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Top of the Morning: Drone Strikes in Yemen Target Al Qaeda

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

“Yemeni forces, reportedly backed by U.S. drone strikes, hit al-Qaida militants for a second straight day Monday in what Yemen officials said was an assault on a major base of the terror group hidden in the remote southern mountains. The government said 55 militants were killed so far. The sprawling base was a rare instance of a permanent infrastructure set up by al-Qaida’s branch in the country, Yemeni security officials said. Built over the past months, it includes a training ground, storehouses for weapons and food and vehicles used by the group to launch attacks, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details to the press.” (WaPo

In Cape Town, South Africa gay bars abound. In other countries nearby, homosexual acts can get you tossed into prison. (GlobalPost 

Some 234 girls are missing from the northeast Nigerian school attacked last week by Islamic extremists, significantly more than the 85 reported by education officials, parents told the state governor Monday. (AP

Four years ago, hundreds of children died, exposed to lead dust that was everywhere, created in a rush to process ore for gold. Nigeria is finding its own path to curb that dust — and save kids. (NPR

A new survey reveals increasing food insecurity among displaced families in Iraq’s Anbar province. (UN

Ban Ki-moon warns that Syria’s newly announced presidential election will undermine efforts to achieve a political solution to Syria’s three-year-old civil war if it goes ahead on June 3. (AFP


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Why We Ought to Start Paying Attention to Burundi

Rarely does the small Central African country of Burundi get much international attention. However recent developments aimed at restricting political freedom ahead of scheduled national elections next year highlight not only the need for international attention, but greater international engagement if Burundi is to escape the cycle of civil wars and ethnic politics that has defined much of its history since independence.

Much like its northern neighbor Rwanda, Burundian politics have been shaped by ethnic divisions and the legacy of bad colonial policies since independence. However, while in Rwanda the majority Hutu maintained power and control over the minority Tutsi, in Burundi the opposite took place with the minority Tutsi holding onto power through the military and oppressing the majority Hutu. Mass killing became common following independence in 1962 as Hutus and Tutsis alike attacked each other to gain a stronger foothold in national politics. By the time Burundi adopted a new constitution in 1992 that established a multiparty democratic system, an estimated 250,000 people had died. But rather than bring peace and stability to the country, the new constitution led to even more mass killings and a civil war that killed another 300,000 people before its drawn out end.

A series of peace talks led by African nations finally led to a set of agreements aimed at bringing Burundi out of civil war, disarming the various rebel groups and establishing a viable democratic government. The UN supported this effort with a peacekeeping operation until multiparty elections were held according to the new 2005 constitution. Pierre Nkurunziza, leader of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) – the largest Hutu rebel group during the civil war and the ruling political party at the time of the 2005 constitutional referendum –  became president after being elected unopposed by parliament acting as an electoral college in an extraordinary election.

In becoming president, Nkurunziza inherited one of the poorest countries in the world with a war-weary population in need of desperate revival. While Burundi has made impressive strides in maintaining peace and has yet to return to civil war, Nkurunziza’s reign has still been marked with controversy that suggests all may not be well in the small country. In particular, the government has increasingly shown disdain for human rights and hostility towards civil society and the media. Several journalists and civil society leaders have been imprisoned in recent years for criticizing the government and raising objections to growing corruption while the government has also passed laws restricting freedom of the press and freedom on assembly.

In one of the more bizarre developments, last month the government banned jogging with other people in the capital of Bujumbura claiming that such jogging groups could be used to foment uprisings through unlicensed protest demonstrations. The city’s decision came after a court sentenced 21 opposition supporters to life imprisonment after police attempted to raid a jogging group they believed was being used as a front for political activity. Clashes ensued, more than 70 were arrested, and now all sporting activity in the capital is constricted by the government to 9 city parks that are closely monitored by authorities. This seemingly absurd development in a country with much larger problems than jogging groups is just one more sign of a shrinking public space and an increasingly paranoid executive.

But even as Nkurunziza’s paranoia about potential enemies increases, so does his quest for greater power. The 2005 constitution allows for two five-year terms as president; Nkurunziza’s second term will end next year in 2015. That has not stopped him from trying to force an interpretation of the constitution that would allow for a third term as his first election was by extraordinary vote in parliament and not by universal suffrage.  His attempts at this interpretation are concerning, but more distressing are the constitutional amendments he is trying to put in place in the meantime. Among the proposed changes are the abolishment of the two positions of vice president – which is held by one Hutu and one Tutsi for ethnic balance – in favor of a ceremonial vice president and a powerful prime minister. For parliament, Nkurunziza is proposing changing the mechanism for passing laws in parliament to require a simple majority instead of the current two-thirds supermajority and restricting parliamentary representation to only parties that gain at least 5% of the overall vote. All of these proposed changes threaten the delicate ethnic balance achieved in the 2005 constitution as it would almost inevitably push many Tutsis out of power and leave them unrepresented on the national level. Another proposed change would limit only those with university degrees from being able to run for president, coincidentally excluding some key opposition figures who are expected to run for election next year.

