Category Archives: Humanitarian Issues

Angola crackdown fails to silence criticism

Democracy in Africa


Justin Pearce explores the growing number of voices criticising Angola’s regime, and the persecution that they have faced. Justin is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the centre for Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. 

Fifteen activists have now been in prison without charge in Angola for more than a month. Their detention represents the latest in a number of incidents that have demonstrated the MPLA government’s difficulties in dealing with opposition, and has emboldened others inside and outside Angola to start making their voices heard.

Thirteen young men were detained on 20 June after they met as a reading group to discuss books about non-violent activism. Police searched houses, seized phones and computers, and detained two more activists within 48 hours. All fifteen remain in custody at various locations in Luanda. They include two of the most iconic figures in Angolan youth politics: Luaty Beirão, the hip-hop artist whose call for Dos Santos to step down in 2011 sparked Angola’s first ever anti-government protests, and Manuel Nito Alves who in 2013, aged only 17, was held in solitary confinement for more than a month for possessing t-shirts with a slogan that described President José Eduardo dos Santos as a ‘disgusting dictator’. Amnesty International has condemned the detention of the fifteen as ‘yet another attempt by the Angolan authorities to intimidate anyone who has a differing view in the country,’ and called for the release of ‘the detained activists, who are prisoners of conscience.’ Lawyers for the group are seeking a habeus corpus writ to secure their clients’ release.

Three more human rights activists and a journalist were themselves held in custody for a whole day when they went to visit some of the detainees. In a separate incident, activist-journalist José Gama was questioned by criminal investigators whose questions included whether Gama was a friend of another activist-journalist, Rafael Marques. Meanwhile in the oil-producing exclave province of Cabinda, activist Marcos Mavungo has been in detention since March, and is said to be in urgent need of medical attention. In Benguela, four members of the civil rights group Omunga received death threats by text message. From the diamond-producing Lunda region, it emerged last week that Rafael Muambumba, a member of the obscure but harmless Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, had been held in prison for almost a month and beaten by police.

All this appears to be the result of anxiety by a regime that sees its grip on society threatened as a downturn in global oil prices weakens the lines of patronage created during the oil boom that followed the end of the Angolan civil war in 2002. But the arrest of the activists has had the unintended consequence of eliciting critical responses from a wider range of people than was the case before. The fifteen detainees were part of an activist network that, in the last four years, has remained synonymous with a small number of brave individuals, from differing social classes, but almost exclusively young and male. The reaction to the detentions has shown that dissent can continue even while the best-known activists sit in prison. A demonstration is planned for 29 July in Luanda. Angolans in the diaspora and their allies have been protesting outside foreign embassies. Paulo Flores, one of Angola’s best-known musicians, and the writers José Eduardo Agualusa and Ondjaki are among prominent cultural figures who have united behind the call to free the fifteen.

Inside Angola, anger at the detentions is the culmination of growing public concern over a sequence of events this year. In April, an unknown number of people were killed in a police raid on the encampment of a religious sect at Mount Sumi in Huambo province. Although the killings were not overtly political in motivation and some sect members were armed, video evidence has shown police attacking unarmed sect members. The incident speaks of discomfort in Angola around any kind of mobilisation – albeit religious – that does not have the explicit approval of the state. The government has refused calls for an independent inquiry into the incident.

In May, Rafael Marques received a suspended prison sentence for criminal libel, the consequence of his investigation into human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Lunda-Norte province. The case against Marques was brought by a group of generals close to the Angolan presidency, who own mining concessions and the security companies whose staff were implicated by Marques in the murder and torture of local residents in Lunda-Norte.

The killings at Mount Sumi became known thanks to the efforts of civil society activists in Huambo, and Marques’s trial captured the imagination of some unlikely sections of Angolan society: policemen guarding the court were among those battling to get their hands on copies of his book, which he was distributing. Social media, which was essential to the organisation of the early protests back in 2011, is seeing ever more material being posted by a wider range of users. The foundation of a new online magazine, Rede Angola (Network Angola), which features investigation and analysis by leading Angolan writers, has given some intellectual heft to critiques of the regime.

