Though Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki claimed on February 11 that the Eritrean military’s takeover of the information ministry was nothing to worry about, very few people in the region believed him. On January 21, a force of 200 to 300 Eritrean soldiers, backed up by armored vehicles, surrounded the information ministry headquarters in Asmara. The soldiers told the director general of Eritrean state television to broadcast a demand that all political prisoners be freed. The broadcast was made, and then the state television went off the air for the rest of the day. One source claimed that the broadcast statement included a demand that the 1997 constitution be implemented. Exiled Eritrean opposition groups (most of them have a presence in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa) have been claiming for several years that discontent in the Eritrean military was growing and that there are increasing demands within the military for economic and political reform. Since the January 21 incident in Asmara, the exile groups have said the information ministry incident proved their claim beyond doubt. Initially, several exile groups called the incident a mutiny and the first stage of a revolt against Isaias and his regime. The soldiers, however, returned to their barracks. Their leaders did not call for the removal of Isaias. One source reported that the dissident soldiers were enlisted personnel led by mid-level officers. No senior officers were overtly involved, though since the incident there are reports that a handful of generals have told Isaias that Eritrea’s economic situation is a disaster and that reform is necessary. One unsubstantiated report claimed that Isaias was told this by several senior officers in 2012. If it is true that Isaias is being confronted by senior officers who favor reforms, then the ministry of information action could be seen as a big time message to the regime, sent by some very powerful military reformers. So far no one has reported a release of political prisoners but then there have been no reports of mass executions of the mutineers. Eritrea has a lot of political prisoners, though no one is precisely sure how many. Estimates on the number of political prisoners jailed by the Isaias regime vary greatly, from 5,000 to over 12,000. Compared to the millions Stalin and Mao jailed, even 12,000 prisoners is small pickings. Eritrea, however, only has a population of 5.7 million people. Ethiopia has a population of some 85 million. Yet Eritrea manages to keep approximately 300,000 soldiers on duty. The figure may be higher, up to 350,000, but the higher figures probably include some of the better armed citizen militia units. Even the lower estimates tell a harsh story about Eritrea’s political, social, and dismal economic situation. Somewhere between five to six percent of the entire population is in the military. But this wrinkle on the demographic numbers is the truly telling statistic: at least 12 percent of the country’s labor force is in the military. During the Ethiopia-Eritrea War, Eritrea was often described as a fully mobilized state. Indeed it was. To fight Ethiopia to a draw demanded it. Today, however, Eritrea is a truly militarized state, meaning it is a perpetually mobilized state, so much so that it is fair to argue that the military is the only constituency in the country that matters. That’s why the January 21 incident is significant, no matter what the president says or at least hopes people will believe. A military unit had the courage and wherewithal to publicly demand reform and it made the demand on live television. Gil Scott-Heron was wrong again. The revolution was televised. (Austin Bay)
February 18, 2013: The Kenyan military (Kenyan Defense Forces, KDF) has been in control of Somali port of Kismayo for six months. More journalists have been visiting Kismayo, with the apparent encouragement of the Somali government and the KDF. The media reports tend to support the KDF claims that the city is much more secure than it was six months ago. Residents report a drop in violent incidents (especially in hand grenade attacks). Al Shabaab controlled the town for five years and it was the Islamist organizations main contact point with weapons supply sources. The African Union peacekeeping operation in Somalia, AMISOM, continues to battle Al Shabaab militants in the Juba area (southern Somalia, the region around Kismayo).
February 17, 2013: The Ethiopian military has confirmed that it is testing an unmanned aerial vehicle made in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has several defense industrial companies that can overhaul different weapons systems. These companies have done some weapons manufacturing as well. The unmanned aerial vehicle does represent a step-up in local procurement. The UAV can carry cameras and other sensor systems. It has an on-board global positioning system (GPS) device. Media reported that the military intends to use it for border surveillance.
February 16, 2013: A bomb blast near an elementary school in the town of Garissa (northeastern Kenya) killed one man. Police speculated the dead man was the terrorist bomber. The man was probably putting the bomb together when it exploded. His likely target was the school. Investigators also found two pistols near the blast site.
Ethiopia and Britain agreed to use their political influence to improve stability in the Horn of Africa region. Ethiopian and British diplomats have been taking the lead in efforts to decrease tensions between Sudan and South Sudan.
February 15, 2013: Kenya’s High Court ruled that deputy prime minister Uhuru Kenyatta can run for president in the upcoming March national elections. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has charged Kenyatta with crimes against humanity. Kenyatta’s alleged crimes were committed in the violent aftermath of the 2007 elections. Over 1,000 people died in post-election inter-ethnic violence and 300,000 people were displaced.
Kenyan government officials refused to negotiate with Al Shabaab Somali terrorists, who now claim that they have executed a Kenyan soldier. Al Shabaab had demanded the release of several militants who are in jail in Kenya. The Kenyan military reported that the soldier was kidnapped and was not captured in military operations in Somalia.
