Crisis in VenezuelaIn March 2013, after a 14-year rule, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died of cancer. He was succeeded by Vice President Nicolas Maduro. Since then, the oil-rich but cash-poor South American country has been in a political and economic crisis. Here are 10 things you should know about the crisis in Venezuela.

10 Things to Know About the Crisis in Venezuela

  1. Inflation rates are at an all-time high. The biggest problem in the day-to-day lives of Venezuelans is due to the record high inflation rates. Throughout the Chavez presidency, the inflation rate had fluctuated between 10 and 40 percent but never higher. Since Maduro took office inflation rates have grown exponentially. In 2018, the inflation rate hit 1.3 million percent and is projected to reach 10 million in 2019. With inflation being so high, it becomes impossible for Venezuelans to buy basic necessities.
  2. Minimum wage is as low as $6 a month. On top of the high inflation rate, the minimum wage is now $6 dollars a month. Nearly 90 percent of the country’s population is living in poverty and unable to buy basic goods. Additionally, the number of active companies in Venezuela has dropped dramatically, minimizing the number of jobs available to citizens.
  3. More than 3 million people have fled the country. Over the last five years, the crisis in Venezuela has forced more than 3 million people out of their homes. Most of these refugees have claimed that the lack of rights to health and food were among the main reasons for them to leave. These migrants, who made up roughly 10 percent of the Venezuelan population, have fled to neighboring countries including Chile, Colombia and Brazil.
  4. There are currently two presidents. Since 2019 started, political tensions in Venezuela have escalated. In early January, President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term, following an election period of boycotts and opposition. The results of this election led to a new wave of rallies throughout the streets of Venezuela, particularly the capital city of Caracas. These boycotts culminated with the elected leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaido, naming himself interim president.
  5. The rest of the world is very split over who to support. The most unique part about Guaido declaring himself interim president is that several countries around the world immediately acknowledged it as legitimate. The United States, much of Europe and several South American countries recognize Guaido as the rightful interim president of Venezuela. However, Russia, China and most of the Middle East still recognize Maduro as the president. Additionally, some countries, including Italy, are calling for a new election to determine the rightful president.
  6. Oil output has declined dramatically. Venezuela has over 300 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, making it a leader amongst the world’s oil-rich countries. Oil production dropped in 2002 after Chavez was first elected, but soon after, it rose back up to regular rates and has been steady since. Since 2012, however, there has been a consistent decrease in oil output. In January 2019, President Trump announced that the U.S. will not import oil from Venezuela for the time being, in hopes that economic pressure will lead to correcting the political crisis.
  7. There have been countless mass protests across the country. The crisis in Venezuela has sparked riots and rallies across the whole country. In 2018 alone, there were more than 12 thousand protests, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict. These protests, starting in 2002 after Chavez came to power, have only escalated in violence since.
  8. Officials have resorted to excessive use of force. In April of 2017, Maduro ordered armed forces to put a stop to what had been weeks of anti-government protests. In the two months to follow, more than 120 people were killed, 2,000 were injured and more than 5,000 were detained. Since then, multiple citizens have been killed or injured when police and protesters have clashed.
  9. Maduro’s administration denies that it is in a human rights crisis. Despite the statistics pointing to the crisis in Venezuela, Maduro and his administration have not acknowledged the human rights crisis. Additionally, the administration has not recognized the shortages of food and medication, and, as a result, it has not accepted international humanitarian assistance. Despite the lack of official recognition, the current state of Venezuela has been regarded as the worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory in the Western Hemisphere.
  10. The crisis is taking a toll on the overall health of the country. Since 2014, the number of malaria cases in Venezuela has more than quadrupled. After years of remaining steadily below 100 thousand cases, there are now more than 400 thousand people living in Venezuela with malaria. This is because there is a dramatic shortage of anti-malaria drugs for all strains. Medical facilities are struggling with a shortage of 85 percent for medications. At least 13 thousand Venezuelan doctors were among those who have fled the country. A lack of proper medical care is making the people of Venezuela more susceptible to treatable diseases such as tuberculosis.

