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President Félix Tshisekedi

Diplomatic relations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Israel continue to grow stronger. In a letter to President Félix Tshisekedi sent on the sixtieth anniversary of gaining independence from Belgium, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited his Congolese counterpart on a formal state visit.

“Israel had established diplomatic relations with the DRC soon after its declaration of independence in 1960, and we are greatly pleased by the friendship and warm cooperation shared during this period,” the letter reads. It concludes with a call for Tshisekedi to visit Jerusalem “as soon as conditions permit it,” a controversial action given that Israel maintains Jerusalem as the state capital despite East Jerusalem being in Palestinian territory and its annexation unrecognized by a vast majority of sovereign states.

 

The Congolese president has been pushing for greater diplomatic ties with Israel

 

In March, while attending a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Tshisekedi announced he would be appointing an ambassador to Israel after a twenty-year gap. The Congolese president has been pushing for greater diplomatic ties with Israel, motivated in part by his evangelical faith and desire to bring in Israeli investment and expertise to help modernize the country. This has created rifts in the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC), the party of his predecessor Joseph Kabila and a linchpin of Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition.

 

Taiwan’s effort to establish diplomatic relations with Somaliland in the Horn of Africa has been roundly slammed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia, declared it would violate the PRC’s One China principle, which holds that Beijing is the sole legitimate representative for Chinese foreign affairs.

Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somaliland, and Tsai Ing-Wen, president of Taiwan, both announced on July 1 their mutual desire to open representative offices in each other’s capitals.

 

Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somaliland, photographed at a press conference in Hargeisa on November 21, 2017. (AFP via Getty Images)
Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somaliland, photographed at a press conference in Hargeisa on November 21, 2017. (AFP via Getty Images)

 

Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991 following the collapse of the dictatorial regime of General Mohamed Siad Barre, but the international community does not recognize it as a sovereign state. Formal recognition by Taiwan would help legitimize its claim of independence.

Despite enjoying some level of autonomy from the PRC, Taiwan is not formally recognized as a sovereign state by any African nation save for Eswatini, which would explain why its appeal to Somaliland would be a major step in distancing itself further from the PRC.

Given how indebted many African states are to the PRC both literally and figuratively for the latter’s heavy investment in grand infrastructure projects, it is doubtful they would risk this relationship by aligning itself more closely with Taiwan.

 

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (left) shakes hands with Chinese president Xi Jinping during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing on September 3, 2018. (Andy Wong/AFP)
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (left) shakes hands with Chinese president Xi Jinping during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing on September 3, 2018. (Andy Wong/AFP)

Egypt’s El Nasr Automotive Manufacturing Company and China’s Dongfeng Motors have signed a deal for electric car production in Egypt. An agreement was signed on June 18, stipulating that El Nasr will produce 25,000 electric vehicles annually.

Not only is this a boon for Chinese car manufacturing, which according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers saw a 42 percent decline in the first quarter of 2020, but it also revives Nasr after the company shuttered its production plant in 2009.

 

Strategic Relations

This marks yet another expansion of China’s growing footprint in Egypt. Economic and political relations between the two nations go back to 1956, when Egypt formally recognized the communist government of the People’s Republic of China, making it the first Arab and African nation to do so. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, which saw the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s succeeding presidents Mohammed Morsi and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have made foreign relations with China a top priority.

For China, Egypt’s strategic location and its ownership of the Suez Canal make it an important ally as it expands its Belt and Road Initiative.

 

A convoy of coffins containing the remains of twenty-four Algerian resistance fighters killed during the French colonial conquest of the North African country heads toward El Alia Cemetery in Algiers.
A convoy of coffins containing the remains of twenty-four Algerian resistance fighters killed during the French colonial conquest of the North African country heads toward El-Alia Cemetery in Algiers. (AFP)

In a symbolic and widely publicized funeral ceremony, the remains of twenty-four Algerian resistance fighters decapitated for resisting French colonial rule in the nineteenth century were laid to rest on Sunday, July 5. The skulls had been held in France as war trophies for decades until a repatriation agreement was reached, part of an effort by France to make amends for its bloody, destructive colonial history.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune attended the interment of the fighters’ remains at El-Alia Cemetery in the capital Algiers, in a section dedicated to fallen martyrs, on the same day as the country celebrated its fifty-eighth year of independence from France.

