Ottawa confirmed Saturday that a group of Canadians had been detained in Ethiopia after a humanitarian organization reported that 15 volunteers and workers, including 13 Canadian nationals, had been apprehended.
Global Affairs Canada, the foreign ministry, said it had “raised this case directly with the government of Ethiopia and officials are in contact with local authorities to gather further information.”
The charity, Canadian Humanitarian, said that the 15 detained individuals were medical professional volunteers, general volunteers, and staff members.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday closed a three-nation Africa tour with a thinly-veiled swipe at China as he talked up Washington’s ability to stimulate growth and entrepreneurship on the continent.
“Countries should be wary of authoritarian regimes with empty promises. They breed corruption, dependency,” Pompeo said in a speech to diplomats and business leaders at the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
“They run the risk that the prosperity and sovereignty and progress that Africa so needs and desperately wants won’t happen.”
Pompeo in his remarks did not explicitly mention China — Africa’s largest trading partner — but analysts predicted ahead of his trip that he would attempt to pitch the US as an alternative source of investment.
On Wednesday Pompeo name-checked US companies operating in all three countries on his Africa tour, the first by a US cabinet-level official in 19 months: Bechtel in Senegal, Chevron in Angola and Coca-Cola in Ethiopia.
He also hailed the free market generally, blasting “failed socialist experiments of years past” in places like Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
And he criticised a proposed constitutional amendment in South Africa that would allow private property to be expropriated without compensation — a plan that seeks to overcome inequalities set down in the apartheid era.
The amendment would be “disastrous for that economy and most importantly for the South African people,” he said.
Pompeo left later for Riyadh.
Pompeo’s attempt to lay out a positive vision for US cooperation with Africa has been undermined by President Donald Trump’s Africa policy so far, analysts say.
Critics are quick to cite Trump’s widely-reported remarks in 2018 when he used a profanity to describe African and poorer Western Hemisphere nations whose citizens migrate to the United States.
Washington is currently discussing military cuts in Africa, and the US recently announced tightened visa rules targeting Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, as well as Tanzania, Sudan and Eritrea.
“Pompeo is unlikely to undo the damage from the Trump administration’s travel bans, the proposed budget cuts, or the president’s disparaging comments about the region,” said Judd Devermont, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Washington.
But African leaders would nonetheless “welcome his long-overdue engagement and focus on the positives as much as possible,” Devermont said.
Even so, countries like Ethiopia have benefitted from Chinese engagement, rendering Pompeo’s message less effective, said Abel Abate Demissie, an Ethiopian political analyst.
“It is undeniable that Chinese investment was quite crucial in keeping Ethiopia on track as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies for many years,” Abel said.
He added that much Chinese money has gone toward tangible projects like roads and buildings, while American money is more often funnelled to “less visible” fields like education and health.
“The fact that Chinese loans and sometimes grants have less bureaucracy also makes it quite convenient for Ethiopia and Africa at large,” Abel said.
China has funnelled cash and loans into infrastructure projects across the continent.
However Beijing has faced accusations, which it denies, of saddling poor nations with debt, siphoning off mineral resources and leaving environmental damage.
Pompeo insisted Wednesday that Trump was eager to play a bigger role on the continent.
“If there’s one thing you should know about our president –- my boss –- you should know that he loves deals,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience.
“He wants more to happen between the United States and nations all across Africa.”
“The United States has always advertised freedom of the press, but it interferes with and obstructs the normal operation of Chinese media in the United States,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing, warning: “We reserve the right to respond further to this matter.”
Kenya’s president said Wednesday that African nations should be free to cooperate with both the United States and China, warning that foreign powers were exacerbating the continent’s divisions.
President Uhuru Kenyatta was speaking on a visit to Washington, where speculation has built that the United States will seek to negotiate a free-trade agreement with Kenya, in what would be a first with an African nation.
On the eve of his talks with President Donald Trump, Kenyatta said he was “very concerned” about a return to the Cold War era when Africans had to choose between the United States and the Soviet Union.
“Western countries, and their counterparts in Asia and the Middle East, are returned to competition over Africa, in some cases weaponizing divisions, pursuing proxy actions and behaving like Africa is for the taking.
“Well, I want to tell you it is not,” Kenyatta said at the Atlantic Council think tank.
China has been funding billions of dollars worth of infrastructure around the world, including a modern new rail-line between Nairobi and the port of Mombasa, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
The United States has been increasingly vocal in urging developing nations to be wary, warning that they can be saddled with unpayable debts to Beijing for projects built largely with Chinese labor.
Asked about the criticism of China, Kenyatta said: “We don’t want to be forced to choose. We want to work with everybody, and we believe that there is an opportunity for everybody.
