News Highlights: Eritrean military delegation visits Ethiopia, Eritrean alleged trafficker’s second hearing, Sudan agreement postponed

In this week’s news highlights: Eritrean military visits Ethiopia; OCHA warns about humanitarian impact of natural disasters in Ethiopia; Ethiopia to centralise army and police; Destructive environmental consequences of Tigray war; More than 133.000 people returned to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia; Ethiopia asks for talks over controversial dam in the Nile to continue; Drought and ration cuts cause severe malnutrition in Ethiopian refugee camps; 32 million funding from EU and France, says Ethiopia; Fighting and displacements in Somalia; AU peacekeepers hit by explosion in Mogadishu; Odinga calls for engagement outside of the Kenyan parliament; Signing of agreement  is postponed in Sudan; Egypt and Sudan finalise joint training at Port Sudan; Tensions rising in South Sudan as negotiations are interrupted; Tripoli rejects allegations of human rights abuses amounting to crimes against humanity; Second hearing of accused trafficker Walid reveals new charges; Braverman says Rwanda is safe for migrants and refugees; EU High representative of Foreign affair and US Secretary of State meet; and MEP says EU external migration policies a failure. 

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Eritrean military visits Ethiopia
An Eritrean delegation of army generals and high-level commanders led by Eritrea’s security head General Abraha Kassa visited Ethiopia this week. Eritrea’s information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said that the “central purpose of the current visit is to further consolidate the close ties of military cooperation that exist between the two countries”. Among others, they visited the Oromia Region and the Ethiopian Air Force Base, states the Eritrean Ministry of Information. The delegation was briefed by General Yilma Medrassa, Commander of the Ethiopian Air Force. The delegation also visited the new building of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC). The delegation also visited the office of the mayor of Addis Ababa, Adanech Abebie, who Tweeted: “Eritrea army generals, I am pleased to welcome you to your second home.” Yemane Gebremeskel said the visit of the delegation to the Artificial Intelligence institute in Addis Ababa shows further strengthening of the military relationships between the two countries. Abraha Kassa was sanctioned by the US in 2021 due to his involvement in the war in Tigray alongside the Eritrean government and PFDJ. 

Ethiopia: OCHA warns about humanitarian impact of various natural disasters
A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) shows that the humanitarian response in Ethiopia requires a scale-up considering the needs to respond to the different humanitarian crises the people in Ethiopia are enduring. Almost 230,000 people in Oromia and Somali regions are impacted by heavy rainfall from the ‘Belg and Gu’ rains, which are reportedly causing loss of life and damage to shelters, agriculture, and infrastructure. Additionally, regional and federal authorities called for the control of tree locusts that invaded North-Western Tigray. At the same time, protracted drought is contributing to the high needs. The levels of the Omo River are increasing which is raising concerns about the risks of floods in displacement sites and Omorate Town of Dasenech Woreda. 

Ethiopia: Government wants to centralise army and police
The Ethiopian government announced on Thursday that it aims to centralise regional forces into the Ethiopian army and police forces. Currently, Ethiopia’s ten regions have regional forces. The Ethiopian government aims to integrate these in the army or regional and Federal police forces. Hours before the announcement, Amhara regional forces clashed with national forces over the refusal of the Amhara Special Forces to surrender their weapons as part of the integration. On Friday, a spokeswoman confirmed that the dismantling of some regional military forces has started. 

Ethiopia: Destructive environmental consequences of the war on Tigray
The war on Tigray has been destructive to the environment, reports Global Citizen. The Tigray region, which was previously seen as a good site of environmental restoration, was devastated due to the war. The destruction of the environment through a scorched earth strategy was used as a “weapon of war”, says the World Peace Foundation. 

Ethiopia: More than 133.000 people returned to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia
133.103 Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia returned home between March 2022 and March 2023, according to the country’s Ministry of Social Affairs. Other sources state that the routes to Saudi Arabia, which go through Djibouti and via the sea through Yemen, are increasingly busy. Refugees and migrants, mainly Ethiopians and Eritreans, use the very dangerous routes to cross to Yemen, where they are in danger of abuse, kidnapping and torture for ransom. Many also die during the crossings on unsafe boats. 

Ethiopia: Ethiopia asks for talks over controversial dam in the Nile to continue
Ethiopia said that it is interested in restarting the discussions about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with Egypt and Sudan and that the construction of GERD has reached its “final stage”. In April 2021, the project was temporarily halted until conflict could be resolved between the interested parties and a binding agreement was reached. This project would be the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa if completed. Sudan and Egypt have concerns about the impact that the dam could have on their historical water claims, while Ethiopia wants Egypt to stop “monopolising” its water, says Nation Africa. 