The crisis in Venezuela is worsening by the day. There are countless people being forced to leave their homes, jobs and families in hopes of finding a safer place to live. While the country awaits political intervention and foreign aid, there are still ways for people overseas to give help. Many nonprofit organizations, including The Better World Campaign, are doing their part in helping the humanitarian crisis. These groups are always looking for volunteers and donations. Spreading the word about the situation in Venezuela, raising awareness and mobilizing others to donate is also a great way to help, even from afar.

Charlotte Kriftcher
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights Violations in ChinaSince Xi Jinping began his presidency in March 2013, widespread human rights violations in China have been documented as government constraints have deepened. Such issues also became more apparent after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died in police custody in 2017. Some violations include increased internet censorship, lack of women’s and workers’ rights, repression of minority groups and imprisonment of human rights defenders. Here are 10 facts about human rights violations in China as well as what is being done to combat these issues today.

10 Facts About Human Rights Violations in China

  1. Authorities control citizens’ internet use by blocking social media sites and restricting news publications. Any news reporting that “slanders the country’s political system” is typically shut down. The government also adopted Blue Shield filtering software to document websites visited by users. A Cybersecurity Law was implemented in June 2017, requiring all internet companies working in China to regulate content for Chinese citizens.
  2. The government only allows five officially recognized religions in approved religious sites. In February 2018, a revised Regulations on Religious Affairs was established. The revision invests all control over religious activities to the government, including finances, personnel appointments and publications. The law also states a goal of restraining “infiltration and extremism” which could enforce a limitation on religious freedom for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.
  3. Although labor laws allow trade union organization and elections of trade union committees, the government still controls these rights. Workers cannot vote for trade unions while the right to strike usually goes unacknowledged. According to various human rights groups, China violates workers’ freedom of association. This is due to China’s prohibition of independent union organizing and Trade Union Law. This law requires the All-China Federation of Trade Unions to maintain communist leadership.
  4. In 2017, China ranked 100 among 144 countries for gender parity for the ninth year in a row. According to The Party Congress, there is a substantial absence of women in chief political positions. Females in China are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment and workplace discrimination which can increase their chances of becoming impoverished. However, it is difficult for women to overcome such barriers since the government does not favor women’s rights activism.
  5. Uighurs, Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas endure higher poverty rates, displacement, discrimination and crucial human rights issues. According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur, the situations of Tibetans and Uighurs is deeply problematic. Similar to most Chinese citizens, ethnic minorities do not have the right to freedom of religion, expression and peaceful assembly. Over 150 Tibetans have and continue to protest repressive laws by self-immolation.
  6. Authorities continue to conduct politically motivated prosecutions. After a national crackdown in July 2015, over 250 human rights protesters were detained, nine of which were convicted of “subverting state power.” Some detainees admit to being tortured or forced to confess. Though many have since been released, they continue to be isolated and monitored. Lawyers of protestors are often harassed and intimidated by authorities.
  7. About 500,000 individuals are currently detained without trial, charge or access to legal aid. The government uses Re-education through Labour (RTL) to arrest individuals without a trial. Usual targets of RTL include petitioners, protestors and those practicing an unrecognized religion. “Black jails” and mental health institutions are types of illegal detention that are utilized by authorities.
  8. China is currently the leading executioner in the world. For decades, China imposed the death penalty for nonviolent crimes and unfair trials. In March 2017, the President of the Supreme People’s Court said that capital punishment was only applied “to an extremely small number of criminals for extremely severe offenses.” However, China’s statistics on death penalties remains classified and authorities fail to release numerical data.
  9. China is accepting help from the U.N. in addressing human rights issues. In 2016, the government formed the policy paper, New Progress in the Judicial Protection of Human Rights in China. The policy paper addresses the country’s human rights issues and suggests potential developments. After inviting the U.N. to support the initiative, the U.N. agreed and made visits to China.
  10. Human Rights in China (HRIC) works to promote human rights and hold the government accountable. HRIC is an NGO that uses advocacy and policy engagement to give citizens voices and improve human rights protection. Its advocacy program aids individual casework and long-term reforms. By advocating both domestically and globally, HRIC promotes international NGOs, the business community, multi-stakeholder groups and results-oriented government engagements.

