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Crackdown on rebels trigger outcry against Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed4 minutes read

Community leaders contend ordinary civilians are bearing the brunt of the operations, which include mass detentions, an internet blackout and restrictions on political activity.

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Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed to avoid questions at Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed./AFP photo

Desta Garuma, a 27-year-old rickshaw driver, never showed much interest in politics, so his family has no idea how soldiers concluded he was involved in a rebel movement active in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

But one day in January, five truckloads of soldiers followed him home, shouting that they had identified a shifta, or bandit — a euphemism for rebel, an AFP report said.

As his mother and younger sister cowered inside, the soldiers fatally shot Desta three times in the back, according to witnesses.

“When I heard the shots I said, ‘Oh my God, they killed my son,'” Desta’s mother, Likitu Merdasa, told AFP.

“My son was not a troublemaker. We hoped he would be able to improve his life as well as mine. But now he has been taken from me before his time.”

The killing is one of an array of abuses that residents, opposition politicians and rights groups accuse soldiers of committing in and around Nekemte, a market town in Oromia, as part of a crackdown on rebels that has intensified this year.

Community leaders contend ordinary civilians are bearing the brunt of the operations, which include mass detentions, an internet blackout and restrictions on political activity.

The Ethiopian military rejects claims that its activities endanger civilians.

Yet Nekemte residents say the soldiers’ presence recalls life under past authoritarian regimes in Ethiopia, tarnishing the image of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Nobel Peace laureate trying to steer the country toward landmark elections in August.

This is especially disheartening for the Oromo ethnic group, who had hoped they would benefit from the appointment of Abiy, himself an Oromo, as prime minister in 2018.

“When the reform came, we all hoped this kind of thing would not happen to Oromo people,” Likitu said.

“But now they’re coming to the doors of our houses and killing our children in front of us.”

– Escalating operations-The military is ostensibly targeting the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), blamed for a spate of assassinations, bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings in Oromia.

The OLA, believed to number in the low thousands, broke off from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition party that spent years in exile but was allowed to return to Ethiopia after Abiy took office.

The government has offered little specific information about military operations in Nekemte and the broader region that surrounds it, known as Wollega.

But there are signs that counterinsurgency efforts have escalated since January, said William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict-prevention organisation.

“It appears the government decided to make a renewed effort to entirely remove the threat of armed groups from the area,” Davison said.

Brigadier General Tilahun Ashenafi, foreign relations director of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, defended the military’s actions, saying he had “no idea” about civilian casualties.

Soldiers are acting in a “very good way in that region in order to clear anti-peace elements”, he told AFP.

– Beatings, detentions-But many residents of Nekemte see the military, not the rebels, as the main source of instability.

Asfaw Kebede, a 60-year-old community leader, told AFP he grew alarmed last year at the jailing without charge of young men in Kumsa Moroda Palace, a one-time tourist attraction that residents said had been turned into a makeshift detention facility.

When Asfaw started bringing the men food, soldiers locked him up too, holding him in a dark cell for six weeks with roughly 100 other detainees.

All the men were deprived of proper food and medical care, Asfaw said.

The palace teemed with snakes and mice, and when they entered the cells inmates who scrambled to get away were beaten with batons, he said.

Opposition political parties have also been affected by the military presence.

Representatives of both the OLF and the Oromo Federalist Congress said their offices had been closed multiple times and their members detained.

Such tactics are fuelling sympathy for the OLA, said Tamirat Biranu, head of an evangelical church in Nekemte.

“Young people are very sad about this and also they are angry at the government,” he said. “Because of this, some of the youth are joining the rebels.”

-‘A heavy toll’-As bad as things might be in Nekemte, they are likely worse in rural areas farther west, where phone service has been cut for months, said Asebe Regassa, a lecturer at Wollega University. 

“Killings are occurring on a daily basis in rural areas,” Asebe said, adding that farmers are afraid of harvesting their crops, fearing soldiers will accuse them of growing food for the OLA.

The military operations are “clearly taking a heavy toll,” said Laetitia Bader of Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

“Ahead of the 2020 national elections the government should be working to build trust with communities,” she said.

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East Africa Politics News

“I have not killed any Tutsis”, Rwandan genocide suspect Kabuga tells court

“Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, known to have been the financier of Rwanda genocide, had with impunity stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland,” a French justice ministry statement said.

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A wanted poster with a photograph of Felicien Kabuga is displayed at the French Gendarmerie's Central Office for Combating Crimes Against Humanity, Genocides and War Crimes (OCLCH) in Paris on May 19, 2020. © Benoît Tessier, REUTERS

Arrested Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga has told a French court that the international charges against him are lies, affirming his innocence at the resumed hearing on Wednesday.

Asked if he understood the charges made against him by a United Nations tribunal, Kabuga dismissed the chargesheet as full of “lies”.

“All of this is lies. I have not killed any Tutsis. I was working with them”, Kabuga told the court through an interpreter.

Kabuga, who was arrested near Paris earlier this month after more than two decades on the run, is accused of financing and arming the ethnic Hutu militia that slaughtered over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

France has not disclosed when and how Kabuga who had a $5m US reward on his head, entered France.

“Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, accused of being a financier of Rwandan genocide, had stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland,” a French justice ministry statement said.

His ability to hide to evade an international manhunt for more than 20 years has raised questions over whether he had accomplices in foreign countries.

“It is difficult to imagine he could have escaped into French territory without the help of accomplices in such places,” Patrick Baudoin of the International Federation for Human Rights said.

