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Burkina Faso on edge, Ituri unrest, and Colombia’s forever war: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

(Louise O'Brien/TNH)
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Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

Soldier killings trigger protests in Burkina Faso

Political tensions are rising in Burkina Faso after the killing of at least 49 gendarmes by jihadists on 14 November: the deadliest loss the army has suffered in six years of conflict. Some demonstrators have called for the resignation of President Roch Kaboré – elected for a second term just last year – while others have blocked a French military convoy in protest against its albeit limited presence in the country. Rumours of a coup are also swirling as military morale plummets. A leaked army memo stated that gendarmes stationed in Inata – where the attack happened – had run out of food prior to the incident and were surviving by hunting animals. Kaboré has since dismissed high-ranking military leaders and promised an official investigation. But those steps are unlikely to make a dent in a security crisis that has displaced 1.4 million Burkinabé, nor quell the growing political discontent.

Thousands flee fresh unrest in Congo’s Ituri

A new wave of violence has erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern Ituri province, where 1.7 million people have been displaced since 2017. On 21 November, fighters from an ethnic Lendu militia known as CODECO raided a displacement camp – mostly populated by local Hema – killing 29 people and displacing tens of thousands. CODECO’s demands are poorly defined, but the unrest can be traced back to the unresolved legacy of past conflicts, and to the Belgian colonial period, which left communities badly polarised. Recent dialogue efforts have failed, disarmament pledges have stalled, and military operations have made matters worse. CODECO has now split into a half a dozen factions, while the Hema have created their own militia and other communities have been drawn into the increasingly fragmented conflict. 

Enduring conflict and confinement mar Colombia ‘peace’ milestone

During a visit to mark five years since landmark accords credited with ending the longest-running conflict in the Americas, UN Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted that the Colombian peace process had inspired him to appeal for a ceasefire between the warring parties in Ethiopia. Ethiopians may not be thanking him for the comparison: That’s because the asymmetric war that has raged in Colombia with varying intensity since 1964 remains very much a live conflict. In fact, surging violence has seen displacement triple this year compared to last, and only Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo have more than Colombia’s almost five million internally displaced people. But as The New Humanitarian reported this week, it’s not just displaced people who need help. Tens of thousands of mainly Indigenous Colombians are living under confinement. Their captors are non-state armed groups that impose curfews, recruit minors, and force many of them into illegal work. Read our full story for more.

One in two women report violence as anti-GBV campaign begins

To kick off this year’s 16 Days campaign against gender-based violence, UN Women published a report confirming what was long suspected: Lockdowns, which have kept more women and girls at home with abusers and reduced their access to support services, have created a dangerous and often deadly mix. Nearly half of the women surveyed in 13 countries across the globe reported that they or someone they know had experienced violence since the start of the pandemic. In Bangladesh, that number reached 93 percent. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that one woman or girl was killed globally every 11 minutes in 2020, in most cases by an intimate partner or family member. Meanwhile, a coalition of women’s groups and activists from 128 countries released a draft treaty to seek an end to violence against women and girls. The coalition’s co-founder, Lisa Shannon, told The New Humanitarian that more international funding was “fundamental” in many countries where the implementation of laws is being impeded by a lack of resources. Check out our GBV reading list for more.

Tragedy in the Channel

At least 27 people drowned in the English Channel – which the French call La Manche – when an inflatable dinghy carrying asylum seekers and migrants trying to reach the UK from France sank on 24 November. Among the victims were seven women – including one who was pregnant – and three children. The migrant shipwreck was the deadliest on record in the Channel, where more than 25,700 people have crossed this year, compared to around 8,500 in 2020. Tensions between the UK and France, already high post-Brexit, have been further inflamed as politicians trade blame and struggle for solutions. The UK has taken a hardline approach, proposing a series of policies – including overhauling the country’s asylum system and sending asylum seekers to third countries while their claims are processed – to try to deter crossings. NGOs say this amounts to “performative cruelty”, and human rights organisations say deterrence strategies on both sides of the Channel have “spectacularly failed”. The day after the shipwreck, people were still attempting the crossing.

Indigenous children found starving in Guyana

Guyanese news outlet Demerara Waves reported that a local children’s charity, Blossom, had seen dozens of starving Indigenous children in Anabisi, near the Venezuelan border, over the weekend of 20-21 November – some flown to hospital for emergency care. The New Humanitarian followed up and was told by the UN’s refugee agency that it was distributing “emergency food assistance and non-food items” to Indigenous Waroa in a remote community in western Guyana. “UNHCR is aware of reports that one Warao child died in the past week, possibly of malnutrition, and is looking into these reports,” it said in an email, adding that during recent visits to the region it had been told that Warao were arriving in canoes “with only the clothes on their back”. Some 250 Warao, half of them children, have settled in the community after fleeing extreme poverty and a lack of medical care in Venezuela. Despite the lack of road connections between the two countries due to a border dispute, some 25,000 Venezuelans have migrated to Guyana since the Venezuelan economy imploded in 2015. Other Indigenous Venezuelans, including members of the Wayúu community, have escaped to Colombia.

In case you missed it

CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN: At least 75 people died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya on 17 November. A day earlier, the crew of a rescue ship run by Médecins Sans Frontières found 10 bodies at the bottom of an overcrowded boat carrying around 100 asylum seekers and migrants. The known death toll in the central Mediterranean this year has now surpassed 1,300. Explore our interactive guide to the EU-backed migration control system in the Mediterranean to see why these deaths are not a tragic anomaly.

