The African Union General Assembly in session. Photo Credit: The Herald (Zimbabwe)
By Aggrey Mutambo
African Union chairman President Mugabe has been strident in his consistent call for the reform of the UN, arguing that Africa, and also Asia, needed to be heard and that their voices be heard. He has never been a fan of the status quo dominated by former colonialists and western hegemons, a situation that extends even to global financial architecture.
THE African Union is to revive its push to reform the most powerful arm of the United Nations when leaders converge in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week.
Despite resistance from five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Heads of State and governments of an AU committee have recommended that member-states discuss the issue again.
The 26th Ordinary Session of the AU General Assembly for heads of state and government will be held on January 30 and 31.
Its theme in 2016: African Year of Human Rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women.
Last week, the Committee of 10, a group of countries, was formed to lobby for UN reforms and resolved to put the issue as the first item on the agenda.
Other members are Algeria, Libya, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Congo.
Heads will arrive in Addis at the tail-end of the summit, endorsing or rejecting decisions reached by their foreign ministers.
AFRICA’S LACK OF INFLUENCE
The Security Council is charged with maintaining global peace.
It also admits members to the UN and can approve changes to the agency’s charter.
It has 15 members, but only five are permanent and hold veto powers. They are Russia, China, France, the UK and the USA.
Despite being the recipient of most declarations on peace and security, Africa can have only non-permanent members who do not influence major decisions.
On Tuesday, Foreign Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said the push for reforms would go on.
“The Security Council does not reflect 21st century political and economic realities. This underrepresentation is discriminatory, unfair and unjust. The C-10 agreed to sustain push for reforms as per the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration,” she said.
Kenya, alongside Equatorial Guinea were the main lobbyists for the “Africa Common Position” in 2005.
Despite meeting with permanent members of the Security Council last year, there was no substantial commitment to change anything.
AU wants at least two African countries have permanent slots in the Security Council. The C-10 proposed that the AU assembly resolves also to push for removal of veto powers if no African nation is included in the permanent category.
“The AU heads of state will decide on the timeframe and reaction to be addressed on UNSC. The C-10 will present its report to the heads of state summit,” Ms Mohamed explained.
Africa accuses the permanent members of being undemocratic and using the security council to safeguard their interests. In 2012 and 2013, Kenya was bitter when its attempts to have cases facing
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto at the ICC were deferred, after the US and the UK abstained from the vote.
The first hurdle is the five permanent members but to exact changes to the council requires more than political lobbying. Other countries like Germany, India, Brazil and Japan also feel they should be in the security council.
In fact, the UN itself formed a task force at the turn of the century to collect views on reforms. The team proposed an increase in membership of the security council from 15 to 25.
The suggestion was blocked by the current members who feared their power to veto would be diluted.
Hanafi said he confessed to the killing of journalists following torture by authorities in Mogadishu [AP]
Somalia has executed a journalist accused of helping members of al-Shabab kill at least five journalists in the capital.
Hassan Hanafi, who was captured in neighbouring Kenya in 2014, was executed on Monday morning by a firing squad in Mogadishu after his appeal at a military court failed.
Hanafi was accused of helping fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked group identify possible targets in the journalism community between 2007 and 2011.
From 2009 to 2011 he worked for Radio Andalus, al-Shabab’s official mouthpiece.
In an interview aired on Somalia state TV in February, Hanafi admitted ordering the murder of several journalists.
But in an audio recording of a phone call leaked last month Hanafi appeared to claim he made the confessions after being tortured.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists more than 25 journalists have been killed in the Horn of Africa country since 2007.
Al-Shabab, which is seeking to overthrow the country’s Western-backed government, was pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011 by government troops backed by an African Union force.
It continues to carry out suicide attacks and targeted assassinations in south and central parts of the country, and it has also conducted major attacks in Kenya, Djibouti and Uganda, which all contribute troops to the African Union effort.
Mohamed Ali Soilihi votes at a polling station in Mbeni on January 25, 2015 during legislative elections (AFP Photo/Ibrahim Youssouf)
Moroni (Comoros) (AFP) – The vice president of the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros, Mohamed Ali Soilihi, won the first round of the country’s presidential elections with 17.61 percent of the vote, preliminary results released late Tuesday showed.
