Postpone poll: Nigeria needs national unity government

lymanAfrica’s biggest democracy is scheduled to hold elections next month. They should be postponed, argues Princeton N. Lyman, a Senior Adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Nigeria is heading into these elections with insufficient preparation, extreme tensions, and wracked by Boko Haram, the brutal Islamist insurgency whose murders and kidnappings have shocked the world. Yet there is no national consensus in Nigeria on how to deal with this insurgency, and no one seems prepared to confront it as the national crisis it is, he writes for Foreign Policy:

What outsiders often fail to grasp is that this grim situation is merely the symptom of a deeper malaise: a breakdown of the informal consensus on power sharing between the Muslim north and the Christian south that had guided Nigerian politics for decades. This makes the upcoming contest for the presidency especially fraught, as the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the southeast, seeks reelection after six years in power.

Elections would normally be the way for a nation to chart a path forward to solutions for these problems, notes Lyman, the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria 1986-89, to South Africa 1992-1995, and U.S. Special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan 2001-2013:

But a recent delegation of experts sponsored by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute found serious gaps in election preparations. One of the biggest problems: How to ensure voting for the nearly one million people displaced or controlled by Boko Haram in the northeast, an area of likely support for the opposition. The NDI/IRI delegation also reports an influx of arms to areas into volatile areas like the Niger delta, a stronghold of the PDP. ….Rather than proceeding straight into this train wreck, Nigeria should stop and create a temporary government of national unity (GNU).

It is hard for me to recommend this course of action. I am on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy, which supports the growth of democracy worldwide and consistently champions free and fair elections, he adds:

But the political system in Nigeria today is dysfunctional, and this reality, combined with the breakdown of law and order in the northeast, is taking the country down. It is time for leaders from all walks of life to step forward and change this direction. A government of national unity is not a perfect solution, and creating and implementing it is likely to prove challenging. But right now it offers the best way of avoiding an impending implosion.


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

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.

Democracy ‘on winning streak’ after Sri Lanka’s surprise transition

Maithripala SirisenaDemocracy is on a winning streak across South Asia, The New York Times reports:

Over the last two years, virtually the entire population of South Asia has had the opportunity to take part in elections, and the voters have shown a marked desire to send their leaders packing. There was plenty of evidence for this already, including Pakistan’s first democratic transfer of power and, last May, India’s epic rejection of the party that has dominated the country since independence.

Even so, last week’s vote in Sri Lanka was a jaw-dropper. Sri Lanka stood out because it had been on a trajectory away from democracy, with an ever-stronger state dominated by an ever-smaller circle of leaders.

The victory of soft-spoken former health minister, Maithripala Sirisena (left) over the autocratic former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was unexpected, to put it mildly.

Criticized by Human Rights Watch and other groups for the government’s conduct during the country’s civil war against ethnic Tamil separatists, Rajapaksa has counted on support from China, which of course has no patience for foreign do-gooders meddling in such issues as human rights, Businessweek reports:

The Sri Lankan leadership has looked to China in part because of “its fear of being taken to task internationally on the issue of war crimes,” Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, a group that promotes ethnic reconciliation, told Bloomberg Television today. “They saw China as a guarantor that they would not be taken before any UN type of trials.”

Still, former ally Sirisena was able to capitalize on worries of many Sri Lankans concerned about the incumbent’s tilt toward China. “There’s a perception that the Chinese are underpinning misgovernance and corruption in the regime,” Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, told Bloomberg News before the election.

Sri_LankaWhatever China’s long-term plans were for strategically important Sri Lanka, they met with a sudden obstruction on Friday morning, when Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in a startling upset, Ellen Barry writes for The Times:

Violence, intimidation threaten Sri Lanka vote

SRI LANKA NGOAuthorities in Sri Lanka should ensure that voters have safe and secure access to the polls to vote in presidential elections on January 8, 2015, and that state media is not misused in favor of the incumbent, Human Rights Watch said today:

Local monitoring groups have reported numerous acts of election-related violence and intimidation during the month-long campaign that closed on January 5. The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) documented 237 major incidents and 183 minor incidents during the campaign. Monitors also reported that there may have been as many as 22 attacks involving firearms. The groups also documented inappropriate use of state media by the ruling Sri Lankan Freedom Party…..

CMEV also reported an “unparalleled misuse of state resources and media” by the ruling party. Monitors reported that state media were openly asking people to vote for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, leading the election commissioner to issue warnings against several state media outlets to desist from broadcasting election propaganda.

“Sri Lankan authorities need to take all possible steps to ensure voters, candidates, and monitors are not attacked, threatened, or intimidated,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The attacks and intimidation that marred the campaign can’t be allowed to continue on election day and during the counting process.”