The Conversation: Ethiopia: Abiy Ahmed brings new hope, but faces some familiar, old problems – 14 January

  • Stephen Chan, Professor of World Politics at SOAS, writes an opinion piece for The Conversation discussing Abiy Ahmed’s leadership, contrasting his impact on Ethiopian politics with the “gerontocratic” model seen in other countries in Africa.
  • Chan says that “while Ahmed has successfully unravelled the Gordian knot of Ethiopia’s conflict with Eritrea, he cannot so easily fix the long-suppressed and growing communal and ethnic tensions within his own country.”
  • He writes that the gesture of ceding disputed territory to Eritrea posed a risk because “both countries’ governments originated from liberation movements that had retained coercion and violence as necessary measures of that state.”
  • Chan concludes: “Ahmed will need to last a bit longer if he is to really become a lasting beacon of hope for a new generation. And his new female partners in government will need to help him.”

African Arguments: With Ethiopia’s border now open, why are Eritreans still fleeing to Sudan? – 15 January

  • African Arguments publishes an analysis by Michael Emile Kynaston Jones of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) of cross-border movement between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.
  • While the number of Eritreans crossing the newly opened borders into Ethiopia has sharply increased, indications are that the number traveling to Sudan has remained relatively consistent.
  • Jones says that “the usual factors compelling Eritreans to flee – including repression, indefinite conscription and economic hardship – are all still in place.” On top of this, a distrust of the Eritrean government leads people to wonder how long the border with Ethiopia will remain open, while rumours of security crackdowns abound. Under such conditions, Eritreans are still taking dangerous but long-established and cheap Sudanese routes, where smuggling remains common practice.
  • The influx of migrants crossing into Ethiopia has also placed a strain on Tigray state’s reception camps, processing infrastructure and health services, now suffering over-saturation and an under-resourced host population.
  • Jones explains that a combination of these factors may “account for why refugees are not automatically opting to cross the open border to Ethiopia rather than journey through Sudan.”

Forbes: World Class Potash Project In Eritrea Moves Closer To Development – 15 January

  • Tim Treadgold, a contributor to Forbes and specialist in the mining and oil industries, discusses Danakali’s move to develop the “world-class” Colluli potash project n Eritrea’s eastern border.
  • Estimates are that Eritrea has at least 1.1 billion tonnes of potash, “enough for at least 200 years of production”, which compensates for what Treadgold calls Eritrea’s “difficult history” and the extreme temperatures of the Danakal Depression.
  • Danakali has signed a sales agreement with Russian-controlled EuroChem for up to 100% of the potash produced in the first stage of Colluli.
  • Danakali has a 50-50 joint venture covering Colluli with the government of Eritrea, and in January signed a $200 million funding mandate with a syndicate of African-development financial institutions.
  • From around 63c on the Australian stock market in August, Danakali has now slipped to 50c, a price which values the stock at $130 million (AUS).
  • Construction of the potash project is expected to be simpler than rival operations in Europe and North America, where potash is extracted in very deep mines.

The Economist: Why are Gulf countries so interested in the Horn of Africa? – 16 January

  • The Economist publishes an analysis of the deepening involvement of Gulf countries in the Horn of Africa, where recent political developments have attracted their interest.
  • In January, representatives from Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia gathered in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, to discuss the creation of a new Red Sea security alliance.
  • While economic links between the two regions were “relatively dormant” throughout the 1990s, since 2000 Gulf states have invested $13bn in the Horn of Africa, mainly in Sudan and Ethiopia, according to a study by the Clingendael Institute, a think-tank in the Netherlands.
  • The Economist notes that Gulf investment is “rarely genuinely private” and tends to be linked to foreign policy goals. In 2014 Saudi Arabia forced Sudan and Eritrea to cut diplomatic ties with Iran, while the UAE’s strategy relies on the acquisition of ports along the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea, where its Eritrea base is used to launch attacks in Yemen.
  • According to The Economist, “Ethiopians fret that Abiy has traded the country’s sovereignty for Gulf investment and that, despite trying to remain neutral in Gulf rivalries, Ethiopia now looks as if it is siding with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

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