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Ethiopia prepares to vote as famine stalks Tigray

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Ethiopian army soldiers watch a truck full of militia men at Mai Aini Refugee camp, housing Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia (AFP via Getty Images)

Ethiopia is preparing to hold crucial and twice-delayed elections across the country on June 21, despite growing concern over the credibility of the vote as well as a famine in war-torn Tigray.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, appointed in 2018 after years of anti-government unrest, craves a popular mandate through competitive elections to cement a promised democratic rebirth in Africa’s second-most populous nation.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner is pushing ahead with the election despite ongoing fighting and a humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where voting will not proceed on Monday, along with some other restive parts of the country.

Opposition parties in other pivotal regions are boycotting the election, the sixth since the end of military rule in Ethiopia 30 years ago.

All previous ballots fell short of international standards for fairness, and Abiy — who won early praise for embarking on democratic and economic reforms — insists that June 21 will mark a departure from the authoritarian past.

“A week from today, Ethiopians we will cast our vote in the sixth national elections, which will be the nation’s first attempt at free and fair elections,” Abiy posted on Twitter on Monday.

ALSO READ:   Guinea coup leader sworn in as transitional leader

“Go out and vote next Monday… let’s make it a positively historic day together!”

– Tigray –

But the war in Tigray — not Abiy’s much-vaunted vote — has been the focus of global concern, with appeals from the pope and world leaders at the G7 for the bloodshed to end.

UN agencies say 350,000 people in the northern region are barely surviving in famine conditions, including tens of thousands of malnourished children. Ethiopia disputes the figures and says aid groups have been granted unfettered access to the region.

Abiy’s reputation as a reformist and peacemaker has been seriously dented since he sent the army into Tigray in November to oust the ruling TPLF party there.

Eritrean soldiers and allied militias joined the fight, which Abiy promised would be short but has dragged on for seven months. The conflict has been characterised by terrible atrocities and alleged ethnic cleansing.

There will be no vote in the mountainous region of six million on June 21, with no future date set.

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But Tigray — with 38 of the 547 seats in Ethiopia’s national parliament — is just one place where no ballots will be cast Monday.

Ethnic violence and logistical setbacks forced the National Election Board of Ethiopia to postpone voting in numerous locations until September 6. The board has not specified the exact number of constituencies affected, but there are dozens in addition to Tigray.

– ‘Obstacles’ –

The United States, historically an ally of Ethiopia but an increasingly vocal critic as the Tigray conflict drags on, has expressed alarm at the conditions under which the vote will occur.

The detention of prominent opposition leaders and ethnic conflict roiling swathes of the country pose “obstacles to a free and fair electoral process and whether Ethiopians would perceive them as credible,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week.

“The exclusion of large segments of the electorate from this contest due to security issues and internal displacement is particularly troubling,” he added.

The European Union said in May it would not send observers to the polls, citing a failure to reach an agreement with the government on basic issues like communications and the observers’ independence.

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Staging nationwide elections is a logistical feat at the best of times in the enormous nation of 110 million where poor infrastructure barely reaches into remoter parts of savannah, mountain and desert terrain.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the first postponement in August 2020, then the vote was pushed back to June 21 because of technical problems, including a massive shortage of election officials and slow voter registration.

In early June, with the vote just weeks away, the board said ballot paper irregularities and fake polling stations had hindered preparations, but that about 37 million voters had registered.

Abiy’s Prosperity Party is fielding the most candidates for national parliamentary races and is the firm favourite to win, with a broad reach unmatched by other political parties.

The campaign has been muted in the capital Addis Ababa, while south of the capital in Hawassa, an AFP journalist this week noted a near-total absence of opposition posters.

Politics

Sudan’s military asks premier to form new government

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Tensions have risen in recent days between military and civilian members of the Sudanese transitional authority over the coup attempt last month.

Military members of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council asked Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to form a new government to solve the marginalization crisis of tribes, local media reported Wednesday.

According to daily al-Sudani, unidentified informed sources said military members from the Council refused on Tuesday to meet a ministerial committee formed by Hamdok to address the crisis in eastern Sudan.

“The military members refused to meet the ministerial committee and asked to meet Hamdok alone before meeting any minister,” said the newspaper.

It also said members representing the army exerted pressure on Hamdok to dissolve the government in response to demands to form a new government by the head of the High Council of Beja, Muhammad al-Amin Turk.

ALSO READ:   Guinea coup leader sworn in as transitional leader

Tensions have risen in recent days between military and civilian members of the Sudanese transitional authority over the coup attempt last month.

The government has yet to comment on developments mentioned by the newspaper.

The Sudanese Council of Ministers decided Tuesday to form a committee, headed by Hamdok, to engage military members of the Sovereign Council to agree on “practical solutions” to the crisis.

