News Briefs 31 January 2021

Western Sahara

After Trump’s Colonial Carve-Up, Western Sahara Has Risen Up

When Donald Trump announced on December 10 that his administration was recognizing the legitimacy of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara in exchange for Moroccan recognition of Israel, it was the first time many people had heard of Western Sahara. This is despite the fact that less than a month earlier, on November 13, a three-decade-old cease-fire ended — and active hostilities between Saharawi liberation forces and the Moroccan occupiers resumed.

If often overlooked in Western media, the conflict dates all the way back to 1975, when the departing colonial power, Spain, made a secret deal for the sparsely populated country to be partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania. France was also part of the deal: as a former colonial power in both Morocco and Mauritania, it had a strongly neocolonial relationship with both.

The partition was resisted by the Saharawi liberation movement the Polisario Front. It had begun an armed independence struggle against Spain a few years earlier, declaring the independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Polisario Front achieved a number of victories, their troops even reaching the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott. Mauritania and Western Sahara have been at peace since 1978, and Mauritania, like most African nations and the African Union, now recognizes the SADR.

Jacobin 30 January 2021

Zimbabwe

On January 20, Zimbabweans were shocked to hear the news of the death of Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo, the latest government official to succumb to COVID-19.

The 61-year-old, who rose to fame after appearing on state television on November 15, 2017, to announce the military coup that overthrew longtime President Robert Mugabe, died at a private hospital in the capital, Harare, days after testing positive for coronavirus.

Moyo was the third cabinet minister to have died of COVID-19 in recent weeks amid a major surge in the pandemic (Transport Minister Joel Biggie Matiza and Manicaland Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Ellen Gwaradzimba were the other two) and the fourth in total (Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri passed away in July).

In pre-pandemic times, such powerful figures would have typically been ferried outside Zimbabwe to seek medical care in countries such as South Africa or China. But with tougher restrictions currently curbing international travel, top officials are now coming face to face with the reality of a crippled healthcare system that they would normally shun for paid treatments abroad.

Aljazeera 30 January 2021

Zimbabwe puts together $100 million for vaccine procurement

Zimbabwe has raised $100 million for the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines as the southern African country struggles to contain the second wave of the pandemic which has already claimed more lives this year than the whole of last year.

In a statement to the press, Finance Secretary George Guvamatanga said, the southern African country has managed to mobilise the required vaccination funding up to $100 million.

“We managed to mobilise through various structures up to $100 million for procurement of vaccines,” said Guvamatanga.

He said the money will allow the country to inoculate about 60% of its population estimated to be around 15 million people.

He said Treasury was now awaiting the decision on which vaccine to procure and the source.

“As Treasury, we are ready with the funding and the funding structure worth $100 million to make sure that we procure the vaccines and save the lives of Zimbabweans.

The Zimbabwe Mail 30 January 2021

Democratic Republic of Congo

DR Congo’s parliament ousts prime minister amid growing political turmoil

President Felix Tshisekedi is seeking to oust supporters of former President Joseph Kabila in an attempt to consolidate power. Prime Minister Illunkamba denounced the vote; an ally said that he would not resign.

Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, the prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no confidence on Wednesday. It’s the latest chapter in a growing rift between the country’s current president, Felix Tshisekedi, and allies of his predecessor, Joseph Kabila.

The National Assembly of DR Congo approved a motion of censure against Ilunkamba with a thumping 367-7 majority, albeit with more than 100 abstentions. The prime minister now has 24 hours to step down from the role.

While Ilunkamba denounced the censure motion, Francois Nzekuye, an MP, told news agency AFP that he wouldn’t resign.

Deutsche Welle 29 January 2021

DR Congo: Repression Escalates

President Felix Tshisekedi’s administration in the Democratic Republic of Congo has increasingly cracked down on the media and activist groups during its two years in office. Despite some initial steps to advance a human rights agenda, the government has threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, and prosecuted several dozen journalists, activists, and others deemed critical of the government.

“People in Congo shouldn’t have to fear harassment or arrest for criticizing or peacefully protesting government policy,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Two years on, Tshisekedi’s commitments to respecting rights are starting to sound like broken promises.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 83 people by phone between January 2020 and January 2021, including victims of abuse, lawyers, activists, and journalists. The researchers found at least 109 cases of arbitrary arrests and harassment over the past year. Many victims were journalists, who faced intimidation, threats, and sometimes beatings. Intelligence agents from the National Intelligence Agency (Agence nationale de renseignements or ANR) were involved in at least 16 cases.

Human Rights Watch 29 January 2021

Somalia

Time Running Out on Somalia’s Troubled Vote

As Somalia marks three decades since a dictator fell and chaos engulfed the country, the government is set to hold a troubled national election.

Or is it?

Two regional states refuse to take part, and time is running out before the February 8 date when mandates expire. A parliament resolution allows President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and lawmakers to remain in office, but going beyond February 8 brings “an unpredictable political situation in a country where we certainly don’t need any more of that,” U.N. Special Representative James Swan said this week.

Amid the campaign billboards and speeches in the capital, Mogadishu, is a sense of frustration as people are urged to support candidates but again cannot directly take part.

“Nobody has ever asked us what we want or whom we would choose as president,” said Asha Abdulle, who runs a small tea shop.

“Every president wants to extend his tenure and at least add one more year, so why can’t they make it official and hold elections every five years instead of four?” wondered Abdirisaq Ali Mohamed as he watched TV at a hotel.

