The small, landlocked African country of Burundi holds parliamentary and local elections on Monday after weeks of unrest, recalling its long history of conflict and ethnic massacres.
Opposition parties are boycotting elections – including a presidential vote due July 15 – saying that it is not possible to hold a fair vote.
The African Union has said it will not act as observer to the elections over fears the polls will not be credible.
Over 70 people have been killed in weeks of street protests that erupted after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term in office.
Those protests were brutally suppressed, triggering an exodus of around 127,000 into neighbouring countries.
Tensions between Burundi’s ethnic Hutu majority – some 85 percent of the 10 million population – and the Tutsi minority have boiled over repeatedly since independence from colonial ruler Belgium in 1962.
In 1972, a failed Hutu-led uprising against Tutsi-dominated rulers sparked a wave of massacres.
Later, the 1993 assassination of the first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, triggered a civil war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels that lasted until 2006 despite several peace deals.
Today, the fault lines are no longer simply ethnic – both Nkurunziza and his main rival Agathon Rwasa are Hutus. However, old divisions remain.
Burundi – which lies in the Great Lakes region – is one of Africa’s most densely populated nations. Farming forms the backbone of the economy, with key exports of coffee and tea.
Manufacturing is underdeveloped, and the country suffers from a poor transportation network and government corruption that stifles the private sector.
The nation is green and fertile, but more than two thirds of the population live below the poverty line, with a gross average national income of just $260 (240 euros).
World Bank data put 2013 gross domestic product at $2.7 billion.
Nkurunziza was first voted in by parliament in 2005, as part of the peace process to end the 1993-2006 civil war. In 2010 he was re-elected, this time by the people.
Opponents say a third term would violate the constitution and jeopardise deals that ended civil war that stipulated presidents cannot rule for more than a decade.
Nkurunziza’s supporters refute that, saying the constitution overrules earlier agreements, and states leaders can rule for two terms after elections by “direct universal suffrage”.
The international community has repeatedly warned of a risk of violence, with rival parties growing increasingly radical.
The United Nations has said is particularly worried about the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, a fearsome group whose name means “The Watchmen” or, literally, “Those Who See Far”.
The Imbonerakure are accused of being a militia force by the UN, carrying out a string of attacks.
World refugee day was on June 19, and former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan made a comment on his Twitter handle that was as profound as it was subtle, suggesting that the world must come to terms with a “new normal.”
“It is time to accept the reality that the ebb and flow of human movement cannot be stopped,” Annan tweeted.
More than 1 750 migrants, mostly from West Africa and North Africa and some parts of the Middle East have perished in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of the year, attempting to seek “greener pastures” in Europe.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), this number is more than 30 times higher than that recorded during the corresponding period in 2014.
As the rosy narratives about Africa’s economic growth and burgeoning middle class are vigorously exchanged at talk-shops, the question begs; what would cause thousands to abandon their homes, families and put their lives at risk at sea, facing the risks potential of shipwrecks and possible human trafficking?
Honest and frank
The answer lies in an honest and frank assessment of what they are running from in their home countries – poverty, war, disease and economic distress, and sometimes most of all, lack of social mobility, or at least the belief that you can make something better of yourself.
For many of these migrants, distant lands across the high seas offer potential comfort and the promise for a better future, not only for them, but also for the loved ones left behind.
But this perception of these “greener pastures” often turn into nightmares, as most of those immigrants from Africa who manage to make it to Europe, particularly in the austerity-gripped south, fail to get jobs, an income, decent shelter and thus have to live in squalid conditions.
Some pay as much as $10 000 for this voyage from Africa to Europe, riddled with uncertainty, and the threat of being defrauded, kidnapped, or shipwrecked. This just illustrates the desperation these migrants have, which drives them to such risky lengths.
Xenophobia in South Africa
Moving away from the boat crises, recently, South Africa, Africa’s most developed economy and second largest after Nigeria, witnessed xenophobic attacks on foreigners who have settled in the country over the years.
Most of these immigrants are from countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Nigeria; attracted by the “bright lights” of South Africa and have sought to make a living for themselves.
And it has not been easy for them; often enduring waves of xenophobic attacks, first in 2008 and more recently this year, attacks so vicious that a man was stabbed to death in full view of cameras in a street.