Ethiopia/Somalia: Drought and ration cuts causes severe malnutrition in Ethiopian refugee camps
Severe drought is affecting refugee camps in Ethiopia, leading to a decline in health, says the UN. Refugees are affected by food shortages due to food prices increasing, which according to Adane Tefera, an associate nutrition officer for the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, have increased by 67%. This has led to extreme malnutrition throughout the region because of the lack of resources. Adane stated “We know that the global environment right now is challenging, that donors are preoccupied with other urgent needs, but the situation needs urgent attention.”

Ethiopia/EU/France: 32 million funding agreement signed, says Ethiopia
The Ethiopian Ministry of Finance announced that it has signed a 32 million EUR funding agreement with the European Union and France. The funding is aimed at food security and agricultural rehabilitation in conflict-affected areas. The funding will go to one project implemented by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Transformation (ATI) in northern Ethiopia. 

Somalia: Fighting and displacements
Recent heavy fighting between Somaliland forces and traditional authorities in Somaliland has killed at least 32 people, sources state. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates 154.000 to 203.000 people have been displaced from around Laascaanood. Fighting in the area resumed on 1 April 2023. The situation is made more dire due to the unprecedented water shortage caused by drought. In addition, as the second phase of the operations against al-Shabaab in Somalia kicks off, heavy clashes between militants and government troops are taking place around Mudug, north-central Somalia.

Somalia: AU peacekeepers hit by explosion in Mogadishu
On 3 April, a convoy of peacekeepers from the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) was hit by an explosion while carrying out the daily patrols in Mogadishu. Osman Ahmed, a security officer in Mogadishu, told Anadolu Agency, “We suspect the attack was a landmine explosion planted near the road and an investigation is underway”, as no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. It is unknown how many in the convoy were killed, while AfricaNews reported that three civilians died. The attack came after the ATMIS and the Somali Police Force (SPF) increased the number of security patrols in the Somali capital on the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Kenya: Odinga calls for engagement outside of the parliament
Kenyan President Ruto said that he created an environment for his opposition to check his government without being violent – “without throwing stones” – in a joint press conference with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Ruto said, “As president, I owe it to the people of Kenya to provide leadership”. He also said “I want to tell you, there will be no handshake [with Odinga]. But there will be an engagement in parliament on the issues that have been raised in parliament.”  He added, “The protests and demonstrations were acquiring an ugly and violent turn…It was time for them to reconsider those demonstrations”. Opposition leader Raila Odinga called off demonstrations amidst talks, but he called for parties outside the parliament to also be involved in talks about electoral reforms and the high cost of living. He warned of new protests if the government does not listen to the demands of the opposition. On 3 April, it was reported that Kenya’s top prosecutor has dropped the charges against the four lawmakers over the anti-government protests after the opposition leader suspended the demonstrations on Monday, states Aljazeera.

Sudan: Signing of agreement is postponed
The signing of the political agreement to install a new civilian transitional government in Sudan was postponed for a second time on 6 April, after the first deadline of 1 April was already postponed. As reported by Reuters, both army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) say they remain committed to reaching a final deal. However, due to the delay, the civilian bloc called for nationwide peaceful protests on 6 April seeking “freedom, peace and justice”, reports AlJazeera. The protesters called for civilian rule. The signing of the agreement was delayed in order to allow the parties to “redouble efforts to overcome the remaining obstacle”, said Khalid Omar Yousif, spokesman for the civilian block. The issue left unresolved concerns the security reform, aimed at integrating the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the military. As reported by the DailyMail, Shihab Ibrahim, a pro-democracy spokesperson, said that the RSF and the army disagree on the timeline of the integration process, with the RSF calling for a wider time window to finalise the integration.

Sudan: Egypt and Sudan finalise joint training at Port Sudan
Naval forces from Egypt and Sudan have reportedly finalised a joint naval training at the naval base of Port Sudan on the Red Sea, according to Al-Monitor. The training comes amid increasing fears of military escalation in light of the diplomatic row regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile river.  The Egyptian army’s statement says: “The training falls in the framework of the joint training plan of the armed forces with friendly countries to boost partnerships and military cooperation in various fields.” 

