The Soapbox: Ebola, Ethiopian civil war, Belarus inches toward Russia

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN’s news desk analyzing major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor

In Uganda, an outbreak of Ebola threatens to spread

The Sudan strain of the Ebola virus has killed at least 29 people in Uganda since the country declared an outbreak on Sept. 20. The strain’s previous outbreaks have had estimated fatality rates between 41% and 100%

Central and West African countries have faced Ebola outbreaks before, with the most recent wave hitting in 2013 and lasting until 2016. That outbreak killed over 11,000 people and led to the development of a vaccine to control the spread of the Zaire strain of the virus. Experts say that another vaccine must be developed to lessen the impact of the Sudan strain, and the World Health Organization has said that multiple vaccines are in development. Two candidates are potentially beginning clinical trials in Uganda in the coming weeks.

Ebola is a viral infection that causes fever, headache, diarrhea and internal bleeding. It is spread through bodily fluids. It can also be transmitted by animals including bats, gorillas and chimpanzees, making the virus more difficult to contain. There is no known cure, though monoclonal antibodies — like those used to treat COVID-19 — have been recommended by the World Health Organization to treat infections resulting from Zaire strain.

As a precaution to avoid transmission, all U.S.-bound passengers who have been in Uganda in recent weeks will be redirected to one of five major airports to undergo screening for Ebola. In an Oct. 6 health alert, the U.S. embassy in Uganda announced the policy and reassured travelers that no cases have been confirmed or suspected in the United States. According to the embassy, domestic risk remains low.

“We know from past outbreaks that preparedness is key and that a disease can spread anywhere rapidly,” Dr. Patrick Otim, leader of the WHO’s Ebola response team told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Global solidarity when it comes to sharing resources, supplies and expertise can be the difference between a localized public health threat and a global one.”

In Ethiopia, peace talks stall as civil war continues

Planned peace talks between Ethiopia and leaders of Tigray, a region in the country’s north, fell through after the African Union Commission failed to inform the involved parties of the structure, format and date of the meetings — which were intended to be held in early October. The civil war in the country, which began on Nov. 4, 2020, may have killed as many as 500,000 people, with millions more displaced.

Fighting began in 2020 when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responded to an attack by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front — an ethnic political party — on a military base. Eritrea, which borders Tigray, has joined Ethiopia in the conflict.

A ceasefire that began on March 24 of this year allowed aid workers to enter Tigray and peace negotiations to begin. Fighting resumed on Aug. 24 after shots were fired at Tigray’s southern border. Both sides have blamed one another for shattering a fragile peace.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which originated as a leftist nationalist group in opposition to a 1970s authoritarian regime, held governmental power in Ethiopia between 1991 and 2018. Under the TPLF, Tigrayans, who make up approximately 7% of the country’s population, dominated high government and military positions.

The war has been a humanitarian disaster. The United Nations has said it believes that Ethiopian soldiers have commited a wide array of human rights violations, including rape, extrajudicial killings and starvation of civilians. The killing of Tigrayans has been called an ethnic cleansing by Human Rights Watch.

Analysts have accused Ahmed — who is an Oromo himself and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his part in ending a 20-year conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea — of scheming with the country to launch an attack on the countries’ mutual foes in Tigray. Uncovered documents have revealed over a dozen unusual, mostly one-on-one, meetings between Ahmed and Eritrea’s president. As the humanitarian costs of the civil war continue to grow, the international community must reckon with the possibility that they emboldened a warmonger.

“He felt he had a lot of international support, and that if he went to war in Tigray, nothing would happen,” a former member of the prime minister’s administration told the New York Times. “And he was right.”

In Belarus, military buildup hints at increased involvement in Ukraine

Belarus, which served as the launchpad for Russia’s March 24 invasion of Ukraine, has not become directly involved in the war effort. However, recent military action may signal an impending Belarusian front.  

Asserting without evidence that Ukraine and its Western supporters were planning attacks on Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko ordered troops to deploy near the Ukrainian border on Oct. 10. Belarus officials have also accused Ukrainian troops of initiating provocations at the border. The country is set to hold joint military exercises with Russia, with thousands of Russian troops arriving in Belarus in the coming days. State-controlled media has denied Belarusian intention of joining the war, calling the military exercises “routine.”

The situation bears an eerie resemblance to that of winter 2021, when Russian forces entered Belarus for a “joint training exercise” that turned into the Ukrainian invasion, despite repeated Russian assurances that the forces were simply training.

Experts are skeptical that Lukashenko actually wants to enter the war — less than 10% of Belarusians support the war and, as Moscow appears to be floundering, Lukashenko is likely unwilling to tie his political fate to a losing battle. 

But he may have no choice. Russia accounts for 56% of the country’s imports and 41% of its exports, and Lukashenko received Russian support during protests in 2020 that threatened to unseat him. He owes his current power, in part, to Moscow, and may need support again in the future. Due to its connection with the Ukrainian war, Belarus has been mostly cut off from other nations by sanctions, pushing the nation ever closer to Russia.

Conversely, Belarus only makes up about 5% of Russia’s trade. With such an unbalanced relationship, Russia may be able to force Lukashenko into war at any time.

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected].