US Lawmakers: Democratic Institutions Backsliding in Sub-Saharan Africa

U.S. lawmakers convened a hearing Wednesday in Washington on what they said was an erosion of democratic institutions in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and its impact on the region’s economic growth as well as access to health and education resources.Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa are retreating from core democratic principles, said Representative Karen Bass, chair of the House subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights and international organizations.“Democratic backsliding includes but is not limited to the degradation of free and fair elections, infringement of freedom of speech, impairment of political opposition to challenge the government or hold it accountable [and] the weakening of the rule of law.”Bass said flawed elections remained an issue in most of Africa, with leaders manipulating laws, freedoms and elections to retain power.FILE – U.S. Representative Karen Bass, D-Calif., is pictured after meeting with refugees, July 1, 2019. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)“Most concerning is the situation in Tanzania, which I recently addressed in House Resolution 1120, where current leadership is repressing the opposition in basic freedoms of expression and assembly in a blatant attempt to retain power,” she said. “We see similar patterns in Cote D’Ivoire as the executive branch legalizes the deviation in democratic institutions to codify nondemocratic actions.”Violence in Côte d’Ivoire has left at least a dozen people dead since last month, when President Alassane Ouattara, 78, broke a promise made this year not to seek reelection. Ouattara reversed his stance and accepted the nomination of his ruling party after his handpicked successor died suddenly of a heart attack in July.ReversalExperts testifying on Capitol Hill noted a backward trend.Christopher Fomunyoh from the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told lawmakers that Africa went from having only two countries classified as free in 1989 to two-thirds of the countries classified as either free or partially free 20 years later.But now, he said, those democratic gains have been reversed.  Former Defense Minister Bah N’Daw waits to be sworn into the office of transitional president at a ceremony in Bamako, Mali, Sept. 25, 2020. Mali’s transitional president and vice president were sworn into office more than a month after a coup in the West African nation.“Notably, west Africa, previously commended as a trailblazer region, has seen serious backsliding,” he said. “Mali has experienced a major coup, and serious controversies have risen about candidacies of incumbent presidents in Guinea Conakry and Cote D’Ivoire. The central African region remains stuck with the highest concentration of autocratic regimes, with the three longest-serving presidents in the world.”Fomunyoh listed some of the longest-serving leaders: in Equatorial Guinea (41 years), Cameroon (58 years) and Congo-Brazzaville (nearly 40 years).Freedom and democratic governance is enjoyed by far too few Africans, with only 9% of people in sub-Saharan Africa living in countries that Freedom House categorizes as free, said Jon Temin, the Africa Program director at Freedom House.’Citizens bear the brunt’The organization’s most recent report on freedom in the world noted that of the 12 countries with the largest declines, seven were in sub-Saharan Africa.“Citizens bear the brunt of backsliding,” Temin said. “They are attacked when they peacefully protest in opposition of the government, as in Guinea and Cameroon. They are unable to use the internet when the government restricts access, as in Ethiopia and Chad. Civil society groups face excessive limitations on their activity, as in Tanzania and Burundi, and journalists are threatened and detained, as in Nigeria and Zimbabwe.”As for elections, there have been some encouraging signs, said another witness, Dorina Bekoe of the Institute for Defense Analyses.“Kenyan civil society has pioneered platforms where citizens can record incidents of fraud and harassment, and that’s been replicated in many places around the continent,” Bekoe said. “There are election situation rooms where information is conveyed to a central location and steps are taken to mitigate tension. Parallel vote tabulation is also widely practiced as a check on official results.”She also noted positive trends taking place in Ghana, Senegal, Mauritius, Bostwana and South Africa.

