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Ethiopia to Return Land in Bid for Peace with Eritrea

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - 15 hours 15 min ago

A group of Eritrean men, women and children who have just been dropped off dusty and tired at the entry point in the small town of Adinbried, about 50km southeast of Badme, having crossed the border during the preceding night. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
BADME, Ethiopia, Jun 18 2018 (IPS)

The utterly inconsequential-looking Ethiopian border town of Badme is where war broke out in 1998 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, lasting two years and devastating both countries. 

Ever since the the town has remained, in spite of its ramshackle, unassuming appearance, an iconic symbol for both countries, primarily because despite the internationally brokered Algiers Peace Accord that followed the 2000 ceasefire, and led to a ruling that Badme return to Eritrea, Ethiopia defiantly stayed put in the town.“The country [Ethiopia] is undergoing a seismic change—the likes of which it has never seen in such a short time span." --Yves Marie Stranger

Hence Badme festered as a source of rancour during years that turned into decades, with the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments coming to loathe each other, while all along the border the countries remained at loggerheads, each military eyeing the other warily.

But all of a sudden at the start of June, Ethiopia announced its readiness to fully comply and implement the Algiers Peace Accord, one of a number of unprecedented reformist actions this year, and which show no sign of slowing down since the April election of a new prime minister who has pledged to take Ethiopia in a new and more democratic and hopeful direction.

The Ethiopian government also announced it would accept the outcome of a 2002 border commission ruling, which awarded disputed territories collectively known as the Yirga Triangle, at the tip of which sits Bade, to Eritrea.

“Ethiopia’s change of heart towards Eritrea is genuine, and is directly tied to the momentous changes taking place domestically,” Awol Allo, a lecturer in law at Keele University in law and frequent commentator on Ethiopia, wrote in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera. “Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has reconfigured the Ethiopian political landscape and its strategic direction, moving with incredible speed to drive changes aimed at widening the political space and narrowing the social divisions and antagonisms within the country.”

This has included the prime minister linking the political, social and economic transformation in Ethiopia to regional dynamics, especially Eritrea, with which Ethiopia once had particular close economic, cultural and social ties—Eritrea was part of Ethiopia until gaining independence in 1991.

“Every Ethiopian should realise that it is expected of us to be a responsible government that ensures stability in our region, one that takes the initiative to connect the brotherly peoples of both countries and expands trains, buses, and economic ties between Asmara [the Eritrean capital] and Addis Ababa,” Abiy announced.

The rift between Eritrea and Ethiopia has had significant regional fallout. Both countries have engaged in hostile activities against each other, including proxy wars in the likes of neighbouring Somalia, thereby destabilising an already volatile region.

The rugged landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region, stretches away to the north and into Eritrea. Once Eritrea was Ethiopia’s most northern region until gaining independence in 1991. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Meanwhile, Eritrea continued to come off worse against Ethiopia’s stronger regional sway and diplomatic clout, becoming increasingly isolated, and subjected to international sanctions.

As a result, life became increasingly miserable for Eritreans—hence the unending exodus of Eritrean refugees into Ethiopia—as their government used the border war with Ethiopia and the subsequent perceived existential threats and belligerencies against Eritrea as an excuse for the state becoming increasingly repressive and militarised, with its leader Isaias Afewerki tightening his ironclad rule.

But the Eritrean government’s narrative has had the rug pulled out from under it.

“The Eritrean regime seems confused, unprepared and clueless about how it should respond to Ethiopia’s peace offer,” Abraham Zere, executive director of PEN Eritrea, part of a global network of writers in over 100 countries across the globe who campaign to promote literature and defend freedom of expression, wrote in another Al Jazeera opinion piece. “Ethiopia’s call for normalization and peace puts President Afewerki in a very difficult position, as it undermines his current strategy of blaming Ethiopia for his repressive rule.”

So far the response from the Eritrean government has been conspicuous by its absence. Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel when pressed to comment on the issue on Twitter replied elliptically: “Our position is crystal clear and has been so for 16 years.”

