Democratic Republic of Congo

This Week in African Conflict… March 6th-13th, 2012.

  • A new American initiative to improve the notoriously poor LGBT rights in sub-Saharan Africa is reportedly inspiring a large backlash. Sub-Saharan Africa is marked by widespread homophobia as well as chronic dependence on foreign aid, in particular from the US, and the idea that the two issues might now be linked seems to upset a lot of people.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army has reportedly recently launched a new spate of attacks in the DRC after a lull in the second half of 2011; and the UN peacekeeping chief spoke of the role of UN peacekeepers in tackling the LRA. A video produced by the organization Invisible Children went viral this week demanding the removal of LRA leader Joseph Kony (#Kony2012), reaching more than 70 million hits and raising some $5 million in less than a week, amid much criticism. Frankly, I’m with the critics on this one; the idea of increased military intervention to stop a small rebel group (best estimates suggest 200-400 fighters left) that is heavily made up of children, when there are already several armed groups after them (including 100 American soldiers) strikes me as a bad idea, as do the claims/tone of the video itself, the organization’s past behaviour and the grandiose attitude of its founders.  I have written my own response to the Kony 2012 campaign, which can be viewed here. Following the Kony 2012 campaign, Uganda announced it would catch Kony dead or alive, eventually.
  • A senior American official urged the President of Malawi on Friday to respect his citizens’ right to freedom of expression, days after he accused Western donors of funding an opposition protest movement in his country; while the State House warned Malawian journalists, editors and human rights defenders that they risk facing unspecified action if they continue “twisting information”.
  • One year after the start of several months of popular revolts in Burkina Faso, the situation has settled down, but reportedly remains fragile. The government has adopted a number of measures to appease its critics, including upping civil servant salaries, intensifying the fight against corruption and subsidizing food prices.
  • A court in Tunisia reportedly fined a newspaper publisher 1,000 dinars ($665) on Thursday for printing a photograph of a footballer frolicking with his nude girlfriend, raising fears of a media crackdown.
  • One police officer in Mozambique was reportedly killed on Thursday after clashes with members of the former Renamo guerrilla movement, highlighting tensions that still exist in the country despite a 1992 peace accord.
  • The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Wednesday that the rights of a group of Somali and Eritrean nationals who were intercepted by Italian Customs boats and returned to Libya in 2009 were violated under several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights; the government called announced plans for greater autonomy in Benghazi a foreign-inspired plot to break up the country; while American President Obama hosted the Libyan PM at the White House, encouraging him to follow through on plans to hold national elections in June and stressing the importance of transparency and engagement with civil society, along with discussion cooperation on border management, weapons security and regional counterterrorism concerns. On Wednesday, Libyan leader Jalil vowed to use force to stop the country dividing into autonomous regions. On Friday, thousands of people took to the streets in the two biggest cities to protest moves by groups in the east to declare autonomy from central rule; Russia criticized UN investigators for failing to adequately probe deaths caused by NATO bombs during the uprising against Gaddafi last year; the government reclaimed possession from Saadi Gaddafi of a London mansion worth some 10 million pounds after a British court ruled it had been bought using stolen Libyan state funds; while investigators probing violations committed during the country’s conflict said that they were giving the UN’s human rights chief a list of people who should face international or national justice. On Monday, damaging new claims emerged linking French President Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign and former Libyan leader Gaddafi, who is said to have contributed up to 50 million euro to his election fund;  the government called upon its neighbours to toughen up border security, concerned about the large numbers of people who have been smuggled across the border since the end of fighting last year; while the UN Security Council extended the UN mission assisting Libya with its democratic transition for another 12 months, adjusting their mandate to support national efforts to promote the rule of law, protect human rights, restore public security and hold free and fair elections.
  • A popular music video making rounds in Senegal calls upon hard-up citizens who are offered cash for their vote in the upcoming Presidential election to pocket the money and vote as they wish anyway. On Monday, Belgium launched a bid in the UN’s highest court to force Senegal to bring former Chadian President Hissene Habre, dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet”, to trial for crimes against humanity.
  • The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland announced on Monday that it will boycott the 2013 national elections in the kingdom because political parties are banned. Political parties are banned in the country, and only individuals are allowed to stand as candidates.
  • Protests erupted in Khartoum, Sudan on Tuesday after a woman was reportedly killed by police; police responded by firing tear gas and using batons to break up the demonstrations. On Friday, armed Murle tribesman reportedly raided cattle camps, resulting in the disappearance of 500-800 people who are feared dead or abducted. On Sunday, a former senior UN official accused the Sudanese government of launching a genocidal campaign against non-Arab villagers in South Kordofan, by bombing civilians and using tactics reminiscent of the Darfur conflict—a charge the government dismissed. On Monday, the UN mission in South Sudan announced that it will provide support by collecting weapons at a civilian disarmament that were held illegally and monitoring the process. On Tuesday, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said it sent patrol units and a medical team to an area on the Ethiopian border after unidentified raiders reportedly attacked several cattle camps over the weekend, wounding some 63 people and causing some 15,000 to flee into Ethiopia.
  • Human Rights Watch released a report urging the government of Cote d’Ivoire to urgently address the rising violent crime in and around the central town of Bouake, to takes steps to disarm former combatants widely believed to be implicated in the attacks, adequately equip the police and gendarmes to protect the population and investigate violent crimes. A former warlord, Cherif Ousmane, was appointed by the army high command as the head of an “anti-armed gangs unit” responsible for cracking down on bandits operating on the country’s highways. On Monday, local newspapers suggested that PM Guillaume Soro had resigned from his position during an extraordinary cabinet meeting in Abidjan.
