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As Ethiopian War Drags On, WHO Chief Gets Pulled In

U.S. attempts at mediation have so far been rebuffed by both sides.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva on July 3, 2020.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference at WHO headquarters in Geneva on July 3, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ethiopia’s government seeks to tarnish the image of the WHO chief, U.S. President Donald Trump to address APEC Summit, and protests in Uganda leave 16 dead.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ethiopia’s government seeks to tarnish the image of the WHO chief, U.S. President Donald Trump to address APEC Summit, and protests in Uganda leave 16 dead.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

As Ethiopia War Continues, Regional Dangers Grow

U.S. President Donald Trump is not the only leader taking shots at World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Tedros’s name has now been dragged into debates surrounding the Ethiopian civil war, while U.S. leaders have begun to speak out on the conflict.

Berhanu Jula, the Ethiopian army chief of staff, has accused Tedros of trying to supply the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) with weapons and called for his resignation from the global health body. Berhanu did not provide evidence to support his allegations and suggested Tedros’s Tigrayan ethnicity was testing his allegiance. “This man is a member of that group, and he has been doing everything to support them,” Berhanu said.

Tedros, who once served as Ethiopia’s health and foreign minister under a coalition led by the TPLF, has rubbished the claims. “There have been reports suggesting I am taking sides in this situation,” he said on Thursday. “This is not true, and I want to say that I am on only one side, and that is the side of peace.”

Although Berhanu’s comments could easily be meant as deflection from a war that Ethiopian officials have repeatedly claimed would be over quickly, the incident highlights the perilous position in which Tigrayans now find themselves in Ethiopian society, where members of the once-dominant minority group have reported being questioned and threatened. Asked by FP’s Robbie Gramer whether the United States was seeing signs of ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia, Tibor Nagy, the top U.S. diplomat for African affairs, said that while he has yet to see such actions, “the ethnic dimension is one that everybody is very concerned about.”

Is Ethiopia the next Yugoslavia? Earlier this week, Florian Bieber and Wondemagegn Tadesse Goshu warned in FP that the current situation, if left unchecked, could deteriorate into a Yugoslav-style breakup. “Once violence becomes a means to address disputes, it is hard to stop, and demands for autonomy quickly escalate toward claims for independence,” they argued, noting that “serious violations, including ethnically motivated killings and displacement, are going unchecked and unpunished” across the country.

No peace in sight. Addressing reporters, U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael A. Raynor confirmed that while he had spoken with both Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael, neither man was considering peace. “There was a strong commitment on both sides to see the military conflict through.” Raynor said. “And in fact, neither side felt they could articulate a basis for a negotiated or a mediated solution at that time.”

Advice for Biden. While Biden’s top foreign policy advisor Antony Blinken has begun to speak out on the conflict, Alex de Waal has some concrete advice for his incoming team: “Head off military operations before they escalate and spread.” Writing in Foreign Policy, de Waal argues that Biden must pressure both sides to stop the fighting, “or else Biden’s term will open with an insoluble quagmire in the Horn of Africa that will drag down his administration’s foreign policy and quite possibly destroy Ethiopia.”

It’s the economy, stupid. Although many observers think the current conflict started due to Tigray’s intransigence—holding a regional election against Addis Ababa’s wishes—the real reason for the fighting is the old TPLF regime’s desire to regain full control of Ethiopia’s economy, argues Kassahun Melesse in FP.

“What’s at the heart of the ongoing conflict are Abiy’s economic and political reforms and the unrelenting pace at which they were unveiled,” Melesse writes. “This is not a conflict over who gets to rule Tigray, a small region whose population accounts for a mere 6 percent of Ethiopia’s more than 110 million people. It is a fight over who gets to dominate the commanding heights of the country’s economy, a prize that Tigray’s regional leaders once held and are determined to recapture at any cost.”

Melesse ends with a warning. “The risk now is that the TPLF’s persistent and increasingly audacious actions could make Abiy’s peaceful reforms impossible and thereby make a violent transition inevitable.”

What We’re Following Today

Trump at APEC. U.S. President Donald Trump will today make his first public appearance at an international gathering since his loss to President-elect Joe Biden as he addresses the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, hosted virtually by Malaysia. It will be just the second time Trump has attended the event since becoming president. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivered speeches earlier in the week.

Uganda clashes. At least 16 people have been killed in Uganda following two days of protests sparked by the detention of opposition presidential candidate Bobi Wine on Wednesday. Wine was arrested while campaigning in eastern Uganda after police charged him with violating coronavirus restrictions by holding mass rallies. At least 65 people have been wounded and a further 350 have been arrested in clashes with authorities, according to Uganda’s police. This is Wine’s second arrest in less than three weeks as he campaigns to unseat President Yoweri Museveni in January elections.

COVID-19 strikes Brexit talks. Slow-moving Brexit talks were delivered another blow on Thursday when a member of the European Union negotiating team tested positive for COVID-19, leading the two sides to suspend in-person talks and continue them virtually instead. Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, said that the teams “will continue their work in full respect of guidelines.”

Keep an Eye On

Joint resolution. Mexico could soon become the biggest legal market for marijuana if a bill to legalize and regulate the drug passes its lower house. Mexico’s Senate already passed the measure with an overwhelming 82 to 18 vote on Thursday. Legalization would bring it in line with states along the U.S.-Mexico border who have either embraced full legalization or allow its use for medical purposes. The Mexican bill’s text says the new law would “contribute to the reduction of crime linked to drug trafficking.” If the bill becomes law, it would represent a win in the international battle to legalize the drug, after New Zealand voters rejected a legalization measure in October.

Tax dodging. A new study has found that tax avoidance and tax evasion amount to $427 billion in lost revenue for governments around the world. The report—from the Tax Justice Network, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, and Public Services International—found that the United States lost the most from tax cheats—$90 billion annually. Relying on new data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the authors showed that the use of tax havens by corporations shielded them from taxes on $1.38 trillion in profits. Wealthy individuals’ use of tax havens amounted to a loss of $182 billion in potential government revenue.

Burkina Faso elections. Burkina Faso holds presidential and legislative elections on Sunday, as the country’s deteriorating security situation under the threat of jihadist violence threatens turnout. President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, is the favorite to win on Sunday, and would secure a second five-year term in the process. His main opposition comes from Zéphirin Diabré, a former finance minister who lost to Kaboré in the 2015 election. The U.S. State Department has warned that terrorist groups “may attempt to conduct attacks on or around election day.”

Odds and Ends

The Vatican has appealed to Instagram for answers after the account belonging to Pope Francis appeared to click “like” on a racy picture posted by Brazilian model Natalia Garibotto. “We can exclude that the ‘like’ came from the Holy See, and it has turned to Instagram for explanations,” a Vatican spokesperson told the Guardian.

Divine intervention has been ruled out in the case of the mysterious like; the Pope is, however, known to have a social media team that assists in his earthly outreach efforts. Garibotto herself has seen the lighter side of the mini-scandal. “At least I’m going to heaven,” she said.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn