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Political crisis in Ethiopia and the risks of ripple effect humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa

Political crisis in Ethiopia and the risks of ripple effect humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa

 

By:Nick Ogutu

Refugee and Immigrant Rights Activist, Executive Director of Columbia University based Initiative, Safari Yangu Immigrant Stories, President, Amnesty International Bronx New York. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

Nick Ogutu
Mr. Nick Ogutu

Ethiopia, with more than 100 million people, is the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria. It hosts the headquarters of the African Union and its geographical location makes it a strategic resource for the Western powers in their counterterrorism efforts. Ethiopia maintains very strong support from foreign donors despite its deteriorating human rights record (New York Times, 2016).

Ethiopia is currently under a state of emergency due to recent protests and violence. This violence has caused widespread internal displacement. In addition to its own internal turmoil, Ethiopia plays a crucial role in the region as a host of refugees itself. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2018), “Ethiopia is host to the second largest refugee population in Africa, with over 847,200 refugees from nineteen countries, the majority originating from neighboring South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan”. The political crisis in Ethiopia cannot, therefore, be told in isolation. Ethiopia is part of the Horn of Africa, the easternmost extension of African land, comprised of the countries mentioned above, and Kenya. These countries share a long history and many diverse communities live across the region. Due to political instability, the region has seen many conflicts and is very fragile. This article will examine the complex relationships between Ethiopia and its neighbors in order to understand the risks of a multi-country humanitarian and refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa.

The Ethiopia and Eritrea Conflict

Following many years of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea and at some point, involving Italy as well, Eritrea was formally recognized as an independent country after the 1993 referendum. Eritrea believes that Ethiopia is constructed of different nationalities that were forced together during the imperial scrambles for Africa, and is therefore held together with weak, artificial alliances. Therefore, the Eritrean opposition’s approach has been to conduct sharp, well directed military offenses in the hopes that Ethiopia will collapse. Hence, they identified south-eastern Ethiopia, inhibited by Ethiopians of Somali origin, as the weakest point of Ethiopia. For more than 30 years, escalation of conflict has continued along borders killing many people, displacing many people from their homes and adding to the regional refugee crisis (Axel Borchgrevink & Jon Harald Sande Lie, 2009).

The hostility between these countries has adversely affected the Somali communities that live along the common border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. According to a Human Rights Watch report (2018), the Somali region security forces’ intolerance for dissent by the Somali community extends beyond the border into Eritrean territory, targeting families with relatives across the border. Hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced since.

Ethiopia’s Long Border with Somalia & The Somali Diaspora
(Photo credit: Nick Ogutu) Ethiopia’s Long Border with Somalia & The Somali Diaspora

Somalia has almost one million citizens living in the diaspora, many of which are refugees and asylum seekers. Any conflict in Ethiopia would result in a grave situation in Somalia, given the long, unmarked border that Ethiopia and Somalia share. In fact, Ethiopian military has in the past crossed its southeastern border and intervened inside Somalia (New York Times, 2011)

Somalia is one of the most unstable countries in the region at the moment. Since the former president Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in a bloody civil war in 1991, Somalia has not had a stable government. Parts of the country have either seceded or are run by different warlords. Some militant groups like the Union of Islamic courts, which later evolved into the now infamous Al-Shabaab, have been labeled as terrorist organizations.

More than 10 peace conferences were held throughout the 1990s to address the sources of conflict and possibilities for peace in Somalia, but they were largely unsuccessful. (Axel Borchgrevink & Jon Harald Sande Lie, 2009). Since then, other efforts followed, and Somalia is now governed under the Federal Government of Somalia, a government which is not widely accepted and has faced constant opposition and threats from different militant groups. The fragile government is protected by the African peacekeeping forces, AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia).

Ethiopia’s southern Kenya Border & Regional Refugee Hosting Challenges

Kenya is one of the most stable countries in the region, with a diverse economy and vibrant democracy, civil society, and press. However, Kenya has faced its own human rights challenges. Just like Somalia, Kenya shares common ethnic and geographical similarities with Ethiopia. The upper eastern province of Kenya is predominantly Oromo and Somali ethnic populations, ethnic groups that also reside in Ethiopia and Somalia. Apart from the recently arrived refugees, many of the Oromo and Somali ethnic populations have lived in Kenyan for decades and are Kenyan citizens.