“There are those areas indeed where America stands out and has much, much better strengths in certain fields. On the other hand, you have the Chinese who build hospitals in seven days.”
First African trade pact?
The White House said Trump would speak to Kenyatta about “new opportunities to advance cooperation and trade.”
Scott Eisner of the US Chamber of Commerce said the private sector was increasingly paying attention to rumors that the US and Kenya would start free-trade negotiations.
“There are some big numbers you could hit over the next six to 10 years should a big deal come together,” Eisner, head of the Chamber’s US-Africa Business Center, told reporters on a conference call.
He pointed to Kenya’s medical device industry, tech sector, and textiles as areas for trade and said the country had proven to be a “good market entry point” to East Africa.
The United States has free-trade agreements with 20 countries but none are in Africa.
Bob Lighthizer, the US trade representative, said in 2018 that the Trump administration would choose one African country for a “model” free-trade agreement.
Driving the momentum for a trade deal, a US law that sets import preferences for African goods is set to expire in 2025.
Passed by Congress in 2000, the African Growth and Opportunity Act lets sub-Saharan nations export an array of products to the United States tariff-free if they meet conditions such as maintaining a market-based economy, protecting labor rights and combating corruption.
Trump is not known for his interest in Africa. But the State Department announced Wednesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would pay his first visit to Africa from February 15 to 19, stopping in Senegal, Angola, and Ethiopia.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told African leaders Monday that Britain would be more open to migrants from their continent after Brexit as he hosted a summit intended to boost trading ties.
He also promised an end to direct UK state investment in thermal coal mining or coal power plants overseas, saying London would focus on supporting a switch to low-carbon energy sources.
Johnson was speaking at the start of the first UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, a clear pitch for business less than two weeks before Britain leaves the European Union.
He told leaders including presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya that he wanted to make Britain their “investment partner of choice”.
After highlighting all that Britain has to offer, he said Brexit would mean an end to preferential treatment for EU migrants.
“Our (immigration) system is becoming fairer and more equal between all our global friends and partners, treating people the same, wherever they come from,” he said.
“By putting people before passports we will be able to attract the best talent from around the world, wherever they may be.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who also attended the summit, said Brexit offered an opportunity for increased free trade across the Commonwealth — and said visas were a key issue.
“While many in the African diaspora enjoy considerable benefits from life in the West, they do not always feel at the heart of the community,” he wrote in an article for The Times on Monday.
“A renewed sense that there are ties that bind us through the Commonwealth, and a concerted effort to grow those links through trade, could act as a spur to encourage togetherness and the certainty of belonging.”
Breathe the same air
Johnson, whose country hosts the next UN climate change summit in Glasgow later this year, also announced a shift in investment strategy to help combat global warming.
Sub-Saharan African faces a number of environmental challenges, particularly the effects of climate change, water and air pollution, desertification, deforestation and over-fishing.
On fossil fuels, Johnson said: “There’s no point in the UK reducing the amount of coal we burn, if we then trundle over to Africa and line our pockets by encouraging African states to use more of it, is there?”
“We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky. We all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warns.”
He added: “Not another penny of UK taxpayers money will be directly invested in digging up coal or burning it for electricity.
“Instead, we’re going to focus on supporting the transition to lower and zero carbon alternatives.”
The British government’s export agency reports providing £2 billion ($2.6 billion) in financing for UK company exports to Africa in the past two years.
The agency says it now wants to “increase its risk appetite” in Egypt and the emerging economies in Nigeria and Rwanda.
The UK government said the London summit will see British and African firms announce commercial deals worth £6.5 billion.
It did not spell out whether these were all firm commitments or included memorandums of understanding that do not always result in actual deals.
Britain will leave the EU on January 31, although ties will remain the same for 11 months while the two sides thrash out a new trading relationship.
The UK has said it will be leaving the bloc’s single market and customs union.
Johnson wants the freedom to strike trade deals with other countries, even at the expense of some of its producers facing trade tariffs and quotas as a result.
The United States called Saturday on Iran to apologize for detaining the British ambassador to Tehran, reportedly during protests against the regime.
“This violates the Vienna Convention, which the regime has a notorious history of violating. We call on the regime to formally apologize to the UK for violating his rights and to respect the rights of all diplomats,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted.
US President Donald Trump wished North Korea’s Kim Jong Un a happy birthday, Seoul said Friday — with nuclear talks deadlocked and six years after former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman serenaded Pyongyang’s leader.
North Korea has never officially confirmed Kim’s age or date of birth, but Rodman’s breathy Marilyn Monroe-style performance of “Happy Birthday” took place before an exhibition basketball match in Pyongyang on January 8, 2014.
In a sanctions document, the US Treasury has said Kim was born on that day in 1984, which would make him 36, but there is speculation he could be a year or two older.