 

One of two caskets draped with a Namibian flag, each containing ten human skulls, is taken from an airplane on October 4, 2011, in Windhoek. They were the skulls of Herero and Nama genocide victims taken to Germany more than a century before. (Brigitte Weidlich/AFP)
One of two coffins, each containing ten human skulls, is taken from an airplane on October 4, 2011, in Windhoek, Namibia. They were the skulls of Herero and Nama genocide victims taken to Germany more than a century before. (Brigitte Weidlich/AFP)

 

Reckoning with Colonial History

This gesture by France is reflective of a larger trend among former European powers to acknowledge their colonial histories. In 2011 and 2018, Germany returned the skulls of Herero and Nama people to Namibia, more than a century after a genocide carried out by German colonial troops. The skulls had been sent to German universities for “research” by scientists obsessed with measuring racial differences to justify white supremacy.

In a letter sent to President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the sixtieth anniversary of independence from Belgian colonial rule, King Philippe of Belgium expressed his “deepest regrets for the wounds of the past.” During Belgian king Leopold II’s rule of the Congo Free State from 1877 to 1908), millions of Congolese were killed and maimed. After an investigation into abuses, the Belgian parliament took over and ruled the Congo until 1960.

These acts of contrition are appreciated, but they fall short of a full apology demanded by the descendants of those brutalized by colonial-era powers.

 

Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune prays during a ceremony in Algiers on July 5, 2020, to lay to rest the remains of twenty-four resistance fighters returned from Paris after more than a century-and-a-half, on the fifty-eighth anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France. The skulls of the fighters, who were shot and decapitated in the early years of the French occupation, were on display at the Palace of Culture before they were interred in coffins draped with the national flag in El-Alia Cemetery’s Martyrs’ Square. (Via Algerian Presidency Press Office/AFP)
Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune prays during a ceremony in Algiers on July 5, 2020, to lay to rest the remains of twenty-four resistance fighters returned from Paris after more than a century-and-a-half, on the fifty-eighth anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France. The skulls of the fighters, who were shot and decapitated in the early years of the French occupation, were on display at the Palace of Culture before they were interred in coffins draped with the national flag in El-Alia Cemetery’s Martyrs’ Square. (Via Algerian Presidency Press Office/AFP)

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has initiated a program to convince highly educated expatriates to return and put their skills to use in service of the country. This charm offensive aimed at the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise as the country finds itself in a precarious economic situation.

The energy industry is the backbone of the Algerian economy. As a result of falling oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on petroleum and gas exports, the country’ foreign exchange reserves have plummeted to record lows. The president’s charm offensive toward the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise.

To facilitate this program, Tebboune has been pushing hard for constitutional reform. Among several other changes, it would eliminate a provision that in order to hold public office or another high functionary position, a candidate must hold exclusive Algerian citizenship. Given that most Algerians living abroad have dual citizenship, this provision denies expatriates a chance of entering into civic life.

 

A Major Hurdle for the President’s Plan

The Hirak movement in Algeria poses a challenge to Tebboune’s diaspora outreach. The popular movement has been mobilizing Algerians against the regime since February 2019, holding peaceful mass protests across the country every Friday—save for a brief suspension due to COVID-19—to demand, among others, the dissolution of both chambers of parliament and a fundamentally new constitution.

 

Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the most influential personalities in Malian political landscape, addresses the crowd the Independence square in Bamako on June 5, 2020 after he've called for a political march to be held after the Friday prayer, against Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his politics. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday demanding the departure of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in a show of force from his recently energised opponents.  MICHELE CATTANI / AFP
Imam Mahmoud Dicko addresses protesters at Independence Square in Bamako on June 5, 2020. (Michele Cattani/AFP)

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali met with Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the main leaders of the mass protest movement against his administration, on Saturday, July 4. The meeting comes after weeks of demonstrations involving tens of thousands of Malians in the capital Bamako and other large cities such as Sikasso and Mopti.