Still, they choose to stay put even in such hostile conditions and forego the option of returning to their home countries.
In light of these and many more similar unfortunate events, the world has seen how disjointed the global response to the thorny issue of migrants has been. There has been stand-offs between countries that has even put strains on some diplomatic relations.
In effect, the issue of migrants brings to the fore certain truths that may be unpalatable to some, especially, the more advanced economies.
Countries now must be concerned with what happens across their borders, as recent events show just how easy crises in one country can be exported to others in the form of illegal immigrants. In severely depressed economies with suppressed democracies, many people are now voting with their feet; deserting their home countries and making abode in foreign lands.
Upon settling in foreign lands, often, migrants are more inclined to accept lower wages for work, to the obvious discontent of natives in their adopted countries. This calls for countries to hold each other accountable for the way leaders manage their countries in a mutually responsible manner, as the problems in one jurisdiction could potentially become another country’s problems too, if recent immigrant trends are anything to go by.
Simply stated, it is in the best interest of the developed nations to help ensure that the less developed countries continue growing in a sustainable manner, offering opportunity for all citizens.
An en masse migration invariably puts a strain on the social and economic structures of the receiving countries, and if unattended to, this could likely be a hotbed for future conflict.
Well-functioning countries which offer an equal shot for everyone to work and earn a living, which also guarantee rule of law and offer citizens suffrage would certainly make headway in addressing the root cause of migrant crisis, not just for Africa, but in the global context.
Speaking in the wake of the xenophobic waves of violence, South African President Jacob Zuma said, “We have to address the underlying causes of the violence and tensions, which is the legacy of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our country and our continent, and the competition for limited resources.”
As European ministers scramble to come up with a holistic strategy to address the growing crisis of illegal migrants, Africa too would do well to take a cue from this and introspect deeply into why many of its children leave its shores for distant lands.
Yes, Africa is rising but is this much vaunted economic growth all-encompassing and inclusive? Judging from the desperation that drives most to put their lives at risk crossing the seas to a ‘better’ future elsewhere, the answer is a resounding no.
This post by Perry Munzwembiri was first published on MG Africa.
Aspiring politician Asha Salum is busy trying to convince people in her area of Dar Es Salaam to support her candidacy for a council position at elections later this year, one of a growing number of women seeking political office in Tanzania.
The softly-spoken politician, who at the age of 31 is the youngest candidate for this post in Tegeta in Kawe constituency in 20 years, is one of a new generation of women being groomed to muscle into the male-dominated political world.
The East African nation of about 50 million people has had few women in top leadership positions since adopting a multi-party system in 1992 but female campaigners are hoping to change this at the nation’s fifth general election on Oct. 25.
Salum is one of 2 600 aspiring female politicians to receive training which started this week from a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Tanzania on how to improve their campaigning skills and avoid the sexual pitfalls often faced by Tanzanian women in any bid to advance a career.
“Some women are easily tempted to offer sexual corruption to officials so their names are considered for nomination,” Salum told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adorned in the traditional green and yellow of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.
“How many men you will need to sleep with to win a parliamentary or councillorship seat? I think now is the time to say enough is enough to ‘sextortion'”.
The training, organised by the Tanzania Women Cross Party (TWCP), aims to equip female candidates vying in October for presidential, parliamentary and council positions with political skills and techniques.
According to training organisers, the candidates will receive training about topical political issues surrounding the elections, the role of parliament and local councils, and relevant election law rules and regulations.
Presidential hopes Four female candidates have expressed interest in running for president on the CCM ticket, including the former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Asha-Rose Migiro.
This is the first time in Tanzania that women have come forward seeking nomination for the presidential job.
“By implementing the party’s manifesto I will build an independent and modern economy to benefit all Tanzanians,” said Migiro on collecting her nomination form this week.
Migiro, a lawyer by profession, worked at the United Nations under Ban Ki-moon from 2007 to 2012 and has become the 12th Tanzania cabinet minister to express interest in succeeding President Jakaya Kikwete who is due to retire later this year.
Tanzania has tried to ensure substantial political representation of women with a quota system defining 30 percent of the 357 seats in Parliament as “special seats” reserved for women. Political parties that gain at least 5 percent of the vote in the general election nominate these women.