Seoul’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong met Trump in Washington on Wednesday and said the former real estate mogul — who in warmer times proclaimed he and Kim had fallen in love — “recalled” it was his birthday.
“President Trump wished Chairman Kim Jong Un a happy birthday and asked President Moon to convey it to him,” Chung told reporters as he arrived back in South Korea on Friday.
The message was delivered “in an appropriate manner”, he added, without explaining how it had been transmitted.
Contacts between the two Koreas are at a standstill, with Pyongyang’s official media repeatedly excoriating the leadership in Seoul.
At a meeting of his ruling party in December, Kim declared an end to Pyongyang’s moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and threatened a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon” soon.
Trump and Kim have had three meetings since June 2018 but there has been little tangible progress in denuclearising North Korea.
At the 2014 event, Rodman, a heavily tattooed former NBA All-Star, sang the birthday song before the North Korean leader and his wife Ri Sol Ju, as the crowd clapped along.
It was Rodman’s fourth visit to North Korea and he appeared to bow to Kim.
Indonesia has deployed fighter jets and warships to patrol islands near the disputed South China Sea, the military said Wednesday, escalating tensions with Beijing after a diplomatic spat over “trespassing” Chinese vessels.
President Joko Widodo also headed Wednesday to the fishing-rich waters around the Natuna Islands, which border the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China despite competing claims from other Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
The Indonesian military said it had deployed eight warships and four jet fighters ahead of Widodo’s visit in an apparent bid to assert its sovereignty over the region.
“I have said many times Natuna is our sovereign territory,” Widodo told reporters.
“There is nothing to be debated…I hope this is clear.”
A Chinese coast guard vessel was spotted in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone Wednesday, the government said.
“We have deployed eight warships,” said Navy spokesman Fajar Tri Rohadi.
The air force said fighter jets had also been deployed.
“(But) our personnel have been told that we are not going to make provocations but rather protect our territory,” said Air Commodore Ronny Irianto Moningka.
China’s foreign ministry downplayed the incident and said there was “no dispute over territorial sovereignty” between Beijing and Jakarta — though the two have “overlapping claims for maritime rights” in the South China Sea.
Indonesia does not lay claim in the South China Sea but said it would not tolerate incursions by China — a key trading partner — into its nearby waters.
“We are willing to continue to properly handle differences with Indonesia,” said spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.
“China and Indonesia have always maintained communication through diplomatic channels on this matter,” Geng said.
Indonesia’s move to send in warships follows the deployment on Friday of around 600 personnel from the navy, army and air force to Natuna as the military launched what it called a regular patrol to secure the area due to the presence of foreign vessels in Indonesian waters.
Jakarta said it would also send hundreds of fishermen to the area to keep an eye out for foreign vessels.
That followed Indonesia summoning the Chinese ambassador last week and lodging a “strong protest” over a Chinese coast guard vessel escorting Chinese fishing boats around the islands in mid-December.
Beijing responded that it has “historic rights” in the region and that fishing boats had been carrying out “legal and reasonable” activities.
Beijing lays claim to huge swathes of the South China Sea, where it is accused of building military installations and artificial islands — and ramming fishing vessels.
China claims the majority of the resource-rich waterway through the so-called nine-dash line, a vague delineation based on maps from the 1940s as the then Republic of China snapped up islands from Japanese control.
The leaders of Germany, France and Britain on Sunday agreed to work towards bringing about de-escalation in the Middle East amid heightened tensions following the US drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, a German government spokesman said.
“The chancellor, the French president, and the British prime minister agreed to work together to reduce tensions in the region,” said the spokesman, after Germany’s Angela Merkel spoke with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Boris Johnson on the phone.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Sunday that any US military action against Iran would conform to international law after President Donald Trump was accused of threatening a war crime by declaring cultural sites as potential targets.
Tehran’s foreign minister drew parallels with the Islamic State group’s destruction of the Middle East’s cultural heritage following Trump’s tweets that sites which were “important to… Iranian culture” were on a list of 52 potential US targets.
And as Twitter was flooded with photos of revered Iranian landmarks in ancient cities such as Isfahan under the hashtag #IranianCulturalSites, leading US Democrats said the president would be in breach of international protocols if he made good on his threat.
“You are threatening to commit war crimes,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the top Democrats hoping to challenge Trump in November’s election, wrote on Twitter.
“We are not at war with Iran. The American people do not want a war with Iran.”
“Targeting civilians and cultural sites is what terrorists do. It’s a war crime,” added fellow Senator Chris Murphy.
In a flurry of interviews on the Sunday talk shows, Trump’s top diplomat said the US would not hesitate to hit back hard against Iran’s “kleptocratic regime” if it came under attack, but pledged that any action would be consistent with the rule of law.
