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Ethiopia’s Tigrayan locals express “frustration” over PM Abiy’s administration

Since coming to power, PM Abiy has undertaken reforms that the Tigrayans argue has sidelined them

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Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
A picture taken on July 7, 2019, shows a monument in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

In his cramped studio, Ethiopian reggae singer Solomon Yikunoamlak plucks his guitar and reads over his latest ballad, a strident call for unity in his native Tigray during a time of national upheaval.

It is unusual material for an artist who rose to fame singing love songs, but Solomon expects it will resonate with Tigrayan listeners who have witnessed their authority fade under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership.

Since coming to power last year, the 42-year-old leader has loosened controls in long-authoritarian Ethiopia and shaken up decades-old power arrangements, angering some Tigrayans who feel sidelined as other ethnicities jostle for influence.

Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
Ethiopian Tigrayan reggae singer Solomon Yikunoamlak, poses during an interview with AFP on July 7, 2019, in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

“Nowadays, everybody becomes activists, and everybody becomes politicians,” Solomon told reporters, reflecting on the fevered political climate that has taken hold since Abiy assumed office. “This is because of the current problems.”

In Mekele, the regional capital, Tigrayans complain they have been scapegoated by the prime minister, who is an ethnic Oromo, for Ethiopia’s woes in recent years.

Anti-Abiy sentiment in Tigray was spotlighted following the killings last month of five high-ranking government and military officials — violence Abiy says was part of a coup attempt in Amhara state, neighbouring Tigray.

Two of the victims, including the army chief, were from Tigray, and their funerals in Mekele sparked an outpouring of grief, with some mourners denouncing Abiy as a traitor. 

“There is a huge frustration here in Tigray,” said Nebiyu Sehil Mikael, a writer and lecturer at Mekele University. 

“There is a sharp opposition against the federal government.”

‘We are under threat’ –  

Yet, anger with Abiy was a feature of daily life in Mekele before the June unrest.

Tigrayans grumble of a central government hostile to their interests. 

Though they make up just six per cent of Ethiopia’s population of 100 million people, Tigrayans were long seen as wielding outsized authority. 

After toppling the brutal communist Derg regime in 1991, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front transformed from a rebel movement into the strongest political party of the ruling coalition that remains in charge today.

But the TPLF was undermined by several years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power. 

It remains part of the ruling coalition, though it has been weakened further under Abiy.  

Tigrayans have been stripped of top positions and in some cases, jailed on charges of corruption and human rights violations. 

Some of those targeted under Abiy have become Tigrayan heroes.

Clothing vendor Zayid Meles said one of her top sellers these days wears a T-shirt declaring “I am Getachew Assefa” — a reference to the powerful Tigrayan former spy chief who Abiy fired last year.

Despite being the target of an arrest warrant, Getachew remains at large and is believed to be hiding somewhere in the region. 

Zayid said the T-shirt — which includes a rendering of Getachew’s face shielded by a scarf, hat and sunglasses — is a way of signalling to Abiy that Getachew will never face trial. 

Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
Mahari Yonans, social media activist and civil society organiser, a prominent Tigrayan political commentator, speaks during an interview with AFP on July 5, 2019, in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

“All Tigrayans buy it,” she said. “Getachew is a hero.”

Tigrayan fears for their future override other concerns about the TPLF’s shortcomings in promoting democracy and fighting poverty, said Mahari Yohans, a prominent Tigrayan political commentator. 

“The politics of Tigray is the politics of security,” he said. “We are under threat.”

Regional disunity – 

The situation has become so polarised that Tigrayans are increasingly entertaining the idea of secession, said Wondimu Asamnew, a Mekele native and longtime Ethiopian diplomat.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “They have started even to question whether or not they belong to the country.”

Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
Wondimu Asamnew, a Mekele native and longtime Ethiopian diplomat, speaks during an interview with AFP on July 6, 2019, in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

Even if secession is a far-fetched prospect, it’s clear the tensions are colouring everything from Tigrayans’ Facebook posts to how they watch football.

