This Week in African Conflict… November 23-29th, 2011

  • The London based International Institute for Environment and Development released a policy paper on Thursday that warned of an alarming number of African governments that seem to be signing away water rights in their countries for decades, with major implications for local communities.
  • A new study in the British Medical Journal details the true cost of the medical brain drain, the money benefited from wealthy Western countries poaching African trained doctors. Canada, Britain, Australia and the US are said to have saved more than $4.5 billion (USD) in education costs by recruiting doctors from nine African countries, while the nine source countries have lost nearly $2.2 billion as a result of the medical migration.
  • Two French citizens were reportedly abducted from a hotel in northern Mali by gunmen early Thursday. Few details have yet emerged, as this is the first kidnapping of westerners in Mali that has occurred south of the Niger River, far from the al-Qaida region in the north. On Saturday, gunmen killed a German man in Timbuktu and captured another three men from the Netherlands, South Africa and Sweden.
  • At least 22 anti-junta demonstrators were reportedly killed by security force’s live bullets from Saturday to Wednesday in Egypt as pro-democracy protesters clashed with police. On Thursday, the ruling junta announced that elections would start as scheduled on Monday, despite widespread protests and calls for postponement; while three American students, who were arrested, accused of throwing petrol bombs were released from police custody. Journalist Mona Eltahawy reported she had been arrested, beaten and sexually assaulted by security forces in Cairo, and several other journalists are said to have been targeted for arrest or abuse. On Friday, Egypt’s military apologized for the deaths of demonstrators and vowed to bring justice to those responsible, while tens of thousands of demonstrators filled Tahrir Square demanding the military rulers step down and calling on the new PM to leave office. Saboteurs also blew up a gas pipeline in the northern Sinai province on Friday and another pipeline again on Monday. On Saturday, the killing of an unarmed demonstrator by the police resulted in an outpouring of anger. On Sunday, activists prepared for another massive protest in Tahrir Square to demand an immediate end to military rule a day ahead of parliamentary polls while the army chief said he will not let “troublemakers” meddle in the elections and warned of “extremely grave” consequences if the crisis was not overcome.  On Monday, Egyptians came out to vote in record numbers, with polls kept open two hours past their scheduled closing to allow the long queues of people a chance to vote. Some irregularities were reported.
  • President Mugabe of Zimbabwe announced on Wednesday that homosexuals and lesbians will be punished severely for their behaviour which is “inconsistent with African and Christian values”. PM Tsvangirai’s office expressed their discontent on Friday over the awarding of the country’s first independent radio licences to two companies aligned with President Mugabe, calling the situation a “farce”.
  • The Air Force and Navy in Kenya have reportedly blockaded the port of Kismayu, effectively cutting off al-Shabaab’s main source of revenue in an effort to stop the incursions of the militants into Kenya from southern Somalia.  On Thursday, Kenyan warplanes reportedly destroyed two insurgent bases in Somalia, while two grenade attacks in the east killed some three people and injured 27, and a bomb attack killed a soldier and wounded four others near the Somali border. Ethiopia has said it will contribute troops to the AU force in Somalia fighting al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents, joining the Kenyan troops who crossed the border last month, though by Saturday hundreds of Ethiopian troops with tanks and artillery were reported to have reached central Somalia. The al-Shabaab insurgent group warned Ethiopia that it would suffer heavy losses if it embarks on any new military intervention in Somalia. On Friday night, Kenyan security forces reportedly foiled an attack by suspected militants in Mandera, and arrested five men suspected of being members of al Shabaab. On Saturday, the Kenyan navy arrested four more suspected al-Shabaab members in Lamu. On Monday, Human Rights Watch called on the Kenyan police and military to stop using illegal mass round-ups and beatings as a substitute for proper police investigative work.
  • On Sunday, al-Shabaab beheaded two youths in Southern Somalia for allegedly spying for the Transitional Federal Government and Kenya Defence Forces; while three people were wounded in a suspected bomb blast inside the main hospital in the Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab ordered 16 more aid agencies to shut down operations within the country on Monday, accusing the aid workers of being spies.
  • Rebel groups in the eastern regions of the DR Congo are reportedly reforming, recruiting new members and possibly rearming just ahead of the upcoming elections . On Wednesday, police announced that gunmen shot dead an opposition lawmaker in Kinshasa. On Thursday, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, a national assembly candidate wanted for crimes against humanity and charged with organizing the mass rape of some 387 people, held a large campaign rally in North Kivu province in full view of police, the army and just 3 km from the UN peacekeeping base.  Former rebel leader Bemba urged the opposition to unite behind a single candidate against incumbent President Kabila in upcoming elections from his jail cell. Victory is expected for Kabila, with many analysts predicting a violent backlash should he win. On Saturday, police banned campaign rallies to stop rising levels of violence that killed at least one man near the airport in Kinshasa. On Sunday, police blocked the main opposition candidate at an airport in Kinshasa to stop him from staging an election rally and escorted him to his residence.  On Monday, Congolese took to the polls amid numerous problems with delivery of materials, intimidation, violence, fraud and corruption; though UN officials reported that they were satisfied with the relatively orderly and peaceful way the voting had been conducted in Kinshasa. (Other stories of violence, and attacks during the vote, the implications the vote could have, and some really good bloggers who write about the Congo). On Tuesday, four opposition candidates said that fraud and violence was so widespread that the vote should be cancelled, while some voting was still ongoing in some areas. At least 8 people were killed in violence linked to the elections on Monday.
