Burundi – is crisis being exploited to widen Hutu-Tutsi divide

African Arguments

“Let us be heard”: Burundi’s refugees tell stories of ethnic targeting

Burundi’s crisis began as a political dispute, but testimony from refugees suggests that some parties to the conflict may be exploiting Hutu-Tutsi divides.

Burundian refugees gather round as artists and dancers visit Mahama Refugee Camp on Christmas Day 2015. Credit: Djamal Ntagara, Uburanga Art Centre, Kigali, Rwanda.

Near the small town of Gashora in Rwanda, about 20km north of the border with Burundi, hundreds of children and their mothers sit outside tents (or “hangers”) branded with the UNHCR logo. Young boys play football in worn clothing as they pass the time, while malnourished babies lie in a row awaiting treatment from a special medical tent.

Since April 2015, at least 240,000 people have fled Burundi as it has descended into a violent political crisis. A large proportion of these refugees have journeyed north into neighbouring Rwanda, and tens of thousands have ended up here at Gashora Reception Centre before being transferred for more permanent stay at Mahama Refugee Camp. Many have been separated from their loved ones back in Burundi, who may or may not still be alive, and each has his or her own unique story of loss, suffering, and violence.

According to official records, the camp received around 17,000 people in April and another 19,000 over the subsequent fourth months before numbers dropped to hundreds per month. Approximately 60% of these are under 18.

However, the total number of refugees to this area is likely to be significantly higher. Burundians are only taken to Gashora if they indicate at the border office that they are fleeing for political reasons. But with many are afraid to admit being refugees, large numbers say they are crossing into Rwanda for economic motivations or to visit family. Many of these try to assimilate in the nearby town of Nyanza.

Testimony from the camps

The ongoing crisis in Burundi began last April when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in office – in violation of the constitution and Arusha Accords according to critics – and then won the disputed election in July.

Since then, hundreds have been killed or assassinated on the streets of Bujumbura, while opposition militia have clashed on occasion with government troops. Furthermore, last month, nine mass graves were reportedly discovered around the capital. According to UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, these sites are believed to hold the bodies of the dozens of Burundians killed in a deadly reprisal attack by security forces on 11 December.

With independent radio stations and media restricted, reliable information in Burundi is difficult to come by. However, as the crisis persists, one question on many people’s lips is to what extent the clashes relate to historical divides between Burundi’s majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. There are growing reports that the government is targeting Tutsis, while the recently discovered mass graves are believed to hold mostly Tutsi victims.

Burundi’s turmoil certainly began as a political dispute, but there are fears that ethnicity has since been instrumentalised by actors in the conflict for their own gain. The testimonies of some refugees – whose voices tend to have been neglected in the debate around Burundi thus far – seem to support these concerns.

Jean Bosco has been in the refugee camp with his wife and four children since April. He says that he fled Burundi after being targeted by groups associated with the ruling CNDD-FDD for being a Tutsi.

“The CNDD-FDD youth [known as the Imbonerakure] started to threaten me and my family, saying: we killed armed Tutsis, soon it’s going be your turn,” Bosco tells African Arguments. “One morning, the policemen and Imbonerakure came and ordered that all Tutsi houses had to be checked…They said that we Tutsi want to overthrow the power.”

Desire, a former judge, says he fled Burundi over a dispute that had taken on an ethnic dimension too. He had to pass a judgment on a land dispute that happened to be between some Tutsis and Hutus and says the government pressured him to rule in favour of one side over the other.

“The Minister of Justice called me and told me to give the land to the Hutu family,” he recalls. Desire did not want to directly defy this order and so slowed down the case “to protect myself from the wrath of the CNDD-FDD party and spare time to find a solution”.

However, Desire could not delay for too long and amidst growing warnings from confidants, eventually took flight and headed north. “The day I fled, a squadron of the secret police was sent to capture and torture me, but friends of mine told me before they reached [his home town of] Kirundo,” he says.

The story of Esperance, whose husband was part of the Burundian army, echoes some of these dynamics too.

“Before the [failed May 2015] coup, my husband was asked by officers close to Nkurunziza to execute assassinations of political opposition party members,” she says. “My husband was told that since he was a Hutu, he had to stand for Nkurunziza. He refused, and the SNR [national intelligence service] started to chase him.

“For weeks, my husband was tracked by the intelligence. Fearing for his life as some of his colleagues had been killed or lost, he decided to flee from the army.”

Esperance has not heard from her husband since this time and believes he was picked up by intelligence agents as he tried to escape the country. She escaped to Rwanda in November.

