South Sudan: spiraling ethnic killings ‘a failure of leadership’

SUDANsalva_kiir001_16x9The United Nations Security Council should react to horrific attacks on civilians in the South Sudan towns of Bor and Bentiu by requesting an urgent UN fact-finding mission, Human Rights Watch said today. The Security Council should impose sanctions on individuals in both government and opposition forces who are responsible for grave abuses.

“The killing of more than 50 people in a UN base in Bor and the gruesome massacres of hundreds of civilians in Bentiu shows that ethnically motivated brutality against civilians is spiraling out of control,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council needs to act decisively to impress on the warring parties targeting civilians in South Sudan that they will pay the price for their crimes.” “Both the government and the opposition have failed to end abuses and horrific ethnic targeting, leading to spiraling ethnic tensions and more killings,” Bekele said. “UN Security Council members now have a crucial role to play to ensure that this failure has consequences.”

Professor Riek Machar, former vice president of South Sudan and now leader of the rebel group that is fighting the government of South Sudan for control of the apparatus of the government, has publicly threatened to capture and take control of both the capital city of Juba and the oil-producing regions of the country, writes Brookings analyst John Mukum Mbaku.

Branding South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir (above), a “dictator” and arguing that he does not recognize the need to share power, Professor Machar stated that the present conflict, which has lasted for more than five months and resulted in the killing of many people and the destruction of a significant amount of property, will not end until Kiir is chased out of power.

Violent mobilization by groups loyal to Machar against the government in Juba began in December 2013. It was only after bloody confrontations between the two parties that targeted civilians based on their ethnicity had resulted in the deaths of many people (creating a major humanitarian crisis) that a cease-fire agreement was signed in Addis Ababa on January 23, 2014, with the hope of bringing to an end the brutal fighting. The cease-fire, however, was seen only as the first step towards negotiations that were supposed to help the country exit the violent conflict and secure institutional arrangements capable of guaranteeing peaceful coexistence.

What South Sudan badly needs is an institutionalization of democracy and not a government led by political opportunists. In fact, an effective strategy to exit from this incessant violence must be centered around the election of an inclusive interim government—minus both Kiir and Machar—that would engage all of the country’s relevant stakeholders in negotiations to create a governing process that adequately constrains the state, establishes mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflict, enhances peaceful coexistence, and provides an enabling environment for the rapid creation of the wealth needed to deal with poverty and deprivation.

On March 9, 2012, less than a year after South Sudan gained independence, then-Vice President Machar met with several Brookings scholars, including myself, in New York City. The meeting was part of the new country’s efforts to seek assistance from its international partners to address complex and longstanding development challenges, including critical issues such as the effective management of the country’s natural resource endowments, gender equity, the building of government capacity to maintain law and order, the provision of other critical public goods and services, and poverty alleviation. ….

The vice president, who appeared extremely energetic and optimistic about prospects for sustainable development in the new country, requested an analysis of the commitments and achievements that the government of South Sudan had made since independence and suggestions for a way forward. The scholars, working in close collaboration with their colleagues at Brookings, produced a policy report requested by the vice president. The report entitled, South Sudan: One Year After Independence—Opportunities and Obstacles for Africa’s Newest Country, was presented at a well-attended public event on July 28, 2012. Panelists included Peter Ajak, director of the Center for Strategic Analyses and Research in Juba; Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. special envoy for South Sudan and Sudan [and National Endowment for Democracy board member] ; Nada Mustafa Ali scholar at the New School for Social Research; Mwangi S. Kimenyi and me.

The report provided a comprehensive review of the policy issues requested by the vice president—the provision of basic services; future engagement between South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan; efficient and equitable management of natural resources; ethnic diversity and peaceful coexistence; federalism; eradication of corruption; and the benefits of regional integration. Most important is the fact that the report placed emphasis on the need for the government of South Sudan to totally reconstruct the state inherited from the Khartoum government through democratic constitution making and produce a governing process that (i) guarantees the protection of human and fundamental rights, including those of vulnerable groups (e.g., women, minority ethnic groups); (ii) adequately constrains the government (so that impunity, corruption and rent seeking are minimized); (iii) enhances entrepreneurial activities and provides the wherewithal for wealth creation and economic growth; and (iv) establishes mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflict and creates an environment within which all of the country’s diverse population groups can coexist peacefully.

