Beirut explosion: Lebanon’s government resigns, blames corruption for tragic incident

Continue reading “Beirut explosion: Lebanon’s government resigns, blames corruption for tragic incident”

Sudanese protesters shout slogans during a rally against the government of President Omar al-Bashir in Sana'a.

The stand-off between al-Bashir and Sudan’s protesters intensifies

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir continues to hold the country hostage. While his intelligence chief Salah Abdallah Gosh announced recently that al-Bashir would be stepping down as head of the National Congress Party, the president himself has made no such commitment.

Sudanese protesters shout slogans during a rally against the government of President Omar al-Bashir in Sana'a.
Sudanese protesters shout slogans during a rally against the government of President Omar al-Bashir in Sana’a. EPA-EFE/Yahya Arhab

The crisis in the country continues to deepen. Al-Bashir has declared a state of emergency dismissed the federal government and sacked all state governors. He also subsequently appointed military and security officials to run Sudan’s 18 states, appointed a new state defence minister and reshuffled the army command.

The US, Britain and France have expressed deep concerns, particularly over the nationwide state of emergency. Activists claim that at least 37 people have died since December 2018 when the first protests took place in the Nile-side town of Atbara. Demonstrations have been staged in cities across Sudan, including the capital Khartoum. Though the protests were initially about the high cost of living, including the prohibitive price of bread, demonstrators are now calling for al-Bashir to resign.

All things considered, there are dangers down this road. The Sudanese state is weak after decades of war and sanctions. Removing al-Bashir would do little to change the structure of the state. The country is almost insolvent and it has become harder for him to keep everyone in line. Whoever takes control will need to take control over the security apparatus throughout the country or risk anarchy.

Continued protests could also affect South Sudan. Sudan previously depended on South Sudan’s oil production to boost its own economy and to keep the warring factions in South Sudan in line. Many fear that the South Sudan peace deal will fall apart if al-Bashir is removed. This would leave the world’s youngest nation in a disastrous situation.

But at this stage, if al-Bashir goes the biggest fear is that Sudan could end up like Libya, with militia running the country and a state that comes crashing down into fragments.

Popular uprisings

The protests have led to the further unravelling of a country that’s already fragile economically, politically and socially. Despite waves of government attempts to crack down on protesters, the uprising seems to have gained more strength. Protesters seemed to be spurred on the more the government uses violence to suppress them.

Very few African states have experienced as many post-independence uprisings as Sudan did between 1964 and 1985. These forced the ruling military regimes to step aside. But they failed to herald in new civilian leaders – what followed was simply a re-run of military rulers.

The current uprising has been different. It represents the most sustained challenge to 75-year old al-Bashir’s 30 years in power. Protesters – mostly young Sudanese – have been bold in their attempt to remove the regime. This has included burning the headquarters of the ruling National Congress Party headquarters, breaking into food stores to distribute grain to people, as well as challenging and heckling influential cleric Abdul Hai Yusuf who has been known to be pro-government.

Nevertheless, civilian rule still looks unlikely. This is because the power base is still contained within the army and elites.

The role of the EU and US

Under the Obama administration, US officials claimed that cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts with Sudan had improved. Since then the US and EU have been working hard to rebuild their ties with Sudan by partially lifting sanctions.

In addition, the EU has been working with Sudanese authorities to stem the flow of migrants, while the US has been actively fighting terrorist cells in and around the region.

But getting close to al-Bashir in a bid to solve the migrant crisis and to fight terrorism is simply compromising the legitimacy of the EU and the US when it comes to international human rights abuses. Many of the security forces that the US and EU have trained to fight terrorism and curb migration are the same forces being used to clamp down on protesters.

What next?

There are two probable outcomes for Sudan. First, Bashir could voluntarily resign, hand over power and choose to leave the country. This isn’t a likely option unless he can agree on a safe passage to another country, for example Egypt. This is because he could possibly face being charged by the International Criminal Court.

It’s therefore more likely that he will stay in the country and continue to challenge the uprising by using the state of emergency and suppressing the protesters violently. This will result in more bloodshed and is likely to trigger more violent responses from the protesters. In turn, this could fuel the creation of armed groups, potentially turning the protests into armed conflict.

Under this scenario the already fragile state could be destabilised, leading to massive displacement and immense human suffering.

SOURCE: The Conversation

U.S. and EU condemn Odinga oath, call for respect of law

U.S. and EU condemn Odinga oath, call for respect of law

THE US Department of State and the European Union have slammed Nasa leader Raila Odinga’s January 30 ‘swearing-in’ and the shutdown of television stations.

U.S. and EU condemn Odinga oath, call for respect of law
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta at the 43rd G7 Summit in Taormina, Italy (file photo). Photo: Nairobi News


In separate press statements posted on their websites on Thursday, they emphasised that all leaders and the government should obey the Kenyan Constitution and the rule of law.

ELECTIONS

The US Department said it rejects “actions that undermine Kenya’s Constitution and the rule of law.”

Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said that Uhuru Kenyatta was elected president on October 26, 2017 in a repeat poll that was upheld by the Supreme Court.

“Grievances must be resolved through appropriate legal mechanisms,” the statement added.

The European Union, in a statement on its website on Thursday, said respecting the law includes recognising the election of President Kenyatta.

“Kenya’s election year is over, and the challenges laid bare by the electoral process will have to be addressed. All actors should contribute to calm,” the EU statement said.

Nasa boycotted repeat election, saying it first wanted electoral reforms to ensure a free and fair election.

The coalition has maintained that it won the August 8, election and it presented its own alternative results, which the IEBC dismissed.