China’s goal is to remove 60 million people from poverty by decreasing air pollution and improving health standards and its judicial system by 2020. The U.N. and organizations like the HRIC provide hope for more human rights protection in the future. Though China is working to form and implement related policies, it is important that the government allows activists and lawyers to support minority groups and give all citizens a voice in order to end human rights violations in China.

– Diane Adame
Photo: Flickr

The Power of Protests in Africa
In the past decade, popular protests in Africa have become an increasingly important tool for youth to speak up against the ineffective and unjust authoritarian leaders often trying to extend their rule. 
These demonstrations and revolutions have a sort of infectiousness to them. This is partly because of social media and the increased ability to organize and communicate that the internet brings. It’s also partly because these protests serve as inspiration for each other.

It began with the Arab Spring

Many trace this new fervor for protests in Africa to the Arab Spring. One man’s self-immolation fuelled the flames of a revolution that would be felt across the continent. The Arab Spring refers to the series of demonstrations that occurred in the Middle East. It started in 2010 as Tunisians protested the 23-year-long rule of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali which was plagued by economic hardship, corruption and oppression.

Similar movements occurred in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Several of these uprisings resulted in overthrowing dictators. Ben Ali fled Tunisia and the country held its first democratic elections in 2011. Similar results occurred in Egypt with the removal of Mubarak, as well as in Libya, where the infamous Gaddafi was executed.

Mixed Success of the Protests

Since the start of the Arab Spring, however, all of these countries have been wrought with political upheaval, a lack of resources and violence. The social and political freedoms the protestors fought for haven’t been realized as many of these countries are still under authoritarian rule.

This illustrates the mixed success of such protests in Africa. As the momentum of popular demonstrations continued, the Senegalese protesters succeeded in preventing their president from bidding for an illegal third term. More recently in Burundi, anti-government protesters aimed to do the same with President Pierre Nkurunziza. Unfortunately, he was able to run and win a third term.

Protests in Africa

Stories of protests in Africa are often very similar. Long-lasting poverty and the lack of economic opportunity is typically present. It breeds the frustration with the ineffective and unjust leadership necessary to spark revolutions. So unemployed and dissatisfied youth turn to the streets to make their demands heard. The increase in demonstrations, says Eleanor Whitehead of Al Jazeera, reflects “growing intolerance for ineffectual leaders with an appetite for extending their time in power.”

Protests in Africa are by no means scarce. Yet these events rarely make their way into mainstream media coverage or academic study. South Africa may be the one exception, but looking at these African revolutionaries can help counteract the Western narrative of Africa.

This same story continues to repeat itself across the continent as protesters continue to demand political reform. The results can feel hopeless as most revolutions don’t lead to any direct change in leadership or conditions. With each retelling, however, and with each new uprising, there are little victories that can provide other opportunities for future reforms. These protests in Africa are mechanisms for the public to begin holding their leaders accountable.

Take the 2017 Kenyan elections. After the incumbent president won, the court annulled the election, saying it was “neither transparent nor verifiable” as noted in an election report by Jason Burke in The Guardian. In the end, this had no bearing on the results of the re-election, but it was a historic decision nonetheless.  

This decision showed the increased strength of the judicial system in Kenya, a system capable of reigning in the power of the president. It set a precedent of requiring fair elections in the future and it can serve as an inspiration to the rest of the continent. However, this ruling probably wouldn’t have been possible without the rioting after the 2007 election and the outcry by the opposition in 2013.

– Liesl Hostetter
Photo: Flickr

Lessons from Anonymous: Using Social Media to Help End PovertyIn 2010, the Internet activist group known as Anonymous lent its technological expertise to Arabs who were protesting injustices in the countries they lived in. This aid let to an event known as the Arab Spring, in which the governments of several Arab nations were overthrown by their people. The ways that Anonymous utilized technology to help protesters are important lessons for activists trying to enact global change on both how not to use technology to enact global change and how to properly use social media to help people who live in poverty or under a repressive regime find their voice.

