Drought in Ethiopia
The Oromo Liberation Army and Tigray Defense Forces in Ethiopia are actively in conflict with the Ethiopian government and have received labels as terror groups in the country. However, due to the ongoing drought in Ethiopia, the groups have been working to establish a nationwide truce to allow humanitarian groups to provide aid to the affected areas of Ethiopia where people do not have access to food and resources. The drought is the worst the nation has seen in the past 40 years and has contributed to more than 20 million people needing dire assistance this year. The impact of the drought on the already impoverished country has been so drastic that the role of the military structures in Ethiopia is changing with the idea of a potential truce to improve the impoverished conditions during an ongoing conflict.

Ethiopia’s Conflict

Millions of Ethiopians have been displaced due to the conflict between rebel groups, including Oromo Liberation Army, Tigray Defense Forces and the Ethiopian National Defense Force which has been ongoing since November 2020. The war has political roots, such as an election, power struggle and claims of marginalization of certain minorities. Both sides have engaged in war crimes resulting in genocide, sexual violence and widespread looting and destruction of property. In addition to these direct results of war, humanitarian crises and famine have also come to light due to environmental and economic factors.

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, ordered offensive forces to fight the rebel forces. The government intervention and blockades in Tigray have limited access to 9.4 million people across northern Ethiopia in need of humanitarian aid. Road access for supply trucks with medicine, nutritional supplies and general aid has had its limitations due to such blockages, further exacerbating the famine.

The Impact of the Drought in Ethiopia

In addition to the ongoing Ethiopian conflict, the drought has played a part in increasing humanitarian needs across Ethiopia. The worst Ethiopian drought in decades has led to widespread harvest failures and livestock deaths decreasing food insecurity, increasing famine and increasing acute malnutrition in the country.

Required humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia will be 40% higher in 2022 than in 2016 as a consequence of the El Nino drought. The ongoing Ethiopian conflict in northern Ethiopia is further increasing the severity of the situation, as it is currently affecting more than 8 million people. As the drought in Ethiopia continues to ravage more parts of Ethiopia, this number will likely increase.

The Ceasefire

In March 2022, the Tigray Defense Forces and the Ethiopian government established a humanitarian truce to prevent mass starvation in the northeast region of the country – almost 40% of Tigray’s 6 million people are victims of famine. The purpose of the ceasefire was also to allow emergency humanitarian aid the opportunity to relieve the pressure of the refugee crises, mass displacement and critical environmental issues. U.N. fuel shortages have added to the issue as aid workers had to travel by foot to deliver supplies. However, the added safety of a ceasefire has enabled aid workers to make unrestricted deliveries, presenting a semblance of hope for faster recovery in the region.

Recent Developments

In August 2022, the U.N. called for another ceasefire after the northern region of Tigray saw more bouts of violence during the attempted ceasefire. Peace talks between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front will likely begin soon, but may now be pushed back or indefinitely postponed. Neither side will admit to commencing the attack, but the fighting has nonetheless increased tension between the groups. As a result, political negotiations and unrestricted access to those in need have halted with the return of fighting, as both sides have released opposing statements regarding further steps in the conflict.

– Nethya Samarakkodige
Photo: Flickr

Digital Ethiopia
In 2020, less than 19% of the Ethiopian population had access to the internet. The Ethiopian government widely owns Ethiopia’s internet and telecommunications systems, which has been the source of much criticism. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce itself noted that the lack of liberalization in the telecommunications and digital sectors limits competition and dampens efficiency, ultimately stalling the development of the nation. Given that it is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, Ethiopia’s comprehensive strategy, Digital Ethiopia 2025, has significant plans to bring the country fully into the modern age.

The Digital Landscape in Ethiopia

People in Ethiopia have very limited internet access. On one hand, the infrastructure is not widely organized or well-oiled; outages occur regularly. The cost of an internet package surpassing the actual income of a household is not uncommon in the country. Internet cafes, or hotspots where people can access the internet, are many Ethiopians’ best hope for a fast and reliable access. Hubs are typically located in Ethiopia’s bustling urban regions.

On the other hand, barriers to access are not just structural, but also political. The Ethiopian government’s monopoly on Ethio Telecom has made it difficult to manage access for the entire country. Whatsmore, the state has periodically shut down internet access for political reasons, such as in the aftermath of Āmara president Ambachew Mekonnen. The government’s strict control over telecommunications in Ethiopia not only limits the possibilities of nationwide commerce but also disconnects Ethiopia’s economy from the rest of the world.

Digital Ethiopia 2025

The goal of this new digitization strategy is to bring technology to the people of Ethiopia, as well as to its industries. Digital Ethiopia 2025 focuses on e-commerce and the ability to digitize services in traditionally non-digital industries, like agriculture and manufacturing. Utilizing modern technology to operate in these spaces will create room for investment in agriculture technology. Digitization in the public sector, such as the implementation of a national ID database, would mean a boost in efficiency as Ethiopians all around the country connect to the internet through one streamlined system.

