|Thursday 16th of December 2021
.@WHO Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - 14 December 2021
Globally, the weekly incidence of both cases and deaths declined during the past week (6-12 December 2021), with decreases of 5% and 10% respectively, as compared to the previous week.
Nonetheless, this still corresponded to over 4 million new confirmed cases and just under 47 000 new deaths.
The African Region reported the largest increase in new cases last week (111%) followed by and the Western Pacific Region which reported an increase of 7%.
The highest numbers of new cases were reported from
United States of America (674 019 new cases; 9% decrease)
Germany (351 738 new cases; 11% decrease)
United Kingdom (350 340 new cases; 13% increase)
France (335 972 new cases; 19% increase)
Russian Federation (215 283 new cases; 7% decrease).
29-NOV-2021 :: Regime Change
The Invisible Microbe has metastasized into Omicron and what we know is that COVID-19 far from becoming less virulent has become more virulent.
The transmissibility of #Omicron is not in question, it clearly has a spectacular advantage.
The Open Question is whether it is more virulent. If it is less virulent then #Omicron is breaking the Trend of increasing virulence.
Sinovac Provides Inadequate Shield Against Omicron in Hong Kong Study @bpolitics
The vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech Ltd., one of the most widely used in the world, doesn’t provide sufficient antibodies in two doses to neutralize the omicron variant and boosters will likely be needed to improve protection, initial lab findings showed.
While the first two studies to be released on the Chinese shot and omicron diverged on how much the vaccine’s immune response is degraded, they both indicated the standard two-dose course would not be enough, raising uncertainty over a shot relied on by millions of people in China and the developing world to protect against Covid-19.
Among a group of 25 people vaccinated with two Coronavac doses, none showed sufficient antibodies in their blood serum to neutralize the omicron variant, said a statement from a team of researchers at the University of Hong Kong released late Tuesday night.
The Beijing-based company then released its own findings on Wednesday, saying that seven of 20 people -- 35% -- who received two doses in its study showed sufficient antibodies to neutralize omicron.
The picture improved somewhat when a booster shot was added into the mix, with Sinovac’s lab results showing that among a group of 48 people who had received three doses, 45 of them, or 94%, had sufficient antibodies to neutralize omicron, the company said.
It didn’t elaborate on details of its study or whether findings were going to be published in a scientific journal.
The study sizes were small and differences in the age and health profiles of the subjects potentially account for the differences in findings.
While much is still unknown about how Sinovac’s shot reacts to omicron -- including how T cells, the immune system’s weapon against virus-infected cells, will respond -- the initial results are a blow to those who have received the 2.3 billion doses of Coronavac shipped out, mostly in China and the developing world.
With omicron seen to be at least four times as transmissible as the delta variant in a Japan study, the prospect of having to accelerate booster campaigns or even re-vaccinate with a more omicron-specific shot will set back the world’s efforts to exit the pandemic.
Hong Kong Study
Led by Kwok-Yung Yuen, the highly respected professor in infectious diseases, the study at the University of Hong Kong of 50 people has been accepted for publication in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and is available online as a pre-print.
It also looked at the other vaccine available in Hong Kong, the messenger RNA shot developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.
Of 25 people who had received two doses of that vaccine, five had neutralizing ability against the new variant, the scientists said.
That’s in line with findings released last week by the companies, who said a third shot would be sufficient to protect against omicron.
The HKU team did not study people who had received three doses of the Sinovac vaccine.
This Is How Long Experts Think China Will Stick With Covid Zero
If Sinovac is found in more conclusive studies to be ineffective against omicron, China, which has managed to insulate the vast majority of its people from Covid-19 with closed borders and strict containment measures, faces the biggest threat from the new variant, said experts.
The government has given out 2.6 billion homegrown shots -- many of them Coronavac -- to its population of 1.4 billion people, but now faces the prospect of having to develop new vaccines before it can shift away from its current isolationist stance.
Among other countries using Coronavac, previous infection waves would have conferred some natural immunity that will help ensure “no major impact” from omicron, said Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.
But the populations in mainland China and Hong Kong have experienced no large-scale infection before, leaving them vulnerable.
“The Chinese authorities have worked hard to have a high vaccination rate across the country but the mutability of the virus means that the impact of those efforts has been significantly reduced,” said Nicholas Thomas, an associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong who has edited several books on foreign policy and public health.
