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The unfolding humanitarian crisis around Lake Chad: UN report falls short of naming environmental dimensions

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It is encouraging to see that the United Nations Security Council is beginning to acknowledge the transboundary dimensions of fragility and conflict, as demonstrated by its newly launched Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region.

The report, which was presented in the Security Council on 13 September 2017, emphasizes the need for regional responses and the enhanced cooperation of different UN and humanitarian agencies as important steps to addressing the unfolding humanitarian crisis. However, while regional responses to address the regional security challenge are desirable, the report would have been stronger if it had highlighted the underlying environmental contributions of the region’s fragility. 

Multiple stressors converge in the Lake Chad region, which lies at the southern end of the Sahara desert. In the region around the lake–which borders Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria–unemployment, poverty and conflict interact with environmental change and degradation. The mismanagement of water resources, for instance, in the form of increased water withdrawal for irrigation from the lake’s tributaries, as well as prolonged severe droughts, have contributed to a 90 per cent shrinking of Lake Chad in the past 40 years. In addition, the ongoing insurgency by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria further exaggerates the reduction of livelihood security for communities in the region. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), the conflict with Boko Haram has caused over 10 000 deaths between 2009 and 2016. The military interventions of the Multinational Joint Task Force and armed forces of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria achieved a sizeable reduction in Boko Haram’s activities. Nonetheless, according to the newly published report: ‘From April to June 2017, 246 attacks were recorded, resulting in the deaths of 225 civilians.’

The ongoing insurgency and the continued shrinking of Lake Chad, which is the main source of livelihood for millions of inhabitants, are causing a massive humanitarian crisis, intensifying the fragile security situation and increasing cross-border displacement of populations. The Report of the Secretary-General points out: ‘Some 10.7 million people across the Lake Chad Basin region currently need humanitarian assistance, including 8.5 million in Nigeria.’ According to the report, 7.2 million people currently suffer severe food insecurity, of which 4.7 million are located in the north-eastern part of Nigeria.

The food and water insecurities caused by environmental change and mismanagement have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis caused by the Boko Haram insurgency. Although there is a lack of consistent monitoring around Lake Chad, the available data clearly indicates that the region has experienced significant environmental changes. For every year since 2000, the annual temperature anomaly, based on the 1961 to 1990 average temperature, was continuously above 1°C. Research agrees that environmental degradation—and especially the predicted impacts of climate change—will further exacerbate these pressures on the states and societies around Lake Chad. During the 2017 Stockholm Forum, experts from the region outlined the complex dependencies of local livelihoods on natural resources, in particular the Lake Chad ecosystem, and how important ecological factors are to understanding and addressing the regions vulnerability and fragility. As Sweden’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, pointed out during the Security Council debate on 13 September: ‘The effects of climate change and its links to the stability and security are evident. We cannot hide from this reality if we want to truly address the challenges in the region. The lack of follow-up in this area in the Secretary-General’s report once again underlines the need for improved risk assessments and risk management strategies by the UN, as clearly highlighted by the Security Council in Resolution 2349 (2017): ‘The Council must remain alert to the threats to stability as a result of the adverse effects of climate change.’

By acknowledging the adverse effect of climate change in the Lake Chad Basin region, the UN report should have emphasized the inevitable pathways for addressing the current crisis. Managing natural resources sustainably is one of the key factors to achieving regional stabilization, reducing people’s vulnerability, increasing resilience and thereby thwarting the fertile grounds for insurgent group recruitment. This is only possible when the UN Security Council and other peacebuilding agencies begin to integrate the linkages of environmental, social, and political issues in their peacebuilding efforts in the Lake Chad Basin.

