On the Horn of Africa, a tiny ‘country’ has Congress’ ear

“a diplomatic delegation from the self-declared independent republic of Somaliland — which broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has no formal diplomatic ties with major developed nations — worked the halls of Capitol Hill seeking sit-downs with whomever would meet with them. The delegation presented itself to U.S. government agencies and lawmakers as an African ally insulated from the instability and China ties that define many of its neighbors.

Somaliland brought solid anti-China credentials to those meetings: it slammed the door on aid and cooperation with Beijing in July 2020 when it inked a diplomatic relations agreement with Taiwan.

That move infuriated the Chinese government because it marked a rare victory in Taiwan’s battle against Beijing’s diplomatic strangulation of the self-governing island.

Somaliland also has geostrategic potential: its location on the Gulf of Aden and deep-water port of Berbera, into which Dubai’s DP World has poured $442 million to build a new container cargo facility, would allow for naval power protection in the Middle East and East Africa. That’s a serious enticement given U.S. Africa Command’s security concerns about its base in neighboring Djibouti: a Chinese naval installation just a few miles away was stood up in 2017.

“We have come to the U.S. to show them that we have the same enemy, and our long-term strategy is we want to be closer to democracies and market economies like the U.S.,” said Bashir Goth, head of mission at Somaliland’s unofficial outpost in Alexandria, Va. “We are countering China [and] the Chinese influence in the Horn of Africa and we deserve [U.S. government] help.”

That pitch had impact — last week, the first-ever staff congressional delegation visited the territory, marking what the Somaliland Chronicle described as “the highest-level American delegation” in more than a decade. That fact-finding mission included staff members of Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The staffers returned home convinced of Somaliland’s value to the U.S. in countering China’s regional influence, said Piero Tozzi, senior foreign policy adviser for Smith.”

Sudan’s civilian prime minister is back. Here’s why thousands are still protesting.

“In April 2019, a military coup ended Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, which was marked by press censorship, the jailing of political dissidents, and the imposition of harsh sharia law, all enforced by regime security forces. Following al-Bashir’s arrest, the military worked with civilian parties to establish a transition to democracy and civilian rule”

“That included a transitional power-sharing agreement between the military and civilian leadership, which was then amended with the Juba Peace Agreement in 2020, a deal between the transitional government and several armed groups which sets out the constitutional process and power-sharing arrangements, among other stipulations for the future democratic government. Crucially for the current crisis, civilian leaders insisted on an eventual governmental structure free from military influence; the memory of al-Bashir’s regime and its brutality were still fresh, and a government run under the auspices of the military couldn’t be trusted.”

“But that progress appeared fleeting when al-Burhan moved to seize power on October 25, forcing Hamdok into house arrest, detaining other members of the civilian government, and using deadly force to crack down on the massive, widespread protests against the coup that occurred over the past month.”

“Since the coup, according to Siegle, the junta, led by al-Burhan, has been searching for a civilian leader to serve as a figurehead prime minister while the military maintained actual control, and even appointed some politicians from the al-Bashir government, like Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who led brutal campaigns against opposition fighters in Darfur, into leadership positions — essentially trying to continue the regime that civilian groups had sacrificed so much to overthrow just two short years ago.
When the junta was unable to find a suitably legitimate figurehead, Siegle theorizes, it was decided that Hamdok would be able to return to his position and preside over a “technocratic” cabinet. What that means is unclear, however: While protesters are calling for absolutely no military influence in the selection of the cabinet, there have not been assurances that Hamdok will be free to select his own ministers.”

“Already, as civilian protest leaders have made clear, there’s little confidence in Hamdok’s return to office, and demonstrations will likely continue”

Poaching is altering the genetics of wild animals

“just as tusks evolved because they provide a number of benefits, a striking new study shows that some populations of African elephants have rapidly evolved to become tusk–less. Published in the journal Science, the paper’s authors found that many elephants in a park in Mozambique, which were heavily hunted for their ivory during a civil war a few decades ago, have lost their tusks — presumably because tuskless elephants are more likely to survive and pass the trait on to their offspring.”

“In theory, it’s advantageous to be born without tusks in areas where poachers are active, Hendry said. But tusklessness also has its downsides. Elephants need their tusks to dig, lift objects, and defend themselves. The hulking incisors are not useless appendages.

The genes that seem to make female elephants tuskless also appear to prevent mothers from giving birth to male calves — that’s why all the tuskless elephants in the park are female, Pringle said. (Some mothers did give birth to males with tusks, who likely didn’t inherit the gene.) Over time, a shift in the sex of elephants could have consequences for population growth.

There are also potential costs to African grasslands, which are among the rarest and most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, the study authors write. By turning over soil in search of food and minerals and gouging trees with their tusks, African savanna elephants prevent forests from growing too dense and help maintain grasslands. That’s why they’re considered “engineers” of the ecosystem. If they lose their tusks, a whole web of plants and animals may feel the impact.

“This evolutionary change could have massive cascading ecological influences,” Hendry said.”

Why Ethiopia wants to expel UN officials sounding the alarm on famine

“A civil war between Ethiopia’s federal government and the country’s northern Tigray region, which began late last year, has led to widespread atrocities and created famine conditions in parts of the country. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to expel UN officials from the country comes after they raised concerns about the worsening humanitarian situation.

UN officials have repeatedly warned that Ethiopia’s government is blocking the movement of critical supplies — like medicine, food, and fuel — into the Tigray region, with as little as 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies being allowed in. Those accusations were echoed this week by the head of the UN’s humanitarian aid arm, as well as by a UN report finding the region on the brink of famine.”

“Dying by blood or by hunger”: The war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, explained

“More than 60,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Sudan since the fighting began in November, and humanitarian groups — many of which remain cut off from parts of Tigray — say the security situation has likely displaced thousands of people internally.

The United Nations estimates that of Tigray’s 6 million people, 4.5 million are in need of food aid. A recent report from the World Peace Foundation warns of the risk of famine and mass starvation as people are displaced and crops, livestock, and the tools needed to make and collect food are destroyed.

One witness in Tigray, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety, told me that Eritrean soldiers will kill an ox and eat just one leg, leaving the rest of the carcass to rot. “The people are either dying by blood or by hunger,” he said by phone from Mekele, Tigray’s capital, earlier this month.

Prime Minister Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was once seen as the country’s peacemaker and a democratic liberalizer, is now leading a country that is beginning to turn on itself.

Violence and ethnic tensions are flaring up in other parts of Ethiopia. Sudanese and Ethiopian troops have clashed in a disputed border territory, a sign of how Tigray’s unrest is spilling over into an already volatile neighborhood where Ethiopia had been viewed, at least by some international partners, as a stabilizing force.

The war in Tigray has no clear end, and the reports of killing and rape and looting are still happening. “Everybody is just waiting, just waiting — not to live, but waiting for what will happen tomorrow, or in the night,” the man in Mekele said.”