How should technology not be used by the modern activist?

Even though Arab people were aided by the help from Anonymous, Anonymous employed several methods which modern protesters should not use, because they rely on destroying the computational infrastructure used by a country and would risk generating bad publicity if they were used. One such example, known as black faxing, is a method in which Anonymous faxed black pieces of paper to various government agencies to cause the fax machines used by those agencies to run out of ink.

Anonymous also committed distributed denial of service attacks, in which members of Anonymous overloaded key web servers in a given country to prevent government officials from accessing network resources on the Internet. Anonymous carried out these disruptive activities so that members of the government would not be able to communicate, which made it much easier for the protesters to overthrow the government.

These methods should not be used by modern activists because they are more likely to be viewed as an act of cyberterrorism and not as a legitimate form of protest. Such methods would cause people to focus on the methods used by the protesters rather than the societal issues that the people using these methods were protesting.

What positive lessons can the modern activist or protester learn from Anonymous?

In addition to the use of technology for disruption, Anonymous also used technology to help the Arab protesters mobilize within their country and communicate with the outside world. The main tools used by Anonymous to connect the protesters with each other and with the outside world were social media platforms. Anonymous also helped protesters use proxy servers so that they could communicate with the outside world without the risk of being detected by their government. Anonymous used social media to help ensure that the voices of the protesters were heard by the world.

Anonymous used social media to help support the Arab Spring

Anonymous helped protesters in Egypt by reposting information that people in Egypt gave to them on Twitter, and by helping people in Egypt bypass firewalls set up by the Egyptian government. Anonymous also helped protesters in the Arab world by setting up IRC servers where protesters could virtually meet to organize and to plan their protests. Anonymous teamed up with Telecomix, another “hacktivist” group, to help people in Arab countries who were protesting their government connect to the Internet even after the government blocked Internet access.

People protesting against poverty, child soldiers, human trafficking or any other issue could learn from Anonymous and use social media to help people who are affected by such issues communicate with others or to help activists fighting against such injustices safely communicate with each other.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr

The Elders Support Zimbabwe Through a Letter to SADC
The Elders, a group of global leaders unified by Nelson Mandela, have urged the heads of state of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to support Zimbabwe through an upcoming transitional period.

In a letter to the SADC, they point out that Zimbabwe is “on the verge of an important transition.” The advocates behind the letter, including Kofi Annan, Graca Machel and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, note that with the support of the SADC, Zimbabwe could experience a shift to democratic leadership and a boost to their economic and social development.

Zimbabwe has been rife with protests recently as a result of displeasure with President Robert Mugabe’s rule, as well as various economic problems that have developed in the country.

There are cash shortages throughout the country, the government is planning to reintroduce bond notes as legal tender and civil servants are lacking several months of pay. Civilian anger about these facts has led to multiple protests that police have broken up through the use of batons and tear gas.

Government authorities are attempting to subdue civilian protests, many of which have been organized through social media, by drafting a law that will punish civilians with up to five years jail time for “abusive” use of social media.

The Elder’s letter comes at an auspicious time considering the current tumult within Zimbabwe. Additionally, the letter prefaces the upcoming SADC group summit in Swaziland.

In the letter, not only do the Elders support Zimbabwe but they also make clear that aid to Zimbabwe will be beneficial for the nation as a whole and should, therefore, be something that SADC thoroughly consider in their impending meeting.

The letter states, “The Elders believe the upcoming summit is an important opportunity to reflect on how best SADC can help Zimbabwe manage the complex challenges ahead.”

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

Ai WeiweiChinese artist Ai Weiwei is well-known for using his art to protest against human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government.

Ai’s concern, however, is not limited to his home country. He has lately made several efforts to support refugees and protest the conditions they find themselves living in.

