Rethinking interventions in fragile states: lessons from the DRC

DRC virungaTwenty years ago, the now-Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) received massive influxes of refugees from neighboring Rwanda, triggering a state collapse that claimed millions of lives. The international community has invested billions of dollars addressing recurrent humanitarian needs in the east of the country, and yet, fragility and crisis persist.

Join a high-level discussion on new field research from North Kivu on the gaps and opportunities in the humanitarian response, and a discussion on what lessons donors, governments, and NGOs must draw in order to “do more good.” 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2:30 PM to 4:00 PM

  • Shamil Idriss, President and CEO, Search for Common Ground
  • Andrea Koppel, Vice President of Global Engagement & Policy, Mercy Corps
  • Jonathan Papeledis, Executive Advisor for Fragile States, World Vision 
  • Moderator: Alexandre Marc, Chief Technical Specialist, Fragility, Conflict, and Violence, World Bank.

4:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Film Screening and Discussion: Virunga is an Oscar-nominated 2014 documentary film directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. Virunga focuses on the conservation work of rangers within Virunga National Park, and the activity of a British company, Soco International, which began exploring for oil within the UNESCO World Heritage site in April 2014. The documentary tells the story of four characters fighting to protect Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to the world’s last mountain gorillas, against war, poaching, and the threat of oil exploration. 

  • Betty Bigombe, Senior Director for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence
  • Moderator: Paula Caballero, Senior Director, Environment and Natural Resources

The Great Lakes Policy Forum event is organized in conjunction with the World Bank’s 2015 Fragility Forum. These events will be held at the World Bank at 1818 H Street NW, and all guests are asked to pre-register in order to attend the forum as space is limited. Please e-mail your name, affiliation, and email address to


Rising risk of Burundi election violence, says rights groups and analysts

Jailed journalist Bob Rugurika

Jailed journalist Bob Rugurika

Burundi is facing a mounting risk of unrest ahead of key elections and African leaders should stop President Pierre Nkurunziza from running for a third term, rights groups warned Tuesday. Burundi, a small nation in central Africa’s Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war and its political climate remains fractious ahead of the polls, Agence France Presse reports.

“The situation in Burundi is spiralling out of control, with hundreds of civilians killed or disappeared, due to the ongoing political impasse over moves by President Nkurunziza to run for a third term,” said a grouping of civil society organisations from across the continent, who signed under the banner “The AU We Want Coalition.”

“This elaborate scheme to alter his term limits is a raw power grab, similar to what was attempted in Burkina Faso, and Senegal years prior. It also is in direct contravention of the Arusha Peace Accords and contravenes the core principles of the newly ushered in African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG),” said Dismas Nkunda, a member of the coalition, which includes several partners of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Burundian soldiers shot dead 17 rebels at point-blank range after they surrendered in January, witnesses have told the BBC:

The rebels, with hands raised, were lined up on the edge of the cliff before being killed, one witness said. Burundi’s army denied the allegation, saying 95 rebels were killed in a five-day battle in the remote north-west. Low-level conflict has resurfaced in Burundi about a decade after a civil war which killed more than 300,000.

burundi mbonipaProminent Burundian rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa (right – who has been described as “Burundi’s Mandela) says he has been receiving “more and more detailed reports of executions, and burials of dozens of rebels in mass graves”.

It is increasingly likely that Nkurunziza will stand for re-election, despite intense local and international opposition, according to IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review:

Although the constitution may be open to interpretation, the president’s plans run against the letter and the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, which brought an end to Burundi’s long-running civil war and on which the constitution is based. In December 2014, the US special envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Russell Feingold, suggested that prolonging Nkurunziza’s stay in office could threaten the country’s stability and discourage new investment.

Leading opposition parties are likely to respond to Nkurunziza’s reported plans by boycotting the elections, with their supporters likely to take to the streets, raising the risk of collateral damage to commercial assets and death and injury risk to bystanders in urban areas over the next year. It is, however, highly unlikely that the protests will lead to Nkurunziza’s ousting due to the likely intervention of the security forces. Army chief of staff Gen Prime Niyongabo and the director-general of police, André Ndayambaje, issued a statement in December, warning the opposition against embarking on similar street protests to those witnessed in Burkina Faso in late 2014.