Unfortunately, when the report was completed, members of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement were already embroiled in a brutal power struggle that eventually led to President Kiir sacking his entire cabinet, including the vice president. The collapse of the government raised the prospects of violent and destructive mobilization by groups that felt the president’s actions were marginalizing them both economically and politically. The ensuing chaos created an environment that was hardly conducive to the implementation of policies such as those presented in the Brookings report.


‘No space for opposition’ in corrupt MPLA’s Angola

rafael marquesAngolan journalists like Rafael Marques (left), who reports on high-level corruption by government officials, are facing the cudgel of criminal defamation, according to the International Press Institute.

Members of Angola’s ruling MPLA elite are conspicuous beneficiaries of lucrative government contracts and sinecures, the FT’s Lionel Barber notes.

Elias Isaac, a burly activist for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, an NGO funded by George Soros, sums up Angola’s postwar challenge, he writes:

“We have a multi-party democracy but we don’t have a pluralist society. There is no space for the opposition.”

Over lunch, Isaac describes how MPLA cells have infiltrated the private sector, while big business is dominated by former generals and the party. “It’s just like Russia – nothing has changed.”

Asked about the new sovereign wealth fund, Isaac says: “The president missed a great opportunity. He could have risked not appointing someone close to him. Instead he confirmed our suspicions of elitism and nepotism.”


Marques is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, specializing in political economy, the diamond industry, and government corruption. A former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, his writings have helped set the agenda for political debate in Angola by exposing abuses of power and endemic corruption.

How to fight for the public square

The agora in ancient Athens

The agora in ancient Athens

As citizens gather in city squares from Caracas to Kiev to Cairo, governments are showing symptoms of agoraphobia, which literally means fear of an agora or “place of assembly,” according to Douglas Rutzen and Brittany Grabel of the International Center for Not-for-profit Law.

This phenomenon is occurring in countries across the political spectrum, but in cases of authoritarian agoraphobia, governments have simply destroyed public squares, they write for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab.

For example, in Bahrain, the government bulldozed Pearl Square to stymie the country’s 2011 reformist movement and prevent citizens from assembling there. In other countries, governments have erected physical barriers to restrict access to civic space. In Egypt, the military recently erected ten-foot iron gates to control access to Tahrir Square, while in Uganda, the police installed barbed wire to keep citizens out of Constitution Square, Kampala’s only public square. On March 20, 2014, the Turkish government blocked Twitter, restricting access to the digital agora.

Supplementing physical and electronic barriers, many governments are erecting legal barriers to civic space. In January 2014, Cambodia issued a blanket ban on all public gatherings. Days later, Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine enacted legislation imposing five year prison sentences on protestors if they blocked government buildings, and allowing the authorities to seize the cars of people participating in “Automaidan” protests. Shortly after, the Venezuelan government brought criminal charges, including arson and conspiracy charges to imprison citizens engaged in peaceful assemblies. These are but a few recent examples of the global agoraphobia pandemic.

According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, more than twenty countries have recently considered or enacted legal restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly.

Agoraphobia is a global contagion, and no country is immune. To address this pandemic, international institutions, governments, and civil society must embrace a holistic treatment plan.

First, global and regional institutions must enhance norms protecting peaceful assembly. International norms on the freedom of assembly are just beginning to take shape. The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recently established a U.N. special rapporteur on the freedom of assembly. He has written three pioneering thematic reports, but his reports are not binding in international law. …..

Second, governments must reform their national laws and practices. International norms have little impact if they are not enshrined at the national level. …….Donor and experts with comparative expertise must be prepared to respond to appeals from countries requesting assistance. In addition, like-minded governments must increase their political support for multilateral initiatives, such as the Community of Democracies Working Group, which plays a critical role in mobilizing diplomatic engagement when restrictive laws are proposed.

