STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.
This week’s update focuses on failing peace talks in South Sudan and Burundi; hunger and famine in South Sudan and Nigeria; the proposed halt to the US conflict minerals rule, which will affect progress made on armed group funding, supply chain transparency, and money laundering; renewed fighting in the Central African Republic; and protests against Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari.
On February 7, The Sudan Tribune published a report that two women have died from starvation in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state. The incident reflects the food security difficulties that South Sudan is currently facing.
Since South Sudan’s controversial 2015 peace deal has created controversy because it requests that rebels who fought the administration of President Salva Kiir return to Juba, the capital city of South Sudan. The peace deal was administered by the former Botswana president Festus Mogae, who serves in the Joint Evaluation and Monitoring Commission (JMEC). Mogae reportedly said to the BBC that former Vice President Riek Machar should not return to Juba. These comments have raised the concerns of human rights experts who believe that Mogae’s remarks show favoritism toward the government of South Sudan. As the administrator of the peace deal, Mogae should not show favoritism to either side.
On February 17, South Sudanese minister of Labor Lieutenant General Gabriel Duop Lam joined the side of the rebels, marking the second high-level resignation this week from the government. The defection was confirmed at a news conference in Juba on Friday.
On the same day, a senior UN human rights official called for the need for accountability for “those committing atrocity crimes in conflict-torn South Sudan.” UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour said, “This is a war that has been waged against the men, women and children of South Sudan, and the only way of ending this onslaught will be when the perpetrators face consequences for what they’re doing.” Mr. Gilmour travelled to the country last month, where he observed the devastation and human rights abuses suffered by civilians. Gilmour went on to emphasize his frustrations with the limited access available to the UN Mission to South Sudan, whose mission is to protect and provide humanitarian assistance to civilians.
Great Lakes Region of Africa
Peace dialogue in Burundi is crumbling as the government continues to refuse to participate. The Burundian government’s refusal to participate lies in the invitation of groups who they do not consider peaceful stakeholders. Meanwhile, the National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Accord (CNARED), an opposition group predominantly in exile, complained that Benjamin Mkapa, former president of Tanzania and mediator of the talks, was not including all invested groups in the dialogue and was therefore failing to represent the views of the Burundian people. In an attempt to satisfy CNARED’s concerns, Mkapa agreed to allow individuals accused of participating in a 2015 coup attempt to participate in the discussion. This decision spurred the Burundian government’s refusal to continue the peace talks, leading many in the region to doubt that the dialogue will see any success. The talks were scheduled to run from February 16 to 18, but the Burundian government refused to send representatives.
The government in Burundi maintains that the political crisis has ended and that Burundi is now a safe country, issuing a call for refugees to return home. The response from surrounding countries has been hesitant at best. In Uganda, contradictory statements have been made regarding the return of refugees to Burundi. The Minister for Disaster Preparedness Hillary Onek said that refugees would receive a three-month extension if they desired to stay, but the minister’s deputy Musa Ecweru claimed that the laws regarding refugees require that their return be voluntary. The Commissioner for Refugees of the Office of the Prime Minister, Mr. Kazungu Apollo, released a clarification that Uganda will support Burundians seeking asylum until they feel it is unsafe for them to return home.
The UN peacekeepers Burundi has sent to other countries, especially Somalia, have provided a source of financial support to the country’s defense department. The continued use of Burundian peacekeepers has raised concerns that the UN is indirectly funding repression in Burundi. Though the European Union pays the Burundian soldiers’ salaries, it has requested that the African Union find a way to pay Burundian peacekeepers without passing through Burundian banks.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Although pressure has been applied to the Congolese government to hold elections in 2017, the budget minister claimed on February 15 that “it would be difficult to gather the necessary $1.8 billion” for the election. The minister, Pierre Kangudia, claims that the government does not have the money to host elections in 2017 come just twelve days after the death of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi. Tshisekedi was expected to lead a transitional government with the current President Kabila until elections could be held later this year. His death, along with the statements from the budget minister, have led to a renewed uncertainty about the future of democracy in DRC. The minister also stated that “we have to fill the holes before we can even put anything in it [the treasury],” a reference to the corruption present in the country.
Meanwhile, President Trump re-ignited a conversation about conflict minerals and the Dodd-Frank law in the United States when a directive was leaked that would temporarily suspend the Dodd-Frank law for two years. The executive order declared that the secretary of the treasury would “review regulations on financial institutions and report back specific recommendations.” The Dodd-Frank act requires US firms to “declare where they’re sourcing their gold, tin, and other minerals, often used in consumer electronics.” Removing this piece of legislation, or even simply suspending it, could lead to a resurgence in investment in conflict minerals: gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum. In eastern Congo, armed rebel groups sell these resources to fund violent activities, and this policy change opens the possibility of a backslide in improvements made in responsible sourcing practices in the past few years.
