As the academic year begins, there are four countries that I will largely be keeping an eye on.
The first country is Burundi, where extrajudicial killings have increased since the hostilities began last year. There still seems to a jarring lack of attention on this small East African nation that has had a long history of strife and atrocity.
Next is Zimbabwe, where tensions that began during the summer with a rallying call from a Zimbabwean pastor led to a one-day strike on the 6th of July. This launched a movement called #ThisFlag, which has become a thorn in the government’s side. All of this is happening under the shadow of persistent rumors about president Mugabe’s failing health.
The third nation this column will focus on will be the West African nation of Gabon, where, following disputed election results, the nation has seen riots between supporters of president Bongo and Jean Ping. This particular election is all the more interesting considering that Jean Ping is the previous chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, yet he called for the United States rather than the African Union to intervene in the riots.
The last country that I want to draw your attention to this academic year is South Sudan. Even before the ink dried from the previous peace deal, conflict erupted in the country. Just this year the United Nations accused South Sudanese troops of raping young girls and women by the hundreds. As more refugees stream into Uganda, there are testimonies that armed actors are continually targeting young girls and women for sexual violence. Yet despite all of this, South Sudan poses unique challenges to both the United States and the United Nations. The United States finds itself in a precarious situation after an attack on U.S. diplomats by the South Sudanese presidential guard of Salva Kiir. The attack highlights the dangerous turn this conflict has taken; American diplomats are often viewed as the most protected diplomats around the world, yet these soldiers showed a brazenness that had hitherto been unseen. Despite this attack, there is still hesitation in enforcing an arms embargo on South Sudan. For the United Nations, South Sudan has highlighted all the things that several scholars of the global south have found frustrating, even annoying, about the United Nations. The greatest of which has always been the UN’s peacekeeping troops perceived incapability in actually helping to stop violence. It has come to light this summer that South Sudanese troops went on a four-hour rampage, raping several foreign aid workers, singling out Americans, and killing a South Sudanese journalist. All of this occurred in a compound that was less than a mile away from the UN peacekeeping forces. UN troops did not come to the aid of the workers despite desperate calls for help.
Five years after South Sudan’s independence, we find ourselves staring at a quagmire and wondering what could have been. This, coupled by the constant dithering by the UN and the US, is what frustrates me the most.
Wahutu Siguru is a PhD candidate in the Sociology department at the University of Minnesota. Siguru’s research interests are in the Sociology of Media, Genocide, Mass Violence and Atrocities (specifically on issues of representation of conflicts in Africa such as Darfur and Rwanda), Collective Memory, and perhaps somewhat tangentially Democracy and Development in Africa.