  • Nigeria expelled some 56 South Africans from their country for “lack of proper documentation” on Tuesday in an apparent retaliation for the expulsion of 125 Nigerians from South Africa the previous weekend. On Thursday, Italian politicians and newspapers accused of giving them “a slap in the face” by allegedly not informing it of the special-forces raid in Nigeria that left one Italian and one British hostage dead; a Boko Haram spokesman denied any link to the kidnapping; police in Lagos State denied rumours that Boko Haram members has snuck into the state, advising residents to discard such report and go about their legal businesses without fear; suspected Boko Haram insurgents attacked a police station and two banks in a remote part of the north, shooting dead some four policemen and three civilians; while some 20 people were said to have been killed and several others injured when Fulani herdsmen reportedly invaded Kadarko town in Nasarawa State. On Friday, suspected Boko Haram militants reportedly set fire to the Bulabulim Ngarnam Police Station in Maiduguri, killing at least one person; a gun battle broke out between suspected militants and police in Kano, wounding at least three police officers; while some 120 Nigerians were deported from Britain back to the country for various offenses.  On Saturday, Boko Haram warned some journalists to stop or desist from misrepresenting their views at a Media Telephone Conferencing. On Sunday, a car laden with explosive detonated outside a Catholic church in Jos, killing at least nine people and injuring others; while some six people were killed by unidentified gunmen in the Delta State area. By Monday, the death toll from the explosion in Jos had risen to 19; while suspected Fulani herdsman were accused of killing two people and injuring three others in Jos.
  • Tens of thousands of people reportedly took to the streets in South Africa on Wednesday in a nationwide strike to demonstrate for improved workers rights and against plans to introduce unpopular road tolls. The House of Representatives mandated its Committee on Foreign Affairs to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review Nigeria’s bilateral relations on Thursday, following the previous week’s deportations of South Africans.On Monday, expelled youth leader Julius Malema made a surprise apology and begged to be allowed back into the governing party.
  • Police in Angola announced they are investigating a clash that occurred over the weekend in the capital between young anti-government protesters calling for the resignation of President Eduardo dos Santos and pro-government supporters who confronted them. On Tuesday, rights groups and activists warned of a rapidly deteriorating political climate in the country following a police raid on a private newspaper and a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
  • The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo received tactical helicopters to support their mission from the Ukraine on Wednesday. On Friday, the UNHCR expressed concern that more than 3,000 Congolese civilians have fled into Uganda from the DRC’s North Kivu to escape fresh fighting since the beginning of the year. On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court issued its first judgment against Thomas Lubanga, an alleged warlord accused of enlisting and conscripting child soldiers.
  • The UN humanitarian office announced on Wednesday that it had deployed a team to the Republic of Congo to support authorities following last week’s explosions at an ammunition depot that killed some 200 people and injured 1,500.
  • Gunmen reportedly shot dead two policemen at a checkpoint near the capital in Burundi late on Wednesday and one attacker was killed in an exchange of fire. The Standard wrote an article about the revitalization of the once violent city of Bujumbura that is now peaceful.
  • The MDC-T party in Zimbabwe announced on Sunday that it will go it alone if ZANU-PF decides to pull out of the coalition government in the hope of forcing early elections before the implementation of reforms as required under the Global Political Agreement. On Monday, a deadline for the Information Minister to implement media reforms ordered by the three principals to the inclusive government was reportedly ignored.
  • Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt announced they were likely to declare they had lost confidence in the PM’s government via a formal vote, a move that will add to pressure on the ruling military council to appoint a cabinet led by the group on Thursday; while a judge said he was delaying the trial of civil society activists including the 16 Americans accused of receiving illegal foreign funds until April 10th. Candidates for the “first ever free” Presidential elections began this weekend, with candidates now able to submit their applications. On Sunday, the leader of the Freedom and Justice party revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative al-Nour Party will support the head of the Supreme Judiciary Council, Hossam Al-Gheryani, for President; and an army doctor accused of carrying out forced “virginity tests” on female protesters last year was acquitted of all charges.
  • At least 23 people were reportedly killed in an attack on Ethiopian troops by al-Shabaab insurgents near the border of Somalia on Saturday, with al-Shabaab claiming to have killed 73 Ethiopian soldiers and recovering 20 guns; while the African Union announced that Ethiopia was set to withdraw from Somalia by the end of April with Djibouti, Uganda and Burundi poised to step in. On Sunday, Ethiopia denied reports that its soldiers had been killed or captured. On Monday, the President of the Puntland government welcomed proposed talks between the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the Somaliland separatist region, but warned against denying the role of Puntland.
  • Public hospitals in Kenya face a potentially devastating health worker shortage after the government reportedly fired on 25,000 nurses on Friday who had been on strike since March 1st to protest the government’s failure to implement a salary increase; while the ICC rejected appeals from the former finance minister and three others to have charges against them dropped relating to the country’s 2007 election violence. As many as six people were reportedly killed and scores others injured when multiple grenade explosions rocked downtown Nairobi on Saturday, in attacks linked to the al-Shabaab militia. On Sunday, the VP urged Kenyans to remain calm as the government continues to fights terror. On Monday, PM Odinga accused Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto of hatching a plot to avoid standing trial at the ICC, after documents purporting to be from the British Foreign Office was tabled in Parliament.
  • Tuareg rebels in northern Mali reportedly took control of the key garrison town of Tessalit follow a weeks-long siege on Sunday.