About Resolution 2349:

At the end of March 2017, the United Nations Security Council unanimously issued Resolution 2349 against terrorism and human rights violations in the Lake Chad Basin. It recognized the role of climate change in exacerbating human insecurity—particularly around food insecurity and livelihood vulnerabilities—which are linked to the Basin’s complex conflicts: ‘the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of the Region’. The resolution was initiated by the Security Council member states’ travel to the Lake Chad region earlier in 2017. The resolution tasked the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to provide an assessment of the situation. A direct mention of climate and environmental change is absent in the newly published report.

First published in SIPRI.org

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Is Morocco become China’s freeway to Africa?

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Back in the year 1958, the kingdom of Morocco become the second African country to recognize the People’s Republic of China. Basically, bilateral ties between the two countries set up last year when King Mohamed VI made an official visit mainland China. It was the second trip to China during his reign in 2006. The royal visit to China resulted in signing up very important treaties and agreements especially the agreement named “China-Africa Investment Fund” and plans for a $10 billion industrial city to be located and built in Tangier, Morocco’s North Hub.

Indeed, China looks at Morocco as fruitful opportunity area to develop factories for export to the European Zone, and easy up way to the other African State especially across Gibraltar.

At the political Approach, Morocco China mutual ties were strongly adhesive and cemented and also have shared the same current key issues, most so-called “Non-Intervention Policy” in State affairs. While the Moroccan news media has sometimes questioned on the oppression and depression of faith in China, the Moroccan government has predominantly declined from commenting on issues concerning to China’s “Key Interest”: Xinjiang, Taiwan, or Tibet. In return, China has not mentioned on the Moroccan position concerning the “Western Sahara Issue” According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs “Nasser Bourita” said: “I think the Chinese position on the South is very pragmatic, the Chinese overlooked at Dakhla and South and taken economic opportunities where they exist “.This relating to one of Southern Morocco’s largest cities in Western Sahara.

Yet, China has bestowed a lot of troops to the operation, China got no interest concerning the “Western Sahara”, said a Senior UN official based in Western Sahara. United Nations figures from August 2016 certify that just 10 of the 2639 Chinese Soldiers deployed on the United Nations Missions abroad were in Western Sahara.

Currently, the experience there has been remarkable, somehow some Chinese officers’, “In addition to the visible white bones everywhere, the black wind of the Sahara Desert is also impressive”. a Chinese officer wrote in reminisces issued by Global Times online.

China’s relationship with Taiwan is still complex and intricate by geopolitical rivalry with the United State and China’s territorial aspirations, similarity; the devotion of Western Sahara is closely tied to Morocco’s long-standing relationship with Algeria. In fact, Algeria always has long _advocated ” Polisario Front”, a socialist party that brought off an arm conflict campaign against the Kingdom of Morocco until a cease-fire in the year of 1991.

China, for its side, has traditionally had stronger mutual ties with Algeria than any other country in North Africa.

All the same, The Western Sahara Conflict and Twain Issue similarly can be taken same territorial issues. In Morocco, anyone can freely access and explore websites linked to “Polisario Front”; it is far difficult in China to access or seek about Xingjian or Tibet. That’s the fact indicates that Kingdom of Morocco is liberalized society and since, reforms enacted by King Mohamed VI, an increasingly democratic one. For its side, the Moroccan News has often published on China’s lack of religious freedom and restriction opposed by the Chinese Muslims.

In June 2015, The kingdom of Morocco lifted out visa requirements for Chinese tourists, making a new pointing start in the long history of travel between both countries. For instance, some 160,000 Chinese tourists have visited Morocco in 2016, an enlarge of 300 percent year a year. This kind of figure is specifically impressive given the visa requirement was in place for much of 2016. Before the visa requirements were lifted out, Morocco welcomed more than 1,000~600 Chinese tourists a month, that number has been reached as high as 7,000 per month back to visa requirements was dropped. Actually, Morocco’s aim to welcoming 100,000 Chinese tourists in 2017 seems more achievable. So far, Global Times in February named Morocco the ” Best potential destination ” in the world in an opening ceremony attended by a representative of the Moroccan Government.