So far attempts to pass these amendments have failed; last month parliament failed to pass the revised constitution by just one vote shy of the four-fifths majority needed after the opposition boycotted the vote. But Nkurunziza and CNDD-FDD’s insistence on these changes, now through a proposed popular referendum, is already alarming many groups inside and outside the country. Several civil society groups within Burundi are warning of what could come if political tempers do not calm down while the UN and the USA have cautioned Burundi against taking actions that could stoke political violence. So far such warnings have fallen on deaf ears; last week the government expelled a UN official after the UN Office in Burundi released a report alleging the CNDD-FDD was arming its youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, ahead of the elections. Despite denying the allegations, numerous civil society groups have noted an increase in political violence by the Imbonerakure, particularly against opposition supporters.

All of this portends difficult days ahead for Burundi. Constantly overshadowed by Rwanda, Burundi nonetheless has the ability affect stability in a region where few crises stay within national borders. Yet it comes at a time when the international community is trying to disengage from the country. At the end of this year, the UN Office in Burundi is slated to be shut down, ending more than a decade of support for the country as it transitioned out of civil war. Recent events show that Burundi may not be ready for that and unless the international community takes a greater role in advancing reconciliation and political stability, a new civil war may not be that far off.

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A Massacre in South Sudan and the Limits of UN Peacekeeping


It’s a heavy time for South Sudan. Last week, the UN warned of famine should $230 million of donor funds not materialize before the rainy season begins next month. Now, there is word of a massacre of hundreds of civilians in the city of Benitu, an oil town.

A rebel contingent, known as SPLA in Opposition, captured the city on Tuesday. They began systematically targeting certain ethnicities, including members of their own ethnic group whom they deemed not sufficiently supportive. A grim press release from the UN Mission in South Sudan details what happened next.

At Bentiu Hospital, on 15 April, several Nuer men, women and children were killed for hiding and  declining to join other Nuers who had gone out to cheer the SPLA in Opposition forces as they  entered the town. Individuals from other South Sudanese communities, as well as Darfuris, were specifically targeted and killed at the hospital. On the same day, the SPLA in Opposition forces  entered the Kali-Ballee Mosque where civilians had taken shelter, separated individuals of certain  nationalities and ethnic groups and escorted them to safety, while the others were killed. More than  200 civilians were reportedly killed and over 400 wounded at the Mosque. At the Catholic church  and at the vacated WFP compound, SPLA in Opposition soldiers similarly asked civilians who had  taken refuge there to identify their ethnic origins and nationalities and proceeded to target and kill  several individuals.

Many of those who survived this assault have taken refuge at a nearby UN base, which has become a de-facto IDP camp. There are now over 22,000 people sheltering at the UN camp in Benitu.

Toby Lanzer, a top UN official in South Sudan, documented an endless stream of humanity as they fled to relative safety of the UN compound.

I say ‘relative’ safety, because even in a UN compound there is no guarantee. Last week, in the city of Bor, militia entered the UN compound and opened fire, killing 20 people before they were pushed back by blue helmets.

In all, there are about 8,500 armed UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan–a country the size of Texas. The actual authorized size the peacekeeping mission is 12,500 troops, but countries have so far not provided all the troops the UN has requested. About 75,000 civilians are now sheltering in UN bases throughout the country.

This is clearly a violent and volatile situation. These peacekeepers are outgunned and out numbered. The massacre in Benitu on Tuesday shows that peacekeepers are unable to prevent attacks on civilians outside the base. The assault on the UN compound in Bor last week calls into question UN Peacekeepers’ ability to deter attacks on civilians huddled inside their bases.

These 8,500 troops clearly cannot impose a peace. They are too few, for too large a territory, with foes apparently determined to wage war on civilian populations. If the international community is serious about preventing a slaughter in South Sudan, they need to step up and provide the UN the tools it requires to protect civilians. This includes more troops, more equipment and funding for a humanitarian operation to stave off a famine. Deeper still, countries with influence in the region need to use their muscle and compel the warring factions to negotiate a political settlement to this conflict.  As it stands, the situation is just getting worse by the day.

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Top of the Morning: Famine Looms in South Sudan

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Famine Looms in South Sudan…It is planting season in South Sudan, and the areas of the country with the worst fighting also happen to be its breadbasket. The Details: “The UN estimates that a third of the country of 11 million are facing starvation unless farmers can plant a critical round of crops before the annual rains hit in May. Experts believe as many as 50,000 children could die. It would be the most devastating famine anywhere in 30 years.” What can be done?  $230 million, over the next two months is  what the UN and international partners need to stave off full blown famine. But so far, donors have not ponied up. Deeper Dive: National Geographic

The Ebola virus has claimed 61 lives in Guinea out of 109 laboratory-confirmed cases since January, the government said. (AFP

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu warned Sunday that the Central African Republic was “on the brink of genocide”, as he urged warring sides to reconcile their differences and “re-learn to live together.” (AFP

