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Ugandan Police End House Arrest of Opposition Leader After Election Results are Confirmed By Top Court

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On Friday 1 April, Ugandan police ended a six-week-long house arrest of an opposition leader that was imposed after he claimed that recent presidential elections were rigged.

Second-placed Kizza Besigye, who rejected the results of the 18 February election won by veteran President Yoweri Museveni, has been forcibly kept inside his home in the capital Kampala for 43 days. He has said that his detention was designed in order to block him from gathering evidence of fraud in what he called a “scandalous” election. On Friday, Ugandan police chief Kale Kayihura stated that he has “…given directive that the deployment of police outside Besigye’s home be withdrawn forthwith.”

While the police chief provided no explanation why the house arrest was being lifted, it comes just a day after the country’s Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge to the election result and upheld Museveni’s fifth-term victory. With Besigye unable to submit a legal challenge, third-placed Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister who won just over one percent of the vote, filed the suit that was rejected in court on 31 March.

Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, was declared the winner with 61 percent of the vote. He has rejected claims that his victory was won through cheating and fraud. A long-standing opponent of the president, Besigye has been frequently jailed, accused of both treason and rape, teargased and hospitalized over the years, however this was the longest period he had ever been under house arrest. On Friday, Kayihura warned that “we expect Besigye to respect the law, to stop causing trouble for people going about their private businesses,” adding, “ He must respect the law. If he veers off, the police is there to protect people and their property.”

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Controversy around ZIDRES law points to potential risks for investors in the agroindustrial sector in Colombia

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A number of members of Congress have taken out a lawsuit against the recent passing of the Zidres law (Spanish abbreviation: developing agricultural areas of interest for rural, social and economic development), underlining the potential significant challenges that this recent economic initiative will face in Colombia. Since early conversations around the law in Congress, NGOs such as Oxfam, CODHES,  the Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, and others have voiced their outright opposition to its passing. However, Zidres is a key focus of the current government and its aims to increase investment in rural regions, particularly profiting on the likely signatory of the peace process with the FARC later this year.

One of the key elements of the law, and what is causing the most controversy, is that to fulfil its requirements, companies will have to present their projects to the Ministry of Agriculture. However, it is the companies themselves who are responsible for taking into account considerations around sustainable environmental issues, security, and the participation of local communities and individual landowners in the zones that they are keen to develop. Companies will have to navigate the complex legal challenges around who has the property rights for the areas included in any project proposals, in ways that may contradict or endanger already existing local and regional land claims or usages. Three points are worth keeping in mind to understand the potential risks posed by these projects.

  • Firstly, the legal model aims to implement initiatives that would create partnerships between companies and local communities, whereby the latter would then have a stake in the project by working on it, receiving technical training and access to credit to buy land. However,  based on this provision it also underlines that local communities could end up losing their autonomy to such companies, who would have executive control over the projects and by defacto the land they operate on.
  • Secondly, the law lays out that territory considered to be national property and marked as wasteland, can be used within these economic projects on the condition that the land rights remain with the state and are not transferred to the company who develops the project on the land. However, those against the law argue that this contingency allows companies – including foreign investors – access to the rights of large of swathes of national lands. The law also states that local communities could gain access to land rights on these “wasteland” areas, and reclaim the rights to them. Moreover, local communities who take part in the initiative can incorporate their land rights into the project, if they want to. At a practical level, such processes over land rights are not only deeply confusing to navigate, but open the door for possible processes of land accumulation. This is particularly problematic in rural Colombia and was one of the key drivers of the 50-year armed conflict. As such this controversial element of the law presents significant political and social tensions, both at a local and federal level.
  • Thirdly, all projects from the Zidres law are likely to be in areas with heightened social and political tensions. According to the Colombian Notary and Registry office, the lands that can be used in the project will be distributed across 5 regions: La Guajira, Chocó, Norte de Santander, la Orinoquía y la Amazonía. This is another challenge as these are critical areas in current conflicts between local communities, varying other factions and the complex dynamics of the internal armed conflict. This is highlighted by an analysis study carried out by Verdad Abierta using data from the UN and other social organisations in the country. The study outlines that guerrilla groups and criminal organisations have a presence in all these regions, and there are already claims for collective land redistribution under the “local farmer/community reserve zones” and other areas of agricultural production for self-consumption. The new law does not explicitly recognise such zones, and opens them for future project development. This could cause significant tensions for companies when entering the local market, and is likely to create operational challenges as local organisations, and armed groups, react with hostility to their arrival.

    “What to watch out for”

At its core the Zidres law offers the potential for national and multinational companies to invest in a number of agroindustrial projects across the country. However, it is crucial that companies and organisations interested in participating in these joint initiatives move with care, carrying out thorough due diligence at a local level into the potential impacts any investment could have in these regions. Though the law has been declared unconstitutional, the national government under President Santos has underlined their commitment to pushing forward with the initiatives to tackle agroindustrial development in the country.

In the context of the expected signatory of the peace process between the government and the FARC later this year and the changing rural environment to one of post-conflict, it’s important that foreign companies looking to invest in opportunities in rural Colombia monitor two key areas. On the one hand, it is paramount to develop good relations with communities and local organisations that live and work in the project regions. Each community has a different historical and social claim and use of the land. It is important to respect social and political processes behind them to not put these communities in a vulnerable position, which would likely only hinder any long-term progress of the project.

On the other hand, companies must be fully aware of the illicit activities of armed groups in the region. Some may attempt to use the land rights issues to increase their property titles and then make financial gains by re-selling this land, or offer services that could put pressure on local communities living in these regions. In particular, future investors will have to carry out significant due diligence at a local level to understand the dynamics armed groups may play in any future investment, and ensure they are fully compliant with international and Colombian laws, to protect their ability to operate in a peaceful environment.

