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 (CAR), Nigeria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Burundi. In Nigeria, violence is on the rise by both Boko Haram and the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). In South Sudan, the UN is threatening an arms embargo if a peacekeeping force is not allowed by the government. Those opposed to a third term for President Kabila DRC are preparing for a fresh wave of protests, as he is constitutionally mandated to step down in December.
Central and West Africa
Central African Republic
On September 23, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, the president of the Central African Republic (CAR), spoke optimistically about the status of his country at the annual general debate of the United Nations General Assembly. Praising the United Nations, Touadera stated that he was proud of the progress that had already been made in establishing peace and stability in the country. Yet his speech also remained somber as the president acknowledged challenges still facing the state. Just five days before this speech, rebels killed dozens of citizens in the small village of Ndomete in one of the worst episodes of violence in the past few months. In response, the peacekeeping mission in the country elected to bolster its position in the area surrounding the site of the massacre. The lack of security in the country was also on display in the capital of Bangui on October 4. Three men grazing their flocks were killed, and Marcel Mombeka, the head of the armed forces in CAR, was assassinated. The combination of these two incidents has prompted some concern among those who fear that the country could spiral back into violence.
In the midst of this fragile peace, CAR also is attempting to rebuild the country, which has a long history of human rights abuses and mass atrocities, most recently in the wake of the 2012 coup d-état. On November 17, the CAR Donors and Investors Conference will take place in Brussels and will focus on rebuilding the capacity of the government so that it will be able to provide public goods such as security and social welfare programs. Unfortunately, there has been some criticism that such a conference will not do enough to involve local communities, which have grown increasingly capable of solving their own problems in the absence of a functional national government. As such, the national government must use pledged funds not as a temporary solution to immediate problems, but as a foundation to permanently rebuild the country.
On September 25, Boko Haram launched two different assaults against military positions in northeastern Nigeria. The first attack killed four soldiers in Logomani, and the second killed three soldiers and an officer near Bama. Both positions are under seventy miles from Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state, where Boko Haram has been the most active.
Nigeria is also dealing with a second insurgency led by a group known as the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) who have been attacking oil and gas pipelines in an attempt to expel multinational oil companies from the country and obtain a more equitable distribution of revenue from such commodities. On September 23, the group, which had briefly halted its assaults, launched an attack against the Bonny crude export line. Just under a week later, they struck again against the Unenurhie-Evwreni delivery line. In response to these attacks, the National Association of Nigerian Students has attempted to reach out to the militants in this region and has urged them to end the violence, arguing that it only contributes to environmental degradation and economic setback. The Nigerian military has opened up a negotiation process with the militants, but also warned the group that it will strike back hard against those who do not participate.
The aggressiveness of Boko Haram and the Niger Delta Avengers combined with the steep decline in oil prices have had a severe impact on the economy of Nigeria, which depends almost exclusively on oil. On October 4, European Union official Fillippo Amato advised Nigeria to devalue the Naira in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the economic recession. The purpose of such a move would be to attract foreign investors who have understandably been wary to put their capital into a country still plagued by outbreaks of violence. This policy combined with more aid from the European Union should help alleviate the presently bleak humanitarian situation in Nigeria.
In September, The UN Security Council went on a three-day trip to South Sudan. Despite recently celebrating its fifth birthday, there was little appetite for celebration as violence continues to endanger the country’s prosperity. The most recent conflict included intense fighting between President Salva Kiir’s army and former Vice President Riek Machar’s troops, a reignition of the civil war after several months of calm. The conflict left at least 300 dead in July.
The civil war in South Sudan sparked from the political conflict between President Kiir and former Vice President Machar. Even though they signed a peace deal a year ago, conflict has continued and Machar fled the country in July. According to a report by the Paris-based Sudan Tribune, Foreign Minister of South Sudan Ibrahim Ghandour said his government would not allow the armed opposition to attack South Sudan from its territory.