At the Ancient era, by 13th Century 1325, the well-known traveler “IBEN BATTUTA” left Morocco all the way for China, which he reached 20 years later after traveling far and wide. nowadays, the journey would be less indirect, but there are still no direct commercial flight links between China and Kingdom of Morocco. which is the absence of a direct flight link makes the sudden increase in Chinese tourism to Morocco altogether.

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Beautiful Soul Narrative and Gendered Understanding of Armed Conflict : Case Study of the Rwandan Genocide

Cemre Yapici

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Armed conflict leads to exacerbation of inequalities and power relations that existed in the pre-conflict period as a result of gender stereotypical understanding of the conflict. That is why it is a vast resources in the academic literature to examine the relation between gender roles and armed conflict (Cockburn 1999; El- Bushra 2017; Turshen 1998; Yuval- Davis 1997). According to many feminist scholars, gender is a system of power relation to determine both relations and access to resources within a society. Gender roles point out politically constructed roles, behaviours and norms that society decide which way most proper and appropriate for both women and men. In other words, stereotypical assumptions lead to expectations that men are associated with aggressiveness, perpetrators, defenders, power and fight; whereas women are related to honour of the country, innocence, peacefulness, victimisation, care and maternity. However, as a result of this gendered dynamics of armed conflict women are perceived as substitute in the armed conflict such as cookers, cleaners, sex slaves and nurse into the military life (Cockburn 1999; El- Bushra 2017; Turshen 1998; Yuval- Davis 1997).

Having said that, traditional masculinity dominated gender roles shape the understanding of victimisation in armed conflict. As Cynthia Cockburn analyses (1999) in the chapter of ‘The Continuum of Violence’ gender based war normalises the invisibility of female participation into the military forces. Particularly, it is a common perception that all women and young girls experience rape, sex slavery or faced sex work while, real men fight for the country and honour of the state. In addition, as Turshen describes that this masculinity based understanding of sexual abuse causes to leave aside women’s agency into military life (Turshen 1998)

Furthermore, both gendered war stories and narratives exclude women and their agencies in armed conflict by showing men as perpetrators of the war. Also, both war propaganda and images of motherland are symbolised as a woman who is honour of the country; whereas enemies are symbolised as male who threats the country (Cockburn 1999; El- Bushra 2017; Turshen 1998; Yuval- Davis 1997).  At the same time, particularly victorious war stories and traditional narratives strengthen the negative impacts of gender roles on armed conflict because women are shaped as innocent victim who must be protected by a hero. To illustrate, beautiful soul narrative is identified by Jean Elshtain to clarify the impact of gender roles on the understanding of armed conflict and security. According to Jean Elshtain, victorious war stories have essential role to encourage people especially men to fight for the country by labelling women who are ‘beautiful souls’ and are ‘incorrectly pacifists’ (Elsthain 1995). At the same time, the war stories also emphasise that women are mother of heroes; hence they need to be protected. In this way, it is a traditional gender perception that women should be at home during the armed conflict by providing love and maternity as a supporter for the fighters (Elsthain 1995; Sjoberg 2010).

As many feminist theorist argue that the elements of ‘beautiful soul’ narrative subordinate women and their agencies as a result of the core idea that ‘beautiful soul’ is related with the protection of the women (Elsthain 1995; Sjoberg 2010). It is noteworthy that, there are two core elements of ‘beautiful soul’ narrative. The first element identifies that women are more peaceful than men whereas second one identifies that women are the main reasons of the conflict (Elsthain 1995; Sjoberg 2010). Nonetheless, in this way, ’beautiful soul’ narrative ‘sets women up as the prizes of most wars- fragile, removed from reality, and in need of the protection provided by men’ by showing women as just reason of the armed conflict (Sjoberg, 2010; pg.58) On the other hand, many feminist scholars point out that ‘beautiful soul’ narrative focuses on specific differences between gender roles of women and men and thus; might be identified ‘by the separation of a private sphere (where women are, and naturally belong) and the sphere of war- making and war-fighting (where something has gone terribly wrong if women are included)’(Sjoberg, 2010; pg.58).