But women’s rights campaigners are concerned most of the women in Parliament are in quota seats and not elected directly from constituencies which limits their support for the top jobs.
Campaigners are concerned that women lack the skills, education and experience to carve out a successful career in politics and many lack the financial security to be able to focus on politics rather than the basic needs of their families.
A recent Afrobarometer survey also found that violence in African politics may discourage female participation.
“There’s no democracy in the political parties. Female candidates are often ignored in the nomination process and that’s why we need to train them to reverse that unfair trend,” Ave Maria Semakafu, the chairwoman of TWCP told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Although the number of female legislators rose to 35 percent at the 2010 election from 21.5 percent in 2000, rights groups says it not enough as only 17 were elected from constituencies.
Willibrod Slaa from the opposition Chadema party and vice-chair of Tanzania Centre for Democracy, said action was needed.
“No serious party can any longer ignore that women constitute 51 percent of this country and we simply need to be much better at including them in politics,” he told the centre’s annual conference earlier this year.
Despite the challenges, women’s participation in politics has improved in most African countries in the past two decades.
Malawi recently swore in its first female president, Joyce Banda, and Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has occupied her country’s highest office since 2006.
Rwanda leads the world in the share of female legislators at 63.8 per cent of the seats, according to United Nations data.
Senegal, the Seychelles and South Africa have more than 40 percent, and Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda are not far behind with women in about 35 percent of parliamentary seats.
Salum said she was confident the training would boost her chances to win a seat in October on her own merits.
“I have what it takes to serve my people and solve their problems as existing leaders have failed to do so,” she said.
The events unfolded like a John le Carré novel: just minutes before South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma delivered his opening address on Sunday to the African Union summit in the glitzy Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, the Pretoria High Court ordered that the government should ensure that Bashir could not leave the country.
But incredibly, the government managed to “lose” the Sudanese president, insisting for hours after he took off at 11.46am on Monday that it did not know whether he had left or not, claiming that he may have gone shopping.
Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the ICC for alleged genocide and war crimes in Darfur. Allowing him to escape was a kick in the face of the 400 000 people who have died in the ongoing conflict – and the 2.5 million who have been displaced.
Over the past few years pressure from African leaders criticising the ICC has grown, with many claiming its cases target African leaders only. In December Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, said the ICC was a “tool to target” Africa. Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame has accused the court of “selective” justice.
This is in some sense true: since its establishment in 2002, the ICC has heard 22 cases and indicted 32 individuals. All of them are African.
South Africa, though a signatory to the Rome Statute through which the court was established, has lately joined this chorus, with the governing ANC saying on Saturday: “The ICC is no longer useful for the purposes for which it was intended – being a court of last resort for the prosecution of crimes against humanity.”
While this stance may have endeared the country to the rest of the African Union – where it seeks to be a significant player – it reveals a troubling contradiction: signatory to the Statute on the one hand, while flirting with those who seek to defy its precepts on the other.
But this isn’t the first time the country has displayed its ambivalence towards the ICC: in 2010 South Africa invited Bashir to the now scandal-mired World Cup, attracting plaudits from some on the continent and gaining street cred for shaking its fist at the west.
Many South Africans aren’t surprised by the weekend’s events. Over the past seven years the country has sided with the dodgiest leaders in the world in the name of “the national interest”.
The authorities have refused the Dalai Lama a visa to enter South Africa at the invitation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other Nobel laureates at least three times at the behest of China, with whom we have signed a 10-year agreement pledging “political mutual trust and strategic co-ordination”, while President Zuma is having a full-on bromance with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, remaining silent about the Kremin’s alleged assassination of opposition politicians.
Robert Mugabe, accused of the murder of thousands of his own citizens in the 1980s and the torture of many more in the 2000s, was wined and dined on a state visit here a few months ago. And Bashir? South Africa has defended him since the ICC issued its first warrant for his arrest in 2009, under the guise of building ties with the African Union.
In effect, the South African government has broken its own laws and acted in defiance of a court order. A government lawyer, William Mokhari, told the court that Bashir’s departure will be fully investigated. But that is academic. The government did nothing to arrest him.