Soilihi edged ahead of Mouigni Baraka, the governor of Grande Comore island, who garnered 15.09 percent, ahead of Colonel Azali Assoumani, who placed third with 14.96 percent.
The three candidates will now face off in a second-round of voting on April 10, with the winner succeeding outgoing President Ikililou Dhoinine.
Some supporters of Fahmi Said Ibrahim, who had been one of the favourites but trailed in fourth place, alleged his low count had been due to fraud.
Police dispersed a small group of Ibrahim supporters who gathered at the party’s headquarters on Grande Comore.
An African Union observer mission led by former Tunisian president Mohamed Moncef Marzouki said “apart from few isolated incidents, the entire election took place in an orderly and peaceful” manner.
The first round of voting on Sunday only took place on Grande Comore, in accordance with electoral rules that ensure the president is chosen on a rotating basis from one of the country’s three main islands.
The system was established in 2001 after more than 20 coups or attempted coups in the years following independence from France in 1975.
Dhoinine’s completion of his five-term term has been seen as a sign of growing stability in the Comoros.
Drones are delivering contraceptives to hard-to-reach Ghanaian villages in a program jointly funded by the U.N. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and it’s so successful that other countries want it too, HuffingtonPost reported.
Deliveries to rural Ghana that once took two days now take 30 minutes by drone, and each flight costs only $15, according to Kanyanta Sunkutu, a South African public health specialist with the U.N. Population Fund.
Sunkutu said he expected the pilot program in Ghana to encounter resistance, and worried people would associate the drones with war. So the U.N., in its program materials, referred to the drones only as “unmanned aerial vehicles” — not drones.
“We don’t want that link between war and what we are doing,” Sunkutu told The Huffington Post in an interview. “But the resistance we thought we would get has not been there.”
Less than than 20 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa use modern contraceptives. In rural Africa, a flood can shut down roads for days and cut off medical supplies, making access to birth control a massive problem.
An estimated 225 million women in developing countries around the world want to delay or stop childbearing, but don’t have reliable birth control, according to the World Health Organization. This prevents women and girls from finishing school or getting jobs. About 47,000 women die of complications from unsafe abortions each year.
“We are particularly committed to exploring how our family planning efforts can meet the needs of young women and girls,” Bill and Melinda Gates said, according to their foundation website.
The idea to use drones for delivering birth control came from a program in the Amazon, Sunkutu said.
The drone operator packs a five-foot-wide drone with contraceptives and medical supplies from an urban warehouse and sends it over to places hard to reach by car. There, a local health worker meets the drone and picks up the supplies.
Project Last Mile has been flying birth control, condoms and other medical supplies to rural areas of Ghana for several months.
Now it’s expanding to six other African countries. The goal is to revolutionize women’s health and family planning in Africa. Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique have expressed an interest.
Using drones to improve reproductive health isn’t exactly a new idea — it’s just new in Africa, according to Huffington Post. In June, a Dutch organization called Women on Waves used a drone to fly abortion pills to Poland, trying to raise awareness of Poland’s restrictive abortion laws.
Project Last Mile says it is the first to develop a long-term, sustainable program for delivering contraceptives by drone.
Sunkutu hopes that eventually drones will revolutionize other areas of rural African life., starting with family planning.
“They can deliver ballots after elections, or exams for school,” he said. It becomes a logistics management solution for hard-to-reach areas. We’re going to use family planning as an entry and make it sustainable.”
Two and a half million people in the Central African Republic (CAR) are facing hunger. Photo: WFP/Bruno Djoye
20 January 2016 – An emergency food security assessment by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners has revealed that half the population of the Central African Republic (CAR) – nearly 2.5 million people – faces hunger.
This marks a doubling in the number of hungry people in a one-year period, as conflict and insecurity have led to limited access to and availability of food.
“Three years of crisis have taken a huge toll on the people of CAR,” said Guy Adoua, WFP Deputy Country Director in the country, in a press release.
“Families have been forced so often to sell what they own, pull their kids out of school, even resort to begging, that they have reached the end of their rope. This is not the usual run-of-the-mill emergency. People are left with nothing,” he added.
