29 May

Ethiopia’s 27th National Day: U.S. restates support for PM Abiy’s govt

On the occasion of Ethiopia’s National Day, the United States has restated its support for the current government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.

Washington said it was committed to helping Addis Ababa in the area of sustainable development, democracy, human rights, peace and good governance.

In a statement released by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Department of State stressed that Premier Abiy had their unalloyed support in his bid to ring governance changes promised by the ruling coalition.

Full text of U.S. Department of State press statement:

On behalf of President Trump and the people of the United States, I send my best wishes to all Ethiopians as they celebrate their National Day on May 28.

The United States and Ethiopia share a long and deep friendship based on our commitment to sustainable development, democracy, human rights, peace, and good governance, as well as on our important and influential population of Ethiopian-Americans, who contribute so much to our own country.

Congratulations to your new Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, who has our full support in his determination to bring greater political openness to Ethiopia and to continue the great economic gains made in recent years. I offer best wishes for a joyous and safe holiday, and I reaffirm the commitment of the United States to our enduring friendship.

Abiy’s Premiership and task of political reforms

Abiy was sworn into office on April 2 this year, taking over from Hailemariam Desalegn who resigned to allow political reforms to be undertaken after close to three years of deadly anti-government protests across the Oromia and Amhara regional states.

The ruling Ethiopia Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) announced reforms in January 2018. The coalition said the reforms were to help foster national unity and open up the democratic space.

Hundreds of people – including top opposition chiefs and journalists – have been released after the government dropped charges against them. Abiy is tasked with continuing with reforms as the country heads to its next polls in 2020.

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07 Mar

Tillerson Heads to Africa With Security, Not Aid, as U.S. Focus

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson begins his first official trip to sub-Saharan Africa with a pledge to help shore up trade, civic freedom and good governance in countries that President Donald Trump has harshly criticized.

U.S. budgetary priorities tell a different story. Tillerson heads to the continent with the Trump administration advocating cuts of more than a third in aid to African countries and programs, along with deep reductions to global health initiatives.

With several U.S. allies struggling to rein in Islamist extremist groups, and China increasingly making inroads on the continent, the U.S. security relationship will be the focus.

While the top U.S. diplomat has a broad itinerary on his five-nation trip, Africa experts say Tillerson’s planned stops in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria underscore the emphasis on security — and away from the traditional U.S. role as advocate and partner for good governance and development.

“The common thread among them all is a security partnership,” said Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The substance of what he conveys may be more diverse, but given the signals coming out of the White House and administration to date, I imagine that security is top of the order, along with cementing relationships with partners that the U.S. considers important security players.”

While Tillerson announced $533 million in new aid to fight famine and food insecurity on the continent in a speech Tuesday before his departure, State Department officials have downplayed the possibility of big announcements or new initiatives during the trip.

Adding to a sense of drift, U.S. exports to Africa in 2017 hit their lowest since 2006, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, while senior State Department posts for the continent remain unstaffed.

 

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12 Jan

Trump Calls Haiti, African Nations ‘Shithole’ Countries

President Donald Trump questioned senators in an Oval Office meeting Thursday on why the U.S. accepts immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations rather than places like Norway, according to three people briefed on the conversation.

The White House didn’t dispute the quotations. Asked about the account, White House spokesman Raj Shah said “certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.”

Trump made the comments in a meeting with lawmakers who suggested restoring protections for people from those countries as part of a broader bipartisan agreement on immigration issues, the three people said. The Washington Post first reported Trump’s remarks.

Shah went on to list the White House’s demands for an agreement that would protect undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children and stressed that the president favors merit-based immigration.

The president made the comments on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, killing as many as 300,000 people. On Thursday, Haitian President Jovenel Moise demanded a meeting with the top American diplomat in the country, Charge d’Affaires Robin Diallo, according to State Department officials. Moise was expected to lodge a formal protest. Michele Sison has been confirmed as the new U.S. ambassador, but has not yet arrived.

The officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a diplomatic matter, are concerned that the episode may provoke protests in Haiti because commemorations have been planned to mark the anniversary.

In the U.S., strong criticism followed initial reports of the Oval Office episode, with most though not all of it coming from Democrats.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who wasn’t in the meeting, in a tweet called the president’s remarks, “Breathtakingly offensive. Worse, it’s ignorant of American ideals.”