Voice of America 30 January 2021

Army operation kills 5 al-Shabaab militants in Somalia

At least five al-Shabaab militants were killed and several others were wounded when the Somali army conducted an operation in the southwestern region of Bay, an army official said on Saturday.

The operation, launched by the Somali National Army backed by regional paramilitary forces, took place outside the strategic town of Diinsoor, some 369 kilometers (229 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu.

Ibrahim Adan, Somali army operational commander in the area, told media that they attacked an al-Shabaab base on the outskirts of Diinsoor while the Somali-based al-Qaeda affiliated group were planning attacks against the government forces, killing at least five militants, including two senior officials, and wounding several others.

Eyewitness in Diinsoor told Anadolu Agency over the phone that they heard fierce gunfight between the Somali army and al-Shabaab militants.

Anadolu Agency 30 January 2021

Central African Republic

Central African Republic’s capital in ‘apocalyptic situation’ as rebels close in

Rebel forces now surrounding Bangui dispute the validity of President Faustin Archange Touadéra’s re-election in December and want to see him ousted.

The city is being defended by government forces backed by UN, Russian and Rwandan troops. A state of emergency was declared earlier this month.

Mr Ziguélé, who came third in the poll, said everyone’s focus was on keeping the main supply route between Bangui and eastern Cameroon open.

“I cannot leave Bangui… without a heavily armed army escort,” he told Reuters news agency by phone.

“Imagine, then, the population. Add the curfew and the state of emergency – it is really an apocalyptic situation,” he added.

BBC 30 January 2021

Central African Republic: scores of rebels killed as tensions rise

Some 44 rebels in the Central African Republic who were trying to blockade the capital Bangui and overthrow the authorities have been killed by government forces, the government said on Monday.

The rebels are protesting the re-election on Dec. 27 of President Faustin-Archange Touadera.

Following the Jan. 4 announcement of Touadera’s victory, the rebel coalition said they would take the capital. They had also taken towns in other parts of the country before the election.

The CAR declared a state of emergency on January 22 as the army and UN forces are trying to push back the rebel groups

The anti-government fighters, who now control two-thirds of the country, have surrounded the capital.

The UN envoy has warned the CAR is “at grave risk.”

Africa News 25 January 2021

Sudan

Sudan’s government promised to protect Darfur. Instead scores are dead

The United Nations withdrawal from Darfur should have been a moment for Sudan to turn the page on a bloody and bitter period of its history.

Instead, deadly violence broke out once again, severely undermining the Sudanese transitional government’s promise that it could protect its citizens in the war-torn southern province.

On the ground, Sudanese are scared. Clashes so soon after the 31 December withdrawal have sowed doubts about the peace agreement signed with some factions in the region in October, and suspicions are high that armed groups now reconciled with Khartoum will seek to increase their status.

The recent clashes between Arab nomads and members of the Masalit ethnic community began in the city of Geneina in West Darfur state, near the border with Chad.

Middle East Eye 29 January 2021

Darfur’s ethnic nightmare returns to haunt Sudan’s civilian rulers

Just when the international community thought it had one less conflict to contend with, concerns were reignited earlier this month as news broke of tribal clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region. By the time the dust had settled, at least 250 lives had been lost, hundreds of people had suffered injuries and more than 100,000 Sudanese had been displaced in two different states.

Perhaps inevitably, fingers are being pointed at Sudan’s joint-military-civilian government, which last month took responsibility for security in Darfur from the UN and the African Union, whose hybrid UNAMID mission peacekeepers had kept violence somewhat under check in the area for the last 13 years.

Experts think the announcement following a UN Security Council resolution on Dec. 22, 2020, that the UNAMID was ending its mission, indirectly contributed to the latest outbreak of violence. On Dec. 31, the force formally ended its operations and announced plans for a phased withdrawal of its approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six months.

Arab News 27 January 2021

South Sudan

As a fragile peace takes hold, some South Sudanese refugees head home

When Mary Nyekuola first returned to South Sudan after fleeing conflict four years ago, she wept. The land she left behind had been occupied and her husband had died while a refugee in Khartoum after a long illness. She had to start from scratch, but still, it felt good to be back.

“I had mixed feelings. It was painful but at the same time I was happy to be home,” she said as she spread a mat on the ground outside her sister’s house in Bentiu, a small town in Unity State near the border with Sudan.

Mary is among more than 200,000 South Sudanese refugees who have returned from countries of asylum in the last two years, encouraged by news from friends and family that peace is slowly returning to their country.

The 30-year-old mother lives with a disability and moves around with the aid of a wheelchair and her niece. Her young children sometimes push her along an uneven, dry and dusty path to look for water.

“When I left, it was because I could not walk and I would not have been able to run from fighting, but things are better now,” she said.

Relief Web 29 January 2021

South Sudan approves establishment of Hybrid Court

South Sudan approved Friday the establishment of institutions and a Hybrid Court enshrined a 2018 peace deal to try war crimes during more than six years of conflict. 

“[The] Cabinet authorized Justices Minister to start the process of establishing all these institutions in accordance with the provision of the peace agreement,” Minister of Information and Broadcasting Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting that was chaired by President Salva Kiir.

Chapter 5 of the peace deal signed by Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar, who formerly led a rebellion against Kiir’s government, calls for establishing a Hybrid Court, transitional justice, accountability, reconciliation and healing institutions.

It provides a pathway to building sustainable peace based on the recognition that it can only be achieved through accountability for serious international crimes, truth recovery about past violations and underlying structural causes of political violence, as well as the restoration of dignity to South Sudanese citizens.

Anadolu Agency 30 January 2021