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Zaid Aregawi says “we don’t see the peace” in query of Abiy’s Nobel prize win5 min read

For Ethiopians like Zaid Aregawi, the detentions are the most troubling sign that the peace deal

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Zaid Aregawi says "we don't see the peace" in query of Abiy's Nobel prize win
Zaid Aregawi is photographed at her residence in the Sebeya village bordering Eritrea, near Adigrat in northern Ethiopia, on October 23, 2019. Residents of Ethiopia's northernmost villages complain that there has been no progress on demarcating the two countries' 1,000-kilometre shared border. These problems touch nearly everyone living in cities and towns nestled among the steep escarpments of Ethiopia's northern Tigray region -- the area most affected by the 1998-2000 border war and the long, bitter stalemate that followed. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

When Zaid Aregawi learned that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, her first thought was of her brother Alem, who is languishing in jail across the border in Eritrea.

He crossed over five months ago carrying wood for an Eritrean businessman — exactly the kind of trade that people in the border region hoped would flourish after Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace deal last year.

But Eritrean soldiers arrested Alem Aregawi without explanation, making him one of scores of Ethiopians who officials say have recently been taken into custody by Eritrean security forces.

For Ethiopians like Zaid Aregawi, the detentions are the most troubling sign that the peace deal — the main reason Abiy was awarded his Nobel — has yet to be fully realised.

READ: Ethiopian youths “pimp out” jalopy Beetles to revive auto culture

“If there is no free movement from both sides, what is the point of the peace deal?” she asked in an interview with reporters.

“They say there is peace, however, we have got big problems along the border.”

Abiy’s attention is currently consumed by ethnic and religious clashes that broke out last week in the capital Addis Ababa and Ethiopia’s Oromia region, leaving nearly 70 dead and highlighting divisions within his ethnic Oromo support base.

Meanwhile, hundreds of kilometres north, frustration with his Eritrea deal is mounting in cities and towns nestled among the steep escarpments of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region — the area most affected by the 1998-2000 border war and the long, bitter stalemate that followed. 

Residents of Ethiopia’s northernmost villages complain of a lack of progress on demarcating the two countries’ shared 1,000-kilometre border.

Eritrean refugees — who still cross into Ethiopia by the hundreds each day, according to the United Nations — note that peace has not moderated the behaviour of Isaias, widely considered one of the world’s most repressive leaders.

And nearly everyone laments that bilateral relations hinge on meetings between Abiy and Isaias, with little input from people on the ground. 

‘Peace stuck between earth and sky’ –

Alema Baraki, 52, an Ethiopian farmer looks after cattle on his farmland in the Sebeya village, close to Adigrat, along the Ethiopia – Eritrea border, on October 23, 2019. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

“We can say that peace is stuck between the earth and the sky,” said Ahmed Yahya Abdi, an Eritrean refugee who has lived in Ethiopia since the war.

“When Abiy went to Eritrea he flew to Asmara, but he didn’t implement peace here, at the border between the two countries.”

READ: Violent protests against Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed leaves two dead  

The demilitarisation of the border, especially on the Ethiopian side, is the main benefit of peace cited by most people in the region.

It has permitted some Ethiopians to cross for weddings and funerals in Eritrea with little harassment from the security forces.

But Yosef Misgina, an official in the town of Dawhan, says he receives regular reports of Ethiopians being detained, jailed and beaten in Eritrea — often after they are caught transporting construction materials and other goods.

Among them were 13 traders who were taken into custody just days before Abiy won the Nobel, two of whom remain behind bars.

One recent detainee, Tsegay Suba Tesfay, spent two weeks in an overcrowded cell after soldiers arrested him while he was transporting rice and bottled water.

He said police officers beat him with a baton multiple times, and that he was deprived of food and allowed outside for just a few minutes each day.

“They don’t give you any reason when you are detained,” he said.

“In Eritrea, there is no freedom.”

Yosef attributes the detentions to continued ambiguity about the status of the border.

While the main crossings were opened shortly after the peace deal was signed, they have all since been closed, with no word on when they might reopen.

“Now we are asking that peace be institutionalised,” Yosef said. “If it is institutionalised it cannot be disrupted by individuals.”