According to the assessment, one in six women, men and children struggles with severe or extreme food insecurity, while more than one in three is moderately food insecure, not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
“WFP is extremely concerned by this alarming level of hunger. People not only lack enough food but are also forced to consume low-cost, low-nutrient food that does not meet their nutritional needs,” added Mr. Adoua.
The report shows that the 2014-2015 harvest was poor and that food prices remain high as farmers have not tended their fields due to insecurity, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes and abandon their land and livelihoods.
Further clashes erupted in late September as much of the food security data for the assessment was being collected. That violence fuelled more displacement as people were slowly returning home. Nearly 1 million people are still displaced inside CAR or seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The report recommends continued emergency food assistance to displaced families and returnees; food and technical assistance to farmers to recover; creating safety nets through programmes such as the school meals programme; and providing support to rehabilitate the infrastructure through food-for-assets activities.
Meanwhile, WFP is providing emergency food and nutritional support to those most vulnerable and plays a crucial role in supporting recovery efforts. The agency’s programmes focused on cash-based transfers and local food purchases going into school meals for thousands of children boost the local economy and people’s livelihoods.
“We must help the most vulnerable, who need emergency food assistance to survive, yet we also need to focus on people across CAR so they can recover and rebuild,” stressed Mr. Adoua.
In December 2015, WFP provided food for nearly 400,000 people through general food distributions, cash-based transfers, nutrition support and school meals, as well as food-for-assets activities, but $41 million is required so that it can respond to urgent needs through to the end of June. To date, WFP’s operation is only 45 per cent funded.
This article was published in the United Nations News Centre.
Equatorial Guinea has began the election census process on Friday in preparation for the Presidential elections.
The official radio station announced that the voters’ census for the presidential election will begin on January 15 and finish on January 30.
The presidential election is planned to take place in November, but according to some sources in Malabo, it could be moved forward to June. The previous election saw a total of 291,000 registered as voters.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has lead the country since 1979. His regime has always been under criticism for its repression to opponents.
In a joint press statement, three opposition political parties – The Social Democracy Convergence(CPDS), the Innovation Citizens (CI) and the right center Union (UCD) questioned the legitimacy of the census and also put forward their lack of transparency to the whole system.
With the discovery of oil in Equatorial Guinea in 1990s, the country has been able to rip big but this has not reflected in lives of its citizens. Low life expectancy, limited access to basic facilities and high child mortality has continued to retard the growth of its citizens.
Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (L) and Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi (R) visit the Splendid hotel and the Capuccino cafe on January 18, 2016 in Ouagadougou, following a jihadist attack by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) late on January 15 / AFP / ISSOUF SANOGOISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Aryn Baker @arynebaker Jan. 18, 2016
A series of recent terror attacks across Africa have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence
From Somalia in the east to the Western Sahel, Africa’s hotspots started getting hotter over the past week with a series of terror attacks that have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence. Terrorism analysts have posited that al-Qaeda is vying for attention and territory with upstart ISIS in a region rife with instability. But as much as terrorist groups thrive on government weakness, military corruption also plays an important role, according to a new report on corruption in military defense spending in Africa.
Transparency International, a U.K.-based research organization that tracks corruption and perceptions of corruption worldwide, gave every single African country surveyed (47 out of 54) a failing or near-failing grade when it comes to preventing graft in their defense sectors. Defense spending is on the rise across the continent, notes the report, but without better tracking on how that money is spent, there is little to ensure that it will go to the areas that need it most in a new era of terror attacks, namely counter-terror and security programs. “With such limited oversight on military spending, there are many opportunities for corruption and graft that can in turn contribute to rising insecurity in the region,” says Leah Wawro, Transparency International’s program manager for conflict and insecurity. Corruption, adds co-author Eléonore Vidal de la Blache, the Africa project manager, can lead to black-market arms sales to terror groups, or, in some cases, bolster funding for those groups.
The report’s release on Monday capped a week of back-to-back attacks across Africa. Even as scenes of a devastating suicide bomb and grenade attack on a pair of luxury hotels and a café popular with foreigners unfurled in Burkina Faso, killing at least 29 people from nine different countries, reports started coming in of the kidnapping of an Australian couple in the country’s north, then an ambush on an aid convoy in neighboring Mali that killed two soldiers. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and the group, or its affiliates, is thought to have been behind the kidnapping and the assault in Mali. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab militants affiliated with al-Qaeda claimed to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in a Friday attack on a remote base in Somalia’s southwest, where the African Union is trying to bring peace. And on Jan. 13, two female suicide bombers attacked a mosque in a town near Cameroon’s border with Nigeria during morning prayers, killing 10 in the latest of a series of suicide bombings attributed to the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram terror group, which is based in Nigeria.