The Kenyan government has long supported the Ethiopian government, showing a blind eye to the human rights violations it is accused of.   Ethiopian refugees face so many challenges in Kenya. It takes months if not years to get official recognition as a refugee, a status you need to access any benefits from the host government or UNHCR (United National High Commission for Refugees). Kenya has an encampment policy, which requires refugees to stay in the camps at Dadaab and Kakuma. These camps presently also house refugees from Sudan and Somalia. The two camps are the biggest in the world and cannot accommodate any more refugees. Refugees in Kenya who choose to not stay in the camps faces arrest and prosecution by the Kenyan authorities. Amnesty International Annual report (2018), explains how the Ethiopian government has taken advantage of that loop-hole in Kenya refugee policy to harass their own citizens in Kenya. The Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi has recruited spies and bribed the Kenyan police to target the Oromo refugees in Nairobi and other cities (Human Rights Watch, 2018). Many of these refugees have been either killed, tortured, or deported back to Ethiopia.

Kenya has gone through its own internal economic and social challenges that have had negative effects on the refugee populations it hosts. The economy is shrinking, and the country is divided along tribal and regional lines due to political upheavals. For a number of years, Kenya has threatened to close down the refugee camps (UNHCR, 2015) and repatriate the refugees back to their countries of origin, citing security fears and the economic burden. Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps remain open only due to a court order and international pressure. UNHCR (2017) while urging the government to reconsider their decision, issued this statement, “UNHCR works closely with the Government of Kenya and we understand well the current regional security situation and the seriousness of the threats Kenya is facing. We also recognize the obligation of the government to ensure the security of its citizens and other people living in Kenya, including refugees.” Kenya is concerned about terror groups using refugee camps as recruitment centers, especially after the Garissa university terror attack (Kenya Daily Nation, 2017). The terror suspects were found to be operating from the Dadaab refugee camp.

Current Ethiopian Political Concerns

If the Ethiopian crisis escalates, it could spiral into a regional catastrophe affecting more than six countries. When the former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his draft of reforms that included the release of thousands of political prisoners (Human Rights Watch, 2018), there was a sense of relief among civil society and the international community that finally the government was serious about addressing some of its political issues. However, his resignation weeks later shocked many, and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency (Reuters, 2018). Some of the recently released prisoners have since been re-arrested (Amnesty International, 2018) and then released on bail, and many people live in fear.

Ethiopia Prime Minister
(Photo credit: Nick Ogutu: Ethiopia Prime Minister)

Since the state of emergency was declared in Ethiopia, almost one million Ethiopians have been internally displaced, and thousands have crossed the border into Kenya. Activists have also sounded the alarm on the rising incidences of rape and other gender-based violence, allegedly committed by the police and the military (Amnesty International, 2018). Last month’s election of the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, a former lieutenant-colonel in the army and the first Prime Minister from the Oromo community, has not definitely quelled any fears from the general public.

The Ethiopian situation is a time-bomb that the international community must take an active role in to ensure stability. With a population of over 100 million, the current refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa risks meeting the levels of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Iraq, and the Congo. With so much instability in the region, including the ongoing war in South Sudan, most of the countries neighboring Ethiopia are terrified.

There has been evidence of victims of slavery and human trafficking in Libya are refugees from the horn of Africa (The East African, 2018). Any further escalation of violence Ethiopia and instability in the region will push more refugees to attempt the already dangerous journey to Europe through North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Reforms Required: A Call to Action

The political opposition, civil society, and the press must be given a respected space and a voice in Ethiopian society to ensure transparent governance. The Ethiopian democratic space must be opened and widened as the political landscape is quickly shifting. It will have to accommodate the people’s demands, especially the most vulnerable such as displaced populations, if the current ruling party wants to govern equitably.

As a key western ally receiving billions of dollars from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada, the West must use that leverage for reforms before instability in Ethiopia have widespread repercussions across the region. All political prisoners should be released, responsive and representative government formed, end state of emergency, compensate victims of violence and perpetrators of crime to face justice.  Without these urgent reforms, unrest in the country could have a domino effect in what is an already volatile part of the African continent.

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Peace Hyde, Vanessa Simmons, Karen Civil and Mc Lyte speak At 2018 Essence E Suite Panel in New Orleans

Peace Hyde, Vanessa Simmons, Karen Civil and Mc Lyte speak At 2018 Essence E Suite Panel in New Orleans (Source: Brenda Omawumi |

NEW ORLEANS, United States of America, July 9, 2018/ — The Annual Essence Festival in New Orleans, presented by Coca Cola, is one of the nation’s largest live events. Each year, the festival draws nearly 500,000 attendees who gather for three days of music, entertainment, empowerment and culture.

