Tanzina Vega: I'm Tanzina Vega and you're listening to The Takeaway and we're continuing to explore the international reaction to Joe Biden's presidential win. Today, we turn to the African nations of Nigeria and Ethiopia where conflicts in those countries have escalated and could present challenges for a Biden-Harris' administration.
Tensions are coming to a head in Ethiopia prime minister, Abiy launched a military attack on the Tigray nation of Ethiopia after he accused the Tigray People's Liberation Front of attacking a military base in attempt to steal weapons.
The conflict has continued to escalate over the past two weeks and thousands have already fled the region to Sudan. Here to help us understand the context in the conflict is Samuel Getachew, a local journalist in Ethiopia with The Reporter. Samuel, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Samuel Getachew: Thank you.
Tanzina: Also joining us Yinka Adegoke, Africa editor for Quartz. Yinka, welcome back to the show.
Yinka Adegoke: Thank you.
Tanzina: Samuel, let's start with you. Tell us about the tensions that led to the violence between Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy and leaders of the semi-autonomous Tigray region.
Samuel: It began two weeks ago when Ethiopia accused the TPLF government that has been taken out now, because there's a new administration that has been appointed by the Prime Minister when he accused them which they later admitted to attacking a military base in Tigray and killing soldiers and that's what made them according to them at attack the region in order to take out the leadership that they've accused of criminal acts human rights abuses in the past.
As you know the TPLF was in government for the last 27 years before Abiy became to power, they've been having this conflict since a year ago, accused of all kinds of stuff, including holding an election when the House of Federation in Addis Ababa told them not to and which they won by 100% reminding many Ethiopians of the election of 2007 when they were in government in Addis Ababa which they also claimed to have won by 100%.
It's a mixture of all kinds of things that pushed the federal government to act and that's where we are right now.
Tanzina: Now Yinka Prime Minister Abiy was appointed in 2018 and he was seen as a reformer who was releasing political prisoners from jail and about a year ago, he was awarded the Nobel peace prize for forging peace with neighboring Eritrea after decades of conflict. What were the hopes for his administration and how have things actually played out?
Yinka: The hopes were he would lead Ethiopia, which is as you know Africa's second most populous country down the road of democracy, because he was seen as this reformer and there was a lot of excitement.
He gets the Nobel peace prize and governments around the world, leaders around the world patting him on the back and everyone's excited about it because Ethiopia has so much potential, it's been the fastest growing country, one fastest growing countries in the world, not just in Africa for over the last decade.
Ethiopia has a very, what we can call a tense federation of different regions of semi-autonomous nations if you like and it's been very tricky to hold that together while also dangling this promise of democracy. Instead, it's almost been the reverse.
If you speak to Ethiopians now, they feel that there there's a lot of displeasure across the different regions, not just in Tigray even among its own people, the Oromos, Amara, there are all these concerns where the locals feel they are not being given the freedom and that reach for democracy that seemed very likely at the start.
Tanzina: Samuel, human rights observers are concerned that the conflict that's taking place in Ethiopia will further destabilize the horn of Africa. What is the logic here in targeting Eritrea?
Samuel: I think your listeners need to know that Eritrea was part of Ethiopia at one point and it was the TPLF government that gave them the right of a referendum to have their own nation but it was after five years that the TPLF government was provoked by Eritrea to get into a conflict that killed at least 80,000 people from both sides.
Since then, Eritrea has always taken note of Ethiopia's interest or Ethiopia's willingness to fight with them or against them. For at least 18 years the Ethiopian government, then the EPRDF government agreed on Algeria getting involved and trying to have some peace agreements.
Once the peace agreement made its own decision, it was an EPRDF government, which is the TPLF of government that decided to disagree with it and walk away. Ethiopia felt the peace agreement favored Eritrea, but once it was rendered, it was an EPRDF government that walked away.