COVID-19: A new variant has been detected this week in South Africa that marks “a big jump in evolution” – raising concerns over its potential transmissibility and the effectiveness of current vaccines. The heavily mutated B.1.1.529 variant has only been found in a small number of cases, but several countries have been quick to impose travel restrictions on the southern Africa region. 

ETHIOPIA: Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has called for an immediate end to the fighting in Ethiopia as Tigrayan forces draw closer to the capital, Addis Ababa. Efforts to broker a pause in the year-long civil war have gathered steam in recent weeks, but there has been no breakthrough as of yet. See our latest for more.

HAITI: Prime Minister Ariel Henry has sworn in a new cabinet, but elections are still on hold following President Jovenel Moïse’s assasination in July and escalating insecurity in the Caribbean country that was hit by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August. Dozens of rival gangs control key transport routes, often blocking fuel, water, and food deliveries. More than 800 people have been kidnapped this year. Twelve of 14 missionaries abducted in October are still being held by the “400 Mawozo” gang.

KENYA: Proof of a COVID-19 vaccination will be needed from 21 December for Kenyans to access public services – including government offices and transport – as well as hotels, bars, and restaurants. With less than nine percent of Kenyans fully jabbed, amid a general vaccine shortage, the vaccine mandate has triggered controversy over its legality and practicability, and over the potential for fake vaccine certificate rackets. Read this recent TNH opinion piece for more on the potential pitfalls.

LIBYA: The election commission listed 73 potential candidates for Libya’s first-ever direct presidential polls. Slated for two rounds on 24 December and 24 January, the elections follow a decade of unrest since the ouster of long-term dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The list includes the wealthy prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, and prominent warlord Khalifa Haftar, but not Gaddafi’s son, Saif, whose candidacy was deemed ineligible. In a chaotic week that didn't bode well for the elections, Saif Gaddafi was prevented from lodging an appeal when gunmen attacked a court, Haftar was sentenced to death in absentia, and the UN envoy announced he was quitting after less than a year.

SOLOMON ISLANDS: Days of violent protests in the capital, Honiara, saw the National Parliament set on fire, police firing tear gas, and protesters reportedly driven back from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s private residence. Anger has focused on Sogavare’s 2019 decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China, amid long-running tensions between the Pacific nation’s main islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal.

SOMALIA: A drought emergency was declared this week as 2.6 million people – more than a fifth of Somalis – struggle to cope with four consecutive failed rainy seasons. Over 100,000 people have abandoned their homes in search of food, water, and pasture for their livestock, most of them in central and southern areas. There is the risk of a “potentially extreme situation” if rains, due early next year, fail again, the UN and the government warned.

SUDAN: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated on 21 November in a deal with the military leaders who overthrew his transitional government last month. The agreement, generally welcomed by Western governments, was condemned as a “betrayal” by the pro-democracy activists who have led street-based resistance to the coup. Their protests have been violently put down by the security forces. Twelve cabinet ministers have resigned in rejection of Hamdok’s strategy of working with the military. Meanwhile, fresh clashes erupted on 17 November in the western Darfur region, leaving dozens dead, thousands displaced, and reports of rape and missing children. For more background, read our on-the-ground reporting from Darfur earlier in the year.

UGANDA: Seven suspects have been killed and 106 people detained in alleged connection with three suicide bombings in the capital, Kampala, police said. No details were given on how the seven suspects were killed. So-called Islamic State, which is linked to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Uganda-based rebel outfit, claimed responsibility for the 16 November bombings, which killed four civilians.

Weekend read

‘The war crushed our dreams’: Displaced again and again in Yemen’s Marib

This week, we published a rare report from a Yemeni journalist on the ground in Marib, Mohamed Ghazi. One of the last government strongholds in Yemen, the city has been under intensifying attack since February by the Houthi rebels who control most of the country. Marib is home to three million people, including nearly one million who fled other parts of Yemen. As the Houthis press their offensive, more and more people become displaced – the UN says camp populations in Marib have risen tenfold since September. Ghazi’s reporting zeroes in on one family, the al-Asoudis, who have been displaced four times during the almost seven years of conflict. Like thousands like them, they barely settle in a new camp before fresh violence forces them to move again. With no access to work or income, most families are increasingly reliant on humanitarian aid, which they say isn’t always forthcoming. Just as tragic, the cycle of displacement is also crushing young people’s dreams of a better life.

And finally…

Prince William’s population problem

What is endangering wildlife on the African continent? According to Prince William, the answer is simple: overpopulation by Africans. “The increasing pressure on Africa's wildlife and wild spaces as a result of human population presents a huge challenge for conservationists, as it does the world over,” he reportedly told a prize-giving ceremony for African conservationists this week. Social media commentators were quick to point that the royal, who has three children over his own, lacks the moral authority to speak on the issue – some blamed him for eco-racism due to his own lifestyle (including many flights), his love for shooting wildlife, and Britain’s colonial history on the African continent. The prince made a similar remark about Africa’s “staggering” population growth during a 2017 speech. For more, watch this sharp satirical video by comedian Munya Chawawa.

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