Now in its 24th year, the Essence Festival has featured some of the biggest names in entertainment and the nations most influential speakers, authors and leaders, including Beyoncé, Alicia Keyes, Prince, Janet Jackson, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Kahn, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rev. Al Sharpton, Deepak Chopra, Ava Duvernay, Magic Johnson and many more.

Joining the exclusive new Black Women’s Business summit: E Suite panel this year is renowned media personality and founder of education non-profit Aim Higher Africa, Peace Hyde. The panel is an exclusive festival opportunity for select founders, seasoned executives and emerging entrepreneurs. In the E-Suite, attendees got the opportunity to encounter experts who shared tips and insights on accessing capital, sharpening entrepreneurship skills and planning career advancement, as well as strategies to help expand expertise in technology and personal finance. Joining her on the panel were fellow entrepreneur and TV personality Vanessa Simmons, entrepreneur and author Karen Civil, founder and CEO of curlBOX, Myleik Teele and artist, author and entrepreneur MC Lyte.

Hyde shared her expertise building over 800 businesses in Africa with a positive knock on effect of creating over 3000 jobs through her work with Aim Higher Africa. The organization was recently featured in CNN for its impactful story and has subsequently opened its Lagos branch in Nigeria’s tech hub Yaba. The organization was shortlisted as a finalist at the 2017 Waislitz Global Citizen award for its innovative solution to ending youth unemployment in Africa through its MRDT Curriculum.

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Historic Summit in New York

muslims and israel
New York City, New York – Gaza is dubbed an open prison with the highest unemployment in the world, Hamas a terrorist organization, Fatah puppet of the West, and Palestinian youth martyrdom trainees. This is all happening right in a land regarded internationally as the “Holy Land” at a religion that pumps more oil than water and receives more visitors than natives.
 
Against this inhumane and unsustainable condition, we are hosting an historic summit in New York City “Muslims and Israel” on Monday, August 27, 2018, 6:8:30 PM to seek the immediate end of this unnecessary condition on our Palestinian families. The summit is dedicated exclusively to God’s words about Israel, holy land and Jerusalem. No prophetic, scholarly or political quotes shall be allowed. As Abrahamic Family, once we all accept God’s Words, human interests and positions on the holy land can then be connected to God’s commandments/instructions.
 
So far we have two of the most eminent Muslim scholars on the issues of the holy land confirmed and waiting for their counterparts’ confirmations. The summit is a secure, close door forum and all RSVPs must submit to background checks. RSVP: editor@muslimcommunityreport.com
 
Dear Muslim Leaders,
 
You have 57 nations in OIC including 22 Arabs ones. You possess and enjoy more natural resources than others. You numbered close to 2 billion. Your Palestinian families are dying to work for and in Israel every day. You call Palestinian families in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt refugees when in fact artificial borders were created by your invading colonizers to divide and weaken you. Your governments enjoy Israeli technical services and your peoples are becoming Kamikazes just to go to Israel for work and freedom. You maintain power and control of your destitute populations partly by blaming the Jews and Israel for your incompetence, etc…
 
Dear Muslim Populous,
 
If you truly love your Palestinian brothers and sisters, then open your minds and allow understanding and wisdom to guide your feelings and emotions. 70 years of public misleading from our corrupt dictators and biased scholars has been the single most deadly cause of Muslims in the world including Palestinians. With rational thinking and right attitude on the part of Israel’s neighboring nations, the Holy Land can easily be a peaceful and prosperous homeland for all Israelis and Palestinians, home and abroad. Therefore, we must cease justifying our anti-Semitism and anti-Israel by peddling leftist Jewish groups’ activist tactics. These leftist liberal Jews are bunch of humanitarian souls fighting for the rights of all peoples regardless of who they are.
 
Dear citizens of the world,
 
If you’ve desired a world of peace, love and harmony, let us make the holy land a place of peace, love and harmony. We can’t afford the status quo. The rise of religious extremism and bias attacks have roots in anti-Semitism, anti-Israel and Islamophobia. September 11 tragedy and all post September 11 conflicts are some of those rooted in what is happening in the holy land. According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person is entitled to a homeland. So do the 15 million Jews.
 