It is important to put all this in perspective. Just as the relatively small street protests that began in 2011 were impressive mostly for the fact that previously there had been no protests at all, so the novelty of this recent activity in the public sphere must not be seen as heralding immediate change. Recent repression may be a sign of fear inside the regime, but the absence of a popular opposition leader with a clear alternative vision for Angola means that Dos Santos’s position is still stronger than that of Robert Mugabe in 2008, for example. Opposition parties have been left trailing behind civil society in their responses to events: a reflection of the weakness of Angola’s formal political institutions. The volume of the dialogue, however, makes Angola look like a different place from what it was a decade ago.


Nigeria-Chad – 16 killed during Boko Haram attack on Lake Chad villages


At least 16 killed in Boko Haram raids on Lake Chad villages

N’DJAMENA At least 13 suspected Boko Haram militants and three civilians were killed in separate attacks over the weekend after the insurgents raided several remote localities around Lake Chad, Chadian security sources said on Monday.

The insurgents are also suspected of kidnapping some 30 people in Katikine village, near the lake.

The hostages were taken onboard four speedboats to an unknown destination, one of the security source said, asking not to be named.

Boko Haram, which calls itself the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) since pledging allegiance to the militant group that controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, is fighting to establish an emirate in northeast Nigeria.

The group has stepped up attacks in countries around the lake in recent months in response to a regional offensive by Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger to subdue the six-year-old insurgency.

“Medi was attacked by men on motorised boats,” the security source said. “The army returned fire and killed 13 assailants. Some soldiers were wounded.”

“The same day, three people in Blarigi village had their throats slit by suspected Boko Haram fighters,” he said, adding that some 2,000 inhabitants of Fitine island on the lake were forced to flee following attacks which razed the village.

South Sudan – in dependence gone wrong

Al Jazeera

South Sudan: independence movement gone wrong.

Can the international community help the newest African country move toward reconciliation?

Immediately after the independence of South Sudan, finger pointing started within the leadership, writes Maru [AP]
Immediately after the independence of South Sudan, finger pointing started within the leadership, writes Maru [AP]
Mehari Taddele MaruMehari Taddele Maru is a specialist in international human rights and humanitarian law, an international consultant on African Union affairs, and an expert in Public Administration and Management.

Four years after ending its armed struggle with Sudan and declaring its independence, South Sudan remains embroiled in internal crisis with no end in sight.

Despite the tremendous support, close scrutiny, and high hopes of the international community, the new nation is presently conflicting with that same community’s ideas on how to resolve and recover from the crisis.

South Sudan even recently went so far as to expel the highest ranking official of the UN in their country, Toby Lanzer. It also refused to heed the call by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately reverse its decision to expel the official.

In March of this year, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) decided to impose sanctions on officials hindering the mediation process in support of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – Plus mediation on South Sudan. 

The UNSC also recently imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on six leaders of the warring parties in South Sudan. In addition to these sanctions, there has also been an increasing call for an arms embargo on the warring parties.

The father of independence

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the father of independent South Sudan, failed to mature into the democratic government and professional army needed to lead the country.

SPLM/A was confronted with two cardinal failings that were more challenging than fighting South Sudan’s “external” enemies – Khartoum and attaining independence.

South Sudan: Political or personal?

There is an absence of a commonly shared vision within the SPLM/A about the future of South Sudan; there is also the unfortunate use of politics and public power as a racket for private wealth accumulation.

Immediately after the independence of South Sudan, finger pointing started within the leadership, which resulted in a major rift. In the aftermath of this rift, two major warring groups emerged: a government led by President Salva Kirr and a rebel group led by former Vice President Riek Machar.

Since the Juba violence on December, 15 2013, despite tireless efforts by the IGAD-led mediation, the crisis in South Sudan has continued unabated for more than a year and half.

While several rounds of mediation have led to the signing of an agreement to cease hostilities, the fighting continues between President Kirr’s forces and those aligned with Machar. Currently, the violence appears to persist along ethnic lines and has fuelled a vicious cycle of reprisal attacks against civilians.

Consolidating power

The governmental money and privately accumulated wealth generated by this war and the resulting conflicts has been used to exacerbate the tenuous political situation in South Sudan and has been used in a desperate attempt to consolidate power. While this greed-driven power-grab was underway, mediation to reunite the SPLM party began and later culminated in the signing of the Arusha agreement – which never managed to take off.

By bestowing a common voice, spoilers within and without South Sudan should be effectively tamed by a unified, credible, and clear message from the international community.

