News Highlights: Isaias visits Nairobi, EU Summit sees tough rhetoric on migration, EU expanding support to Libyan coast guard

In this week’s News Highlights: Eritrean President Isaias meets Ruto in Kenya; Tigray and Ethiopian delegations meet; Ethiopian Orthodox Church tensions and violence increase; Abiy visits Europe; Cash and increased flights among steps to restore services in Tigray; Russian Foreign Minister visits Sudan; HRW calls for targeted sanctions on Eritrea over collective punishment during round-ups; EU expands support to Libya, starting with extra boat; EU increases support to Rwanda to absorb Libya evacuees; EU Summit discusses migration policies; and multiple shipwrecks cost the lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. 

Greater Horn of Africa

Kenya/Eritrea: Presidents meet in Nairobi, agree to waiver visas
Kenyan President William Ruto and Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki held bilateral talks on 9 February in Nairobi and agreed to permanently remove visa requirements for their citizens. They reportedly said the waiver of the visa requirement will enhance their bilateral economic relations. In addition, Kenya is opening an embassy in the Eritrean capital of Asmara, effective immediately. President Isaias indicated that Eritrea would rejoin the regional organisation Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). In a joint media briefing, President Ruto said: “with the operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area, we must cooperate in mapping out mutually beneficial strands of economic opportunities for our countries.” President Isaias said: “We will keep promoting joint investment and work together towards enhancing sustainable peace and security.” In a rare appearance in international media, Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki skipped a question on the continued presence of his troops in Ethiopia even after the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement which stipulates their withdrawal, says Reuters. Responding to a reporter’s question, President Isaias Afwerki said “You talk about the withdrawal or no withdrawal, we’ve said this is nonsense […] Don’t provoke us into a misunderstanding. Why are we bothered about Eritrean troops who are there or not there, come out or not come out?” The President also refused to respond to a question about how many people were killed by Eritrean troops in Tigray, and a question about his succession. “Everybody talking about human rights violations here and there – rape, looting – this is a fantasy,” Isaias stated.

Ethiopia/Tigray: Delegations, including PM Abiy, meet
A Tigray delegation, led by Getachew Reda and Gen. Tsadkan Gebre Tinsay, met in person with an Ethiopian delegation led by PM Abiy Ahmed, DPM Demeke Mekonen accompanied by high level government officials on Friday, 3 February, in southern Ethiopia. The delegations discussed the implementation of the Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement. It was the first time since 2 November 2022 that PM Abiy joined the ‘Peace Agreement Implementation Coordination Committee’, said Ethiopia State Media. PM Abiy promised to resolve issues with flights, banking and other issues that impact civilians in Tigray. TDF chief commander General Tadesse spoke to Ethiopian television following the meeting, stating there was a positive atmosphere with focus on making the conflict history and starting reconstruction. He said the two parties qualified the implementation of the agreement as “slow” but generally good in comparison to the conflict situation a few months ago. He also stated that “no single gun fire was heard” since the agreement was signed and this showed “the armies were well very well managed on both sides.” He added a situation is being created where the parties cannot revert back to war again. Gen Tadesse also stated that accountability cannot be skipped through negotiations. 

Ethiopia: Ethiopian Orthodox Church tensions high as demonstrations are announced
Tensions between the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) and three breakaway Archbishops and 25 bishops are high. On 4 February, an attack on an Orthodox Church in the West Arsi zone, Shashamene, Oromia, left at least 30 people dead, according to sources. According to Addis Ababa Police, 19 police officers were injured by a group of people gathered at the St. Lideta Orthodox Church in Philidoro, located on the border between Addis Ababa and the Oromia Special Zone. The Ethiopian Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force warned both sides of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church conflict to stop calling for unauthorised demonstrations and creation of unrest. The Ethiopian Patriarch Abune Mathias called for demonstrations starting on 12 February, and the breakaway synod called for demonstrations on the same day. Social media restrictions have been implemented in the wake of the violence. The EOTC filed a request to ban the three breakaway archbishops and the 25 bishops from accessing church possessions for three months  at the Federal High Court. During this time, the EOTC plans to file a formal lawsuit. The ruling is expected on Friday. 

Ethiopia: Abiy visits Italy, Malta and France
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went on a European tour, visiting Italy, Malta and France, this week. Following the Italy-Ethiopia meeting on 6 February, Italian Prime Minister Meloni stated that a three year 140 million EUR development program was agreed between the two countries. In addition, 42 million EUR agreements on tea and coffee supply chains were signed. Meloni stated she wants to increase Italian investment in Ethiopia. “We are planning a mission to Ethiopia in the coming weeks and we would like it to be accompanied by Italian entrepreneurs”, she stated in a press conference. With French President Macron, Abiy discussed bilateral issues including strengthening cooperation between countries, and potential increase of investments in the private sector. 