This Week in African Conflict… February 28th-March 6th, 2012.

  • A lawyers group claim that police arrested a carpenter on Wednesday who questioned whether Zimbabwe’s President still had the strength to blow up balloons at his 88th birthday celebrations, under a law making it an offense to insult the President.
  • The top UN envoy to Libya expressed confidence on Wednesday that the nation will be able to overcome current difficulties and pursue a path towards the goals it committed itself to when the popular uprising began a year ago; Reporters Without Borders condemned the continuing detention of two British TV journalists who were arrested in Tripoli last month; while the revolutionary brigades accused of torture were reportedly still holding three quarters of the detainees captive from the civil war, as many as 6,000 persons. On Friday, the UN-mandated commission of inquiry that probed human rights abuses in the country reported that crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed by both Gaddafi troops and the forces that fought to oust him; while hundreds of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Bengazi demanding that the occupying militia leave and allow judges to return to work. On Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it had formed a political party in the absence of laws laying out a formal process for the establishment of political parties. On Sunday, the house of the bourse announced that the Libyan stock exchange was set to re-open on March 15th. On Monday, Human Rights Watch called upon the Libyan government to urgently increase security for the roughly 12,000 displaced people from Tawergha in the west; thousands of mourners gathered in Benghazi to re-bury 155 bodies unearthed from a mass grave of people who were reportedly killed during the civil war; while the most senior Algerian official to visit Libya since its revolution promised that members of Gaddafi’s family given refuge on Algerian soil will not be allowed to meddle in Libyan affairs. On Tuesday, tribal leaders and militia commanders in the east declared that they are forming a semi-autonomous region inside the country; while the Institute for Security Studies released a report discussing the responsibility to protect norm used in Libya in 2011. Instability is reportedly only deepening in the country.
  • Some 23 people were reportedly wounded in Algeria on Saturday after a suicide bomber drove a four-wheel drive vehicle packed with explosives at a paramilitary police base in a desert town. It was not immediately clear who was responsible, though an al-Qaeda splinter group reportedly took responsibility the following day.
  • A peacekeeper serving with the joint UN-AU operation in Sudan’s Darfur region was killed on Wednesday after unidentified gunmen allegedly ambushed a patrol. On Thursday, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese Defence Minister for crimes against humanity and war crimes, as part of investigations into crimes committed in Darfur; South Sudanese army officers received training on human rights, democracy and the rule of law from the UN; while South Sudan accused the north of bombing two oil wells in the north of their country and moving troops and weaponry close to an army base near the poorly defined border; Sudan denied all the allegations. On Friday, at least 30 people were killed and more than 15 injured in fresh clashes between youth of Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups in Nyirol County over cattle raiding. On Saturday, the SPLA spokesperson told a newspaper that the disarmament of the civilian population in Jonglei state is due to start in two weeks time; President Bashir vowed to flush out the remaining rebel pockets in South Kordofan as he ordered the setting up of camps across the country for Popular Defense Forces; and also condemned the ICC arrest warrant issued against the defense minister. On Sunday, Sudanese police reportedly used batons to disperse more than 100 students protesting in the centre of Khartoum against the closure of their campuses following the independence of South Sudan. On Monday, the political opposition alliance rejected a declaration made by President Bashir on Saturday to mobilize for war and deploy Popular Defense Forces across the country and called upon the leader to step down from power.
  • At least 7 bodies of alleged al-Shabaab militants were displayed by the administration of the Shabelle Valley in central Somalia on Thursday. On Friday, AU and Somali troops reportedly seized control of an al-Shabaab insurgent base in the north of the capital, reducing their capacity to launch attacks in the city. On Saturday, al-Shabaab attacked soldiers from the semi-autonomous Puntland region, leaving at least nine dead.  On Sunday, Reuters ran a report about how residents of the city of Baidoa were happy to see the arrival of Ethiopian soldiers, whose presence they once resented.
  • A group of MPs in Uganda in the governing National Resistance Movement reportedly forced ministers to resign and are allegedly obliging President Museveni to contemplate firing most of his cabinet. On Wednesday, a demonstration at a local town council in Luweero over poor garbage disposal turned violent after police reportedly threw tear gas canisters at demonstrators.
  • The UN peacekeeping mission in Cote d’Ivoire announced on Thursday that it will assess the situation in two constituencies where there were some “incidents” during last weekend’s legislative by-elections.
  • The electoral commission in Guinea said on Thursday that it would hold its delayed parliamentary elections on July 8th, in an effort to help unblock donor aid potentially worth billions of dollars.