In the wake of the attack in Ouagadougou, which followed the same pattern as a similar attack in the Malian capital of Bamako in November, the prime ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso agreed to share intelligence and conduct joint security patrols in their efforts to tackle the rising terror threats in the region. But that is not likely to be enough, say the authors of the Transparency International report.
One of the biggest problems, according to the report, is how such corruption can decrease morale among soldiers, especially when commanding officers pocket salaries meant for those in the lower ranks. Such siphoning of funds is rampant in Nigeria, where soldiers have regularly deserted their posts because they say they lack sufficient supplies and weapons to fight against Boko Haram. On Friday, the recently elected President Muhammadu Buhari ordered an investigation into corruption allegations going back nine years, saying that graft among senior ranks of the military hindered the fight against an Islamist insurgency in the north of the country. Sambo Dasuki, the former national security advisor under Buhari’s predecessor and rival, Goodluck Jonathan, was arrested in December, in the wake of a government commission finding that he, along with other senior officials, allegedly pilfered some $5.5 billion meant for equipping, supplying and paying soldiers taking on Boko Haram. Dasuki has denied the charges, calling the findings “presumptive, baseless” and lacking in “diligence.”
Members of the Jonathan administration say the allegations that graft hampered the military’s counter-terror abilities are unsubstantiated. Wawro, of Transparency International, calls the claims justified. “Absolutely, corruption is undermining the fight against Boko Haram [in Nigeria]. When soldiers’ salaries are pocketed, when they see their commanders driving fancy cars while they struggle to eat, they are more likely to sell weapons and other supplies. They are more likely to take bribes, and they are more likely to allow arms or drugs to be smuggled across borders.” They are also more likely to desert, she adds, further undermining confidence in the military, and the government.
It’s not just Nigeria. Kenya’s armed forces also stand accused of being involved in bribe taking, arms sales, and worse. A recent report by Journalists for Justice, a Nairobi-based, non-partisan organization that seeks to broaden citizen understanding of international criminal justice and combat government impunity, details how Kenyan soldiers in Somalia are working in cahoots with the al-Shabaab terror group to levy “taxes” on the illegal smuggling of sugar and charcoal through the Somali port of Kismayo. “This is problematic when the KDF [Kenya Defense Force] is supposed to be fighting al-Shabaab, and when elsewhere in the country al-Shabaab forces claim to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers,” says Vidal de la Blache. “What you are seeing is a direct link between the ability of al-Shabaab to arm and sustain itself and the corruption within the Kenya defense establishment all the way to the top.” Rather than promise an investigation, the Kenyan government has dismissed and denied the allegations.
It is impossible to know whether there is any direct link between the weekend attacks in Burkina Faso and corruption within that country’s military establishment, says Wawro. But the country is one of the worst ranked in the Transparency report. “What you can say about any country that scores an “F” [as Burkina Faso does] is that there is no one to hold the military to account about what is being done to prevent these attacks, and how the increase in funding we are likely to see after an attack like this will be put to use.” That, she says, creates a level of distrust between the people and their government, one easily exploited by terror groups.
While the report points fingers at African governments for failing to track military spending, the report’s authors aren’t letting the U.S. and France, the principal financial backers of many of Africa’s counter terror efforts, off the hook. “We are not seeing [these countries] taking the kind of actions needed to address the problem,” says Wawro. Kenya’s military, she notes, is a major recipient of U.S. military aid. “So, if you look through a winding lens, U.S. money is indirectly filtering in to support terrorism.” That, she says, is reason enough for the foreign backers of African counter terror programs to insist on greater transparency in spending, lest their assistance end up funding another terror attack.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma speaks during his visit to the Lodewyk P. Spies Old Age Home in Eersterust, Pretoria, December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s presidency issued an embarrassing correction on Monday to rectify an erroneous reference last month by President Jacob Zuma to Africa being the “largest continent”.
