Two years after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza plunged the country into turmoil, the regime shows no sights of easing up on a crackdown, which has forced hundreds of thousands to flee. In April 2015, President Nkurunziza sought a third term in office, effectively politically destabilizing the country in a move that continues to be felt today, both within and regionally. His move not only violated the country’s two term-limit, as set by the constitution, but it also violated a 2006 peace deal, which ended a dozen years of civil war. At the time, he claimed that his first term in office did not count as he was appointed after the war and not directly elected. More recently, he has suggested a possible change to Burundi’s constitution, which would let him run again in 2020.
During this period, President Nkurunziza’s ruling CND-FDD party has unleashed its feared youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, who now reign with impunity across much of the country. According to Florent Geet of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), “the Imbonerakure have become the spearhead of the repression, they have spread out across the country identifying and harassing the opposition.” The United Nations has estimated that at least 500 people have been killed since April 2015, with aid groups warning that as many as 2,000 people have died. The UN rights chief condemned the youth wing in April for repeatedly calling for the rape and murder of opposition supporters, stating that it amounts to a “campaign of terror.”
The Burundian government however has rejected all of the UN’s reports on the violence and calls for inquiries, as well as a Security Council resolution seeking the deployment of 228 police officers. It has also attempted to play down the security issues, with the country’s first vice president, Gasont Sindimwo stating, “the crisis is behind us, security is assured, peace has retuned to Burundi and everyone is going about their business.” This however is in stark contrast to what opposition leaders as well as NGO’s have said, noting that this claim of “peace” is the result of brutal repression, which has left hundreds dead. Witnesses have also reported that the Imbonerakure often set up roadblocks to search vehicles heading north into Rwanda or south into Tanzania, arresting scores of “suspects.” One resident of the capital, Bujumbura, has disclosed that “the entire population is terrorised because anyone can arrest you in the street and you wont be heard from again,” adding that “the fear is so strong that sometimes a father wont dare ask the security services for news of his missing son.” A UN diplomat in Geneva has also reported that “the regime in Burundi has grown more radicalized, but it has taken advantage of the growing divisions on the Security Council as well as the paralysis of the African Union, which has allowed it to act with incomplete impunity.”
The political opposition, and many elements of civil society in general, have fled the country, making it even more difficult for a solution to the political crisis. An opponent of the regime has disclosed that the opposition has also been weakened by internal divisions and “inflated egos among some of us.” Furthermore, negotiations between the regime and the CNARED, an umbrella of opposition groups, have stalled despite international pressure and financial sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU). A foreign diplomat in Bujumbura has also disclosed that the government is worried about rebel groups forming in neighbouring countries, including the Republican Forces of Burundi (Forebu), which mainly consists of deserting police and soldiers.
The East African Community is planning a summit meeting in May, with many officials seeing it as the last chance to find a diplomatic solution to a crisis that has prompted more than 400,000 people to flee the country.
Below are some of the deadly attacks that have occurred in Western Europe in the past three years.
- 7 April 2017 (Sweden) – A truck drives into a crowd on a shopping street and crashes into a department store in central Stockholm. Four people are killed and a further 15 are wounded, with police calling the incident a terror attack.
- 22 March 2017 (United Kingdom) – An attacker stabs a policeman close to parliament in London after a car ploughs into pedestrians on nearby Westminster Bridge. Six people are killed, including the assailant and the policeman he stabbed, and at least twenty people are injured.
- 18 March 2017 (France) – A man attempts to snatch a gun from a female soldier on patrol at Orly airport south of Paris. According to an interior ministry spokesman, the man had earlier fired a shot at police during an identity check before fleeing the scene. He was shot dead in the Orly incident by other members of the soldier patrol unit.
- 3 February 2017 (France) – A machete-wielding man, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), attacks soldiers in a shopping mall on the edge of the Louvre museum in Paris. He is shot and seriously wounded. Security sources in Cairo, Egypt later identify the man as Abdullah Reda al-Hamamy, who was born in Dakahliya, a province located northeast of Cairo.