Since then, Isaias Afwerki the longtime President of Eritrea, has looked down on Ethiopia as an enemy. Not Ethiopia per se but EPRDF or TPLF. 2018, when Abiy came to power and decided to have some kind of peace with Eritrea, the TPLF government was in a disagreement because they felt they weren't part of the engagement.
That might be why the first disagreement was TPLF leadership pushed them to just leave Addis Ababa and go through the state of Tigray and decided to wage some essence of war with the federal government that they felt was no longer in their interest in Addis Ababa.
Tanzina: Yinka, what does this conflict mean for the larger refugee crisis in Ethiopia?
Yinka: This is a really troubling time for the horn of Africa region which has seen some peace in recent years, but as this conflict, which is right at the borders of three countries here. You have Ethiopia obviously, Eritrea and then Sudan, where refugees are fleeing after the bombing in Tigray.
It could be very problematic and it could actually not just pull in other countries, it could further destabilize other regions of Ethiopia to the South. This is what we're watching now and there's a lot of concern. The US government, Mike Pompeo has put out some short statements about the usual thing being deeply concerned, but you don't get a sense that the current US administration is fully engaged. They put out the usual statements, but you don't get the sense that they are about to go in and really get involved.
Tanzina: Let's talk about that because there is a new administration that will be taking office in January, at the end of January and I'm wondering whether or not that administration, the Biden-Harris administration is giving any hope to a better and improved relations with United States, Samuel.
Samuel: We've been watching statements coming from advisors of Biden-Harris. For example, when Trump said Egypt was in a position to also attack the Renaissance Dam of Ethiopia, we've been watching. It was one of his advisors who said, that's not the role of America because America is in a position to mediate between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia.
They seem to be more in tune with wanting to be engaged. Suzanne Rice was a former head of the African affairs at the state department. She knows Ethiopia very well and there's also a few Ethiopian Americans helping Biden in terms of his transition to government.
Ethiopians remain hopeful, because when Trump was President, he's still President until early next year, he was never engaged with the continent. Beyond the insults he's been throwing at the continent, he's never visited any countries since he became President. He's looked down on the continent to even have him to mediate let alone help this tension to go down is just-- It confuses lots of people instead of see America as beacon of hope, which it has been for a long, long time despite its shortcomings, despite the fact, there are many countries that Americans have their own interest in, but in Ethiopia they've been involved in developmental aid.
America is the biggest funder of Ethiopia's ambitions to become self-sufficient, to have the economy grow. The funding that was announced in 2012 under Obama is still the funding they're using in Ethiopia right now but if he did actually became President again, re-elected his legacy would really have had a negative impact.
That's beyond whether you agree with aid or not, but again, we're hopeful America would be more engaged. I think the world needs America than China. I know I'm taking sides, maybe because I grew up in Canada but we see America as hope. It gave many of us a chance to be educated. My father was personally educated by the generous support of American government during Jimmy Carter a long time ago. We look up on America and expect the best, not the worst that we've seen the last four years.
Tanzina: Samuel Getachew is a local journalist in Ethiopia with The Reporter. Samuel, thanks for being with us.
Samuel: Thank you.
Tanzina: We turn now to Nigeria, where the country has seen massive anti-police brutality protests. We're continuing our conversation with Yinka Adegoke from Quartz. Yinka, this year we've seen protests in Nigeria, particularly against police brutality, with the hashtag end SARS. Where do those protests stand right now?
Yinka: Well, those protests were against police brutality, as you know. Police brutality has been a big problem in Nigeria for many, many years, but really peaked in the last few years with this special police unit which had harassed young people, especially young men, but also young women on all kinds of spurious reasons, kidnapping and arrests and allegedly some killings of innocent people.
These protests were well-organized with thousands of thousands of people, and really had got to the point where the government started to get worried. Then we had the horrible incident of innocent protesters being shot at night at the Lekki Toll Gate, and that is now being investigated.
The army denies they were involved. The police say they had nothing to do with it. It's the usual thing that tends to happen in Nigeria, where no one is accepting blame, but there are plenty of witnesses who saw men in military uniform, who were involved with the shootings.