These demonstrations quickly crystalized into the Mouvement du 5 Juin – Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (M5–RFP). Named after the date of the first protest action, it has come to include virtually all of Mali’s political opposition.

The meeting with Imam Dicko comes shortly after M5–RFP said it would no longer insist on Keïta’s resignation on condition he acceded to a set of new demands, including the dissolution of parliament, the formation of a transitional government, and the appointment of a new prime minister.

After the meeting between Keïta and Dicko on Saturday, M5–RFP published a statement saying Keïta had refused to accede to the latest demands, so it was reaffirming its intention to get him to resign.

 

Who Is Imam Dicko?

Mahmoud Dicko, who is the head of High Islamic Council in Mali, has been a prominent force in Malian politics since democratization began in 1991. He has conservative views, but is opposed to violent jihad.  

He is said to have played a key role in President Keïta’s decision to engage in dialogue with jihadists active in the country’s north, whose attacks have been responsible for killing hundreds of Malian soldiers and civilians despite the presence of French troops under Operation Barkhane and a UN peacekeeping force under MINUSMA.

 

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (L), South Sudan's opposition leader Riek Machar (R) and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo "Hemeti", Sudan's deputy head of the Transitional Military Council, speak to media after their peace talk at the State House in Juba, South Sudan, on December 17, 2019.
Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy leader of the Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, is flanked by President Salva Kiir (left) and First Vice President Riek Machar of South Sudan after peace talks in Juba.

Juba, South Sudan— Developments in both Sudans suggest that peace prospects are starting to bear fruit in a region that has known decades of war. In February 2020, signatories to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan formed a new government, called the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity, thus breathing life into the implementation of the ailing agreement, signed in 2018.

The agreement had faced a number of uncertainties and weathered two extensions, the first by six months and the second by one hundred days. The fact that the situation has remained stable has raised hopes among South Sudanese that the dividends of peace can now be enjoyed.

Yet competition for economic resources and control at both local and national levels persists, an obstacle on the road to sustainable peace.

David Shearer, special representative of the United Nations secretary-general in South Sudan, briefed the UN Security Council on this and other issues on June 23. His presentation is part of concerted efforts by the international community and the wider region to ensure that this time the peace will last. The various entities involved are the UN, the African Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Norway (which were all instrumental in facilitating the formation of the transitional government); countries bordering on South Sudan, notably the Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia; and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a trade bloc of eight countries from the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes region, and the Nile Valley.

The breakthrough political compromise that regional mediators put in motion has provided the opening for President Salva Kiir, former rebel leader turned First Vice President Riek Machar, and other key political leaders to join the three-year transitional government.

Although these positive developments were painstakingly slow, the chance that the peace agreement could hold only became firm when a parallel fast-paced process was taking shape: the Sudanese peace talks initiated by President Kiir.

 

Developments in the Sudan

Following the Sudanese Revolution of December 2018 that led to the ousting of long-serving president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, there has been positive steps in Khartoum. It has provided a window of opportunity to address the root causes of the Sudanese crisis; to finally bring sustainable peace to the long-suffering people on the margins in Darfur, South Kordofan, Nuba Mountains, and Eastern Sudan; and to build a state based on freedom, justice, and shared prosperity.

The success of the popular uprising against the regime created a leadership vacuum and power wrangling between protest groups and the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which immediately took over from Bashir, albeit leading to a transitional power-sharing deal between civilians and the military brokered by the AU and Ethiopia. However, this agreement left out other key players, such as the armed rebel movements in Darfur and the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile).

South Sudanese president Salva Kiir exploited this opening during the swearing in of the transitional government in Khartoum to declare his willingness—with the support of Sudan’s neighbors and Gulf states—to mediate between the new rulers and the rebel groups, capitalizing on his in-depth knowledge of the Sudanese crisis and its actors. It should be recalled both governments in the past have often accused each other of hosting and supporting hostile forces that seek to overthrow their respective governments. At the closing session of the general conference of the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum in 2017, Bashir openly called for the two states to be reunited.

