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Tsunami capped year of mixed fortunes //Yearender//

[Somalia] The beach at Garacad after the tsunami struck. IRIN
The beach at Garacad, Puntland, after the tsunami struck the Somali coast.
The tsunami that battered coastal areas in the Horn of Africa and East Africa at the end of 2004 wrapped up a year of mixed fortunes for the countries of the region. The main events ranged from a continuing border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea and a failed peace effort in Uganda, to the successful signing of the Sudanese peace accord and the reconstitution of a Somali government. Despite the positive developments in Somalia and Sudan, the stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea over their disputed border cast a long shadow over the region. Observers warned that if it continued, rising tension between Addis Ababa and Asmara could again raise the possibility of renewed clashes. Any fresh hostilities would add to the existing suffering in a region already grappling with food shortages and drought. In Uganda, what had been billed as a breakthrough that could have meant an end to an 18-year war yielded little as the government and the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) failed to agree on peace terms. As it was, northern Uganda received a bitter News Year's gift - the resumption of hostilities between the Uganda government and the LRA. Somalia and Sudan, on the other hand, saw positive developments. After 13 years without a central government, Somali faction leaders meeting in neighbouring Kenya in October finally agreed to name Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmad as the new president of Somalia. Amid the celebrations, however, northeastern Somalia was jolted by the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December. About 150 people are estimated to have died and up to 54,000 were left desperately in need of assistance, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in early January. For Sudan, it was a dream come true as the Khartoum government and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) concluded lengthy negotiations and agreed to sign a comprehensive peace agreement, signifying that Sudan was finally on its way to ending its devastating 21-year war. Speculation mounted that if the southern question could be resolved, that would give impetus to the attempts to resolve two other conflicts - between the Sudanese government and two rebel groups in the western region of Darfur, and between the Uganda government and the LRA in northern Uganda. In Kenya and Djibouti, the key humanitarian issues were food shortages as a result of widespread failure of rains. Ethiopia-Eritrea: Border dispute still unresolved Hopes for a final resolution of the dispute over the 1,100-km border between Ethiopia and Eritrea were raised towards the end of 2004 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he accepted “in principle” a ruling made in April 2002 in Algiers by a joint boundary commission, although he still described the ruling as "illegal and unjust". The African Union and the EU welcomed the announcement, but the reaction from Eritrea called for "full and unconditional respect for the Algiers agreement". A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Asmara accused Ethiopia of "intransigence", adding that Eritrea would not "accommodate Ethiopia's forcible occupation of our territory". UN special envoy to the Horn of Africa Lloyd Axworthy was cautious as he reflected on the new development. "I am not jumping up and down, but at least there is more traction there than there was," he told IRIN. "It could be the beginning of a new chapter for peace, but there has to be another step, which is how the two countries begin engagement." Tens of thousands of people were killed in the border war Ethiopia and Eritrea fought between May 1998 and December 2000. As part of a deal to end the war, the two countries agreed to form an independent boundary commission whose decision would be final and binding. Eritrea initially accepted the ruling while Ethiopia rejected it. Despite calls by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Security Council and various world leaders throughout 2004 for an end to the hostilities, by year’s end the situation remained unresolved. Fifteen million Ethiopians remain in abject poverty as a result of the impact of the country's border dispute with Eritrea, according to Axworthy. The dispute has also had far-reaching consequences for Eritrea, prompting relief agencies to appeal in November for nearly US $157.2 million to fund humanitarian activities in 2005. Eritrea, they said, had continued to endure the aftermath of war five years on, including destroyed homes, mined villages, shattered livelihoods, hunger and malnutrition. In July, UNICEF warned that hundreds of thousands of Eritrean children were living in extreme poverty due to a prolonged drought and the effects of the border conflict on the nation’s economy. About 425,000 children under the age of 14 were affected. Food security remained a fundamental issue. In Ethiopia, the government disaster commission warned in August that the number of people in need of food aid had risen to more than 7.6 million as a result of crop failure and lack of pasture following poor or erratic long rains earlier in the year. Uganda: Peace fails again In Uganda, hopes for a negotiated conclusion to the protracted conflict in the north were kindled at the end of 2004 when the LRA sent word to Uganda's government that they were ready for peace talks. The government was initially skeptical, but on 14 November, President Yoweri Museveni announced a seven-day limited truce. The