In conclusion, If we all love world peace and Palestinians’ dignity, we must all support an independent and secure Jewish State of Israel. Ones the Muslim leaders formerly welcome a sovereign Jewish nation in OIC, a sovereign Palestinian nation becomes a reality. Ain.t simple! #muslimsandisrael #holyland #palestine #peacefulcoexistence#nycsummit #muslimmedia
                           
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NYS Republican Senators Propose Cynical Bill Ending NYC’s Life-Saving, Time-Tested Speed Safety Camera Program to Replace it With Stop Signs

Statement of Transportation Alternatives’ Executive Director Paul Steely White in response to Senate Bill 9123 introduced Friday by Senators Felder, Golden and Lanza, which would extend New York City’s speed camera program for only six months and direct the revenue they generate during that period to fund stop signs near schools: 

“Holding the expansion of New York City’s life-saving speed camera program hostage is callous. Ending that program in six months and suggesting stop signs will be as effective is both unfounded and heartless. This is not a solution, it’s a deflection and a dereliction of duty. 

For three years New Yorkers from every corner of our city have come together to demand an extended and expanded speed camera program, including hospitals from every borough, hundreds of schools, teachers  crossing guards, law enforcement agencies, senior citizens, and youth leaders. And earlier this week, people who have lost their family members to reckless driving put their bodies on the street, and were arrested, to make it known that without life-saving speed safety cameras, children are going to die. Clearly Senators Felder, Golden and Lanza have not been paying attention. There’s no chorus of voices clamoring for stop signs. There are no experts or data suggesting that signage alone brings about comparable safety benefits  The Senate should not be in the business of rationing safety measures near our schools and tying New York City’s hands on what it needs to do to keep kids safe. 

We believe every student should be safe and that every one of the city’s more than 2,000 schools should have  a safety camera when needed to curb dangerous speeding. Two years ago a compromise bill brought the number from all 2,000 schools down to 750. Then it fell to 290, a modest increase from the current 140 school zones. Those compromises were at the behest of the very senators now decrying the limited number of schools zones covered. The Senate finally had a chance to pass this modest yet life-saving legislation, but these three senators and their leader, Senator John Flanagan, showed their true intentions: they believe the current 140 camera, protecting hundreds of thousands of kids, is 140 too many, and are actively working to end this life-saving program entirely. 

This is particularly galling coming from Senator Golden who has acknowledged the effectiveness of speed safety cameras, and as a cosponsor of the bill extending and expanding them, promised his constituents he would bring them home. He failed to deliver on that promise and is now actively misleading them. Senator Golden should rethink his current course and recommit to fulfilling his vow to protect New York City school kids with speed safety cameras. 

Senators Felder, Golden and Lanza are trying to fool the public into thinking that stop signs are an effective replacement for speed safety cameras. In the first two years of the speed camera program, speeding in the 140 school zones with cameras fell by a remarkable 63 percent, and resulted in a 23 percent reduction in pedestrian injuries. And 81 percent of vehicles caught speeding in school zones don’t get caught a second time. Total traffic deaths have fallen every year since speed safety cameras were first installed in New York City school zones four years ago. Nationwide, fatalities have increased during the same period. 

Last week the Assembly passed separate speed camera expansion bills that have bi-partisan majority support in the Senate (A.7798C/S.6046C along with A.11189) and has the support of the governor. Yet Senator Felder and Flanagan blocked it from receiving a public vote, denying the will of the people of New York. The legislation passed by the Assembly must be brought to a public vote in the Senate by Senator Flanagan, and if Senator Golden is a supporter of speed safety camera expansion as he has repeatedly said to his constituents, he will stop with these distractions and half-measures and make sure the vote happens. 

New York City’s speed safety camera program is saving lives, and has proven to be the single most effective technology available for protecting people on our streets. That Senators Felder, Golden and Lanza would gladly turn off proven life-saving programs like speed safety cameras in favor of signage alone  is a betrayal of the public’s trust and shows that their loyalty is to anyone but New York City schoolchildren.”

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Civil Rights Icon Claudette Colvin Honored at Parkchester NAACP Meeting

 

By Robert Press

During the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1955 there was a young 15 year old girl who stood up for her right to sit on a bus in Montgomery Alabama. Her name was Claudette Colvin who happened to be colored (the term used back then), and she became an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement after being taken off the bus by police for refusing to give her seat up to a young white woman. 

As Ms. Colvin told the audience Sunday, “I paid my bus fare and it is my constitutional right to sit here.” That lasted only until police officers boarded the bus to arrest Ms. Colvin. She said that she had been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King who was seeking equality in the south by the Civil Right’s Movement. Ms. Colvin went on to say that her colored friends who were with her and gave up their seats stayed away from her.

