Alex de Waal

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A Tigrayan family uprooted by the recent civil war, eastern Tigray, Ethiopia, June 2023. Tiksa Negeri / Reuters

Arguably the worst armed conflict of the twenty-first century so far is not the one unfolding in Gaza or in Ukraine, but rather the catastrophic civil war in Ethiopia that ended 18 months ago. Also known as the Tigray war, the Ethiopian conflict took the lives of more than 500,000 soldiers and as many as 360,000 civilians, making it one of the deadliest conflicts since the end of the Cold War. Its combatants also perpetrated widespread atrocities and sexual violence, destroyed large swaths of the Tigray region in the north, and did enormous damage to an economy that, for the previous three decades, had helped make Ethiopia one of Africa’s more stable and rapidly developing countries.…  Seguir leyendo »

I Said the Era of Famines Might Be Ending. I Was Wrong.

Nearly eight years ago I wrote an essay for New York Times Opinion asking whether the world had finally moved beyond the peril of large-scale famines. My answer was that it might very well have.

I was wrong. Famines are back.

I underestimated the cruel resolve of some war leaders to use starvation as a weapon. And I overestimated how much the world’s largest humanitarian donors cared about feeding the hungry in conflict zones, and giving them the necessary help to rise above the devastation when the fighting finally ended.

Since 2016, the year I took that optimistic view, a decades-long improvement in world nutrition has stalled.…  Seguir leyendo »

Aview of destruction in a livestock market area in al-Fasher, the capital of Sudan's North Darfur state on Sept. 1. AFP via Getty Images

The diplomatic needle has moved on Sudan at last. There’s an opening to halt the carnage, end the famine, and save the state from collapse. An intricate diplomatic dance is underway involving African and Arab leaders as well as the United States.

Almost eight months after fighting erupted in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, followed by mass atrocities in that city and in the western region of Darfur, a serious peace initiative was finally set in motion this past weekend. A summit meeting of African leaders, held in Djibouti at the initiative of Kenyan President William Ruto, agreed on an overall formula for a cease-fire and political talks.…  Seguir leyendo »

A fire in a livestock market in El Fasher, in North Darfur, in September. Sudanese paramilitary and military forces are fighting for control of the region. Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

There’s a genocide in the making in Darfur, Sudan — for the second time in 20 years. This time, the violence is happening on President Biden’s watch, and he and his administration have not done enough to stop it. But there are two things Mr. Biden can do today that could have real impact: Stop America’s Middle Eastern allies from arming the perpetrators and get behind a Kenyan-led African initiative to end the bloodshed.

In recent weeks, Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a mercenary-commercial enterprise, has overrun four of the five main cities in Darfur, a region in western Sudan. Each conquest has been followed by massacre and pillage targeting communities of the cities’ darker-skinned residents.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Sudanese woman carrying her daughter on the outskirts of Adre, Chad, July 202. 3Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

In 2003, mass atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region shocked the world. A coalition of human rights organizations mobilized in response, accusing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his Janjaweed militia of genocide. Although the United Nations did eventually dispatch troops to protect Sudanese civilians, the response was too slow.

Today, Sudan is again ravaged by war, and atrocities are happening on a comparable scale in Darfur. The Janjaweed’s successors are the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and they are killing, raping and looting the same Darfuri communities. The international response to the war has been glacial and the reaction to the situation in Darfur ever slower.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of the military coup in Niger gathered at a stadium in the capital city of Niamey on Aug. 6 to greet soldiers of Niger’s National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland. Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An uninterrupted swath of African countries from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea is now under military rule. Mali, Guinea, Chad, Sudan, Burkina Faso and, most recently, Niger. Some of the putschists deposed elected leaders, like Niger’s president, Mohamed Bazoum. Others forestalled elections or even overthrew the leaders they had installed.

This is more than a series of distant and regrettable events. It’s a sign that a large part of the continent — mostly in an area south of the Sahara known as the Sahel — has fallen off the path of building functioning states. It raises an unsettling question that affects the whole world: How can poor and insecure countries forge political order and give their citizens the confidence that democratic government can deliver what they need?…  Seguir leyendo »

Damage from fighting in Khartoum, Sudan, April 2023. Reuters.

On Sunday, April 23, barely one week after vicious fighting erupted in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, the United States special forces evacuated U.S. embassy staff by helicopter, and other foreign nationals fled the city in hastily arranged emergency convoys. As the chaotic face-off between Sudan’s de facto leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his heavily armed rival, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, continued, it was unclear when the diplomats would return.

