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Friday, 19 June 2015
SC Summit decides on South Sudan human rights report and takes action on Burundi
19 June 2015
Heads of state of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) have decided to take urgent steps to move the peace process in South Sudan forward. This includes tabling a controversial report on South Sudan and setting up its new high-level panel – almost six months after the decision to appoint it. The PSC also took steps to try to enforce free and fair elections in Burundi, but the government in Bujumbura has already rejected these.
The long-awaited report of the inquiry into human rights abuses in South Sudan – drawn up by a team led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo – will be tabled at a meeting of ministers of the PSC next month. The controversial report was withheld at the PSC summit meeting in Addis Ababa in January this year because it was felt it could jeopardise ongoing talks between the belligerents.
At its meeting on 13 June, ahead of the 25th Assembly of the African Union (AU) in South Africa, heads of state and government of the PSC finally decided that the report should be discussed. Human rights groups in South Sudan and elsewhere have called for the release of the report to ensure leaders are held accountable for the atrocities committed in the war, which started in December 2013. The report, among other measures, recommends that the main protagonists in the conflict be barred from participating in a future unity government. Some observers, however, are concerned that the report's tabling at a ministerial level might mean action on it could be delayed even further, until the next meeting of heads of state of the PSC in January 2016.
Human rights groups in South Sudan and elsewhere have called for the release of the report
According to a communiqué following the PSCsummit, council members have expressed their deep concern over the situation on the ground in South Sudan and condemned the violation of the ceasefire agreements. In the past few weeks there has been a resurgence in fighting in several parts of the country, notably in the Upper Nile and Unity states.
According to a report by the AU Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as of 30 April 2015 1.52 million people were internally displaced while 552 000 had fled to neighbouring countries. About 300 000 people were affected by the upsurge in the conflict in the first days of May 2015, ‘as active hostilities and insecurity continue to disrupt humanitarian response activities and restrict road and air access,’ says the report. According to the United Nations (UN), South Sudan faces the worst levels of food insecurity in its history. Some 4.6 million people are projected to face severe food insecurity during the months of May–July 2015’.
AU back to the drawing board
Dlamini-Zuma told the opening session of the PSC summit that the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) had tried their best to find a political solution, but there had been ‘very little progress’. ‘We now have to go back to the drawing board and see how we can assist,’ she said.
Due to its frustration with the situation in South Sudan, the AU decided at the end of 2014 to appoint an ad hoc high-level panel of heads of state on South Sudan. The panel, which includes Nigeria, Rwanda, Chad and Algeria, and is chaired by South Africa, met on the margins of the Johannesburg summit for the first time. It also held a joint meeting with IGAD members. The AU’s new special envoy for South Sudan, former Malian president Alpha Oumar Konaré, was present at these meetings and is said to have started his discussions with the government and the opposition rebels straight away.
Smail Chergui, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, told a press conference that the discussions between IGAD and the heads of state were ‘very good and constructive’ and a joint summit would be held to discuss the mediation efforts in early July.
Other parties to the mediation, including the so-called troika, made up of the United States (US), the United Kingdom and Norway, are also expected to participate in the new efforts, dubbed the IGAD-plus process.
Observers say the IGAD process is fraught because of the vested interests of some of its members
South Sudan not happy with IGAD-plus
However, these efforts by the AU to take charge of peace efforts after the failure of the IGAD-led talks in March this year are being hampered by the resistance of some parties to enlarging the circle of mediators. South Sudan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Barnaba Marial Benjamin told journalists at the summit that other African heads of state can ‘bring positive ideas’ about how to move forward, but that the IGAD process has not failed. ‘The truth of the matter is the peace process has moved forward … negotiations are going on in Addis Ababa.’
Benjamin said major areas have been agreed upon, but parties are ‘ironing out’ details of the structure of a government of national unity. He stressed that the government has made compromises, mentioning the agreement made within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to allow former detainees to return to their country. The agreement was recently brokered in Arusha by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Observers, however, say the IGAD process is fraught because of the vested interests of some of its members, including Uganda, who is militarily supporting the government.