However, as many feminist scholars clarify this masculinity based characterization of gender roles into the military life is inaccurate and incomplete thus; it overshadows both agency and active participation of women in armed conflict by creating a perception that women have temporary and supporter role in armed conflict (Cockburn 1999; El- Bushra 2017; Turshen 1998; Yuval- Davis 1997).Additionally, females have more active role and even can be more brutal than men in armed conflict contrary to popular myth. That is, we might claim that ‘beautiful soul’ narrative cannot be obtained in every time in military life. Hence, it is important to examine ‘beautiful soul’ narrative regarding female combatant’s active role in the armed conflict to bring into open women’s agency. In the light of the information that given above, this essay critics the understanding of ‘beautiful soul’ narrative and, delves into both female violent agency and active roles of women into military life with a case study of the Rwandan genocide to clarify that ‘beautiful soul’ narrative cannot be incorporated into the military life.

Active Participation of Female Combatants: Are they ‘Beautiful Souls’ or Perpetrators of Armed Conflict: A Case Study of Rwanda

Throughout history, women have been active involvement in armed conflict as fighters and combatants in many international conflict such as the American revolution, the Mexican revolution, World War I, The Vietnam War, The Sierra Leone Civil war and The Rwandan Genocide whereas; ‘beautiful soul’ narrative shows women as more peaceful, innocent and naive than men (Sjoberg, 2010; pg.58).At the same time, it is noteworthy that women’s participation to armed conflict is not only as substitute roles but also as fighter role in many International cases. Furthermore, gender and armed conflict studies show that active participation of women is increasing during the last years and female combatants sometimes commit more brutal and oppressor war crime than male combatants in armed conflict by killing, raping civilians mercilessly (Schjølset 2013; Sjoberg 2010). In other words, gender studies show that women are not either more peaceful nor reason of the conflict by focusing on many different case studies all around the world. Hence, it is essential to delve into women’s role into military life from an objective and gender-neutral perspective. All in all, this part of the essay will critically analyse the active involvement of the female combatants in the Rwandan genocide to challenge the understanding of ‘beautiful soul’ narrative and traditional gender roles into military life.

A Case Study of Rwanda Genocide: Historical Background about the genocide

Rwanda had been known as a country of a mainly three different ethnic groups; the Hutu, the Tutsi, and the Twa. Interactions and inter-marriages between those groups particularly the Hutu and the Tutsi groups were situation of daily life (Hogg 2010; Brown 2014; BBC News Rwanda). However, the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi,’ the perpetrators and victims of the genocide respectively’ was historically related to their social status which was socially constructed by colonial powers (Brown 2014). Having said that, the colonial rules exacerbated effectively the social status differences by giving both social and administrative power to the Tutsi group to create perception that Tutsis are superior group. However, this situation ‘portrayed the Tutsis as the direct antagonizes of the discrimination that had been directed toward the Hutus for decades.’(Hogg 2010; Brown 2014). As a result of social inequalities, created by colonial power, on 6th April 1994 Rwandan genocide started right after extremist Hutu power announced that to kill and excruciate Tutsi people (BBC News: Rwanda). According to the United Nations report about Rwanda (2015), 8000 people were slaughtered, many of them were raped, and tortured within 100 days. As most academics stated that on April 1994, Rwanda witnessed an unforgettable and unprecedented genocide in the history of the humanity as a result of ethnic and gender based problems into the society. Briefly, Rwandan genocide has still been a controversial topic in the armed conflict field in terms of many reasons such as female fighters, ethnicity problems, and the role of colonial powers. In order to analyse specifically, this part of the essay will particularly focus on female involvement in the genocide.

