Category Archives: Central Africa

Malawi – electoral reform long overdue

The Conversation

Malawi faces the biggest overhaul in its electoral system since the 1990s. Shutterstock

Malawi is set for a major overhaul of its winner-takes-all electoral system with far-reaching implications for the country, if ongoing efforts to reform the system bear fruit.

Any changes in the voting system will represent the biggest overhaul of the country’s electoral system since it became a multiparty state in the mid 1990s. This followed the end of one-party dictatorship under Kamuzu Banda, the country’s first post-colonial leader and “president for life”.

A special Malawi Law Commission was given the task of reforming the country’s electoral laws. Following a year of investigation, it recently held a two-day multi-stakeholder conference to discuss the planned reforms. Its main proposal is that the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of electing the president should be abolished.

I believe that the proposed new system would help reduce the toxic politics of regionalism in Malawi. It would also enhance national stability, which is the bedrock of any successful nation. But it isn’t without challenges, and would need the serious allocation of state resources to bring it about.

Proposed changes

The proposed new system – absolute majority – to replace the FPTP will require the winning candidate for president to get at least 51+ percent threshold of the national vote.

Political scientist at Catholic University, Nandini Patel, a participant at the conference, has explained the proposal thus:

In a situation where no presidential candidate secures the threshold, the recommendation is that there should be a runoff or double ballot where the top two candidates contest in the second round and the one who secures more votes is declared winner.

On the face of it, the proposal is straightforward and makes logical sense. Yet, this is complex than it appears and if adopted it would revolutionise the way local politics is done.

The FPTP has been been in place since 1994, when Malawi embraced multiparty politics after doing away with Kamuzu Banda’s 30 years of dictatorship. Since then, a presidential candidate from a high-populated region is more or less assured of electoral victory because the FPTP system.

In the case of Malawi, the country’s Southern Region has always had a higher population than the Central and Northern administrative regions. Thus, all the country’s presidents since the dawn of democracy have come from that region; Bakili Muluzi (1994 – 2004), Bingu wa Mutharika (2004 – 2012), Joyce Banda (2012 – 2014) and the incumbent, Peter Mutharika, Bingu’s young brother, from 2014.

This may yet be a coincidence given that there is no study to back the hypothesis. But, the fact that the sitting President, Peter Mutharika, won the election with only 35% of the national threshold strengthens the hypothesis.

All things being equal, it should not matter where the state president comes from. Yet, as I have previously argued: the trend in Malawi is for the incumbent president to concentrate government development efforts in their own regions and districts of origins.

This makes those from other parts of the country feel aggrieved and short-changed. It’s for this reason that some members of the political elite in the country lodged serious calls for federal system of government, barely two months after Mutharika’s electoral victory in 2014.

Of course the late President, Bingu wa Mutharika initially came into office in 2004 with only 36% of the national threshold but managed to get a 63%of the national threshold in 2009 to win his second term.

He got votes in all regions other than only the Southern Region where he comes from.

The proposals to end the advantage the FPTP gives to candidates from highly populated districts are already facing resistance from some in the governing party. Heatherwick Ntaba, President Mutharika’s special advisor has argued ca the proposed new system of electing the president is “unrealistic and wasteful.”.

there is no way we can attain legitimacy of people are talking about. Let us talk about the costs. In reality we are already struggling to conduct by-elections [in areas where MPs and local government councillors have died].

Challenges

The proposed absolute majority system will certainly have its own problems. But, Ntaba’s fears are self-serving as the current system benefits his political party. Given the country’s regionalism voting pattern, the new 51+ winning threshold would require presidential candidates to reach out to regions beyond their own regions in order to win the presidency. No single region can produce enough votes for 51+ winning threshold.

Presidential candidates will thus be forced to consider forming alliances with candidates from other regions. This would have a good unintended consequence as politicians would be forced to extend government developmental programmes beyond their owns regions.

This would also introduce Malawi to the dynamics of alliance politics, with all its unpredictability and possible infighting within the governing alliance, given that it leaves a room for alliances of convenience, that are not necessarily in the interest of the country.

Yet, the bigger picture is that the new policy would reduce grievances and the feelings of unfairness. In the past, these fuelled calls for the country to adopt a federal system of government.

DR Congo – 40 policemen beheaded by local militia in Kasai conflict

BBC

UN vehicle in Tshimbulu, Kasai province, 20 March 2017Reuters  The UN mission in Kasai has reported 400 people killed since last August

Militia fighters in DR Congo have decapitated about 40 police officers in an ambush in the central province of Kasai, local officials say.

Fighters from the Kamwina Nsapu group attacked a police convoy.