Third, the international community must focus on frontlines. In many countries, security personnel receive limited or no training on how to manage protests in a peaceful, democratic manner. Under the auspices of the special rapporteur or another international body, an initiative should be launched to compile and share good practices, complemented by in-person training programs. …….


Uganda: a general challenges a dictator

UgandaEven as US officials made lofty pledges to support African democracy Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni used looted development funds to close off nearly every peaceful means of loosening his grip on power, says analyst Helen Epstein.

But the opposition wasn’t Museveni’s only problem. What worried him even more was that discontent was also growing in his own political party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), she writes in a must-read essay for The New York Review of Books:

The 2011 elections had brought to Parliament a group of enlightened young people like Cerinah Nebanda who belonged to the NRM, but were just as enraged as the opposition was about rampant corruption and the resulting deterioration of health care and other services. They were working on legislation to prevent Uganda’s oil revenues from falling into the hands of corrupt officials, and were trying to rehabilitate Uganda’s woefully neglected health care system by raising the miserably low salaries of Uganda’s doctors. What happened next, according to General David Sejusa [until recently a senior adviser to Museveni and coordinator of Uganda’s two main spy agencies], was utterly chilling.

“There was a movement of elimination,” he told me. “A meeting was held in Statehouse [the president’s official residence] in September 2012 involving key family members.” Museveni himself was there, as well as First Lady Janet Museveni, Museveni’s then-thirty-eight-year-old son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s half-brother Salim Saleh, and various in-laws. Sejusa wasn’t invited to this meeting. By then, he had been put on what is known in Uganda as katebe, a state of powerlessness in which officials retain their titles and salaries but are given no tasks and don’t receive official reports. Most intelligence work was now carried out by a parallel agency directly under the control of the Museveni family. Nevertheless, Sejusa had built up a strong personal network during his many years in power and he soon found out what took place at that September 2012 meeting.

According to Sejusa’s sources, Museveni’s relatives were furious with the president. He had promised to deal decisively with dissent, but he was letting them down, they said, and now Nebanda and other “rebel MPs” were tearing the ruling NRM apart. “Nebanda was part of a fearless emerging force,” Sejusa said. They “were speaking about things that [Museveni’s family felt] shouldn’t be talked about—especially the corruption of the first family and the prime minister. They were also punching holes in the myth that Museveni himself was innocent, and that only those working for him were corrupt.”

Before long, hit squads were organized to stage car crashes made to look like accidents, shootings made to look like robberies, and poisonings made to look like food poisoning, drug overdoses, and other mishaps. In October 2012, shortly after the meeting at the president’s office, Sejusa, who was still Museveni’s senior adviser and spy chief, wrote a prophetic letter that appeared in several Ugandan newspapers warning of “creeping lawlessness,” “sickening robberies of government money,” and “murders.”


Whether democracy can ever take root in a country with such a brutal political culture will depend crucially on the support that the FUF [the recently-formed Freedom and Unity Front] and all those who continue to struggle for justice in Uganda will receive from inside the country and from the US and other foreign powers, some of which have kept Museveni’s phony democracy going for years, Epstein contends:

In 2012, the World Bank and several European donors finally reduced aid to Uganda because of the regime’s corruption, and in February 2014, President Obama issued a statement warning that the enactment by the Ugandan government of a harsh bill criminalizing homosexuality would damage US–Uganda relations. Museveni signed the bill nevertheless, declaring that he would “work with Russia.” Uganda’s recently developed oil fields may soon diminish the need for foreign aid in any case.



Zimbabwe’s International Re-engagement: Long Haul to Recovery

A landslide victory by the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) in Zimbabwe’s elections in 2013 resulted in its comprehensive recapture of the state. The endorsement of the results by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the African Union (AU) and the UN confirmed ZANU-PF’s grip on power. It also symbolized Zimbabwe’s re-admittance into the international community, although the United Kingdom, European Union, United States, Australia and others expressed deep concerns about the credibility of the polls.