‘I don’t accept this prize’ –

Ethiopian men carry traditional hand-woven food baskets on their heads as they walk ceremoniously to a reconciliation meeting in the Irob district in northern Ethiopia near the border with Eritrea, near Adigrat, on October 23, 2019. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

READ: Ethiopia’s Oromo region begins Irreecha festival

An even bigger source of anxiety for the region is the border demarcation process, which so far has gone nowhere. 

When Abiy first reached out to Eritrea last year, he stunned observers by agreeing to accept a 2002 UN boundary ruling that Ethiopia had long rejected.

The ruling would transfer some villages and towns from Ethiopian to Eritrean territory, and would split the ethnic Irob community in two.

It is unclear what is holding up demarcation, but many analysts suspect Eritrea is dragging its feet.

“I would say that the Eritrean government probably wants to take things a little bit more slowly because the rapprochement has implications for the domestic situation in Eritrea. It has been a closed country for 20 years,” said Michael Woldemariam, an expert on the Horn of Africa at Boston University.

“The contradictions between the new era of external peace and Eritrea’s internal situation will be a significant challenge going forward.” 

READ: Grenade attack on police camp kills 9 in Ethiopia

For refugees like Sebhatleab Abraha Woldeyesus, who crossed into Ethiopia a few weeks ago, waiting for change from Eritrea seems futile, meaning true peace along the border is likely to remain out of reach. 

“As a human being, I don’t accept this Nobel prize,” he said.

“We don’t see the peace. Abiy and Isaias, they haven’t brought it.”

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East Africa News

Madagascar paddy farmers against ‘new city’ relocation

Tempers flare in Antananarivo over plans to relocate Madagascar’s capital

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MADAGASCAR-DEMOSTRATION-URBAN PLANNING
Protestors damage construction equipment after clashes between the inhabitants of Ambohitrimanjaka and police broke out over the protest against the Tana-Masoandra project in the Ambohitrimanjaka suburbs of Antananarivo on October 17, 2019. - Clashes broke out overnight in Madagascar after protesters stormed a company tasked with a controversial urban expansion project, prompting a violent police response. (Photo by Mamyrael / AFP)

Anger is boiling over in the hills surrounding Antananarivo over plans to relocate part of Madagascar’s choked capital to emerald-green farmland.

Hundreds of farmers in Ambohitrimanjaka village are facing off with the authorities over a presidential scheme that threatens to engulf a thousand hectares (2,500 acres) of rice fields.

“We will not swap our land for money and we will not accept being moved,” said Jean Desire Rakotoariamanana, 57, who took part in protests last month.

“These rice paddies provided for our ancestors.”

The unrest has been sparked by a scheme to unclog Antananarivo, a polluted city of three million people wedged in the hills of the central highlands.

If the Tana-Masoandra (“Tana Sun”) project comes to fruition, the area will house all of the government’s ministries, the Senate, a university, a conference centre, hotels and homes for 100,000 people.

Its backers claim that relocation — to what is the city’s distant outskirts — will cost the equivalent of $600 million (542 million euros) and create 200,000 jobs — a major economic boost in the impoverished Indian Ocean island nation.

Construction is scheduled to be completed by 2024.

Choked capital –

Tana-Masoandra stems from President Andry Rajoelina’s vow on the election campaign trail last year to ease the capital’s chronic problems.

“Antananarivo was built to house between 300,000 and 500,000 people, but today there are 3.25 million,” said project manager Gerard Andriamanohisoa, who is also an advisor to Rajoelina.

According to UN projections, the capital’s population could double within the next 15 years, he said.  

Only 36 per cent of Madagascar’s 26 million people live in urban areas, but the majority of these are congregated in Antananarivo.

Overcrowding has bred monster traffic jams, garbage pile-ups and slums which become routinely flooded.

Air pollution, caused by exhaust fumes and bush fires, is sky-high. On one day last month, a monitoring group found that levels of fine particulates were eight times higher than guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

But the capital’s problems gain little sympathy in the village of Ambohitrimanjaka, which lies around 12 kilometres (eight miles) from the capital.

And the government’s offer of relocating the farmers 700 kilometres (435 miles) away in the town of Bevoay, spiced by the promise of a five-for-one land swap, has gained little traction.

Sacred heritage –

“We are not opposed to development and progress,” said 60-year-old paddy farmer Dada Leba. 

