Newswire: Biden calls for help in conflict-torn Horn of Africa

Family fleeing Tigray war

Mar. 1, 2021 (GIN) – In what may be President Biden’s first major test in Africa, a key U.S. ally stands accused of undertaking a campaign of ethnic cleansing, massacring hundreds of unarmed civilians and threatening the fragile stability of the region.
 
President Joe Biden, confronting the scenario linked to U.S. ally Ethiopia, shared his concerns in a telephone call this week to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
 
Biden’s phone call comes as the international community reels from the horrific details in a new report by Amnesty International describing the massacre of unarmed civilians in less than 48 hours by Eritrean troops in the restive northern Ethiopian province of Tigray last year.
 
Testimonies by over 40 witnesses described the systematic killing of civilians by soldiers in the northern city of Axum, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity, according to an internal United States government report obtained by The New York Times.
 
The U.S. government report written in early February, echoed some of the Amnesty findings. It documents in stark terms a land of looted houses and deserted villages where tens of thousands of people are unaccounted for.
 
Survivors and witnesses described extrajudicial executions, indiscriminate shelling and widespread looting after Ethiopian and Eritrean troops led an offensive to take control of the city during the conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in mid-November.
 
Satellite imagery analysis supported reports of indiscriminate shelling and mass looting in the ancient city of Axum, said Amnesty, and appeared to reveal the sites of new mass burials near two of the city’s churches.
 
“The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion,” said Deprose Muchene, Amnesty’s director for east and southern Africa. “Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum. Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood.”
 
Ethiopian authorities issued a statement on Friday referring to “complex challenges in the region” and reasserting their intention to arrest senior members of the TPLF, which it described as a criminal “rogue group”.  Ethiopia’s ambassador to Belgium, Hirut Zemene, told a webinar on Thursday that the alleged massacre in November was a “very highly unlikely scenario” and “we suspect it’s a very, very crazy idea.”
 
Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, on Friday said his country “is outraged and categorically rejects the preposterous accusations” in the Amnesty report.
 
Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, launched the military campaign on Nov.4, accusing the TPLF of attacking federal military camps in Tigray and seeking to destabilize the country. Communications to the northern state were cut and journalists and humanitarian organizations were denied access.
 
But thus far Mr. Biden and other American officials have been reluctant to openly criticize Mr. Abiy’s conduct of the war, while European leaders and United Nations officials, worried about reports of widespread atrocities, have been increasingly outspoken.
 
The African Union has been unable to resolve any of these issues, not least because other member states are leery of antagonizing the country that hosts their organization, according to a regional expert. The EU has suspended nearly $108 million in aid to the government in Addis Ababa, to no apparent effect. The UN has done little more than wag a disapproving finger.
 
Abiy, who won the Nobel peace prize in 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea, declared victory against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after federal troops seized the city of Mekelle in late November, and said no civilians had been killed. His government denies the presence of thousands of soldiers from Eritrea.
 
It is hoped that Kenyatta will use his bully pulpit to address this and other major crises when he takes the chair of the African Union Security Council this month. 

Newswire: Biden supports right of Amazon workers to organize union

President Joe Biden

By Brian Freeman    

President Joe Biden on Sunday expressed his backing for union efforts by Amazon workers in Alabama.
“Workers in Alabama – and all across America — are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. It’s a vitally important choice — one that should be made without intimidation or threats by employers,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union.”
His tweet included a video in which he addressed the workers involved, emphasizing that the choice whether or not to organize was theirs and that there should be “no coercion” by the company.
“I have long said America wasn’t built by Wall Street,” Biden said. “It was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. Throughout his political career, Biden has sought to project an image as a friend of organized labor, according to Politico.
However, he has largely not been involved in attempts to organize Amazon’s employees at a location in Bessemer, Alabama, where some 6,000 workers work. Ballots were sent out to workers at the plant on February 8. Responses must be received by March 29th by the National Labor Relations Board, with counting starting the next day, NBC News reported.
Vice reported that Amazon has taken steps to convince workers to reject the union, including sending out pamphlets encouraging them to vote against organizing. Other attempts by Amazon to convince workers not to unionize has been holding mandatory meetings and establishing a website encouraging employees to “do it without dues.”
Amazon has also placed anti-union posters and messages in restrooms used by the workers.
Workers report inhumane working conditions in the sprawling Bessemer warehouse, where their every movement is monitored by the same computers that direct them to pick up products to fill orders. The workers say that the company discourages restroom breaks and send them complaint notices if they take too long to do their jobs.
If the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU) is successful in winning this election, it will be the first Amazon facility to unionize in the United States. There are 6,000 workers at the Bessemer plant who are eligible to vote.
Biden’s statement is an important indication of his support for unions and willingness to publically address this sensitive issue