“The two-fold challenge now facing China is how to ensure that their population is again protected from omicron and any future mutations, plus managing the flows of goods and people over their borders when the rest of the world is moving to live with the virus,” he said.
The country has detected two omicron cases so far in returning travelers, with one of them being discovered over two weeks after he entered China.
New Data Show How Far From Normal the Tourism Industry Remains @business
If your passport is still collecting dust, you’re hardly alone. A full recovery for the tourism industry was never expected in 2021—most estimates peg a return to “normal” by 2024.
But the current travel economy varies greatly depending on what region you’re looking at.
The Caribbean, for instance, is “recovering at a faster rate than any other region in the world,” shows an October study from the World Travel & Tourism Council.
That’s a relief after years of rebuilding following hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
Travel’s contribution to global gross domestic product rose 30% in 2021, on average, from 2020.
In the Caribbean, that figure was 47%, a difference of $12 billion for local economies. If that continues, the region could surpass its record-setting 2019 by next year.
The U.S. is also faring better than expected. Models from STR, a hospitality data and analytics company, have bumped the timeline for its travel recovery up a full year, to 2023, even though international tourism resumed in November.
But generally, within regions, there have been winners and losers.
“If you’re leisure-oriented, with access to beaches or mountains, you did well or you did really well,” says Jan Freitag, STR’s senior vice president for lodging insights.
His company’s data show that through Nov. 27, 41 out of 131 U.S. hotel markets outdid 2019 revenue per available room.
The Florida Keys—the most tropical place Americans could drive to without pandemic restrictions—were the clear winners, indexing at 144% of 2019 numbers. Runners-up included Gatlinburg, Tenn.; Daytona Beach, Fla.; and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Similar narratives unfolded in Europe, where the top market, the Turkish Riviera, indexed at a massive 192% of its 2019 figures.
The more luxurious the hotel, the better the outlook. Both abroad and in the U.S., spots such as Amangiri, Blackberry Farm, and Ranch at Rock Creek have commanded such fervor that it’s been all but impossible to get a reservation.
The flip side has been a toll on cities. In the U.S., San Francisco took the greatest hit in 2021, indexing at only 34% of its 2019 hotel revenue.
Boston, New York, and Washington all made about half of their 2019 numbers.
The story was worse in Europe, where 2021 didn’t differ as wildly from 2020 as the travel industry had hoped.
You may have seen friends post on social media about jetting from the U.S. to Croatia and Sicily, but these and other destinations were still dependent on regional rather than higher-spending cross-border tourists. International arrivals are still down 73%, on average.
By November the Asia-Pacific region had managed to capture only 5% of the international arrivals it saw in 2019, owing to government-imposed lockdowns.
The impact on jobs and the economy has been “nothing short of catastrophic,” as the United Nations International Labour Organization’s regional director Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa told Al Jazeera.
A handful of major countries in the region, including Australia, China, and Japan, have yet to reopen to international leisure travelers at all.
And some countries that did open up in recent months, such as Singapore, have had to revise their policies to curb the spread of the omicron variant, which is now poised to scuttle the high season in Southeast Asia—as well as the Alps.
With nowhere to go abroad, China’s moneyed travelers are giving plenty of business to the many hotels on their home turf.
But not every country is dense enough or has a wealthy enough population to compensate for international tourism, deepening the inequity of many respective recoveries.
The $1,000-a-night resorts in Fiji, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Seychelles are not built for local crowds.
And in some cases, these countries have also had unequal access to vaccines, impeding their ability to control caseloads or safely reopen borders.
At least this isn’t high season in southern Africa, where the safari industry is still reeling.
“If I could have picked the dates for another wave of disruption, this is probably what I would have chosen,” half-jokes Dereck Joubert, the National Geographic wildlife documentarian and co-owner of the safari outfit Great Plains Conservation.
Any added disruption threatens a recovery timeline that will already take “six or seven years” for Joubert’s company.
And without tourism revenue, safari operators—big underwriters of conservation projects in the region—cannot contribute.
“The losses to wildlife and conservation are very hard to calculate,” Joubert says. “It will take another year just to find out how much we’ve lost.”
WHO regional overviews Epidemiological week 6 – 12 December 2021 African Region
The African Region reported over 167 000 new cases, an increase of 111% as compared to the previous week and the highest number of new weekly cases since early August 2021.
