April 17 – 23, 2017: Tens of thousands flee DRC fighting

drcWe start off this week’s edition in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where ongoing fighting between the army and a group called the Kamuina Nsapu militia has seen 11,000 people flee across the border into Angola.

The conflict is centred around the Kasai region — made up of five provinces — which borders Angola’s north-east corner.

Some 9,000 of those refugees arrived just in April, said the United Nations’ refugee agency last week.

The UN also revealed it had uncovered 17 new mass graves, including the bodies of dozens of children. This brings the total number of graves discovered to 40, with an estimated 400 dead, reports Al Jazeera.

In addition to the 11,000 refugees, over a million people have been displaced within the DRC by the fighting. An estimated 62,000 of those were reported just last week, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

President Joseph Kabila, meanwhile, distracted by his fight to extend his long-since-expired presidency, is providing little leadership on the issue.

“The Kasai region… is one of the DRC’s poorest, and usually far off the radar of politicians and diplomats in the distant capital, Kinshasa,” writes Hans Hoebeke in this Crisis Group piece. “This insurgency has its origins in local tensions in Kasai-Central province. However, it has quickly tapped into the long-running political and socio-economic frustration in the Kasai provinces, and is also tied to national politics. The national and provincial governments’ legitimacy in the region is particularly weak.”

That piece is slightly dated, but I highly recommend it for insights into what (and who) Kamuina Nsapu is. It’s a long backstory full of pricked pride, urban vs rural tensions, and an assassination, but well worth the read if you want to understand this issue beyond just “DRC Gone Mad: The Sequel”.

As so quickly happens in all conflicts, there are no innocents left. Kamuina Nsapu is recruiting child soldiers, while the armed forces are mowing them down.


zimbabweZimbabwe last week celebrated the 37th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom.

Depending on which article you read, President Robert Mugabe was either paranoid (“I wish to urge you to remain vigilant… the enemy is ever ready to pounce”), celebratory (“now we enjoy the fruits of our independence and we can now call ourselves the masters of our own destiny”), or bizarrely conciliatory, making what EWN called “a rare call for unity and tolerance of political differences”.

“He called for Zimbabweans to respect each other,” EWN continued, adding Mugabe “told tens of thousands gathered in Harare… that people have a right to belong to a party of their choice”.

How that call for unity is expressing itself, though, may not be to the 93-year-old’s liking.

As the ruling ZANU-PF party is riven by infighting, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai spent last week forging alliances with smaller parties — including that of Joice Mujuru, the once-upon-a-time heir to Mugabe’s throne who was ousted from Zanu-PF in 2014 after a concerted and vicious campaign by the president’s wife, Grace.

But in such a deal, who would be king?

“Any opposition bloc would first have to overcome fierce rivalries within their various camps, and then hold together in an intense and often violent political landscape dominated by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party,” surmised News24.

Anything less than unity would mean near-inevitable victory for Mugabe.”


swazilandSwaziland‘s King Mswati III caused a tizz last week when he spoke out against divorce.

For all we know, the monarch was simply playing to the crowd of gathered pastors at an Easter event when he said, according to the Times of Swaziland, “In our culture, once you marry someone, there is no turning back.”

But in a country where the king rules by decree, it was interpreted — and widely reported — as a “ban” on divorce.

“It is not necessarily a decree,” the Swaziland Solidarity Network’s Lucky Lukhele told eNCA. “However, given the vast powers that the king has it may sound as it is. Remember that he’s also a chairperson of the judiciary commission…”

The royal house has since denied those reports and said the king was just talking “about issues of national interest for families especially, and for the strengthening of Swazi culture”.

Whatever Mswati may have meant, marriage laws in Swaziland are a problem — particularly for women. Consider this explanation from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre on why they’re challenging the country’s Marriage Act:

“Under the common law marital power, a married woman cannot conclude contracts without her husband’s permission, she cannot represent herself in civil suits, and she cannot administer property. This restriction on the right to conclude contracts includes restrictions on the ability to access bank loans, mortgages, and financial credit generally. Common law marital power therefore relegates married women to the legal status of minors under the guardianship of their husbands.”

A new marriage bill has been drafted. But don’t hold your breath. Swaziland’s sexual offences bill has still not been enacted 8 years after it was developed, says Human Rights Watch. And another bill on women and girls’ protection — also not yet enacted — does not take into account marital rape.


zambiaFollowing up on last week’s lead, Zambian opposition politician Hakainde Hichilema remains behind bars on treason charges after his convoy failed to give way to that of President Edgar Lungu as both long-time rivals headed to an event a couple weeks back.

Hichilema appeared in court on Wednesday when his lawyers argued that the treason charge should be thrown out.

AFP quotes court documents saying that Hichilema “on unknown dates but between 10 October 2016 and 8 April 2017 and whilst acting together with other persons unknown did endeavour to overthrow by unlawful means the government of Edgar Lungu”.

The matter was postponed to later this week.

Until then, an increasingly autocratic Lungu — who narrowly beat Hichilema in last year’s presidential vote — has instructed his cabinet and members of tge ruling Patriotic Front party to shut it.

“President Lungu said that only Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba will handle issues that are of interest to diplomats accredited to Zambia,” reports ZNBC. “He says it is important to restrict the number of people commenting on the issue because it is a judicial case which should be left entirely to the judiciary.”


angolaAnd in Angola, seven activists were arrested last week for protesting for transparent elections, reports AFP.

The country is set to head to the polls later this year, an auspicious event if only because long-ruling President Eduardo dos Santos has said he will not run for the post he’s held since 1979.

Of course, until that actually happens, it remains the dissent-crushing Angola we’ve come to know and love. Which includes sentencing people to 45 days behind bars “for the offences of rebellion and association with criminals”.

Fun.

 

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