Six policemen who spoke the local Tshiluba were freed, but the rest were killed, Kasai Assembly President Francois Kalamba said.

The unrest in Kasai began last August, when security forces killed the Kamwina Nsapu leader.

Friday’s attack targeted a police convoy travelling between Tshikapa and Kananga.

The state Governor Alexis Nkande Myopompa said an investigation had been launched into the killings.

The UN says 400 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced in the Kasai region since Jean-Pierre Pandi, the Kamwina Nsapu leader, was killed.

This came two months after Kamwina Nsapu launched a bid, in June 2016, for him to be officially recognised as a local chief and for state bodies to withdraw from the region.

Why have 10 mass graves been found in Kasai?

map

The UN says it has identified 10 mass graves where those killed in the unrest have been buried, as well as another seven suspected mass burial sites.

Two UN experts, an American and a Swede, were kidnapped in the area two weeks ago with four Congolese colleagues and are still missing.

DR Congo is in a state of increasing political uncertainty as President Joseph Kabila remains in power beyond the end of his mandate ,which expired last December.

Elections are now due to be held before the end of this year, but no firm date has been set.

UNHCR criticises Cameroon for forced return of Nigeria refugees

BBC

An aerial picture taken on February 14, 2017 at Monguno district of Borno State shows a camp for internally displaced people.AFP  Many returnees are ending up in camps in Borno state

The UN refugee agency has criticised Cameroon for the forced return of hundreds of refugees to north-east Nigeria after they had fled from the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency.

The UNHCR said forced returns had “continued unabated” despite an agreement earlier this month.

Under the deal, any returns would be voluntary and only “when conditions were conducive”.

Cameroon has rejected the accusation and said people returned willingly.

According to the UNHCR, more than 2,600 refugees have been forcibly returned to Nigeria from Cameroon this year.

Many are unable to go back to their villages in Borno state for security reasons and have ended up in camps for displaced people.

In some cases, the UNHCR said, people had been returned “without allowing them time to collect their belongings”.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch spoke of “chaos” in the returns process and said “some women were forced to leave their young children behind in Cameroon, including a child less than three years old”.

Many of the returnees are now settled in the Banki camp for internally displaced people.

UNHCR staff also recorded about 17 people who claimed to be Cameroonian nationals, who it said had been deported by mistake to Banki.

Cameroon's army forces patrol near the village of Mabass, northern CameroonImage copyright AFP
Image caption Cameroon says Boko Haram militants have infiltrated, disguised as refugees

It is common in the region to find people who have no documentary proof of their nationality.

Cameroonian Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme: “I strongly deny this accusation” of forced returns.

He said the Cameroonian army had been working “hand-in-hand” with the Nigerian army against Boko Haram and any civilians who had returned to Nigeria had done so of their own accord.

“This repatriation has taken place willingly,” he said.

The Cameroonian authorities have previously said Boko Haram militants have been entering the country disguised as refugees.

Militants have carried out a number of attacks in northern Cameroon in recent years, often using suicide bombers.

The UNHCR said forced return constitutes a serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention, both of which Cameroon has ratified.

It called on Cameroon to honour its obligations under the conventions and continue keeping its borders open so as to allow access to territory and asylum procedures for people fleeing the Islamist insurgency.

UN warns that South Sudan is fastest growing refugee crisis

UN News Service

Refugees from South Sudan arrive in Elegu, northern Uganda Photo: UNHCR/Will Swanson

The number of South Sudanese fleeing their homes is “alarming,” the United Nations refugee agency today said, announcing that 1.6 million people have either been displaced or fled to neighbouring countries in the past eight months ago.

“A famine produced by the vicious combination of fighting and drought is now driving the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis,” the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Babar Baloch, told journalists at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

He added that “the rate of new displacement is alarming, representing an impossible burden on a region that is significantly poorer and which is fast running short of resources to cope.”

Refugees from South Sudan are crossing the borders to the neighbouring countries. The majority of them go to Uganda where new arrivals spiked from 2,000 per day to 6,000 per day in February, and currently average more than 2,800 people per day.

“The situation is now critical,” said Mr. Baloch, warning that recent rains are making the humanitarian situation more difficult.

VIDEO: UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch warns that South Sudan is facing world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

The UN agency is reiterating its calls for financial support. Aid for South Sudanese refugees is only eight per cent funded at $781.8 million, and UNHCR’s funding appeal for Uganda urgently needs $267 million.

The situation in Uganda is a “first and major test” of the commitments made at the Summit for Refugees and Migrants last September, the spokesperson said.

One of the main achievements of the Summit was to create a refugee response framework that integrates humanitarian and development efforts. This translates into giving refugees land and allowing them to access job markets, for example.