Speaking at a business dinner on Dec. 9, Zuma, who has no formal education, also described Africa as so big that “all continents put together will fit into Africa”.
The comments were seized upon by Zuma’s opponents, who argue that his lack of schooling makes him unfit to lead a sophisticated emerging economy.
It was unclear why the presidency decided to issue the correction after a delay of nearly six weeks.
“Africa is in fact the second biggest continent in terms of population size, and the biggest continent in this regard is Asia. The President regrets the error,” the statement said.
Zuma’s comments about Africa’s size came hours before he fired respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in favor a relative unknown, triggering financial turmoil that sent the rand, bonds and stocks plummeting.
(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
Kristalina Georgieva of the European Commission, an author of the report, in Athens last month (Simela Pantzartzi/European Pressphoto Agency).
UNITED NATIONS — What if the next time you buy World Cup tickets or summon an Uber ride, you found yourself paying a few cents extra to pay for winter blankets for Syrian refugees or clean water for those displaced in Darfur, Sudan?
That idea — a small tax on high-volume goods and services — is among those proposed by an independent panel appointed by the United Nations to figure out how to pay for the staggering humanitarian crises facing the world today. The report, released Sunday, plainly acknowledges the limits of traditional charity on the part of the world’s rich and calls for a sea change in thinking about how to pay for lifesaving aid in what the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called “the age of the megacrises.”
The nine-member panel’s report comes as new conflicts erupt in places like Yemen, old ones persist in places like Darfur and climate change intensifies floods and droughts in already fragile countries. Aid for the millions of people affected has sharply risen, but it has not kept pace with demands.
The world needs $40 billion each year to meet the needs of those affected by wars and natural disasters and already faces a shortfall of $15 billion for this year. Those needs are expected to grow; as the report stated bluntly, “Never before has generosity been so insufficient.” Already, food aid has been repeatedly slashed for refugees fleeing conflict in places like Somalia and Syria.
The panel — which includes representatives of donor governments, corporations and civil society — takes pains to point out that despite the growing needs, what the world needs to pony up for emergency relief is a fraction of the $78 trillion global economy. It also argues that in the end, while “helping people in distress is morally right,” providing aid is also in the interest of donor countries.
“Today’s massive scale of instability and its capacity to cross borders, vividly demonstrated by the refugee crisis in Europe, makes humanitarian aid a global public good that requires an appropriate fund-raising model,” the report says.
The conventional wisdom for the humanitarian aid sector had been that most conflicts would be short-lived — and that aid agencies could rely on voluntary contributions from a handful of rich nations to meet those needs. That wisdom no longer always applies. For instance, some conflicts drag on for so long that those who are displaced from their homes remain displaced for an average of 17 years. Countries that host refugees feel the impact acutely, but do not always have direct access to donor money. And refugees are often prohibited from working in the countries where they are living.
The report also suggests tapping into what it calls “Islamic social finance” to help meet humanitarian needs in the Muslim world in particular. That could include earmarking a portion of “zakat,” the ritual annual donation that Muslims are urged to make as an element of their faith.
In addition, the panel suggests that middle-income countries like Jordan, which is hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, should be able to tap into grants and loans that are currently available only to the poorest countries.
The report urges money transfer agencies to drop their fees, which is a nod to the importance of remittances from migrants to their home countries, especially in times of crisis. The authors of the report also encourage more cash assistance, rather than food, tents and blankets. They cite one 2014 study in which 70 percent of a sample group of Syrian refugees traded “in-kind assistance they received for cash.”
The authors nudge newly wealthy countries to be more generous, suggest that aid officials should tap the private sector more creatively, and fault some United Nations agencies for failing to systematically track and report on how its donor money is spent.
The microtax idea is modeled after a tax on airfare that helped raise about $2 billion between 2006 and 2011, largely for immunization programs worldwide.
The panel members could not agree on exactly what to tax, nor the rates at which to tax. That absence of consensus was a measure of how difficult it could be to come up with such a humanitarian tax.
But it has an important backer: one of the leaders of the panel, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, the European Commission’s vice president for budget and human resources.
“I’m in support of a voluntary levy,” she told reporters in a briefing before the report was released. She added that the taxes could be small ones on concerts, sports events, even taxi rides.
