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2015: Year of fire ends

By Independent Team & Agencies

On Dec. 13, African Union peacekeepers thwarted an attack by suspected al-Shabaab fighters on Mogadishu International Airport. The attackers struck in the evening from the sea along the Mogadishu airport beach but were met by a heavy barrage of gunfire. Somali leaders were meeting in the Somali capital Mogadishu in the National Consultation Forum on 2016 electoral process.

On the same day, at least 10 people were killed as rival clans clashed in the central Somalia western neighbourhood of the Beledwayne town, the provincial capital of the Hiiraan region.

The dead included women and children. Over 20 were injured in the fighting which broke out early in the day. Several houses and business places were damaged by heavy shelling and bullets. It was the latest in clan and sub-clan conflict over territory and politics. Still on the same day, one Kenyan soldier was killed and two wounded in ambush by the al Shabaab on an army truck travelling to Mandera town, in Kenya’s north, from Nairobi. The incident happened between Elwak and Lafey towns that are close to Kenya’s border with Somalia.


Although the al-Shabaab have been considerably weakened, they continue to launch almost daily attacks in Somalia in 2015. Over the year, the al-Shabaab have leaned towards attacks on major hotels, top government officials, and occasional military bases in Baidoa, the lower Juba province, and Lower Shebelle province.

The Shabaab killed the mayor of Afgoye, Ali Jalil, in a landmine explosion near the Lower Shabelle province’s Hawa Abdi locality. In February, they killed four aviation officials at the KM4 junction in Mogadishu, including the director of air transport and the head of civil aviation administration. They also attacked the Central Hotel in Mogadishu killing 20 people, including the deputy mayor, the Hotel Maka al Mukaram in March, the Jazeera Palace Hotel in July, and the Sahafi Hotel in September. That same month, they struck the Presidential Palace in Mogadishu killing 11 people. These incidents indicate that al-shabaab will be very much active in 2016.

One analyst said: “Amisom and the African Union must ask themselves whether the mission, as it is currently constructed, has the necessary tools, funding and personnel to execute the next phase of the fight against Al-Shabaab. The militants have changed their tactics; can Amisom respond accordingly?” It is a pertinent question.

DR Congo

Meanwhile, fighting continues between UN peacekeepers and Ugandan rebels in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The clashes often erupt as the peacekeepers hunt down fighters of the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU).

On Nov. 29, up to 39 people were killed in fighting in the Beni territory of North Kivu province.

As 2015 ended, in December, the UN forces were pounding rebel positions with heavy ground artillery and helicopter fire.

Gen. Jean Baillaud, acting commander of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO), said a series of clashes killed at least 30 people in the North Kivu’s town of Eringeti.

The ADF-NALU was founded in Uganda in 1995 and later moved to Congo. It has been accused of committing serious human rights violations, including recruiting child soldiers and rape. Initial expectations that the rebels would be easily wiped out after the capture of their commander and main fundraiser, Jamil Mukulu in April have faded.

The UN peacekeeping mission was handed a revised mandate to take military action against rebel groups but it has had only limited impact on the fighting in which over 6 million people have died since 1998.

As the year ended, most optimism was pinned on a pledge by former fighters of the defeated M23 group to participate in peace dialogue as opposition party.

The M23 (March 23 Movement (M23) which also operated in eastern DR Congo was militarily defeated by government forces supported by the UN peacekeepers in November 2013. It said in December that it was ready to participate in the inclusive national dialogue convened by DR Congo President Joseph Kabila.

“We support the holding of an inclusive national dialogue, our movement has already transformed itself into a political party in conformity with Nairobi Declarations that required M23 to form a political party,” one of the movement’s leaders, Jean Marie Runiga said in a statement.

He said the former rebels had already formed a political party called Alliance for the Salvation of the People (ASP).

Runiga said ASP already had members in Kinshasa who are reflecting on the recommendations that it will make at the national dialogue including an electoral calendar, electoral register, election funding, security during elections and the issue of Congolese refugees living in neighbouring countries.

Burundi

As the year 2015 crawled to an end, Burundi remained a smoldering state as the violence there stirred fears of sucking in the region.

After President Pierre Nkurunziza flouted international entreaties and months of protests, there was an attempted coup in May. But Nkurunziza easily snuffed it out and took a third term in office in July.

From that moment, many of the young men who tried to shout the president out of power started looking for guns, reports say.

Some wanted guns merely to protect themselves against police who were arresting—and sometimes shooting—demonstrators. But others took up guns to fight the government. They formed militias and by December were launching organised assaults on government installations.

In one night in mid-December, they attacked three military camps in and around Bujumbura. They were beaten back and by morning residents woke up to see over 80 bodies in different parts of the city. Up to 31 bodies were counted in the Nyakabiga suburb alone.

The government has branded the armed groups “terrorists” and vowed to hunt them down.

But, as one analyst said, “the rapid radicalisation of Burundi’s political opposition shows how quickly the country is spinning out of control”.

It is said that regional leaders, including Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, now fear that widespread ethnic conflict could destroy Burundi.

There is fear of a reversion to the 1993-2005 Burundi civil war that pitted ethnic Hutus against Tutsis and left over 300,000 dead. Kagame’s biggest fear apparently is that the Burundi war was a factor in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and war in Congo.

“A real targeted ethnic killing could revive the Hutu-Tutsi confrontation,” said Thierry Vircoulon, who oversees Central Africa for International Crisis Group. He said that whether the violence becomes ethnic or not, one thing is clear: “There’s only one direction it’s going in. It’s going to get worse.”

As the year ended, foreign missions; including the U.S., were asking their citizens to leave the country quickly.

Washington, London and Brussels were also calling for immediate talks to defuse the violence and had imposed sanctions on individuals in Nkurunziza’s government and those involved in the May coup attempt.

One observer said many of the armed young men appeared stuck between a determination to force Nkurunziza out in a shower of bullets and hoping for a peaceful resolution.

“We don’t want to destroy our country. We want to build it,” one young fighter is quoted to have told a journalist.

Meanwhile, they continued stockpiling weapons, training, and organizing. And the dead bodies have become a common sight on the streets.

South Sudan

On Dec. 9, thousands of people, mainly the elderly and children were fleeing Wau County in South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state. The war had erupted again.

Officials in Juba said thousands were being sheltered in schools and clinics.

They spoke of how their villages were being shelled with heavy weapons and gunship of the government forces of President Salva Kiir. They said the rebels of Riek Machar were using civilians as human shields.

Meanwhile, a humanitarian crisis was developing in the capital. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) reported lack of enough food, water and medicines.

According to local humanitarian organisation, the Coordination Unit, an estimated 140,000 people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states face emergency threats of malnutrition and mortality.

Reports said unless the renewed fighting is checked, and the warring sides are compelled to adhered to the Comprehensive Peace plan they signed, thousands of new deaths will be added to the tens of thousands that have been killed in South Sudan’s worst ever outbreak of violence since the young nation seceded from neighbouring Sudan. Another two million people have been displaced.

As the year ended, civilians in Blue Nile and South Kordofan were bracing themselves for more violence after government and rebels fail to reach consensus and the official return of the dry season brings with it the renewed threat of war.

As roads dry out, government forces and rebel groups have mobilised to resume fighting after peace talks between representatives from the two sides failed to reach an agreement in late November.

One governor, Issa Adam of South Kordofan told the press in mid-December that 2016 would be the “final year of the conflict”. He was understood to mean that the government was determined to intensify the fighting in the hope of breaking the back of the rebels.

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