Women As Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide

‘I had seen war before, but I had never seen a woman carrying a baby on her back kill another women with a baby on her back.’ (UNAMIR interviewer in 1996) (Johns 2010; 82)

‘I believe that women are just as guilty of this genocide as men’ (Female genocide suspect, Kigali Central Prison)’

As stated in the introduction to this part of the essay, the Rwandan genocide has been unprecedented in the history of genocide in terms of the prominent role of female combatants. Women’s active participation into the military life in the 1994 Rwandan genocide added a new dimension to gender-based assumption of armed conflict. As Brown states that the agency of women to participate in the genocide challenged the gender based narratives. In other words, women in the Rwandan genocide reshaped patriarchal understanding of war narratives by showing how a mother became a cruel murderers. To exemplify, interview with Victor Karega enlightens how female participant in the genocide reshaped patriarchy and masculinity based understanding of armed conflict in Rwanda. Karega claims that,

In our culture, women has always been a symbol. A symbol of maternity, a symbol of love. It was a symbol of social cohabitation. Even when there were problems, ethnic problems and political problems, women were always like a link, a linkage, between different categories of people, because they were marrying from, or to, both sides…. But during the genocide, they were also involved in perpetrating the genocide (Interview Victor Karega of the Rwandan Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Affairs, November 3, 1998) (Sharlach, pg 393)

At the same time, in the academic literature, there are vast feminist resources to analyse female participation into the military life in the Rwandan genocide to show that women are capable of use of force in contrast to ‘beautiful soul’ narrative and masculinity based understanding of armed conflict (Hogg 2010; Johns 2010; Brown 2014). Hence, this section of the essay will particularly focus on the specific dominant roles of female combatants in the genocide to indicate that ‘beautiful soul’ narrative cannot be incorporated into the military in all conditions.

Moreover, it is essential to note that, women have prominent role in a variety of the genocide by murdering, stealing, and looting resources of Tutsis, and acting as an accessory for rapes contrary to the perception of ‘beautiful soul’ narrative discourse. As stated by Odette Kayirere, Executive Secretary of AVEGA and Sabine Uwase, staff attorney, the genocide-related crimes committed by female combatants in the genocide might be categorised under two main forms violence namely; acts of direct violence and acts of indirect violence (Brown 2014). Acts of direct violence is related to use of physical force such as killing, rape, torture, sexual assault and beatings (Galtung 1969) whereas indirect violence is not related to physical force such as looting, supervising and ordering indirect violence (Brown 2014). However, one of the main direct violence committed by female perpetrates in the genocide is to rape to Tutsi young boys by dishonouring them (Hogg 2010). For instance, Charles, as a male victim of female perpetrated rape confirmed that Hutu women forced them to have sex involuntarily by giving drugs (Brown 2014). Also, women participated actively in the killings and excruciating of so many Tutsi civilians regardless of age, and gender mercilessly. Having said that, according to African Rights investigators women combatants not only caused so many killings and torturing in the genocide but they also behaved more brutal than male combatants as commanders (Hogg 2010; Brown 2014). In addition, Adam Jones examples in his research that there are many female commanders who committed more brutal genocide crimes than male commanders in Rwanda. To exemplify,

Rose Karushara, a councillor in Kigali, who ‘took extremely active role in the genocide’, by wearing military uniform. She was a tall and physically strong woman, she attacked the refugees herself ‘before handing them over to her interahahmwe for the final kill.. At least five thousand people were killed, all thrown into the Nyabarongo River under orders from Karushara. (Jones,2002 pg.83)

As another example of female commanders Sister Julienne Kizito, one of a number of nuns who was prominent figures of the women participation in genocidal atrocities. She was accused of working directly with the killers by burning people alive (Jones, 2002)

Furthermore, it essential to focus on that women not only committed direct violence in the Rwandan genocide, but also they committed indirect violence by both act looting resources and supervising murdering of Tutsis. As Adam Jones emphasizes (2010) that particularly female leaders dominated the genocide by looting resources and stripping bodies of Tutsis. Such that, they did not hesitate to assisted in killings and torturing of their neighbors. What is worse, many Hutu women appealingly assisted in even killings of children and babies of Tutsis to cause extinction of Tutsis. Having said that, Hutu women led to so many rapes and sexual harassment of Tutsis appealingly by helping male Hutu combatants. Especially, they had active role in forcing Tutsi women to accept their designated fate as sex-slaves for male Hutu soldiers.

