Red flags, rising Tunisians, and Myanmar’s Rakhine: The Cheat Sheet

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:

 

Red flags in Côte d’Ivoire

 

Clashes this week between rival elements of Côte d’Ivoire’s security forces appear to be a destructive extension of a tussle at the highest levels of power. As such, they bode ill as the country gears up for presidential elections in 2020. On Tuesday night in Bouaké (the country’s second largest city and between 2002 and 2011, a rebel stronghold), soldiers from a military camp housing the 3rd Battalion attacked and razed the base of the Centre de coordination des décisions opérationnelles (CCDO), an elite unit of police and gendarmes. It was the second time the two groups had clashed within the space of a few days. One man was killed in the first incident. After the mutinies of a year ago, divisions are looming large again within the security forces – fallout from the jostling taking place within the ruling party. Former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, now the speaker of the national assembly, has retained control over sections of the military. Any presidential ambitions he has do not sit well with President Alassane Ouattara’s camp. The two men were at odds during the last few months of 2017 and some of Ouattara’s associates still have it in for Soro, accusing him of orchestrating last year’s army mutinies. And while some attribute the latest unrest to a love affair or a dispute over pay, others suggest it is a flare-up in an ongoing power struggle. “We are seeing a dangerous game,” political analyst Aboudramane Bamba told IRIN. “The army shouldn’t be manipulated because of one’s ambitions.” What happened “is not insignificant because most the senior people in government… have placed their men within the army. It makes you wonder whether they won’t count on them to back their chosen candidate down the line.”

 

Seven-year itch?

 

Seven years since the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit and veg vendor whose self-immolation set off a revolution in his home country and the wider “Arab Spring,” Tunisians are once again taking to the streets. Protests have erupted over a new austerity budget that means a tax hike and price rises for basic goods. In many places demonstrations turned violent: the army has deployed; and hundreds have been arrested. All of this comes as many Tunisians feel that the promise of democracy has not trickled down, and as an increasing number attempt the dangerous sea journey to Europe. By October, Tunisia was the top country of origin for migrants arriving in Italy. Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said 2018 would be the “last difficult year for Tunisians”, and he believes the budget’s tax hikes are the only long-term way to put the country’s economy on an even keel. But with protestors demanding minimum wage increases, welfare, and concerned about the price of bread, it’s not clear if ordinary Tunisians are willing to wait it out.

 

Rakhine State’s ‘toxic fear’

 

While the influx of 655,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has commanded global attention since late August, there’s been much less news from inside Rakhine State, once home to most of the departed Rohingya. That’s because Myanmar authorities have largely sealed off northern Rakhine, only recently allowing a trickle of aid to resume, along with supervised visits from foreign officials and journalists. Comments this week from a UNICEF official who visited Rakhine offer a stark reminder of the violence that pushed the Rohingya out – and of the smouldering divisions that endure throughout the state. Marixie Mercado, a UNICEF spokeswoman, describes the “acute level of fear” between remaining Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities. For example, a Rohingya parent refused vaccinations because security officers would be present, while government workers said they were too afraid to enter Rohingya communities without security. Mercado estimates that there are only about 60,000 Rohingya left in northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township, once home to hundreds of thousands. Those who remain – including an estimated 100 kids separated from their parents during the August 2017 turmoil – have been left stranded with no healthcare and “nowhere near enough clean water or food”. In other parts of the state, authorities have further tightened restrictions on camps that confine tens of thousands of Rohingya displaced by previous violence. In one camp in central Rakhine, Mercado describes neglected settlements in “appalling” conditions: “The first thing you notice when you reach the camps is the stomach-churning stench,” she said. “Parts of the camps are literally cesspools.” 

This comes as Myanmar’s military for the first time admitted its soldiers killed some Rohingya during the August violence, following the discovery of a mass grave. Aid group MSF estimates that at least 6,700 Rohingya died violently in the weeks immediately following the army onslaught. Read IRIN’s reporting on the still-evolving Rohingya crisis here.

 

Did you miss it?

 

Famine lessons learned

 

You would have thought we had figured out all there was to know about famines by now. That we haven’t quite is why this Humanitarian Learning Centre report, exploring 30 years of famine response, is useful. Disruptions to livelihoods and food systems cause famines. But a range of preventative measures work. We can intervene at any point in the food system by boosting food production, strengthening rural food markets, providing employment opportunities, and, of course, with timely famine relief. Camps can become “aid magnets” and are best avoided, the report notes. To reduce the necessity for people to migrate in search of food, social protection in rural communities should be scaled up and food aid distributed in famine-affected villages. The report calls for incentives for early action by governments, donors, and implementing agencies – action that builds accountability for response failures. But the best antidote to famine, it concludes, “is an ‘anti-famine political contract’, meaning that the state acknowledges its duty to prevent famine, and mechanisms exist for citizens to hold the state accountable if a famine occurs”.

 

2017 sets new record for civilian deaths in conflict

 

We’ve flagged plenty of reasons why 2017 was a nasty year for civilians and why this year could be worse still. Here’s a bit more evidence, in the form of data: Action on Armed Violence reported this week that at least 15,399 civilians were killed by explosive weapons in the first 11 months of 2017, a 42 percent increase from 2016 and the worst year for civilians since AOAV began its recording in 2011. Check out the sobering numbers here.

 

(TOP PHOTO: Côte d’Ivoire troops on patrol​ in 2013. CREDIT: Olivier Monnier/IRIN)

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