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What stagnated the Ethiopia peace process? | Conflict News

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – September 11 marked the first day of the new Ethiopian calendar year in the war-torn country. But so far, little in terms of change has been ushered in with the new year, as fighting broke out between the federal government and the Tigray rebels late last month, rupturing a five-month ceasefire.

At least 10 people were killed in air raids on Tuesday that targeted a residential area in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, as air strikes and drone bombings continue to kill, wound and terrorise civilians.

Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters and the Ethiopian army – which have blamed each other for the eruption of the violence on August 24 – have been engaged in some of the fiercest fightings this year, threatening to undermine prospects for peace talks.

“It’s a total of eighteen dead [since fighting resumed] according to our count,” Dr Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon at Mekelle’s biggest Ayder Referral Hospital, told Al Jazeera. “Then there are those who suffered cuts, amputations, and other injuries. None of them were armed combatants.”

Pleas from the United Nations for an immediate halt to fighting and resumption of dialogue have been ignored, as fighting across multiple fronts saw Eritrean soldiers shell towns and villages in central Tigray. Eritrean troops have fought alongside Ethiopian forces since fighting erupted in November 2020.

Tigrayan forces meanwhile, retook territory in parts of the Afar and Amhara regions, leading to a new round of death and mass displacement. The Amhara regional forces are allied with Ethiopian forces.

The deteriorating situation likely contributed to US President Joe Biden’s decision earlier this month to extend sanctions targeting Ethiopian government officials by another year.

Millions displaced

Ethiopia’s war in the north has already killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands over the past 22 months, with the country also ravaged by fighting in its Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regions west of the country.

Millions have been displaced and exposed to famine since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent his troops to Tigray, accusing the regional government of defying the federal government and carrying out attacks on its army.

The conflict in Africa’s second-most populous nation has become an enduring quagmire for Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, as well as allied militias.

A man crouches to inspect a damaged playground following an air strike in Mekelle [File: Tigrai TV/Reuters TV via Reuters]

The war has seen civilians bear the brunt of atrocities, with massacres, sexual violence and ethnic cleansing contributing to Ethiopia’s world record tally of 5.1 million internally displaced people in 2021.

A southward drive towards the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, by Tigrayan forces was beaten back by a drone-backed Ethiopian army counteroffensive late last year, resulting in a bloody impasse and a lull in fighting among the war-weary fighting factions.

The end of the ceasefire coincided with the end of the country’s rainy season, making conditions ripe again for renewed fighting and for tanks and military convoys to manoeuvre the highlands.

It is a far cry from what the diplomatic community had hoped to see earlier this year. The news of a unilateral truce announced by the Ethiopian prime minister in March was welcomed by everyone from the US and the European Union, to China.

Further instilling hope that a mediated settlement could be reached, was Ethiopia’s pledge to permit aid convoys to deliver life-saving humanitarian supplies to the famine-wracked Tigray region, ending its then eight-month-long humanitarian blockade.

A flurry of diplomatic efforts ensued, with US’s then Horn of Africa envoy David Satterfield travelling to Addis Ababa to reinforce a fledgeling peace talks initiative chaired by the African Union (AU) and overseen by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

‘Indulging in appeasement’

The TPLF and the federal government repeatedly stated their willingness, in theory, to commit to a ceasefire.

However, ensuring that the ceasefire lasted would have required Prime Minister Abiy to acquiesce to requests from mediators to restore severed electricity and telecom services, which the Tigray region has been without since November 2020. Publicly, high-ranking Ethiopian officials largely chose to avoid the topic altogether throughout the duration of the five-month ceasefire.

In an emailed statement to Al Jazeera, the World Health Organization stated that its humanitarian operations have been restricted considerably because of the outages.

