Factal Forecast

How the burgeoning conflict in Tigray threatens Ethiopia’s stability

November 04, 2021 Episode 29
Factal Forecast
How the burgeoning conflict in Tigray threatens Ethiopia’s stability
Show Notes Transcript

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Sophie Perryer discuss the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region, plus more on the Nicaraguan election, a key meeting of China's Communist Party,  coronavirus vaccines for children in the US and  Russia's plan to start pumping natural gas into European gas storage.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Vivian Wang, Ahmed Namatalla, Jess Fino, Jimmy Lovaas and Sophie Perryer.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com

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Read the full episode description and transcript on Factal's blog.

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.



Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is November 4th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got an election in Nicaragua, a key meeting of China’s Communist Party, US kids getting coronavirus vaccines, Russia's plan to start pumping natural gas into European gas storage and a discussion on the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region. 

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Nicaraguan election

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Nicaragua will be holding general elections Sunday. However, it will be doing so without the participation of the opposition and with international organizations warning about authoritarianism in the country.

President Daniel Ortega is seeking a fifth term after 11 years in power thanks to a 2014 law that allows the same candidate to run for president without term limits. 

A socio-political crisis has developed in the lead-up to the election, with the government censoring critical press and the international community questioning democratic standards in the country. 

At least 39 opposition leaders and activists have been arrested for treason, including seven presidential candidates who sought to challenge Ortega. 

Additionally, three opposition parties and 50 NGOs were banned, and more than 150 people are believed to have been imprisoned arbitrarily.

Now, more than 4 million Nicaraguans are expected to vote Sunday. It will be the first election since 2018’s nationwide protests.

Protests in which more than 300 people were killed due to police brutality, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

Nicaragua’s opposition has called on citizens to boycott the elections, claiming irregularities and unfair conditions. Preliminary results are expected on November 15th.


China’s Communist Party holds sixth plenum

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: The Communist Party of China’s 19th Central Committee will hold a closed-door meeting Monday. It is expected to review ideology and policy and reinforce the authority of President Xi Jinping ahead of next year’s congress.

After last year’s plenary session, China unveiled a new five-year plan outlining social and economic goals, with a focus on economic inequality, environmental issues and technological innovation. 

Since then, the Communist Party of China celebrated its 100th anniversary with nationalist fervor as tensions continue to rise between China and the United States, especially regarding relations with Taiwan.

Now, this sixth plenary session will be an opportunity for President Xi and his supporters to emphasize his achievements before the next party congress in 2022, where President Xi is expected to win an unprecedented third term in power. 

New policy may also arise from the meeting, but news will likely be scarce until the session ends on Thursday.


U.S. expands coronavirus vaccination for kids

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Approximately 28 million children in the US will be eligible for inoculation starting Monday, when the White House says a federal program to vaccinate those ages 5-11 will be “fully up and running.”

Of course, it’s been almost a year since adults started receiving vaccines to combat the coronavirus outbreak, but now the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is expanding to children, who are less likely to suffer from severe illness but are still able to spread the virus. 

The CDC approved inoculating younger children earlier this week, after the FDA determined the drug was effective in boosting immune response and preventing infection at a rate of 91 percent.

Now, the effort will face increasing vaccine hesitancy among parents. Despite clinical trials showing high efficacy, regulatory approval and demonstrated safety, surveys by Kaiser Family Foundation and Axios-Ipsos show up to two-thirds of parents will either wait to inoculate their young kids or avoid vaccines altogether due to uncertainty about side effects. 

Still, more than 190 million Americans have already been fully vaccinated, representing two-thirds of the population and approaching estimated levels of herd immunity needed to halt community transmission of the virus.


Russia will start to fill Europe's gas storage

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Russia is expected to start pumping natural gas into Europe on Monday, amid the ongoing energy crisis in the region.

The wholesale price of gas has jumped 250 percent in Europe since the start of the year, reaching its highest ever price just last month. 

The hike was partly caused by the high demand for natural gas as economies recover, but Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the crisis on Europe, arguing that European countries had not pumped sufficient volumes of gas into their storage facilities. 

He has since offered more gas to Europe if requested, in a move critics say is politically-orientated. 

In the meantime, EU member states have been encouraged to use the EU's €750 billion ($867 billion) coronavirus recovery fund to invest in clean energy.

Now, Ukraine accused Russia of using gas as a “geopolitical weapon” in order to get the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project approved. 

And the head of Ukraine’s largest energy company warned that Europe risks giving in to Russia if Germany approves the pipeline. 

