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Will Investors Stop Burma’s Backslide?

Burma, the recent reformation minded darling of Southeast Asia, has been recently hit with ever-increasing ethnic tensions and a spate of threats to international aid workers, coupled with growing uncertainty over the 2015 elections. Will this uptick in conflict influence the Western rush to normalize relations with — and invest in – Burma?

International aid and UN workers were targeted last week in Burma’s northern Rakhine state, after angry mobs accused a worker of mishandling a Buddhist flag. Burmese officials announced that the nation’s first census in 30 years would not permit muslim citizens there to register as “Rohingya” but instead as the “Bengali.”

Medicines Sans Frontieres was kicked out of Burma over its operations in Rakhine state in February, after the government claimed it showed undue bias towards the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Fervent Buddhist nationalism is behind much of this violence and uncertainty, shepherded along by firebrand priest Ashin Wirathu. Unfortunately, fear of the Muslim minority is much more than a fringe view to Burma’s ruling parties, who have supported a potential ban on interfaith marriage — and, as shown by the census decision, continue to refer to Rohingya as “Bengalis” (as in, from Bangladesh and not Burma) in official documents.

Even Nobel Laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi has not come out in full throated support of the Rohingya, who continue to suffer from displacement and occasional deadly attacks. (Nor does Bangladesh, where they supposedly belong, wish to take them in either).

What does this recent uptick in violence and uncertainty mean for Burma’s much-heralded entrance into international affairs? Likely nothing good, although the deep-pocketed investors casting curious eyes towards Burma’s natural resources may just choose to overlook it.

Many Burma observers are growing increasingly uneasy, a stance neatly summarized by Min Zin in Irwaddy.  Zin points to ethnic tensions and political bickering between Suu Kyi’s  National League for Democracy and the still military-dominated government as the culprits — while meanwhile, the average Burmese citizen continues to deal with poverty, corruption, and other more pedestrian concerns.

Perhaps, as other observers have noted, Burma is slouching towards the Cambodian model of democratic reform: paying enough lip-service to popular politics to secure deep-pocketed aid money and foreign direct investment, but retaining corruption and stiff control over free speech and power.

Foreign direct investment in Burma also continues to grow with impressive speed: it’s set to double last year’s figure to $3.5 billion for the fiscal year 2014, and is anticipated to grow even more, with the telecommunications sector projected to defeat manufacturing as the main driver of growth. Some potential investors into Burma are watching the political situation carefully, hesitant to make a move before they’re sure the current, rather pacific political situation won’t deteriorate.

Aid continues to pour into Burma as well, although government officials have begun to issue not-so-subtle warnings to outside organizations to avoid overstepping their bounds.

A recent statement by presidential spokesman Ye Htut on last week’s attack on  aid workers condemned the violence, but also warned international workers should “should have a good understanding and be aware of local culture, customs and sensitive issues of the places where they are working.”

British MPs in March suggested a 40 percent increase in aid money to the Burmese state, convinced it would help usher in further humanitarian reform. In January, Japan announced it would spend $96 million to assist Myanmar’s ethnic areas, while the World Bank announced a $2 billion aid package the same month.

Last year, the Brookings Institute identified some potential pitfalls in increasing aid to Burma, including distracting government officials from sound policy making  and donor’s desire to “make a difference quick.” The Institute advised that international aid slow down — advice that should be taken a look at again, as Burma’s sectarian violence grows increasingly worse. Further, Burmese leaders eager to secure foreign investment should also consider that sectarian violence isn’t just a moral ill: it’s bad for business.

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credit, state department

Top of the Morning: When the Peace Process Evaporated

Quote of the day: “Poof, that was sort of the moment,”–John Kerry before the US. Senate yesterday. He was referring to the Israeli government’s decision to advance plans to build new settlements while simultaneously reneging on an offer to release Palestinian prisoners. He believes this was the moment that he realized the peace process was doomed. (NYT


World Bank Chief Economist for Africa region says the bank is concerned about the growth rate in Africa which is not reflected in the pockets of many Africans with poverty ragging in many countries. (Front Page Africa

Tens of thousands of people in CAR displaced by months of violence are still living in displacement sites. They need to move out of the sites before their shelters are flooded by approaching rains. (OCHA

Nigeria alone bears the burden of over 25% of vector-borne diseases in Africa even as the country has made considerable progress in its fight against such diseases, says the WHO. (Leadership

WFP is warning a looming drought in conflict-ridden Syria could put millions of lives at risk. (VOA

A UN human rights expert urged international creditors to cancel the Philippines’ debt and give it unconditional grant aid instead of new loans to fund massive post-typhoon reconstruction. (VOA


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Why this Ebola Outbreak Has the World Health Organization Worried

The World Health Organization updated reporters today on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. There are now over 175 cases, resulting in 111 deaths across two countries.