An internally displaced man from Amhara Region.
An internally displaced man from Amhara region talks on the phone at the Addis Fana School where he is temporarily sheltered in the city of Dessie [Eduardo Soteras/AFP]

“It impaired the ability of the Regional Health Bureau and WHO to coordinate partners for an effective, coordinated response (no one has access to telecommunications and only the UN has access to the internet). All meetings have to be held in person.”

But weeks before the recent round of hostilities broke out, Redwan Hussein, national security adviser and a lead negotiator for the Ethiopian government, tweeted a thread that appeared to clarify his government’s stance on the restoration of services.

Addressing a recent visit of US and EU envoys to Tigray, and their subsequent calling for “a swift restoration of electricity, telecom, banking, and other basic services in Tigray”, Hussein slammed the foreign dignitaries for “failing to press for unequivocal commitment for peace talks, rather indulging in appeasement and fulfilling preconditions placed by the other party”.

By the other party, he was referring to his foes in Tigray. To the TPLF, the remarks were perceived as meaning that the restoration of such services would have to be bargained for.

“They are saying that basic services and unfettered humanitarian access ought to be part of the negotiation,” Fesseha Tessema, adviser to the Tigrayan leadership, told Al Jazeera. “We are ready for direct talks anytime, but we won’t negotiate for basic services and humanitarian aid.”

Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan authorities, has since claimed that a number of unannounced meetings were held in which Ethiopian officials made pledges they are yet to honour. The meetings being secret rendered it even more difficult to confirm if negotiations were being held in good faith.

While the restoration of services remains a sticking point, the secrecy of alleged meetings and the lack of transparency and updates on proceedings means additional factors that may have contributed to last month’s breakdown in talks remain up for speculation.

The AU was largely mum about its envoy Obasanjo’s trips between the Tigrayan and Ethiopian capitals, making it unclear for months whether any progress was being made.

It is not clear if the elder statesman, who is yet to publicly address the relapse in fighting, was apparently caught off guard by it. In mid-August, weeks before bullets began flying, the US charge d’affaires in Addis Ababa, Tracy Jacobson, had stated that she was still waiting for the former Nigerian president to announce a time and location for the talks, touted to be Kenya.

There’s also the issue of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who is opposed to the idea of a mediated settlement. This week, Eritrea began conscripting men aged 55 and under to replenish the military and possibly be deployed into the war. The jury is out on whether he may attempt to render any talks moot.

Diplomatic hurdles

The Tigrayans have called for Obasanjo to be replaced as a mediator, accusing him of lacking impartiality and taking issue with his proximity to Abiy. Obasanjo and Abiy were seen holding hands in June as they enjoyed a stroll through agricultural sites in southern Ethiopia during a visit that was not linked to his AU negotiator mandate. Also raising Tigrayan mistrust of the AU were the statements by the chairperson that were supportive of the Ethiopian war effort.

But Ethiopia has refused to entertain the prospects of another entity replacing the AU. Ethiopian officials, who regularly described Western states as the backers of the TPLF, were clearly irritated by the visit of foreign dignitaries and their posing for pictures with Tigrayan regional President Debretsion Gebremichael. Ethiopian state media slammed the diplomatic contingent for the “selfie” session on the tarmac of Mekelle’s Alula Aba Nega Airport.

On Sunday, Ethiopian New Year’s Day, Tigrayan authorities suddenly announced a shift in stance, expressing a willingness to participate “in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union”.

The AU hailed the move as a positive development. Coming on the heels of reports of yet another face-to-face secret meeting between the feuding entities, this time in Djibouti, it has instilled hope that suspended talks may resume soon. Addis Ababa has since reciprocated, saying it remained committed to the prospect of a mediated settlement as well.

The appointment of Uhuru Kenyatta, the former Kenyan president, as his country’s peace envoy for Ethiopia will likely further boost diplomatic efforts as Nairobi is an influential regional player.

A touted return to the round table could prevent the exacerbation of what is already one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Still, navigating round-table talks would not be a straightforward affair. Grievances range from the occupation of territories in the Afar and Amhara regions under Tigrayan control to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands from western Tigray, a territory which the Amhara region currently patrols and claims as its own.