According to the White House, President Joe Biden recently met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and discussed efforts to keep Russia from manipulating natural gas flows for harmful political purposes.

Meanwhile, Putin said such claims were "complete rubbish.”


Tigray conflict

Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the civil war underway in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. For more on that, I recently spoke with Factal Senior Editor Sophie Perryer.

JIMMY:Hi, Sophie.

SOPHIE: Hey, Jimmy.

JIMMY: Alright, Sophie, maybe you can give folks a bit of a crash course in how we got here. I mean, how did we go from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 to fighting a war inside his own country?

SOPHIE: Well, it is certainly quite a turnaround and in just two years as well. Abiy Ahmed did win a Nobel Prize in 2019, particularly for his efforts in resolving a 20-year border dispute with neighboring Eritrea. But while the situation with Eritrea was calming, his own country was still seeing ethnic clashes in multiple locations between multiple groups. What's more, tensions have been simmering in the northern Tigray region since 2018 due to Abiy Ahmed's apparent efforts to weaken the once-dominating political party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, also known as the TPLF. These tensions escalated into a full-blown conflict in early November 2020 when TPLF forces attacked a federal military base in Tigray. They said it was a preemptive strike, claiming government forces were going to attack the region, but PM Abiy Ahmed did subsequently order a military offensive against the Tigrayan government. Over the past year, thousands of people have been killed and millions more have been displaced by the conflict. Reports of human rights abuses are rife and there's really little prospect of a resolution here.

JIMMY: You know, the last couple of weeks have been particularly bad. We've seen reports that the TPLF forces have seized two key towns on the main road there to Addis Ababa, and there's even suggestions that they could threaten the capital itself. And that comes just a few weeks after the Ethiopian government launched airstrikes on the Tigrayan capital of Mekele. And then meanwhile, we've got the prime minister who's declared a national state of emergency and in the process given security forces pretty sweeping powers. Let's see, he gave them the authority to shut down public communication; they can arrest those "reasonably suspected of collaborating with terrorist groups" without a court order; and even the ability to suspend or replace civilian authorities in areas of "insecurity."

SOPHIE: Well, not to mention the prime minister has called on citizens to "play their part" and even urged them to arm themselves, saying "dying for Ethiopia is a duty for all of us."

JIMMY: Yeah, it's concerning, no doubt. How's the international community reacted to all this?

SOPHIE: Well, the US and the UK have both issued travel warnings and the UN Secretary General is said to be "extremely concerned" with the escalating violence.

JIMMY: Well, you know, what do you think folks should be watching for next with all this?

SOPHIE: Well, there's a fair number of moving parts that we should be keeping an eye on here. Firstly, we'll want to watch how Abiy Ahmed uses the state of emergency. On Nov. 3, the UN and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission released a pretty damning report into human rights violations committed during the conflict so far by Ethiopian, Eritrean and Tigrayan forces. These violations include “unlawful killings and extra judicial executions, torture, sexual and gender-based violence violations against refugees and forced displacement of civilians.” So quite the list there. Abiy Ahmed has pledged to set up an inter-ministerial task force to investigate the allegations within the report, but it's not clear what impact this will have on the situation on the ground. So that's the first thing. It'll also be interesting to see how Ethiopia reacts to international pressure. US President Joe Biden has cut the country off from a trade program saying Ethiopia was “in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Other countries or organizations such as the EU or UN could decide to implement similar measures or possibly introduce sanctions. And lastly, we need to keep an eye out for any new violence. If the Ethiopian military renews its efforts to recapture the Tigrayan capital Mikele, the situation could really deteriorate quite fast there. Conversely, if TPLF forces do try to advance toward Addis Ababa, we could see violence and the subsequent humanitarian consequences spreading over the country. And Oromo group recently announced an alliance with the TPLF and said the two forces could storm the capitol in months, if not weeks. If other groups who are dissatisfied with Abiy Ahmed's leadership also team up with the TPLF we could really see a full-scale war on our hands here.

JIMMY: Deeply concerning. Well, I know you'll be keeping an eye out for new developments. Thanks for your time, Sophie. I'm sure we'll catch up on things as they move along.

SOPHIE: Thanks, Jimmy. We're at a key juncture in this conflict so we'll be watching the situation really closely.

JIMMY: Appreciate that. Take care

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Vivian Wang, Ahmed Namatalla and Jess Fino. Our interview featured editor Sophie Perryer and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com


This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

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Music: 'Factal Theme' courtesy of Andrew Gospe