The risk of gun attacks by individuals or groups in rural areas on military targets, CNDD-FDD supporters, and government assets, such as local administrative buildings, will increase in the one-year outlook.

Burundian authorities arrested a prominent journalist on January 20, 2015, days after his radio station broadcast a series of investigative reports into the September 2014 murder of three elderly Italian nuns in the country, Human Rights Watch said:

The broadcasts included allegations about the involvement of senior intelligence officials in the attack on the convent. Burundian authorities have produced no evidence to justify the detention of the journalist, Bob Rugurika (above), director of Radio publique africaine (RPA), and should immediately release him, Human Rights Watch said. On January 22, 2015, Rugurika was detained in an isolation cell and denied visits.

“Rugurika’s arrest and prosecution appear to be an attempt to silence him and prevent his radio station from investigating and reporting on sensitive issues,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Burundi’s justice system shouldn’t be used to stifle media freedom.”

The European Union has set aside €8 million ($5.7 million) for the Burundi Independent National

Nigerians ready to swap democracy for security?

nigeria buhariWith Nigeria’s presidential election only weeks away, Boko Haram’s unchecked rampaging here in the country’s north is helping to propel the 72-year-old general, Muhammadu Buhari (left), to the forefront, The New York Times reports:

After ruling Nigeria with an iron hand 30 years ago as the country’s military leader, Mr. Buhari is now a serious threat at the ballot box, analysts say, in large part because of Boko Haram’s blood-soaked successes…. As military ruler, Mr. Buhari showed little respect for the democratic process, rising to power in a coup that swept aside a civilian government and promising to include the political participation of Nigerian citizens “at some point.”

“The state is collapsing and everybody is frightened,” Jibrin Ibrahim, a political scientist with the Center for Democracy and Development, said of Boko Haram.

“They are able to capture more and more territory, but also increase the level of atrocity,” he added. “A lot of people are frightened that these people can take over the whole country. So a lot of people are saying, ‘Give Buhari a chance.’ ”

NigeriaA sense of déjà vu accompanies Buhari’s quest to win the presidency in Nigeria’s forthcoming elections, 31 years after he first rose to power in a coup, the FT’s William Wallis adds:

In 1983 as now, Africa’s leading oil producer was in the throes of an oil shock. The resulting collapse in state revenues revealed how bloated and corrupt government had become during the preceding boom, when politicians were awash with petrodollars.

Austerity beckoned, and General Buhari imposed it with a “war on indiscipline” in the 20 months before he was overthrown by rival officers. He has tried unsuccessfully to win back power at the polls three times since civilian rule was restored in 1999. But on each occasion — in 2003, 2007 and 2011 — world oil prices were either recovering nicely or close to peaking. The tough outlook this year for Africa’s largest economy, which depends on oil for more than 90 per cent of export earnings and 70 per cent of state revenues, sets the scene for a much tighter contest this time round.

“The conflict is rapidly intensifying,” Nathaniel Allen, Peter M. Lewis and Hilary Matfess, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, wrote in the Washington Post.

“Nigerian casualties are now running more than double those in Afghanistan and substantially higher than in Iraq just a few years ago. An estimated 3,120 civilian and military casualties were recorded in Afghanistan last year. In Iraq, 4,207 fatalities were estimated in 2011 in the wake of the surge. The worsening conflict in northern Nigeria already has suffered more casualties this year than the world’s most publicized contemporary wars.”

nigeria girlsSecretary of State John Kerry, moving to prevent another key U.S. counterterrorism ally from collapsing under a militant insurgency, on Sunday warned Nigeria’s top two presidential candidates that future military assistance will depend on February’s election being peaceful and transparent, The Wall Street Journal reports.   

Relations between American military trainers and specialists advising the Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram [which has been described as Africa’s ISIS] are so strained that the Pentagon often bypasses the Nigerians, choosing to work instead with security officials in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger, according to New York Times reports.