  • Abdoulaye Wade, incumbent President of Senegal, admitted he had fallen short of the required 50% majority in the highly contested Presidential vote on Wednesday, and that a run-off would be required. EU observers reportedly discovered 130,000 ghost names on the voter registration list. On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the people of the country for a peaceful and orderly first round of Presidential elections and appealed for the same commitment during the second round.  Key figures in the opposition protest urged their followers to support Presidential challenger Macky Sall in next month’s run-off. On Monday, the electoral commission announced that the second round run-off would be held on March 25th.
  • Officials in Cairo, Egypt announced on Wednesday that a travel ban on seven Americans employed by pro-democracy US groups had been lifted; the Globe and Mail wrote an article about a rise in radicalism and the subsequent backlash of “hijab-free zones” that refuse veiled women entry; while election officials set the date for the first Presidential election since the overthrow of Mubarak last year for May 23 and 24th. On Thursday, American pro-democracy activists were flown out of the country; a move that many suspected is likely to defuse the worst row between the two countries in decades.  On Saturday, the speaker of the Parliament criticized the “flagrant interference” behind Cairo’s decision to lift a travel ban on American democracy workers accused of receiving illegal funds, echoing growing anger over the move.
  • On Wednesday, African Arguments discussed the false peace in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo; and the ICC judges announced they will hand down their verdict in its first trial in the case of Thomas Lubanga who is accused of committing three war crimes, including conscripting children under the age of 15 into arms groups; enlisting children into armed groups and using children to participate actively in armed conflict. On Monday, the UN refugee agency voiced concern over the recent displacement of several thousand people as a result of fresh attacks by the LRA in the Orientale province; while Reuters ran an article suggesting that President Kabila’s lack of publicity since the controversial November elections has left the country on edge.
  • The ruling African National Congress in South Africa expelled its youth leader Julius Malema after finding that he had shown no remorse after being convicted of fomenting divisions in the party on Wednesday. On Thursday, Malema supporters clashed with his rivals after they had blockaded the road in protest at his expulsion.
  • The Guardian ran an interesting article about land deeds and rights in Liberia, and how small farmers are losing their livelihoods to multinational palm-oil interests. On Friday, a top UN official assured the Liberian people that they are not preparing to leave the country but are seeking to reconfigure their presence after assessing the ability of national institutions to maintain peace and security.
  • At least ten thousand people have reportedly fled northern Nigeria for neighbouring Niger and Chad to escape a military sweep targeting Boko Haram; arsonists suspected to be Boko Haram members allegedly burned down seven schools in the northeast on Thursday, leaving thousands of children without schools in the middle of their term; while suspected pirates in speedboats killed four police after opening fire on a marine checkpoint in the creeks of the oil-producing Niger Delta (The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility the following day). On Friday, three Boko Haram members were killed when a bomb reportedly exploded at a compound suspected to be used as a bomb-making factory in Kaleri Ward. On Monday, some 45 people were thought to be killed in a renewed skirmish between Fulani herdsmen and native Tiv community in Benue State, while two policemen were killed and two others injured when gunmen stormed a police quarters in Kano municipality.
  • At least 200 people were reportedly killed and many more injured in a series of explosions in the capital of Congo-Brazzaville on Sunday that were caused by a fire in an arms depot at a military base. Small explosions continued the following day, hampering rescue efforts. On Monday, reports suggested that people were blaming the government for the blasts that were allegedly caused by an electrical short circuit and the number of injured rose over 1,500 people.
  • Disgruntled workers at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation defied an order by the government to return to work on Friday. Three people were reportedly killed and five other injured in the Shambani area of Isiolo when armed raiders made away with thousands of camels over the weekend.
  • Ethnic tensions are reportedly rising ahead of next year’s Presidential election in Namibia.
  • The PM of Lesotho reportedly led a walkout from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy along with 45 other MPs to form a new party, the Democratic Congress, which will take over as the majority party in Parliament.
  • The Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat in Mozambique denied press reports on Wednesday that its local representatives were hindering the registration of voters in the southern city of Inhambane ahead of the mayoral by-election scheduled for April 18th; police in a northern town tried to persuade the leadership of the former rebel movement Renamo to release a man who had been imprisoned at the Renamo Nampula headquarters for the past three weeks; while the Central Office for the Fight against Corruption caught two municipal policemen who were extorting money from drivers of minibus-taxis in Maputo and Matola.  On Thursday, the Ministry of Agriculture reportedly began to revoke land titles in cases where the holder had abandoned the land.
  • A farmer in eastern Cameroon challenged a government ruling forcing him to cede his land to Chinese rice farmers and was sentenced to one year in jail for “rebellion”.
  • The President of Malawi accused Western donors of funding an opposition protest movement that is challenging his grip over the nation on Sunday during a radio interview.