Tigray: Steps taken to restore services in Tigray
The National Bank of Ethiopia has sent 5 billion birr to address the cash shortages of banks in Tigray, according to Dimtsi Woyane. Ethiopian Airlines has increased its daily flights from Addis Ababa to Mekelle from three to five. The Axum branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) reported that it has restarted services to its clients, reports Tigrai Television.
CBE branch manager Mr Firtsum Measho confirmed that clients can now withdraw up to 50.000 birr per day or up to 300.000 per week. He added that “[t]he limit can be transferred, and any customer of the bank can avail the full service by presenting a notebook with an account opened in any part of the country”. If the notebooks are not available customers can request the service to be provided by showing their ID cards. Sources note there are long queues for withdrawals. Consultations have started to reopen and restart work in the universities of Mekelle, Axum, Adigrat and Raya, according to the Ethiopian Ministry of Education. It noted that a team of experts visited the universities to assess the damage done to the universities. However, issues such as the unpaid work of Tigrayan civil servants continues, states Addis Standard.

Sudan: Lavrov visits Khartoum
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Khartoum, Sudan, on Wednesday in order to meet with Sudanese officials. The meetings with army leader al-Burhan and his deputy Hemedti covered economy and investment, but Lavrov also pledged to support the removal of sanctions on Sudan. Furthermore, Lavrov defended the presence of Russian mercenary group Wagner in Africa, stating the group was deployed “upon the direct request of governments”. Envoys from France, Norway, the United States, Britain, Germany and the European Union envoy to the Horn of Africa visited Khartoum at the same time on 8 and 9 February. They discussed progress towards a democratic transition. Independent Russian Telegram channel Mozhem Obyasnit alleges that Russia attempted to ‘bribe’ African countries to abstain from a UN vote to condemn its operations in Ukraine. Allegedly, Russia offered military equipment contracts for Eritrea, among others.

Eritrea: HRW calls for sanctions over collective punishment during round-ups
Severe human rights abuses, including punishment of family members, took place during waves of forced round-ups of people accused of evading the national service, says Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW calls for targeted sanctions against Eritrea in relation to collective punishment in the context of forced conscription. Retaliation against family members has especially increased since September 2022, when Eritrea re-engaged in the military campaign in Tigray. Eritrean authorities arbitrarily detained or expelled the relatives of alleged draft evaders during forced military conscription from their homes, reports HRW. Houses were then confiscated. Eritrean authorities have allegedly targeted old parents as well as women with young children, pressing them to locate their missing relatives from military conscription. 

North Africa

Libya/EU: EU hands over more boats to Libyan coast guard
The EU plans to transfer five more boats to the Libyan coast guard for migration management, stated EU commissioner Oliver Varhelyi. The first of the boats was transferred on Monday 6 February. Funding comes from the EU’s emergency trust fund for Africa. Human Rights Watch warns that the transfer of boats is coming “without any apparent attempt to vet the human rights practices of the coast guard”. HRW states that the refugees and migrants forcibly returned to Libya face torture, detention, sexual violence and forced labour in Libya. Statewatch says that an internal “action file on Libya” by the European Council shows the EU is planning to further expand their cooperation with Libyan authorities and militia, saying it wishes to “contribute to more effective Libyan border and migration management, prevent irregular departures, and reinforce search and rescue capacities […]”.

Libya/Rwanda: EU announces 22m EUR additional funding for Libya evacuees
During a visit to a refugee transit centre, the European Union ambassador to Rwanda announced that the EU will provide €22 million in renewed funding until 2026 in support of the country’s hosting of refugees evacuated from Libya. Since signing the deal in 2019, around 1500 refugees have been transferred from Libya to Rwanda, from where they are to be resettled. 


EU: European Summit tackles migration
EU leaders have gathered in Brussels on 9 and 10 February to discuss, among others, Europe’s strategy for migration. According to Reuters and Kathimerini, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, called for the European Union to finance fences at the border to manage “illegal migration”. However, Euractiv noted that while a hardening rhetoric on migration could be heard, the proposal to finance a border fence received little support. Due to the rising number of irregular migration into the European Union, migration has once again become a top-of-the-agenda issue in Europe, says Politico journalist, Barigazzi. Barigazzi illustrates weakening relations between European countries due to the issues of migration, such as relations between France and Italy as well as Hungary, The Netherlands and Bulgaria. According to an article by Euractiv, Europe faces challenges on their decision to welcome Ukrainian refugees, while reinforcing the border for African and Middle-Eastern refugees. The authors of the article, Benjamin Fox and Eleonora Vasques, say that there are  “major geopolitical consequences to a fortress Europe mentality”. The authors state that this European stance will loosen Europe’s influence over the African continent, allowing Russian networks to take a hold instead. 

Greece: Reports of  refugee and migrant fatalities and rescues at Greek shores
Several reports have been made of migrants deceased while attempting to cross the mediterranean to reach European borders this week. On Sunday (5 February 2023), a boat carrying 41 migrants and refugees capsized in Greek waters, causing the fatalities of four children and a woman, says Greek journal Kathimerini. Greece’s Coast Guard engaged three vessels and a helicopter to retrieve an unconscious boy and 39 other people, as well as the woman’s body. Four children died in the hospital, including the unconscious boy. Ioannis Plakiotakis, the Minister of Shipping and Island Policy, announced that “criminal networks of traffickers that operate from Turkey, tolerated by the Turkish authorities” abandoned the migrants. Associated Press reports another 3 persons died in Lesbos, Greece, on Tuesday (7 February 2023) after a boat hit the rocks,  while 16 migrants were rescued.