“This is one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks we have ever faced,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the WHO.

Several factors make this a particularly difficult outbreak to counter.

The first is the geographic spread of the outbreak. Typically, Ebola outbreaks are localized, and do not spread beyond the rural communities in which they originate. This time, the outbreak has spread from a rural area in Guinea to the capitol city Conakry and to neighboring Liberia. This is the first time that the WHO and parters like the CDC, MSF and Institute Pasteur have tried to counter an Ebola outbreak in a large city. There are also reports of cases that the WHO and partners are investigating in Sierra Leone, Ghana and Mali.

Another complicating factor is that this region has never experienced an Ebola outbreak before. The national health systems of Guinea and Liberia have never had to respond to Ebola; health workers are generally unfamiliar with Ebola and how it spreads (which is by coming in contact with bodily fluids of infected people).

Ebola is particularly frightening because of the incredibly high mortality rates. Between 80 and 90% of people who are infected succumb to the disease. Countering rumors and providing timely epidemiological updates is a key part of the outbreak response.”The outbreaks are part a disease and part the anxiety and fear they generate,” says Dr. Fukuda. \

Ebola is not an exceedingly difficult disease to contain in the sense that it is relatively difficult to transmit. But stopping an Ebola outbreak requires a public health system that can identify cases, trace those who have come in contact with infected people and take measures to prevent further transmission, particularly in burials and at health care facilities. Because of the relative weakness of the national health system of Guinea and Liberia international intervention is key to preventing the further spread of this disease. The WHO says it has deployed about 50 staff to work with national authorities and NGOs like MSF.

“The numbers change everyday,” said Dr Stéphane Hugonnet a Medical officer at the WHO who had just returned from Guinea. ”Clearly this is an international outbreak with two countries and a risk that other countries might be affected.”


Image credit: United Nations

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Top of the Morning: Violence in Darfur

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Darfur in the Midst of the Worst Violence in a Decade…A militia is wreaking havoc in parts of Darfur and no-one is stopping it.  About 200,000 people have been displaced, and now the group has taken over the city of El Fashir. What is this militia group? The Rapid Support Forces is made up of remnants of janjaweed militias that helped the government carry out the Darfur Genocide 10 years ago. At one point, the RSF was directly plied with arms by the government. But now Khartoum seems to have lost control over the group. What do they want? It would appear at this point they are mostly mercenaries and do not have much of political agenda.  Deeper Dive: “Militia’s Out of Control in Darfur” AFP

The world’s largest democracy goes to the polls.  The Indian election has kicked off. Chances are the ruling congress party will lose to BJP.  By the Numbers: “India’s elections, which run fromMonday to May 12, will cover 28 states and seven union territories, which are governed by the central government. These elections will see some of the country’s 814.5 million voters exercise their franchise. The votes will be counted on May 16. NYT

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Lessons of the Rwandan Genocide for the International Community

Twenty years ago, Rwanda’s ethnic tensions descended into a brutal, deadly genocide which took 800,000 lives in less 100 days. The story we tell today is one of great resilience and ability to overcome even the deepest traumas – in the 20 years since the genocide, much has been researched, written, discussed and analyzed about both the capacity of ordinary people to do evil, and the ability to forgive even the most vicious crimes.

What’s unfolded since the genocide is also an important exercise in seeking justice, whether through the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or the less formal local gacaca courts, which focused on reconciliation, rather than punishment. The Rwandan genocide, and the international community’s lack of response to it, have come to influence the course of history in many ways. The consequences of the events that took place in Rwanda in the spring of 1994 continue to ripple through the region today: instability and a protracted conflict in the Great Lakes region, and a country still reeling from the deep wounds of the genocide. As we recall these events, it is important to remember the every day acts of bravery and valor that not only saved lives, but also gave people the strength to carry on and continue to hope.