Marked increases were observed in over two thirds (33/49; 67%) of countries in the Region with the majority (30/33; 91%) reporting increases of 25% or greater, as compared to the previous week.
The highest numbers of new cases were reported from
South Africa (109 053 new cases; 183.9 new cases per 100 000 population; a 76% increase)
Zimbabwe (26 479 new cases; 178.2 new cases per 100 000; a 479% increase)
Mauritius (6415 new cases; 504.4 new cases per 100 000; a 775% increase)
The Region reported just under 500 new deaths, a number similar to the number reported in the previous week.
19-JUL-2021 Many Folks seem to feel we are in the final Act of the COVID-19 Play. I would be limit short that particular narrative.
South African hospitals have 7,339 Covid-19 patients admitted of which 6.8% are in intensive care units, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a report on Wednesday. @business
Of the 497 people in ICU, 190 are on ventilators, the institute said. Of the admissions 3,086 are in Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The numbers compare with the 6,895 who were in the hospital a day earlier, with 6.8%, the same proportion, of those in ICU.
“There has been a small increase in deaths in all provinces except Northern cape and Western Cape,” the NICD said in a separate weekly hospitalization report that analyzed data in the seven days to Dec. 11.
They want to become a superpower': African port links could make Chinese access to Atlantic inevitable @dcexaminer
Chinese Communist officials have invested in dozens of ports across Africa, creating a network of economic relationships that could develop into military assets as the U.S.-China competition develops.
“They have a very clear plan,” Namrata Hasija, a research fellow at the India-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, told the Washington Examiner. “They realize that ports are important — their navy is important — if they want to become a superpower.”
Chinese Communist officials have signaled their intentions in black-letter military doctrine, Hasija noted, but the specter of China’s emergence as a global naval power attracted international attention last week following a report that Beijing seeks a military facility in West Africa’s Equatorial Guinea.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan recently dispatched his top deputy to Malabo to discourage such an arrangement, but Beijing’s sustained cultivation of African governments leaves Chinese military strategists with no shortage of alternatives.
“They've got so many options up and down just the west coast of Africa — so many options to pick from,” retired Ambassador David Shinn, who represented the United States in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and now teaches at George Washington University, observed.
“Of all the options that are out there, they're likely to have a positive response from one or more, at that point at which they need a positive response.”
That assessment actually understates China’s diplomatic clout in the region, according to another close observer of Sino-African relations.
“If China decides that tomorrow it’s going to put a base in any of those countries, it's safe to assume that it's not going to meet any resistance because of the strength of its political ties,” said Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Both analysts agreed that China would not take such an overt and one-dimensional step, however, given Beijing’s preference for economic connections to take precedence in the public eye.
“It's important to remember that China pursues a blended approach ... that mixes commercial, political, economic, and financial goals together,” Nantulya said. “You’re never going to have a situation where the PLA is just doing its military thing.”
Those investment habits have led Chinese companies into at least 46 different ports in sub-Saharan Africa, according to CSIS researchers in 2019.
That study identified 16 ports funded and constructed by China, including the port in Equatorial Guinea’s Bata reportedly desired by China’s military, and another 11 that already are operated by China.
“Seven of the eleven ports operated by Chinese entities are deep-water, opening the possibility for larger commercial, but also military, vessels to dock,” the CSIS analysis noted .
That range of possibilities is the product of long-term diplomatic and economic investments in almost every African country, which Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping has portrayed as an “unbreakable fraternity in our struggle against imperialism and colonialism.”
That claim is not without historical justification, U.S. analysts acknowledge, but some students of China’s overtures to African governments see more practical economic and political motivations.
“China has always believed that African countries hold diplomatic potential — a belief that dates back as far as the late 1950s and early 1960s,” Hasija noted.
“In more contemporary times, however, Chinese interest in Africa was sparked by the events surrounding Tiananmen Square in June 1989, when African leaders were quick to support Beijing in the face of worldwide criticism.”
Those overtures were not matched by the U.S., where officials have “generally neglected Africa since the end of the Cold War,” as Shinn put it, after years of allowing anti-Soviet priorities to dictate choices such as support for the apartheid South African regime.
That aloofness left China free to turn political affinities into economic relationships in recent decades, a process that accelerated as Xi's Belt and Road Initiative dovetailed with Africa’s need for modern infrastructure.