Survivor of the genocide described that how Tutsi women deforced them at their houses to be raped by Hutu male soldiers (Jones 2010). To illustrate, one of the survivors of the genocide describes that ‘Many of women of your kind have been taken by dog-like vagabonds. And here you are, rejecting this nice young man… What are you waiting for?’ (Jones 2010 pg.84). Also it is significant to analyse that, Hutu women also participated in the genocide as spies by denouncing and tolerating killings of Tutsis as another significant indirect role (Hogg 2010). Additionally, women had prominent roles in the key political positions to provoke the Hutu people against the Tutsis during the genocide. Mainly, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, previous Minister of Family Affairs and Women’s Development was accused of being the reason of thousands of killings by provoking the Hutu women with the effect of her political power (Hogg, 2010).All in all, in the light of the information regarding female involvement in the genocide, it is essential to analyse that, the cases of female combatants in the Rwandan genocide refute the idea of  ‘beautiful soul’ narrative into the military life. That is, the Rwandan genocide has been a milestone to demonstrate that how ordinary women became brutal combatants on the contrary of the general assumption that women are more peaceful and naive than men.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this essay delves into the active role of women into  military life in the Rwandan genocide in the discourse of understanding of gender based armed conflict and ‘beautiful soul’ narrative. Gender is seen as a set of expectation that society determine what is more proper for both male and female into the society. Having said that, there is a growing acceptance that gender issues have crucial impact on the understating of armed conflict and political violence in the academic literature. Also, there are specific gender roles in armed conflict as a result of masculine understanding of military life. However, it is noteworthy that male power dominated gender roles overshadow both the active role of women and their agencies by creating assumption that women are victims of the armed conflict whereas; men are defenders of the conflict even though, women actively participated in armed conflict and political violence like soldiers, combatants and commander throughout the history.

At the same time, as Elstahin argues (1995) that with the effect of traditional gender roles in armed conflict war stories associates women as reason to men die for by creating assumption that women are more naive than men. However, this gender based assumption contradicts reality into the military life because gender studies indicate that women can be more brutal fighter who victimise civilians regardless of sex. In other words, female combatants kill, rape and victimise on the contrary of ‘beautiful soul’ narrative during the conflict. Especially, the Rwandan genocide added a new dimension in terms of gender and war field. Thus, it has essential role to challenge the idea that women are more naive and peaceful than men hence; they need to be protected.

According to The United Nations report and other gender studies that greater proportion of female combatants took extremely active role as killers, commander and torturer in the genocide. To exemplify, the cases of female leaders demonstrate that female combatants had dominant role  ‘in the post-massacre looting and stripping bodies, which often involved climbing over corpses piled thigh-high in the confined spaces in which many Tutsis met their end.’(Jones 2002, pg84). What is more, studies show that female commanders commit more war crimes than men commanders during the genocide. Briefly, the active involvement of many Hutu women in the killings during the Rwanda genocide objects to both ‘beautiful soul’ narrative and gender based dynamics of armed conflict. Hence, it is noteworthy that the perception of ‘beautiful soul’ narrative cannot be truly incorporated into real military life thus; the role of female combatants in armed conflict should be consider without masculinity based stereotypical lenses.

