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Ethiopia struggles to stem ethnic tensions threatening hunger7 minutes read

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been hailed for his efforts to end the iron-fisted rule of his predecessors

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More than a year after his house in southern Ethiopia was razed to the ground, his coffee plantation destroyed and cattle were stolen, Teketel Memheru is still too terrified to return home. The 22-year-old is one of hundreds of thousands of people uprooted from their homes by Ethiopia’s ethnic clashes in a burgeoning domestic crisis the Ethiopian government is battling to contain.

“I witnessed a neighbour of mine hacked to death and another neighbour was burnt alive in his house. I’m scared to go to farm my agricultural plot for fear of attacks,” said Teketel, an ethnic Gedeo who says he came under attack by Oromos – the country’s largest ethnic group.

A man receives aid distribution as Internally Displaced People ( IDP ) on May 20, 2019 at Cherqo village, Southern Ethiopia.
A man receives aid distribution as Internally Displaced People ( IDP ) on May 20, 2019 at Cherqo village, Southern Ethiopia. – More than a Million people have been displaced due to ethnic conflict in southern region of Gedeo state and west region of Oromia state. Nearly 1,400 households were affected in Gedeo alone. (Photo by Yonas KIROS / AFP)

Officials insist that what became the world’s biggest internal displacement crisis in 2018 is under control and that more than a million people have returned to their homes. However, those working on the ground – speaking anonymously to avoid a government backlash – say the displaced are being forcibly returned. They warn that the dire humanitarian conditions are only set to get worse.

“Peace is not restored, I didn’t meet a single person who wants to return under these conditions. People are really scared. It will get more difficult,” an aid worker said. The worker said that in May local officials and soldiers had entered the camps and ordered people to leave. Most people, however, had just disappeared once again into a fatigued host community and were living in utter “misery”.

In addition, hunger levels had become a “catastrophe”. “We believe levels of violence and displacement will continue,” said the worker.

Related: Dozens killed in Ethiopia ethnic clashes -Regional official

Reforms open Pandora’s box

Since coming to power in April 2018 after two years of anti-government unrest, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – himself an Oromo – has been hailed for his efforts to end the iron-fisted rule of his predecessors. He has embarked on economic reforms, allowed dissident groups back into the country, and an easing of control has seen Ethiopia jump 40 points in the 2019 press freedom index.

Internally Displaced People due to Ethiopia Ethnic Tensions sits in front of his house burned during an ethnic conflict on May 20, 2019 at Cherqo village, Southern Ethiopia.
Teketel Memhiru an Internally Displaced People ( IDP ) sits in front of his house burned during an ethnic conflict on May 20, 2019 at Cherqo village, Southern Ethiopia. – More than a Million people have been displaced due to ethnic conflict in southern region of Gedeo state and west region of Oromia state. Nearly 1,400 households were affected in Gedeo alone. (Photo by Yonas KIROS / AFP)

But the loosening of the reins has had a dark side, as years of tensions between ethnic groups who are divided into nine autonomous regions, have boiled over – usually over land and resources – leading to deadly violence in the country of over 100 million people. One of the hotspots is along the borders of the Gedeo district and West Guji in Oromia.

The verdant, rolling hills of this southern region, are where some of the world’s best coffee is grown. It is also the most densely populated part of the country, with residents facing a critical shortage of farmland. Tensions have long existed between the groups, but last year the Oromo of West Guji attacked the Gedeo living on their side. The clashes led to the world’s largest displacement crisis, with over a million mostly ethnic Gedeos displaced, according to government figures.

Similar violence erupted in 2017 between Somalis and Oromos in the southeast Somali region, also displacing around one million people and leaving hundreds dead. And last month dozens of people were killed in clashes between residents of northern Benishangul Gumuz and Amhara states.

“None of these conflicts is entirely new, but several of them have flared at a larger scale than we’ve seen in the past,” said William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s senior Ethiopia analyst. He said there were multiple factors at play stoking tensions.

Abraham Dembi displaced due to Ethiopia's Ethnic tension waits on line to receive aid distrubution on May 20, 2019 at Cherqo village, Southern Ethiopia.
Abraham Dembi an Internally Displaced People ( IDP ) waits on line to receive aid distrubution on May 20, 2019 at Cherqo village, Southern Ethiopia. – More than a Million people have been displaced due to ethnic conflict in southern region of Gedeo state and west region of Oromia state. Nearly 1,400 households were affected in Gedeo alone. (Photo by Yonas KIROS / AFP)

These include the weakening of the once all-powerful ruling EPRDF as a result of years of protests and infighting, an economic slowdown that has hit the poor hard, and a shake-up of the security apparatus under Abiy. “There has been a loosening of control which has led existing disputes to take on a new dimension,” said Davison.

