The Ethiopian Civil War is Empowering Africa’s Terrorists


Here’s What You Need to Remember: Ethiopia has yet to drastically redeploy the bulk of its forces from the African Union mission, but a protracted war in its northern region, along with the prospect of Sudanese and Eritrean involvement, will likely see more troops withdrawn from critical counterterrorist operations in Somalia. If a resolution is not quickly reached in Tigray, the only foreseeable winner may be chaos.

Observers could be forgiven for thinking these days that East Africa is on the verge of unraveling. An ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray province is affecting the entire region, with its consequences being felt most keenly in Somalia.

In the Tigray there exists the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a political party that governed the country up until recently but has since been sidelined following the ascension of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018. Discontent with this change, among other factors, resulted in tensions between the TPLF and the federal government under Ahmed. On November 4, forces loyal to the TPLF launched a surprise attack on an Ethiopian military base. Shortly after, the Ethiopian government initiated a counteroffensive, prompting what is now a low-level but tense civil war. The clashes have put regional stability in peril, with neighbors such as Eritrea and Sudan considering whether to intervene. But to the east, it is jihadist-stricken Somalia that is mostly feeling the impact of Ethiopia’s recent hostilities. The crisis has already diverted Ethiopian counterterrorist forces from Somalia, and a protracted conflict may spell disaster for Somalia’s security.

Somalia is the quintessential example of a failed state. The nation has been embroiled in civil strife since the early 1990s, and has been fighting al-Shabaab, a jihadist organization, since 2006. The group, which has ties to Al Qaeda, seeks to supplant the current government with hardline Islamic fundamentalism. The organization reached the height of its power in 2011 before being dislodged from the capital Mogadishu and other key cities by a Kenyan intervention. Following this, al-Shabaab lost considerable swaths of territory and has since been kept relatively in check by the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), of which Ethiopia is a key participant. Currently, al-Shabaab maintains a significant presence in southern and central Somalia, launching frequent attacks against civilians, the central government, and even neighboring Kenya. The Somalian government, for its part, possesses a weak army, with a 2017 readiness assessment revealing up to 30 percent of its soldiers in its bases remain unarmed. Having such an enfeebled fighting force, the government is heavily reliant on international assistance in its war with al-Shabaab.

As such, to safeguard itself from jihadi influence, Ethiopia has historically been involved in a number of interventions in Somalia. But the eruption of violence in the Tigray region has forced Addis Ababa to reduce its foreign commitments. Last week, around 3,000 Ethiopian troops deployed in Somalia (separate from the AMISOM mission) were withdrawn to support the government’s campaign against the TPLF. Additionally, Ethiopia contributes over 4,000 troops to AMISOM, and while most still remain in Somalia, Ethiopia’s Tigrayan officers serving in the mission are being sent home or kept in their barracks. Furthermore, hundreds of Tigrayan peacekeepers under AMISOM have had their weapons confiscated.

Recent reports disclose the Ethiopian military’s abandonment of posts in southwestern Somalia, an area with a tangible al-Shabaab presence. The region, bordering Kenya, is used by al-Shabaab to launch attacks into the country. For instance: Mahir Khalid Riziki, an al-Shabaab suicide bomber who participated in the killing of twenty-one people in a 2019 attack in Nairobi, entered Kenya through Somalia’s southwest. U.S. military forces stationed in Kenya may also find themselves increasingly threatened by attacks launched across the porous border. In January, al-Shabaab militants killed three United States defense personnel in an assault on a base used by the U.S. military. As such, a reduced peacekeeping force in Somalia’s southwest may have dire transnational consequences.

On top of this, Somalia is set to hold presidential and legislative elections in early 2021. If Ethiopia were to continue shifting its forces from counter-terrorist operations in Somalia, al-Shabaab could use the opportunity to disrupt the political process, plunging the nation into political turmoil. Already, the group has increased the frequency of attacks against civilians in the lead up to the elections.

A continued conflict in northern Ethiopia may see more Ethiopian peacekeepers withdrawn from Somalia, creating a vacuum that may be easily exploited by al-Shabaab militants. At present, al-Shabaab is considered the most formidable affiliate of Al Qaeda, and a resurgence would likely prompt increased attacks against civilian and military targets in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia has yet to drastically redeploy the bulk of its forces from the African Union mission, but a protracted war in its northern region, along with the prospect of Sudanese and Eritrean involvement, will likely see more troops withdrawn from critical counterterrorist operations in Somalia. If a resolution is not quickly reached in Tigray, the only foreseeable winner may be chaos.