Carlyle this week became one of the first major private equity players to launch a dedicated sub-Saharan Africa fund, underscoring the growing investor interest in the continent’s growing middle class. (AFP

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Why We Should Be Paying Attention to Elections in Burkina Faso

Since he took power during a coup in 1987, Blaise Compaore has been the president of Burkina Faso. An influential regional player and recognized as an ally by Western nations in the Sahel, Compaore has enjoyed nearly 30 years of uninterrupted rule. The scheduled presidential elections in 2015, however, are to be a test of Compaore’s respect for democracy and his country’s constitution. Indeed, in 2000, a constitutional amendment was enacted to limit heads of state to two terms of five years each. In 2010, Compaore clinched his second – and, technically, last – term with 81% of the vote.

Recently, however, Compaore and his ruling party, Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), have been setting the stage to modify the constitution to allow Compaore to run again for the presidency next year. This move has led to mass defections from the party, and the establishment earlier this year of a new opposition group, the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), with powerful ex-CDP figures at the helm. Demonstrations in support of and against Compaore and his bid to seek another term as president have been held with increasing frequency, contributing to further polarization in Burkinabe politics. Last week, CDP supporters gathered in Burkina’s second largest city to collectively call for a referendum on whether article 37 of the constitution – which sets the two-term limit for the head of state – should be modified. The message has been reinforced by party leaders, and a popular rally was held yesterday, which organizers estimate 50,000 people participated in.

Signaling the regional significance of the intensifying political crisis in Burkina Faso, Ivoirian president Alassane Ouattara has recently been brokering discussions between Compaore and his former party cadres, now leading the MPP. Compaore, over the years, has established a reputation as an influential power broker in the region, facilitating negotiations in neighboring countries, such as Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, or Guinea. His move to run for the presidency again is shaking Burkina Faso’s stable foundations in an unprecedented manner, meriting the intervention of another regional leader.

Notwithstanding his non-democratic beginnings and his relationships with leaders such as Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Lybia’s Qaddafi, Compaore has made himself – and his country – lynchpins in regional stability. He is routinely called upon to help mediate disputes, including in Mali where he helped broker a peace agreement with Touareg rebels and the the government in Bamako last year.

Burkina Faso, despite ranking 183rd of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index in 2013, has enjoyed relative peace and stability for many years under Compaore’s rule. In the next few months, leading up to the 2015 election, we will see whether Burkinabe democracy can withstand Compaore’s efforts to modify the constitution.


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A South African Corruption Controversy that Could Sink the ANC

Could an embezzlement scandal end the famed-Africa National Congress’ 20-year hold over South African politics?

South African President Jacob Zuma faces controversy after a public prosecutor reported he spent 246 million rand in public funds— close to $25 million— on a swimming pool, cattle enclosure, amphitheater and other improvements to his Nkandla estate.  Public prosecutor Thuli Madonsela’s 444 page report accuses Zuma of “benefitting unduly” from the improvements in a manner which was “unconscionable, excessive and caused a misappropriation of public funds.”

As South Africa’s May 7 elections approach, the corruption scandal threatens to end or damage Zuma’s African National Congress party’s political dominance since the end of apartheid. Though South Africa sits in the middle of the pack in corruption rankings worldwide, Zuma’s actions may turn voters against the longtime majority ANC and towards other parties. The opposition Democratic Alliance party has already targeted the issue, sending an anti-Zuma text message to 1.5 million voters in the Gauteng providence. The ANC lost a court case against the message, which read, “The Nkandla Report shows how Zuma stole your money to build his R246m home.”

Zuma’s Nkandla compound in the KwaZulu-Natal providence recently underwent renovations including a pool, performing arts amphitheater, chicken coop, cattle pen, clinic and visitor center. In the public prosecutor’s report, entitled “Secure in Comfort,” she alleges the renovations were classified as “security improvements” and the pool as a piece of  “firefighting equipment” to justify the public expense. Prosecutor Madonsela recommended Zuma repay a “reasonable percentage of the cost” of the improvements, which totaled over eight times the expense of security improvements to two of President Nelson Mandela’s residences.

In addition, the report contends Nkandla construction funds were diverted from inner-city service programs, while public works ministers gave incorrect information about the renovations. “Due to lack of proper demand management and planning,” Madonsela wrote, “service delivery programs of the Department of Public Works were negatively affected.”

Zuma, however, recently responded in a television interview that he did not know of the renovations and has written that the report was “tainted by a lack of proper procedure.” Zuma said a cabinet investigation cleared him of misdeeds and will wait for a third report from South Africa’s anti-corruption Special Investigation Unit at the end of the month.

Madonsela’s report shows South Africa has the institutions necessary to expose government corruption, but Zuma must not be allowed to evade any financial responsibility for his actions, lest South Africa becomes a display of how national leaders can steal with impunity. Depending on outcome of the Special Investigation Unit report and the May elections, the ANC may want to start looking for a new president.

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