This Week in African Conflict… December 7th-13th, 2011.

  • Transparency International’s new report concluded that police forces in eastern Africa are perceived as the most corrupt body among the six institutions surveyed; the police, judiciary, customs, registry and permit services, land services, medical services, tax revenue, utilities and education systems. According to the report, 54% of people surveyed reported to have paid a bribe in the past year.
  • The UN Independent Export on the situation of human rights in Cote d’Ivoire is visiting the country from December 7th-13th to ensure that human rights are taken into consideration in the December 11th elections. On Tuesday, more than 550 Ivorian refugees who have been residing in Liberia for the past year were reportedly being processed at a border town for repatriation home, though Ivorian border authorities were delaying the travel due to improper travel documentation. The UNHCR announced it is stepping up its voluntary repatriation operation for refugees from the country. On Wednesday, three people were killed and three wounded in a rocket attack on a political party meeting just days before Sunday’s parliamentary elections; while the three Notre Voie journalists were cleared of all charges after spending 13 days in custody. On Friday, the UN envoy called for a “peaceful and calm election”, warning that violence would not be tolerated. President Ouattara‘s political coalition is expected to sweep to victory in the first parliamentary elections since 2000, amid a boycott by Gbagbo’s FPI and problems of exclusion of many Ivoirians from the electoral process. On Sunday, the parliamentary elections occurred fairly smoothly, without any major reported incidents of violence, though turnout was incredibly low. Results are expected to be released on Tuesday, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling upon all parties to remain calm, and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS calling the vote fair and free despite the low turnout. The ongoing clean-up operation in Abidjan to remove illegal small businesses continues, creating anger and frustration among many.
  • The armed forces of Sudan and South Sudan clashed in the border region of Jau on Wednesday, with both sides claiming control of the area and demanding the other withdraw. The UN called for the need to press ahead with the reconciliation process, condemning violence earlier in the week, amid fears of further clashes and an announcement from South Sudan’s foreign minister that the country is on the brink of war with its northern neighbour. On Saturday, fresh fighting erupted in South Sudan Jonglei state as militiamen reportedly loyal to rebel leader Athor Deng attacked a village, killing some 34 and wounding numerous others. Refugees and IDPs are stuck in a dangerous situation, with many fleeing to the south or to Ethiopia to try and escape the violence. On Sunday, at least nine people were killed and around 13 injured in an attack on Pigi County.
  • On Wednesday, Egypt’s ruling general declared that MPs will not have a final say over the drafting of a fresh constitution and insisting that early results of parliamentary voting do not represent society, a move likely to escalate tensions; while an Amnesty International investigation has reported that two US companies shipped crowd control munitions and teargas to Egypt in the midst of the violent crackdown on protesters by security forces; and an Egyptian court also turned down an appeal calling for a new judge in former President Mubarak’s trial. On Thursday, the Muslim Brotherhood accused the military leaders of trying to “marginalize” parliament and pulled out of a contact group with army leaders.
  • It was revealed this week that dozens of US Special Forces are deployed at a frontline base in Obo, Central African Republic as part of a joint mission to help remove LRA leader Joseph Kony and his commanders from the battlefield, after a senior Ugandan military officer commented that Kony is hiding out in CAR.
  • The Parliament of Kenya has approved the integration of government troops in Somalia into the African Union force fighting al-Shabaab, after last week’s request that it join the 9,000 strong force. On Sunday, two bombs exploded in two towns close to the Somali border, killing a policeman. A heartwarming story appeared in La Monde this week, about former gangsters in the Kibera, Nairobi slums who turned their lives around to set up a Youth Reform Self Help Group and became entrepreneurs, producing organic vegetables, setting up a wash-house, recycling plastic, and renting out plastic chairs.
  • On Tuesday, dozens of alleged Islamist militants and 11 government troops were killed in fighting in the town of Hayo, Somalia, while Kenyan jets launched new air strikes on rebel bases. Fighting continued on Thursday in the northern districts of Karan and Huriwa, with insurgent groups claiming the deaths of four AU soldiers and nine government troops, and government forces claiming they had killed six al-Shabaab fighters. On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Mogadishu to underline just how much ground the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government has made over the last year; while the International Displacement Monitoring Centre warned of new displacement and a worsening humanitarian crisis that threatens the security for IDPs. Al-Shabaab is now officially on twitter and is currently having a virtual battle of words with the Kenyan military. On Tuesday, the transitional Somali parliament held a meeting in Mogadishu where they formally dismissed the speaker of the Parliament after accusing him of refusing to open the meeting and respond to charges they laid against him; while the UN launched a $1.5 billion consolidated appeal process to help fund 350 projects in the country.
  • On Monday, four of the six registered political parties in Sierra Leone signed a memorandum of understanding, vowing to “refrain from political violence” in the run-up to elections in November 2012, following clashes between political party supporters a few months ago. On Tuesday, police announced the end to a three-month ban on political rallies.
  • On Wednesday, explosions rocked the city of Kaduna in Nigeria, killing at least 18 people. Conflicting reports have suggested that the explosions were caused either by faulty gas cylinders or persons on motorcycles who threw bombs, though the cause is still under investigation. On Saturday, bomb attacks rocked three tv viewing centres in the state’s North Local Government Council, killing one person and injuring 14 others. In response, authorities banned motorcycle taxis and imposed a curfew on parts of the city of Jos on Sunday. Several northern leaders came out this week to criticise Boko Haram during a two-day peace conference in Kaduna. Several eminent Nigerians have warned against possible “Arab Spring” revolts in Nigeria over the next few years if jobs are not created soon.