Let us be heard

Thus far, international and regional efforts to resolve the ongoing crisis in Burundi have made little progress. The African Union said in December it would deploy 5,000 peacekeepers to maintain order, but with Nkurunziza’s government vowing to treat the force as an invasion, the AU recently backed down. Meanwhile, although peace talks also officially began in December, led by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, they stalled over disagreements regarding who should be at the negotiating table.

Opposing sides diverge over which groups ought to be represented as legitimate parties to any agreement. However, when negotiations do resume, it seems clear that the testimony of some of Burundi’s hundreds of thousands refugees – those such as Desire, Jean Bosco and Esperance – will need to be included.

These voices have rarely been heard as the crisis has worn on, but the experiences of those directly affected by the violence without engaging in it themselves will be critical to both understanding and resolving the situation.

“We refugees are the real ones who are suffering,” says Jean Bosco. “Let us be heard.”

Samantha Lakin is a PhD student at The Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University, USA. Her research focuses on local perspectives toward memorialisation of mass atrocities and genocide in Rwanda and East Africa. Follow her on twitter at @S_Lakin1.

Somalia – Al Shabab retakes Merca port


members of Somalia"s al-Shabab jihadist movement seen during exercises at their military training camp outside Mogadishu in 2008AP Al-Shabab went into the town soon after African Union forces retreated

Islamist militant group al-Shabab has taken control of the port city Merca, residents say.

Merca, some 70km (45 miles) south-west of Mogadishu, is now the biggest town under al-Shabab control.

African Union forces who had held the port city for three-and-a-half years withdrew earlier on Friday morning.

The loss is a major setback for the African Union force (Amisom) in its decade-long battle against al-Shabab, the BBC’s Tomi Oladipo says.

The governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region Ibrahim Adam told the AFP news agency that al-Shabab secured control without fighting.

“Amisom forces moved out at midday and the local administration and all other Somali security forces left a few minutes later – and then heavily armed al-Shabab militants entered the town,” local resident Ibrahim Mumin told AFP.

“They have been addressing residents at the district headquarters,” he added.

Another resident, Mohamed Sabriye, told AP news agency that al-Shabab fighters had hoisted their flag over the city’s police station and administrative headquarters.

The withdrawal from Merca comes three weeks after al-Shabab overran an African Union military base outside the southern Somali town of el-Ade, saying they had killed about 100 Kenyans soldiers.

Kenya has not said how many of its troops died.

Al-Shabab was ousted from the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011, but still has a presence in large areas of southern Somalia and often stages attacks across the country.

Grey line

Analysis: BBC Monitoring Africa Security Correspondent Tomi Oladipo

Map of SomaliaImage copyrightUPDATED SEPTEMBER 2015

While the retreat is not happening in battle, it’s clear that the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is having problems securing the region.

Sources within the mission say this is a tactical move. The problem, however, is that as soon as these troops leave, al-Shabab militants are swiftly replacing them.

It’s no doubt a major setback for the regional forces, seeing as they would have to fight their battles afresh to regain these regions.

In January, Kenyan troops withdrew from other parts of southern Somalia after they suffered heavy losses in an an attack on their base in el-Ade.

As al-Shabab fills the void, it will be looking to win the support of the communities – something the regional coalition has failed to do.

And that would be disastrous overall for the regional efforts to bring peace to Somalia. The nations contributing to Amisom are expected to meet in Djibouti later this month to review their campaign.

Zimbabwe -drought emergency


very thin cow in zimbabweReuters There is very little left for cattle to eat in many parts of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has declared a state of disaster in rural parts of the country hit by a drought.

An estimated 2.4 million people are now in need of food aid, more than a quarter of the population.

The announcement comes days after the EU urged Mr Mugabe to declare a state of disaster so donors can raise money quickly to provide food aid.

The government has urged Zimbabweans not to panic, as it is importing maize from neighbouring Zambia.

The United Nations World Food Programme has said some 14 million people face hunger in southern Africa because of a drought that has been exacerbated by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

South Africa, Namibia and Botswana have also been badly hit.

The country has been experiencing abnormally low rainfall since last year, leading to the deaths of thousands of cattle whose grazing areas have become parched.

Media captionThe UN are expecting condtions to worsen reports Taurai Maduna

“With rains failing almost completely this year, the situation is getting desperate,” Jan Vossen, Zimbabwe director for the charity Oxfam, told the BBC.

“In certain parts of the country, we even see that people, farmers, are using the thatch of their roofs to feed their cattle,” he said.