Fans of Mekele’s Ethiopian Premier League club, Mekele 70 Enderta F.C., were dismayed earlier this year when supporters of a rival club tore down a poster of Tigrayan former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during a match in Addis Ababa. 

The teams’ supporters skirmished again at a follow-up match in Mekele, prompting the Ethiopian Football Federation to temporarily suspend the league.

The TPFL has seized the opportunity to turn support for Mekele 70 Enderta F.C. into a regional cause. 

Party officials were on hand Sunday to watch the club win its last match of the season at Mekele Stadium, securing the league championship. 

Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
Mekele football club supporters watch their team during an Ethiopian Premier League match on July 7, 2019, in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

As jubilant fans jammed city squares and set off fireworks late into the night, Twitter posts praised the team for its triumph and for overcoming what one user called a “corrupt” federation that “tried all it could to deny them”.

For some fans in Mekele, though, the politicisation of football was too much. 

“The so-called politicians need to focus on their politics,” said Asmelash Nigus. “It would be better if they don’t involve themselves in football.”

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Conservation News

Endangered rhino species gets a chance at survival with scientific breakthrough

“We are delighted that this partnership gets us one step closer to prevent extinction of the northern white rhinos”

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Endangered rhino species gets a chance at survival with scientific breakthrough
A white rhinoceros and a few months old rhinoceros calf go on the territory of private rhinoceros rearing of J. Hume in South Africa's Northwest Province. There are currently more than 1700 white rhinos living on the farm. Photo: Jürgen Bätz/dpa

Veterinarians have successfully harvested eggs from the last two surviving northern white rhinos, taking them one step closer to bringing the species back from the brink of extinction, scientists said in Kenya on Friday.

Science is the only hope for the northern white rhino after the death last year of the last male, named Sudan, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya where the groundbreaking procedure was carried out Thursday.

Two females, Najin, 30, and daughter Fatu, 19, are the only survivors of the subspecies of white rhino, and live under 24-hour armed guard at Ol Pejeta.

However, neither is able to carry a calf. Fatu has degenerative lesions in her uterus and Najin has weak hind legs which could cause complications if she fell pregnant.

But an international consortium of scientists and conservationists has been working on a project costing several million dollars to save the northern white rhino using pioneering artificial reproduction techniques that have taken years of research and development.

Technique developed from scratch –

Endangered rhino species gets a chance at survival with scientific breakthrough
A white rhinoceros and a few months old rhinoceros calf go on the territory of private rhinoceros rearing of J. Hume in South Africa’s Northwest Province. There are currently more than 1700 white rhinos living on the farm. Photo: Jürgen Bätz/dpa

“We were able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes — five from Najin and five from Fatu — showing that both females can still provide eggs and thus help to save these magnificent creatures,” said Professor Thomas Hildebrandt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo & Wildlife Research (IZW) in Germany who helped carry out the procedure.

READ: Africa’s rare giraffes face ‘silent extinction’ threats

“Both the technique and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch,” he said.

The eggs — which cannot be frozen — were immediately flown to a laboratory in Italy to be fertilised with cryogenically frozen sperm, of which there are samples from four deceased males.

The resulting embryos will then be frozen until they can be transferred into a surrogate mother from the southern white rhino subspecies. The first such rhino embryos using in-vitro techniques were created last year.

The team working on the project also includes Italian biotech laboratory Avantea, Czech zoo Dvur Kralove and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

“We are delighted that this partnership gets us one step closer to prevent extinction of the northern white rhinos. This is particularly touching, given the heartbreaking death of Sudan, the last male, who died of old age last year in Kenya,” said John Waweru, KWS director-general. 

Sudan gained worldwide fame in 2017 after he was featured on the popular dating app Tinder in an effort to raise money for the IVF procedure. 

Wiped out by poaching –

There are five rhino species remaining on earth of which black and white rhinos are found in Africa. The northern white rhino is generally considered a subspecies of white rhino although some scientists believe it to be a sixth species.