“Africa is way undersupplied with modern ports, and so this is a growth area for Chinese business,” said Dr. Deborah Bräutigam, who directs the China-Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“It’s win-win for them — they invest in better ports, they get better ability to facilitate their products going in, African products coming out — all of that becomes more efficient. And their companies get business to build these things, which are needed.”
President Joe Biden’s team is well aware of those dynamics. The White House National Security Council’s special adviser for Africa Strategy, Judd Devermont, co-authored the CSIS analysis that traced the outlines of China’s port investments in 2019.
And Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently made his first trip to Africa as Biden’s top envoy, with stops in Kenya, Senegal, and Nigeria.
“The United States promotes democratic governance, respect for human rights, and transparency,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner.
“Our focus is on strengthening local capacity, creating African jobs, and working with our allies and partners to promote economic growth that is beneficial, sustainable, and inclusive over the long term.”
That emphasis on “creating African jobs” presents a contrast with Chinese investment, which often includes a contractual obligation that Chinese workers populate the construction sites, but Biden’s team is careful not to portray U.S. interests in Africa as a byproduct of the rivalry with China.
“The reality is the PRC is a global strategic competitor,” the spokesperson said. “Our Africa policy is about Africa, not about China. U.S. policy doesn’t ask our partners to choose between the United States and the PRC. In short, we increase African options, not limit them.”
China’s emergence as a naval power around Africa's coastline raises the question of whether Beijing could limit U.S. military operations.
China has established its first overseas military installation in Djibouti, giving the Chinese navy a valuable outpost on shipping lanes that link the Red Sea to the wider Indian Ocean.
Biden’s team, fearing a similar development on the western coast of Africa, reportedly warned Equatorial Guinean authorities that “certain potential steps involving [Chinese] activity there would raise national-security concerns,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
China could have a legitimate security interest in such a West African facility given threats of piracy in the region.
“The Gulf of Guinea, if we look at any map of piracy activity worldwide, it’s all there,” Bräutigam observed, while cautioning that China’s plans remain unclear despite U.S. reports.
“China’s the world’s biggest trading nation. Piracy is going to be affecting Chinese ships. ... They would want to have some toehold to be able to respond quickly to situations like that.”
Those real risks create the kind of political cover for military expansion desired by Chinese officials who are “very, very sensitive to the fact that foreign basing is a sensitive issue on the continent,” as Nantulya put it.
Shinn, the former ambassador to Ethiopia, likewise noted that China could derive significant military benefits through West African facilities, even without going through the process of acquiring a full naval base.
“The rub will come if it seems to be something to make it possible to project [power] beyond the coast of West Africa and well into the Atlantic,” Shinn said, noting that Washington would not “be very happy” if Chinese submarines were to begin refueling in West Africa before continuing toward the U.S.
“In the final analysis, the African governments have the authority to say yes or no to some sort of more substantial Chinese use of their ports, and I have no doubt that some African governments are going to say [no],” Shinn said.
“I think there are any number of African governments that take that position, but there will be one — [or] two, three, four — willing to go further than that for whatever reason.”
“You can imagine the amount of experience that they’ve been able to build in terms of being able to operate overseas for long periods of time,” Nantulya said.
“China wants to be seen as a credible power, right, that is able to protect its expanding overseas interests.”
Armed with drones, Turkey explores African arms sales @AFP
Armed with battle-tested drones, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been deepening defence ties with African countries ahead of a major gathering of the continent's leaders in Istanbul.
The two-day Turkey-Africa partnership summit starting Friday comes fast on the heels of a top-level business forum in October that focused on investment and trade.
The next phase of this fast-blossoming relationship is security, experts say, with a host of African leaders looking to buy up military hardware at cheaper prices and with fewer strings attached.
Leaders and top ministers from 39 countries -- including 13 presidents -- have confirmed attendance, with Erdogan set to make a speech on Saturday.
Ankara already has a military base in Somalia, and Morocco and Tunisia reportedly took their first delivery of Turkish combat drones in September.
Angola became the latest to express an interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during Erdogan's first visit to the southern African country in October.
Turkey in August also signed a military cooperation pledge with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has been embroiled in a war with Tigrayan rebels for the past year.
"The most important sector is the defence sector because this is a new asset. Turkey has pushed this sector a lot, especially drones," Federico Donelli, an international relations researcher at the University of Genoa, told AFP.
