DR Congo – Worrying Signs

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With crucial elections at the end of the year there are concerns of an increase in politically motivated violence.

As the sporadic and fragmented violence continues in the country, United States (US) officials have stated that the situation will only deteriorate if President Joseph Kabila does not step down later this year, during elections scheduled for November.

According to ambassador Thomas Perriello speaking on February 10th, “If the DR Congo chooses the path taken by Burundi, the scale of human suffering could dwarf what we have seen next door,” reported the East African.

There are concerns as Joseph Kabila has already served his two constitutionally granted presidential terms and has made no indication as to whether he will step down; it was a similar situation regarding presidential term limits that sparked violence in neighouring Burundi.

There have been fears of a return to the 1998-2003 ‘African World War‘ which saw nine countries engaged in conflict, particularly considering violence ongoing in neighbouring Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.

In DR Congo there are plans for protests on February 16th by coalition group Citizen Front 2016 in an attempt to pile pressure on Kabila. There had been earlier attempts to hold pro-democracy rallies, but they were stalled due to the withdrawal of a key supporter, the Catholic Church.

Previous protests have been often brutally repressed and the opposition leader Charles Mwando Simba has urged workers to keep away from work and parents to avoid taking children to school on the day of the protest, reported the Daily Nation.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently commented that President Kabila seems set on clinging to power and has pursued a violent crackdown on those calling for credible and fair elections in November.

The US is also considering targeted sanctions, particularly assets freezes, in an attempt to deter Kabila from further repression, and to encourage him to step down from his post in accordance with constitutional law.

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Joseph Kabila – CC

According to another HRW report, a number of key countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have narrowed the sphere for criticism of the government, particularly DR Congo, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland and Angola.

The 659 page World Report 2016 detailed widespread pressure on rights activists, journalists and opposition members in many African countries. It documented how in January 2015 the DR Congo security forces brutally repressed demonstrations in the capital Kinshasa leaving 38 dead.

Security forces also targeted friends and acquaintances of injured opposition members as they visited them in hospitals. Activists have been detained for months without charge, including many members of a youth organisation.

In addition to concerns over politically-motivated violence and reprisals, DR Congo is also currently dealing with multiple rebel insurgencies.  In eastern DR Congo the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a mainly Rwandan Hutu rebel group, has been committing widespread atrocities.

Self-proclaimed community militia (‘Mayi Mayi’) have also proliferated as a response to rural insecurity. These are mainly sporadic and community organised militias, but have also formed more organised groups.

Some of the worst recent violence has taken place in Lubero, North Kivu, where locals have been caught between a Mayi Mayi rebel group, who are ethnically Nande, and the FDLR, who are predominately Hutu. The violence has been linked to attempts by a local Nande tribal leader to stop the return of Congolese Hutus, who he claims are trying to “conquer” Nande.

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The Allied Defence Forces (ADF), a largely Islamist Ugandan group, continue to be active in the Beni area of North Kivu province, particularly in the Rwenzori mountain areas. In Beni the ADF has coordinated attacks on both the army and the United Nations (UN) mission (MONUSCO) leading to the deaths of over 500 civilians since 2014.

In Ituri province, the Patriotic Resistance Front in Ituri (FRPI) rebel group also continues to commit serious human rights abuses. In Nyunzu in former Katanga province ethnic Luba fighters attacked a displaced person camp on April 2015, targeting members of the pygmy Batwa community.

There are concerns that these conflicts are taking on increasingly ethnic overtones and continue to be fuelled by the huge trade in illegal minerals and resources. Many multinational companies are often unable to track the origins of minerals in supply chains, particularly rare metals, reported the International Business Times.

Tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold are central to the production of high-tech goods and are the main sources of revenue for rebel groups in the country, generating estimates of around US$185 million a year, reported the East African.

However there have been some recent attempts by companies such as Intel to cut conflict minerals from their supply chains, with legally binding provisions in force since 2011 in an attempt to stop the financing of rebel groups. Campaigns group Global Witness provide a useful collection of resources on the mineral trade in DR Congo.

It is the increasingly politicised situation in DR Congo, with multiple rebel groups engaged in widespread often ethnically-motivated atrocities on civilians, the huge trade in illegal resources, and worries over the attempt of President Kabila to claim a third term, which have generated concerns that DR Congo will follow the same path as neighbouring Burundi but with possibly much more devastating consequences.