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22 Dec

U.S. Sanctions Israeli Billionaire Gertler Over Congo Deals

The U.S. sanctioned Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, one of the biggest individual mining investors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in what it calls a clampdown on human-rights abusers and corrupt actors.

 The U.S. Treasury said Gertler has used his close relationship with the country’s president, Joseph Kabila, to amass a fortune through corrupt and opaque deals. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, Congo reportedly lost over $1.36 billion in revenues from the underpricing of mining assets that were sold to offshore companies linked to Gertler, it said.
“Gertler has used his close friendship with DRC President Joseph Kabila to act as a middleman for mining asset sales in the DRC, requiring some multinational companies to go through Gertler to do business with the Congolese state,” the U.S. Treasury said in a statement.

Under the sanctions, any assets held by Gertler within U.S. jurisdictions will be blocked and U.S. individuals are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

Read more: U.S. sanctions 13 in global human rights abuse crackdown

The U.S. “is taking a strong stand against human rights abuse and corruption globally by shutting these bad actors out of the U.S. financial system,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement. “Treasury is freezing their assets and publicly denouncing the egregious acts they’ve committed, sending a message that there is a steep price to pay for their misdeeds.”

Gertler’s representatives at his office in Ramat Gan, Israel, and a public relations firm in London, said they could not immediately respond to the U.S. action. Glencore complies with all applicable sanctions, a spokesman for Glencore said by phone.

Diamond Dealer

Gertler, whose grandfather co-founded Israel’s diamond exchange 70 years ago, arrived in Congo in 1997. The then 23-year-old soon secured a monopoly on the country’s diamond sales from Laurent Kabila, the then-president and father of Congo’s current leader, whose rebellion had just overthrown the three-decade-long regime of Mobutu Sese Seko.

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13 Dec

Fatal Congo Attack Adds to U.S. Pressure on UN Peacekeeping Boss

A day after 15 United Nations troops were killed by militants in eastern Congo, the organization’s chief of peacekeeping operations described the deadliest assault on UN forces in a quarter-century as retaliation for the mission’s aggressive approach.

The attack came because of the “increasingly robust posture” the UN’s “blue helmets” maintain in the troubled country, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, a former French diplomat who’s the UN’s undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations, told reporters. “We are disturbing them,” he said of the armed groups suspected of being behind the Dec. 7 assault. “They do not like it.”

The battles peacekeepers face in the field come on top of the political and budgetary pressures Lacroix has to manage from the U.S., the UN’s biggest donor nation, as President Donald Trump’s administration continues pressing the global body to rein in costs and end ineffective missions.

After taking office in January, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley led an effort to trim about $600 million from the UN’s $7.3 billion peacekeeping budget for the fiscal year ending in June 2018. The U.S. — which pays 28.5 percent of the peacekeeping budget — had initially demanded $1 billion in savings, citing the high cost of the operations and deployments that were too long. Repeated allegations of sexual abuse by UN forces against civilians further damaged the reputation of the peacekeepers.

‘Be Prudent’

“We have to be extremely thoughtful in how we allocate our resources,” Lacroix said in an interview in his office on the 35th floor of the UN’s headquarters in New York. “There is an expectation that we be prudent and use our resources in the most cost-effective way we can.”

Lacroix, who assumed his post in April, is the fifth consecutive French head of the peacekeeping department. In that role he oversees 106,000 blue-helmeted troops across 15 missions. The peacekeeping effort in Congo is the largest and most expensive, encompassing more than 18,000 troops and about 3000 civilians, with a budget of $1.1 billion.

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06 Apr

Things are not looking great for US – Africa relations under Trump

With US president Donald Trump closing in on his first 100 days in office there are early indications of what shape his Africa policy might take. They are not encouraging.

Since being sworn in the President has had the US’s overseas development activities in its sights. In February Mr Trump announced he was seeking a 37% cut to State Department and USAID budgets, threatening critical funding for international aid agencies.

Other initiatives to be targeted include the repealing of a measure to force oil and mining companies to publish payments to foreign governments and scaling back efforts to curb the conflict minerals trade.

The brunt of all this will be felt in Africa, which remains a major aid recipient. The administration’s pursuit of these changes at a time the UN is warning of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945, and famine looming in Somalia, South Sudan, and parts of Nigeria, only reinforces the impression that Africa is not a priority.

The current mood is perhaps best captured by the news that a planned Africa trade conference at the University of Southern California recently had to be cancelled as none of the participants from the continent were granted visas.

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