For his part, President Kiir had long repeated that the armed conflict in the Sudan was directly affecting stability in his country, as the clashes were mainly located in the border region. Also, he said, the continuation of fighting in the Sudan provoked Khartoum to back South Sudanese armed groups after accusing Juba of supporting the Sudanese rebels.

With the rapprochement started by Khartoum leading to the signing of South Sudan’s own peace agreement in September 2018, the time was ripe for Juba to play a leading role. In the past, Bashir had always resisted Kiir’s advances to facilitate peace talks with the Sudanese armed groups. After Kiir’s involvement in the IGAD-mediated peace talks to end the three-year armed conflict in the South, however, Bashir accepted his involvement.

 

Sudanese Peace Talks

In early September 2019, Kiir hosted talks in Juba between rebel movements, military members of the Sovereign Council, and Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok. Rebel movements involved in the Juba meetings included four Darfuri armed groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM), the Sudan Liberation Movement–Transitional Council, and the Alliance of Sudan Liberation Forces; the Blue Nile/South Kordofan rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu (SPLM-N al-Hilu); and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of Sudanese rebel groups created in 2011 in opposition to Bashir’s government.

The negotiations were divided along five tracks, in which each track addresses the grievances of a region, namely, Central Sudan, Eastern Sudan, the Two Areas, the North, and Darfur.

A first round of negotiations took place in Juba in mid-September. In the second round in October 2019, agreements were signed on the Two Areas track between the government and the SPLM-N al-Hilu, and on the Darfur track between the government and the SRF. The third round started in mid-December on the Eastern Sudan track, the Two Areas track with the SPLM-N Agar (the faction led by Malik Agar), and the Darfur track.

“The president of South Sudan has an experience similar to the Sudanese situation, and he is one of the first fighters who resisted injustice,” a leader of the SRF said in an interview with this analyst. He declined to be named, as he was not the spokesperson for the delegation in Juba.

The delegate also stressed that Kiir is well placed to mediate the Sudanese process. The authorities in Khartoum are also keen to reach a peaceful settlement of conflicts as per their country’s constitutional declaration, which sought to achieve peace in all of the Sudan within six months of its signing.

The vice president of the Sovereign Council of the Sudan, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti), has helped to facilitate the formation of the new government of South Sudan, accompanying South Sudanese opposition leader Machar and guaranteeing his security on multiple visits to Juba in preparation for the government formation.

In parallel, Hemedti has continued Juba-based peace talks with Sudanese armed groups, including the Sudanese Revolutionary Front and SPLM-N al-Hilu, as cited in a UN panel of experts report on South Sudan released on April 28, 2020.

According to multiple sources involved in both mediations, the connection between the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan and peace talks in relation to the Sudan has become inextricable. For instance, Hemedti has tried to capitalize on his patronage relationship with Machar to ask for Juba’s support in softening the position of Abdelaziz al-Hilu, leader of the armed group SPLM-N al-Hilu, who is hosted in South Sudan. Machar’s party told the panel that Machar’s last-minute entry into the government had been “forced upon him” by the Sudan, Uganda, and the international community, and that Machar was “now a prisoner in Juba.” This intertwined relationship has carried the risk that the implementation of the agreement hinges on the Sudan making progress in its peace talks.

Progress has been made, including the signing of the declaration of principles (a political agreement that includes a renewed ceasefire) and the delivery of humanitarian assistance by government agencies to areas under conflict. A framework agreement has also been drawn up for the smoldering Darfur conflict, covering issues such as power sharing, wealth sharing, transitional justice, and a commitment to continue the negotiations.

The SRF and Sovereign Council representatives agreed on the creation of a special court for Darfur to conduct investigations and trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out during the war by the Bashir presidency and by rebel warlords. They did not discuss the issue of whether or not to transfer Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court.