your ad here

UNMISS Chief: South Sudan Peace Process Limping Along

A top U.N. official says South Sudan’s peace process is limping along and faces serious challenges that could lead to a further escalation in violence. David Shearer, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary General in South Sudan (UNMISS) told reporters in Juba Tuesday urgent action is needed to put the peace process back on track.“The cabinet is meeting irregularly, and people tell me that they want to see the president and vice presidents meeting and working closely together more often. The transitional National Legislative Assembly is yet to be reconstituted, so necessary new laws are not being passed and progress on the constitution has been delayed. Critically, there has been almost no movement on the areas of security sector reform,” said Shearer.
The UNMISS boss, who recently returned to Juba from New York, where he briefed the U.N. Security Council on the situation in South Sudan, said military forces that were supposed to be trained, unified, and deployed are losing hope and have started deserting the country’s training centers.“As a result of lack of food and of logistics and other things being supplied to these training centers, people started to leave, moving back. This is worrying because people are being disillusioned which leads to frustration and anger, and possibly which could mean more violence,” Shearer told reporters.Trainees parade during the visit of the defense minister to a military training center in Owiny Ki-Bul, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan, June 27, 2020.He said continued delays in implementing the peace deal risk postponing elections beyond the timeline stipulated in the agreement, something he says will deny South Sudanese an opportunity to choose their leaders.
“We really do need to urgently breathe new life into the peace process. The international community and regional partners play an important role but the parties themselves must also step up their efforts to regain lost momentum,” added Shearer.
While the peace process limps along, said the U.N. chief, the country’s military must change its approach in dealing with U.N. peacekeepers. He noted that last month, 92 peacekeepers were blocked from deploying in Lobonok, a civilian area about 120 kilometers southeast of Juba town, which came under threat of more violence after government forces clashed with National Salvation Front rebel forces loyal to Thomas Cirilo.
“For a number of years, we have had an agreement to notify the South Sudan authorities when our peacekeepers move around the country and we do this because we have respect for the sovereignty of South Sudan. However, there is no sign of similar respect from SSPDF for our need to have freedom of movement to protect civilians and build peace,” said Shearer.He added the incident “tarnishes the reputation of the SSPDF.”Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army addresses the media in Juba, South Sudan, Aug. 29, 2017.SSPDF spokesperson Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang strongly denied that charge, asserting there was insufficient time given for communication regarding the movement of peacekeepers to Lobonok.
“What had happened on that day, yes, they were given permission but there was no sufficient time for our forces to be notified in advance. And as a result as they were headed there, they were stopped and were asked about where they were going and they produced the evidence showing that they were given permission.
“The only thing that was done at that particular checkpoint was for them to stop for a minute so that the commanding officer could establish communication with SSPDF general headquarters, and it was at that time that they started reporting that they had been denied access to Lobonok,” Koang told South Sudan in Focus.
Shearer said the peace process “is stuck,” adding that security reforms “have not moved past the first stage, where forces are trained and graduated.”
 

your ad here

Afghanistan’s Abdullah Discusses Iran, Pakistan, Peace Process

Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, acknowledges that Iran has ‘legitimate interests” in his country as a neighbor that hosts millions of Afghan refugees. Iran’s contacts with various Taliban groups, he says, could be used as an opportunity to advance peace efforts. Ayesha Tanzeem has more.

your ad here

Afghanistan’s Abdullah Discusses Iran, Pakistan, Peace Process

The man heading Afghanistan’s peace efforts said Iran did not attend the ceremony marking the opening of talks with the Taliban due to tensions with the United States.“Iran was invited…Sometimes their relations with the United States which [are] under a lot of tension at the moment, those things affect their decisions [of] participating in a conference or not,” Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation told VOA in Islamabad toward the end of a three-day visit to Pakistan.Despite that, Abdullah said, Iran supported the peace process. He also acknowledged that Iran had “legitimate concerns” and “legitimate interests” in Afghanistan as a neighbor that hosts millions of Afghan refugees.He said Iran’s contacts with various Taliban groups could be used as an opportunity to advance peace efforts.The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, told a Washington-based research group, the United States Institute of Peace, last week that the U.S.-Iran relations were getting in the way of Iran cooperating with Afghanistan’s peace process.Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan is seen during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar, Sept. 12, 2020.“Iran would like to keep us entangled in a conflict without winning or losing but paying a high price until there is an agreement between the U.S. and Iran,” he said.Iran strongly refuted those claims and said it supported peace in Afghanistan, according to its official Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA.In the same story, IRNA quoted the deputy foreign minister for political affairs, Abbas Araghchi, as doubting the U.S. intentions in Afghanistan.”We believe that the U.S. should not be trusted and that the U.S. presence in the region is dangerous and will cause a lot of discord in the region,” said Araghchi.Abdullah’s Pakistan visit, in which he met with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, is being viewed as a major shift in his approach toward Pakistan.Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, left, meets with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Islamabad, Sept. 29, 2020. (Credit: Press Information Department)As the chief executive of Afghanistan in the former administration, he declined several invitations to visit the country.He said, however, that changes on the ground, including the fact that the Taliban and Afghan government were sitting across the table from each other in Doha, helped change his mind.“I thought that with the prime minister, Imran Khan, as the prime minister of Pakistan, and the leadership, the political leadership, institutions, and establishment all being on the same page, giving messages of support for the peace process and also for the betterment of relations, then I decided it was necessary (for me to come here),” he said.In his talks with Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa Tuesday, Abdullah said they discussed how to make “all the right efforts so peace is materialized,” which he added was in the interest of both countries.He also emphasized that in Afghanistan, in the region, and the world, the peace process had gained momentum, but some things, like the high level of violence, could be disruptive. In his meetings with Pakistani leaders, he said, he asked them to use “all the influence” over the Taliban, including public messaging, to help the process.Afghan security personnel work at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Sept. 9, 2020.A day earlier, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that reduction in violence leading to a cease-fire was a prerequisite for the Doha talks.Abdullah brushed aside suggestions that Afghans were politically divided compared to the Taliban, saying their side was “very diverse and much more sophisticated” with people who had exercised democracy in the last two decades.He said all Afghans favored the idea of peace and any differences were technical rather than ideological.Abdullah said if the U.S. decided to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan, it would have an impact but the urgency it created could be translated into an opportunity for a quick resolution to the conflict.“But eventually it is us who have to find a way of working together, living together in peace, without posing a threat to our own citizens, or to the neighborhood, or to the rest of the international community,” he said. 