Find out more in the African Research Bulletin today

DR Congo – National Unity Bid
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.1, Pp.Page: 20855B

DR CONGO: Ethnically Motivated Violence
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.1, 20859B–20860C

DR CONGO: Political Opponents Harassed
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.20820B–20821C

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Cote D’Ivoire – Mining, Growth and Displacement

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Local communities increasingly disillusioned with the promised benefits from increased gold production.

A recent report by Pambazuka News, a weekly forum for social justice in Africa, claimed that the suggested benefit to the Ivorian population from new gold mining ventures has been exaggerated, particularly so for those communities living within gold mining areas.

In the Bonikro/Hire area, Pambazuka described how Australian mining firm Newcrest have seized large tracts of land from local populations, providing inadequate compensation, leaving behind unfixed roads and no drinking water distribution system.

The Bonikro Mine opened in 2007 near Hire city around 250km northwest of Abidjan, with commercial production starting in 2008. Newcrest acquired the mine in 2010 after a merger with Lihr Gold Limited and owns a 89% stake in the mine. The operations at the mine have also led to a large influx of workers, straining local infrastructure and contributing to social unrest.

For the over 500 people displaced in Bonikro and Bandamankro villages, promised compensation, relocation and resettlement schemes have been inadequate. One resident stated that for his 3 acre plot he was given the equivalent of US$400, barely enough cover bills.

Premises for compensation are not concrete in the Mining Code and Mining Decree, although revisions were made in 2014 as the Ivorian government sought to attract potential investors and to enhance the livelihoods of local communities. The revisions state that fair compensation, a local community development plan, and a financial fund, should be provided, but resettlement schemes are often complex and culturally sensitive.

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CC – 2007

After the end of civil war in 2011, President Alassane Ouattara pledged to spur the economy by unlocking sectors for economic growth, particularly vast mineral reserves of bauxite, iron ore, nickel, manganese and gold.

Cote D’Ivoire lies on a rock formation called the Brimian Greenstone Belt, which contains some of the richest gold deposits in the world, and the government believes that it holds more underneath its soil that in neighbouring Ghana, the largest African gold producer.

In 2014 Ivorian and ex-Chelsea footballer Didier Drogba acquired a 5% stake in the western Ity gold mine, a signal of the rising national narrative centered on mineral extraction as the catalyst for economic growth, reported UK-based the Guardian in 2014.

However it seems that the proposed benefits from increased gold production have in many cases failed to materialise; the Bonikro mine case is just one of many examples of displacement and inadequate or non-existent resettlement and compensation schemes.

In May 2015 the Reuters reported on how illegal and informal gold mines are also a huge problem in the country. The United Nations (UN) has alleged that members of the elite Republican Guard are behind a network the seizes control of mines generating millions in stolen revenue each year. The work is dangerous with numerous deaths and injuries, but people are drawn by the promise of payment in a context where employment can be scarce.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

CÔTE D’IVOIRE: Declining Poverty?
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.21094A–21094B

WEST AFRICA: Investment Boom Imminent?
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.4, Pp.20387C–20389C

Côte d’Ivoire Mining Code
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.2, Pp.20323B

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Nigeria – Lassa Fever Concerns

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New outbreak of haemorrhagic fever burdens an already strained healthcare system.

Concerns have mounted over an increase in cases of Lassa fever in Nigeria with 44 people having died and authorities warning of the difficulties in combating the virus in a region still suffering from the effects of the Ebola outbreak.

Lassa fever is a haemorrhagic virus similar to that of Ebola; the outbreak was announced only in January despite the first case being confirmed in August 2015, with deaths reported across ten states, including in Abuja.

Chikwe Ihekweazu, an infectious disease epidemiologist said, “it is possible we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg”, the disease may have criss-crossed the country during the busy festive season.

Micchael Asuzu, Professor of Public Health at the University of Ibadan, in southwest Nigeria, said the Lassa response took so long because residents in the initial infected village of Foka, in the northwest state of Niger, attributed deaths to supernatural forces. There are also concerns that doctors could be misdiagnosing, facilitating the spread of the disease.