Previously, the Eritrean government has consistently demanded full compliance by Ethiopia with the EEBC’s decision and unilateral withdrawal of all troops from the disputed territories before any chance of normalizing relations—a demand that fails to take account of the EEBC’s terms and the  complex situation on the ground.

“The insistence on unilateral withdrawal as a condition for normalising relations is not tenable, not least because Badme was under Ethiopia rule before the EEBC’s ruling and continues to be under the effective control of the Ethiopian government,” Awol says. “The two countries must come together in good faith to hammer out a number of details including the fate of the population there.”

It’s unlikely to be easy. Already in Badme and in other of the disputed territories, both Eritreans and Ethiopians are protesting Abiy’s decision to implement the commission’s arbitrarily drawn border that would divide communities between the two countries.

“We have no issues over reconciling with our Eritrean brothers. But we will not leave Badme,” Teklit Girmay, a local government official, told Reuters. “We do not want peace by giving away this land after all the sacrifice.”

“It took us four days traveling from Asmara,” a 31-year-man said of the trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80km north of the border, holding all the money he has left: 13 Eritrean nakfa (80 cents). “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Furthermore, across Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region that straddles the border, there are reports of increasing anger and protests about the announcement, while the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front regional party that has dominated Ethiopian politics since its founders spearheaded the 1991 revolution that brought the current government to power has issued a veiled warning to Abiy.

“The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front will not take part in any process that harms the interests of the people of Tigray,” it said in a statement, demanding that any withdrawal be linked to additional concessions from Eritrea.

Tigray’s proximity to Eritrea and the previous war means its people are acutely sensitive to the potential ramifications, which is further complicated by how people on both sides of the border share the same language – Tigrinya – as well as Orthodox religion and cultural traditions: a closeness that can also heighten resentment.

“People recognize the shared culture and ethnic background, and that helps for many things, but there’s still distrust because of the 30-year-war [for independence], and mostly due to 1998-2000 border conflict and related mass displacement,” says Milena Belloni, a researcher in the Department of Sociology at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, who is currently writing a book about Eritrean refugees. “There’s a double narrative.”

In 1998 Eritrea invaded Badme before pushing south to occupy the rest of Ethiopia’s Yirga Triangle, claiming it was historically Eritrean land. Ethiopia eventually regained the land but the fighting cost both countries thousands of lives and billions of dollars desperately needed elsewhere in such poor and financially strapped countries.

At the time of the EEBC’s ruling on Badme, the Ethiopian government felt the Ethiopian public wouldn’t tolerate the concession of a now iconic town responsible for so many lost Ethiopian lives—hence it and the rest of the Yirga Triangle remained jutting defiantly into Eritrea, both figuratively and literally.

“Although Badme was a mere pretext to start a conflict fuelled by much deeper political problems, it has since been etched into the imagination of many Ethiopians and Eritreans and has taken on a deeper meaning,” Awol says. “The name Badme condenses within itself a series of fundamental political and economic anxieties and hegemonic aspirations, acting as a byword for brutality, anguish, guilt, shame, fear and pride.”

In addition to potential internal resistance from the Ethiopian government’s TPLF old guard, coupled with potential intransigence from the Asmara regime, the reaction of the international community could also play a significant role.

“The international community, particularly the West, has ignored the dispute for too long,” Awol says. “Now that there is a newfound optimism for peace, the international community must seize the opportunity and act proactively and pre-emptively before local and regional dynamics change.”

Ethiopia is at a potentially exciting crossroads—though nothing is assured, and may well hang in the balance, one that the international community can influence due to Ethiopia’s increasing integration in the global system.

“The country is undergoing a seismic change—the likes of which it has never seen in such a short time span,” says Yves Marie Stranger, editor of “Ethiopia: Through Writers’ Eyes,” and a long-time Ethiophile. “Ethiopia, a land of barter and subsistence farming, a land where very little money changed hands until recently,  now depends on world oil prices,  wheat imports and  the dollar rate—just as much as on the next rainy season. In other words, Ethiopia’s unorthodox economics must now worship in the global church.”