“We’ll behave lawfully. We’ll behave inside the system. We always have and we always will,” Pompeo told the ABC network’s “This Week” program.
“The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission, of protecting and defending America,” he added.
His comments came after his opposite number in Tehran Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME”.
“A reminder to those hallucinating about emulating ISIS war crimes by targeting our cultural heritage: Through MILLENNIA of history, barbarians have come and ravaged our cities, razed our monuments and burnt our libraries,” said Foreign Minister Zarif.
“Where are they now? We’re still here, & standing tall.”
Nicholas Burns, who served as US ambassador to NATO under president George W. Bush, said the Trump administration would be guilty of hypocrisy given it was part of international efforts to deter IS from destroying countless pre-Islamic artefacts, including in the Syrian UNESCO-listed site of Palmyra.
“Donald Trump’s threat to destroy Iranian cultural sites would be a war crime under UN Security Council resolution 2347 – supported by the Trump Administration itself in 2017 to warn ISIS+Al Qaeda of similar actions.
“His threat is immoral and Un-American,” said Burns who is now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Others drew comparisons with the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in central Afghanistan
Pompeo refused to give any details on the 52 potential targets which Trump said had been drawn up to represent each and every hostage held in the standoff at the US embassy in Tehran four decades ago.
But one former official expressed skepticism that military planners would agree to target cultural sites.
“For what it’s worth, I find it hard to believe the Pentagon would provide Trump targeting options that include Iranian cultural sites,” said Colin Kahl who was National Security Adviser to former vice president Joe Biden.
“Trump may not care about the laws of war, but DoD (Department of Defense) planners and lawyers do… and targeting cultural sites is war crime.”
Iran accused France on Sunday of “interference” in the case of an Iranian-French academic held in the Islamic republic, saying she is considered an Iranian national and faces security charges.
France said Friday it summoned Iran’s ambassador to protest the imprisonment of Fariba Adelkhah and another academic, Roland Marchal of France, saying their detention was “intolerable”.
Their imprisonment has added to distrust between Tehran and Paris at a time when French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to play a leading role in defusing tensions between Iran and its arch-foe the United States.
“The statement by France’s foreign ministry regarding an Iranian national is an act of interference and we see their request to have no legal basis,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement.
“The individual in question (Adelkhah) is an Iranian national and has been arrested over ‘acts of espionage’,” he said, adding that her lawyer had knowledge about the details of the case which is being investigated.
Iran does not recognise dual nationality and has repeatedly rebuffed calls from foreign governments for consular access to those it has detained during legal proceedings.
In its statement on Friday, the French foreign ministry reiterated its call for the release of Adelkhah and Marshal.
It also reaffirmed France’s demand for consular access.
In response, Mousavi said Marshal was detained for “conspiring against national security”, that he has had “consular access multiple times” and that his lawyer was in touch with the judiciary.
– Hunger strikes – A specialist in Shiite Islam and a research director at Sciences Po University in Paris, Adelkhah’s arrest for suspected “espionage” was confirmed in July.
Her colleague Marchal was arrested while visiting Adelkhah, according to his lawyer.
The university and supporters said this week that Adelkhah and another detained academic, Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert, had started an indefinite hunger strike just before Christmas.
The French statement said the ministry had made clear to the ambassador “our grave concern over the situation of Mrs Fariba Adelkhah, who has stopped taking food”.
“Creating hype cannot stop Iran’s judiciary from handling the case, especially considering the security charges the two face,” Mousavi said.
The latest tensions come after Xiyue Wang, an American scholar who had been serving 10 years on espionage charges, was released by Iran this month in exchange for Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian who had been held in the US for allegedly breaching sanctions.
Iran has said it is open to more such prisoner swaps with the United States.
Tehran is still holding several other foreign nationals in high profile cases, including British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father Mohammad Bagher Namazi.
US-Iran tensions have soared since Washington pulled out of a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.
The United States on Monday welcomed death sentences issued by Saudi Arabia against five people over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Today’s verdicts were an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable,” a State Department official told reporters after the ruling, which was lambasted as a travesty by Turkey, rights groups, and The Washington Post, to which Khashoggi contributed.
The court, however, exonerated two top aides to Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the United States Senate considers responsible for Khashoggi’s murder in October last year at Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul.
The United States “encouraged Saudi Arabia to undertake a fair and transparent judicial process,” the official added.
“We’re pressing them for more transparency and for holding everybody accountable.”
Riyadh has described the murder as a “rogue” operation, but both the CIA and a United Nations special envoy have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.
The government of US President Donald Trump has been careful to not attribute such blame to the prince, giving priority to maintaining good relations with the kingdom which is a major arms buyer and ally against Iran.