Jack Erickson is an undergraduate studying Political Science at Emory University. This article first appeared last month and is being republished due to reader interest.​

Image: Reuters.



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Empowering urban communities through farming


KSK Batch 194 during their harvest festival at SM Cherry Antipolo.

SM Foundation’s Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan opens opportunities for urban dwellers amid COVID-19

Even with limited space, urban dwellers can plant and grow their own food. Not only will they get to harvest vegetables and fruits right from their backyards, they can even sell some and get additional income.

When Hiyasmin Baling and her husband Gabriel Balsa learned urban farming through the Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) on Sustainable Agriculture of SM Foundation, Inc. (SMFI), they found an opportunity to earn in spite of the disruptive pandemic.

Ms. Baling ran a beauty parlor, which served as the household’s source of income before COVID-19 hit the country. When the lockdown was imposed, however, Ms. Baling and her husband decided to focus on planting to keep their finances afloat. In their home in Antipolo, Rizal, they transformed their rooftop into a full-blown garden of vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants.

As the couple applied the skills and knowledge learned from the KSK training program they were able to harvest and sell quality produce. In fact, they have earned P10,000 from selling strawberry plants alone.

“SM Foundation’s KSK program really helped our family, especially during the pandemic. The farming technologies that we learned during the training gave us an alternative livelihood especially now that our primary source of income is not operational,” Ms. Baling shared.

KSK farmer graduate Hiyasmin Baling (L) uses her learnings from the program to augment their family income during the pandemic.

This Farmer’s Training program is just one of the facets of KSK, SMFI’s program on sustainable agriculture. Launched in 2006, KSK aims to uplift the lives of Filipinos in grassroot communities through sustainable agriculture by means of technology transfer, product development, and farm-market linkage. Furthermore, the program aims to address food security as well as to promote good agricultural practices in communities.

“Our goal is to transfer modern and science-based agri-technologies skillsets to our farmers. After equipping them with modern agritech skills and knowledge, we link them (small- and medium-scale farmers) to available market,” Cristie Angeles, Assistant Vice-President for Outreach Programs at SMFI, shared in an e-mail interview with BusinessWorld.

“Aside from increasing our farmers’ income because of better produce, we were also able to help in ensuring food availability to families — specially in grassroot areas with limited spaces. By equipping them with knowledge on urban farming, we are able to augment the nutritional needs of families specially in urban communities,” Ms. Angeles added.

“To strengthen community involvement, KSK adopts a ‘Big Brother and Small Brother’ strategy, where farm schools and learning sites act as big brothers to smaller farmers in the community. By using this strategy, volunteerism is also promoted in the community through on-site mentoring sessions of the established farmers to the smaller ‘agripreneurs’,” said Ms. Angeles.

In selecting the beneficiaries of the program, SMFI usually includes beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and indigent residents identified by community leaders where each KSK is implemented. To further strengthen the effectivity of the program, SMFI forged a partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and local government units. These government agencies provide additional support to the KSK participants like lending idle lands where they can begin their communal gardening. Produce planted by the participants are then sold within the barangay.

KSK also strengthened its institutional partnerships by collaborating with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), SM Supermalls, SMDC and SM Markets.

Through these collaborations, TESDA integrated scholarships for Organic Crops NCII and Agricrops NCIII certifications — which were granted to 271 KSK farmer-participants in Sta. Ana, Floridablanca, and Porac in Pampanga; Olongapo City and Botolan in Zambales; and Bamban in Tarlac.

While through the different business groups of SM, SMFI was able to create farm-market linkage through the Good Guys Market and the Green Lane Initiative.

The Good Guys Market is a weekend market set up in SMDC properties to connect small-scale farmers directly with consumers — condo residents. This initiative links around 26,000 small-scale farmers directly with consumers.

The Green Lane initiative, on the other hand, which was piloted at SM City Pampanga offers a wide variety of quality yet affordable indoor plants, landscape plants, and flowers which cater to every plant parents’ preference in the home improvement project. Led by the wives of the KSK farmers, this social enterprise concept is set to be replicated in other SM malls to cater to more “plantitos” and “plantitas” nationwide.

“During the lockdown, produce from the demo farms were shared by the partner schools to their communities. Farmers were also able to sell to SM employees, and they were able to participate in mall activities such as those [catering to] plantitos and plantitas,” Ms. Angeles added.

More recently, SMFI’s KSK program embarked on bringing its training to urban areas through an urban gardening program, benefitting the cities of Pasig, Mandaluyong, Manila, Quezon, Pasay, Muntinlupa, and Taguig.

