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.
The World Health Organization reported late last month that the ongoing yellow fever outbreak in Africa is serious but that it does not warrant being declared an international health emergency.
Since it was first identified in Angola in December 2015, yellow fever has spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is believed to have sickened more than 6,300 people and killed about 400, despite millions of doses of vaccine having been sent repeatedly to Angola. In August, some 7.7 million people were vaccinated in a major campaign that was launched in the “high risk” DRC capital Kinshasa, along with 1.5 million in other parts of the country. In Angola, 2.4 million people have been vaccinated, making 11.6 million in all.
The campaigns have depleted the global stockpile of 6 million yellow fever vaccine doses twice this year already, which according to the WHO is unprecedented. The vaccine shortage has now become so acute that officials have begun diluting the vaccine by 80 percent in a bid to stretch the supply. The four major manufacturers who supply the global stockpile have worked around the clock in order to replenish the stockpile.
Last month, the UN health agency convened an emergency committee of experts to consider the outbreak’s status, stating afterwards that the increase of the mosquito-spread haemorrhagic fever appears to have slowed. The WHO further reported that since 12 July there have been no new infections reported in what is an “extremely positive” trend. The upcoming rainy season has raised fears of further spread of the worst outbreak in decades. It also noted that intense population movements across the border to neighbouring Republic of Congo pose a risk of further spread, adding that the Brazzaville government should consider a “pre-emptive vaccination campaign in high-risk areas,” noting that the virus was moving towards Central and Eastern Africa.
According to Somali police, late on Thursday, at least twenty people were killed in the Somali capital Mogadishu when five Islamist gunmen set off bombs and stormed a popular beach-front restaurant.
Police officer Osman Nur disclosed Friday that “the operation ended at 3 AM last night and at least 20 civilians were killed.” Somalia’s security minister, Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, reported that four of the gunmen were killed, adding that one was captured alive. Al-Shabaab has since claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that its fighters set off two car bombs at the Beach View Café on Mogadishu’s popular Lido beach, and engaged in a gun battle for hours with government troops trying to flush them out. Police officials have disclosed that al-Shabaab fighters set off the first car bomb at dusk, with witnesses reporting that a huge second blast, which echoed around the city centre, struck about an hour later as government soldiers laid siege to the restaurant. The country’s prime minister urged the public to remain calm and called the attack on a civilian target was a desperate move by a group facing annihilation.
The attack comes a week after al-Shabaab overran an African Union (AU) base near the Kenyan border, saying that they had killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers and captured a number of them. Kenya has not commented on the toll.
According to a Somali official and a maritime expert, Somali pirates have hijacked an Iranian fishing vessel with fifteen crew members on board. The hijacking comes midst warnings that piracy in the Indian Ocean region may be making a comeback.
Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir, director of the anti-piracy and seaport ministry in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Somalia, has disclosed that “pirates hijacked an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel with its 15 crew from near Eyl,” a city located in northern Somalia. John Steed, East African region manager for Oceans Beyond Piracy, has also confirmed the hijacking, adding that the vessel is called Muhammidi.
While there are still occasional cases of sea attacks, piracy near Somalia’s coast has largely subsided in the past three years. This is mainly due to shipping firms hiring private security details coupled with the presence of international warships.
The United States embassy in Uganda reported Saturday that Ugandan security forces have stopped a cell of al-Shabaab insurgents who are apparently “planning for an imminent attack.” On Monday, a Ugandan military spokesman confirmed that nineteen terror suspects were arrested over the weekend in a raid on an al-Shabaab cell that was supposedly plotting to carry out an attack in the East African nation.
A statement released by the US embassy Saturday disclosed, “Ugandan authorities reported the discovery of an al-Shabaab terrorist cell in Kampala,” noting that US officials “…remain in close contact with our Ugandan counterparts as investigations continue into what appears to have been planning for an imminent attack.”
Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga confirmed that forces had arrested nineteen foreigners on Saturday in connection with a foiled attack. On Monday, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda disclosed that police seized “substantial amounts of explosives” and suicide vests from the suspects, who are all of Somali origin. The operations were carried out in the Kisenyi neighbourhood, which is known for its large Somali population, and targeted a hotel and a flat where the Somalis recently had moved.
In the wake of an imminent terrorist attack, US security forces have increased their patrols around major sites and have warned its citizens about travel to the country. Embassy officials have disclosed that “at this point we are not aware of specific targets, and the Ugandan authorities have increased security at key sites, including Entebbe International Airport….If you must move about, remain aware of your surroundings, avoid crowds, monitor local news stations for updates, and maintain a high level of vigilance.” The US embassy warning comes nearly a week after US embassy officials warned that al-Shabaab insurgents may try to exact revenge for a US strike that killed the militant group’s commander earlier this month. Last Monday, officials warned US citizens to “stay alert to the on-going potential terrorist attacks in Uganda…we also caution US citizens of the possibility of retaliatory attacks in Uganda by al-Shabaab in response to the US and Ugandan military actions in Somalia, which killed al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane.”
Uganda, which has troops fighting al-Shabaab militants in neighbouring Somalia, is currently on high alert amidst concerns that the al-Qaeda-linked militant group is planning to carry out a similar attack to the Westgate assault that occurred in Kenya last September. The country has in the past been targeted by al-Shabaab. In 2010, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for bomb attacks that killed at least 76 people who were watching a soccer World Cup final in Kampala.