On the Greek island of Lesbos, Ai recently set up a studio to highlight the plight of refugees. “The island has been the main point of entry into the EU for hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past year and the studio would produce several projects with themes related to the refugee crisis from him and his students, Ai told reporters,” said a January 2016 article in the Guardian.

Ai noted the lack of awareness of the situation and willingness to act in Europe and the rest of the world. “The border is not in Lesbos, it really [is] in our minds and in our hearts,” Ai said.

In Copenhagen, Ai closed down his exhibition in response to new laws and reforms. These laws aim to discourage refugees from seeking asylum by delaying family reunification and by allowing Danish authorities to seize refugee’s valuables. “The law has provoked international outrage, with many human rights activists criticizing the delay for family reunification as a breach of international conventions,” as reported by the Guardian.

“The way I can protest is that I can withdraw my works from that country. It is very simple, very symbolic – I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies. It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously,” Ai told the Associated Press.

Perhaps most publicized and controversial of his recent efforts was a reenacted photo of deceased Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. In this photo, Ai posed in the position of Kurdi’s dead body. Ai described to CNN his emotional experience of posing for the photograph: “I was standing there and I could feel my body shaking with the wind – you feel death in the wind. You are taken by some kind of emotions that you can only have when you are there. So for me to be in the same position [as Kurdi], is to suggest our condition can be so far from human concerns in today’s politics.”

Ai continued to express his frustration with the lack of action and compassion for refugees: “…you see all those politicians that are not really helping, and trying to find all kind of excuses. To refuse and to even put these refugees in more tragic situations.”

For this effort in particular, Ai Weiwei received significant criticism. Various news publications and art critics derided the photo. For instance, a headline in the Spectator labeled it “crude, thoughtless and egoistical,” and an article in the Guardian discussed the danger of the photo having a “very real possibility of diluting a worthy cause.”

While the criticism may be valid, to expect Ai Weiwei to stop trying may be very mistaken. He plans to continue to raise awareness and support for the refugees. “As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles…I never separate these situations from my art.”

– Anton Li

Sources: CNN, The Spectator, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3
Photo: Washington Times

chinese_migrant_workers
Every year, around the Chinese New Year, China experiences the world’s largest human migration. About 700 million people gather at boat landings, train stations and airports to return home; during this holiday period, 2,265 trains per day will carry this plethora of people across the country.

A majority of these travelers are in fact migrant workers who are returning home after working in China’s crowded but economically thriving cities. For many of these laborers, this will be their only visit home before they have to return to their place of employment for the rest of the year.

Traditionally, life for these millions of migratory workers has not been easy. While many leave their rural hometowns for greater economic opportunities in China’s booming metropolises, they often find more than they bargain for.

A study conducted by Cheng Yu at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou surveyed the mental health of 807 migrant workers from Shenzhen and also saw Cheng discussing personal experiences with 60 of them. The study found that 58.8 percent of participants suffered from depression. Another 17 percent experienced anxiety, while around 4.6 percent had considered suicide.

The issue of mental health among Chinese migrant workers became widely apparent in 2010 after a series of suicides at a Foxconn manufacturing facility in Shenzhen. The company had assembled components for Apple products.

For migrant workers who must transition from rural life to city living without the support of their families, the chance of developing mental illnesses is much greater. They also face greater inequality through China’s hukou system.

The hukou essentially serves as a domestic passport which distinguishes between those of rural backgrounds and urban backgrounds. Unfortunately, migrant workers have to pay more for social services such as healthcare and education, which they could expect for little expense in their rural hometowns. They will frequently experience wage disparities and discrimination.

In 2008, a study found that urban workers earned around 1,000 yuan per month, while their migrant counterparts earned only 850 yuan. Most were expected to work around 11 hours per day for 26 days a month. Another study found that migrant laborers worked 50 percent more hours than their urban counterparts, yet in turn received 60 percent less in pay.

In order to improve their working conditions, laborers have recently taken to the streets in protest. In 2011 the country experienced 185 labor protests and things have only escalated since then: last year, 1,300 labor protests took place.