Russia has been the dominant player on the African arms market, accounting for 49 percent of the continent's imports between 2015 and 2019, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
But interest in Turkish weaponry is peaking.
The TB2 Bayraktar model is in high demand after it was credited with swinging the fate of conflicts in Libya and Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the past few years.
The drones are made by the private Baykar company, run by one of Erdogan's sons-in-law.
"Everywhere I go in Africa, everyone asks about UAVs," Erdogan boasted after a visit to Angola, Nigeria and Togo in October.
Some of the closest scrutiny has focused on Turkey's ties with Ethiopia, where a brutal conflict has killed thousands, displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.
A Western source said Turkey sent an undisclosed number of combat drones in support of Abiy's campaign earlier this year, but that Ankara has since responded to international pressure and halted the sales.
"Ethiopia can buy these drones from whoever they want," Turkey's foreign ministry spokesman said in October, neither confirming or denying the sales.
- Soaring sales -
Official Turkish data does not break down the details of military sales to individual countries, only giving the total sales amount for each month.
These have soared spectacularly in the past year.
Turkish defence and aviation exports to Ethiopia rose to $94.6 million between January and November from around $235,000 in the same period last year, according to figures published by the Turkish Exporters Assembly.
Sales to Angola, Chad and Morocco experienced similar jumps.
Turkey's drones first made international headlines after Ankara signed two deals with the UN-recognised Libyan government covering maritime and security in 2019.
It then swarmed the conflict zone with drones, stalling an advance by rebel eastern forces backed by Turkey's regional rivals and paving the way for a truce.
Turkey cemented its drones' reputation last year by helping Azerbaijan recapture most of the land it lost to separatist ethnic Armenian forces in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh nearly three decades ago.
"Now Turkey with drones has more cards to play when they have to bargain with other countries," researcher Donelli said.
"This is a very good bargaining chip for Turkey."
The head of Turkey's Foreign Economic Relations Board -- the NGO that hosted the October forum in Istanbul -- insisted the growing relationship was not just about weapons.
"We care about the defence sector and our relations with Africa," the board's head Nail Olpak told AFP.
"But I would like to emphasise that if we see the defence sector only as weapons, rockets, guns, tanks and rifles, it would be wrong."
He highlighted Turkish mine-clearing vehicles in Togo, which qualify as defence industry sales.
Donelli agreed, referring to Togo's plans to improve its army with the support of Turkey through training and armoured vehicles, weapons and other kinds of equipment.
Turkey has reportedly set up a web of 37 military offices across Africa in all, in line with Erdogan's affirmed goal of tripling the annual trade volume with the continent to $75 billion in the coming years.
The @NobelPrize That Paved the Way for War @nytimes @declanwalsh
Secret meetings with a dictator. Clandestine troop movements. Months of quiet preparation for a war that was supposed to be swift and bloodless.
New evidence shows that Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, had been planning a military campaign in the northern Tigray region for months before war erupted one year ago, setting off a cascade of destruction and ethnic violence that has engulfed Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.
Mr. Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate seen recently in fatigues commanding troops on the battlefront, insists that war was foisted upon him — that ethnic Tigrayan fighters fired the first shots in November 2020 when they attacked a federal military base in Tigray, slaughtering soldiers in their beds.
That account has become an article of faith for Mr. Abiy and his supporters.
In fact, it was a war of choice for Mr. Abiy — one with wheels set in motion even before the Nobel Peace Prize win in 2019 that turned him, for a time, into a global icon of nonviolence.
The Nobel win stemmed largely from the unlikely peace deal Mr. Abiy struck with Isaias Afwerki, the authoritarian leader of Eritrea, within months of coming to power in 2018.
That pact ended two decades of hostility and war between the neighboring rivals, and inspired lofty hopes for a transformed region.
Instead, the Nobel emboldened Mr. Abiy and Mr. Isaias to secretly plot a course for war against their mutual foes in Tigray, according to current and former Ethiopian officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals or protect family members inside Ethiopia.
In the months before fighting erupted in November 2020, Mr. Abiy moved troops toward Tigray and sent military cargo planes into Eritrea.
Behind closed doors, his advisers and military generals debated the merits of a conflict. Those who disagreed were fired, interrogated at gunpoint or forced to leave.
Still dazzled by Mr. Abiy’s Nobel win, the West ignored those warning signs, the officials said. But ultimately it helped to pave the way to war.