And of course, talks could unravel yet again without an agreement to restore basic services to Tigray.



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IMF to consider $1.3bn in emergency funding for Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war

Sources say Ukraine has received sufficient financial assurances from partners to meet IMF’s debt sustainability rules.

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board will consider Ukraine’s request for $1.3bn in additional emergency funding on Friday as Russia’s war against the country continues, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

IMF staff have prepared the necessary documents and believe Ukraine has received sufficient financial assurances from its global partners to meet the IMF’s debt sustainability requirements and qualify for further emergency funds, the sources told the Reuters news agency.

If approved, the funds would come from a new emergency lending program to address food shortages approved by the board last week.

IMF officials have praised the Ukrainian government and its central bank for their management of the economic shocks caused by Russia’s invasion of the country in February.

The IMF provided $1.4bn in emergency assistance to Ukraine in March, shortly after the war began.

Ukrainian officials are pressing for additional, non-emergency funds under a full-fledged IMF lending program, but such a program could come later.

An IMF spokesperson declined to comment.

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North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan into Pacific | Military News

Pyongyang’s fifth test in 10 days comes after South Korea and the United States hold military drills.

North Korea has fired a mid-range ballistic missile over Japan, the fifth launch in 10 days, amid expectations that it is gearing up to test its first nuclear weapon in five years.

The missile, detected by the Japanese coast guard and South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, prompted warning alarms in northern Japan with residents advised to take shelter. Train services in northern regions of the country were suspended temporarily.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned what he called a “barbaric” act.

TV Asahi, citing an unnamed government source, said North Korea might have fired an intercontinental ballistic missile and that it fell into the sea some 3,000 km (1,860 miles) from Japan.

There were no further details on the weapon.

Pyongyang has conducted a series of launches around military drills held by the United States and South Korea, which it considers a rehearsal for invasion. The US and South Korea, which staged its own show of advanced weaponry on Saturday to mark its Armed Forces Day, say the exercises are defensive in nature.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that firing a weapon over Japan represented a “significant escalation” of recent provocations.

“Diplomacy isn’t dead, but talks aren’t about to resume either,” Easley said in comments by email. “Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle and is likely waiting until after China’s mid-October Communist Party Congress to conduct an even more significant test.”

North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year and analysts see the increased pace of testing as an effort to build its capacity for ballistic weapons, which it is banned from testing under UN sanctions.

Officials in South Korea have suggested North Korea might carry out a nuclear test after the end of the Congress in China and before the US holds its mid-term elections in November. Pyongyang last carried out a nuclear test in September 2017.

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As Japan’s Kishida marks 1st year, ‘new capitalism’ is flailing | Business and Economy

Tokyo, Japan – When Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida came to power in October last year, he pledged to foster a “new form of capitalism” that would spur healthy growth alongside a more equal distribution of wealth.

But as Kishida marks one year in office on Tuesday, the Japanese leader’s “new capitalism” is still struggling to get off the ground amid criticism that his signature strategy lacks concrete details or clear targets.

Kishida’s struggles to turn his vision into a coherent economic plan capable of reversing decades of stagnation come as the world’s third-largest economy faces mounting challenges at home and overseas, from rising inflation and a weakening yen to global supply chain snags and the war in Ukraine.

Kishida, a former banker who positioned himself as the only post-war prime minister with experience in the finance industry, is widely seen as an awkward fit for the populist rhetoric he has championed.

“The key point is that Kishida has no strong personal convictions, particularly on economic policy,” Jesper Koll, an economist and executive director at Monex Group in Tokyo, told Al Jazeera,

“Setting up this ‘new capitalism’ slogan, and various teams around it, is effectively just a plan for business as usual.”

“There’s absolutely nothing new or radical in what [Kishida’s] proposed or in what’s going to be coming,” Koll added, describing the Japanese leader’s “steady hand” governance as in accordance with the incremental approach favoured by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party establishment.