“But let the president set up his project somewhere else. It is not land that we’re short of in Madagascar.”

Referring to a revered 18th-century monarch, Leba added: “King Andrianampoinimerina himself awarded these rice paddies to our ancestors and bequeathed to us the responsibility of farming them.

“Going against this wise king’s wish will cast a curse on the president,” he said darkly.

“If they take our land away from us, we’ll have nothing to live from,” declared Dede Antsahamarina, 60. “This new city is not intended for uneducated farmers like us.”

Violent clashes broke out between police and protesters last month over the building of a bridge designed to link the planned complex with Antananarivo.

One civilian and four officers were injured before police fired warning shots to disperse the crowd.

The government has tried to ease the mood by offering around 700 families the equivalent of around $20 million (18 million euros) in compensation.

“We are going to implement support measures to provide retraining for the farmers or to relocate their activities to other places,” said Andriamanohisoa.

The president has sent envoys to try to talk the farmers around and made a direct pitch to them on the airwaves.

“If you’ve got a one-hectare (2.5-acre) rice paddy… listen, I’ll give you five hectares in Bevoay,” Rajoelina said on TV.

But rather than backing down, the farmers say they are considering filing a lawsuit against the grand plan.

The Battle of the Rice Fields, it seems, has only just begun.

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East Africa Politics News

Kenya, Lesotho Strengthen Bilateral Ties with Three Agreements

In an effort to boost bilateral ties and cooperation between the two African nations, Kenya and the Kingdom of Lesotho have today signed three key pacts; an agreement on the establishment of a Joint Commission for Cooperation (JCC), a Memorandum of Understanding for Bilateral consultations as well as a Memorandum of Understanding in the Field of Sports.

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In an effort to boost bilateral ties and cooperation between the two African nations, Kenya and the Kingdom of Lesotho have today signed three key pacts; an agreement on the establishment of a Joint Commission for Cooperation (JCC), a Memorandum of Understanding for Bilateral consultations as well as a Memorandum of Understanding in the Field of Sports.

The agreement on the establishment of a JCC will enable the two countries to identify and explore areas of cooperation while the MOU on sports will provide an opportunity for development of sports as an economic activity. The agreement on Bilateral Consultations on the other hand, will pave the way for the two countries to hold consultations on both bilateral and multilateral matters affecting the two countries at regional, continental and global levels.

The deals were signed at the end of talks held between President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Right Hon. Dr Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho, at the State House, Nairobi.

Prime Minister Thabane arrived in Nairobi last evening for a three-day state visit and was formally received today morning by his host, President Kenyatta at a colourful ceremony that included a guard of honour mounted by a detachment of the Kenya Army and a 19-gun salute.

During his visit, Prime Minister Thabane will lay a wreath at the Mausoleum of Kenya’s founding father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta as well as visit the United Nations complex in Gigiri among other engagements.

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Jugnauth Victorious in Mauritius elections

The Eastern African island nation of Mauritius on Thursday went to the polls where incumbent Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) emerged victorious.

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The Eastern African island nation of Mauritius on Thursday went to the polls where incumbent Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) emerged victoriously. As per the Mauritian constitution, the prime minister is appointed by the president: The latter must, however, appoint the party leader with a clear majority in the National Assembly. MSM won 38 of the 62 seats while its main rivals, the Labour Party and the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM), garnered 13 and 9 seats respectively. The Organisation of the People of Rodrigues (OPR) party garnered 2 seats.

The country’s National Assembly has 62 elected members, with an additional eight members appointed to ensure ethnic and religious minority representation. According to the electoral commission, 76.84 percent or 723,660 of those eligible to do so turned out to cast their votes.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Electoral Observer Mission deployed to Mauritius and led by Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister, Dr Sibusiso Moyo, has described the electoral process prior to the voting exercise as professionally organized and conducted in a peaceful environment.

“The Mission observed that the pre-election and voting phases of the 2019 National Assembly Elections were professionally organized, conducted in an orderly, peaceful and free atmosphere, which enabled the voters to express their democratic will and those who sought office campaigned freely,” said Minister Moyo while presenting their preliminary observer report in Port Louis over the weekend.

Prime Minister Jugnauth, succeeded his father when the latter, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, resigned from the post in 2017. The senior Jugnauth has held the positions of Prime Minister and President intermittently between 1982 and 2017.

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