The International Federation for Human Rights has supported survivors in the prosecution of other Rwandan genocide suspects living in France.

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Tanzania summons top US diplomat over coronavirus warning

The US embassy’s charge d’affaires, Inmi Patterson, met with Wilbert Ibuge, permanent secretary at the Tanzanian foreign ministry, who reminded Patterson about the two countries’ “historical cooperation”.

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Tanzania plans October 1 date for repatriation of Burundian refugees
Tanzanian President John Magufuli has repeatedly played down the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tanzanian government said Tuesday it had summoned a top diplomat at the US Embassy in the country to object to an advisory that warned of “exponential growth” of COVID-19 cases in the country.

The United states embassy’s “health advisory” published earlier this month contained inaccurate information, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The advisory reported, for instance, that “many hospitals” in Dar es Salaam, the economic capital, “have been overwhelmed in recent weeks”.

This claim “is not true and could cause panic among Tanzanians and foreigners”, the foreign ministry’s statement said as quoted by AFP.

The US embassy’s charge d’affaires, Inmi Patterson, met with Wilbert Ibuge, permanent secretary at the foreign ministry, who reminded Patterson about the two countries’ “historical cooperation”, the foreign ministry said.
It did not specify when the meeting took place.

The US embassy in Tanzania has been without an ambassador since 2016.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli has repeatedly played down the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic, and it has been nearly a month since the country released official data on case numbers, which stood at 480 with 16 deaths on April 29.

Last week the government announced that universities and sports events would resume in June and also lifted restrictions on flights, even as critics say cases are soaring.

Opposition politicians have criticised the lack of data, which the government stopped giving after Magufuli cast doubt on the credibility of laboratory equipment and technicians.

Laboratory officials were suspended earlier this month after Magufuli said he had secret tests performed in which a papaya and a goat tested positive.
Tanzania’s approach contrasts with that of neighbours such as Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, which imposed full lockdowns or curfews and movement restrictions and which have been giving detailed daily updates.

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Tanzania’s road to recovery: Tourism picks up as lockdown ends

The country’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, hotels and schools are all heeding President John Magufuli’s directive to re-open the entire economy after a significant reduction in coronavirus cases.

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Flight operations resume at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in the commercial city of Dar es Salaam.

The reopening of the Tanzanian economy after nearly two months of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic has seen tourists returning to the East African nation with its first international flight landing on May 21.

Plane loads of tourists aboard Ethiopian, KLM and Turkish airlines are expected to further arrive Tanzania in the next one week, Uganda’s Daily Nation reported Monday, marking a critical milestone in the on-going re-opening of Tanzania’s economy.

The country’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, hotels and schools are all heeding President John Magufuli’s directive to re-open the entire economy following what he termed as significantly reduced cases of coronavirus patients in the country.

The president, in a public address in the capital city, Dodoma, said there is no longer a need to curtail economic activity while hospitals across Tanzania had empty beds having discharged nearly all Covid-19 positive patients after they tested negative for the virus.

“God has heard our prayers. I call upon anyone who has been touched by this to use Friday, Saturday and Sunday to give special thanks to God,” said President Magufuli on Thursday.

Tanzania has not reported its national tally of Covid-19 positive cases since April 29. Its official toll remains at 509 with 21 deaths as at May 7, when the semi-autonomous Zanzibar island last announced its numbers.

It becomes the first East African nation to reopen, charting a new path in the management of the deadly virus that has infected more than 5.1 million people across the world and killed over 333,000 in about six months.

– International flights resume –

Tanzania’s airspace opened for international arrivals on May 18.

A chartered plane with four Greek nationals onboard landed at the Kilimanjaro International Airport on May 21. The visitors proceeded straight to sample the country’s tourist attractions after the lifting of a 14-day mandatory quarantine that had been imposed on April 4, local media reports said.

Entrants into the country will now only have their temperatures checked on arrival, as per new guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.

Tourism is a critical sector of Tanzania’s economy, contributing about 17 per cent to the annual Gross Domestic Product and employing an estimated 623,000 workers.

About 1.9 million tourists visited the country’s parks and beaches last year, injecting $2.5 billion into the economy according to data from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The country estimates that a continued shutdown of its borders would have drastically reduced earnings from tourism by 75 per cent. Majority of the tourists who booked their travel prior the pandemic postponed their trips to next year.

President Magufuli also announced that High School candidates whose final examinations were postponed in May will resume classes on June 1.

He instructed the education ministry to prepare a special programme to prepare them for the final exams later this year and enable them to join universities without interrupting the academic calendar. Primary and junior secondary schools will however remain closed.

Some European countries, which form the bulk of Tanzania’s tourists, have started re-opening their economies after months of shutdowns. The UK, France, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Turkey and Iceland have all announced variations of relaxations in their lockdowns that will even see them partially re-open their airspaces.

“We’re resuming our tourism activities, getting ready to receive international tourists from all over the world especially now that nations have started lifting lockdowns,” said Hamisi Kigwangalla, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism.

All entrants will be required to fill out travellers’ surveillance forms and submit to Port Health Authorities upon arrival. They will be required to adhere to Infection Prevention and Control measures, which include hand hygiene, wearing masks and physical distancing as appropriate to avoid further spread of the virus.

Flight operators will be given instructions on how to clean and disinfect their aircraft before and after landing in the country.

All commercial passenger flights, diplomatic flights, emergency aircraft related to humanitarian aid and medical relief are now allowed into the country without restrictions.

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