Ms. Georgieva is among those whose names have been floated as Mr. Ban’s potential successor as secretary general.
NAIROBI—The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its annual report on the killing of reporters around the world. The report looks at the state of media freedom in Africa. Forty-six-year-old Waweru Mugo has been a journalist in Kenya for the last 15 years and now runs his own media consulting firm.
It is not always easy. Last October, Kenyan lawmakers considered a bill that would ban the press from reporting on parliamentary matters. The controversial clauses were eventually removed amid protest from civil society and media organizations.
According to Mugo, journalists in Kenya and all of Africa face challenges, especially attempts by governments to intimidate and censor them. This, he says, has limited the growth of a free press.
“When you try to highlight some of these issues, the government tries to crack the whip,” he said. “The government demands that you do ABCD, that you’re not supposed to be unpatriotic, they label you as unpatriotic, they say that you’ve been bought off by foreign interests, you are working for the opposition. So the journalists also kind of bend to the whims of the government through self-censorship.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists says 69 journalists around the world were killed while on duty this year. Many died at the hands of Islamist militant groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State.
The biggest number came from Syria, but 11 were killed in Africa, including five in war-torn South Sudan.
Felix Odimmasi, of the School of Law and Diplomacy at the University of Nairobi, says the lack of government support makes journalists cautious about reporting from conflict areas like South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria.
“… Because one, they would not go out there and report, and two, those who dare to go out and report still know they are at risk, so they have to be very careful about what they report about and where they go. It’s the general lack, weakness of the rule of law,” he said. “The laws that exist are not necessarily being followed and there’s no strong legislation in some of these weak states to protect the media.”
Members of Africa’s Fourth Estate have come under fire across the continent from multiple regimes. Amnesty International says the South African government and ruling African National Congress party are pushing for a tribunal to regulate the media under the guise of “transformation.”
Amnesty notes that in Ethiopia, many journalists and media workers are currently in prison or have been convicted in absentia because of their work.
Benji Ndolo, a civil rights activist from the Kenya-based Organization of National Empowerment, says a concerted effort from non-state actors is the only way to halt the intimidation.
“International processes, civil rights movements, non-governmental organizations and even church organizations as well as the media will push these countries into a corner where they will be held to account for loss of lives. They will not have impunity forever and so change will absolutely come to these countries, accountability will be there,” said Ndolo.
Besides South Sudan, other African countries where journalists were killed in 2015 included Somalia, Kenya, Libya and Ghana. Another five were killed in Somalia’s neighbor, Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden.
Thirty-six people died in Kinshasa in January during demonstrations sparked by perceived attempts by President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to stay in power after his second and final term. A few months later and just across the border, protesters took to the streets of Bujumbura in April when Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a constitutionally tenuous third term in office.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s security forces in the Republic of Congo used deadly force against demonstrators in Brazzaville and put opposition leaders under house arrest in October, when they expressed disagreement with a constitutional referendum to allow the leader to run for a third term. And while mass street demonstrations were noticeably absent in Kigali, Rwanda’s parliament and judiciary successfully cleared several legal hurdles this year to enable President Paul Kagame to run again after his second, seven-year term comes to an end in 2017.
It was rare that a week went by without discussion related to these East and Central African leaders’ efforts to seek a third term in office. All four leaders have been accused of human rights abuses during their tenures, with some of the loudest allegations related to crackdowns against opponents and protesters who pushed back against the maneuvers to extend presidential mandates beyond existing term limits.
Despite the controversies, the leaders kept their titles and remained at the top. This made 2015 the year that the region’s strongmen found ways to legally cling to power. Using a term recently coined by Human Rights Watch, it was the year of the “constitutional coup.”
“Military coups are no longer de rigueur,” HRW deputy director Anneke Van Woudenberg and researcher Ida Sawyer wrote in Foreign Policy in November, noting that the shift was partially caused by the African Union’s decision not to recognize administrations that achieve power by force. “Instead, African leaders who are unwilling to abide by term limits, or unfavorable election results, prefer to simply change the laws and constitutions that stand in their way.”
Constitutional changes and legal judgments helped pave the way for these presidents to pursue lifelong leadership. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC, it was a proposed amendment that would have postponed the 2016 elections until a nationwide census was completed — a move critics believed would let Kabila sidestep constitutional term limits and stay in power for several more years.