In Taguig, particularly, KSK’s 12-week long program served 133 participants from Barangay Ususan, all of whom are beneficiaries of the 4Ps. One of them is Jamiliah Bationg, a 42-year-old housewife, who found the training to be a great help to 4Ps beneficiaries like her. As she cultivates vegetables in container pots at her home, she no longer has to buy fresh produce, hence saving money for her family’s other needs.

In addition, Ms. Angeles observed that KSK participants are greatly helped by the training imparted to them by SMFI as the COVID-19 crisis has put their enhanced skills to the test.

“It is nice to know that during the pandemic, participants were able to appreciate the program more,” she said. “[It’s nice to see that] some were even enterprising enough that they were able to make and sell fertilizers and vegetables. Participants also shared their produce with the underprivileged.”

As of 2019, the KSK covered almost 3,360 barangays coming from over 880 cities and municipalities, bringing sustainable agriculture and farming skills to more than 26,700 farmers in both rural and urban communities. — Adrian Paul B. Conoza










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Support Active People, Healthy Nation by Empowering Youth to Get Moving


The Active People, Healthy Nation initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a mission of helping 27 million Americans become physically active and “creating an active America, together.”

There are three distinct elements involved in reaching that 27 million milestone: (1) inspiring inactive individuals to perform at least one 10-minute session of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, (2) motivating people who are already somewhat active to perform enough physical activity to meet the minimum aerobic physical activity guidelines and (3) empowering youth to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day.

The third of those three elements addresses an age group that has seen consistent declines in physical activity participation in recent decades, for various reasons. In most of the U.S., youth have been negatively impacted by the decline in physical-activity requirements in schools. Around the globe, this is coupled with an increase in sedentary recreational activities like viewing social media and streaming video, computer gaming, and watching television.  

Youth can achieve substantial health benefits by performing bouts of moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity that add up to 60 minutes or more each day. This should include cardiorespiratory activities as well as age-appropriate muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises. Bone-strengthening activities are especially critical for children and young adolescents, because the greatest gains in bone mass occur during the period just before and during puberty.

Behaviors established at a young age have a high probability of persisting into adulthood. Of course, this cuts both ways. While it’s true that physically inactive youth are likely to remain inactive into adulthood, the opposite is also true, as active youth are likely to remain active as they get older. This is why it’s so important for adults—including health coaches and exercise professionals, as well as parents and other caregivers—to model enjoyable and consistent physical activity.

Inspiring children to be more active requires understanding the child and their interests and motivations. While recreational and competitive sports are a great way to provide opportunities to be active, for some children, especially those whose motor skills are less developed or who have overweight or obesity, the competitive atmosphere can be defeating. You can have a positive impact on a child’s perception of exercise by ensuring that activities are fun for the child and appeal to their unique interests. For example, a child interested in science may enjoy a hike to collect flower or rock specimens, while a child with a high sense of adventure may enjoy bouldering or rock climbing. Activities like dancing, bouncing on a trampoline and riding a bike or skateboard are all fun ways to increase cardiorespiratory activity.

Encourage children to try new modalities and experiment as they look for activities they find pleasurable. It is important that children understand that exercise involves simply moving the body and that everyone can enjoy movement.



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Birthing on Country program empowering Aboriginal women on NSW South Coast


When Serenity Mackay found out she was pregnant she was determined to make sure her child had the opportunity to experience his first nation culture.

“Accessing Waminda and the Birthing on Country program was the first step for my bub.”

Birthing on Country is a model of care provided to Aboriginal women and their families.

It offers wrap-around maternity support in the community and in hospital by providing intrapartum birth care and then postnatal care for up to six weeks.

The program has been running at Waminda, a women’s health and welfare service on the New South Wales South Coast on Yuin Country since 2018.

Melanie Briggs, descendant of the Dharawal and Gumbaynggirr people, is a senior midwife at the centre and in June became the first endorsed Aboriginal midwife in NSW and only the second in Australia.

“It is giving us ownership of our health and birthing babies on country in a place that they feel safe and there is no judgement,” she said.

Serenity Mackay credits the team from Waminda including Melanie Briggs, Cleone Wellington and Penny Haora with giving her courage and strength during her pregnancy.(ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)

Strength and courage

Ms Mackay credits the midwives and the program with giving her courage during her pregnancy.

“I went into my pregnancy very overwhelmed and I was a young mum, a first-time mum, they really advocated for me with the mainstream services,” she said.

“We had ceremony after I had bub with smoking and ochre and welcomed baby to country. I was also able to plant my placenta.

“They were paying attention, you could really feel the energy.”

Success recognised through partnership

The Birthing on Country program has proven so successful the service is preparing to sign a statement of commitment with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD).

