March 09, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

A State of Limbo

The elections were due to take place in November. But the electoral commission said it didn’t know how many voters there were in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So it was given time, in spite of the outrage on the street.

That was then.

Now, hopes are dimming that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will finally hold peaceful and free elections this year after almost 60 years of independence.

Last week, the central African nation’s main opposition party named the son of its late leader, democratic revolutionary Etienne Tshisekedi, to lead the party to victory in this year’s elections. An opponent of Congolese dictator Joseph Mobutu who nonetheless was briefly prime minister on three occasions, Tshisekedi died last month.

Should democratic elections occur, it would mark the country’s first-ever peaceful transition of power. But myriad factors are stymieing the already shaky electoral situation. And political tension is beginning to once again beget violence.

Congo has remained by and large a violent kleptocracy since its independence from Belgium in 1960. In 1961, Brussels and Washington quashed a short-lived revolutionary government – where the late Tshisekedi served as an advisor. They propped up a new regime under Mobutu, who seized power in a military coup. In his more than 30 years in office, Mobutu embezzled billions from the country’s immense wealth of natural resources before he fled in 1997.

The Rwandan army invaded in 1997 to overthrow Mobutu, leading to a bloody, six-year civil war involving neighboring African nations that either directly or indirectly cost 2.5 million lives, the BBC recalled.

Elections in the aftermath of Africa’s so-called first World War have been scarred by violent spats between oppositional forces.

With the death of Tshisekedi, history may repeat. Some in his party didn’t approve of Tshisekedi’s son, Felix, as their standard-bearer, fracturing the party ahead of what’s expected to be bitterly contested elections.

Meanwhile, sitting President Joseph Kabila has been resistant to hand over power. Kabila’s two-term tenure mandated by the constitution was supposed to have ended on Dec. 19. But his government failed to roll out elections despite international pressure to do so: It said it didn’t have the ability to organize a poll in time.

Tshisekedi’s death only further emboldens Kabila to drag his feet in accepting an internationally brokered electoral deal spearheaded by the Congolese Catholic Church. The deal mandates he step down and hold elections this year.

But with a date still not set, the country is falling further into anxiety and anarchy. On Wednesday, UN officials said at least three mass graves had been discovered in the country.

Videos have surfaced of the Congolese military gunning down civilians in the country’s central Kasai Province, the New York Times reported. The UN has also condemned the military for human rights abuses in four separate provinces and has documented more than 280 deaths in one, Kasai province, alone.

The Congolese, without their democratic compass in Tshisekedi, are now in a state of limbo about the future of their country.

“This man sacrificed his life, his youth for us all,” one woman told the BBC. “This man made us open our eyes. He was our icon. This man was an icon for Africa.”

WANT TO KNOW

Give War a Chance?

Thanks to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is facing mounting pressure to find a way to circumvent Japan’s pacifist constitution and develop long-range missiles capable of striking the Hermit Kingdom.

“We should not rule out any method from consideration,” Bloomberg quoted Defense Minister Tomomi Inada as saying in parliament Thursday, just days after North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into waters near Japan.

Democratic Party lawmaker Yuichi Goto also questioned why the country has not started researching long-range strike capability, as its current missile defense system is not capable of repelling a so-called “saturation attack” involving many missiles.

On the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first visit to Japan next week, Tokyo is also considering whether or not to adopt the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) that the US has begun to deploy in South Korea, despite Chinese objections.

‘A New Low’

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a guerilla-style attack Wednesday at the main military hospital in Kabul that killed more than 30 people, underscoring the progressively deteriorating state of affairs in Afghanistan.

Islamic State gunmen stormed the 400-bed Sadar Daud Khan hospital dressed as physicians and after detonating a bomb at an entrance, systematically shot at doctors, nurses, patients and their visiting loved ones, an act which Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States described as morally deplorable.

“This attack marks an abhorrent new low — dressing in disguise to shoot at the sick and wounded is a cowardly, wicked act,” Dr. Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement to the New York Times.

While the Islamic State has never been a major player in Afghanistan – the Taliban are far more powerful in the region – it has sustained losses in the region at the hand of Afghan military operations and American airstrikes.

But the jihadist group still carries out regular attacks as it struggles for a foothold in the country’s east, the BBC reports.

In July 2016, a suicide bomber killed 80 people during a rally in Kabul. Three months later, two other attacks at a religious festival and a mosque killed more than 60.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has also been ramping up attacks in a prelude to its spring surge – a suicide attack claimed by the group killed 16 last month.

First Hell, Then Arson

Calling a fire that killed at least 22 girls at a home for abused children in Guatemala “arson” doesn’t seem quite right under the circumstances.

Residents indeed likely set the deadly fire – but only after a failed attempt to escape from the overcrowded center where distraught relatives say victims routinely suffered more abuse at the hands of gang members and other minors housed there for committing crimes, Reuters reported.

Staff members also allegedly sexually abused residents, prompting criminal cases and a series of complaints with the country’s human rights commission, which had requested a judicial order to close the facility down a month ago, the New York Times said.

“We are going to issue a public censure, but above all that the Virgen de la Asunción home, in compliance with the judicial order from several months ago, will be closed,” the paper quoted the deputy attorney general of Guatemala’s human rights ombudsman as saying.

Too late for 22 girls and their families.

DISCOVERIES

The Alt-Vacation

The newest project from notoriously secretive British street artist Banksy offers those visiting the West Bank an alternative to more traditional accommodations.

The Walled Off Hotel is a 10-room establishment located just a dozen feet from the Israeli border wall with the West Bank in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

Every room faces the dismal construction, which locals say has destroyed the tourism industry in the supposed birthplace of Jesus, Al Jazeera reports.

“It has the worst view of any hotel in the world,” Banksy said in a statement last week after the hotel opened.

Those unimpressed by the views can take a gander at myriad new works by the famous artist, including an Israeli soldier and Palestinian protester engaged in a brutal pillow fight, or a jacuzzi tub fed from a leaky water tank similar to those used in Palestinian homes.

Banksy, whose work offers a surreal take on war, poverty and environmental issues, is no stranger to the region: Some of his most famous works already adorn the border wall.

Click here to take a look at the Walled Off Hotel for yourself.