Depending on what happens next, the repercussions for Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the wider Horn of Africa region, could be enormous.

“If Ethiopia does follow through with its stated intention, it’s doubtful that Eritreans would accept any further fear mongering from the Aferwerki administration regarding Addis Ababa’s actions and intentions,” Abraham says. “If Aferwerki attempts to dismiss or undermine this long-awaited gesture from its neighbour, the population may openly turn against the regime.”

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The post Ethiopia to Return Land in Bid for Peace with Eritrea appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Brazil’s Agricultural Heavyweight Status Undermines the Food Supply

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Sat, 06/16/2018 - 02:45

A soybean plantation in Tocantins, a state in central Brazil, where this monoculture crop is beginning to cover the best lands, following in the footsteps of the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, the largest producer and exporter of soy and maize in the country, which "imports" the food it consumes from faraway areas. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 16 2018 (IPS)

Brazil is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers and exporters, but its food supply has become seriously deficient due to food insecurity, unsustainability and poor nutrition, according to a number of studies.

A week-long nationwide strike by truck drivers, that began on May 21, revealed the precariousness of the food supply, which practically collapsed in the large Brazilian cities, at least in terms of perishable goods such as vegetables and eggs, said the National Agroecology Alliance (ANA).

Brazil ranks 28th out of 34 countries in the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by the Italian Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition, together with the British magazine The Economist’s Intelligence Unit."Monoculture agriculture, without interaction with the ecosystems, is based heavily on imports of inputs, including oil; it degrades the environment, causes erosion and deforestation, in contrast to agriculture as it was practiced in the past, which valued soil nutrients." -- Paulo Petersen

In Latin America, Colombia (13), Argentina (18) and Mexico (22) are the best rated, according to this index based on 58 indicators that measure three variables: sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges and food waste.

But the United States, the world’s largest producer of agricultural products, also ranks only 21st in the FSI, reflecting the same discrepancy between agriculture and sustainable food, which is also not directly related to the countries’ per capita income levels.

“The Brazilian food system is unsustainable in environmental, social and economic terms,” said Elisabetta Recine, head of the National Council for Food and Nutritional Security (Consea), an advisory body to the president of Brazil, with two-thirds of its 60 members coming from civil society.

“Production has become increasingly concentrated, as well as trade. This means food has to be transported long distances, driving up costs and increasing the consumption of durable, industrialised and less healthy food in the cities,” Recine, who teaches nutrition at the University of Brasilia, told IPS.

This is well illustrated by the four supermarkets of the Kinfuku chain in the region of Alta Floresta, in the northern part of the state of Mato Grosso, located on the southern border of the Amazon rainforest.

They sell food transported weekly by truck from the southern state of Paraná, more than 2,000 km away, owner Pedro Kinfuku told IPS at one of their stores.

Mato Grosso is the country’s largest producer of maize and soy, monoculture crops destined mainly for export or for the animal feed industry, which monopolise local lands, driving out crops for human food.

This “long cycle of production and consumption” is part of the system whose insecurity was highlighted by the truck drivers’ strike over the space of just a few days, said Recine.

A group of children eat lunch at a school in Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where thanks to the National School Meals Programme (PNAE) the students in public schools eat vegetables and fresh food from local family farms. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

This phenomenon also concentrates wealth, generates little employment and increases social inequality in the country, while environmentally it exacerbates the use of agrochemicals, she said.

Brazil, which had managed to be removed from the United Nations Hunger Map in 2014, has once again seen a rise in malnutrition and infant mortality, in the face of “budget cuts in social programmes, growing unemployment and the general impoverishment of the population,” the nutritionist lamented.

At the same time, “obesity is increasing in all age groups throughout the country, directly related to the poor quality of food and the lack of preventive actions, such as the creation of healthy food environments, with regulations that restrict certain products,” said the president of Consea.