“From that day, Abiy felt he was one of the most influential personalities in the world,” Gebremeskel Kassa, a former senior Abiy administration official now in exile in Europe, said in an interview.
“He felt he had a lot of international support, and that if he went to war in Tigray, nothing would happen. And he was right,” he added.
Mr. Abiy’s spokeswoman, the information minister of Eritrea and the Norwegian Nobel Committee did not respond to questions for this article.
The quick and easy military victory that Mr. Abiy promised has not come to pass.
The Tigrayans routed the Ethiopian troops and their Eritrean allies over the summer and last month came within 160 miles of the capital, Addis Ababa — prompting Mr. Abiy to declare a state of emergency.
Recently, the pendulum has swung back, with government forces retaking two strategic towns that had been captured by the Tigrayans — the latest twist in a conflict that has already cost tens of thousands of lives and pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.
Analysts say that Mr. Abiy’s journey from peacemaker to battlefield commander is a cautionary tale of how the West, desperate to find a new hero in Africa, got this leader spectacularly wrong.
“The West needs to make up for its mistakes in Ethiopia,” said Alex Rondos, formerly the European Union’s top diplomat in the Horn of Africa. “It misjudged Abiy. It empowered Isaias. Now the issue is whether a country of 110 million people can be prevented from unraveling.”
The Nobel Committee Takes a Chance
Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2019, Mr. Abiy, a former soldier, drew on his own experience to eloquently capture the horror of conflict.
“War is the epitome of hell,” he told a distinguished audience at Oslo City Hall. “I know because I have been there and back.”
To his foreign admirers, the soaring rhetoric was further proof of an exceptional leader.
In his first months in power, Mr. Abiy, then 41, freed political prisoners, unshackled the press and promised free elections in Ethiopia.
His peace deal with Eritrea, a pariah state, was a political moonshot for the strife-torn Horn of Africa region.
Even so, the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee knew it was taking on a chance on Mr. Abiy, said Henrik Urdal of Peace Research Institute Oslo, which analyzes the committee’s decisions.
Mr. Abiy’s sweeping reforms were fragile and easily reversible, Mr. Urdal said, and the peace with Eritrea centered on his relationship with Mr. Isaias, a ruthless and battle-hardened autocrat.
“My partner and comrade-in-peace,” Mr. Abiy called him in Oslo.
Many Ethiopians also wanted to believe in Mr. Abiy’s promise.
At a gala dinner for the new prime minister in Washington in July 2018, Dr. Kontie Moussa, an Ethiopian living in Sweden, announced to applause that he was nominating Mr. Abiy for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Back in Sweden, Dr. Kontie persuaded Anders Österberg, a parliamentarian from a low-income Stockholm district with a large immigrant population, to join his cause. Mr. Österberg traveled to Ethiopia, met with Mr. Abiy and was impressed.
He signed the Nobel papers — one of at least two nominations for Mr. Abiy that year.
In selecting Mr. Abiy, the Nobel Committee hoped to encourage him further down the path of democratic reforms, Mr. Urdal said.
Even then, though, there were signs that Mr. Abiy’s peace deal wasn’t all it seemed.
Its initial fruits, like daily commercial flights between the two countries and reopened borders, were rolled back or reversed in a matter of months.
Promised trade pacts failed to materialize, and there was little concrete cooperation, the Ethiopian officials said.
Eritrea’s spies, however, gained an edge. Ethiopian intelligence detected an influx of Eritrean agents, some posing as refugees, who gathered information about Ethiopia’s military capabilities, a senior Ethiopian security official said.
The Eritreans were particularly interested in Tigray, he said.
Mr. Isaias had a long and bitter grudge against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which dominated Ethiopia for nearly three decades until Mr. Abiy came to power in 2018.
He blamed Tigrayan leaders for the fierce border war of 1998 to 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia, in which as many as 100,000 people were killed.
He also blamed them for Eritrea’s painful international isolation, including United Nations sanctions.
For Mr. Abiy, it was more complicated.
He served in the T.P.L.F.-dominated governing coalition for eight years and was made a minister in 2015.
But as an ethnic Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, he never felt fully accepted by Tigrayans and suffered numerous humiliations, former officials and friends said.
Tigrayans fired Mr. Abiy from his leadership position at a powerful intelligence agency in 2010.