The situation of refugees in Uganda could impact how the UN and humanitarian partners are working to support national authorities in the other neighbouring countries – the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

“No neighbouring country is immune,” said Mr. Baloch.

‘Security situation continues to deteriorate’

Also today, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (UNMISS), David Shearer, warned that the security situation in the country is worsening, and national authorities are not taking action.

“The situation in South Sudan continues to deteriorate and generate profound human suffering for the population of that country – suffering in which local and ethnic divisions have been exploited for political ends,” David Shearer told a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council on South Sudan.

He added that the recent escalation of fighting in Equatoria– considered the food basket of South Sudan – has led to a significant displacement of civilians and disrupted food production for the country.

Intense fighting is also reported in the Upper Nile. Satellite imagery shows much of one town, Wau Shilluk, destroyed and deserted.

The senior UN official reiterated concerns about the humanitarian situation in the country, calling the ongoing crisis “entirely man-made.” An estimated 100,000 people are facing starvation and an additional one million are classified as being on the brink of famine.

Mr. Shearer, who is also the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, urged access for humanitarian organisations and the UN mission.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN aid chief urges global action as starvation, famine loom for 20 million across four countries

South Sudan – UN reports slams arms purchases during famine

allAfrica/DW

A proposal for an arms embargo was supported by the United States in December, but the plan was rejected by the UN Security Council. Could the international body be ready to change it position as suffering continues?

A confidential UN report slams the government of South Sudan for spending more than half its budget on weapons and security as 100,000 people are dying of starvation

The human misery is the result of famine caused primarily by ever-increasing government attacks in the area.

Experts say another 1.1 million are near starvation. In addition, the number of people desperately needing food is expected to hit 5.5 million in the “lean season in July … if nothing is done to curb the severity and breadth of the food crisis.”

The report also calls for an arms embargo on South Sudan – a measure supported by the United States but rejected by the UN Security Council during a vote in December.

“Weapons continue to flow into South Sudan from diverse sources, often with the coordination of neighboring countries,” said the report by a panel of experts.

The experts found a “preponderance of evidence (that) shows continued procurement of weapons by the leadership in Juba” for the army, the security services, militias and other “associated forces.”

A petrostate

Rich in oil, South Sudan generates 97 percent of its budget revenue from petroleum sales. From late March to late October 2016, oil revenues totaled about $243 million, according to calculations from the panel.

At least half – “and likely substantially more” – of its budget expenditures are devoted to security issues including arms purchases, the 48-page report said.

President Salva Kiir’s government has continued to make arms deals even as a famine was declared in parts of Unity state, where the famine is most acute.

 South Sudan arms purchases

“The bulk of evidence suggests that the famine in Unity state has resulted from protracted conflict and, in particular, the cumulative toll of repeated military operations undertaken by the government in southern Unity beginning in 2014,” according to the report.

The government is compounding the food crisis by blocking access for humanitarian aid workers. Significant population displacement has helped exacerbate the famine.

Fighting began intensifying last July, devastating food production in areas that have traditionally been stable for farmers, including the Equatorial region, which is considered the country’s breadbasket.

After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan descended into war in December 2013, leaving tens of thousands dead and some 3.5 million people displaced.

bik/sms (AP, AFP)

Cameroon-Nigeria: 5,000 civilians rescued from Boko Haram

Punch

Cameroon said its troops had rescued 5,000 civilian “hostages” held by Boko Haram Islamists in a cross-border operation that left scores of jihadists dead.
Cameroonian troops carried out “a vast operation all along the Cameroon-Nigeria border and in Nigeria” from February 27 to March 7, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a statement seen by AFP Wednesday.
The operation, dubbed Thunder 2, “led to the liberation of more than 5,000 people taken hostage by the terrorists”, he said, referring to Boko Haram.
“The freed hostages — most of them women, children and elderly people — were taken to a camp for displaced people in Banki, Nigeria,” he added.
“More than 60 terrorists” were killed, he said, adding that “21 suspects were arrested”.
Boko Haram, which wants to establish a caliphate in northern Nigeria, has been waging an insurgency since 2009.
Though it was born in Nigeria, the Islamic State-affiliated group has also carried out frequent attacks on “soft” targets in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, prompting them to form a regional force to fight back.
Some 200,000 Cameroonians from the Far North region near Nigeria have fled their villages in fear of the violence carried out by Boko Haram militants.
The UN Security Council earlier this month vowed to turn the spotlight on a “neglected crisis” affecting 21 million people in the Lake Chad region that straddles Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
AFP

South Sudan – creation of new rebel movement as groups splinter

Daily Natio

Monday March 13 2017
The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir. FILE

The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir. FILE PHOTO | CHARLES ATIKI LOMODONG | AFP 

By AGGREY MUTAMBO

The emergence of splinter groups among South Sudan’s warring parties is threatening to derail further efforts to bring the war-torn country to peace, an organ formed to monitor the peace deal say.