ceasefire was extended twice, suggesting that the government, which had previously appeared intent only on a military solution to the problem, was beginning to soften its stance. Former minister Betty Bigombe, whose 1994 arbitration efforts as minister in charge of pacifying the north failed due to the government’s mistrust of the rebels, once again took up her role as mediator. On 29 December, a Ugandan government delegation met LRA leaders in the northern town of Kitgum and they agreed that a ceasefire accord would be signed on the next day. However, the LRA declined to sign the agreement and Museveni declared a resumption of the war on New Year’s Day. The year thus ended with northern Uganda still in the grip of a conflict that has caused an unknown number of deaths and displaced an estimated 1.6 million people. UN sources estimate that over 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA for use as soldiers, sex slaves and porters since the war started in 1986. Somalia: New government faces security challenge For Somalia, the creation of a transitional federal government after two years of tortuous peace talks between its various clans and factions brought a glimmer of hope that the strife-torn country was finally on the threshold of stability. The talks, sponsored by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), led in August to the establishment of a 275-member transitional federal parliament. This was followed, on 10 October, by the election of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as interim president. He was formerly the leader of the self-declared, autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast. Ali Muhammed Gedi, named by Yusuf as Prime Minister, later chose his cabinet. By the end of the year, pressure had begun to mount on Somalia's fledgling government to leave its temporary base in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and re-establish itself in Somalia. "They must return [to Somalia] because we were making a government not to stay in Nairobi, but to return home and reconstruct that country," Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said in his New Year’s message to the nation. Observers warned that the new government needed to move cautiously. In a report issued on 22 December, the International Crisis Group (ICG) described the status of Somalia's peace process as "grim, but not altogether hopeless". "[President] Yusuf and his partners need to use their political advantage to form a genuine government of national unity, rather than attempt to impose their own agenda on the transition," the ICG said. This, according to the ICG, is crucial for the new government to get the international recognition and support "it desperately seeks", warning that the alternative could be a resumption of Somalia's conflict. Precarious security situation While the peace talks dominated the news throughout 2004, sporadic outbreaks of violence continued to be reported in various parts of the country. In May and June, fighting broke out in the southwestern region of Gedo and in the capital, Mogadishu, displacing thousands of civilians. Relief work was hindered by insecurity, according to OCHA. Fighting also raged around the port city of Kismayo in September, as an attempt by Muhammad Sa'id Hirsi "Morgan" to recapture the city from a rival group, the Juba Valley Alliance, failed, leading to displacement and loss of life and property. Violence between sub-groups of the Habar Gedir clan in November and December in the central region of Galgadud resulted in the death of over 200 people and the displacement of thousands of families. In the north, tension between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed regions of Sool and Sanaag turned violent in October, with hundreds killed and injured on both sides. Drought, tsunami According to OCHA-Somalia, a long-drawn-out season of drought, affecting the Sool Plateau and parts of South Central Somalia, was a key humanitarian issue in 2004. The cumulative effects of four years of poor rainfall in the Sool plateau and surrounding areas in Somaliland and Puntland caused massive livestock losses, rendered many pastoralists destitute and resulted in increased vulnerability and further displacement. Abnormal weather conditions in October 2004, at the onset of the Dyer (short rains) season, killed some of the surviving herds, depriving yet more pastoralists of their livelihood. Apart from loss of lives and livestock, some parts of northeastern Somalia were cut off from humanitarian assistance due to flooding and poor communication networks. The already vulnerable country received a further blow when the Indian Ocean tsunami ravaged its northeastern coastline on 26 December, killing an estimated 150 people and displacing thousands more. Relief agencies said an estimated four thousand people would have to be permanently relocated from their previous homes because the massive waves altered the coastline. Sudan: Hoping for peace throughout the country A comprehensive peace deal on 9 January 2005 between the government of Sudan (GoS) and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) capped a year of slow but steady progress in efforts to end the 21-year old civil war in southern Sudan. Although the peace deal does not cover the Darfur conflict, President Omar el-Bashir indicated during his annual speech in December that he was willing to enter into power-and wealth-sharing negotiations with Darfur rebels, just as he had with the SPLM/A in the south. However, not everybody shared this optimism. One of the two main Darfur rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement, said in a statement, "We warn of the regime's record of violating agreements and promises [and] we