Last week the UN finally released a controversial report that accuses Uganda and Rwanda of supporting rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). When a leaked version of the report first appeared in October, Uganda's Army spokesperson, Felix Kulayigye dismissed it: "It's hogwash, it's a mere rumor that's being taken as a report," he told Radio France Internationale. "It's undermining the credibility of the mediator which is Uganda, and when you undermine the credibility of the mediator you are actually undermining the entire process."
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Gaza resident Asem Alnabeh posted a photo of his little sister Nesma earlier tonight in their home. Her name means breeze. "But she really isn't," her brother writes me. "she's very impish!"
Nesma's house has lost electric power. There are fighter jets roaring over the house, and there are explosions never too far away -- not sufficiently far for the worried parents to attempt to calm their kids by lying to them that "oh, that was nothing."
Photo by Asem Alnabeh
The Lady continues her U.S. tour. Aung San Suu Kyi has already visited Washington, DC, and New York City, and now she's on her way to the West Coast. Last week I had the privilege of flying to the U.S. capital to see her during her stop there. It was a great honor to greet her again in person. It was 23 years since we had last seen each other.
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In 2009, Moe Thee Zun, a famous student leader during Burma's 1988 pro-democracy movement and a former chairman of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, flung his shoe at a car carrying then-prime minister Thein Sein while he was attending the UN General Assembly in New York. He argued that Thein Sein and the repressive military junta ruling Burma do not represent the people of Burma -- whom they brutally killed during the peaceful protests of the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
Now Moe Thee Zun is back in Burma after 24 years in exile. The student leader, who was condemned to death in absentia by the old military regime, can now legally return to his homeland -- now that-President Thein Sein's pseudo-civilian government has removed his name, along with 2,081 others, from a blacklist denying him entry into the country. After his arrival on Saturday he held a press conference at which he declared that he had returned to help the president's reform process and make peace in the war-torn areas of the country.
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The demonstrations began in Khartoum on June 16, and have since spread not only to the rest of the city, but to other parts of Sudan as well. They began with a small peaceful group of students at the University of Khartoum, near the office where I work for an international organization. A few hours later the demonstration had developed into a crowd of 100 students. I could not see the demonstration, but through the open window the teargas stung my eyes, and I could hear the crowd of students shouting slogans and the sirens of the riot police approaching the scene. Now, ten days later, demonstrations are taking place daily but everyday life caries on surprisingly normal with the sound of shouting and sirens in the background.
Courtesy of Azaz Shami
May has been an eventful month thus far in Uganda's literary scene. The African Writers Trust (AWT), a non-profit entity that brings together African writers -- both from the continent and the diaspora -- to share skills and knowledge, held a writers workshop in Kampala.
Nii Ayikwei Parkes, a London-based Ghanaian writer and experienced performance poet, led the workshop. For ten days, Nii Ayikwei mentored emerging Ugandan poets and university students, conducted poetry workshops, and shared his personal writing and publishing experiences with the writing fraternity.
"Poems move the world," Nii Ayikwei told his students. He stressed his belief that it is ambiguity, rather than big words, that moves a poem and makes it stronger: "If you know what you're writing about from the beginning, then there's no complexity, no emotion."
Another day, another deeply damaging whistle-blowing by a former Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal magistrate. Soon after Magistrate Eladio Aponte fled the country last month and aired a terrifying amount of dirty chavista laundry on TV, his one-time colleague Luis Velásquez Alvaray (above) did him one better, releasing detailed evidence about a court system that looks more and more like a criminal conspiracy.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde To lose one Supreme Tribunal magistrate may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.
Together, the back-to-back interviews (broadcast by the Miami-based, Venezuelan-exile owned TV channel SOiTV) paint a picture of a criminal justice system deep in bed with the Colombian Rebel Armed Forces (FARC) guerrillas, where political interference, crooked rulings, collusion with drug traffickers, and occasional contract killings, are entirely routine. The cocaine route out of Colombia, through Venezuela, and on to the U.S. and Western Europe is simply too profitable -- and the tentacles of the trade's millions have seeped into every corner of the system.
When South Sudan became the world's youngest nation in 2011, we greeted it with excitement. Decades of warfare were finally over. We praised Sudan for allowing the South to go, and we praised President Omar Al-Bashir for handling the separation calmly, despite losing the country's oil sources.