The agricultural sector has been the worst affected, with tobacco and cotton farmers also bracing themselves for disaster, the BBC’s Nomsa Maseko reports from Johannesburg.

Plundering of West Africa’s ebola funds

Al Jazeera

The much-vaunted rebuilding of livelihoods ruined by Ebola is far from happening.

In Liberia, the outbreak put half the heads of households out of work, while women were among the hardest hit, writes Soyombo [EPA]
In Liberia, the outbreak put half the heads of households out of work, while women were among the hardest hit, writes Soyombo [EPA]


Fisayo Soyombo

Fisayo Soyombo edits Nigerian online newspaper TheCable.

In early 2014, when the Ebola virus began ravaging three West African countries, it came with an all-shattering venom.

Although Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and the Congo were all affected, the real devastation occurred in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

In these three countries, humans were crushed by the virus. Dozens died long before medics reached an understanding of the intruder they were dealing with. Medical facilities were overwhelmed at an alarming rate, already-lean government purses were stretched to the limits, the courage of health workers was tested to the brim, and normal human life was ruined.

A cry for help

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president, called on the world for help in October 2014. Her country had spent the previous 11 years recovering from its civil war, and she feared that Ebola was threatening to “erase all the hard work”.

“This fight requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help – whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise,” she wrotein a widely publicised open letter.

By that time, 9,191 people across West Africa were suspected to have been infected and 4,546 had died. In  Liberia, 4,262 people had been found to infected by the virus, while 2,484 had died. Guinea and Sierra Leone had the bulk of the deficit of 2,062 deaths.

And so the funds started coming in. Within a month of Sirleaf’s plea, money pledged from outside Africa to the Ebola-hit countries was building up. By July 2015, the United Nations announced that donors had promised $5.2bn, which far outweighed the $3.2bn the three countries said they needed to “return to the progress of [their] pre-Ebola trauma“.

READ MORE: Human emotion is the variable in the Ebola crisis

In Liberia, the outbreak left half the heads of households out of work, while women – who account for more workers in the non-agricultural, self-employed sectors – were among the hardest hit. Ebola’s destruction of livelihoods sorely needed to be addressed.

This was acknowledged at a UN meeting in July 2015 at which President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, speaking on behalf of the three Ebola-hit countries, said:“Humanity sometimes displays short attention spans and wants to move to other issues because the threat from Ebola seems over … The threat is never over until we rebuild the health sector Ebola demolished, until we rebuild the livelihoods it compromised.”

Cruel mismanagement

A month after Koroma’s statement, I was on a plane to Liberia to investigate how the money had been used, courtesy of some civil society initiatives to monitor the situation on the ground. My findings were damning.

The much-vaunted “rebuilding of livelihoods ruined by Ebola” was far from happening. The Liberian government, whose task force destroyed the belongings of Ebola patients, was providing no help as survivors struggled daily for decent food, housing and employment. As Josephine Karwah, one of only three pregnant women to survive the virus, told me, the government left survivors “in a limbo”.

No individual has been tried, much less convicted, for their role in the mismanagement of funds meant to save dying lives.

It was enough evidence that none of the dozen survivors I spoke to could pinpoint a single instance when the government offered help. But that wasn’t all. Liberia’s anti-corruption watchdog audited only a fraction ($15m) of the funding, and found that $800,000, most of which passed through the defence ministry, could not be accounted for.

“The conduct of the affairs of the National Ebola Trust Fund [NETF] were marred by financial irregularities and material control deficiencies for a number of transactions carried out by the Incident Management System and the eight Implementing Partners of the NETF,” the General Auditing Commission said in a report published on its website.

Specific instances of corruption included the disbursement of $600,000 for fuel, feeding, daily subsistence allowance, communication, medical training, repair and maintenance, without supporting documents; and the payment of $10,000 to 68 officers in 10 counties who could not be physically seen or whose names could not be traced in the daily attendance records.

In neighbouring Sierra Leone, the situation was no better. The report of the Audit Service of Sierra Leone unearthed a series of financial irregularities, most notably payments to thousands of fictitious health workers, and expenses running into several hundreds of thousands of dollars without supporting documentation.

Up until now the biggest outcry over the gulf between the money donated and that spent on the post-Ebola recovery has been in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but it may well be that the scariest levels of corruption have happened in Guinea.

INFOGRAPHIC: Just how deadly is Ebola?