your ad here

British PM Receives Rare Rebuke in House of Commons

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson received a rare reprimand Wednesday by the speaker of the House of Commons for treating lawmakers with contempt by rushing through far-reaching COVID-19 restrictions without proper review by lawmakers.Just before the prime minister’s weekly “question time” with members of Parliament, Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons, admonished Johnson for making rules in a “totally unsatisfactory” way.Hoyle said that several of the COVID-19-related measures were published and brought before Parliament only hours before they were to take effect, and some after the fact. The speaker said the actions showed total disregard for the House of Commons and called on Johnson and his government to prepare measures more quickly.The speaker did hold back a rebellion within Johnson’s own Conservative Party, where more than 50 members had threatened to join an opposition-led measure demanding more say over future rules to stop the spread of the virus and accusing ministers of governing “by decree.”But they were denied a chance to vote on the proposal after the speaker ruled there was not enough time for a proper debate.Later Wednesday, during a news briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson said the government would not hesitate to put even stricter pandemic restrictions in place if evidence supported such a move.Britain reported 7,143 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest one-day figure to date for the country, which has the highest official death toll in Europe.Areas of Britain, particularly in the northeast where a second wave of COVID-19 infections is surging, are faced with local restrictions designed to slow its spread. Britain has reported more than 42,233 deaths from the virus, the world’s fifth-highest total.

your ad here

Sudanese Women Keep Pushing for Democracy

Sudanese women helped organize the protests that resulted in the ouster of former President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 after three decades of iron-fisted rule. After his removal and the creation of a new transitional government, women are playing a prominent role in Sudan’s politics. A woman has been appointed a chief justice — the first, not only in Sudan but in the entire Arab world.  An unprecedented four women were appointed to cabinet positions in the new government, including the country’s first female minister of foreign affairs, Asma Mohamed Abdalla.  FILE – Foreign Minister of Sudan Asma Mohamed Abdalla attends a meeting of foreign ministers of Arab and African countries of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 6, 2020.But women are still marching to amend the laws and restore the rights taken from them under the strict Islamic code enforced by Bashir’s government.  The Sudanese Professionals Association, or SPA, was one of the key groups behind the demonstrations that led to Bashir’s ouster. Samahir Elmubarak, who heads the SPA’s pharmacist’s association, remains active in politics.   Elmubarak says she has never felt that they have reached a level where they should stop.  She says the motivation that powered people to overthrow the Bashir regime is the same motivation that is pushing people to continue to reach the revolution’s goals of freedom, peace and justice. The June 3, 2019, crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum left more than 120 people dead, including the eldest son of Amira Kabous.    Her son’s death did not deter Kabous from being involved in the democratic movement, and she is now the deputy chief of an organization of people who lost relatives in the uprising.   Sitting beside a portrait of her late son in her house in Khartoum, Kabous is insistent. She says what they are doing is the continuance of the martyr’s role, and their sacrifices, but they have not reached their goals yet. They will continue, she adds, until they achieve all of the revolution’s goals that their children sacrificed for, and until they see Sudan the way their children dreamed about, and they all are dreaming about.  Kabous and Elmubarak were recently awarded the 2020 Freedom House Award for their role in advancing democratic change in Sudan. The award was given under the theme “the power of protest.”  
 

your ad here