Newswire: Biden’s new message to Africa clears way for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head World Trade Organization

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Feb. 8, 2021 (GIN) – At a virtual meeting this past weekend with members of the African Union Summit 2021, President Joe Biden shared his vision for more trade and investment opportunities while advancing peace and security.
 “The United States stands ready now to be your partner in solidarity, support and mutual respect,” Biden said in a video address, his first speech to an international forum as U.S. president.
 He described a future “committed to investing in our democratic institutions and promoting the human rights of all people, women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and people of every ethnic background, religion and heritage.”
 The message was warmly welcomed by Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat. The African Union looks forward to “resetting the strategic AU-USA partnership,” he said.
 Biden’s tone was a major departure from that of the previous administration, which framed its Africa policy within the context of U.S. competition with China or as a theater for fighting violent extremism.
 On his first day in office, Biden repealed the Trump administration’s ban on travelers from Muslim-majority and African countries, including Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.
 “Just the very fact that Biden did it [addressed the African Union] changes the tone immeasurably from the previous administration,” said Michael Shurkin, a senior political scientist focusing on Africa at the RAND Corporation told the Voice of America.
 “By focusing on Africa for Africa’s sake, Africans for Africans’ sake, that’s actually a far more effective way to compete with the Chinese,” he added
 In January 2018, President Donald Trump was criticized for allegedly using a derogatory term in describing African nations.
 Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He expressed his grave concern about the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region and urged immediate, full, and unhindered humanitarian access to prevent further loss of life.
 The State Department is also reportedly considering action against President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, a staunch U.S. military ally who recently won his sixth term through a bloody election.
 In other news, the Biden administration has ended the deadlock over the next head of the World Trade Organization by expressing its “strong support” for Nigeria’s ex-finance minister.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was frontrunner for the role until the Trump administration last October said it wanted South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.  Ms Yoo has now withdrawn her candidacy. If confirmed, Dr Okonjo-Iweala would be the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO. 
 

Newswire: Biden signs executive orders aimed at tackling racism in America

President Joe Biden

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent


President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders that his less than two-week-old administration hopes will be a catalyst to tackling America’s long-standing race problem. Biden’s action focused on equity and included police and prison reform and public housing.
“America has never lived up to its founding promise of equality for all, but we’ve never stopped trying,” President Biden wrote on Twitter just before signing the executive orders.
“I’ll take action to advance racial equity and push us closer to that more perfect union we’ve always strived to be,” the President proclaimed.
Within hours of taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, President Biden signed 17 executive orders to reverse damaging policy put forth by the previous administration. Throughout his campaign, President Biden pledged to do his part in the fight against systemic racism in America.
One of the Jan. 20 executive orders charged all federal agencies with reviewing equity in their programs and actions. President Biden demanded that the Office of Management and Budget analyze whether federal dollars are equitably distributed in communities of color.
On Tuesday, Jan. 26, the President reinstated a policy from the Barack Obama administration that prohibited military equipment transfer to local police departments. The President noted the disturbing trends he and the rest of the country reckoned with in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others.
The order prevents federal agencies from providing local police with military-grade equipment, which was used by Ferguson, Missouri officers after police shot and killed an unarmed Michael Brown.
The previous administration reinstated the policy to allow federal agencies to provide military-style equipment to local police.
Like Obama, President Biden has said he also would attempt to eliminate the government’s use of private prisons where unspeakable abuses of inmates – mostly those of color – reportedly occur almost daily.
President Biden also issued a memo that directs the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to promote equitable housing policies with the executive orders. He also signed an order to establish a commission on policing.