Mid-Week Digest 08/11/2021

Protests continue in France over COVID-19 health pass, Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict escalates, Mozambican military recaptures Mocimboa da Praia

France: Nationwide protests continue over COVID-19 health pass

On August 7, over 237,000 people participated in demonstrations against the government’s decision to expand the requirement for COVID-19 health passes, marking the fourth consecutive weekend of nationwide protests in France. Marches took place primarily in Paris, Nice, Marseille and Lille, with protesters blocking several roadways; however, no significant disruptions were reported. The demonstrations remained peaceful, although riot police were deployed to the protest locations to prevent any violent incidents or escalation.  On July 31, protesters clashed with the security forces during a demonstration in Paris, prompting the officers to fire tear gas.

The COVID-19 health pass has been required since July 21 to enter recreational or cultural venues, including concert halls, movie theaters and theme parks. The pass is generated via a QR code on the TousAntiCovid mobile application either by proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, recovery or a negative test result taken within 72 hours. As of August 9, the pass is required to enter restaurants, use long distance public transportation and visit a hospital, in addition to the original restrictions. The pass will be required through at least mid-November, with an additional expansion to certain workplaces from August 30.

Since President Emmanuel Macron announced the implementation of the health pass on July 12, at least seven million people in France received their first vaccine dose, and the number of vaccinated people has continued to rise since then. As of August 9, 67 percent of the population are partially vaccinated, compared to 58 percent in the US. However, since the implementation of the pass, business owners have reported a reduction in customers, adding to the nationwide frustration with the new regulations. Demonstrations are expected to resume nationwide, particularly in Paris, as the health pass continues to impact businesses, travel and fuel frustration from the unvaccinated population. However, the protests are likely to draw fewer participants, as at least 60 percent of the population supports the pass and vaccination rates continue to climb.


Ethiopia: Tigray conflict set to escalate as the government calls on all “capable citizens” to join the war

On August 5, officials with Afar’s regional government claimed Tigrayan rebel forces attacked refugees sheltering at a health facility in Galicoma town, killing at least 200 people, including 107 children. The casualty figures have not been independently verified; other media reports said 12 people were killed and 50 others were injured. The attack demonstrated that the conflict in Tigray, which erupted in November 2020 over a disagreement between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray ruling party, continues to escalate, spilling over to bordering Afar and Amhara regions. Coupled with surging ethnic violence in other parts of Ethiopia, the conflict has sparked fears of a wider crisis beyond Tigray with a potential to destabilize other countries in the Horn of Africa. In the nine months of fighting between the federal Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) backed by Eritrea and the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), 1.7 million people have been displaced; more than 63,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Sudan. The federal government’s dependence on the Eritrean forces has also regionalized the conflict and fueled local tensions in Tigray, as both parties have been accused of ethnic cleansing. In addition to the direct impacts of the war on Sudan and Eritrea, the conflict has also prompted Ethiopia to reduce its peacekeeping troops in Somalia, raising concerns about dwindling anti-Al Shabaab efforts in the country.

Despite the declaration of the ceasefire in June, the government called on all “capable” Ethiopians to join the fight against the TDF on August 10, signifying that the conflict is unlikely to de-escalate in the short to medium term, particularly in the context of the government’s incendiary rhetoric that aggravates ethnic tensions and incites mass atrocities. The humanitarian crisis is expected to worsen due to insurgent and militia attacks affecting food and medicine supplies and mounting tensions between the Ethiopian government and international aid organizations. On August 3, Doctors without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council were forced to suspend their operations for three months due to allegations of their collaboration with the TDF.


Mozambique: Military recaptures strategic port city, signifying a shift in ongoing counter-insurgency

Joint Mozambican & Rwandan forces have retaken a strategic port city held by insurgents in oil-rich Cabo Delgado province, signaling that oil companies may begin to return to the region to resume their stalled operations. On August 8, 2021, both forces announced that they had recaptured Mocímboa da Praia, freeing the city from a one-year occupation after initially being captured by insurgents on August 12, 2020. Mocímboa da Praia holds strategic significance to oil operations in Cabo Delgado; it is the main airport for arriving international gas & oil workers and serves as the key port for foreign cargo deliveries bound for oil projects in the area. After the 2020 seizure, subsequent insurgent violence in the area had prompted several foreign oil companies—including French-based TotalEnergies SE—to suspend their operations for at least a year. However, the recent victory indicates that Total and other foreign oil companies may soon be able to resume their operations in the area – TotalEnergies maintains a USD 20 billion liquefied natural gas project (LNG) located 60 mi north of Mocímboa.

Reports of the fighting’s severity following the latest offensive remain mixed; some military leaders close to the operation assert that the city was retaken with heavy fighting and heavy insurgent casualties, while others report they met no resistance. As the insurgent’s last major stronghold, Mocímboa’s capture is expected to severely weaken the militants, who reportedly have ties to the Islamic State. However, some experts hypothesize that the recent victory may not be enough to halt future militant actions, using previous jihadist movements in the region, including those in Somalia and Sahel, as models. Counter-insurgency operations only temporarily disrupted these groups until they adapted by utilizing guerilla tactics; regional experts believe this is also likely to occur in Mozambique in the near term. Despite this, Mozambican leaders—aided by Rwandan, Southern African Development Community (SADC), & Portuguese forces—have pledged to continue their efforts to “pacify the area,” where the conflict has killed over 3,200 people and displaced an estimated 800,000 more.