What is happening in Sudan is a mobster shootout, and the world is running away from it. That’s a reasonable first reflex to a terrifying war that has already involved the use of the country’s heaviest weapons in the streets of the capital.…  Seguir leyendo »

El general Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, comandante de las Fuerzas Paramilitares de Apoyo Rápido de Sudán. Ashraf Shazly / AFP via Getty Images

Decenas de personas han muerto en enfrentamientos armados en la capital sudanesa, Jartum, tras meses de tensión entre el ejército y el poderoso grupo paramilitar Fuerzas de Apoyo Rápido (RSF, en sus siglas en inglés).

Detrás de las tensiones hay un desacuerdo sobre la integración del grupo paramilitar en las fuerzas armadas, una condición clave de un acuerdo de transición que nunca se ha firmado pero al que se han adherido ambas partes desde 2021.

El general Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, más conocido como Hemedti, es el líder de la RSF y uno de los principales impulsores de la guerra civil que sufre el país.…  Seguir leyendo »

Workers carrying sacks of grain in a World Food Program (WFP) warehouse in Abala, Ethiopia, June 2022. Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty

The United Nations has assessed that 276 million people worldwide today are “severely food insecure”. Forty million are in “emergency” conditions, one step short of the UN’s technical definition of “famine”. By early this year the combined effects of the climate crisis, the economic fallout from Covid-19, armed conflict, and the rising costs of fuel and food had already caused a sharp increase in the number of people in need of relief. Then the Russian invasion of Ukraine suddenly shut down wheat exports from the world’s breadbasket. For five months, Russian warships blockaded Black Sea ports and stopped grain cargoes from leaving, both to strangle the Ukrainian economy and to destabilize food-importing nations to pressure the US and Europe into relaxing sanctions.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yemenis receive food aid at a camp in the western province of Hodeida, 29 March 2022. The disruption of export flows resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and international sanctions has raised fears of a global food crisis, particularly in Yemen, where famine is also being used as a weapon in the war that has been raging in the country since 2014. © Khaled Ziad / AFP

A hideous contradiction is playing out in war-torn Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainians are starving in cities besieged by Russian forces. Meanwhile, the country’s grain stores are bursting with food, and the government is begging for international assistance to export Ukrainian grain to world markets.

At the end of 2021, almost 200 million people globally were suffering acute food insecurity. The number climbed after Russia’s invasion and blockade of Ukraine, a key exporter of grains and oil seeds, which disrupted world food markets. This is pushing up food prices and straining aid budgets.

Russia isn’t the only belligerent to weaponize hunger. Most people at risk of famine today live in places afflicted by war.…  Seguir leyendo »

Anna and her daughter Sonya sit inside Syrets subway station which is used as a bomb shelter, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 18 March. Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA

The deputy mayor of Mariupol, Sergiy Orlov, describes people sheltering in basements trying to survive without food, medicine or a power supply, and drinking melted snow because the water has been cut off. In Chernihiv, March 16, a line of 10 civilians queuing for bread outside a grocery shop were killed by Russian troops. Ukrainian intelligence reports indiscriminate shelling and targeting of agricultural machinery, fields and grain stores; and civilians are being blocked from leaving besieged towns and cities or killed whilst fleeing. This is a playbook familiar to any monitoring similar starvation crimes in Syria, Yemen, Tigray or South Sudan.…  Seguir leyendo »

Crowds of Sudanese gathered at the army headquarters on Thursday, chanting “The regime has fallen.” Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Widespread peaceful protests have forced Sudan’s long-serving military ruler, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, out of office. But a transition to democracy is going to be far more difficult and will need prompt international support.

During his 30 years in power, Mr. Bashir built a hydra-headed military and security apparatus. On Thursday, a cabal of his henchmen in the military replaced him and took over. Gen. Awad Ibn Auf, Sudan’s minister of defense, appeared on state television and announced the end of Mr. Bashir’s era and the beginning of a two-year transition period during which the army will rule. Though he promised “representation of the people,” many Sudanese will see this as betraying their demand for democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pro-government fighters in Yemen carrying explosives thought to have been dropped by Houthi rebels, around Al Hudaydah, this month. Credit Nabil Hassan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last-ditch diplomatic efforts could not stop the Saudi Arabian and Emirati coalition’s offensive on the Yemeni port city of Al Hudaydah this week. With no real prospect for peace talks of any kind, the city, a fief of the Houthi rebels who control much of the country and a hub for humanitarian assistance for millions of desperate Yemeni civilians, could fall within days.

