STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.
This week’s news brief focuses on the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. Tensions between UN Peacekeepers and CAR citizens grew as protests erupted in Bangui. Continued election delays in DRC also led to protests and many arrests. Burundi raised concerns by officially leaving the ICC, revoking access permits from human rights organizations, and arresting journalists.
Central and West Africa
Central African Republic (CAR)
On October 24, there was a demonstration in the capital of Bangui where protesters put up barricades and waved posters critical of the United Nations peacekeeping mission. Some individuals began throwing stones and yelling at the peacekeepers, which prompted them to fire warning shots. Unfortunately, the situation only worsened from there as shooting broke out between armed individuals in the crowd and the peacekeepers. Ultimately, four civilians were killed and fourteen people were injured. Gervais Lakosso, the leader of the Work and Civil Society Group that organized the protest, insists that the peacekeepers are biased in favor of the Séléka rebels and that they permit armed groups to commit atrocities. The United Nations believes that these views do not represent the majority of citizens in the Central African Republic (CAR). It is clear, however, that the growing discontent with the United Nations can be attributed at least in part to “frustration and a lack of communication” between the peacekeepers and the people they are supposed to be protecting.
On October 27, just a few days after the violence in Bangui, fifteen people were killed near the town of Bambari as violence erupted once again between the Séléka rebels and the anti-balaka militias. Just one day later, an additional ten people, six of whom were police officers, were killed in an ambush. Furthermore, several hundred Séléka rebels have allegedly assembled in Batangafo, indicating that the armed rebels may be emboldened and aim to launch larger, more coordinated attacks. According to Lewis Mudge, a researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, this is the most instability that CAR has experienced all year. Moreover, the situation could easily worsen in the wake of France withdrawing almost all of their troops from CAR as it ended Operation Sangaris on October 31.
The violence continues to take a significant toll on the people of CAR. Tens of thousands of people are unable to receive the aid that they so desperately need because of the strength of the numerous armed groups throughout the country. In fact, some international non-governmental organizations are even reducing their attention to the country due to a lack of resources. The Donors Conference on the Central African Republic that is taking place in just over two weeks cannot come soon enough.
Great Lakes of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was silent on October 19 due to a strike by opposition parties. The strike was effective in the capital city and Mbuji-Mayi, while many other cities did not respond to the opposition’s call for a nation-wide strike. The strike was in response to continued election delays, specifically an agreement, referred to as a “flagrant violation” by opposition, signed on October 18 to push back the election until April 2018. In preparation of potential protests the streets were lined with police.
The controversial agreement has received support from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which described the agreement as “a result of successful African Union led National Dialogue.” The agreement has also been supported by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), a regional organization created “to promote sustainable peace and development.” The support from these organizations is an indicator to the main opposition bloc, the Rassemblement, that they should not expect support from other countries in the region. According to a new poll conducted by the Congo Research Group the majority of the Congolese population shares the opinion of the Rassemblement, with 74.3% agreeing that Kabila should leave office in December 2016.
A total of 26 activists were arrested in the last week of October. The activists were from two youth movements, Filimbi and the Struggle for Change (LUCHA), and were peacefully protesting the national dialogue and the African Union’s expression of support for it. Activists from these groups were arrested earlier in 2016 for similar reasons. The protests and arrests remained peaceful despite threats of violence from the police force. This is in stark contrast to protests held in September, when the UN reported excessive, lethal force used during the demonstrations. A count published on October 21 found that “at least 53 people were killed over two days, 143 injured and more than 299 unlawfully arrested.”
On Wednesday, October 12, the governor of the Haute-Katanga province announced that the warlord Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga and 100 of his fighters had surrendered to authorities. Mutanga has previously been associated with a Mai Mai faction, and Mai Mai groups have been responsible for hundreds of deaths in Katanga province. Mutanga was received with a “celebratory welcome” and wore a shirt featuring a photo of President Kabila and the phrase “Shikata,” which translates to “stay for a long time.” The shirt is a reference to the government’s delay of elections. Human Rights Watch researcher Ida Sawyer, who is based in the DRC, raised concerns that Mutanga would not be punished, but rather incorporated with honor into the Congolese army. The issue of bringing rebel groups into the Congolese army was included on October 27 in an Enough Project report on the DRC as a facet of one of the seven “pillars” that maintain the corrupt government.
Burundi’s decision on October 18 to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) has ignited a flame throughout Africa. The South African government announced on October 21 that they would be submitting a bill to exit the ICC. In addition, on October 26 Gambia announced their decision to leave the ICC due to bias. The Gambian information minister Sheriff Bojang, claimed the International Criminal Court, “is in fact an Infamous Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans.” The Burundian government has not commented on the debate, however as of October 21 they have officially submitted their letter of intent to withdraw. Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC will not take immediate effect, but will make it more difficult to bring the government to trial for any future human rights violations.
On October 19 the Burundian government withdrew permits from human rights organizations within the country for “stirring up hatred and tarnishing the nation’s image.” The groups included the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), the Forum for Awareness and Development (FOCODE), Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), the Network of Honest Citizens (RCP), and the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC). The chairmen of both the ACAT and the FORSC have claimed that the measures against them will not prevent them from continuing their work in Burundi. The most well-known of the groups is APRODH, which is run by activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and has “accused the state and security forces of rights abuses.” In addition, APRODH has claimed to have discovered at least 14 mass graves throughout Burundi containing bodies of individuals killed since the violence following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to pursue a third term.
The withdrawal of permits has been supported by two non-profit groups in Burundi: the PISC-Burundi, a Platform for Burundi Civil Society and CAPES+, a Collective of Associations of People Infected and Affected by HIV/AIDS. Together they have made a declaration in favor of the government’s restriction on civil rights and other groups. Both groups are known for their pro-government stances and have previously criticized APRODH and the FORSC for favoring the opposition.
On October 23 two journalists were arrested and detained “on suspicion of destroying criminal evidence.” American journalist Julia Steers was released from custody the following day, but Burundian journalist Gildas Yihundimpundu was retained. These arrests were the continuation of a repression of free-speech in Burundi that began in May 2015 with the suspension of leading Burundian private radio stations.
Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator. He is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where he majors in Economics and Peace, War, and Defense.
Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.