In anew report from Chatham House, the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, analysts Knox Chitiyo and Steve Kibble assess the principal economic and political challenges and opportunities facing Zimbabwe, and offers recommendations to help normalize the country’s relations with the West. Sustainably improved relations will depend on the new government’s track record on good governance and human rights but the report recognizes that, although the electoral legitimacy debate will continue to divide Zimbabweans, the reality is that ZANU-PF, which was the senior partner in the GNU, is the dominant force in politics and – despite its internal frictions – will remain so for some time to come. The opposition, civil society, business sector and other voices are important, but engagement with the Zimbabwe government is pivotal. Such engagement should be cautious, thoughtful and not uncritical.

At the same time, ZANU-PF needs to learn from its past mistakes and to acknowledge that Zimbabwe’s future will be increasingly determined by its own tactical decisions. With the suspension of most sanctions and associated measures, anti-Western rhetoric will harm re-engagement efforts. Just as the EU has reached out to improve relations by suspending most of its sanctions, Zimbabwe should reciprocate, demonstrating that it is serious about reengagement including through domestic governance and economic reforms and pro-poor policies.  

All of Zimbabwe’s major political parties have repeatedly demonstrated undemocratic behaviour in by-elections, primary elections and national elections. The real challenge for Zimbabwean politics is not simply electoral democracy: it is to create a genuinely inclusive participatory democracy. Failure to do this will result in an increasingly apathetic public withdrawing from electoral processes which they see as irrelevant.


Opposition and civil society

  1. The post-GNU political landscape has changed, and Zimbabwe’s opposition and civil society will have to undergo a period of reform and renewal to remain effective influences. The opposition and the government should work towards consensual or bipartisan politics, particularly in responding to the various economic challenges the country faces. The government on its own cannot reinvigorate the economy. This will require a truly national effort that – even if only temporarily – brings together political, economic and social stakeholders in a collective effort to address the economic crisis. Otherwise, all parties will lose credibility.

Electoral reform

  1. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should ensure there is a credible and transparent electoral roll as recommended by SADC, the AU and other local and foreign bodies (including the commission itself) during the 2013 election. These issues should be addressed ahead of the next general elections, scheduled for 2018.

Good governance and human rights

  1. There needs to be a wider debate on questions of citizenship, identity and the role of civil society, as well as the role and effectiveness of the various commissions established under the new constitution.
  2. Combating poverty, especially among women, and encouraging education for girls should become a national priority.
  3. Zimbabwe’s parliamentary committees are important forums for oversight and accountability. The government needs to provide adequate funding to ensure the Civil Service Commission, the Defence Forces Commission, the Prisons and Correctional Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission can fulfil their mandates, including by holding government agencies to account.
  4. Corruption remains a major economic challenge and a major disincentive to local and foreign institutional investment. The currently moribund Anti-corruption Commission needs to be reactivated and given a proper mandate, independence and powers to investigate, report on and end the culture of financial impunity. This in turn requires political will and support at the highest level.


International engagement

  1. With the economic stakes so high, and with growing economic interdependence, constructive engagement between Zimbabwe and the West should entail a process to end all sanctions and targeted measures, as well as a pragmatic dialogue that recognizes mutual interests and responsibilities. The process of suspending sanctions is well under way, with only those on President Mugabe and his wife, and on imports and exports of defence equipment, remaining in place. Provided there is no deterioration in the governance and human rights situation, the EU should let the suspended appropriate measures under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement fully expire on 1 November 2014. This should be followed in February 2015 by further suspension or even the lifting of all non-defence-related EU sanctions if there has been no serious deterioration in the governance and human rights situation.
  2. Western policy should move away from singling out Zimbabwe and become more regionally focused, consistently supporting sustainable economic growth and transformation, grounded in good governance and human rights.
  3. Zimbabwe’s government should seek to re-engage in international diplomatic and business forums, including seeking to rejoin the Commonwealth.
  4. Although Zimbabwe’s ‘Look East’ policy and south-south partnerships will continue apace, the government should also set out in detail how it plans to re-engage the West. The Foreign Ministry’s 2013–15 Strategic Plan could be supplemented by a White Paper outlining the changing context of regional, continental and global relations.
  5. The UK and Zimbabwe governments should establish a Zimbabwe–United Kingdom Bilateral Forum to discuss matters of mutual concern.

Download paper here

Download executive summary here