If the offensive goes according to the Saudis’ and Emiratis’ plan, promptly after that, the Houthis, who also control the capital Sana, will sue for peace. The maritime blockade in place since 2015 could then be lifted. After that, a vast humanitarian operation could unfold, saving Yemen from a devastating famine.…  Seguir leyendo »

The worst drought in three decades has left almost 20 million Ethiopians — one-fifth of the population — desperately short of food. And yet the country’s mortality rate isn’t expected to increase: In other words, Ethiopians aren’t starving to death.

I’ve studied famine and humanitarian relief for more than 30 years, and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw during a visit to Ethiopia last month. As I traveled through northern and central provinces, I saw imported wheat being brought to the smallest and most remote villages, thanks to a new Chinese-built railroad and a fleet of newly imported trucks. Water was delivered to places where wells had run dry.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sisi Goes to Addis Ababa

On one of the last occasions an Egyptian president visited Addis Ababa, he got no further than the road from the airport: In 1995 the motorcade of President Hosni Mubarak came under fire from Egyptian jihadists. Mr. Mubarak was saved by his bulletproof car, his driver’s skill and Ethiopian sharpshooters.

After that, Ethiopian and Egyptian intelligence officers worked together to root out terrorists in the Horn of Africa, contributing, along with pressure from the United States government, to Osama bin Laden’s expulsion from Sudan in 1996. But that was the limit of their cooperation.

Egypt and Ethiopia have otherwise been locked in a low-intensity contest over which nation would dominate the region, undermining each other’s interests in Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan.…  Seguir leyendo »

There is an opportunity to halt South Sudan’s slide into war and state failure, but it must be seized within days or it will be lost. This requires the leaders of South Sudan to rise above narrow, tribalistic, zero-sum politics and develop a national program. President Salva Kiir and other members of the country’s political elite — in government and in opposition, inside South Sudan and in the diaspora — must respond to this challenge now or go down in history as having betrayed their people.

Nine years ago, on Jan. 9, 2005, the Sudanese government and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed a historic peace accord that brought an end to more than 20 years of war between northern and southern Sudan.…  Seguir leyendo »

When France decided to send soldiers to the Central African Republic on Nov. 26, it did the right thing for the wrong reason.

France, the United Nations and the African Union dispatched some 4,000 troops soon after the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned that the C.A.R. was “on the verge of genocide.” Yet the country doesn’t face genocide; it is experiencing state collapse and limited intercommunal killings after a military takeover by a coalition of undisciplined militiamen known as Seleka.

Last week, flying home from the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, President François Hollande of France stopped in Bangui, C.A.R.’s…  Seguir leyendo »

The use of nerve gas in Syria is abhorrent, and those within the Syrian military command who ordered it are war criminals. But it is folly to think that airstrikes can be limited: they are ill-conceived as punishment, fail to protect civilians and, most important, hinder peacemaking.

The use of chemical weapons should be punished. No country should remain neutral when human beings are gassed. This is one thing on which the United States, Russia and Iran can agree. But the most convincing punishment would come through an international war crimes tribunal outside Syria.

Syrian civilians deserve protection from murder, but bombing won’t deliver it.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mali faces a deep crisis that demands a political strategy toward a long-term settlement. What’s on offer today, namely sending a multinational force to reoccupy the Malian Sahara and fight terrorists, while negotiating deals with the cannier rebel leaders, promises only temporary respite. The reason: West Africa and the Sahara functions as political marketplace in which loyalties are for rent. Government leaders, rebels, drug traffickers and even terrorists, are all bargaining for profit and power.

Mali was a fragile democracy that imploded when Tuareg fighters, released from service in the Libyan Army after the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi, returned home and overran the northern desert half of the country, declaring the independent state of Azawad.…  Seguir leyendo »

The death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi deprives Ethiopia — and Africa as a whole — of an exceptional leader.

We both knew him from his days as a guerrilla in the mountains of Tigray, northern Ethiopia, fighting against the former Communist government in Addis Ababa. “Comrade Meles” (he was christened Legesse but took the nom de guerre Meles in his early revolutionary days after a colleague who was killed) rose to become first among equals of the rebel fighters who took power in 1991.

His ascendancy was due to force of intellect: In those days of collective leadership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, Meles was best able to articulate a theory linking state power, ethnic identity and economic policy, making Marxist-Leninism relevant to the demands of winning a guerrilla war.…  Seguir leyendo »