a combination of human-induced global warming effects and La Niña conditions.

Horn of Africa: Digital education in East Africa
On International Education Day, Capacity4Dev published a review of two international programmes that centre around e-learning and digital technology. The Digital Innovation and Skills Hub (DISH) provides access to e-learning in four countries in East Africa, and has enabled students during the blackout in Tigray to continue studies, states Capacity4Dev. VODAN-Africa experts developed computer curricula for the programme to enable youth in East Africa to become experts in new forms of data management. Experts participating in the programme stated that adaptation to the local context and the students’ needs was critical to the programme. “Digital education can be a powerful purveyor of equality, personal development and peace, especially in conflict regions,” stated Capacity4Dev.

North Africa

Libya: Estimated 200.000 refugees enslaved in Libya
Researchers estimate that between 2017 and 2021, a conservative estimate for 200.000 refugees and migrants have become victims to enslavement in Libya, in which human traffickers torture them for ransom. Family members are forced to pay ransom for their release. A large part of the victims are Eritreans. The publication “ENSLAVED. Trapped and Trafficked in Digital Black Holes: Human Trafficking Trajectories to Libya” particularly looks at the damaging role of digital vacuums, black holes, and the criminalisation of migration. With no legal way out, the refugees become trapped in a cycle of violence from which they are not able to escape. If they do cross the Mediterranean Sea, they run a high risk of being returned via the Libyan coast guard, funded by the EU.


European Union: Member states increasingly demanding fences and sticks against migration
Interior EU ministers met in Stockholm on 26 January to make a first step in putting migration reforms back on the agenda. European People’s Party leader Manfred Weber stated that “[w]e are sleepwalking into a new migration crisis.” Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has called for the EU to build a fence along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, in an attempt to stop irregular crossings. However, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has denounced this proposal as un-European. There is an increasing push from EU member states to use controversial ‘sticks’ to stop migration and force third countries to cooperate with EU migration policy, states Politico, from deals on return, to building externalised asylum centers in third countries, to cutting of development aid and visas, to building border fences. Others, such as German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, stressed there must be legal routes for those fleeing persecution and repression at home. 

European Council: Foreign Affairs meeting yields nothing on the Horn
The EU Foreign Affairs Council announced that it exchanged views on Ethiopia on 23 January, but stated no further details of the outcomes. Analysts are concerned that the EU is moving towards re-engagement without clear benchmarks. In Addition, Ethiopian finance minister Ahmed Shide and Danish development cooperation and global climate affairs minister Dan Jurgen discussed economic and bilateral issues, reports Fana Broadcasting Corporation. The Danish minister said that his country will support reconstruction of Ethiopia now that peace is being restored in the country. The Danish minister also said the Danish business community will invest in Ethiopia, adds FBC.

Greece: 260.000 refugees and migrants prevented from crossing
Greece announced that in 2022, it prevented 260.000 people from irregularly crossing from Turkey to Greece. Greece has been accused of pushing back migrants and refugees at its border, many of whom come from countries at war. Greece is also extending its border wall and will receive additional border guards from Frontex. 

Ireland: Irish ship prepares for rescue mission in Mediterranean
Irish Charity Refugee Rescue is preparing for a rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea, it states. It is cooperating with German NGO Sea-Eye. The organisation is hoping to collect funds to repair its boat ahead of the planned end-of-January mission. 


UN: UNODC warns victims of trafficking less often identified
A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warns that the global number of victims of human trafficking detected fell by 11% in 2020 compared to the previous year, and convictions of perpetrators fell by 27%. UNODC said that the COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed down law enforcement more than it did traffickers. “We cannot allow crises to compound exploitation”, said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly. Additionally, the report notes that most victims who do escape are ‘self-rescued’.