- 19 December 2016 (Germany) – A truck ploughs into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that authorities are assuming it was a terrorist attack.
- 26 July 2016 (France) – Two attackers kill a priest with a blade and seriously wound another hostage in a church in northern France before being shot dead by police. French President Francois Hollande later discloses that the two hostage-takers had pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.
- 24 July 2016 (Germany) – A 21-year-od Syrian refugee is arrested after killing a pregnant woman and wounding two people with a machete in the southwestern city of Reutlingen, near Stuttgart. Police later state that “given the current evidence, there is no indication that this was a terrorist attack.”
- 24 July 2016 (Germany) – A Syrian man wounds fifteen people when he blows himself up outside a music festival in Ansbach in southern Germany. IS claims responsibility for the attack. The 27-year-old had arrived in Germany two years ago and had claimed asylum. He had been in trouble with the police repeatedly for drug-taking and other offences and had faced deportation to Bulgaria.
- 22 July 2016 (Germany) – An 18-year-old German-Iranian gunman apparently acting alone kills at least nine people in Munich. The teenager had no Islamist ties however he was obsessed with mass killings. The attack was carried out on the fifth anniversary of twin attacks by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people.
- 18 July 2016 (Germany) – A 17-year-old Afghan refuge wielding an axe and a knife attacks passengers on a train in southern Germany, severely wounding four, before being shot dead by police. IS claims responsibility for the attack.
- 14 July 2016 (France) – A gunman drives a heavy truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice, killing 86 people and injuring scores more in an attack claimed by IS. The attacker is identified as a Tunisian-born Frenchman.
- 14 July 2016 (France) – A Frenchman of Moroccan origin stabs a police commander to death outside his home in a Paris suburb and kills his partner, who also worked for the police. The attacker told police negotiators during a siege that he was answering an appeal by IS.
- 22 March 2016 (Belgium) – Three IS suicide bombers, all Belgian nationals, blow themselves up at Brussels airport and in a metro train in the Belgian capital. Thirty-two people are killed. Police find links with the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France.
- 13 November 2015 (France) – Paris is rocked by multiple, near simultaneous gun-and-bomb attacks on entertainment sties around the city, killing 130 people and wounding a further 368. IS claims responsibility. Two of the ten known perpetrators were Belgian citizens while three others were French.
- 7 – 9 January 2015 (France) – Two Islamist militants break into an editorial meeting of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on 7 January and rake it with bullets, killing seventeen people.. Another militant kills a policewoman the following day and takes hostages at a supermarket on 9 January, killing four people before police shoot him dead.
- 24 May 2014 (Belgium) – Four people are killed in a shooting at the Jewish Museum in central Brussels. The attacker was French national Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, who was subsequently arrested in Marseille, France. He has since been extradited and is awaiting trial in Belgium.
On Monday, 24 April, France’s outgoing president Francois Holland urged people to back centrist Emmanuel Macron in a vote to choose his successor next month and to reject far-right leader Marine Le Pen, stating that her place in the run-off on 7 May represents a “risk” for the country. Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), go head-to-head on 7 May after taking the top two places in Sunday’s first round.
During a televised address, President Hollande, a Socialist, threw his weight behind his former economy minister, stating that Ms Le Pen’s policies were divisive and stigmatised sections of the population. He stated that “the presence of the far right in the second round is a risk for the country, adding “what is at stake is France’s make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world.”
In the days since Sunday’s vote, global markets have acted with relief, with the euro touching five-month peaks as surveys point to a clear macron victory, which has soothed investors who have been unnerved by Ms Le Pen’s pledges to ditch the euro, print money and possibly quit the European Union (EU). There were growing concerns of another anti-establishment shock following Britain’s “Brexit” vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president.