Despite high hopes for the agreement’s success, bridging the divide between the SPLM factions proved impossible. Historically, many African left-leaning liberation movements have ruptured beyond repair and it seems inevitable that SPLM will follow suit.

That being said, under the IGAD-led mediation, the two warring parties have come to agreement on many issues. However, the major sticking points of power sharing, oil-revenue allocation, and the question of federalism and re-integration of the parties’ armies remain unresolved. Without compromise on these vital points, an agreement will never be signed. 

But why is it so difficult for the two leaders to agree on these issues specifically? The answer lies in the very nature of the leadership of warring parties and their fellowship.

The two groups are locked in a binary equation of choosing to either rule the country or make war, and both are tending towards war.

Despite mounting pressure from interests in both the West and the East, Kirr and Machar have refused to abandon their presidential ambitions. Both leaders seem to be trapped within ethnic boundaries, and are beholden to the interests of their political bases – which are populated by divided and proud ethnic communities. 

Political suicide

For the rebel leader Machar, any concession to President Kirr or his supporters would be politically suicidal. His Nuer supporting community would simply refuse anything less than the total abdication of Kirr’s powers as president and the dissolution of his supporters’ claims to governmental positions. 

Similarly, President Kirr’s newly appointed ministers would not allow any power sharing that could eventually displace them by bringing the dismissed ministers and former leaders of the SPLM/A back into power. So, he too is a prisoner of a self-serving cabinet of his own making.

Simply put, both Machar and Kirr are more puppets than leaders.

Indicative of the need for more international weight to force the warring parties and other external influencers to stop the war in South Sudan and establish a government of national unity, the IGAD-led mediation for South Sudan has now been transformed into the IGAD-Plus mediation.

RELATED: South Sudan is becoming a failed state

This transformation includes the five heavy weight members of African Union Peace and Security Council (Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, Chad, and Rwanda), the UN, the EU, the Troika (US, UK, and Norway), and China. Although technically “new to the scene”, all of these actors have been following the devolving situation in South Sudan closely. 

The question is, will this added “Plus” bring something of new value to the negotiating table? 

While it remains to be seen in practise, the new impetus from the “Plus” should be to unify the parallel mediation processes – such as the Arusha process – and to quell the detractors. By bestowing a common voice, spoilers within and without South Sudan should be effectively tamed by a unified, credible, and clear message from the international community. 

Mehari Taddele Maru is a specialist in international human rights and humanitarian law, an international consultant on African Union affairs, and an expert in public administration and management.

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

Somalia – bombers hit Mogadishu hotel


Mogadishu blast

At least 10 people have been killed in a huge bomb explosion at a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

A BBC correspondent in the city reports that a lorry was used to attack the Jazeera hotel near the city’s airport.

Ambulances have begun collecting the dead and wounded in what he describes as one of the worst scenes of destruction he has seen in Mogadishu.

Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack on the hotel.

It said it was responding to assaults on the group by an African Union force and the Somali government.

International diplomats often stay at the hotel, which has been targeted in the past. It accommodates several embassies including those of China, Qatar and Egypt.

“A suicide car bomb exploded at the gate of Jazeera Hotel,” Major Nur Osoble, a police officer, told Reuters news agency.

A government security officer was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that hotel security guards were among the dead.

Kenya-US: Obama and Kenyatta differ over gay rights



US President Barack Obama and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta where they held a joint press conference Saturday at State House in Nairobi

The delicate issue of gay and lesbian rights popped up Saturday during a press briefing at State House as US President Barack Obama differed sharply with his host, President Uhuru Kenyatta, over the handling of those involved.
Responding to a question from journalists after holding bilateral talks in the afternoon, Obama pleaded the case of those “with a different sexual orientation”, asking the Kenyatta administration not to discriminate against such individuals.
But Kenyatta flatly rejected the idea of promoting gay and lesbian rights.
“We need to speak frankly about some of these issues. Kenyans and Americans share ideals such as democracy, entrepreneurship and family values but some things are not part of our religion or culture – and we cannot impose something on people that they don’t like,” said Kenyatta.