Furthermore, Hemedti signed political and security agreements, constituting a framework agreement, on behalf of the Sovereign Council and Ahmed El Omda Badi on behalf of SPLM-N Agar. The agreements give legislative autonomy to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, propose solutions for the sharing of land and other resources, and aim to unify all militias and government soldiers into a single unified Sudanese military.

A “final” peace agreement for the North track—including issues of studies for new dams, compensation for people displaced by existing dams, road construction, and burial of electronic and nuclear waste—was signed by Shamseldin Kabashi of the Sovereign Council and Dahab Ibrahim of the Kush Movement.

Also, on March 25, the death of Sudanese defense minister Gamal al-Din Omar of a heart attack in Juba further delayed the process to allow for mourning. In a press statement, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the Sovereign Council, said he mourned the death of Omar, “who died while struggling for the stability of the Sudan,” a reference to peace talks with rebels.

 

Delays, But Also Progress

Following this development, Tut Gatluak, chair of the mediation, stated that the Sudan, South Sudan, and other African countries are committed “to end all forms of war” in Africa by the end of 2020, referencing the African Union’s theme of Silencing the Guns.

Notwithstanding, delays have also plunged the ten-month process into uncertainty, with extension of negotiations month after month with no time limit. Some observers say the process has lost momentum.

The spread of COVID-19 to the two countries has also slowed the peace process, as social distancing measures have meant that delegates could not easily meet. Thanks to the European Union missions in both Juba and Khartoum, talks resumed via video teleconferencing.

The Sudan Liberation Movement of Minni Minnawi, however, has refused to take part in video conference meetings, saying the security arrangements require the involvement of military experts and physical negotiations.

Talks between the government and SPLM-N al-Hilu were suspended for several months, as the armed group wanted to put the right to self-determination and the relationship between state and religion on the agenda, a request the government wouldn’t consider. Sudanese government spokesman Mohamed Hassan Eltaishi announced an invitation by the mediators to resume dialogue via video conferencing with the SPLM-N delegation on June 22.

For now, negotiations to achieve a comprehensive peace continues in Juba with a pattern of extensions of deadlines for the signing of a final agreement. It is undeniable, however, that the fate of the two countries is intertwined.

Lasting peace in South Sudan is most likely to reflect positively in the Sudan, especially in the Two Areas, traditional strongholds of the SPLM-N, a movement with very close connections to SPLM, the ruling party in South Sudan. Once comrades in the armed struggle against the oppressive Islamist government in Khartoum, they were separated on July 9, 2011, when the south seceded to become an independent state.

Failure to achieve peace in the Sudan, on the other hand, is likely to be detrimental to South Sudan’s long-term stability, as the Sudan is a known haven for South Sudanese dissidents. But the Sudan has also been pushing for compromises thus far made by South Sudanese parties, which has spurred progress in the peace process. Any disinterest by Khartoum could lead to loss of momentum in Juba’s own implementation of agreements, possibly sparking a new wave of violence.

 

Patrick Anyama Godi is the editor of True African Magazine, a South Sudanese lifestyle, fashion, and business magazine

 

MINUSCA

 

Troops, police, and civilians deployed under the auspices of United Nations peace operations routinely work under difficult circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has added an additional level of challenges for the 95,000 peacekeepers deployed across the world as part of thirteen UN operations, many of them in Africa. They have to continue their vital work to protect civilians, support peace and political processes, and promote human rights, all while applying critical prevention and mitigation measures to contain and otherwise help countries respond to the disease.

Within this context, UN peacekeeping missions quickly moved to adapt their community outreach efforts—a critical tool to inform, foster dialogue, and seek support for its mandates—to continue connecting with and supporting communities and local organizations while limiting the risks associated with social contact. Missions have boosted their use of broadcast and online tools to continue communicating, including through radio, WhatsApp groups, social media, and other messaging platforms to reach audiences.