In recent weeks, opinion polls have indicated that Mr Macron, who has never held elected office, will take at least 61 percent of the vote against Ms Le Pen after two defeated rivals, Francois Fillon and Benoit Hammond pledged to back him in a bid to thwart her eurosceptic and anti-immigrant platform.
Late on Monday, Ms Le Pen disclosed that she was taking” a leave of absence” from leading the FN in order to focus on campaigning, in a move that appeared to be a mere formality that changes nothing in her campaign platform. Speaking to France 2 television, she disclosed, “I feel more free and above all, above party politics, which I think is important.” For months now Ms Le Pen has stated that she is not, strictly speaking, an FN candidate but a candidate backed by the FN. She has also long distanced herself from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former FN leader, and her election campaign has put neither her party’s name nor its trademark flame log on her posters. She has instead focused on battling Mr Macron, highlighting the continuing threat of Islamist militancy, which has claimed more than 230 lives in the country since 2015, and stating that her opponent was “to say the least, weak” on the issue. She also stated that she wanted to talk to sovereignist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who won nearly five percent of the first-round vote and who has not disclosed which side he would take in the next vote. She disclosed on Monday that “his platform is extremely close to ours. Patriots should come together to fight those who promote unbridled localisation.
Security has been a major issue in France in recent years, as the country has been affected by a number of terror attacks. Throughout her campaign, Ms Le Pen has promised to suspend the EU’s open-border agreement on France’s frontiers and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services. Meanwhile Mr Macron’s internal security programme calls for 10,000 more police officer and 15,000 new prison places. He has also recruited a number of security experts to his entourage. Opinion polls throughout the course of the campaign however have consistently found that despite the security issue, voters are more concerned about the economy and the trustworthiness of politicians. On Monday, Ms Le Pens’ campaign took aim at what they see as further weak spots: including Mr Macron’s previous job as an investment banker and his role as a deregulating economy minister under President Hollande.
The United Nations refugee agency warned this month that the risk of mass starvation in four countries – northeastern Nigeria, Somali, South Sudan and Yemen – is rapidly increasing due to drought and conflict, noting that some twenty million people live in hard-hit areas where harvests have failed and malnutrition rates are increasing, particularly amongst young children.
The UN declared a famine in some areas of South Sudan back in February, with UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards now warning that “a further 1 million people are now on the brink of famine.” Speaking at a news briefing, Edwards disclosed, “we are raising our alarm level further by today warning that the risk of mass deaths from starvation among populations in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Nigeria is growing,” adding “this really is an absolutely critical situation that is rapidly unfolding across a large swathe of Africa from west to east.” UNHCR has reported that people are on the run within their countries and there are also greater numbers of South Sudanese refugees who are fleeing to Sudan and Uganda, with Edwards noting that a preventable humanitarian catastrophe, possible worse than that of 2011 when 260,000 people died of famine in the Horn of Africa, “is fast becoming an inevitability.”
UNHCR is increasing its operations however it has been affected by a severe funding shortfall, with some of the country programmes only funded at between 3 and 11 percent. According to Jens Laerke of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), overall the Un has appealed for US $4.4 billion for the four countries however it has received less than US $984 million, or 21 percent, to date.
Nigeria’s state security agency reported this month that it had thwarted plans by Boko Haram militants linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group to attack the British and United States embassies in the capital Abuja.
The Department of State Services (DSS) has revealed that it arrested five suspected members of the Islamist militant group based in the state of Benue, in the country’s middle belt, between 25 and 26 March. In a statement, it disclosed that “the group had perfected plans to attack the UK and American Embassies and other western interests in Abuja.” It went on to say that another suspected Boko Haram member, who was arrested on 22 March in northeaster Yobe state, confessed details of the plot. So far the British High Commission and the US Embassy in Abuja have not commented on these findings.
Since 2009, Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and forced a further 2 million to flee their homes in an insurgency that is aimed at creating an Islamic state in the northeastern region of Africa’s most populous nation. In recent years, the group has launched cross border attacks into neighbouring Cameroon and Niger.