“We have to consider the food system from the soil and the seed to post-consumption, the waste,” she said.

The “structural problem” of the mode of production, the transport, distribution and consumption of food in the world today, particularly in Brazil, is the result of “two disconnects, one between agriculture and nature and the other between production and consumption,” said agronomist Paulo Petersen, vice-president of the Brazilian Association of Agroecology.

Monoculture agriculture, “without interaction with the ecosystems, is based heavily on imports of inputs, including oil; it degrades the environment, causes erosion and deforestation, in contrast to agriculture as it was practiced in the past, which valued soil nutrients,” he said in an interview with IPS.

For Petersen, consumption is increasingly moving away from agricultural production in physical distance, and also because of the processing chain, which is generating waste and “homogenising habits of consumption of ultra-processed foods and excess sugar, sodium, fats and preservatives, leading to obesity and non-communicable diseases.”

A large line of trucks slows down traffic in Anápolis, a logistics hub in central Brazil, at an intersection, where thousands of trucks circulate daily transporting food, industrial products and supplies, in all directions in this enormous country. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

All of this, he said, has to do with climate change, the loss of biodiversity, growing health problems, the concentration of land ownership and the dominant power of agribusiness and large corporations.

“It is necessary to reorganise the food system, to change its logic, and that is the State’s obligation,” said Petersen, also executive coordinator of the non-governmental organisation Advisory Service for Alternative Agriculture Projects (ASPTA)- Family Agriculture and Agroecology, and member of the executive board of the National Agroecology Alliance (ANA) network.

Brazil launched positive actions in the food sector, such as the government’s School Meals Programme, which establishes a minimum of 30 percent of family farming products in the food offered by public schools to its students, thus improving the nutritional quality of their diet.

In addition, family farming was recognised as the source of most of the food consumed in the country, and a low-interest credit programme was created for this sector.

The problem, according to Petersen, is that this financing sometimes foments the same vices of industrial large-scale agriculture, such as monoculture and the use of agrochemicals.

There is a growing awareness of the negative aspects of agribusiness and the need for agro-ecological practices, as well as initiatives scattered throughout the country, but the dominant agricultural sector exercises its power in a way that blocks change, he said.

The bulk of agricultural credit, technical assistance, land concentrated in the hands of a few large landowners, and influence on state power all favour large-scale farmers, who also have the largest parliamentary caucus to pass “their” laws, Petersen said.

A vegetable garden in Santa Maria de Jetibá, of the 220-member Cooperative of Family Farmers of the Serrana Region, the largest supplier of vegetables and fruit to schools in the municipality of Vitoria, in the southeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In Brazil, there are 4.4 million family farms, which make up 84 percent of rural establishments and produce more than half of the food, according to official figures.

But they have little influence in the government in the face of the power of a few dozen large producers.

Food banks are also an example of good, albeit limited, actions to reduce waste and the risks of malnutrition in the most vulnerable segments of the population.

They emerged from isolated initiatives in the 1990s and were adopted as a government programme in 2016, with the creation of the Brazilian Network of Food Banks, under the coordination of the Ministry of Social Development.

In 1994, the Social Trade Service (SESC), made up of companies in the sector, also began to create food banks in its own network, which it named Mesa Brasil (Brazil Board). By the end of 2017, it had 90 units in operation in 547 cities.

That year, the network served 1.46 million people per day and distributed 40,575 tons of food.

It is the largest network of such centres in the country, but it has proven insufficient in a country of 208 million people and 5,570 cities.

Mesa Brasil makes use of food that would no longer be sold by stores, because of commercial regulations, but which is in perfect condition, and delivers it to social institutions.

“It also promotes educational actions for workers and volunteers from social organisations and collaborators from donor companies,” on food and nutritional security, according to Ana Cristina Barros, SESC’s manager of aid at the national level.

“One of our biggest difficulties is the legal obstacles that prevent food companies from making donations, which are increasingly interested in doing so,” she told IPS.

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