 

The spread of misinformation is presenting an additional security challenge for peacekeepers

 

Broadcast is a staple in most of the environments where UN peacekeepers operate, and it has proven to be a crucial tool to support host governments and humanitarian partners to raise awareness on COVID-19 preparedness, prevention, and response, while also addressing issues such as sexual and gender-based violence.

Whether peace operations manage their own radio stations (in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and South Sudan), or produce multilingual content for partner networks, up to 80 percent of production has been shifted toward COVID-19 awareness. This is particularly critical in environments with low literacy rates, limited Internet reach, and multiple languages.

The spread of misinformation is presenting an additional security challenge for peacekeepers and communities alike, creating what the UN secretary-general has called a global infodemic. Which is why public communication is central to helping dispel rumors, counter misinformation, and provide people with timely and accurate information.

Mikado FM, a radio station operated by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), broadcasts a myth-busting program where listeners can ask questions and receive accurate information about the virus. The station reaches a wider audience by providing sixty-three community radio stations with prerecorded prevention messages in five local languages, and special radio shows in partnership with the World Health Organization and the Malian health authorities.

Some missions are also now providing education over the airwaves while schools are closed. Radio Okapi, the flagship station with the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), produces fourteen weekly hours of homeschooling in partnership with the DRC Ministry of Education and UNICEF. Peacekeeping missions’ radio stations in the Central African Republic and South Sudan are also similarly employing their resources to educate children.

 

Radio Okapi
Radio Okapi, a radio network established by MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has become a trusted source of information and news for the urban population. It provides programming in French, Lingala, Kituba, Swahili, and Tshiluba. (AFP)

The Right Tools for the Right Audiences

Ensuring information reaches at-risk groups, including women, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and rural communities is critical as their already limited access to news and communication tools may further expose them to the virus.

Now, even more than ever, inclusive communications plans must consider varying digital literacy levels of women and men and within different social groups.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) distributes thousands of educational flashcards explaining the symptoms of COVID-19 and prevention measures. In Darfur (Sudan), South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, missions use moto-taxis and promo-trucks to disseminate information through speakers in IDP camps, protection sites, and remote villages.

As the UN embraced virtual meetings and remote-access technology following stay-at-home orders, colleagues in the field found creative solutions to grant Wi-Fi and online platforms access to local counterparts, including women’s groups, or expand the use of WhatsApp for interaction.

The mission in Mali, for instance, recently launched MINUSMA Kounafoni Blon (MINUSMA Info Hut) whereby communities from different regions take turns each month to interact on specific themes through a dedicated WhatsApp group hosted in the region’s language. Similarly, in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA is distributing 50,000 rechargeable radio sets to facilitate women’s access to information.

Where technically viable, virtual platforms can keep community dialogue alive. In Kosovo, UNMIK hosts weekly virtual townhall debates on community and national issues; the debates are broadcast on national television. The mission also launched a digital trust-building platform focusing on multi-ethnic cooperation stories and champions, with multilingual messaging on COVID-19. In several countries, women have told us they felt more confident exchanging views and ideas on these more targeted online platforms as opposed to larger groups meeting in person.

Missions are aware of how COVID-19 impacts women and men differently, and how best to direct interventions. Many women continue to work out of necessity to support their families, and therefore face increased contamination risks. MINUSCA, for example, is targeting markets to reach women as a “captive audience” while setting-up handwashing spots and conducting disinfection runs in these locations. MONUSCO also sensitizes women vendors on COVID-19 at markets together with the Congolese Ministry of Gender and the National Police.

 

Empowering Through Partnerships

Strengthening partnerships with humanitarian actors and local organizations is another way to maintain community outreach and work together to respond to COVID-19.

Religious, traditional and local structures are trusted messengers to convey accurate information and dispel rumors. Arts, sports, socio-economic, and trade groups wield influence and operate within communities. Mikado FM in Mali has partnered with the musical duo Amadou and Mariam to disseminate COVID-19 awareness messages in local languages. In Cyprus, the UN Peacekeeping Force UNFICYP has partnered with Cypriot women’s organizations to boost information for women experiencing domestic violence during quarantine. And MINUSCA trains members of the National Youth Council with speaking and hearing impediments to conduct door-to-door awareness on the virus.