Steps to enforce free and fair elections in Burundi
Heads of state of the PSC, meeting in Johannesburg, also expressed their concern over the violence in Burundi ahead of planned legislative and presidential elections. Protesters are asking that President Pierre Nkurunziza withdraw from the presidential race, since he has already served two terms as president since 2005.
Divisions among member states on how to deal with the issue of Burundi have emerged, following a call by heads of state of the East African Community (EAC), led by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, for the elections to be postponed to ensure free and fair polls. While a number of leaders on the continent, including Dlamini-Zuma, earlier indicated that Nkurunziza should not stand for another term, the focus in the statements of the AU and mediators has shifted to a call for dialogue and ensuring free and fair elections.
The government of Burundi said it had its own observers that were already overseeing the disarmament process
Chergui told the media at the summit that the PSC is calling for ‘a consensual political solution’ to the crisis in the country. It requests all parties to resume dialogue within one week from 13 June, facilitated by the AU, the UN, the EAC and the Intergovernmental Conference on the Great Lakes Region. Chergui said this dialogue should be about putting in place conditions for free and fair elections, including ‘the respect for human rights, the free movement of people, free expression, free media’. He added that other issues such as security, the date of the elections ‘and indeed the candidature of the president for a new term’ should be discussed.
In its communiqué on Burundi, the PSC also announced that it would deploy human rights observers and military experts ‘to verify the process of disarming the militias and other armed groups’. The AU will deploy an election observer mission, if conditions are met for the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible elections, according to the statement. Chergui said the plan was to deploy around 50 military observers, but that this would have to be discussed with the government.
Nkurunziza dismisses AU proposals
Following the PSC’s announcement, however, the government of Burundi rejected the proposals and said it had its own observers that were already overseeing the disarmament process. Burundi’s own security forces are deployed across the country to ensure safety during the election process, the government said in a statement quoted by local and international media.
Nkurunziza did not attend the summit, but his Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe said the country was going ahead with the legislative elections planned for 29 June and the presidential elections on 15 July. He accused the media of exaggerating the violence in his country and said protests affected ‘a few suburbs of Bujumbura’.
New plans to tackle terrorism
The treat of terrorism on the continent was driven home on the last day of the Johannesburg summit when two bomb blasts in Chad’s capital Ndjamena killed 27 people and injured at least 100.
Chad has been heavily implicated in the fight against the Nigerian group Boko Haram and is housing the headquarters of the new Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against the group, launched by heads of state at the January 2015 AU summit in Addis Ababa. The new headquarters of the MNJTF (which will consist of 10 000 troops from Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and Benin) was inaugurated on 25 May.
Chergui said at the news conference that there is strong support for the force against Boko Haram and that a UN Security Council presidential statement on the force was expected soon. He also said that Nigeria’s newly elected President Muhamadu Buhari had announced support of $100 million for the force. The Economic Community of East African States will also contribute $50 million. In addition, it will receive aid from the European Union (EU). On the margins of the summit, the US announced that it would support the MNJTF with $5 million.
The international contact group for Libya met for the fourth time on the margins of the summit
The PSC also announced at the summit that it planned to hold another high-level meeting against terrorism as a follow-up to the meeting held in Nairobi on 2 September last year. According to Chergui, this is to ‘adopt a plan of action’ against all terror groups, including al-Shabaab in Somalia, al-Qaeda in Mali, the Islamic State in Libya, Boko Haram in the Sahel and West Africa, and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Libya discussions to continue in Spain
The PSC has also been very concerned about the situation in Libya – both due to the instability that the chaos in the country is causing across the region and due to the human trafficking of migrants, who mostly transit Libya on their way to the Mediterranean.
The international contact group for Libya met for the fourth time on the margins of the summit and released a statement expressing its profound concern over the situation in the country. The meeting consisted of representatives of Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia and Zimbabwe (as current AU chairperson), as well as representatives of several EUcountries, Russia, China and the US.
Delegates said support was shown to the efforts of UN mediator Bernardino Leon, who was at the Johannesburgmeeting after being unable to attend the two previous meetings of the contact group. In its statement the contact group encourages the protagonists in Libya to agree to the UN’s fourth draft political agreement to establish a unity government in the country. The next meeting of the contact group will be held in Spain in September.