Wednesday, July 24, 2024

IMF mission on visit to Ethiopia – finance ministry official

An International Monetary Fund staff mission is in Ethiopia, a senior finance ministry official said on Thursday, as the nation faces a deadline with major creditor countries to secure a loan from the international lender.

Last month, IMF spokesperson Julie Kozack had said the fund would send a mission to the Horn of Africa nation to discuss its request for a loan programme. The ministry official did not disclose the reason for the mission’s visit.

In December, the Paris Club of developed creditor nations said Ethiopia’s agreement with its bilateral creditors, other than China, to suspend debt payments until 2025 could be voided if the country does not secure an IMF loan by March 31, 2024.

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In the same month, Ethiopia became Africa’s third default in as many years after it failed to make a payment on its $1 billion Eurobond.

Ethiopia is also in talks with IMF to borrow around $3.5 billion under a reform programme, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters in December.


Somalia’s president arrives in Eritrea for his fourth visit in 2 years

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Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud arrived in Eritrea’s capital Asmara for his fourth visit in just two years and received a warm reception from his Eritrean counterpart Asaias Afwerki, his office said.

“His Excellency President Hassan Sheikh began a two-day working visit to Eritrea, where he received a warm welcome from His Excellency President Isaias Afwerki at Asmara International Airport,” stated Villa Somalia.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud returned home this afternoon, 18 March after concluding a two-day working visit to Eritrea.

During his visit, President Mohamud and President Isaias Afwerki held discussions at the State House yesterday, 17 March, focusing on strengthening bilateral ties and mutual cooperation, as well as addressing regional and global developments of mutual interest.

In an interview with Erina, President Mohamud highlighted the purpose of his visit, which was to update President Isaias on Somalia’s efforts to combat terrorism and to discuss the progress in bilateral relations between the two nations, along with regional and international developments. President Mohamud also expressed his gratitude for Eritrea’s support to Somalia.

The meeting also saw the participation of Mr. Osman Saleh, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Nearly 187,000 refugee students will be out of school in 2024 in Ethiopia

Some 187,000 refugees in Ethiopia will be out of school unless a USD4.4 million funding gap is bridged, according to UNHCR report on Ethiopia for March. Only 53percent of total USD9.3 million funding requirement received is fulfilled so far, which is allocated for teachers’ salaries.

Of the total figure, 122, refugee children of primary school will be out of school by July 2024. Some 20,000 refugee students also will not be able to attend university classes. There is also no fund to maintain school meals for the refugee students, according to the report.

As more children drop out of school, more early marriage arrangements are also anticipated.

Most of the refuge students expected to dropout, are concentrated in three of the seven refugee hosting regions in Ethiopia. These include 201,731 students in Gambela, 61,252 students in Melkadida, and 29,254 students in Benishangul.

In 2023, only 187,494 out of 408,776 refugee children were able to go to school. By December 2023, the enrolment had dropped to 156,459 (17% drop out rate). This means, over half of school-aged refugee children do not go to school. Those who do go to school are in overcrowded classrooms with 100 students per class (instead of the standard 50 students per classroom), where only 30 of them are girls on average (versus 70 boys). The higher the grade the lower the enrollment rate. If over half (55percent) of refugee children are enrolled in primary school, 80percent of them drop out by the time they reach secondary school.

There are a total of 447,580 school-aged refugees in Ethiopia currently, up from 439,000 in 2023.

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Unrecognized African state steps up independence bid

The government of Somaliland is set to appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a bid to be granted sovereignty, local media reported on Sunday.  

Lawyers have compiled a case on behalf of the government and will shortly file it with the ICJ, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Dr. Issa Kayd Mohamud announced, according to a report in the Somaliland Standard on Saturday.  

Somaliland gained independence from the UK in 1960, while Somalia achieved independence from Italy soon afterwards. From 1960 to 1991 the two states were united as the Somali Republic.

After ten years of civil war, Somaliland proclaimed its sovereignty in 1991. It has not been recognized internationally, even though it maintains informal ties with several states, including Ethiopia. Somaliland is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

Under an agreement sealed on January 1 this year between Somaliland and Ethiopia, the latter was offered 20km of coastland around the port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden for a 50-year lease.  