Lassa fever is an acute haemorrhagic illness that belongs to the arenavirus family of viruses, which also includes the Ebola-like Marburg virus. The virus is transmitted by rodents, often through contact with food or household items contaminated with faeces and urine.

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said that Lassa fever infections in West Africa range from between 100,000 to 300,000 each year, with about 5000 deaths. (© AFP 15/1 2016; PANA, Lagos 9/1)

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HEALTH: Sierra Leone
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.11, Pp.20804A–20804C

HEALTH: Ebola
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.20733A–20733C

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Ethiopia – Oromo Protests

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Government development plans spark protests as concerns mount over continued state repression.

Since November 2015 large scale protests have swept across Oromia, the largest region in Ethiopia, prompting a heavy handed response from the security services. Reports suggest that as many as 140 people have been killed and numerous opposition members arrested.

On January 12th the Ethiopian authorities announced the cancellation of its development master plan, which had been the catalyst for protests, although the unrest and state violence has continued. The master plan, proposed by the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and the Addis-Ababa authority, intended to expand the borders of the capital outwards into the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital.

Oromos, the largest ethnic group in the country, have felt marginalised and excluded from decisions on government policy. Those who do voice their opposition are arrested and accused of belonging to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which the Ethiopian authorities have declared to be a terrorist organisation, even though the group has long been largely inactive.

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According to independent reports as many as 140 people have been killed, although the Ethiopian government has disputed these figures. Abiy Berhane from Ethiopia’s London embassy said that the protests were hijacked “by people whose intention it was to induce violent confrontation”, reported BBC News. 

However a message on a Facebook page of a leading campaigner stated that Oromo activists have “dismissed” the government’s change of heart by cancelling the plans “as too little too late”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) commented that the protests could be the biggest political event in Ethiopia since elections in 2005 that led to a crackdown on protestors, with almost 200 killed and tens of thousands arrested.

According to one Oromo student, cited by HRW, “All we hear about is development. The new foreign-owned farms and roads is what the world knows, but that just benefits the government. For us [Oromos] it means we lose our land and then we can’t sustain ourselves anymore.”

Additionally, accessing information about incidents in the country is tricky, with Ethiopia one of the most restrictive environments for independent journalism. The last independent publishers closed down before the elections in May 2015.

State-run media has followed the government line, labelling the Oromo protestors terrorists who are “aiming to create havoc and chaos”. Even many ordinary people are scared to speak out, as those who have voiced their opinions to international media groups have also been arrested.

It is media outlets situated within the Ethiopian diaspora that play a key role in disseminating information, but in 2014 many people were arrested in the Oromia region for watching the diaspora-run Oromia Media Network (OMN). Social media has also played a big role in providing access to information, where people share photographic evidence of the ongoing state repression.

While the government has conceded to some degree by cancelling the development plan, there are concerns that the protests and violent state crackdown will continue until the government involves the Oromo communities in a meaningful way in the development process, claimed HRW.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

ETHIOPIA: Violent Repression of Oromo Protests
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.20828C–20829B

ETHIOPIA: Defection of Rebels
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.20720A–20720B

Ethiopia Oromo People Targeted?
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.51, Issue.11, Pp.20358B–20358C

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Africa – Groundwater Pollution Risks

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New report suggests that the danger of groundwater supplies in Africa becoming polluted is significant.

According to a recent report, cited by UK-based the Guardian, much of Africa’s groundwater, particularly in populated areas, lies close to the surface and is vulnerable to pollution.

Using a map to plot data the report shows that much of the coastal areas around the Gulf of Guinea and much of Central Africa are at serious risk, whereas the Sahara Desert, where the water is much deeper underground, is least at risk from pollution.

The researchers found that groundwater supplies are mainly at risk in agricultural basins, areas which often contain high levels of nitrates and pesticides; evidence of nitrates in groundwater were a key parameter for the research.

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http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969715311189

Alan McDonald, a hydrologist with the British Geological Survey recognised the difficulty of the project due to the interlinked nature of many parameters, but that it was important to provide a comparison across the continent and to identify those areas most at risk.

Further developments will seek to integrate soil data with the African groundwater map, to show the interlinkages and dynamics between groundwater pollution and soil health. Particularly important are fractured crystalline rocks which occur across a third of the African continent and allow water to sink into underground aquifers, possibly allowing for increased pollution.