But stating that he believes in the principle of treating people equally under the law, Obama warned against the notion of discriminating people based on their sexual orientation.
“And I say this with the understanding that Kenyans have different cultural and religious beliefs. But if you look at the history of nations around the world, when you start treating people differently – not because of any harm they are doing, but because they are different – that is the path whereby freedoms begin to go wrong, and bad things happen,” warned the US leader. As an African-American in the US, Obama said he was painfully aware of the history of when a people start getting treated differently.
See Also: Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta receive a unique welcome from Julie Gichuru

“If somebody is obeying all the laws and is doing everything that a good citizen should do, but he or she is being treated differently because of whom they love, it is wrong” protested Obama. But Kenyatta maintained that the concern for the gays and lesbians was a non-issue for Kenyans at the moment. His government, he said, was more concerned with healthcare and education issues plus inclusivity of women in leadership positions, among other priorities.

Nineteen killed in Boko Haram attack on Cameroon


Security forces use blanket to transport victims of Wednesday’s attacks in Maroua 22/07/2015

Wednesday’s attacks in Maroua were said to have been carried out by two young girls.

A suicide attack in the northern Cameroon town of Maroua is reported to have left at least 19 people dead, including the bomber.
Many others are thought to have been injured in the blast near a popular bar late on Saturday.

It comes three days after a double suicide blast in Maroua that killed at least 13 people.

Officials suspect that the militant Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram is behind the attacks.

Military sources said the latest attack took place in the Pont Vert district of Maroua.

The Cameroonian army uses the town of Maroua as the headquarters for its operations against the group, as part of a multinational force battling the militants in neighbouring parts of Nigeria.

Obama in Kenya – Ruto and human rights

Daily Nation
US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2015. PHOTO | SAUL LOEB | AFP
In Summary

Prior to Kenyan 2013 General Election, US warned it would not have contact with those charged at the Hague.

American leader says despite ICC cases against DP Ruto, trip will give him chance to push human rights agenda.


President Barack Obama was on Thursday at pains to explain why he is visiting Kenya when Deputy President William Ruto is still facing crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In an interview with BBC’s North America Editor Jon Sopel before he left Washington for Nairobi, President Obama, however, said the situation gives him the opportunity to push the human rights agenda in the country.
“You’re going to Kenya, where the International Criminal Court is still investigating certain members of the government, which seems kind of hardly ideal institutions,” Mr Sopel said but without referring to Mr Ruto by name.
In his response, President Obama said: “Well, they’re not ideal institutions. But what we found is when we combine blunt talk with engagement, it gives us the best opportunity to influence and open up space for civil society and the human rights agenda that we think is so important.”
Mr Obama also defended the tour, in spite of the threat of terror attacks linked to Al-Shabaab, saying his visit would strengthen the war against terrorism in the region.
Citing the attacks on the Garissa University College in April and the Westgate Mall in September 2013, Mr Sopel wondered why Mr Obama still chose to visit Kenya when the Secret Service could have suggested other destinations.
“I think it is important first of all that the president of the United States underscores our commitment to partnering with countries around the world, even though we’re not intimidated by terrorist organisations. Second, the counter-terrorism co-operation between the United States and Kenya, Uganda and other countries in East Africa is very strong,” noted Mr Obama.
President Obama, prior to Kenya’s 2013 General Election, had said he would not have contact with anyone accused at the ICC, the same stand taken by other western powers.
He said the visit would also give him the opportunity to talk to the African Union leaders.
President Obama was adamant he would address the subject of gay, lesbian and transgender rights during his visit, despite opposition from Mr Ruto, who maintains the government would not allow gay relations in the country.
“I disagree with him on that, don’t I? And I’ve had this experience before when we visited Senegal in my last trip to Africa. I think President Sall is doing a wonderful job in moving the country forward — a strong democrat,” said President Obama.
“But in a press conference, I was very blunt about my belief everybody deserves fair treatment, equal treatment in the eyes of the law and the state. And that includes gays, lesbians, trans-gender persons. I am not a fan of discrimination and bullying of anybody on the basis of race, on the basis of religion, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender,” he added.
“And I think that this is actually part and parcel of the agenda and that is how we are treating women and girls.”
President Obama expressed his disagreement with Mr Ruto’s stand on gay rights. “We have heard that in the US they have allowed homosexuality and other dirty things…,” Sopel read Mr Ruto’s statement.
President Obama quickly interjected as Sopel was finishing the sentence saying: “Well, I disagree with him.”
The US leader arrived in Kenya on Friday night and will address the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Gigiri in Nairobi on Saturday.


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