Politically, this much we know: by protecting Bashir and letting him escape, our country has openly taken sides with the Africa’s tyrants, and not their victims.
Barefoot, with sweat pouring down their naked chests, 50 men slave in the depths of the Central African forest digging for diamonds in a sandy pit half the size of a football pitch.
They all share the same desperate hope – that one day they will find a diamond that will change their miserable lives forever.
The mine at Banengbele, near Boda in the south of the strife-torn Central African Republic, is one of many in the region where groups of diggers – or “Nagbata” as they are called – toil like ants with shovels and spades for the equivalent of three dollars a day.
The owner of the mine takes a cut of that for food, with many of the miners supplementing their meagre rations with bush meat like snake caught in the surrounding jungle.
Conditions in the camp are grim. Four men sleep in a makeshift shelter no more than 1.5 metres wide made of sticks, plastic sheeting and a mosquito net.
After long days of back-breaking labour in terrible heat, many numb themselves with cannabis and palm wine.
“We work hard. I ache all over,” said Jean Bruno Sembia.
Widow Huguette Zonki had no choice but to follow the miners into the bush to feed her four children.
“I have to survive somehow,” she said holding her baby, whose head was covered in pustules. “My husband was killed in the war. I earn three dollars a day cooking for the men and I spend between five days and a month at a time out here in the camp.”
Smuggling and sacrifices
The miners sacrifice chickens and give money to children in the hope that the spirits will smile on them in a country where neither Christianity nor Islam has entirely displaced traditional animist beliefs.
“Every morning I pray to God to help me find big diamonds,” said Laurent Guitili. “One day for sure I will find a big one. Then I will be able to have my own mine and earn all the money I need.”
When one of the miners does find a gem, the person who holds the concession takes it and sells it, giving them back between 30 and 60 euros per carat.
Good quality diamonds sell on locally for around three times that.
But at least in Boda miners are paid. In the north of the country, where some of the country’s richest mines are still in the hands of armed groups, they are forced to hand over what they find at gunpoint.
The Kimberley Process, the international body which tries to stop the sale of so-called blood diamonds, slapped a ban on the export of diamonds from CAR after the overthrow of president Francois Bozize in March 2013 by Seleka rebels threw the country into civil war. The mainly Muslim insurgents had allegedly funded their revolt with illegal diamonds.
Seleka and rival “anti-balaka” Christian militias have since battled to control the mines, the economic lifeblood of the impoverished country, with smuggling booming.
“If you are armed you can have diamonds,” said former prime minister Martin Ziguele. “And with those diamonds you can buy more arms and fund your rebellion.”
French and UN peacekeeping troops have tried to wrest control of the mines from the armed groups so the legal trade in diamonds can restart, vital to putting the shattered economy back on its feet.
The government hopes the embargo can be partly lifted at the next Kimberley Process meeting in Luanda in Angola later this month.
Francois Ngbokoto, of the ministry of mines, said the export ban may now actually be encouraging smuggling.
Since the sectarian violence that erupted as the Seleka rebels were driven out, the town of Boda has been divided in two, with Muslims — who used to control the diamond mines in the area — forced to take refuge in their own enclave.
The mines are now held by the country’s Christian majority having passed through the hands of both of the Seleka and the anti-balaka militias during the fighting.
“It is better to work for someone from here,” one of the Nagbata said, referring to Christian owners.
One official told AFP that jealousy at the relative wealth of Muslims had been one of the “underlying problems” which aggravated sectarian violence in the region.
That resentment has not gone away. At Boda’s mining police office a sign shows a miner selling a diamond to a bearded Muslim middleman with the warning: “Nagbata do not sell your diamonds to illegal buyers.”
Moussa Traore, a Muslim dealer who set up in the town two months ago after getting a licence from the ministry of mines, insisted he sells his diamonds legally to the government’s central office in the capital Bangui.
However, miners and the authorities claim a huge amount of smuggling is going on, with Central African diamonds being channelled through neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo and Sudan.
All agree that without the boost in the economy that lifting the export ban would give, there will be no peace in the country.
“With the embargo the price of diamonds has dropped,” said Traore. “They need to lift the embargo so proper business can start again.”