Sudan is ruled by a civilian government and a Sovereign Council which consists of 14 members; five military representatives from the army, six civilians from the Forces for Freedom and Change Coalition and three members who were added in February to represent armed groups after a peace deal was signed with the government in October 2020.

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Demonstrators have since Sept. 17 blocked Khartoum’s airport, seaports and the main road between Khartoum and Port Sudan in protest of the peace deal with rebel groups, which Beja tribes in eastern Sudan say marginalizes the community.

The High Council of Beja Nazir has complained about marginalization in eastern regions and demanded the cancelation of the peace deal and the establishment of a national conference to approve development projects in the regions.

Since Aug. 21, 2019, Sudan has been in a 53-month transitional period that will end with elections in early 2024.

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Politics

Guinea coup leader sworn in as transitional leader

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The new interim president spoke of his "commitment" that neither he nor any member of the junta would stand in any future elections that the military have promised to organise after a transition period.

Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, who led last month’s coup in Guinea, was sworn in as interim president on Friday promising to respect all the West African state’s international commitments.

Doumbouya, who led the overthrow of president Alpha Conde on September 5, was sworn in by Supreme Court head Mamadou Sylla for a transition period of unspecified length.

The new interim president spoke of his “commitment” that neither he nor any member of the junta would stand in any future elections that the military have promised to organise after a transition period.

He said nothing at the time of his swearing in, by the supreme court head, about the duration of this transition.

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– ‘Consolidate democracy’ –

Wearing a beige dress uniform, red beret and dark glasses, the new national leader also vowed to “loyally preserve national sovereignty” and to “consolidate democratic achievements, guarantee the independence of the fatherland and the integrity of the national territory”.

The ceremony was held at the Mohammed-V palace in Conakry on the eve of a public holiday celebrating the 1958 declaration of independence from France.

Doumbouya will serve as transitional president until the country returns to civilian rule, according to a blueprint unveiled by the junta on Monday that does not mention a timeline.

The September 5 coup, the latest bout of turbulence in one of Africa’s most volatile countries, saw the overthrow of 83-year-old president Conde.

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Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015.

But last year he pushed through a controversial new constitution that allowed him to run for a third term in October 2020.

The move sparked mass demonstrations in which dozens of protesters were killed. Conde won re-election but the political opposition maintained the poll was a sham.

The “charter” unveiled on Monday vows that a new constitution will be drafted and “free, democratic and transparent” elections held, but does not spell out how long the transition will last.

The document says the transitional president will be “head of state and supreme chief of the armed forces… (and) determines the policies of the Nation,” with the power to name and fire an interim prime minister.

ALSO READ:   South Sudan swears in new parliament vowed under peace deal

However, the president will be barred from being a candidate at the elections that will take place after the transition, it says.

The turbulence in the former French colony has sparked deep concern among Guinea’s neighbours.

The coup is the second to take place in the region, after Mali, in less than 13 months.

The region’s bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is demanding that elections be held within six months, as well as Conde’s release.

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Politics

Guinea junta chief to be sworn in Friday as interim president

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The September 5 coup, the latest bout of turbulence in one of Africa's most volatile countries, saw the overthrow of 83-year-old president Alpha Conde. AFP

Mamady Doumbouya, a special forces colonel who led a coup in the West African state of Guinea on September, will be sworn in as interim president on Friday, the authorities say.

Doumbouya will be sworn in at noon (1200 GMT) at the Mohammed V conference centre in the capital Conakry, a communique read late Wednesday on national television said.

He will become transitional president, serving before the country returns to civilian rule, according to a blueprint unveiled by the junta on Monday that does not mention a timeline.

The September 5 coup, the latest bout of turbulence in one of Africa’s most volatile countries, saw the overthrow of 83-year-old president Alpha Conde.

ALSO READ:   Three killed in roadside blast in Somali capital

Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015.

But last year he pushed through a controversial new constitution that allowed him to run for a third term in October 2020.

The move sparked mass demonstrations in which dozens of protesters were killed. Conde won re-election but the political opposition maintained the poll was a sham.

The “charter” unveiled on Monday vows that a new constitution will be drafted and “free, democratic and transparent” elections held, but does not spell out how long the transition will last.

The document says the transitional president will be “head of state and supreme chief of the armed forces… (and) determines the policies of the Nation,” with the power to name and fire an interim prime minister.

ALSO READ:   Youth intercept 25 armed men in southwestern Nigeria

However, the president will be barred from being a candidate at the elections that will take place after the transition, it says.

The turbulence in the former French colony has sparked deep concern among Guinea’s neighbours.

The coup is the second to take place in the region, after Mali, in less than 13 months.

The region’s bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is demanding that elections be held within six months, as well as Conde’s release.

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