Rhinos have few predators in the wild due to their size.

Endangered rhino species gets a chance at survival with scientific breakthrough
A caregiver calming Sudan, the last known male of the Northern White Rhinoceros subspecies, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia County, at the foot of Mount Kenya. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP)

However, demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine and dagger handles in Yemen fuelled a poaching crisis in the 1970s and 1980s that largely wiped out the northern white rhino population in Uganda, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Chad.

READ: Poo Power: How dung biodigester is supercharging farming in Kenya

By 2008, the northern white rhino was considered extinct in the wild.

Modern rhinos have plodded the earth for 26 million years. As recently as the mid-19th century there were more than one million in Africa. The western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011.

Obstacles to success –

If the IVF is successful, scientists say there may be several births of northern white rhino calves, but the approach has its limits.

Eggs can only be collected from the females three times a year, and a lack of genetic diversity could hamper the survival of the species.

However, the consortium of international scientists known as BioRescue is also trying to create artificial sex cells known as gametes via stem cell transformation from the frozen tissue of other, unrelated northern white rhinos, to diversify the gene pool.

According to the team working on the project, the aim is to re-introduce the rhino into secure habitats within the areas they used to roam. This could take up to 70 years.

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East Africa News

Ugandan police confirm the death of 19 people in fuel truck blast

The blast occurred Sunday evening in the Kyambura trading centre, a mountainous area near the Queen Elizabeth National Park

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Ugandan police confirm the death of 19 people in fuel truck blast

Nineteen people died when a fuel truck barrelled into other vehicles in a busy town in western Uganda and exploded, police said Monday.

The blast occurred Sunday evening in the Kyambura trading centre, a mountainous area near the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

“Ten people died instantly when the fuel truck lost control and hit three other vehicles, leading to multiple explosions that also burned 25 small shops,” said regional police spokesman Martial Tumusiime.

“Of the people that were rushed to the hospital, nine of them have also died as a result of wounds,” he added. 

In 2002, 70 people were killed when an oil truck rammed into a bus in Rutoto, less than 50 kilometres from Kyambura.

And in 2013, 33 people died in an explosion after a fuel truck overturned — many having rushed to the scene to siphon fuel.

The accident in Uganda came eight days after a fuel truck exploded in Tanzania. The fireball engulfed a crowd thronging to collect petrol from the wrecked vehicle, leaving 95 dead.

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East Africa News

President pardons 4 jailed opponents in Comoros

The four were jailed for life for attempting a coup and threatening state security but had their terms reduced to 20 years in May

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Comoros President Azali Assoumani pardons 4 political opponents

Comoros President Azali Assoumani has pardoned four opposition figures jailed for life for an attempted coup in the Indian Ocean islands. In a decree issued Saturday, writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui, lawyer Bahassane Ahmed Said, Mohamed Ali Abdallah and El-Had Ibrahim Halifa were “pardoned from all of their remaining sentences”.

The four were jailed for life for attempting a coup and threatening state security but had their terms reduced to 20 years in May when 17 other jailed opponents were pardoned. The charges were linked to unrest that followed a controversial constitutional referendum to extend the president’s term last year. 

Pay Attention: Comoros awaits results of divisive poll

Bahassane is the younger brother of Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, a former vice-president to Azali now living in exile in Tanzania after denouncing the president’s authoritarianism. The pardons follow Azali’s re-election in March, in which he pledged “appeasement measures” to quell accusations of voter fraud.

He was credited with nearly 60 per cent of the ballot, an outcome rejected as fraudulent by the opposition. Comoros has had a volatile political history since independence in 1975, enduring more than 20 attempted coups, four of which were successful.

Pay Attention: Comoros oil boom dream hinges on seismic survey

Azali initially came to power in a coup, then ruled between 1999 and 2006. He was re-elected in 2016 in a vote marred by violence and allegations of irregularities.

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