STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.
This week’s update covers the escalating conflict between Séléka armed groups in the Central African Republic, and increasing economic issues in Nigeria. South Sudan also continues to struggle with issues of famine and starvation, resulting in an influx of refugees from South Sudan to Sudan. Two UN officials were kidnapped and killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Central and West Africa
Central African Republic
Twelve months after the peaceful election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the Central African Republic (CAR), there was hope that the country could gradually recover from its lengthy conflict and begin to rebuild its security and economic sectors. Unfortunately, these hopes have been challenged by armed groups, who control most of the country outside of the capital of Bangui. Although the conflict was initially primarily religious—Christian militias rose up to defend themselves against the Séléka, a rebel coalition comprised largely of Muslims—its dynamic has greatly evolved. Because the two groups are geographically divided by a de facto partition between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north, violence between them has decreased. Instead, violence between different Séléka armed groups has emerged, with the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) as the two main factions. These two groups do not seem to possess any political or religious agenda—the latter has even aligned itself with Christian fighters; instead, both appear to be fighting primarily for territory and mineral resources.
Bambari is a particularly desirable territory because of its proximity to the Ndassima gold mine, notable iron ore deposits, and profitable sugar plantations. The FPRC recently sought to drive the UPC out of the city with approximately forty armed fighters, forcing the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) to employ an attack helicopter against the assault. Although the FRPC militia was successfully repulsed, aid agencies have warned of the humanitarian catastrophe that could erupt if fighting around the city intensifies. About a quarter of the civilians have already fled their homes, but 150,000 people remain in Bambari. Providing healthcare in the area has been incredibly challenging, particularly because the number of people living in camps or sleeping in the open air is increasing the likelihood of a malaria epidemic. The FPRC has also reportedly interfered with humanitarian access, threatening peacekeepers, aid workers, and civilians.
Although a United Nations-backed Special Criminal Court has been launched to address such war crimes, it is unclear how effective the court will be, particularly because of a lack of financial resources and political will. In an atmosphere of violence, it is unclear if it will be possible to prosecute militia leaders and end the culture of impunity that has contributed to the ongoing violence.
Led by Norway, donors at the Oslo summit pledged $672 million towards emergency humanitarian aid for Nigeria in an attempt to ameliorate a famine that could affect nearly three million people. The United States notably made no financial pledge at Oslo for the impoverished region that has suffered from both Boko Haram attacks and severe drought. Stephen O’Brien, the emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations, has said that the United States may yet donate money, but President Donald Trump’s talk of significantly reducing funding to both the United Nations and other international organizations aid makes this possibility far less certain.
The humanitarian crisis comes at a time when the Nigerian economy is in distress. Low levels of foreign reserves and a sharp decrease in oil reduction as a result of conflict in the Niger Delta are the two main reasons for the rapid economic decline. Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari’s economic policies have been blamed for the poor economy, particularly his refusal to devalue the naira. With Buhari on medical leave, however, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is moving ahead with aggressive reforms to end the economic woes. He visited the Niger Delta on March 2 in an attempt to strike a deal with the fighters who have been responsible for numerous attacks on the immensely important oil sector.
Suicide bombings by Boko Haram continue and recent attacks near Chibok, which became internationally known after terrorists kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from the town, compelled thousands of people to flee. Recently, however, a report by Amnesty International was released detailing the significant human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian military during its fight against Boko Haram. On March 1, Major-General Lucky Irabor rejected the allegations of the report, arguing that his soldiers always act professionally and adhere to the rules of engagement. It is impossible to know if this is true given the poor track record of the military in Nigeria.
Sudan and South Sudan
On March 27, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, released a report, stating, “Boys and girls continued to be victims of grave violations committed by all parties to the conflict, including killing and maiming, sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.” The report details the impact of the armed conflict on children in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei between March 2011 and December 2016. It states, “In most cases, children were raped during attacks on their villages or while getting wood or water in the vicinity of camps for displaced people.”
The Citizen reports that since 2011, the Sudanese government has strengthened its national framework to protect children and has raised the minimum recruitment age for national forces to 18. The UN Secretary-General issued a report stating that fewer children have been recruited to armed groups since this policy was put in place.
On March 28, the UN refugee agency announced that more than 60,000 South Sudanese have entered Sudan in the first three months of 2017, already reaching the total annual number of South Sudanese refugees previously projected to enter the country for the year. South Sudan has declared a famine in parts of the country where approximately 100,000 people are reported to be suffering from starvation.
Great Lakes Region of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The United Nations has been struggling to maintain peace and security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On March 13 the Congolese government reported that two UN officials and four Congolese support staff had been kidnapped in the Kasai region. Their bodies were found two weeks later. The previous week, another UN peacekeeper was shot and killed in the area.
This news was released approximately a week before the United Nations reported the discovery of a number of mass graves in the Kasai region, where a rebellion has broken out in recent months. The graves were filmed by a Reuters journalist on March 11. Though initial news sources had reported three mass graves in the area, that number has since increased to eight and then to ten. The United Nations believes that the graves were dug by Congolese security forces and noted that in February more than 800 people were believed to have been killed in the region.
The United Nations stated on March 21 that the deteriorating security situation in the DRC since President Kabila’s refusal to step down from power has become a “source of major concern.” Concerns for the security of civilians have motivated a number of human rights organizations to produce a report detailing the importance of security sector reform in Congo.The likelihood of Congolese elections in 2017 remains a possibility, as various outlets continue to offer mixed support. The head of MONUSCO claimed as of March 21, more than 19 million voters had been enrolled with their support, and that the enrollment process should be completed by the end of March. Their support is accompanied by pressure from the UN to implement the agreement to hold 2017 elections, signed at the end of 2016.
Activists in the DRC are less optimistic about the potential to see elections in 2017, however. Fred Bauma, a prominent youth activist, warned, “there is no political will from either side to hold elections in the DRC.” He also questioned whether outside funding for the elections from the US, EU, or UK would be provided to ensure that the elections occur.
In Burundi, human rights violations continue, natural disasters are taking a toll on local communities, and the International Development Association is providing funding for those in poverty.
A number of bodies have been found in the aftermath of ethnic and political violence in Burundi. On March 20, the body of police officer Charles Ndihokubwayo was found in Ntahangwa, one among upwards of 60 bodies reported by human rights organization Ligue ITEKA in Burundi. In addition to these killings, disappearances continue to take place throughout the country, as notable journalists such as Jean Bigirmana are still missing after almost eight months of searching. Sources on this particular disappearance claim that he was abducted by the National Intelligence Service, raising concern over Burundian rights to freedom of expression and information. NGOs in Burundi continue to raise concerns over broader rights violations, including “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to public members.”
Torrential rain in Bujumbura has resulted in flooding and landslides, leading to the deaths of at least six people, numerous injuries, and the destruction of over 162 homes. On March 18, it was reported that the rainfall had dropped more than a month’s worth of water on the city in a few hours. Those impacted by the rainfall have been seeking support from neighbors and family members as they attempt to respond to the destruction.
The International Development Association will work through the World Bank to provide $40 million to support those in poverty in Burundi. The money will be distributed to 48,000 households in four regions of Burundi and will be given to women, who are traditionally responsible for handling budgets in the household. Independent agencies who monitor corruption have been calling for the establishment of an independent commission that would circumvent the government and ensure that the money reaches those who need it most.
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 of Africa Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.
Joanna Liang is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator. She is a Junior at the University of Delaware where she majors in History Education.