In power, he came to see the Tigrayans, still smarting from their ouster, as the biggest threat to his burgeoning ambitions.
A Spy Chief Among the Singers and Dancers
Mr. Abiy and Mr. Isaias met at least 14 times from the time they signed the peace deal until war broke out, public records and news reports show.
Unusually, the meetings were mostly one-on-one, without aides or note-takers, two former Ethiopian officials said.
They also met in secret: On at least three other occasions in 2019 and 2020, Mr. Isaias flew into Addis Ababa unannounced, one former official said. Aviation authorities were instructed to keep quiet, and an unmarked car was sent to take him to Mr. Abiy’s compound.
Around that time, Eritrean officials also regularly visited the Amhara region, which has a long history of rivalry with Tigray.
Crowds thronged the streets when Mr. Isaias visited the ancient Amhara city of Gondar in November 2018, chanting, “Isaias, Isaias, Isaias!”
Later, a troupe of Eritrean singers and dancers visited Amhara. But the delegation included Eritrea’s spy chief, Abraha Kassa, who used the trip to meet with Amhara security leaders, the senior Ethiopian official said.
Eritrea later agreed to train 60,000 troops from the Amhara Special Forces, a paramilitary unit that later deployed to Tigray.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in February 2019, Mr. Abiy advocated an effective merger of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti — a suggestion that dismayed Ethiopian officials who saw it as straight from the playbook of Mr. Isaias.
Aides also saw the remarks as further proof of Mr. Abiy’s impulsive tendencies, leading them to cancel his news conference during the Nobel ceremonies in Oslo 10 months later.
Irreconcilable Visions Lead to War
Mr. Abiy viewed the Tigrayans as a threat to his authority — perhaps even his life — from his first days in power.
The Tigrayans had preferred another candidate as prime minister, and Mr. Abiy told friends he feared Tigrayan security officials were trying to assassinate him, an acquaintance said.
At the prime minister’s residence, soldiers were ordered to stand guard on every floor.
Mr. Abiy purged ethnic Tigrayans from his security detail and created the Republican Guard, a handpicked unit under his direct control, whose troops were sent for training to the United Arab Emirates — a powerful new ally also close to Mr. Isaias, a former Ethiopian official said.
The unexplained killing of the Ethiopian military chief, Gen. Seare Mekonnen, an ethnic Tigrayan who was shot dead by a bodyguard in June 2019, heightened tensions.
The rift with the Tigrayans was also driven by profound political differences.
Within weeks of the Nobel Prize decision, Mr. Abiy created the Prosperity Party, which incarnated his vision of a strong, centralized Ethiopian government.
But that vision was anathema to the millions of Ethiopians who yearned for greater regional autonomy — in particular the Tigrayans and members of his own ethnic group, the Oromo.
Accounting for about one-third of the country’s 110 million people, the Oromo have long felt excluded from power. Many hoped Mr. Abiy’s rise would change that.
But the Prosperity Party catered to Mr. Abiy’s ambitions, not theirs, and in late 2019 violent clashes between police officers and protesters erupted across the Oromia region, culminating in the death in June 2020 of a popular singer.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, the slide toward war accelerated.
Ethiopian military cargo planes began to make clandestine flights at night to bases in Eritrea, said a senior Ethiopian official.
Mr. Abiy’s top aides and military officials privately debated the merits of a war in Tigray, the former official said. Dissenters included Ethiopia’s army chief, Gen. Adem Mohammed.
By then the Tigrayans were also gearing up for war, searching for allies in the Northern Command, Ethiopia’s most powerful military unit, which was based in Tigray.
In September the Tigrayans went ahead with a regional election, in open defiance of an order from Mr. Abiy. Mr. Abiy moved troops from the Somali and Oromia regions toward Tigray.
In a video conference call in mid-October, Mr. Abiy told governing party officials that he would intervene militarily in Tigray, and that it would take only three to five days to oust the region’s leaders, said Mr. Gebremeskel, the former senior official now in exile.
On Nov. 2 the European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, publicly appealed to both sides to halt “provocative military deployments.”
The next evening, Tigrayan forces attacked an Ethiopian military base, calling it a pre-emptive strike.
Eritrean soldiers flooded into Tigray from the north. Amhara Special Forces arrived from the south. Mr. Abiy fired General Adem and announced a “law enforcement operation” in Tigray.
Ethiopia’s ruinous civil war was underway.