February 13, 2013: The Kenyan military reported that it has put a special troop unit of soldiers on stand-by alert. The unit will assist civilian police and security agencies should violence erupt during the March elections. Kenyan civilian security forces have already pinpointed areas that have had violent outbursts in the past. Several of these had violent incidents during recent political party primary elections.
February 12, 2013: Ethiopia provides the bulk of forces for the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). Control of Abyei is the biggest political dispute between South Sudan and Sudan. Ethiopia has 3,600 soldiers deployed in Abyei (3,700 according to one source). Abye was originally what the UN calls a single troop contributing country mission. However, several nations now provide observers. In January the UN reported that UNISFA now has 3,979 uniformed personnel. The breakdown was 131 military observers, five police officers, and 3,843 soldiers.
February 11, 2013: Ethiopia claimed that the February 9 shooting of Somaliland police officers by Ethiopian border guards was an accident. The shooting incident occurred at the Wajale border crossing. Ethiopian border guards fired on a vehicle that had entered Ethiopian territory. The vehicle turned out to be a Somaliland police vehicle. Two Somaliland police officers were severely wounded. The Somaliland police officers were pursuing a smuggler’s vehicle. Ethiopian border guards thought the Somaliland police vehicle was a smuggler’s vehicle.
February 7, 2013: Suspected Al Shabaab gunmen killed one person and wounded several more in an attack in the town of Garissa (northeastern Kenya). The gunmen fired on a vehicle that was traveling through the town. Police said the gunmen selected the target at random.
February 6, 2013: The UN reported that a NATO naval patrol had stopped a ship carrying weapons to Eritrea. The weapons shipment violated UN arms sanctions. The NATO naval force seized 15 tons of weaponry and ammunition that were shipped by North Korea. The shipment included rockets and surface to air missiles. The ship had apparently sailed through Singapore and had tried to change its cargo manifest to reflect Singapore as the point of origin.
The government of Djibouti reported that Japan will donate two patrol boats to the Djibouti coast guard. The boats are capable of operations in the Red Sea. The boats will be used on counter-smuggling operations and to stop illegal immigration into Djibouti.
February 5, 2013: The Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), an Eritrean umbrella organization representing 11 Eritrean political opposition groups, accused the Eritrean government of kidnapping Eritrean refugees who had left Eritrea and were in refugee camps in Sudan. The EDA claimed that Eritrean refugees are also preyed upon by criminal gangs who kidnap them and sell them as slaves.
February 4, 2013: A Kenyan policeman was murdered in the city of Garissa (northeastern Kenya). Al Shabaab terrorists are the main suspects. Seven people were killed in the village of Loyamorok, three of them police officers. A group of some 300 armed bandits attacked Loyamorok and stole several hundred goats. Police reported the bandits were armed with AK-47 assault rifles.
February 2, 2013: Kenyan authorities reported that a bomb blast in Wajir district killed a Kenyan Army soldier. Three people were injured by the blast.
February 1, 2013: A senior Kenyan Defense Forces official reported that Kenyan Air Force jets bombed an Al Shabaab supply base in Somalia’s Garbaharey area. The air strike destroyed three ammunition trucks and two armed vehicles (technical vehicles).
January 31, 2013: Three Kenyan police officers were seriously wounded in a hand grenade attack in the Ifo 2 refugee camp (Dadaab, Kenya).
The UN’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs urged all Kenyans to make certain that the March national elections are peaceful and fair. The UN wants Kenya to avoid a repeat of the 2008 election violence.
January 28, 2013: The U.S. State Department reported that since 1997, ACOTA (African Contingency Operations and Training Assistance program) has provided training and non-lethal equipment to 254,228 peacekeepers from African partner militaries in 257 contingent units. That means ACOTA has trained a substantial portion of the peacekeepers provided by African nations. So far 25 African nations (Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia) have participated in the program. ACOTA began in 1997, and gives African peacekeeping troops special field training for peacekeeping operations. It also provides staff training and exercises for battalion and brigade-sized units and for personnel serving in international (or multinational) force headquarters units. ACOTA predates the establishment of AFRICOM.
January 25, 2013: East African diplomats are calling attention to the extensive reports of attacks on Kenyan police and security forces inside Kenya by Al Shabaab Islamist terrorists and “affiliated organizations.” The attacks include bomb blasts, grenade attacks, and small arms shootings (at individuals, vehicles, and buildings). Al Shabaab typically portrays the attacks as revenge for Kenyan military participation in Somalia.
January 24, 2013: Egyptian diplomats are once again telling Ethiopia that Egypt wants a peaceful resolution to any disputes over Nile River water rights. Ethiopian diplomats had reported several comments by Egyptian officials in late 2012, that indicated some members of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian government were contemplating a military response to what they regarded as a threat to Egypt’s water rights.
January 21, 2013: A unit of Eritrean soldiers took control of the state’s ministry of information headquarters in Asmara. The soldiers forced the ministry of information to read a demand letter which called for the release of political prisoners in the country.