PRESS FREEDOM

The EU also said that respecting the law “also means the respect of freedoms of assembly, media and speech and implies lifting any ban on media operating within the law.”

The US Department of State also criticised the government’s shutdown of three television stations and its move to “intimidate and restrict the media.”

“Freedom of expression, including for members of the media, is essential to democracy and is enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution. We urge the government and all Kenyans to respect freedom of expression and implement court orders calling for the restoration of television broadcasts,” it said.

On Tuesday, three television stations – NTV, Citizen and KTN News– were shut down by Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) officers for live airing of the Nasa ‘swearing-in’ ceremony.

The government had last week warned media owners against live broadcast of the event. The television stations were shut off as they broadcast the event.

On Thursday, the High Court ordered that the government restore broadcast.

SECURITY

The US also praised security forces for exercising restraint during the Nasa oath on January 30, 2018.

It urged them to continue to refrain from any unnecessary or excessive use of force, and to also always act within the law.

The US also urged Kenyans to have a “national conversation to build cohesion and address long-standing issues”, while the EU called for unity and said: “The Kenyan people now have the opportunity to take the country forward and work together on their historical path towards democracy and development.”


SOURCE: Daily Nation, Kenya

Sierra Leone constitutional review goes up in smoke – and the masses lost again 

After three years of arduous work collecting, deliberating and collating views across the country for a new constitution, it looks like Sierra Leone may end up not having one – yet again.

In its official response to the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), the government issued a white paper in November which made short work of the 680-page, recommendation-laden report of the 80-person committee.

According to the white paper, the committee was mandated to ascertain “from the people of Sierra Leone, their views on the operation of the 1991 Constitution…, in particular the strengths and weaknesses… and articulate the concerns of the people …. on amendments that may be required for a comprehensive review of the 1991 constitution.”

The committee claimed to have done exactly that when it submitted a final report to the President in 2016. It reportedly received several thousand suggestions from the public through submission forms, as well as dozens of position papers from institutions and individuals within and outside the country.

However, the content of the white paper suggested that either the government did not really think that the committee truly represented the views of the people or it simply did not like the views expressed by the people.

Of 134 recommendations set out in the white paper, the government rejected a whopping 102. The main justification was that the provisions in the current constitution are adequate or that existing statutes already addressed the issue.

As far back as 1999, when the warring factions in the country’s civil conflict were negotiating for peace, there were calls for a review of the constitution. Article 10 of the resulting Lome Peace Accord called for a review to ensure it “represents the needs and aspirations” of the people.

The country’s post-war Truth and Reconciliation Commission, noting that the current constitution was not “the product of a wide, participatory process”, felt it was desirable to reformulate the document, particularly its bill of rights, to take into account the full range of the country’s international human rights obligations.

The first attempt at constitutional review started in 2007 but fell short of completion. The review commission produced a report in 2008 recommending certain amendments to the 1991 constitution. Unfortunately, it simply gathered dust on a government shelf.

After much fanfare, the new 80-person constitutional review committee was launched by the President in July 2013. The President reportedly called on all to “fully participate and take ownership of the entire review process.”

Against this backdrop, it is fair to say that the government’s response to the recommendations of the review committee and the subsequent legislative action betray the principles on which the process was built. It also devalues the struggle of the people to build a better post-war society based on rules that reflect their circumstances.

It is important to point out that many of the recommendations from the committee that met the approval of government were either cosmetic in nature or limiting of recognised basic rights. For example the government accepted a recommendation to include the words “human dignity” and “equality” in the chapter of the constitution known as the “fundamental principles of state policy” but rejected the recommendation to make these principles “justiciable.”

Similarly, the government also accepted a recommendation to amend the description of the bill of rights section to include in the constitution an obligation to promote human rights, but did not accept recommendations to abolish the death penalty, to ensure the equality of women and men in political, economic, cultural and social spheres, or to include a right to the environment, the rights of the aged, the rights of persons with disability or the rights of children.

As though they were not satisfied with simply refusing improved constitutional protection of rights, they approved a recommendation to include a new “clawback clause” to the existing ones in the bill of rights – by highlighting “national security interests”. This is a limitation which will afford opportunities to the government to constrain rights even further.

Being the opportunists that governments are known to be, the white paper also includes some “suggestions” from the government that were not covered in the review committee’s recommendations.

For example, the government has proposed a reduction in the threshold for election to the office of president from 55 percent of valid votes cast to “more than fifty percent.” It argues that the economic cost of run-off elections and national security concerns necessitate this alteration. But others see it as an attempt to change the rules of the game, with a little over three months left to general and presidential elections.

The Attorney-General’s office is now rushing a constitutional amendment bill through parliament to give effect to the government’s “suggestions” and make some cosmetic “choice of words” changes to the constitution. The governing party has a clear majority in parliament and the bill is expected to pass without any significant challenge.

In its haste however, the government has not been able to mask the deception inherent in the bill, the object of which is ostensibly “to make better provision for the recognition and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual….”. Sadly, none of the provisions in the amendment bill touch on any of these rights and freedoms, let alone make better provision to recognise and protect them.

The government seems to have an agenda with this bill and it is not about crafting a good constitution or giving effect to the views of the people.

” Good constitutions are not imposed” the President reportedly said at the launch of the review process in 2013, “…they are genuine pacts amongst citizens to constitute themselves into a polity that they would love and honour and whose interests they would put above all else….”

These words ring hollow in the face of government’s determination to silence the voice of the people and hijack what is supposed to be a citizen-based decision-making process. Sooner or later, the people will become tired of losing.

Sonkita Conteh is the director of Namati Sierra Leone, part of a global network for legal empowerment which is dedicated to grassroots justice.

SOURCE: All Africa