Parliamentary elections in Ethiopia
Amid rising tensions and ongoing conflict in the northern Tigray region, Ethiopia held parliamentary elections last Monday. The first parliamentary elections since 2015, which were also set to be the country’s first ever free and fair elections, were originally scheduled for August 2020, but were postponed twice due to the Corona pandemic and armed conflict. A total of 38 million voters were registered to go to the polls, but in 100 out of 547 constituencies – including the whole of Tigray – voting could not take place due to the volatile security situation. In the areas where voting took place, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) reported long voting queues, with some polling stations staying open three hours longer than scheduled. For incumbent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, it is the first time he has faced an election since taking office in April 2018. There are many indications that his unity party, the Prosperity Party, will win the election. The opposition is considered fragmented as it is mainly made up of regional parties. Some opposition parties have also complained that their representatives faced immense reprisals from the government in the run-up to the elections. This is why the two most important parties in the central region of Oromia, the Oromo Federalist Congress and the Oromo Liberation Front, boycotted the elections from the outset. On election day itself, the NEBE also criticised that opposition election observers had been prevented from entering polling stations. The head of the African Union (AU) Election Observation Mission and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, however, reported that the elections were conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner and met democratic criteria. The result is expected within the next few days. The challenges of the multi-ethnic state in the Horn of Africa are immense. While Prime Minister Abiy was still awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for the peace agreement with Eritrea and his zeal for reform, his attempt to reduce ethnic tensions in the country and establish national unity has failed so far. Most recently, Abiy has come under heavy international criticism because of the war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been going on since last autumn. Millions of people have already been forced to flee as a result of the civil war. On Tuesday, the latest airstrike on a market in the conflict region, which is believed to have killed at least 64 civilians, drew sharp international criticism.
Second Berlin Libya Conference
This Wednesday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hosted the second Berlin Libya Conference in Berlin. Among the participants of the conference, that took place at the level of foreign ministers,, were representatives of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the Arab League, as well as representatives of other African and Arab states, China, France, Russia and Turkey. The Libyan Unity Government (GNU), founded at the beginning of the year, was represented at the negotiating table by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeiba and Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was the first high-ranking US representative to take part in the so-called Berlin Process. The conference focused on the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries as agreed in the ceasefire agreement of October 2020 and the holding of Libyan presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of this year. These two central points in particular require readjustment: according to current UN estimates, around 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries are still in the country despite the agreed withdrawal, and preparations for the national elections planned for 24 December are also proceeding only slowly. In his speech, Prime Minister Dbeiba called on the Libyan parliament to create the necessary institutional and constitutional foundations for the successful holding of democratic elections. At the request of those present, the UN body Libyan Political Dialogue Forum should provide support in this regard. According to Maas, the withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries should take place with the help of a phased plan in order to prevent a possible imbalance of power – however, the exact details and timetable as to when this should happen remained open. The parties also called for compliance with UN sanctions, in particular the UN arms embargo, and the ceasefire that has been in place since October. UN Secretary-General Guterres also announced the deployment of a UN observer mission to Tripoli to monitor compliance with the ceasefire. Critical voices assess the outcome of the second Libya conference as too vague a commitment to the promises of the first Berlin Libya conference and are sceptical about the actual withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries. It also remains to be seen whether the constitutional preconditions for free and fair elections can be established in time and whether the political and social divisions in the country can be overcome.
In other news
In Cameroon, a new programme went on air last Sunday on national state radio and other media. It was launched in Yaoundé by young people who came to the country as refugees from various African countries such as Chad and the Central African Republic and now report on their lives in Cameroon to draw attention to grievances in their respective communities. The programme is the first of its kind, with more episodes to follow. It is the first part of a project supported by a small financial grant from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR). The second part will be followed by a training in journalism and communication through the International Council of French-language Radio and Television Broadcasters (CIRTEF). In the long term, the participants hope to be able to set up a radio station themselves, whose programme focuses exclusively on the lives of refugees in Cameroon, in order to further sensitise the public to the issue.