Today, it is equally important to remember that the international community failed to prevent, and then respond to, the atrocities in Rwanda. That the “responsibility to protect” and a strong sense of “never again” were supposed to guide our actions and ensure that this would, indeed, never again happen. And while it is imperative to remember what happened in Rwanda, to honor the survivors and the great strides made in Rwanda – economically and politically, in spite of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s mixed legacy – it is also our collective duty to ensure that the international community does not stand by while similar events unfold.

On UN Dispatch, we have been covering the situation in the Central African Republic, where over the course of the past year, inter-ethnic violence has taken thousands upon thousands of lives. There is a wealth of information and evidence that suggests that the conflict in the CAR could topple into mass scale violence – since December 2013, it has consistently felt like the country is one – predictable – disaster away from all out war. In spite of the clear warning signs, the international community is dragging its feet. As the EU begins to roll out its 1,000-strong peacekeeping force in the CAR – delayed for weeks due to difficulties securing troops and equipment from member nations – Chad recently announced it was removing its 800+ soldier contingent from the AU force. Meanwhile, the UN is set to authorize a peacekeeping mission for CAR, but it will likely be several months before this force is able to deploy.

“The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago. And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the CAR today,” Ban Ki-moon told the CAR’s transitional assembly in Bangui, from where he was marking the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. It is a powerful signal to the international community that Ban Ki-moon chose to visit the CAR for the first time in 2014 on the anniversary of the genocide – his message was clear and categorical: if we do not act decisively, we could bear witness to another Rwanda.

Further reading: For a well-curated list of articles on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, check out Prof. Laura Seay’s selection of the best Rwanda +20 reads.

Photo credit: DFID UK photostream

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Rwanda’s Uncertain Path to Reconciliation

On the night of April 6, 1994, a private plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down as it approached Kigali airport. Within an hour, roadblocks appeared around the Rwandan capital as the populist Hutu Power radio station called for revenge against the country’s Tutsis. What followed was 100 days of violence, the speed and brutality of which has few historical parallels. By the time the genocide ended in July 1994, nearly one million people were dead with millions more displaced. Now, 20 years later, the Rwandan Genocide remains the primary example of international failure that came to shape global approaches to atrocity prevention and humanitarian intervention.

While some lessons have been learned, it is also clear that the path to healing and reconciliation remains incomplete.

When civil war first broke out in Rwanda in 1990, it occurred far from international headlines and Western policy briefings. Four years later, Rwanda became internationally synonymous with mass murder and genocide as the world stood by and watched. Ultimately the UN released a scathing report on its failure to appropriately respond to the crisis, acknowledging its responsibility for not stopping the killing and calling for the development of new mechanisms that would allow the UN to fulfill its duty to act. One outcome of that discussion is the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which shifts the burden for preventing mass atrocities to the wider international community when it becomes clear that a sovereign state is not fulfilling its duty to protect their own people. Although still controversial, the primary purpose of R2P is to prevent “another Rwanda” where possible and to give credence to the post-Holocaust promise of “never again.”

Such things are easier said than done. In the 20 years since the genocide, Rwanda itself has been accused of mass atrocities in the neighboring DRC but has faced few consequences. The conflict in the DRC is a direct outgrowth of the Rwandan Genocide after more than a million Rwandan refugees crossed the border, some fleeing the genocide itself while others fled the advancing rebel army which is still in power today. As the Hutu Power government fell, the tensions of the wider Rwandan civil war continued albeit now across international borders.

Alliances of convenience and profit led to massacres of refugees, a cross-border insurgency and a much larger conflict within the fragile political environment of the DRC that has proven extremely difficult to quash. Despite the unprecedented push for justice inside Rwanda with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the creation of local gacaca courts to try nearly 2 million suspected genocidaires, justice remains elusive for victims of the violence that followed the genocide whether it occurred inside or outside the country. This gap is an important one and leads some to ponder whether history will eventually repeat itself in Rwanda due to failures in fully addressing the needs and roles of all Rwandans from this chapter in their history?

These are critical questions that demonstrate the long-term consequences of such violence; it is often far easier to break a country than it is to mend one. As the world marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide this week, it is important to acknowledge the progress Rwanda has made in reconciliation and trying to move on, but it is equally important to recognize that the process is incomplete and remains largely one-sided. It is likely that the success of reconciliation will be determined by the post-genocide generation, which already makes up over half of Rwanda’s population. For them and for potential genocide victims elsewhere in the world, this week we reflect on what could have been had the world acted with conviction in the face of genocide in 1994, and how we must do better in the future.

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