This would allow landlocked Ethiopia, which has relied on Djibouti for the majority of its maritime trade for more than three decades, to gain access to the sea while also constructing a military base.

The move angered Somalia, which regards Somaliland as its territory. While Addis Ababa considers the maritime deal critical to its economic needs, Mogadishu has denounced it as a land grab and a breach of its territorial integrity. 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that the port deal “officially recognizes the Republic of Somaliland, while Somaliland grants naval and commercial sea access on lease to Ethiopia for 50 years.” 

Somaliland Foreign Minister Mohamud stated that the authorities remain “steadfast” in their effort to gain international recognition, and that the memorandum signed with Ethiopia would provide it with additional legal justification for its claim.

The Somaliland government has also ruled out potential reunification with Somalia, declaring in September that “any dialogue that takes place between Somaliland and Somalia will not discuss unification, but rather how the two previously united countries can move forward separately.”  


Atrocity Survivors in Ethiopia Remain Without Justice 

A year after releasing an atrocity determination opens in a new tab for the conflict in northern Ethiopia, the United States government and international community have not made any updates or taken on new policy changes towards justice and accountability. 

“An atrocity determination without meaningful policy change that addresses the pervasive cycle of impunity in Ethiopia isn’t worth much to victims and survivors of these crimes,” warned Kate Hixon, Advocacy Director for Africa with Amnesty International USA. “The U.S. government must support survivors to ensure they receive the justice and accountability they demand and to which they have a right. The State Department should also seek to update the determination to address justice and accountability issues amid the ongoing armed conflict in the Amhara region, where Amnesty International documented possible war crimes.” 

On March 20, 2023, U.S. Secretary of Antony Blinken announced a U.S. government atrocity determination that all parties to the conflict in northern Ethiopia committed war crimes. It found that the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces and Amhara forces also committed crimes against humanity, “including murder, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, and persecution.” Members of the Amhara forces were also identified as responsible for committing the crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer and committed ethnic cleansing in western Tigray.   

Despite asks from international human rights organizations and many in Ethiopian civil society, the U.S. was complacent in allowing the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia mandate to expire in October 2023. 

Since the cessation of hostilities, Ethiopian authorities have not taken meaningful steps towards justice and accountability for crimes committed during the conflict in northern Ethiopia. Additionally, ENDF and the Fano militia are now fighting in another armed conflict in Amhara region where Amnesty International documented possible war crimes by the ENDF. The ENDF and Amhara forces, which includes the Fano militia and Amhara special forces, were named as perpetrators of atrocity crimes in the 2023 determination for their acts in the Tigray region. 

Since armed conflict broke out in early August, the entire Amhara region has been under an internet blackout. Independent journalists are barred from reporting on the conflict, and they are persecuted if they attempt to. Ethiopian authorities continue to use the state of emergency law to crack down on anyone who dares to dissent peacefully.   

Amnesty International also continues to receive reports of harassment against civil society organizations in Ethiopia by the government.  

“Secretary Blinken must urgently work with the African Union and the international community to engage the government of Ethiopia to order the ENDF to stop targeting civilians in the Amhara region. He must also ensure that the United States broaden its analysis of atrocity determination into the Amhara and Oromia region, where active risks of atrocities exist amid ongoing armed conflict, to urgently address justice and accountability issues,” concluded Hixon.  

Somali pirates return, adding to global shipping crisis

                As a speed boat carrying more than a dozen Somali pirates bore down on their position in the western Indian Ocean, the crew of a Bangladeshi-owned bulk carrier sent out a distress signal and called an emergency hotline.

No one reached them in time. The pirates clambered aboard the Abdullah, firing warning shots and taking the captain and second officer hostage, Chief Officer Atiq Ullah Khan said in an audio message to the ship’s owners.

“By the grace of Allah no one has been harmed so far,” Khan said in the message, recorded before the pirates took the crew’s phones. The company shared the recording with Reuters.

A week later, the Abdullah is anchored off the coast of Somalia, the latest victim of a resurgence of piracy that international navies thought they had brought under control.

The raids are piling risks and costs onto shipping companies also contending with repeated drone and missile strikes by Yemen’s Houthi militia in the Red Sea and other nearby waters.

