The World Today for February 19, 2018



The Road Less Traveled

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned out of the blue last week in an attempt to ease the nation into political reforms demanded by parts of the electorate after years of unrest.

The move is unprecedented in Ethiopia. Political transitions in the continent’s second-most-populous nation and East Africa’s fastest-growing economy have been marred by coup, Marxist rebellion and dictatorial takeover.

That means Hailemariam’s voluntary resignation could put Ethiopia on a political road less traveled, but only if a successor comes to power who represents the interests of the nation’s two most numerous ethnic groups, Bloomberg reported.

Ethnic Oromo and Amhara peoples make up some 61 percent of Ethiopia’s population, but say they have been politically, economically and socially marginalized for decades, Al Jazeera reported.

The political parties of the two groups are in a catch-all coalition government that comprises the entirety of the Ethiopian parliament, but they’ve been denied prized cabinet posts by the Tigray minority, which makes up 6 percent of the electorate. Though small, the Tigray have dominated Ethiopian politics since spearheading the uprising against Ethiopia’s communist regime in 1991, Stratfor reported.

For years, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization was thought to be controlled by the Tigray camp, but it’s molded itself into a type of opposition movement with the rise of a series of charismatic politicians seeking to wrest back control, the Economist wrote.

The Oromo and Amhara began rebelling in 2015. Despite crackdowns in which hundreds were killed and thousands arrested – resulting in a state of emergency that lasted for the better part of a year – the government ultimately caved into pressure, agreeing last month to release thousands of political prisoners.

“The pressure from the popular movements and also the reformist members of the ruling coalition forced the resignation to come early,” Befekadu Hailu, an Ethiopian writer and activist, told Al Jazeera.

Now at a crossroads, the government must make a choice between an elite successor, or one who could respond to the needs of protesters without silencing them through violent means, Reuters reported.

“Whoever replaces him (Hailemariam) has to have in mind a transition,” said former opposition lawmaker Girma Seifu. “Otherwise it will only be a false start.”

But with a government still divided, it might be the case that Hailemariam’s successor can’t address protesters’ grievances quickly enough, Stratfor wrote, only exacerbating instability.

Regardless, the very fact that a transition in power came without bloodshed or forced resignation – as was the case last week in South Africa – is a start.



Terror at Home

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a terror attack in Dagestan that killed at least five people over the weekend.

The Russian news agency TASS cited a spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee’s directorate for Dagestan as saying the man who opened fire on people leaving a church in the town of Kizlyar has been identified as a 22-year-old local resident who was not previously wanted by the police as a member of any militant group. He was shot and killed during the attack.

The gunman shouted, “Allahu akbar” and began firing after an Orthodox church service on Sunday, a priest told the local news media. Churchgoers stopped him from getting inside and killing more people by closing the church doors, the New York Times reported.

In an official statement, Islamic State called the attacker a “soldier of the caliphate” and released a video showing a man sitting before the Islamic State flag next to a gun and a long knife. It was claimed to depict the attacker, though the face of the man in the video was covered by a ski mask.


Shifting Sands

The US-backed Kurdish fighters in northwestern Syria say they’ve reached a deal with President Bashar al-Assad for Syrian government troops to help repel a Turkish assault on the territory.

The Syrian government didn’t confirm the deal, the BBC reported. But if it’s really in place, it will bring the first regime-sponsored troops to the area and add a new wrinkle to an already complicated tangle of alliances.

Currently, the US supports the Kurdish troops as allies in the fight against the Islamic State, along with other rebel groups that are also pushing for the ouster of Assad. Turkey is also an ally in the fight against IS, but it sees the Kurds as linked to Kurdish separatists inside Turkey that Ankara considers terrorists themselves. Meanwhile, Russia, Assad’s strongest backer, could object to a Syrian alliance with the Kurdish troops because that could stymie its own diplomatic agenda in Turkey, the BBC said.


Long and Winding Road

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia, India, Japan and the US are discussing a massive regional infrastructure scheme that could compete with China’s “One-Belt, One-Road” initiative.

Senior officials from the four Group of 20 nations have discussed “a range of opportunities and challenges,” Bloomberg quoted Bishop as saying in a Sky News interview that broached the topic on Monday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global plan to build or expand highways, railways, ports, pipelines and power plants could grow as large as $1.3 trillion over the next decade, according to Morgan Stanley. Meanwhile, though President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the National Security Strategy he released in December called for policies to answer Chinese and Russian infrastructure-building efforts, the agency said.

Citing an expert as saying that recasting the four-country alliance in economic and infrastructure terms instead of as a security relationship is a clever maneuver, Bloomberg noted the plan would dovetail with the Trump administration’s vision of a “long-term, strategic competition” with China and Russia.


Off the Rack

Back-to-school shopping just got a whole lot more expensive in one Tokyo neighborhood.

A public elementary school in the upscale district of Ginza, known for its pricey shopping, recently announced plans to source the school’s uniforms from fashion house Giorgio Armani – at a whopping $729 a pop.

The Italian designer’s Tokyo headquarters are just around the block from the Taimei Elementary School. The school’s headmaster, Toshitsugu Wada, said Taimei is a landmark in the district, Reuters reported, citing HuffPost Japan. The decision to adopt designer uniforms is meant to create an atmosphere that matches the school’s prestige, he said.

But not all parents are happy about their kids becoming models for Armani’s spring collection.

“I’m worried that a wrong notion that something expensive is good and something cheap is bad could be imprinted on the children,” said one mother whose child will enroll in the school in April, when the school year begins.

School officials have responded to criticism by saying they’ll issue a full explanation on the decision in due time.

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