Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Sitrep - 12 October, 2016

Significant unrest continues across Ethiopia this week prompting the government to declare a state of emergency to help cool tensions. Protests and demonstrations have swelled over the past three months, culminating in 52 or 300 deaths at a festival in early October. The festival evolved into a large anti-government protest and a heavy-handed security approach, which caused a panic.

Over the weekend, the government then fired rubber bullets into protests near the capital Addis Ababa, exacerbating the tension further. However, the protests haven’t cohered into a single mass, orbiting instead around three ethnic group’s particular grievances. The Amhara (27% of total population), Oromo (34%) and Somali (6%) each have historical frustrations with the ruling Tigray (6%).

Media censorship is making it difficult to understand the unrest, but it is clear the country’s leaders have their work cut out. Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian, 100 million population country in the middle of a dozen Islamic countries, making it unique in the region. It is also an important ally of the US and a strong East African country, so Addis Ababa is attempting to quell the protests quickly.

In Asia Pacific, raucous Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte threatened to kick US forces from his country and ordered a halt to future military exercises. Mr Duterte says the US treats the Philippines as “a doormat” and is frustrated Washington doesn’t give it the “weapons it needs.” Mr Duterte also says the US president is a “son of a bitch” and should “go to hell.”

The US has consistently criticised the new president’s crackdown on drug crime, which has reportedly resulted in 3600 deaths in just three months. But his call for expulsion of US forces is a marked escalation. The Philippines was once a US colony and the two have a convoluted history, but the Philippines exports more to the US than China, and relies on US military power for its foreign policy flexibility.

Mr Duterte’s rhetoric should be seen as neither anti-US nor pro-China, but rather pro-Philippines. The new president boasts a 91% approval rating and is seen as someone to clean up the country. This approval is critical because he hasn’t yet consolidated power among traditional political bases. Appearing tough on the US, but stopping short of actually implementing threats, is a safe way to maintain power at home.

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