Bibliography

  • Adam Jones (2002) Gender and genocide in Rwanda, Journal of Genocide Research, 4:1, 65-94, DOI: 10.1080/14623520120113900
  • Anita Schjølset (2013) Data on Women’s Participation in NATO Forces and Operations, International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations, 39:4, 575-587, DOI: 10.1080/03050629.2013.805326
  • African Rights. 1995. “Not So Innocent: When Women Become Killers”. London: African Rights.
  • BBC News Rwanda: How the Genocide Happened Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13431486
  • Cockburn, Cynthia. (1999) “Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence”Backgroun Paper for Conference on Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Development, Washington ,DC, 9-10 June.
  • El- Bushra, Judy. (2017) “Why Does Armed Conflict Recur, and What has Gender Got to with it” LSE Women, Peace, Security Paper Series. Available at: lse.ac.uk\wps
  • El- Bushra, Judy, Sahl, M.G. Ibrahim (2005). “Cycles of Violence: Gender Relations and Armed Conflict”. Agency for Co-operation and Research in Development ACK Garden House
  • Elsthain,Jean Beathe (1995) “Women and War” The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and Press.
  • Hogg, Nicole (2010) ‘Women’s Participation in the Rwandan genocide: mothers or monsters?”, International Review of the Red Cross, Volume 93 Number 877, 69-102.
  • Sara E. Brown (2014) “Female Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide, International Feminist Journal of Politics”, 16:3, 448-469, DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2013.788806.
  • Sjoberg, L. and Gentry, C. 2007. Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics. London: Zed Books.
  • Sjoberg (2010) ‘Women fighters and the ‘beautiful soul’ narrative’ International Review of the Red Cross.
  • The United Nations Report on Rwanda (2015) Available at:http://research.un.org/en/docs/reports
  • Turshen, M and Twagiramniya (eds) (1998). “What Women Do in War Time: Gender and Conflict in Africa,”. London, New York: Zed Books.
  • Walby, S. 1989. ‘Theorising Patriarchy’, Sociology 23 (3): 213–34.
  • Yuval Davis, N. 2006. ‘Intersectionality and Feminist Politics’, European Journal of Women’s Studies 13 (3): 193–209.
  • Yuval-Davis, Nira. (1997).”Gender and Nation“, Sage Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi.

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Africa’s First Continental War: Rwanda, the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and Internally Displaced Persons

Jason Anderson

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Refugee movement and the concept of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has a profound effect on global security. Regional instability often scales up localized geopolitical conflicts that eventually take center stage on a global policymaker’s agenda. This is the case with the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLR).   In defining what these geopolitical contexts mean, this analysis will refer to internally displaced persons affected by the Rwandan genocide living in Uganda, the DRC, Tanzania, and Burundi.

Given the scope of political psychology and how it affects various actors, it is difficult to encompass all of the variables at play without talking about the perception of victims in the international system and how that translates to specific geopolitical contexts. There is a lack of theoretical perspective regarding victimhood and how some groups transform actionable grievances into a victim-based identity. Essentially, why do we see this phenomenon in some geopolitical contexts and not others? According to Jacoby, this process consists of 5 stages: “(i) – structural conduciveness; (ii) – political consciousness; (iii) – ideological concurrence; (iv) – political mobilization, and (v) – political recognition” (2015, p.513).

Additionally, given the scope of mass violence and the efficiency with which the Rwandan genocide played out, it is safe to say that this study feels that IR theory is short in recognizing victims within the lens of the most abominable cases of human rights suffering and how these events unfolded since the post-colonial history of the GLR. The main shortfall is the failure to understand the scope of victim-based identity. Struggling to be recognized is a key theme that has been recurrent in the literature as it portrays ethnocentrism in the GLR. The idea of identifying a ‘victim’ in the structure of in-groups/out-groups with regards to IDPs has suffered from a lack of legitimacy and salient power construction in the GLR.

