Africa Theater

Uganda: displaced villagers protest land-grab

A BBC News account today notes an action by a group of elderly women in a village in northern Uganda that made local headlines in April. When officials backed up by soldiers and police were sent to Apaa village to begin a land demarcation project, the women stripped naked in front of them while chating "Lobowa, lobowa!"—"our land" in the Luo language. Women appearing naked is a traditional form of shaming and dishonoring. The conflict affects several villages in Uganda's northern Amuru district, where residents were forcibly relocated to government camps (ostensibly for their protection) during the 18-year war with the Lord's Resistance Army. Now that they are returning, they find that Uganda's Wildlife Authority seeks to demarcate 827 square kilometers of their traditional lands as a game reserve to be leased to a private investor—said to be a South African businessman. At Apaa village alone, some 21,000 residents who cannot prove official title to their lands stand to be evicted.

UN calls for investigation of CAR peacekeepers

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, on May 30 called on several states to investigate allegations that members of their peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) have committed serious human rights violations. It is reported that soldiers have engaged in the killing of civilians, summary executions, abductions and sexual exploitation of local women and children. Zeid summarized the troubling contradiction by saying, "[t]he role of international forces in halting the worst of the fighting and sectarian slaughter in CAR has been invaluable, and their presence has unquestionably saved many, many lives. Yet, in some cases the longed-for protectors turned into predators." The High Commissioner's statement revealed that many states' forces are under suspicion of engaging in the "disturbing" behavior and some have disciplined the soldiers involved. In addition to requesting further investigation, the High Commissioner also announced he is sending a team to look into possible further measures to address human rights violations in the CAR.

Burundi arrests military officers in coup attempt

Burundi authorities arrested several military generals May 15 after an unsuccessful coup attempt and said the suspects will face a military court for mutiny charges. Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare [who fought alongside Hutu rebels in the 1993-2005 civil war] announced the coup on May 13. President Pierre Nkurunziza was in Tanzania at the time the coup was announced but is believed to be back in his country. In Bujumbura, troops supporting the president and those supporting Niyombare fought on the streets for two days after the declared coup. Following the announcement, the airport in Bujumbura and the land borders were closed, but the streets reportedly calmed by May 15.

Sudan: mass rape by army in Darfur

Sudanese army forces raped more than 200 women and girls in an organized attack on the north Darfur town of Tabit in October, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Feb. 11. The report, "Mass Rape in Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks Against Civilians in Tabit," documents army attacks in which at least 221 women and girls were raped in Tabit over 36 hours beginning on Oct. 30. "The deliberate attack on Tabit and the mass rape of the town's women and girls is a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The Sudanese government should stop the denials and immediately give peacekeepers and international investigators access to Tabit."

Sahara drug trade funds Boko Haram insurgency

The brutal Boko Haram rebels are gaining ground at a frightening pace in northwest Nigeria, even mounting a bloody attack this week on the region's major city, Maiduguri. Reports are mounting that the extremist movement is funding its insurgency by exploiting Nigeria's strategic place as a crossroads of the global narco-traffick. BBC News on Jan. 25 asked "How have Nigeria's militants become so strong?" It cited the findings of the International Crisis Group that Boko Haram "has forged ties with arms smugglers in the lawless parts of the vast Sahel region." Plenty of its arms (including tanks and armored vehicles) have been plundered from the Nigerian army itself. But plenty more are thought to have come from Libya, where arms depots were looted when Moammar Qaddafi's regime was overthrown in 2011. Trafficking networks have been moving that plundered war material across the Sahel and Sahara, integrating the traffick into routes already established for moving drugs and other contraband between West Africa, Europe and Asia.

Ex-LRA commander appears before ICC

Former Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen on Jan. 26 made his first appearance  before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The pre-trial hearing was brief as Ongwen simply had to confirm his identity and that he clearly understood the charges against him. During his hearing, Ongwen thanked God and referred to himself as a former soldier saying that he "was abducted in 1988 and...taken to the bush when [he] was 14 years old." He spoke in Acholi, his native language. Ongwen faces three counts of crimes against humanity: murder, enslavement, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering; and four counts of war crimes: murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, and pillaging. A pre-trial confirmation of charges hearing has been scheduled for August. This hearing will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Ongwen committed each of the crimes with which he is charged. The ICC took legal custody of Ongwen in Central African Republic's capital Bangui earlier this month.

Chad to fight Boko Haram in Cameroon

An advance unit of hundreds of Chadian troops, backed up by a column of tanks, arrived at Cameroon's northern border town of Kousseri Jan. 17, greeted with cheers by local residents terrorized by Boko Haram. The intervention force, approved by Chad's parliament, is to number in the thousands. Days earlier, most of the residents of nearby Kolofata were forced to flee after an attack by Boko Haram. Cameroon troops killed 143 insurgents in a gun battle that lasted more than four hours, the army said. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau this month threatened Cameroon's President Paul Biya in an online video. Biya sent some 1,000 troops to the border to fight Boko Haram after the wife of deputy premier Amadou Ali was captured in July by suspected militants. A French-led initiative calls for Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad to contribute 700 troops each to a multinational force against Boko Haram. (Press TV, Jan. 18; AFP, Jan. 17; BBC News, Bloomberg, Jan. 16)

China sends combat troops to South Sudan

An advance unit of a 700-strong Chinese infantry battalion arrived in South Sudan last week, marking the first People's Liberation Army infantry force  to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Commander Wang Zhen said the battalion will be equipped with drones, armored vehicles, anti-tank missiles and mortars, among other weapons "completely for self-defense purpose." The force is to be fully deployed by April. Speaking during talks across the border in Sudan's capital Khartoum, Beijing's Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured: "China's mediation of South Sudan issues is completely the responsibility and duty of a responsible power, and not because of China's own interests."

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