Even though the Chinese government guarantees workers’ rights under a 1995 labor agreement, workers must seek approval for strikes through the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, a government entity. If they don’t coordinate through the federation, they can face arrest.

Yet these arrests are usually only based on disorderly conduct and not for the actual strikes themselves. Wu Gaijin, a worker representative from Shenzhen, was detained for an entire year without a conviction. The government charged him with disrupting traffic.

However, life for laborers has been gradually improving. China has recently worked towards loosening restrictions on the hukou system in an attempt to lessen the disparity between urban and rural workers. Furthermore, individuals such as Cheng have advocated for required mental health testing at work facilities and for providing employees with a mental health support line to mitigate suicides and depression.

As China grows larger and its cities expand, changes such as these will have to be made in order to make its labor force sustainable and healthy.

Andrew Logan

Sources: Business Insider, CNN 1, CNN 2, ILO, NPR, PBS
Photo: CNN

Protests_in_Honduras
For the fifth consecutive Friday, thousands of protesters in the Honduran Capital have marched, torches in hand, calling for their President and other leaders to resign on charges of corruption. In fact, their demands go beyond what many see as simply political theater in having high ranking officials resign. The protesters are seeking systemic change by having an international observing and prosecuting body investigate and fight corruption and impunity in the struggling Central American Nation.

This international commission, which exists only as an idea, is coming to be called CICIH, the International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras. The inspiration for such a sagacious demand by protesters seems to be the success of the CICIG, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, in enforcing the rule of law and subverting corruption in Honduras’s neighboring state.

The CICIG’s recently renewed mandate to operate in Guatemala was welcomed by the State Department and presented as an effective model for curbing violence, unlocking growth and reducing poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, in an earlier Borgen Blog post.

The grievances behind the recent protests in Honduras serve as a great example of how corruption undermines growth. An estimated $120 million was “fraudulently misspent” by the Honduran Social Security Institute, a large proportion of which went to fund President Juan Orlando Hernandéz’s 2013 campaign. Mismanagement of public funds, not to mention poor investment climates and the struggles of doing business, are some ways in which corruption impedes poverty reduction. In 2005, corruption was estimated to cost the world $1 trillion.

Leading the world in murders per capita, and Latin America in income inequality, life is difficult in Honduras.

At least 32.6 percent of Hondurans live in extreme poverty, reports the World Bank, and the the number of people below the national poverty line continues to climb. Rocked by a drug war, hyperactive and omnipresent gang activity and intense violence from law enforcement, the symptoms of corrupt and unstable institutions consistently make headlines in what The Economist warned was fast becoming a “failed state.”

The issues facing Honduras are not entirely endogenous and are incredibly complex. For starters, their geographic location is favored by narco-traffickers aiming to get products to markets in the U.S. They are still reeling from a 2009 coup. Impunity among state security forces is rampant, something that has been blamed for their out of control killings and targeted assassinations.

Among the many things that Honduras needs, are dependable and capable institutions, which are difficult to cultivate in the environment in which Honduras finds itself. Thankfully, the unique model provided by the work of CICIG in Guatemala lends itself perfectly to their situation, and the people of Honduras are ready for it.

– John Wachter

Sources: Al Jazeera, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace , CNN Español, The Economist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, La Prensa, Tico Times 1, Tico Times 2, World Bank 1, World Bank 2
Photo: Flickr

burundi
The small East African country of Burundi has been full of unrest over the past month as people have taken to the streets to protest President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term as president, which many view as unconstitutional. Since taking power in 2005, Nkurunziza’s government has grown increasingly authoritarian as it has cracked down on journalists and opposition figures. It has also been accused of intimidating voters at the polls.

In April, the constitutional court ruled that despite a two term limit, Nkurunziza could seek a third term on the grounds that he was appointed by lawmakers instead of elected for his first term. This move sparked outrage and thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets to demand for the president to step down.

More than 20 people have been killed in clashes with authorities and more than 100,000 have fled to neighboring countries. A group of soldiers and high ranking generals have already launched a failed coup attempt. Many, including the African Union, are urging the president to postpone the elections, which are scheduled for June, and restore peace.