For Uganda, the successful peace talks and the creation of a new state meant that the Sudanese refugees long residing in refugee camps in Uganda would soon return home. (The photo above shows refugees returning to South Sudan from Uganda last year.) Most importantly, it meant that Khartoum would end the support it had been giving Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Since the 2006 peace talks (initiated by Riek Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan), northern Uganda has seen relative peace.
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Generally speaking, women have not exactly been conspicuous among the leaders of the ethnic minorities that are at odds with the Burmese central government. But that may be changing.
In late January, a group representing the Karen, one of the biggest ethnic groups in Burma, issued a statement calling for women to be given a bigger role in the peace talks between Karen rebels and the government. "Our concerns must be brought to the negotiating table, and the abuses we have suffered must be redressed and prevented once and for all," Naw Zipporah Sein, who is the General Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), told me on the phone. She was speaking from a town on the Thai border. (The photo above shows a Karen girl in a refugee camp in Thailand.)
Before she was elected to that post in 2008 she served the head of the Karen Women Organization (KWO). It was under her leadership that the KWO published a widely noted 2004 report entitled "Shattering Silences," which documented 125 cases of the systematized rape and sexual abuse of women allegedly committed by Burmese military troops in Karen State over a twenty-year period. Today, despite her unprecedented leadership position in the KNU, Zipporah Sein told me that she's still unhappy with the status of Karen women. To the injury of maltreatment on the battlefield by government troops comes the insult of inadequate representation in the ruling circles of the rebel leadership.
The KNU, one of the most powerful rebel groups in Burma, has been fighting for ethnic autonomy since 1948. The government recently announced that it had concluded a cease-fire deal with them. A few days ago, however, it was none other than Zipporah Sein who called that agreement into question. The New York Times quoted her as saying that "[w]e still need to discuss the conditions."
Efforts to stop the fighting drag on. As the latest in a series of fragile ceasefire deals, the Mon ethnic group, which operates along the Thai-Burma border, announced last Wednesday that it reached "a preliminary ceasefire agreement" with Burma's pseudo-civilian government.
Similar agreements have been struck recently between the government and other ethnic rebel armies, including the Shan State Army-South, the United Wa State Army, and at least seven other armed groups. The one major exception is the continuing war between the Kachin and government troops.
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As I write this, Burmese government troops are still staging attacks on the Kachin ethnic rebel group - even as the two sides have been trying to conduct negotiations in the Chinese city of Ruili, just over the border. The new Burmese president Thein Sein, an ex-general, has publicly ordered the army to stop its offensive twice (once in mid-December, and more recently last week). But the army has kept fighting.
Khin Yi, the minister of immigration and population in the government, was recently forced to confess that the president's orders had not "reached the grassroots level."
In 1994, the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) agreed on a ceasefire. It held for 16 years. Then, in June 2010, the ceasefire broke down. The war that has gone on since then has caused over 60,000 people to flee the fighting.
The KIA, which has 10,000 armed troops (see photo above) and operates in northeastern Burma along the border with China, questions the government's sincerity. Yesterday I managed to call Gen. Sumlut Gun Maw, the vice chief of staff of the KIA and one of its most influential leaders, who spoke to me from his headquarters in the city of Laiza. "The new government tells the international community that it is all for peace, peace, and peace," the general said. "But right now there are still 48,000 soldiers, or 120 battalions, attacking us and trying to encircle us."
Since 2009, the Burmese military has pressured no less than 17 armed ethnic groups to lay down their arms and accept a new status as "border guard forces" under the military's direct control. But some of the big rebel groups -- including the KIA's political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) -- refused to give in to the junta.
After the military succeeded in cracking down on the Kokang ethnic group's bases along the China-Burma border in mid-2009, the generals were emboldened and launched a major offensive against the Kachin in 2010.
Gun Maw told me that the Kachin regard the ceasefire offers they're now getting from the government as a warmed-up version of an earlier truce deal that existed before the border guard plan. The new government, which came into power last year, abandoned that plan after it met with massive resistance from the ethnic armies. Gun Maw says that the government is merely attempting to undo the damage it did to the ethnic groups in 2009-2011. He believes the generals simply want to hold the minority groups at bay for a time as they try to improve their international image.
In early January, the Burmese government reached a preliminary ceasefire agreement with another big ethnic rebel force, the Karen National Union, which is based in southeastern Burma near the border with Thailand.
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.