The Ebola Fund Watch report launched by BudgIT in November 2015 reveals that although Guinea had received donations worth $330m as of November 4, 2015, there is not one audit report on the use of the fund.

The “reports of mismanagement” suggested in this report are given credence by the former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo’s description of Guinea as a country where “contracts aren’t signed and investments aren’t made”.

For a country ranked 139th out of 168 in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, Guinea’s lack of documentation for its use of the funds mirrors the secrecy with which Ebola funds were mismanaged in West Africa.

In all three countries, no individual has been tried, much less convicted, for their role in the mismanagement of money meant to save the lives of the dying. And these are people who – to parody novelist Bangambiki Habyarimana’s words – are still here on earth when they deserve to be sent to hell!

Fisayo Soyombo edits the Nigerian online newspaper TheCable.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Mali – UN peacekeeping base in Timbuktu attacked


Unknown assailants attacked a U.N. peacekeeping base and a Malian army checkpoint on the outskirts of Mali’s northern city of Timbuktu early on Friday, residents and military sources said.

Bodies lay on the ground near the U.N. compound, where Nigerian forces are based, a resident said. Gunfire continued to ring out from the base.

South Africa – have people had enough? The rising tide of protest.

Institute of Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)

Desperate and divided: South Africa has had enough
5 February 2016

Increasingly, South Africans from all walks of life are mobilising for change. Many resort to public protest in the hope of galvanising government to improve its performance and do something about unacceptable levels of unemployment and poverty. Last year saw widespread community-level protests, along with large-scale student protests popularised by the#FeesMustFall slogan.

Are South Africans reaching the end of their tether? Most protest action relates to bread-and-butter issues and inadequate government performance.

For instance, half of the 2 322 incidents of protest and industrial strike action recorded between January 2013 and December 2014 by the Institute for Security Studies’ public violence monitor related to community services (25%) or labour matters (23%). A further 11% of gatherings related to protests against crime or bad policing. Mob justice or vigilantism constituted 161 incidents or 7% of public violence reported. Last month, the severity of vigilante action was illustrated by events in the town of Parys, where four farmers were charged with the murders of two suspected farm attackers.

This year’s local government elections will reveal how dissatisfaction affects voting patterns

Similarly, in September last year, community members in Etwatwa killed three teenagers suspected of criminal activities. These cases demonstrate ordinary South Africans’ high levels of frustration with rising crime and what they perceive as the police’s inability to keep them safe.

The extent of public violence is arguably also linked to broader factors, such as high levels of unemployment and inequality, the weakening rand and a protracted drought, which has brought many rural communities to their knees. Confidence in politicians – notably President Jacob Zuma, members of parliament (MPs) and local government leaders – has also been declining. The 2015 Afrobarometer survey released at the end of November on South Africans’ confidence in the president shows that two thirds of adults polled distrust President Zuma.

More significantly, half of those who consider themselves African National Congress (ANC) supporters also mistrust the president. The survey found that public approval of Zuma’s performance decreased dramatically from 64% in 2011 to only 36% in 2015. The president’s shock dismissal of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene not only spooked the markets and crippled the country’s economy, but also provoked further dissatisfaction with the president – as evidenced by the #ZumaMustFall campaign.

The Afrobarometer survey also found that approval ratings of local councillors have dropped by 10% since 2011. Overall, only 39% of South Africans approve of their elected local government leaders and 42% approve of MPs.

Many South Africans see public protest as the only way to try and affect positive changes

Afrobarometer’s poll on perceptions of government’s performanceshowed that 80% of people feel government is performing ‘fairly badly’ or ‘very badly’ in fighting government corruption, narrowing income gaps (78%), reducing crime (77%), creating jobs (77%) and keeping prices down (76%). Given the deterioration of public trust in political leaders, it is not surprising that levels of community protest and public violence have been on the rise in recent years.

This year’s local government election results will reveal whether or not increasing frustration will affect voting patterns. For many, protests are a way to express dissatisfaction with their elected party without voting differently. Although the ANC achieved 62% in the 2014 national elections, this comprised only 35% of the voting-age population who cast their votes for the party, down from 58.3% in 1994.

Two out of three voting-age adults either did not vote, or voted for an opposition party – while only one out of three voted for the ANC. Yet, if the 2014 national elections are anything to go by, more people may start articulating their disapproval through voting for political parties other than the dominant ANC. For many people, however, voting is not seen as an effective way to improve government service delivery, and public protest is viewed as the only way to try and affect positive changes.