The Foreign Policy Initiative held a conference call on the situation in Nigeria.  Key quotes and full audio from the event are available here.

*The Center for Democracy and Development is a longtime partner of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

DRC extends internet blockage after protesters killed

drc proestsThe government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has imposed an Internet blackout on the country for a third straight day as protesters kept up pressure on President Joseph Kabila, Nicholas Bariyo reports for The Wall Street Journal:

The government late Monday ordered telecommunications companies to sever all Internet and short-message services, after antigovernment protests spread from the capital Kinshasa to the restive eastern Kivu provinces. 

The DRC Senate announced a one-day delay for its vote on a proposed electoral law that has sparked days of violent protests. Senators now say they will vote Friday on the bill, which would require completion of a national census before a presidential election can be held, VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports:

Meanwhile, rights groups say dozens of people have been killed this week during protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The protesters object to a proposed new law that critics say would extend the rule of President Joseph Kabila. The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on the legislation, raising concerns of renewed violence.

The International Federation for Human Rights says at least 42 people have been killed in clashes with security forces in Kinshasa since Monday, when demonstrations erupted against the proposed electoral law.

drc voixThe BBC’s Maud Jullien in the capital, Kinshasa, says mobile internet and text services have been cut although fixed-line internet connections have been restored.

A consortium of human rights and civil society groups, including partners of the National Endowment for Democracy, condemned the killings and expressed anxiety that a major crackdown was imminent.

One of the country’s leading NGOs, the Voice of the Voiceless for Human Rights (VSV), cited fears of “a manhunt against the actors of the political opposition and civil society.” The group expressed its concern that the security services “have a black list of the names of political opposition figures and some actors of civil society to be arrested, kidnapped or arrested on the pretexts that they were the intellectual authors and sponsors” of the recent violence.

The DRC’s powerful Catholic church backed ongoing protests against reforms that could extend President Joseph Kabila’s rule, denouncing a government crackdown which a rights group said had killed 42 people, Reuters adds:

As anti-government demonstrations in the capital Kinshasa entered their third day, the leader of Congo’s Catholics, Cardinal Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya, strongly criticized any attempt to postpone a presidential election due next year….With more than 40 percent of Congo’s 65 million people describing themselves as Catholic, the Church’s stance is likely to bolster popular resistance to the reform. 

floribertMeanwhile, police in Senegal this week arrested Paul Mwilambwe, a fugitive major in the Congolese Police, a major suspect in the murder of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana, two Congolese human rights defenders assassinated in June 2010.

UN agency condemns sentencing of Mauritanian anti-slavery activists

mauritania birham

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) today condemned the verdict of a Mauritanian Court sentencing three of the nine anti-slavery activists detained since 11 November 2014. Mr Biram Dah Abeid (left) is among those sentenced to two years imprisonment despite international pressure on the Mauritanian Government to release all activists. Following the hearings in late December 2014, the court in Rosso announced its verdict on Thursday, 15 January 2015:

The activists had been charged with inciting violence, disturbing public order, offending members of the authorities and being members of an unregistered organization. The Mauritanian gendarmerie had arrested the nine anti-slavery activists during a peaceful protest that was part of the ‘Caravan for Liberty’ initiative on 11 November 2014. The aim of the initiative is to highlight landowners’ exploitation of marginalized sections of society and push for much-needed land reforms. Following the arrests of these nine activists, the Mauritanian Government continued its clampdown on the anti-slavery movement. Following the arrests, the Mauritanian Government continued its clampdown on the anti-slavery movement. 

Biram Dah Abeid and eight of his colleagues from the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) were arrested in November, Freedom House reports:

They were charged with incitement to rebellion, threats to public order, and participation in an unauthorized public gathering. Abeid, who has remained in detention since his arrest, maintains the charges are politically motivated, for his having challenged President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz during the 2014 presidential elections and for leading an anti-slavery movement. If convicted, the activists could face up to five years in jail and another five years of loss of civil liberties.

For additional information contact Robert Ruby at 202 747 7035 / and  

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