The Prime Minister’s Office of Japan did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Japan’s economy is facing a host of challenges including rising inflation, a weakening yen, global supply chain snags and the war in Ukraine [File: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

In an address at London’s Guildhall in May, Kishida spoke of capitalism’s “two major transformations”, from laissez-faire to the welfare state and from the welfare state to neoliberalism.

“In both of these transitions, the pendulum swung between two ideas: ‘market or state’, ‘public or private,’” he said. “But the next transition will be to a ‘new form of capitalism’, in which the public and private sectors work together.”

While stressing the need for a “virtuous cycle” of growth and wealth redistribution, Kishida has laid out policy in mostly broad terms, including investment in human capital, greater female participation in the workforce, funding for green initiatives, the digitalisation of government, and support for startups.

Tom Learmouth, who is undertaking doctoral studies on Japan’s economic history at the London School of Economics, said Kishida appeared to be aiming for a return to the industrial strategy of Japan’s post-war, high-growth era when the public and private sectors worked in close collaboration.

During this period of rapid economic growth, Tokyo actively tried to pick winners in industry by directing investment to sectors deemed to be promising, such as automobiles and electronics.

“Trying to resurrect that now, in a very different economic climate – where interest rates are close to zero – it’s difficult to see how the government can exercise much power over the private sector,” Learmouth told Al Jazeera.

Kishida, who criticised his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” for exacerbating wealth inequality, did weigh concrete reform early in his tenure by proposing to raise Japan’s capital gains tax from the current rate of 20 percent. The Japanese leader, however, backpedalled within days after pushback from the business community and investors.

Eric J Ritter, a professor of economics at Lakeland University Japan, said Kishida’s redistribution agenda had failed to make headway.

“He had to give up on raising capital gains taxes on the rich which could’ve been spent on the poor,” Ritter told Al Jazeera. “Another issue is raising the tax ceiling on working wives who have to start paying tax if they earn above 1.1 million yen [$7,580] a year. This depresses family incomes and female participation.”

Ageing population

More recently, Kishida tried to spur, through corporate tax breaks, a rise in Japan’s long-stagnant wages, which have scarcely risen since the late 1990s and sit well below the OECD average. These efforts have also fallen short of expectations, with real wages continuing to fall as a result of rising import costs.

The plunging yen, which last month hit a 24-year low against the US dollar, has heaped more pressure on retailers and households, causing famously thrifty Japanese consumers to tighten their belts further.

Worse for the long-term health of the economy, Japan’s labour force is shrinking. After years of plunging birth rates, the country already has the world’s oldest population, with 28 percent of residents aged over 65. Japan’s labour market has also been criticised for lacking mobility, which is ranked about half of the OECD average.

Shigeto Nagai, head Japan economist at Oxford Economics, said labour market reforms and social security reforms that provide for the vulnerable working age population as well as the elderly should be key priorities of Kishida’s economic strategy.

“Rigid seniority-based wages under the lifetime employment system have undermined the dynamism of Japanese companies,” Nagai told Al Jazeera, describing the Japanese leader’s strategy so far as “very conceptual and confusing”.

“Making the labour market more flexible and dynamic will enable individual workers to earn more competitive wages reflecting productivity,” Nagai said. “It is [also] essential that the state takes responsibility for providing social security for the working-age population, rather than leaving it to the companies.”

NTT, Japan’s largest telecommunications company, recently announced plans to shift from seniority to performance-based promotion and compensation, raising hopes that corporate peers could be encouraged to follow suit.

While Kishida has struggled to initiate significant economic reform, some analysts say that simply keeping Japan’s economy steady during such a period of global turmoil would be an achievement in itself.

“This is a political world where it’s another day, another crisis,” Koll said. “Having a steady hand, which doesn’t rock the boat, but focuses on incremental changes – maybe that’s the right thing to do in the current environment.”

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