Violence between the government and various militias in the DRC continues. Over a five-day span from February 9 to February 13, soldiers killed at least 101 people in an altercation with the Kamwina Nsapu group in central Congo. UN human rights spokesperson Liz Throssell accused the troops of “firing indiscriminately” and using “excessive and disproportionate” force to handle the situation. The deaths of 39 women in this altercation support the accusation. The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC also stated that the Kamwina Nsapu group had “committed violent atrocities and used child soldiers.”
Major armed groups active in the eastern DRC include the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which also carries out abuses in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), comprised predominantly of Rwandan Hutu linked to the 1994 genocide, the Forces for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), which is responsible for various abuses against civilians, local Mai-Mai community-based militias, and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed Ugandan group that has bases in eastern Congo.
Central and West Africa
Central African Republic (CAR)
In the last three weeks, the Central African Republic (CAR) has seen a resurgence of violence perpetrated by armed groups. On February 7, rebels killed at least five civilians after the Central African army, with support from UN peacekeepers, killed Youssouf Malinga, also known as “Big Man,” a leader of a local Muslim militia group, during an operation. Additionally, over two dozen were wounded, and two churches and a school were destroyed. Just four days earlier, a clash between two armed groups in Bocaranga killed civilians and compelled thousands to flee to nearby forests.
Much of this violence continues because of its political and economic expediency. Warlords continue to exploit religious tensions in the country to gain popular support and strengthen their political bargaining power, thus increasing their chances of earning a government position. Because the judicial system has been unwilling or unable to prosecute these individuals for their crimes, a culture of impunity has been created, encouraging such behavior. In fact, the idea of blanket amnesty for war crimes recently arose while President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was meeting with the leaders of several armed groups. Beyond political rewards, the revenue that armed groups obtain from natural resource extraction further incentivizes them to continue to perpetuate violence. This may be exacerbated if President Donald Trump follows through on a proposal that would suspend federal rules on conflict minerals. Members of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) say that this policy could lead to “the resurgence of armed groups controlling and exploiting minerals. This might ultimately lead to a generalised proliferation of terrorist groups, trans-boundary money laundry and illicit financial flows in the region.”
Much of the future of CAR depends on action taken by the international community. On February 15, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous warned the international community not to turn away from the country, as armed groups remain a grave threat. As such, the peacekeeping force in the country has changed its deployment to more effectively protect the country. Regional organizations have also gotten involved, with the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region launching a joint-initiative for a national peace and reconciliation agreement. Only concerted international attention will allow this lengthy conflict and humanitarian crisis to cease.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), at least half a million children under the age of five in northeastern Nigeria will suffer from severe acute malnutrition during this upcoming year, leading up to twenty percent of them to die, unless more aid is given. At least fourteen million require some type of humanitarian assistance. The hunger crisis in the northeast is caused primarily by Boko Haram, whose attacks have displaced millions of farmers, significantly reducing their ability to farm. The man-made famine is the first in over a decade. Donor countries from 14 countries pledged to scale up funding for vulnerable groups threatened by famine at the Oslo conference last month.
Thousands of Nigerians are expressing their grievances at the present humanitarian situation by protesting the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Although much of Boko Haram has been defeated, citizens believe Buhari has failed in his other responsibilities related to eliminating corruption, bolstering the education system, and promoting economic growth. In particular, the economy has suffered under Buhari with plummeting exchange rates and virtually non-existent foreign direct investment. Anger is exacerbated by Buhari’s decision to receive medical treatment outside of the country, attesting to his lack of trust in local healthcare. Concern for the president’s health—and questions about whether it may be worse than government officials are saying—is putting further pressure on the government and raising concerns about the continued functioning of the political system.
Both Boko Haram and other militants in the Niger Delta continue to pose a problem in Nigeria. Seven suicide bombers, six of whom were women, launched an attack in Maiduguri on February 16. Though there were no civilian casualties during this attack, such attacks continue to occur with regularity around the country. Horrifically, Boko Haram is now deploying children as young as nine, who are able to get through security checkpoints more easily. The petroleum minister of Nigeria also recently announced that armed groups in the Niger Delta cost the country between $50 and $100 billion in oil revenue as it was forced to cut back production by nearly two hundred thousand barrels per day. Although a detailed plan has recently been released to end the insurgency through development of infrastructure and social institutions, it remains to be seen whether Nigeria will have the financial or technical capacity to effectively do the job.
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.
Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Nigeria. He is a Senior at Bronx High School of Science.