  • Thousands of troops and police officers are on standby amid fears of unrest in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, awaiting the release of last week’s contested Presidential elections. On Friday, officials announced incumbent President Kabila cruised to victory with 49% of the vote against 32% for opposition leader Tshisekedi, who immediately protested the decision declaring himself the rightful elected President, but called upon his followers to stay calm and peaceful. Reports indicated that the Radio Lisanga Television, the main opposition television station was silenced by authorities in the west of the country after it was besieged by heavily-armed police who then occupied the premises, as violent protests erupted in the capital. On Saturday, political violence killed at least six people in Kinshasa, while reports detailed cases of police in unmarked cars rounding up young men in opposition neighbourhoods. Many are concerned about the role the Supreme Court will play in reviewing the vote, seeing as its judges are appointed by incumbent Kabila; meanwhile, Kabila reportedly said that the main opposition candidate is creating a climate of fear by refusing to accept his re-election amid reports that competing opposition parties in the east were joining forces to support Tshiesekedi. Around a hundred and forty people were arrested after demonstrating against the election results in London, England; another 200 arrested in Brussels; while several protests in other cities around the world got violent. On Sunday, at least four people were reportedly killed in election-related violence. On Monday, Kabila conceded that there were “mistakes” in the elections processes, but rejected the finding of the Carter Center that the results lacked credibility; the UN peacekeeping mission in the country called on the electoral authorities to review the issues raised by independent observers; while the Catholic archbishop of Kinshasa condemned the election results and called upon defeated candidates to take their grievances to the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, opposition leaders in the eastern part of the country began planning massive protests against the re-election of Kabila.
  • Malawi has decided to review a series of controversial laws in response to “public opinion”. The ban on homosexual acts, the law which allows the information minister to ban newspapers deemed not to be serving of the interest of Malawians, as well as a law preventing people taking legal action against the government and public officials will all be reviewed. On Tuesday, the ICC referred the country to the UN Security Council for refusing to arrest Sudan’s al-Bashir in October.
  • On Wednesday, scores of judges and lawyers protested in Tripoli, Libya against lawless behaviour in the capital by former rebel groups, calling upon them to leave the city and return to their home towns. Reuters compiled a list of the vast arsenal of weapons in the city of Misrata. On Saturday, the commander-in-chief of the national army said he survived an assassination attempt while on the way to the airport, while the new rulers opened a conference on national reconciliation with pledges to forgive loyalists who fought during the months-long uprising.  On Monday, anti-government activists set up a tent city in Benghazi against the ruling National Transitional Council, demanding more transparency as to its membership and voting decisions; while rival militias in the south-west exchanged heavy gunfire, killing at least four people.
  • Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe called upon elections to be held next year to end the fragile coalition with the former opposition amid threats that he would undermine the constitution-making process if the draft constitution does not include ZANU PF’s position; while PM Tsvangirai alleged that he is the target of a plot to plant some kind of incriminating documents in his office, shortly after he raised suspicions that his brand new marriage was broken up by the ZANU PF. On Friday, Mugabe vowed to press ahead with a controversial “indigenisation” policy that would force foreign firms to cede their majority stake to locals. On Saturday, Mugabe announced he has no intention of retiring, saying to do so would be an act of cowardice.  On Sunday, the ruling African National Congress in South Africa offered to help Mugabe win the next elections, creating difficulties in any future mediation process with the opposition, seeing as ANC leader Zuma runs the mediation for the regional Southern African Development Community.
  • Police in Uganda blocked a demonstration by friends and family members of slain journalist Charles Ingabire, who was killed last week in circumstances thought linked to his work.
  • Two public universities in Togo were temporarily shut down after security forces fired teargas to break up student protests on Thursday over a new bursary policy. The government introduced a new policy of awarding payouts only to brilliant students instead of all scholars as was in the past.
  • On Saturday, at least three men were arrested in Liberia after they set the Norwegian flag on fire in front of the EU headquarters because they were against President Johnson-Sirleaf receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. The defeated CDC Presidential candidate Winston Tubman rejected her award, claiming that he deserved it instead as he has done more for peace than the President.
  • The Constituent Assembly of Tunisia adopted a provisional constitution on Sunday that sets the stage for the country to name a new government amid a boycott by the opposition. The document outlines the conditions and procedures to be followed by the executive, legislature and judiciary until general elections can be held, possibly in a year. On Monday the new constitutional assembly appeared set to elect veteran human rights activist Moncef Marzouki to serve as the country’s interim President. As he took his oath on Tuesday to be sworn into office, Marzouki vowed to uphold the objectives of the revolution.
  • On Monday, President Kagame of Rwanda rejected allegations that his government was behind the Kampala killing of journalist Charles Ingabire earlier this month. Kagame alleges that Ingabire stole from an organization helping orphans (another report says he stole from an association of genocide survivors) and then claimed political persecution to detract from his own crimes, though rights groups consistently criticize him for his perceived intolerance of critical reporting. On Monday, Kagame reportedly announced that he had no problems with calls for the constitution to be changed to allow him to run for a third term.
  • On Tuesday, a transport strike paralysed much of Guinea Bissau, as taxi drivers protested police extortion and the levels of bureaucracy imposed by the mayor of the capital and the transport ministry. The drivers’ union set up an emergency hotline to enable anyone sick or injured to be taken to the hospital, as there is no ambulance service in the country.
  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/08/al-qaida-maghreb-sahel-new-somalia