More than 20 attempted hijackings since November have driven up prices for armed security guards and insurance coverage and raised the spectre of possible ransom payments, according to five industry representatives.

Two Somali gang members told Reuters they were taking advantage of the distraction provided by Houthi strikes several hundred nautical miles to the north to get back into piracy after lying dormant for nearly a decade.

“They took this chance because the international naval forces that operate off the coast of Somalia reduced their operations,” said a pirate financier who goes by the alias Ismail Isse and said he helped fund the hijacking of another bulk carrier in December.

He spoke to Reuters by phone from Hul Anod, a coastal area in Somalia’s semi-autonomous northeastern region of Puntland where the ship, the Ruen, was held for weeks.


UN says over 7,000 displaced in central Somalia in 4 days amid al-Shabab fears

More than 7,000 people have been displaced in four days in Galmudug State, in central Somalia, after government forces withdrew from the area, the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that Somali military forces began withdrawing from locations including Bacadweyn, Camaara, Caad, and Hiinlabi on March 10 without engaging in any military actions, a move that created a security vacuum for al-Shabab to swiftly move in.

“This withdrawal created a vacuum that non-state actor forces swiftly moved to fill,” the UNHCR said in its “protection and return monitoring flash alert” issued in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.

“As a result, civilians living in these areas were displaced as they fled, fearing retaliatory attacks from al-Shabab, who may perceive them to have been collaborators during the government intervention,” the UNHCR said.

It said the displaced, including the elderly, children, women, and other vulnerable groups, fled between March 10 and March 13, seeking refuge in areas like Galkayo, Mirjicley, Wisil, and Wajeela.

The Somali government initiated military operations in late 2023 aimed at recapturing several locations in the Galmudug region.

These areas, including Bacadweyn, Camaara, Caad, and Hiinlabi, along with other surrounding districts near Harardheere and Hobyo, had been under government control for several months, when some regions received access to protection assistance and humanitarian aid.

“The situation underscores the urgent need for humanitarian assistance and protection for those affected by the conflict, particularly vulnerable groups who are at heightened risk,” the UNHCR said.

It said civilians who have fled to distant locations in search of safety and security are now living in host locations without adequate shelter, with some forced to live in open spaces. 


Commercial Bank of Ethiopia glitch lets customers withdraw millions

Ethiopia’s biggest commercial bank is scrambling to recoup large sums of money withdrawn by customers after a “systems glitch”.

The customers discovered early on Saturday that they could take out more cash than they had in their accounts at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE).

More than $40m (£31m) was withdrawn or transferred to other banks, local media reported.

It took several hours for the institution to freeze transactions.

Much of the money was withdrawn from state-owned CBE by students, bank president Abe Sano told journalists on Monday.

News of the glitch spread across universities largely via messaging apps and phone calls.

Long lines formed at campus ATMs, with a student in western Ethiopia telling BBC Amharic people were withdrawing money until police officers arrived on campus to stop them.

The student, who attends Jimma University Institute of Technology, said he “did not believe it was true” when his friends told him at around 01:00 local time (22:00 GMT) that it was possible to withdraw large amounts from ATMs, or transfer the money using the bank’s app.

Another student, at Dilla University in southern Ethiopia, said a number of his peers retrieved money from CBE between midnight and 02:00 local time.

More than 38 million people hold accounts at CBE, which was established 82 years ago.

Ethiopia’s central bank, which serves as the financial sector’s governing body, released a statement on Sunday saying “a glitch” had occurred during “maintenance and inspection activities”.

The statement, however, focused on the interrupted service that occurred after CBE froze all transactions. It did not mention the money withdrawn by customers.

Mr Sano did not say exactly how much money was withdrawn during Saturday’s incident, but said the loss incurred was small when compared to the bank’s total assets.

He stated that CBE was not hit by a cyber-attack and that customers should not be worried as their personal accounts were intact.

At least three universities have released statements advising students to return any money not belonging to them that they may have taken from CBE.

Anyone returning money will not be charged with a criminal offence, Mr Sano said.

But it’s not clear how successful the bank’s attempts to recoup their money has been so far.

The student from Jimma University said on Monday he had not heard of anyone giving the money back, but said he had seen police vehicles on campus.

An official at Dilla University said bank employees were on campus collecting money that some students were returning voluntarily.


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