South Sudan: Tensions rising in South Sudan as negotiations are interrupted
Riek Machar, opposition leader and VP of South Sudan, wrote a letter to IGAD stating that President Salva Kiir has “unexpectedly interrupted the ongoing negotiations” to resolve the dispute over the appointing of a new defence minister. Machar calls on IGAD to intervene.   The situation in South Sudan is tense, according to sources. The presence of security in the compounds of leaders has increased. Furthermore, a panel of experts of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan named high-ranking South Sudanese officials they say warrant criminal investigation and prosecution for their part in grave atrocities against civilians  including killings, rape and sexual slavery, and mass displacement.  The commission, which conducted a year-long investigation across six states in South Sudan and released a partial summary of its findings in March, said none of those named in the final report had faced any accountability for their crimes. Yasmin Sooka, chair of the Commission, said: “[…] our findings have consistently shown that impunity for serious crimes is a central driver of violence and misery faced by civilians in South Sudan.” The Commission chair added that therefore “we have taken the step of naming more of the individuals who warrant criminal investigation and prosecution for their role in gross human rights violations.”

North Africa

Libya: Tripoli rejects allegations of human rights abuses amounting to crimes against humanity
The Tripoli-based government of Libya rejected a UN report on the alleged violations of refugee and migrant rights in the country, which the UN investigators say amount to crimes against humanity. The UN mission gathered “overwhelming” evidence of systematic torture and sexual slavery, among other crimes, and implicated Libyan authorities, including the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration and the Libyan Coast Guard. In a statement, the Libyan Foreign Ministry said: “The situation in the detention centers where migrants are held requires international support, and not to leave the Libyan government alone on this issue.”


Netherlands: Second hearing of accused trafficker Walid reveals new charges
The second pro-forma hearing of the Eritrean national Tewelde Goitom, also known as ‘Walid’ or ‘Welid, took place today in the Netherlands. He is accused of leading a criminal network that committed grave human rights abuses in Libya and who extorted refugees to pay large sums of ransom.  Walid was charged with leading a criminal organisation, human smuggling and extortion. Two new charges were placed on Walid during the hearing.  Walid was accused of attempting to influence witnesses from prison in the Netherlands. The conversations were caught on wiretap by the prosecution. This is added to the charges against him. Walid is further accused of falsifying ID documents, by attempting to obtain an Ethiopian driver’s licence from detention. Walid continues to maintain that there is a confusion of his identity. Partly due to the new charges, Walid has been placed under a stricter prison regime. It is the first time a top-level human trafficker is being tried in the Netherlands.The Dutch prosecution is asking for the extradition of another top-level human trafficker, Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, who was rearrested in Sudan on 1 January 2023. The prosecution would like to bring the cases together. The next hearing of Walid will be held on 27 June 2023 at 13:30 in the courthouse in Zwolle. 

UK/Rwanda: Braverman says Rwanda is safe for migrants and refugees
During an interview on the BBC programme “Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg”, Suella Braverman, England Home Secretary, strongly expressed her belief that sending migrants to Rwanda is safe. When presented with evidence of the 2018’s killing by police of 12 refugees following a protest in a Rwandan camp, Braverman, who did not know about that case, stated, “that might be 2018”, while for 2023 the London High Court considered Rwanda a safe country and the UK’s resettlement plan lawful, she said. During the interview reported by the BBC, the Home Secretary also stated that Rwanda already takes thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries and the refugees, which she said she met in her last visit to Rwanda, are all grateful to Rwanda for the resettlement scheme. According to her, sending migrants and asylum seekers back is the right solution to solve the UK’s small boats problem and to deter “those seeking a life in the UK”.

EU/US/Ethiopia: EU High representative of Foreign affair and US Secretary of State meet
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met and reportedly discussed various global issues including Ethiopia. Borrell Tweeted “Happy to welcome Secretary Blinken in Brussels today. We had an important bilateral discussion on our joint resolve to continue supporting Ukraine, on Ethiopia, CAR, MEPP, and China ahead of my trip next week. Our transatlantic partnership is stronger than ever.” Borrell further said in the press briefing: “The message to both, the Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayans, is to make them understand that we are watching the settling of the conflict and we only normalise our relations in a gradual way, step-by-step”. 

EU: MEP says externalisation of EU migration policy is a failure
Swedish member of the EU Parliament (MEP) Malin Björk stated that the increased brutality at the EU borders and increased deaths on the Mediterranean are proof of the failure of the EU migration policy. Making “dirty deals” with undemocratic or non-functioning countries is not the path to follow to manage increasing arrivals, states the MEP. According to the MEP, what is needed is improving the Search and Rescue operations and creating a system to lighten the burden on the countries of first arrival, like Italy and Greece. Björk condemned the far-right migration agenda of the Swedish government, characterised by a narrative that links migrants to crime and social unrest. He describes the Swedish migration policies as “disastrous and worrying”. The MEP said that the Swedish government matches well with other far-right European governments, like the Italian and Hungarian one, and contributes in reinforcing this orientation and shaping the atmosphere for negotiations in the EU Council.