The collective experience that forms social identity patterns in the GLR draws heavily from the past 60-70 years of post-colonial history. The essential question is how the relationship between the individual that works through the mechanisms of internal displacement understands the nuances of collective suffering from the group dynamic? This precept means that the conversation has to include the multi-faceted dynamics that accompany genocide. There is an element of political mobilization that controls power distribution mechanisms in every layer of this conflict. From the perspective of IDPs, how do they perceive power distribution and what means are they willing to use to accomplish that end goal? Is the perception of being a victim enough to legitimize those means? The events of targeted retributions get complicated quickly as they run counter to the ideas proposed by Paul Kagame’s self-initiated genocide ideology laws. Victims that see their claims falling within the self-constructed categories of group grievance also see these aspects are also lacking as far as leverage is concerned with regards to social power.

In what many scholars have considered ‘Africa’s first continental war’ (Mills, 2002), the various linkages with regards to large refugee flows create positions of insecurity on a regional standard. While parsing out these instances may seem trivial on a global security scale, they should not be limited to anything less than the following: the individual security of the refugees pertaining to the areas from which they fled, their inherent social security, and the regional circumstances that are contributing factors to the greater conflict.

Overall, the condition of displaced persons in the GLR has not improved.  The UNHCR’s Annual Global Trends report notes that by the end of 2016 “Uganda was hosting 940,800 refugees…the highest number in the country’s history. Uganda was the 5th largest refugee hosting country in the world and the largest in Africa. By May 2017, this number stood at over 1.2 million”. The majority of these individuals come from a wide range of neighboring countries, however “177,176 of these were Rwandan who arrived during and after the 1994 genocide” (Frank 2017). While Uganda has ratified more international human rights law instruments than any other country in the GLR, obstacles still remain. For reference, here is a list of the treaties to which Uganda has ratified:

  • The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The International Convention on the Eliminations of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • The 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights,
  • The 1984 Convention Against Torture

The treaties noted above have also been codified into Ugandan domestic law with the enactment of the 2006 Refugee Act (Frank 2017).

The crux of all this is to show that even though these norms exist within the governing structures of the GLR, Rwandans desiring to return are living in a dangerous chasm between principle and practice. What is missing from the literature and the field are the specific negative conditions of repatriation as described by the refugees themselves and their perception of conditions in Rwanda that still revolve around the social calibrations of their ethnic status. These include, but are not limited to political suppression, ethnicity, media & ideological manipulations, state-controlled production of information dissemination, geopolitical tension, and social identity as an organizational destructive force. There is also a critical basic infrastructure problem that plays into Kagame’s hard-line stance on refugee movement. Frank quotes an interview with the Rwandan Minister for Disaster Management and Refugees that outlines the government’s perceived obstacles: “(1) Over 60% of returnee households were on permanent aid, (2) 96% needed support to re-build their shelters, (3) 72% had not received any kind of poverty alleviation assistance,(4) 50% of them did not possess any health insurance scheme, (5) 11% of returnees had no identification cards, (6) the vast majority of children born to returnees did not possess an adequate birth certificate, and (7) despite access to 12years of basic education, the majority struggled to provide their children with school materials and uniforms.” (2017, p.112)

The aim of this analysis is to show how fractional yet critical gaps in various social mechanisms are de facto governing refugee flows and constitute a threat to global security as much as they do in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Historical research founds this problem in the culminating events surrounding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where over 900,000 people were systematically murdered in roughly one hundred days. Millions more were forcibly displaced as a result and continue to live as internally displaced persons in highly unstable situations. Internally displaced persons are on the negative receiving end of both international treaties and the codified legislation of states within the region. Refugee policymaking needs to include, or perhaps more importantly start with, those whose voices go unheard in the process. NGOs need to focus more on the geopolitical dynamics within all of the countries involved. This context includes, but is not limited to: Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and the DRC. The causal mechanisms behind this IDP problem demonstrate that variables associated with national security, factionalized class structures, group grievance, human flight, and inequality based on ethnicity are factors that have yet to be mitigated through international norms, even though it is now fully23 years after Africa’s first continental war.

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