Yearender: Ethiopia bids farewell to 2020 as COVID-19, conflicts pose challenges


In a turbulent year as COVID-19 grabbed the headlines across the world, Ethiopia has also suffered the blow by the health crisis, which put a strain on its social economy and represented a threat to public wellbeing.

As the East African country scrambled to flatten the curve, it failed to dodge yet another hit. Its north saw a bloody conflict flare up in November after months of growing political tensions, dragging it into bitter chaos and putting millions in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Could there be a healthy and peaceful future around the corner? With the year 2020 coming to an end and a new year in sight, many were wondering.

Ethiopia confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 13. Now its total infections have surpassed 121,880, after reporting 481 cases on Friday.

Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa with an estimated population of 110 million, saw the fifth-highest caseload of COVID-19 on the continent, following South Africa, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia. Economic experts stressed that when Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, also an economic powerhouse, became the pandemic’s epicenter, it further leveled up the toll COVID-19 took on the country’s economy.

A week after Ethiopia announced its first COVID-19 case, it introduced stringent anti-virus measures, including closing schools, limiting religious gatherings, postponing sporting events, and punishing unnecessary price hikes on consumer goods. Many of the preventative measures have been recently lifted.

On Oct. 13, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education said it had finalized the distribution of 50 million face masks to 46,000 schools across the country “in a bid to resume classes with the necessary precocious measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

As the pandemic prevailed, it forced Ethiopia to postpone its election by one year from the initial schedule. On Friday, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia tentatively scheduled the national polls for June 5, 2021.

On Oct. 19, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the country registered 6.1 percent economic growth during the last budget year ending on July 8, by mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Citing the disease’s multifaceted fallout in society and economy home and abroad, Ahmed said his country has taken “remarkable prevention measures to protect the economy.”

Ethiopia has undertaken a wide range of activities to secure economic stimulation support from global financial institutions and many countries to its economy as well as other African countries amid the pandemic, said the premier.

Weeks of fights in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian Defense Forces since early November have reportedly left hundreds of people dead and thousands displaced.

More than 52,000 refugees have fled Tigray into eastern Sudan over the past six weeks, according to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday. The deadly clash followed rising tensions between Ethiopia’s ruling Prosperity Party and the TPLF, as each side accused the other of trying to destabilize the country.

The Ethiopian government has frequently blamed the TPLF, one of the four coalition fronts of the country’s former ruling party, for masterminding a host of treasonous acts.

Mounting differences between the two sides exacerbated in September, when the Tigray government decided to go alone with its planned regional elections, which the Ethiopian parliament had previously postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid the devastating humanitarian consequence of the conflict, the UN refugee agency, together with 30 humanitarian partners, on Tuesday appealed for 156 million U.S. dollars to meet “the critical humanitarian needs” of Ethiopian refugees fleeing the Tigray conflict through the first half of 2021.

The urgent financial appeal is also expected to strengthen the preparedness to receive refugees in other countries in the region in case of further refugee movements, said a statement from the UN refugee agency, quoting its spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at a Tuesday press briefing in Geneva.

“Funding will allow the implementation of critical activities, including registration and documentation, ensuring the civilian character of asylum, decongestion of sites in border areas and transferring refugees to new settlements,” the statement quoted Mahecic as saying.

Ethiopians from all walks of life speak highly of China’s support for the African country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of what the Ethiopian government described as “win-win strategic cooperation” with China, the country has received batches of anti-virus medical supplies, test kits and personal protective equipment.

During the early days of the outbreak, Ethiopia received a twelve-member Chinese anti-pandemic medical team, comprised of experts in such public health sectors as general surgery, epidemiology, respiratory, infectious diseases, critical care, clinical laboratory and integration of traditional Chinese and Western medicine.

The Chinese team, said to be among the very first anti-virus medical teams China dispatched to Africa since the COVID-19 outbreak, was “a full demonstration of solidarity, with the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind, and an epitome of the comprehensive strategic cooperation partnership between China and Ethiopia,” said Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia Tan Jian. Ethiopian Minister of Health Lia Tadesse recently described China’s success in containing the virus spread and developing the vaccines as “a shining example” for Ethiopia and other countries across the globe.

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