In a statement supplied to the ABC, ISLHD chief executive Margot Mains said it would provide greater maternity care options that were safe and respectful of culture and spirituality.

“A Birthing on Yuin Country Statement of Commitment will be signed shortly that outlines the intent of our partnership,” she said.

“This includes the implementation of a long-term plan of action, targeted at addressing the maternal and perinatal gap in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and their babies.”

Black-and-white photo of a birthing ceremony on country
Midwife Melanie Briggs assists a new mum through the Waminda Birthing on Country program.(Supplied: Mel Briggs)

Waminda cultural manager Cleone Wellington said the partnership would signify a shift in attitude towards Aboriginal women.

“I think the biggest thing in this is about women’s voices, Aboriginal women’s voices being heard,” she said.

“It is about being culturally safe, it is about women being safe, having trust, feeling ownership over that space, that is huge thing.”

Handing birthing back to community

Penny Haora is a researcher working with the centre and is surveying women on their experiences.

She said she was incredibly excited to see birthing being handed back to the community.

“Previous studies have shown that this type of care can reduce preterm birth by 50 per cent, not just about outcomes, but how they connect to culture,” Ms Haora said.

The centre is hoping to raise more funds for a fully integrated birthing centre to support the program.



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‘Empowering programs’ to be delivered to help the community


'Empowering programs' to be delivered to help the community

One and All Executive Director Annie Roberts spoke with Sky News of how a News Corp grant has helped to aid youth development and youth empowering programs.

Ms Roberts told Sky News host Paul Murray, in Adelaide “we have a gorgeous tall ship … and we do a lot of youth development and youth empowering type programs”.

“We feel the ship is so valuable in terms of what she can do for the people of our community”.

“We’ve developed some unique events that we’ll be delivering and we were fortunate enough to get this beautiful grant”.

“We’re so ecstatic”.

Image: News Corp Australia



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Restoring small business, empowering community is Narelle Storey’s focus | Goulburn Post


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News of candidates for an upcoming Eden-Monaro byelection continues to filter in, with minor parties and independents making themselves known even before one of the major parties finalises its representative. Narelle Storey of Cobargo has been named as the Christian Democratic Party candidate, relating her own experience of the devastation wrought by the New Year’s bushfire to the resilience of the entire community. “There’s been lots of talk and lots of promises made, but at the end of the day, it’s been the kindness of locals that has made this difficult time bearable,” the CDP said in a media statement introducing Ms Storey as its candidate. When fire ripped through Quaama and Cobargo, Ms Storey was in the centre of it all. Living behind the iconic Cobargo Train Cafe, now immortalised in media images throughout the world, the fire breached her room and even melted the iron frame of her antique bed. “I could have lost my life so easily,” she said. “None of us expected the fire to come to town. We were fast asleep and if it wasn’t for a mysterious text from a girl I’d met while doing some volunteer work at the Quaama hall garden, I would have died.” CDP Parliamentary leader Fred Nile said Ms Storey “is a great fit” for Eden-Monaro. “She has shared in the suffering of her community and has proven her tenacity, courage and resilience by actioning Restore Australia, a not-for-profit community recovery plan even in the midst of her own displacement. She will be a strong voice for the people.” Ms Storey said the idea for ReStore Australia had its beginnings while she sat in an evacuation centre at Wallaga Lake on January 1. “It was a very strong impression. I guess I must have heard that the shops at Cobargo had burnt down and while I was considering what was to become of us, I saw the word ‘Restore’ and with that came a flood of strategies – a website for displaced local businesses, a store for the restore, where money could be raised through the sale of locally produced items; a place where people could tell their story, get help, promote their business and volunteer. “We have started with our local area, creating ReStoreCobargo.com and LETS Restore Australia community exchange. “There’s still so much yet to be done, but it’s my ultimate aim to bottle up the essence of this community, to extract the elements that worked so well for us and replicate it in other rural towns. “This is about empowering communities to find and action their own solutions, rather than wait for promised handouts that often just don’t materialise.” While a date for the Eden-Monaro byelection is yet to be called, a number of people have made public their intentions to stand. Labor has preselected Bega Valley councillor Kristy McBain and has already been active on the campaign trail in recent days. Liberal Democrat Dean McCrae, coordinator of the party’s southern districts branch, has also entered the fray, as has independent Andrew Thaler, a solar farm developer from Nimmitabel. Bredbo businesswoman Karen Porter is also running as an independent under the banner of newly formed group The New Liberals. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party is holding an internal ballot this weekend to determine its candidate – either Fiona Kotvojs or Mark Schweikert.

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