would stress that the implementation stage is the most difficult." Although overshadowed by the crisis in Darfur, the peace talks between Sudanese Vice President Ali Uthman Taha and the leader of the SPLM/A, John Garang, moved ahead steadily throughout the year. On 18 and 19 November, the 15 members of the UN Security Council held an extraordinary meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which resulted in a memorandum of understanding, signed by the GoS and the SPLM/A, in which the two sides agreed to conclude a final peace deal by the close of the year. Hopeful that the parties to the conflict were making progress, the UN and its partners in Sudan launched their 2005 work plan with an appeal for US $1.5 billion for urgent programmes to support humanitarian, protection, recovery and development activities in Sudan. In the end, a permanent ceasefire was reached on the deadline set by the Council - 31 December. The accord requires Sudan's government to withdraw at least 91,000 troops from the south within two and a half years, while the rebels have eight months to withdraw their forces from northern Sudan. The SPLM/A and government forces also agreed that the former’s paramilitary allies in southern Sudan must either be disarmed or join the SPLA or the government forces in the next year. Sudan will also rewrite its constitution to ensure that Islamic law, or Sharia, is not applied to non-Muslims anywhere in the country. Darfur still volatile Even as the scenario in the south gradually improved throughout the year, culminating in the peace accord, the situation in Darfur, where fighting erupted in February 2003, continued to be volatile. Observers had hoped that peace could be established at the start of 2004, but peace talks between the GoS and the Darfurian groups broke down, leading to a resumption of fighting in the three states of North, South and West Darfur. The Janjawid militias, armed by the GoS to fight the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), turned their guns on the non-Arab population in Darfur, forcibly displacing over 1.65 million people. The militias have been accused of committing gross human rights abuses. Although the SLA, JEM and the GoS signed a ceasefire agreement on 8 April, in N'Djamena, Chad, the Janjawid were neither signatories to the agreement nor specifically referred to in the text, and the accord was repeatedly violated by all parties from its inception. Under intense international pressure, including high-profile visits to Sudan by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Khartoum finally committed, in early July, to disarming the militias and other outlaws operating in Darfur. The government also agreed to facilitate access by aid workers to people affected by the conflict, but by the end of the year, this had not been done. On 9 November, the warring parties signed a series of agreements in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to end 20 months of hostilities. The protocols were designed to improve security and grant wider access to humanitarian organisations operating inside Darfur. However, the Abuja Agreement, once again, did not reflect the reality on the ground in Darfur, which was characterized by an escalation of violence that lasted until the end of the year. In a briefing to the UN Security Council, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, said November had seen increased violence and a marked deterioration in the security situation. The number of people affected by the conflict had risen to almost 2.3 million - more than a third of the total population, he said. Ongoing violence in Upper Nile Ongoing violence, especially in the oil-rich Upper Nile, has also been a cause of serious concern, observers said. During the past year, shifting allegiances among southern Sudanese militias have led to direct clashes over territorial control between the Sudanese army and allied forces, on the one hand, and the SPLM/A on the other in the Shilluk Kingdom in Upper Nile, leading to widespread looting. In April, up to 30,000 people were displaced by fighting in the garrison town of Malakal, in Upper Nile. Another 75,000 people were believed displaced by conflict in the nearby Shilluk kingdom between the SPLM/A and government-backed Nuer and Shilluk militias. The signing of the southern peace accord was also good news for Uganda. The LRA, which has bases in southern Sudan, was warned by the SPLM/A that it would have to leave the territory. Kenya and Djibouti: Food shortages Kenya needed assistance to offset a food shortfall after relief agencies found in October that about 2.3 million people in 26 districts were facing severe food shortages as a result of a prolonged drought. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net), household food security was likely to worsen, especially among pastoral households where rates of child malnutrition were beginning to rise. In addition to the drought, there was another major development on the environmental front in Kenya in 2004: Prof Wangari Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to environmental conservation, becoming the first African woman to receive the honour. In Djibouti, which receives less than 150 mm of rainfall per year, an estimated 2,000 pastoral families in southeastern and northwestern areas faced food shortages as a result of a poorer-than-usual March-April wet season and the failure of the main July-September rains. FEWS Net said in a December report that food deficits were likely for poor households in both zones for a period of six months starting in November and called for action to alleviate the problem.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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