Add to this a poorly functioning ethnic federal system, opportunities presented by the political transition, and competition for resources in an impoverished nation. Abiy’s opening has led to ethno-nationalists staking different claims, but at the same time, he is loath to lean back on the repressive tactics once used to deter and crack down on inter-communal violence.

“Abiy has been clear his government is disinclined to use past methods and send in police or soldiers to apply lethal force and conduct mass arrests on the spot.”

We have seen no peace since Ethiopia’s ethnic clashes

Ethiopia’s Minister of Peace Muferiat Kamil last week said that all displaced people would be returned to their homes by the end of June, and officials have denied forcing anyone to return.

However in the town of Yirgecheffe, a stadium housing thousands of displaced people were cleared out by police ahead of a visit by journalists in late May, another aid agency official said on condition of anonymity.

A group of people displaced due to the ethnic tensions in Ethiopia pose in front of their shelter on May 20, 2019 at Qercha village, southern Ethiopia
A group of people Internally Displaced People ( IDP ) pose in front of their shelter on May 20, 2019 at Qercha village, southern Ethiopia. – More than a Million people have been displaced due to ethnic conflict in southern region of Gedeo state and west region of Oromia state. Nearly 1,400 households were affected in Gedeo alone. (Photo by Yonas KIROS / AFP)

“The government pushing people to return to their home communities prematurely will only add to the ongoing suffering,” the US-based Refugees International said in May. According to World Vision, only 145,516 people have returned home from Gedeo and hundreds are still lining up for food aid.

“There’s a concern that there hasn’t been anything like sufficient reconciliation to be confident about the safety of people returning home,” said Davison. Teketel is one of the lucky ones, having managed to set up a small shop in Cherqo village in Gedeo. But he longs to return home to farm his land.

Related: Ethiopia begins electricity rationing following water levels drop

“We have seen no peace since Abiy came to power. Peace is the most important thing for a human being, not only to farm, but also to cultivate and eat what is farmed.”

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Heavy rains threaten Uganda’s coffee crop quality

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Uganda’s coffee crop quality could see a decline in the coming months as heavy rains across the country have reduced the amount of sunshine necessary for bean drying.

Uganda is Africa’s largest exporter of coffee followed by Ethiopia and grows mostly robusta variety.

The country has been pounded by unusually heavy rains that started in August resulting in deaths, displacement and extensive damage to roads and other infrastructure.

Western Uganda, including the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains , some of the biggest coffee growing areas, has received some of the most intense rains.

Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA), the state-run regulator, forecasts Uganda’s bean exports will climb 16 percent to 5.1 million 60-kg (132-pound) bags in the current crop year ending September.

The country’s coffee output has surged in recent years, the fruition of a government programme that has been distributing free seedlings to farmers to expand acreage and replace aging trees.

Authorities say their target is to help boost annual production to 20 million bags by 2025.

The beans have traditionally been Uganda’s biggest commodity export but were recently overtaken by gold which now annually earns the country over $1 billion.

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Tanzania, France sign water supply loan agreement

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Tanzania has signed a loan agreement with France to finance water supply projects that will benefit about 770,000 people in the country’s Morogoro municipality.

The French government will extend the loan worth about $76 million to Tanzania through its French Development Agency (AFD), according to Dotto James, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Planning who signed the agreement on behalf of Tanzania.

“Upon completion, the water supply in the Morogoro municipality will increase from the current 37,000 cubic meters a day to 108,000 cubic meters a day,” James told a press conference following a signing ceremony in Morogoro.

AFD Country Representative for Tanzania, Stephanie Mouen says the project will improve the well-being of the people in the municipality and it will also improve the environment.

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Uganda approves return of over 2,500 nationals stranded abroad

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Over 2,500 Ugandan nationals stranded abroad amid the Covid-19 pandemic can now return home as approved by the Ugandan cabinet.

The cabinet on Monday, agreed that Ugandan nationals trapped in 66 countries can return home at their own cost.

The government is making arrangements with the UN World Food Program (WFP) to fly the stranded citizens home, Judith Nabakooba, the country’s minister for information, communication technology and national guidance says, adding that all the returning citizens will have to undergo a 14-day mandatory institutional quarantine. 

President Yoweri Museveni last month, directed Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to study the possibility of evacuating dozens of citizens stranded abroad amid Covid-19 pandemic travel restrictions. 

To contain the spread of Covid-19, the country on March 22 suspended all incoming flights, except cargo flights. 

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