After the deadly protests in January, the proposal was revoked. But in the months since, the government has detained protesters and opposition members in an attempt to silence peaceful activists, according to a December report from Human Rights Watch. It’s still unclear what Kabila will do.
Next door in Congo, Sassou Nguesso used a constitutional referendum to lift both the age and term limits that would have made him ineligible. The changes passed with 92 percent voting in favor — although the opposition accused the regime of lying about voter turnout — and the president is expected to move forward and call elections by spring of 2016. Experts say he is unlikely to step down willingly; he has after all been president since 1997, and before that from 1979 to 1992. Sassou Nguesso has not groomed a successor who would protect the president from international criminal cases and look after the assets his family has secured during its reign, according to Stanford University fellow Brett Logan Carter.
“Sassou Nguesso doesn’t want to risk this,” Carter said ahead of the referendum vote, noting the leader has likely become more fearful after seeing fellow African strongmen like Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré fall from power. “There is no one else for Sassou Nguesso to transfer power to, so in a way he’s been forced into this position.”
Most recently, Rwanda held a constitutional referendum of its own on December 18, giving the public the right to chose whether to change the constitutional term limits. The country’s parliament and judiciary had already lifted several hurdles to allow President Kagame to extend his rule, and the referendum was seen as the final step. According to official results, 98 percent voted in favor of the changes that, in theory, will allow the leader to serve another seven-year term, followed by two five-year terms. In other words, he could be in power until 2034.
Earlier this year as the parliament and judiciary began to clear the way for these changes, University of Buffalo political science professor r Reverien Mfizi — a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide — explained that all those legal steps were part of an attempt to give the process a sense of legitimacy.
The constitutional changes have been framed, Mfizi said, as a normal process of Rwandans deciding for themselves whether or not Kagame gets to seek another round as head of state. All of this occurred without any public protest — in fact, the government has frequently referenced a nationwide poll showing an overwhelming majority was for Kagame running again.
“Kagame is a very smart, very thoughtful leader. I don’t always agree with him, but you have to admire how clever he is,” Mfizi said. “What’s missing from that story is it’s virtually impossible to oppose the regime.”
But arguably, the highest-profile power grab this year with the deadliest and most destabilizing effects came from Nkurunziza in Burundi. Almost eight months after the leader announced third-term plans, pushing demonstrators out into the streets to protest the move, the country has been engulfed in continued political instability and violence.
Nkurunziza pursued a new term despite a clearly outlined two-term limit in the constitution, which was established in 2005 as part of the Arusha peace agreement that ended the country’s decade-long civil war. The constitutional court cleared the former rebel leader to run, saying he had been appointed to his first term in 2005, not democratically elected.
Protests quickly turned violent as police cracked down on demonstrators, while opponents and Nkurunziza supporters clashed with each other in the streets. As dozens were killed and tens of thousands fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries including Rwanda, Tanzania, and the DRC, Nkurunziza pushed on with his reelection campaign — even as regional and international organizations and governments called on him to step aside. He ultimately claimed victory at the polls in July, and the crisis shifted to politically motivated violence, disappearances, and assassinations on both sides.
A Burundian protester during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Bujumbura, on June 3, 2015. Protesters said they were disappointed that East African leaders didn’t ask President Pierre Nkurunziza to give up his bid for a third term. Photo by Dai Kurokawa / EPA
The situation has hit a critical point in recent weeks. To date, at least 300 people have reportedly been killed and more than 200,000 have fled the country since the violence began in April. On December 11, armed assailants waged a series of seemingly coordinated attacks on three military bases. Gunfire rang through the capital all day as security forces clashed with the fighters, and the next day 87 bodies were found on the streets of Bujumbura. In the day after the attack, a report from the International Federation for Human Rights found 300 young, unarmed civilians had disappeared, 154 of whom have since turned up dead. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein became just the latest to stress the looming risk of all-out conflict, stating that Burundi was on “the very cusp of civil war.”
In response, the African Union took a major step and approved the deployment of 5,000 peacekeepers to be sent to the country. Known as the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi, the plan is backed by the United Nations Security Council, while the Burundian government has said it would not allow foreign troops to enter its borders.