What to do about blood minerals in the DR Congo.

I  may have spoken too hastily in the past regarding conflict resources in the DR Congo. My rage at the inherent abuse led me to think that boycotting and protesting companies was perhaps the best way to go. I realize now, that I was wrong. Starting with the last steps in the chain is the wrong approach to this problem.

Over the past six years, I have delved into this subject more than any other and have even gone so far as to ban all products for my personal use if I didn’t know EXACTLY where they came from and what effect they had. I still feel comfortable with this personal decision. I have become essentially a non-consumer (except for second hand goods) and I like it that way because I cannot fathom my personal choices causing pain in others and could not live with myself and my luxuries at that expense. As such, I’ve taken to growing almost all of my own food, having friends make me new clothes from reclaimed fabric or hitting the second hand shop and living a pretty austere life away from any new fangled gadgets. I have been mocked by other friends who suggest I now live in the stone age (not quite, I still have many older modern conveniences such as my laptop that I’ve had for the past 8 years– she runs just fine!). Frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being connected to what I produce and what I consume. It makes me feel whole, but it’s definitely not a plausible life choice for everyone.

Over the past several months, it has become blatantly clear to me that boycotts will not improve the situation for those in the DR Congo, in fact, it will only make things worse for the people on the ground. Nor will creating a certification-scheme for “fair trade” products to help ban all blood minerals and metals. Lobbying governments or companies will create further awareness on the issue, perhaps bringing much needed funding for Congolese humanitarian projects, but it won’t make the lives of the people any better and it won’t stop conflict resources from flooding the market.

It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since I have so vehemently proposed such things in the past and now feel stupid for doing so. I ask myself, how did I not come to this conclusion earlier? The evidence was all there, I was reading it daily, but these conclusions made me feel helpless. Boycotting and calling the governments and companies to change made me more able to do something about the problem. Again, I feel helpless and feel like I am starting from scratch.

So what can people in North America do?

I still advocate that people should be aware of what they are purchasing. They should know that when they buy luxuries, they are affecting more than just their pocketbook. They should not over-consume, and skyrocket demand for mining and resource extraction that may cause environmental degradation, abuse or suffering. But what can they do directly about the problem?

In a country where corruption is king, and violence rampant– certification schemes are going to be corrupted. One only has to look to the Kimberley Process and the recent problems in Zimbabwe to realize that certifications schemes are not all they are cracked up to be. Until corruption and governance can be stabilized, a certification scheme is out of the question. So should we just ban all such resources from the areas of fighting in the DRC?