  • A new Protection of State Information Bill in South Africa tabled by the ruling ANC and passed through Parliament on Tuesday is concerning to many who suggest it is a move back towards the harsh censorship that existed under apartheid. The bill bans the publication of classified documents and allows the government to class almost any category of information as secret.
  • On Thursday, Libya’s new transitional government was sworn in before the country’s interim leader. The Prime Minister said the government’s first task is to formulate plans to build state institutions. A report by the UN alleges that thousands of people, including women and children, are being illegally detained by rebel militias and many are suffering torture and systematic mistreatment. Dozens of Amazighs or Berbers protested in Tripoli on Friday for being shut out of the new government, demanding that their language and rights be recognized; while the ICC’s chief prosecutor announced that Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam could be tried under the ICC within Libya. The head of Libya’s interim ruling council thanked Sudan for weapons and ammunition sent through Egypt that helped the rebels oust Gaddafi during a visit to Khartoum. On Saturday, around 100 Libyans surrounded a Tunisian passenger aircraft at an airport, delaying its takeoff in a protest at the government; about 100 Libyan women took to the streets in Tripoli in a silent march to demand more support from the new government for victims of rape during the war; and several tribal leaders met in the hope of easing tensions between clans. On Sunday, hundreds of minority Amazigh Berbers warned of a campaign against the new government and demanded an apology from the premier for excluding their community from his cabinet.
  • The UNHCR voiced concern on Friday that an estimated 76,000 people from Sudan have fled to Ethiopia and South Sudan since August. A Kenyan court issued an official arrest warrant for Sudanese President al-Bashir on Monday, after allowing him into the country in August of 2010 without arrest despite being a party to the ICC, who have indicted Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Sudan responded by ordering the expulsion of the Kenyan ambassador from their country. On Monday, Khartoum announced it would be halting oil exports from South Sudan due to ongoing negotiations over transit fees, estimating that the South owed them around $727 million in arrears for the last 6 months. A Sudanese court sentenced seven people to death on Monday, accused of being members of the most powerful rebel group in the Darfur region, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The UN/AU joint special representative for Darfur expressed concern on Monday about the formation of a new rebel alliance, calling itself the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) that is threatening prospects for peace in Sudan.
  • ECOWAS pulled plans to send an observer mission on Wednesday to the Gambia after its fact-finding mission deemed preparations to “not be conducive for the conduct of free, fair and transparent polls”.  On Thursday, incumbent President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power for 17 years, was elected to a new five-year term with a landslide 72% victory amid reports of intimidation and corruption.
  • A new rebel movement calling itself the Force for the Restoration of Democracy (FRD) announced its creation in Burundi on a local private radio station on Friday. The group says its mission is to take up arms and topple the government. On Monday, gunmen killed a Croatian nun and an Italian doctor working in a psychiatric clinic in the north in the first attack on foreign aid workers since 2007.
  • Religious violence in central Nigeria reportedly killed several people on Thursday, and resulted in the military imposing a 24-hour curfew in one region. The violence was said to have stemmed from Christian and Muslim gangs fighting over ownership of cattle and fertile farmland. Boko Haram claimed responsibility on Friday for a series of bomb attacks in the northern part of the country and declared that it would next target offices of political parties nationwide.  On Saturday, gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram bombed a police station, a bank and a beer parlour. Leader of the Biafra secession, Odumegwu Ojukwu died in hospital at 78 reportedly of natural causes. On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill prohibiting same-sex marriage, proscribing 10 years in jail for offenders.
  • Morocco had its first parliamentary election since the king introduced constitutional reforms approved in a July 1st referendum. Voter turnout was first reported at around 34%, but later at 45.4% and resulted in the country’s moderate Islamists winning the most seats.
  • Tunisia was under an overnight curfew on Thursday following riots over jobs in the Gafsa region on Wednesday night. On Monday, some 40 Islamists demanding segregated lessons and full-face veils for women students besieged a university building near the capital and held students and professors hostage.
  • Three journalists in Cote d’Ivoire from the daily newspaper Notre Voie, known to be favorable to former President Gbagbo, were taken into police custody on suspicion of insulting the head of state and harming the national economy. Press freedom remains a serious concern seven months since President Ouattara came into power. On Tuesday, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for ex-President Laurent Gbagbo who is being held in the north of the country, a year after the problematic elections that led to a short civil war.

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