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The Dilapidated Misery of Sahel

Two displaced women sit at a camp in Awaradi, Niger. © UNOCHA/Eve Sabbagh

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The world’s most unstable regions are undoubtedly knitted in the Middle-East and the Sub-Saharan Africa. On one end a handful of the middle eastern countries account to the most chaotic warfare since World War II. Be it the Syrian war or the Israel-Palestine conflict, the region has all but echoed the spell of violence to the proximate Asia and Africa; Nigeria battered with Daesh-stirred brutality and Pakistan being riddled with terrorism prevailing off Syria and Iraq. Countries on the other side of the metaphorical coin in the African region have been classified as the worst of ranked in the quality of life and living conditions. Ranging from Mali to Niger to Ethiopia, the abysmal realities of life have surpassed each and every level of humanitarian crisis amidst utter oblivion of the global community, rendering the region chaotic on a completely different scale. However, Sahel is one such region that has ventured through extremely rough natural conditions while simultaneously being plummeted by the surge of violence and terror over the past decade; an unfortunate combination of the regional tragedy that continues to lace the region under absolute ignorance of the world around.

Sahel, also known as the ‘Central Sahil’, is a vast region of Africa dividing the renowned Sahara Desert in the north from the Savannahs in the south, expanding a colossal region of 3.053 million km². The area stretches from Senegal crossing Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad and Sudan, dipping and ceasing into the Red Sea coast on the border of Eritrea. The Sahel spans the rivers of Senegal, Niger, Nile; enjoying the distinction of holding a shoreline between the Sub-Saharan Africa and Saudi Arabia in the Middle-East.

Historically, Sahel has faced weather extremities like none of the regional counterparts, conditions ranging from droughts to seasonal floods which have rendered the land almost barren to cultivate agricultural and livestock activities, impeding the means of living of the natives leading to excessive competition over limited and increasingly shrinking natural resources of the region. The population, mostly comprising of the semi-nomadic tribes, has faced significant adversities in pursuing a wholesome living that stems from the bleak state of the region along with the upturn of violence over the past decade that has cumulated in issues ranging from food insecurity to mass malnutrition in children to massive outbreak of diseases. While the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) remains active to support the people dwelling the region, the arching humanitarian response remains meagre in the face of the uptick in ethnic terrorism and impoverished state of the region that desperately needs more attention and support.

The violence pulsating in the Sahel has its roots in the Mali crisis dating back to 2011 when the conflict exacerbated between the armed forces of Mali and freedom fighter in guise of Mali rebels fighting to liberate Northern Mali. By the end of 2012, the conflict culminated as the country of Mali bifurcated into two, spreading the rebel groups across the Sahel region; border to border with the backing of Al-Qaeda and ISIS operating from Syria and Libya. The armed fighters stirred terror in the arid lands of Niger then Burkina Faso, displacing over 340,000 natives to seek refuge in the neighbouring Sudan and Ethiopia. With the dwindling resources and increasing communal competition over modest resources, the militant-brokered rebels have strategized to incentivise the regional tensions and differences. Thus, the lack of livelihood coupled with perished trust in the local authorities have led many locals to further the divide on ethnic grounds eventually setting premise for copious armed conflicts over the course of the past decade making Sahel an epicentre of both humanitarian disparity and ethno-religious bedlam.

Over the last year alone, the communities in the local counters have been subjected to an array of targeted attacks, sexual assaults and harassment sprees as the local forces are rendered benign in the face of gripping rebellious movements. The yesteryear marked a tally of 5,989 deaths at the hand of armed violence mostly directed towards schools, medical facilities and house-of-worship. More than 1.8 million people have been internally displaced as the armed rebels hinting a pervasive trend towards the coastal countries like Ghana and Togo. Welfare groups like MFS have penetrated the region to offer their services to the persecuted victims of the region yet with lack of support and massive drive of destruction on health faculties; evincing around 150 healthcare centres being ceased amidst escalating violence, locals have been strayed in a war-zone with no medical facilities which has resulted in approximately 7.4 million people suffering from acute malnutrition.

The fatalities and gruesome realities on ground have passed all records of chaos and continue to upswing the pace of violence over regional countries which currently hold the refugees escaping the violence within their own state. Now as Covid has started to meld more misery into the already weathered state of Sahel, the region requires more than just humanitarian support and voiced concern. The region requires de-escalation of terrorism and pleads for peace and nourishment to survive. Ironic to say that the region has hosted every ill-fated tragedy over the brutal history of the terrain yet still awaits a cogent global effort that is yet to show signs of care and concern; the support that is all but limited to the countries with a broader incentive to serve yet remains evasive from the destitute regions like Sahel.

The author is an active current affairs writer primarily analyzing the global affairs and their political, economic and social consequences. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, Pakistan.

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Africa

African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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