“If the situation continues, the African Union and international community cannot sit by and watch genocide, if it is going to develop into that,” said Erastus Mwencha, the deputy chairman of the African Union Commission.
The international community now awaits formal notice from Burundi and for the AU to decide whether it will send troops anyway, even if the Bujumbura authorities do not approve. Meanwhile, how Nkurunziza responds internally will be key. For months, observers have cited the leader’s perceived will to get a third term at all costs.
“Is there somewhere in the Bible where leaders are called on to massacre their people?”
A lot of the discussion surrounding Nkurunziza’s political ambitions has centered around his belief that he has risen to power by God’s will. The born-again Christian leader has stuck to the divine narrative particularly hard in recent months, even thanking God for winning the July elections and saying God would take care of the country’s rebels.
His fellow strongman on Burundi’s northern border, Rwanda’s Kagame, has questioned both Nkurunziza’s power grab and his belief in God. In a November speech, Kagame said Burundi should learn from the experience of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, while calling out the government’s failure to stop the internal violence.
“Burundi’s leaders pride themselves on being men of God, some are even pastors,” Kagame said. “But in what God do they believe?… Is there somewhere in the Bible where leaders are called on to massacre their people?”
Its goal: sow division in the border regions of Kenya and Somalia, where many of the people are ethnically Somali, analysts say.
Among Al-Shabaab’s most brutal acts was the raid on Garissa University College in April that left nearly 150 people dead. Witnesses described how gunmen asked students to recite verses from the Quran. If they couldn’t, they were killed.
The group regularly storms buses, particularly this time of the year — one of the busiest travel seasons in the nation. Throngs make their way to relatives’ homes for the holidays, with buses and other public transportation packed.
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza is sworn in for a third term at a ceremony in the parliament in Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. Photo Credit: Voice of America (VOA)
By James Butty | December 14, 2015 12:45 AM
The Burundian government is seeking the extradition from Rwanda of four Burundian journalists working for several private media institutions, including Radio Isanganiro and Radio-TV Renaissance.
Also wanted is Patrick Nduwimana, director of Bonesha FM Radio. The request was reportedly made by the Burundian prosecutor general in a letter to the Rwandan Minister of Justice.
The Burundian government launched a crackdown on independent media after the May 13 failed coup attempt, accusing them of supporting the protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a third term. Critics said he was violating the constitution’s two-term limit as well as an agreement that ended Burundi’s 12-year civil war.
President Nkurunziza eventually did run for and win a third five year term in office after a constitutional court ruled in his favor. However, unrest and violent confrontations have continued.
Patrick Nduwimana said the independent Burundian media has never taken sides in the Burundian crisis.
“They (the government) claimed that we have been involved or we are linked to the coup that took place in May, but all this is just nonsense. If we have put on air in our media the statement of the general who proclaimed the coup against Nkurunziza, this does not mean that we were linked to the plan of the coup. We did it as journalists; this is our job; that was a fact; that was the event which happened that time and we just broadcast the statement. So this cannot be the reason or justification for the government hunt and even want to kill journalists,” he said.
Nduwimana said the journalists fled to Rwanda because their safety was not guaranteed in Burundi, and the Rwandan government granted them and thousands of other Burundians asylum in line with international humanitarian law. As such, he said Burundian authorities have no right to ask for their extradition.
Also Sunday, the U.S. government urged its citizens to leave Burundi amid deadly clashes involving the military and police. More than 80 people were killed Friday when armed attackers raided army facilities in the capital Bujumbura.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said this past weekend that “high-level political dialogue” needs to begin immediately between the government and the opposition to try and defuse the situation or else things could “devolve into mass violence.”
The U.S. State Department said it has ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. officials and the families of personnel.
Nduwimana said the Nkurunziza government should be charged with crimes against humanity.
“There were allegations or reports that an armed group which attacked three military sites or bases in the capital, Bujumbura. After that, police and government militia and some soldiers went into neighborhoods killing young people who were not armed. They rounded them up and shot them. They were not involved in the attack. I think the Burundi of today is guilty of crimes against humanity,” he said.
Nduwimana said the international community should do more to further isolate the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza. He said the United Nations Security Council should stop issuing resolutions that are not backed by action.