Criminalizing imports in an area where the majority of the population is reliant on revenues from mineral exports means that the local economy would experience rapid devaluation of their currency, suddenly making their basic needs completely unaffordable. It will also push illegal trade much further underground, making it much harder to track and people will still be subject to abuse for the sake of minerals. These minerals will still end up in our market, only they will have gotten there through much shadier means.

The new Bill C-300 on the table in Canada will open channels for victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Canadian corporations acting overseas and in theory allow them to have more access to justice. The bill would allow guilty companies to be sanctioned, their support withdrawn from Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as any investment by the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in their company shares. In practice, however, given the high risk nature and generally small size of extractive companies, they do not generally even receive EDC funding or CPP investment. Mining companies could feel the sanctions, but as the bill is a private member’s bill, it will not likely be receiving the financial resources it needs to adequately make this function-able in the first place. Not to mention that the average person living in the DRC would probably not even be aware of the existence of said bill to even begin to file a complaint. In its current form, the Bill is clearly problematic and will have little effect on the well-being of the affected population.

The American Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 is meant to push companies to report on any minerals used in their products coming from conflict areas and describe the steps they took to ensure the minerals procurement did not support arms groups. All information would be public for citizens so that they could make their purchasing choices accordingly. This will result in essentially boycotting minerals from the DRC since the cost to the companies will increase with their use and people will avoid buying from companies who use potentially conflict-laden materials. Boycotts, as mentioned above, will have devastating effects for the population. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 also amounts to a boycott.

Ok. Ok. Enough with the bad stuff, what will work?

It’s not that simple. What the DRC needs more than anything is good governance and security. “Without a Congolese state capable of playing its role in controlling and running affairs, how can the minerals of Kivu be de-criminalized?”

Since MONUC, the UN peacekeeping troop in the DRC,  has recently decided to scale back its mandate and reduce its troops by 2,000 to change itself into MONUSCO, the possibility of good governance in the country looks bleak. The latest UN resolution calls on MONUSCO to “support” and act “upon explicit request” from the Congolese government (one of the major human rights abusers in the country, including within the mineral trade), a move that offers no explicit details on how MONUSCO is supposed to support them or deal with abusive officers or improve the behaviour of the forces. The resolution also limits the mandate of civilian protection to only areas where peacekeepers are stationed, clawing back existing assistance. The former head of MONUC has also just retired to be replaced with the surprise choice of Alan Doss, a man with no previous UN experience, potentially leaving the already troublesome command structure weakened.

What can we do about this? Well, the UN already has the largest peacekeeping force in its history in the country, but it would take thousands more troops to really provide some semblance of stability and that is just not likely to happen.

We can petition our governments to push for greater UN presence in the country, to increase their spending to aid these endeavors and increase their arms sanctions or actually enforce them. We can push the UN to increase its mandate so it can try to actually secure unstable territory. We can push them to be more engaged with the local populations and look at ways to more effectively communicate with them (such as hiring more translators or setting up remote radio communication systems). We can push the UN to work on good governance programs, ensure active functioning justice systems, continue its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program and thoroughly train the police or in areas where there are no police, do the job of policing to ensure security. We can also push them to rethink their approach and adopt differing strategies that would allow them to better address the realities on the ground  (Séverine Autesserre has some good suggestions)  We can push the UN to hunt down and contain the rebel movements who are destabilizing the country. We can push the international community to actually listen to local solutions and help implement them. We can push our own governments to demand accountability for the billions of dollars they give to the Congolese government each year. We can push for any of our extraction companies in the DRC who are directly committing crimes in the country to be brought to justice and actually investigate all claims made by UN and other reports that implicate any companies in criminal actions within the country. We can push the media to actually show the severity of the conflict to help increase international aid and monitor the progress and to focus more on local solutions and initiatives to the problems. We can inform people of what is happening and encourage them to push their governments and the UN as well.

And we can hope that the world will listen and respond. With enough pressure, anything is possible.

** Update: I received a thoughtful email from Laura at Texas in Africa with some great suggestions who agrees with the idea that “getting a functioning security sector, police who can and will do their jobs, collecting taxes so that salaries can be paid, and getting the judiciary working again” are a top priority.

She stated, “I’ve found that the best thing for me to do in terms of formulating a response is to support organizations that I think are doing a good job, and to encourage others to do the same.  If you’re concerned about women who are victims of rape in the region, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women all do a wonderful job of helping them to return to health and rebuild their lives.  The IRC, Doctors without Borders, and Oxfam also do good work, especially in the education and health sectors.  Supporting  NGO work doesn’t solve the bigger issues, but it does help me to feel like I’m making a small difference, even as I work to figure out these issues and educate others about them.”

She also suggested reading over Resource Consulting Services Ltd. ‘s work for ideas on how to legalize and formalize the mineral trade in the DRC. Thanks Laura for your helpful suggestions!