In their campaigns in the upcoming local government elections later this year, one should expect political parties to explain how they will create jobs, improve services and reduce crime at a local level. The Afrobarometer shows that 71% of respondents believe that unemployment is the largest challenge that government should address. A quarter of respondents believe that housing and crime (both 27%) are the most pressing issues; followed by education (22%), poverty (19%) and corruption (17%).

Political party leaders must take a strong position against any forms of prejudicial or hate speech

Arguably, many local power elites are not focused on improving conditions of the communities they are supposed to serve – as shown by the state of disarray of most local government finances. Rather, some local politicians are more likely to try and distract voters from their own governance failures. One way of achieving this is by blaming marginalised groups such as foreign nationals for local problems, which may then erupt into violence, such as xenophobic attacks and vigilantism.

Given that many local-level politicians see government primarily as a means of self-enrichment, rather than serving communities, it is expected then that competition will be fierce and levels of electoral violence will be higher than that experienced in the 2014 national elections.

It is therefore important that political party leaders are seen to take a strong position against any forms of prejudicial or hate speech. If not, suspicion and divisions will flourish and we can expect to see further rises in violent public protests, xenophobic attacks and vigilantism.

Lizette Lancaster, Manager: Crime and Justice Information Hub, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria

South Africa – EFF rejects Zuma Nkandla offer and says Guptas should leave SA

Mail and Guardian

The EFF has rejected Zuma’s Nkandla proposal and accuses the president of trying to influence the Constitutional Court judges.

EFF leader Julius Malema. (David Harrison, M&G)

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema is not prepared to accept President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla settlement proposal unless he agrees to the party’s terms.

“We not going to agree to any settlement until he reaffirms the powers of public protector, and two [reaffirms that] the remedial actions of public protector are binding and three that President Zuma agrees in the settlement that [by] failing to implement the remedial action he was in breach of the Constitution and his oath of office,” Malema told reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday.

“We will not agree that he had all the right to behave in the manner he did. We are not going to be party to any settlement which does not speak to those three points.”

On Tuesday, Zuma sent a letter to the court to suggest that it order the auditor general and finance minister to determine how much he should pay back for the multimillion-rand upgrades to non-security features at his home in Nkandla. Zuma was prepared to pay for the visitors’ centre, the amphitheatre, the cattle kraal, chicken run and the swimming pool. There was a “need for finality”, Zuma’s lawyers said.

However, the Constitutional Court responded on Wednesday saying it was up to the parties to decide on the settlement.

“The settlement proposal is a matter for the parties to decide and calls for no directions from the court at this stage,” the registrar said in the letter.

Malema accused Zuma of trying to influence the Constitutional Court judges by sending the letter.

“In his typical way of trying to control everything and influence institutions of the state, unduly so, he then took a copy of the proposed settlement to court in an attempt to influence judges.

“Zuma being Zuma writes to us and copies judges so that he can influence judges, so that when we arrive at court the judges already see him as a reasonable man,” he said.

But Malema said the judiciary had always rejected “ANC control”. “I’m happy we were able to see this crook even before he is attempting to do things [which are] unacceptable.”

The EFF and Democratic Alliance were due to argue in the Constitutional Court next Tuesday that Zuma needed to comply with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations and repay a reasonable part of the R246-million spent on renovations at Nkandla.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane told the Cape Town Press Club on Thursday morning that they would not accept Zuma’s proposal. The DA wanted the matter heard in court so it could make a ruling on the public protector’s powers.

Gupta’s propaganda machinery?
Meanwhile, Malema also warned that Gupta-owned media such as ANN7 and The New Age will not be welcome at his party’s events.

“Gupta must leave the country. We tired about talking about [the] Guptas. We going to take practical action,” Malema told reporters in Johannesburg.

“Gupta media must no longer come to EFF events. We don’t want to see The New Age and ANN7.”

Malema accused them of being products of corrupt activity, used to perpetuate corrupt actions.

“It’s… propaganda machinery.”

He said protectors of corruption would not be tolerated.

Addressing the reporters from The New Age and ANN7, Malema cautioned them to “move out the way”.

“Sisters and brothers in Gupta firms we love you and don’t want you to be casualties.

“We cannot guarantee the safety of those printing New Age and ANN7.”

Malema said the Gupta’s would be dealt with the same way apartheid was.

The Guptas are said to have a close relationship with President Jacob Zuma and other highly placed ANC leaders.

ANN7 earlier promoted on their Twitter page that they would be carrying the EFF press briefing live on Thursday.

Shortly after Malema’s comments, the broadcast was stopped. – News24


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