The country has endured a devastating civil war for 3 years now. The concerns over female safety in South Sudan continue to rise. In collaboration with International Women’s Media Foundation, Al Jazeera published an article on girls education in South Sudan. The article’s interviews with several South Sudanese girls make clear that girls in the war-torn country are extremely vulnerable. Many have been forced into early marriage and remain at risk of sexual abuse. However, the article also noted that girls in South Sudan are taking a stand to seek an education while fighting for their futures in one of the world’s most unstable countries.
On September 27, the Wall Street Journal published a news article on South Sudan’s peacekeeping force, which indicated that South Sudan’s government has repeatedly blocked the UN peacekeeping mission. The Associated Press acquired the initial UN report, which showed an ultimatum dealt by the UN to South Sudan: it must accept the deployment of a 4,000-strong regional protection force from the UN, or face a possible arms embargo. The UN chief listed 22 incidents in which South Sudanese security forces denied access for the U.N peacekeepers to operate their mission and made threats to their safety. Also on September 27, rebel forces in South Sudan said government troops launched attacks in the north. The troops threatened immediate retaliation. The threat has raised fears of further escalation of the civil war.
Great Lakes Region of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The electoral commission in the DRC declared on Saturday, October 1 that polls would be delayed until December 2018. President Kabila has claimed that as many as 10 million unregistered voters would be disenfranchised if the election were to take place in the coming months and intends to remain in power until elections can be held.
Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has warned that protests will be organized again on October 19, two months before the end of President Kabila’s mandate, which is December 19. Tshisekedi claimed that the protests on September 19, in which over fifty people died, were a warning to Kabila, and that the October protests will be a “yellow card” that will ultimately lead to a “red card” if Kabila does not step down in December. Le Rassemblement, a group of opposition parties, has declared that they would interpret Kabila staying in office longer than his two terms as high treason. They have also denounced attempted peace talks as a “pseudo dialogue” and an attempt by the president to legitimize his strategy.
The opposition protests have drawn the attention of the international community, leading the United States to declare sanctions against Major General Amisi Kumba and former Senior Police Official John Numbi. The US Treasury said in a report that the sanctions have been raised in response to “increasing indications that the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to suppress political opposition in the country, often through violent means.” France also raised the issue of European Union sanctions on Tuesday, October 4, claiming that Kabila has no right to stand for re-election, and should step down.
Meanwhile the government in the DRC has claimed they will not allow South Sudanese rebels to stay any longer. The 750 armed opposition soldiers were in “extremely bad shape” and were staying in the Eastern Congo. The government has asked the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission (MONUSCO) to remove the group as they are considered a security threat.
The United Nations presented an independent investigation on Burundi on Tuesday, September 27 that accused the government of Burundi of human rights abuses. The report includes the verification of 564 summary executions since Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would pursue a third term in office. The report has also confirmed evidence of rapes, disappearances, and mass arrests. The UN investigation specifically states that “widespread and systemic […] patterns of violations clearly suggest that they are deliberate and the result of conscious decisions, it is in the government’s power to stop them.”
Protests have been held in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, aiming to modify the UN investigative report. The government and protestors claim that the report is biased and based in rumors and gossip. However, in response to the report, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create a commission to identify perpetrators of killings and violence. The violence remains political in nature, though there are concerns that the violence could become ethnically motivated as the top levels of government are using “unpleasant ethnic rhetoric” in an attempt to sway core Hutu supporters. The resolution and the investigation have both made reference to the possibility of invoking Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, which allows the UN to intervene using military and nonmilitary measures in order to restore peace and security. The UN has also pledged to work more closely with the East African Community to promote peace in Burundi.
Journalist Jean Bigirimana remains missing after being reported to have been arrested by security forces outside of the capital in July. Amnesty International is engaging activists with an online action urging an investigation into his case, and structural changes to protect journalists in the country.
In addition, Burundi is now facing a potential cholera epidemic and lack of clean drinking water in Mugoboka, a neighborhood in the Burundian capital. Over 9,000 people use the same source for drinking water, and although the chief of the Ruhero zone where Mogoboka is located denies any deaths caused by the cholera, he does acknowledge that the water shortage is a problem. The government is responding by trying to build a new public tap.
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.
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.
Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.