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WHO Declares Zika Virus a Global Health Emergency

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The World Health Organization on February 1 declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international health emergency due to its links to thousands of birth defects. WHO Director Margaret Chan said that coordinated action was needed to improve detection and expedite work on a vaccine and better diagnostics for the disease. The UN agency is concerned about a surge in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with small heads and underdeveloped brains. Chan said it was strongly suspected that Zika causes microcephaly.

This is the fourth time that the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency since such procedures were put in place in 2007. Emergency declarations are meant as international SOS and usually brings more money and action to address the outbreak, as well as prompting research into possible treatments and vaccines.

The United Nations health agency said the Zika infection was spreading rapidly and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas. According to the Pan American Health Organization, the virus has spread in 24 nations and regions in the Americas.

On January 15, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised pregnant woman to postpone travel to more than dozen countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean to avoid infection with the virus. The agency raised the alert level for travellers to Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Brazil is experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika. On January 21, Brazilian health authorities said that the number of babies with microcephaly since October had reached nearly 4.000. The Health Ministry said that the surge was caused by the outbreak of Zika virus. On February 4, President Dilma Rousseff declared war on mosquitoes responsible for spreading the virus. Dilma announced that 220.000 members of the armed forces would go door to door to help to battle the mosquitoes.

Zika virus was first identified in monkeys in Uganda in 1947. The first human case was detected in Nigeria in 1954 and there have been further outbreaks in Africa, East Asia and the Pacific Islands. The most common symptoms of Zika virus are mild fever, conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes), headache, joint pain and rash. There is no vaccine or drug treatment so patients are advised to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

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Islamic Extremists Increase Tempo of Attacks Across Africa

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In recent months, the number of deadly attacks carried out by Islamic extremists has increased across Africa, which has prompted questions about the resurgence of armed groups that operate in the region.

Recent Attacks

  • 21 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab fighters stormed and took over a beachfront restaurant in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. When the siege was over, more than 20 people had been killed in the attack.
  • 15 January 2016 – Gunmen stormed a café popular with foreigners in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. They fired at people and set the café ablaze and then attacked a nearby hotel. At least thirty people were killed after a more than 12-hour siege. The North African branch of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility, stating that fighters from al-Murabitoun, an affiliated terror group, had carried out the assault.
  • 15 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked an African Union (AU) base in Somalia, killing an unknown number of Kenyan peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab has since claimed that it killed about 100 Kenyans, adding that they had also captured several soldiers. Kenyan authorities have not released a death toll. Kenya has provided a major contingent to the AU force that is fighting al-Shabaab and assisting the elected government of Somalia.
  • 28 December 2015 – Boko Haram Islamic extremists struck a city and a town in northeastern Nigeria with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers. At least eighty people were killed in Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno.
  • 20 November 2015 – Islamic extrmeists seized dozens of hostages at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako. At least twenty people were killed along with two gunmen during the more than seven-hour siege. AQIM and al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was their first joint attack.
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Burkina Faso and Mali to Work to Counter Threat of Terrorism in Region

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In the wake of Friday’s deadly terrorist attack in Burkina Faso, the West African country and neighbouring Mali have agreed to work together to counter the growing threat of Islamic militants in West Africa by sharing intelligence and conducting joint security patrols.

According to officials, the prime ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso met on Sunday, just two days after al-Qaeda militants seized the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou, opened fire on a restaurant and attacked another hotel nearby, killing at least 28 people from at least seven countries and wounding fifty others. The assault, which was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) just hours later, follows a similar raid that occurred in November 2015 on a luxury hotel in the Malian capital Bamako. That attack resulted in the death of twenty people, including citizens from China, Russia and the United States. In a statement on the attack in Burkina Faso, AQIM identified three attackers and called the targeted hotel and surrounding areas “one of the most dangerous dens of global espionage in the west of the African continent,” warning that “this blessed operation is but a drop in the sea of global jihad.”

On Sunday, Burkina Faso’s prime minister Paul Kaba Thieba disclosed that “there is a very strong political will on the part of the two states to combine our efforts to fight terrorism.” Thieba and his Malian counterpart Modibo Keita visited the outside of the Splendid Hotel on Sunday, where bullet holes and a charred exterior offered reminders of Friday evening’s attack. Tight security was in place around the hotel while inside, Burkinabe and French security officials were conducting an investigation. Security forces in Burkina Faso retook the 146-room hotel on Saturday after firefights with militants, at least three of whom were killed. Survivors have since reported that militants targeted white victims at the hotel and at the restaurant, both of which were popular among westerners.

According to provisional figures released by the Burkinabe government, amongst the dead were eight Burkinabe’s, four Canadians, three Ukrainians, two Portuguese, two French, two Swiss and one Dutch citizen. Seven bodies are yet to be identified and the list is subject to change. On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated that six Canadians had been killed. Also on Sunday, Italy’s foreign ministry reported that a nine-year-old Italian boy and his mother were killed in the assault on Cappuccino, the restaurant attacked opposite the Splendid Hotel. The boy and his mother were the son and wife of the restaurant owner.

While the exact details of the cooperation between Burkina Faso and Mali currently remain unclear, patrols and the sharing of intelligence mark an intent by the two countries to prevent the spread of militancy as AQIM and others expand operations in the region beyond their usual reach. While over the past several years, Islamic militants have used northern Mali as a base, recently, they have staged a number of attacks in other parts of the country, moving further south and prompting concerns that they are expanding their area of operation. Burkina Faso’s authorities are now concerned that its long desert border with Mali could become a transit point for militants.

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