Tanzina: Yinka, what's been the United States response so far to these demonstrations, if any?
Yinka: It's been very limited. This being as we say, the deeply concern kind of rhetoric and not too much action. Nigeria has not been at the top of the Trump administration in any positive way throughout the years of the Trump administration.
I guess the protesters, or whoever the organizers, couldn't look to the United States for the moral support they might have had in previous years. Certainly not with this administration.
Tanzina: I'm wondering if we can expand the lens a little bit to talk about the Trump administration's relationship with Nigeria. We just spoke about Ethiopia and perhaps other African nations. Has the Trump administration been involved really, to any extent that's meaningful during the time that he's been in office?
Yinka: It's funny. In preparation for this, I went back and looked over a few stories and I was actually surprised at how bad it has actually been with Nigeria specifically. It started off with this very patronizing UN meeting where they talked about how some of my friends are getting rich in your countries.
Then it became about the weapons that the Nigerian government had been trying to get for a long time to take on Boko Haram in the northeast of the country, which the Obama administration had actually been very arguably wisely cautious about selling those weapons to the government because they understood that some of them would be misused.
They did sell them to the military but along with that came all kinds of misuse and corruption and protests were being shocked 2018. The Trump administration said nothing. Trump made comments about President Buhari as a lifeless President and not wanting to meet with him again.
Remember the whole country's thing. The really important part about that was that it wasn't so much just the foul language, insult, it was really the context of him talking about immigration and not wanting Africans and those people from Nigeria can go back to their hearts or whatever it was. He was reported to have said.
Then there's like I said, the immigration one goes further because they blocked Nigerians from getting Green Cards. They cut student visas for Africans on the basis of people overstaying their visas other people overstaying their visas so they cut the amount of student visas that the Africans, in particular Nigerians can get.
Even just recently think about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the former Nigerian finance minister, trying to run for the President of the World Trade Organization, and the Trump administration is the only holdout the European Union, China, everyone else's spotted her appointment, but not the Trump administration. It's just there's a long list when you actually really look back on it.
Tanzina: There's one other thing. We talked a little bit in the previous segment about what hopes with a Biden administration could be but are there any specific areas that you're expecting the Biden ministration should deal with as they take office, that are pressing top of mind with the conflict in Nigeria, what's happening in Ethiopia or other issues that you think are should be top of mind for Biden-Harris?
Yinka: Yes. All of these are definitely of importance. I think, what's going to be really the big change really in many ways, there's an argument to say, if you really pull back and take a big picture view, the US-Africa policy doesn't change very much, regardless of who's in government, Republicans or Democrats, because there's a long run in US-Africa consensus on Capitol Hill.
In terms of real hardcore policy, things don't change that much. As you can see, from just list I gave you one country, you refer to the Ethiopia comments earlier where Trump said, Egypt could bomb your dam.
It's more a matter of respect to these countries. It has not been there over the last four years. Just having a what you might call a more traditional administration, which actually engages with countries and has actual experts, the thing anyone will tell you in DC is this administration has very few Africa experts and the Biden administration will almost certainly have quite a few.
That just makes quite a huge difference in how you engage with countries because you're not coming in with your completely fixed views. You're speaking to people who've lived in these countries, who've worked in these countries, as diplomats, and they know how to engage, and sure they will always put the US interests first and that's their job, and that's their role but they understand where the pressure points are and how to engage.
That's been the big thing that's been missing, that this administration has-- Sure hasn't changed huge amounts of actual policy, but as suddenly changed lots of attitudes, in terms of engaging governments.
Frankly, you can already see across Africa with different governments, there's more willingness to reverse some of the democratic progress that's been made over the last a couple of decades because there's a feeling well, they're not really pay attention to us, will be my guess.
Tanzina: Yinka Adegoke is the Africa editor for Quartz. Yinka thanks so much.
Yinka: Thank you very much.
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