The other big push that Digital Ethiopia 2025 is championing is the privatization of the telecommunications sector. The government’s explicit control over media and news, internet traffic, and trade via telecommunication not only pose threats to privacy but also limits competition. The original plans to sell a large stake of government-held Ethio Telecom ended up on hold in May 2020, largely due to economic shifts as a result of COVID-19. However, moving forward with plans will likely be the key to advancing the market capacity of Ethiopia’s telecommunications sector and the economy as a whole.

Looking Ahead

Digital Ethiopia 2025 is Ethiopia’s first major step towards a more connected and efficient economy, as well as towards more protections for Ethiopians and their access to information. These efforts are critical to modernizing the economy and creating a self-sustaining digital sector.

 – Hannah Yonas
Photo: Flickr

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how difficult it can be for people living in remote areas to get access to vaccinations and routine immunizations. However, it has also shed light on the ways communities work together to overcome obstacles and keep themselves and their loved ones healthy. Ethiopia is one country that is having a challenging time vaccinating its citizens. Luckily, community mobilization may provide the answer to distributing COVID-19 vaccines in Ethiopia.

How Ethiopia Distributes COVID-19 Vaccines

Promoting COVID-19 vaccines in Ethiopia is no exception. Many Ethiopian children often miss their vaccinations because they live in remote villages. Mothers have to walk for hours to reach public community spaces where immunizations take place. However, the help of volunteers is proving to be crucial in the vaccination of children and the spread of essential information about COVID-19 vaccines in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia comprises several kebeles, which are small administrative districts. Within each kebele, there are “health posts” where health workers distribute vaccinations. However, many people cannot reach these posts because of geographical challenges and uncertain weather conditions. Therefore, health workers have taken it upon themselves to travel, by foot, to the most remote villages in each kebele. These walks can easily take over four hours one way, especially if the hilly terrain is muddy from recent rain. Regardless, these workers go anyway since they plan and communicate about these trips in advance. The districts send vaccines to health centers within each kebele via ambulances and motorcycles. Then, health workers go to the health posts to pick up the doses.

The Importance of Transporting Vaccinations

Many people do not go to the vaccination posts. Instead, they wait for the health workers to reach their closest destinations. It is usually up to the health workers and community mobilizers to ensure that children receive their vaccines. Even though the community is aware of how crucial vaccinations are, very few have their children receive vaccinations. The health stations do vaccination performance evaluations every month; these evaluations reveal that dozens of children miss their vaccinations. Thus, the on-foot outreach trips of these health workers are absolutely essential.

Health workers analyze the monthly evaluations and compile lists of which children have missed their vaccinations. They then arrange the supplies to give the needed doses. According to the evaluations, many of these children miss their vaccinations because it is difficult for mothers to make the journey to the health posts where vaccinations take place. Additionally, mothers often give birth at home with traditional birth attendants, meaning they do not register their children for immunizations. In addition to transporting vaccination doses, health workers are responsible for running in-service and vaccination outreach programs at marketplaces, churches and schools to share accurate information about COVID-19, the COVID-19 vaccine in Ethiopia specifically and other important immunizations. They work with community elders and religious leaders to run these meetings.

Obstacles to COVID-19 Prevention

These efforts were not easy to implement, however. Many people living in Ethiopia’s remote villages reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic with denial. It was also incredibly difficult to implement COVID-19 prevention policies due to Ethiopia’s weak health system and infrastructure and difficulties with population mobility. It was not very challenging to practice regular handwashing, but it was difficult to implement social distancing policies in religious institutions, marketplaces and other meeting areas. Additionally, a lack of trust in the media and government posed challenges to implementing these policies.

Despite these obstacles, the efforts of health workers and volunteers have proven successful, as vaccination rates are increasing. Groups of volunteer women living in these remote villages are also helping by promoting public trust in the COVID-19 vaccine. When COVID-19 first broke out, many villagers were in denial about its existence. However, a two-day social mobilization training on COVID-19 organized by UNICEF helped curb the initial spread, encourage community members to take the virus seriously and implement prevention measures. The training also served to teach volunteers who now visit other homes to share information on family health, environmental hygiene and sanitation. By getting their COVID-19 vaccinations, health workers and volunteers set examples for their communities.

Overall, the efforts of health workers and volunteers are proving successful as vaccination rates are increasing. Also, intense community mobilization and engagement, with support from UNICEF, the Ethiopian government and district health offices, further encourage vaccine uptake. Additionally, it shows just how important it is to mobilize and communicate relevant and accurate health information for the good of promoting public health.

– Shiloh Harrill
Photo: Flickr