Many fear Burundi is heading into a civil war. The tensions are threatening to derail the peace accords that ended a decade’s worth of fighting in the 1990s. Like neighboring Rwanda, Burundi has struggled with a violent conflict between Hutus and Tutsis for several decades that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In Burundi, the conflict has included two genocides.

The 2000 Arusha Peace Agreement helped bring an end to the fighting. Most observers feel that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term violates the agreement, which includes a two term limit as one of its provisions. The United States has been very critical of the bid for a third term, which it states as a clear violation. To make matters worse, some observers accuse Nkurunziza, a Hutu, of exploiting Hutu-Tutsi tensions to win support and detract from his government’s failures. Most of those who have fled over the past month are Tutsi.

The prospect of more violent conflict is bad news for a country that is already one of the poorest in the world. Nearly half of Burundi’s GDP comes from foreign aid, but many governments are considering cutting off aid because of the government’s behavior and some already have. Only half of all children receive any schooling and HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death. According to some counts, the country has the world’s highest rate of malnutrition.

Neighboring Rwanda has been watching the tensions with a lot of unease. Many fear another bout of Hutu-Tutsi violence may emerge and that it could threaten to destabilize the region. For the time being, the future is very uncertain.

– Matt Lesso

Sources: The International Business Times, The Washington Post, DW.DE,span> The Independent
Photo: Flickr

Burundi_protests
Violent protests following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to pursue a third term have left at least 19 dead and pushed over 50,000 out of their homes. With the streets ablaze in Burundi, a landlocked southeastern African country, analysts fear for the region’s economic stability.

A shirtless man, sporting a pink whistle around his neck, screamed at army officials for bulldozing a barricade made of old tires, his French wavering. Mismatched protestors stood behind the man, while police officials slowly closed in on the group, billy-clubs raised.

Days later, tear gas and live ammunition would be used on hundreds of civilians gathered only a kilometer away from Nkurunziza in the country’s capital of Bujumbura.

This political discord follows a decade-long civil war that ended in 2005 with the Arusha Agreement, which set the terms for the presidency. The accord, implemented by the constitution, reads “no one may serve more than two presidential terms.”

Operating on this basis, many Burundians see a third term as an illegal and unjust power grab. For some, however, the issue with Nkurunziza extends beyond these technicalities. For the past five years, the president has muffled the voices of his people – restricting the press and the freedom to protest.

“This present electoral problem is the result of the last five years’ rule of President Nkurunziza,” said Thierry Vircoulon, the project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group.

Though economic growth has remained stable in years past, mostly because of coffee exportation and the mining of nickel, the mass exodus of Burundi citizens could have serious monetary implications. According to Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are currently more than 20,000 refugees in Rwanda, 10,000 in Tanzania and 5,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We are extremely worried,” he said, speaking in Nairobi.

Rwanda, already a haven for 74,000 refugees from the Congo, has been overwhelmed since mid-April. Though a new Mahama refugee camp is capable of holding 60,000, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees predicts this still won’t be enough.

Sitting slightly above Rwanda and bordering Lake Victoria, Uganda will likely feel the heat of the protests. Exporting large amounts of coffee and scrap metal, Burundi currently stands as Uganda’s biggest trade partner, according to a tax analysis report.

“We are expecting if the situation in Burundi gets worse there could some economic effect on Uganda,” said Nebert Rugadya, a business commentator in Kampala.

The instability in Burundi has had a domino effect – compromising trade, straining health care systems and drying up foreign aid in neighboring nations. According to François Conradie from the African Economic Consultants NKC, tension could also foment civil war in the region of Goma on the Congo-Rwanda border.

“A stable Burundi means a lot for stability in the region,” Rugadya said.

Concerns over an overall reduced quality of life are also surfacing. The country’s 67 percent poverty rate, which has been greatly increased by civil conflict in years past, continues to climb.

– Lauren Stepp

Sources: BBC, UNICEF, US News, VOX, Washington Post
Photo: Flickr