Yesterday saw the trial of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi at the International Criminal Court for the intentional destruction of world heritage shrines in Timbuktu during the 2012 occupation of the city by the Islamic rebel group Ansar Dine. The trial marks two important milestones for the court: this is the first time a suspect plead guilty, and also the first case of cultural destruction as a war crime.Read More
Despite being considered one of the most stable democracies of southern Africa, Zambia is facing a serious political crisis ahead of local, parliamentary, presidential elections and a constitutional referendum. With only a week left before the polls, changes to the constitution, questionable appointments to the Constitutional Court and an expected close election makes many observers worried that a contested result is now an inevitable outcome.Read More
As the international community prepares to address the ongoing needs of the global refugee crisis at the World Humanitarian Summit later this month, it got a nasty surprise last week when Kenya announced it would be closing the Dadaab refugee camp in central Kenya.Read More
Nine months after President Pierre Nkurunziza upended Burundi’s fragile post-conflict peace by announcing he would stand for a third term in office, all indications are the crisis is getting worse rather than better. New evidence of sexual assault by security forces and growing allegations of mass killings coupled with the staunch unwillingness by Nkurunziza’s government to participate in regional talks aimed at resolving the crisis are leaving many to wonder how bad things will get.Read More
A year after Ebola devastated swaths of Sierra Leone, killing more than 10,000 people in the region, life in the West African nation is slowly returning to normal. While the deadly pathogen has not been completely eradicated, the number of new cases has slowed to a trickle, and when the country's president, Ernest Bai Koroma, visited Washington this week, he said it was time to turn the focus beyond Ebola. That means rebuilding the economy of what was already one of the poorest nations in the world, and encouraging farmers afraid to get out because of Ebola to return to their fields.
Continue reading at Deseret NewsRead More
Following attacks on several foreign-owned shops in Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa that left seven people dead, several other African states have called for evacuation of their citizens and issued warnings of retaliatory action on South African businesses unless South Africa does something to curtail the rising xenophobic sentiments in the country. Although it is not the first time such xenophobia has erupted in South Africa in recent years, the reaction this time may be a necessary turning point for the ruling ANC and highlights the desperate need for South Africa to undertake social and economic reform.Read More
Nigeria’s five year conflict with Boko Haram took a ghastly turn early this month when the rebel group raided the northern town of Baga at dawn, killing as many as 2,000 civilians and sending thousands more across the border to Chad. A week later, two child bombers killed at least 16 people and injured many more after detonating suicide vest at two different markets in Yobe and Borno State. These are the latest events in a new wave of violence by Boko Haram. With Nigeria preparing for national elections next month, the violence will likely both disrupt and raise the stakes even further for the already contentious elections, bringing even more instability to the country.Read More
News broke this week of the surrender of Dominic Ongwen, a top commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, to US forces in the Central African Republic. One of the five LRA commanders indicted by the ICC in 2005, Ongwen is also the most controversial of the Uganda indictments. While his surrender deals a serious blow to the LRA, whether the LRA’s victims will see justice remains unclear. Ongwen was a child when he was abducted by the LRA and grew up to become a notorious killer. But what are the legal and moral implications of trying a man for crimes against humanity when that man was conscripted as a child?Read More
There's a political crisis in Lesotho--and it matters far beyond the borders of the tiny African country, which is nestled inside South Africa.
Late last month, military forces in the small kingdom surrounded key government installations prompting the prime minister and newly appointed commander of the armed forces to flee to neighboring South Africa. Since then, mediation by the regional inter-governmental body, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), returned Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to power. But the incident underscores the general democratic backsliding the region has undergone over the last few years -- and the central role SADC has played in condoning it.
Just a short time ago, Lesotho was a democratic success story. After decades of political instability, the kingdom reinstated multiparty democracy in 1998 only to witness significant violence following the release of the results. However the kingdom rebounded to hold its first peaceful election in 2002. Since then Lesotho has garnered very little attention. But far from the headlines, political infighting threatened the fragile stability Lesotho gained. Elections in 2012 saw the ruling party of Pakalitha Mosisili gain the most seats in parliament but still resign to allow a coalition government take power which held an absolute majority. The resignation avoided a repeat of post-election violence but also created the perfect conditions for political instability as the fragile coalition struggled to maintain power. In June, Thabane suspended parliament for nine months to avoid a no confidence vote amid rumors of possible coup attempts.
The details of exactly what happened on August 30 remain unclear but it appears that such political infighting is what led to the attempted coup by the military. As before, SADC mediators were called upon to help diffuse the situation. But SADC’s involvement may be a mixed blessing. Its involvement in Zimbabwe did little to prevent rampant election rigging in last year’s election and the organization was largely silent on possible irregularities in contentious districts in the recent South African election. Attacks on civil society and the press in Zambia has received little commentary and SADC has been nowhere to be seen as the last absolute monarchy in Africa, Swaziland, imprisons human rights lawyers and journalists. Rather than uphold its own established principles, the organization suspended and then redrafted the jurisdiction of the SADC Tribunal which made several rulings against member states, embarrassing governments that sought to extend their power, whether by legal means or not. Prior to this summer, Lesotho served as one of the bright spots in the SADC region; now even that is in dispute.
Civil society organizations in the region have been warning of this democratic backslide for years, but recent events are bringing the issue to the forefront of discussion. The recent appointment of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to chair the regional organization also undermines its democratic credentials. While Mugabe’s rise to the chairmanship can be seen as bringing Zimbabwe in from the diplomatic cold, it also provides organizational support for a regime that repeatedly violates SADC’s own principles and calls for reform. If nothing else, this is a major diplomatic victory for Mugabe, but underscores the trend of supporting long entrenched leaders over democratic norms.
The stakes are high for SADC to right the path they are on regarding democratic standards. Mozambique is facing a general election next month while Zambia will face elections next year. The two main political parties in Mozambique, Frelimo and Renamo, have spent months negotiating an amnesty agreement to stop the political violence that threatens to reverse the gains it made since the end of the country’s civil war in 1992 but will be facing a new president regardless of which party wins the election. Zambia hasn’t seen its president, Michael Sata, in months amid rumors of ill health and infighting amongst the ruling party.
As more foreign investment goes into the region, the stakes for political instability grows. With this background, the continuing uncertainty in Lesotho takes on greater meaning. SADC mediation may have returned Thabane to the State House but the larger political issues remain unaddressed. The more SADC is willing to back leaders but not their institutions or their populations, the more democracy in the region will be undermined. The need for SADC to step up is large, but what remains unknown is whether they are up to the task.
Originally appeared on UN Dispatch