Ms. Colvin mentioned that a male classmate who was friendly with a white girl wound up being lynched a few years later after six white claimed that he raped them. Life was very tough for a young colored girl growing up in the south during her childhood. Life was tough for all colored people who were treated as second class citizens in the south.

While Ms. Claudette Colvin’s event on a Montgomery Alabama bus preceded Rosa Parks, Ms. Colvin did not receive the media coverage that Ms. Parks was given. That was because the Civil Rights Movement had progressed, and the time the Rosa Parks incident came about it was then news. Ms. Colvin did testify before the Supreme Court in the case that determined that bus segregation in Alabama was unconstitutional. That then began the desegregation movement in Alabama and the rest of the south.

Congressman Joe Crowley was on hand to present to Ms. Colvin a flag which flew over the U.S. Capital, and said that Ms. Colvin is a fine example of greatness and what is good in this country. Congressman Crowley added that he is honored to commend Ms. Colvin for her Courageous achievements.

Ms. Colvin also received a proclamation from State Senator Luis Sepulveda. Senator Sepulveda spoke of his grandfather who taught him about the Civil Rights Movement, and that Ms. Colvin’s act should be in the history books also. he added that it took courage for a 15 year old black girl to do what you did by saying “no I have a constitutional right to sit here.” He finished by saying “Ms. Colvin – you are history.”

Ms. Colvin stayed to take questions from members of the audience, and take photos with them. 

State Senator Luis Sepulveda, Ms. Claudette Colvin, Congressman Joe Crowley, and the President of the Parkchester NAACP Ms. Beverly Roberts.
             
Ms. Colvin taking questions from members of the audience.

The officers and committee members of the Parkchester NAACP with Ms. Colvin.
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Public School Chancellor Visits Parkchester Charter School

By Robert Press
 
 
Public Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza visited the Excellence Community Charter School located at 1960 Benedict Avenue this past week. Chancellor Carranza wanted to see the new seven story charter school to find out why it was so popular in the Parkchester area. 
 
  Chancellor Carranza was greeted by the CEO of the Excellence Charter School group Dr. Charlene Reid who took him on a tour of the charter school. I was able to go on the tour with Chancellor Carranza and Dr. Reid. The school is seven stories tall with grades Kindergarten through eighth grade in the building. We first visited a kindergarten class where the students were sitting on the floor eagerly listening to the teacher. 
 
We then went up to the seventh floor to see some older children in different rooms. There was a music class with so many different instruments, a computer class, where I was also told that each student receives their own lap top computer. As we went down floor by floor we visited various different classes in rooms that you might see in most public schools if it was possible. It appeared that Dr. Reid was showing off her school to public schools Chancellor Carranza. I felt that I was in one of the few New York City schools that was making the grade, because as a citywide parent leader I saw to many schools that were performing below the standards.
 In a charter school children have to apply to the school, and if more children apply than seats available there are rules to determine which children will be admitted first. A lottery is then held for the remaining seats available, and a wait list is set up should any children move away or decide to attend another school. I was told that the Excellence Charter School in Parkchester has a wait list of close to one thousand applicants. Dr. Reid said that for the new building the charter school group this school is in was able to issue bonds for the thirty million dollars needed to build the seven story building.  
 
  After the tour was completed Chancellor Carranza and Dr. Reid went into an office for a private discussion. The chancellor came out to say that he was looking to create a relationship between the public schools and charter schools in the city. He then took questions from those of us who remained. Some questions asked about the admission policy to this charter school, what resources charter schools receive as compared to public schools, and how charter schools differ from public schools. Already knowing the answers to those questions, I asked Chancellor Carranza about the poor performance of Bronx public schools, pointing out local public schools which are not performing as well as this charter school.
 
 Chancellor Carranza admitted that Bronx public schools were not doing as well as he and the mayor would like, but that he was new on the job, he would have to look at each individual school, and to give him some time. I replied those were almost the exact  words I heard from Chancellor Joel Klein over fifteen years ago. I then said parents want to know why their children are not getting the education they are suppose to get, and that could be a reason that the Bronx Charter School For Excellence was so popular in the Parkchester and surrounding area. 
 
Chancellor Carranza and Dr. Reid.
 
Chancellor Carranza and Dr. Reid visiting a kindergarten classroom.
 
Chancellor Carranza with some Honor Roll students in front of the Honor Roll board.
 
An outside look of the seven story Bronx Charter School for Excellence located at 1960 Benedict Avenue.