A separate report released a few days later on January 14th said that groundwater supplies are crucial for crops but that increased agricultural expansion is making droughts and water shortages worse, reported Chinese news agency Xinhua.

“We wanted to understand what happens to rainfall, runoff and groundwater levels when you transform a savannah into agricultural land, something that’s happening more frequently as West Africa tries to produce more food” said researcher Marc Parlange, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Over a period of three years the project recorded rainfall, temperature, humidity and soil characteristics at a natural savannah forest in Tambarga village in southeastern Burkina Faso, and at a rice and millet field in an agricultural area. The study showed that the savannah forest received around 15% more rainfall than the agricultural setting.

“This study highlights how changing one part of the ecosystem could have an unforeseen effect on other parts. It raises questions about how our ecosystems should be managed for future generations and for the native plant and animal species as well,” said Parlange.

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Earlier in 2015 scientists, writing in the journal ‘Environmental Research Letters‘, claimed that vast aquifers sit underneath the African continent, such that many countries declared as water scarce may have substantial groundwater reserves.

However, the scientists are cautious about the best way of accessing these resources. With many aquifers not being filled due to a lack of rain, the scientists are worried that they could be rapidly depleted by large-scale developments, reported BBC News.

A study by the Global Freshwater Initiative found that 45% of major cities solely dependent on surface water will be unable to simultaneously meet human, environmental and agricultural water demands by 2040, reported Phys News.

Groundwater reserves remain crucial to the water supplies and agricultural production across the African continent, and as recent research has highlighted there is a need for the careful management and a heightened awareness of the dangers of pollution, in these groundwater reserves.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today

AFRICA: Securing The Future
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, No.4, Pp.20805A–20806A

Water Projects
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, No.1, Pp.20724A–20724C

WATER: Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.49, No.12, Pp.19823B–19825C

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Mozambique – Political Violence Resumes

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Concerns over increased violence as rebel leader announces a bid to take over six provinces.

According to reports on January 14th many hundreds of refugees are fleeing across the Malawian border, describing how Mozambican government forces are driving people from their homes in the search for supporters of the Renamo armed opposition and their leader Afonso Dhlakama.

Dhlakama recently on December 16th stated his claim to claim six provinces in the  central and northern parts of the country, reigniting fears of a restart in the violence which ended 24 years ago. He claimed to have backing of public support and said he would retaliate if the government opposed him, reported News24. 

“The soldiers came in government vehicles to burn houses and maize barns and accused us of sheltering Renamo soldiers,” farmer Omali Ibrahim said as he was arriving at the Kapise refugee camp in Malawi’s southern district of Mwanza. The camp now houses over 1,500 people compared with 300 in June last year.

Dhlakama was the leader of Renamo during a 16-year civil war which ended in 1992, and he has refused to accept the results of a 2014 election, in which he was beaten by President Filipe Nyusi of the Frelimo party.

According to reports violence in the villages of Zobue and Moatize in Tete province is driving refugees across the border into Malawi. Senior Official in the Malawian Ministry of Home Affairs, Bestone Chisamile, said that the influx is a “big problem”. Medecin Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) are providing support at the Kapise camp.

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President Nyusi – CC 2014.

Earlier in December Renamo had called for international mediation between itself and the Mozambican government. Renamo spokesperson Antonio Muchanga said that new proposed mediators – South African President Jacob Zuma and figures from the Roman Catholic Church – are to be in place of the previous Mozambican mediators.

According to reports, the specific details of the Catholic Church officials were not detailed, but it was suggested that they responded promptly to the request by Renamo, and there were also signs that Zuma had accepted the invitation, reported Mozambican state owned media AIM.

Muchanga blamed the Mozambican mediators for failure of past dialogue, which began in April 2013. although it was Dhlakama who was to cease dialogue in August 2015. President Nyusi has stated that he wants face to face talks and is not interested in mediators.

Renamo has refused to disarm on disband its armed militia, as was stipulated in an agreement on the cessation of hostilities, signed on September 5th 2014.

Muchanga also denied that Renamo gunmen are defecting to the government; reports have suggested a steady trickle of former Renamo fighters asking to join the army or police, or seeking military pensions promised by the government, reported AIM.