At a meeting to brief stakeholders on the respect for ceasefire, Ethiopian military officer Maj-Gen Molla Hailemariam told the audience that both sides have violated the peace deal, something which could worsen if new rebel groups continue to emerge.

“The presence and emergence of different armed groups in other areas still remains a challenge for Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) in conducting its activities.

“CTSAMM is observing deliberate, well planned attacks being committed by both Parties in many areas of the country. These violations indicate a gross disregard for the Permanent Ceasefire and they must stop,” he said in Juba last week.

CTSAMM is an organ made up of representatives from warring parties that signed the peace agreement in 2015.

It also includes representatives of political parties, former detainees, women’s guild, civil society organisations, clerics, the African Union, donors and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).

OUST PRESIDENT KIIR

Currently chaired by Maj-Gen Hailemarriam, it is supposed to ensure that the parties stick by the ceasefire contained in Chapter II of the peace agreement, thought to be necessary for the country to move from its war years.

But as the CTSAMM board met to deliberate and update for the African Union’s Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission on the security situation, another former government official declared he had formed a new rebel group aimed at ousting President Salva Kiir.

Thomas Cirillo Swaka, until last month the Deputy Chief of General Staff for Logistics in the national army, SPLA, said he was now leading the National Salvation Front (Nas) motivated by the desire for a “citizen-imposed change.”

The new group was declared even as the National Constitutional Amendment Committee led by Kenyan lawyer Gichira Kibara announced it would table its draft changes to the government in Juba, next week.

But the draft changes, most of which are centred on altering the peace agreement into a permanent supreme law now face a challenge of who, among the parties, should be consulted before they are endorsed.

MAKE IT DIFFICULT

Maj-Gen Hailemarriam warned the splintering and disrespect for the agreement could make it difficult to implement all the clauses.

“These actions (of violence) have a detrimental effect on the peace and security of the country and despite our continuous reporting on this issue we are yet to see any change in relation to the commitment to the ceasefire,” he said during a meeting with members of his team.

Meanwhile, South Sudan rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar are threatening to derail plans to implement major cross-border infrastructure projects in the region if they are not consulted.

They want to be party to negotiations by claiming the planned transport infrastructure will pass through areas they control.

“The Eastern (and) Central Corridor Project will not work unless the SPLM-IO under the leadership of former vice president Dr Machar (are) involved for its smooth running,” warned Dickson Gatluak, Spokesman for rebels often known as Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO).

“To guarantee a smooth implementation, there is a need to involve in the SPLM-IO. Otherwise it’s a wishful thinking and all agreements would remain unworkable on papers (sic),” the official said in a statement.

Gatluak has since been replaced as spokesman with Gabriel Duop Lam who resigned last month from the Transitional government under Salva Kiir. In his resignation letter, Lam who was the Minister for Labour accused Mr Kiir of corruption and brutality, before he shifted allegiance to Dr Machar.

SEEK ATTENTION

The threat to block infrastructure project appear to be a new modus operandi to seek attention, especially since Dr Machar was replaced by Taban Deng Gai and quickly accepted by the international community.

The projects, part of the larger East African Community and the Southern African Development Cooperation (Comesa ) arrangement is a tripartite plan mooted six years ago to address the transportation challenges in the region, blamed for low trade between these countries.

The countries directly involved initially were Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda but the Corridor was designed to link up the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Though certain changes have taken place since it was mooted, it was initially designed to cost at least $1.8 billion and could see five new ports, railway lines and at least eight cross-border highways built.

In South Sudan, an ambitious plan was laid to have a crude-oil pipeline, a refinery, an oil storage facility, a fiber optics cable and power supply line established between Pagak in eastern South Sudan, Gambella in western Ethiopia, Addis Ababa and the Djibouti city.

The idea is to help develop the areas as well as connect the three countries. But now the rebels say that won’t happen unless they take part in discussions.

Mr Gatluak claimed that the people in the South Sudan side are not yet recovered from the violence and would automatically be hostile to such projects unless a “healing” initiative is launched.

Officially, President Kiir’s government denies that rebels control any significant territory and could therefore have no impact in the negotiations.

South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei last week accused the rebels of desperate attempts to discredit the government in Juba.

“What do you expect the rebels to say about the government they oppose? They will say bad things so this is a normal thing and it is expected.

“If any individual has decided to live a rebellious life, they are free to go. It is not going to affect the strength of the government in any way,” he told the Nation in an interview.