According to Malawian media Nyasa Times, Mozambique is to blame for a rise in the influx of guns in Malawi, and there are concerns that violence, particularly in Tete province, could spill over the border.

Other reports from Mozambican state-owned AIM claimed that Renamo are responsible for the abduction of Frelimo officials in six districts of Sofala province. The districts cited were Gorongosa, Maríngue, Cheringoma, Chemba, Muanza, Nhamatanda and Chibabava.

Reports, which could not be independently confirmed, claimed that on on December 11th Renamo kidnapped the First Sectretary of a Frelimo committee in Muanza, whose whereabouts are still unknown. On January 5th Renamo kidnapped a Frelimo First secretary in Bededo locality of Nhamatanda. Other reports suggested that ten schools in Tete province, near the Malawian border, remain closed since they were shut down by Renamo rebels in June 2015.

Africa Confidential recently commented that President Nyusi is likely to face one of his most difficult years yet, with the country at a crossroads between stability and prosperity, and conflict and economic crisis.

Mozambique relies heavily on foreign aid, for around a quarter of its US$4.92 billion budget, alongside International Monetary Fund (IMF) emergency finance, which is conditional on unpopular austerity measures. There are also concerns that Nyusi may be facing opposition from within his Frelimo party.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today

Mozambique: Shootouts & Blockades
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, No.10, Pp.20756A–20756B

Mozambique: Renamo Drags its Heels
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, No.4, Pp. 20543B

Mozambique: Calm After the Storm
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, No.2, Pp. 20458C–20459A

Mozambique: Frelimo Government
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, No.1, Pp. 20419B–20420B

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Africa – New Solar Technology

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Low cost and efficient solutions are being developed for household solar energy production across Africa

New research carried out in Abu Dhabi has led to the development of a low cost enhancement to existing solar technology. A small plastic device splits light into its constitutive colours such that each respective part of the light spectrum can be directed to a part of the solar panel which can convert it at maximum efficiency.

“The new device is a combination between a prism, which separates the different wavelengths of sunlight, and a lens, which concentrates the light that can be used to help harness a greater amount of energy from the sun” Sci-Dev reported Carlo Maragliano, a researcher with UAE government-funded research organisation Masdar Institute, as saying.

Current photovoltaic solar cells can only extract electricity from some of the wavelengths in the light spectrum, with blue and green wavelengths only being absorbed at around 15-18%, according to a recent academic paper.

However the new technology will allow around 40% of the energy in these shorter wavelengths to be turned into electricity, and particularly important is that the small plastic device can be easily mass produced.

The researchers want to use plastic because the low price would make the device a more attractive in developing countries. “The next step will be fabricating custom-made solar cells, and testing them with our optical element,” said Maragliano.

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Solar power is growing rapidly in Africa; earlier in December Rwanda, Ghana and Malawi joined the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) Energy Africa initiative which aims boost the household solar market. Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Somalia are already part of the project.

Nick Hurd, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, in a UK government press release said, “it is unacceptable that two-thirds of people in Africa do not have access to electricity. Families are forced to rely on toxic, expensive kerosene and children cannot study after dark. On current projections the continent will not have universal energy access until 2080. That is why we must act to kick-start a solar revolution across Africa”.

There have been a number of recent deals; Solar company M-Kopa has raised US$19 million to scale up delivery of solar lighting kits in East Africa. Another company, CrossBoundary Energy, has raised a further $8m.

In another deal, Italian firm, Enel Green Power, said it is teaming up with Powerhive Inc, investing $12m to build and operate renewable mini-grids in 100 villages in Kenya, reported the East African.

However the Guardian recently reported that Morocco has postponed the Noor-1 solar power plant, which was due to open on December 27th in Ouarzazate, a part of what will eventually be the worlds largest solar power facility.

The facility will allow Morocco to cut carbon dioxide emission by 240,000 tonnes per year. A number of subsequent phases – Noor 2, Noor 3 and Noor 4 – will position the facility as the largest in the world, covering an area of around 30 square km. No reasons have been given for the recent delay.

 

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Renewable Energy – IRENA Report
Economic, Financial &  Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.21010B

POWER: Ghana
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.5, Pp.20865C–20867A

World Energy Outlook 2014 Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa Today
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue. 10, Pp. 20615A–20615B

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