Engaging with the media is yet another way missions are mobilizing partnerships to fight the pandemic. UNMISS works with humanitarian agencies, local authorities, and Facebook to provide validated and timely information, counter hate speech, and remove incendiary posts as appropriate. Similarly, MINUSMA partners with the Union of Free Radios and Televisions of Mali and religious leaders to provide information on COVID-19. MINUSCA held media awareness-raising sessions to promote objective and professional reporting on the pandemic while helping journalists protect themselves against the virus in their daily tasks. As a result of these workshops—held in line with WHO and host governments’ protection and prevention guidelines—more than fifty journalists signed up to a Charter of Good Conduct on reporting on COVID-19 in the country.

 

Patrolling and Informing

Strategic communications are part of UN peacekeepers’ daily work on the ground, and everybody has a role to play. As most civilian personnel are working from home, military and community policing patrols by the mission become opportunities to relay life-saving information. A community violence-reduction program such as the one in the Central African Republic also involves at-risk populations in income-generating activities such as mask-sewing and soap-making to help combat COVID-19 while expanding their economic options.

It is in this challenging context, and through the examples of peacekeepers continuing their work outlined above, that the United Nations can leverage the power of information and its ability to build strong partnerships with local communities while saving lives. The crucial work of those continuing to undertake core activities, despite the current challenges, is a credit to the resilience of both peacekeepers and the communities they serve.

 

Charlotte Morgan is an intern at the Strategic Communications Section of the United Nations’ Department of Peace Operations

Sophie Boudre is a public information officer at the United Nations

 

A man painted in the colours of Malian flag gestures at Independance square as protesters gather to demand that Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta leaves office in Bamako on June 19, 2020. Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the most influential personalities in Malian political landscape, called for a political march to be held after the Friday prayer, against Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his government. MICHELE CATTANI / AFP
A man painted in the colours of the Malian flag gestures at Independence Square in Bamako as protesters gather on June 19, 2020, to demand that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta leave office. Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the most influential personalities in the Malian political landscape, called for a political march to be held after the Friday prayer against President Keïta and his government. (Michele Cattani/AFP)

ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, has urged Mali to organize new local elections in districts where recent election results have been subject to review, and to convene a government of national unity. This comes as tens of thousands of Malians rallied in the streets of the capital Bamako and elsewhere for the second time this month, demanding the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.

 

The voter turnout was low due to threats of jihadist violence and fears over the pandemic

 

Since winning a second five-year term in 2018, Keïta has faced several crises severely undermining the stability of Mali, including ongoing jihadist attacks, a teacher’s strike, an ailing economy, and COVID-19. The legitimacy of legislative elections held in early March has been contested because of low voter turnout due to threats of jihadist violence and fears over the pandemic. These fears were exacerbated by the abduction of opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé just a few days before the election. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Members of the National Assembly are torn between going ahead with ECOWAS’s recommendation to hold partial elections, or to simply dissolve parliament and start all over.

A meeting was recently held between representatives of the ruling majority coalition and of the Mouvement du 5 Juin (M5), a coalition of the main opposition parties that helped organize the protests (first held on June 5, hence the name). At the meeting, the presidential camp recognized the grievances of M5, but insisted on the need for a joint framework to move past this political crisis, and asked that M5 drop the demand for President Keïta to resign. M5 is, however, not likely to budge on the issue of his resignation.

 

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir arrives for talks at the African Union aimed at forming a power-sharing government ahead of a February 22 deadline, in Addis Ababa on February 08, 2020, Michael Toweled/AFP
South Sudanese president Salva Kiir arrives for talks at the African Union aimed at forming a power-sharing government ahead of a February 22 deadline in Addis Ababa on February 08, 2020. (Michael Tewelde/AFP)

The African Union (AU) has suspended South Sudan’s participation in meetings over its inability to pay financial contributions of about US$9 million for the past three years. Hakim Edward, deputy spokesperson for South Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs, explained that the country had not been deprived of its membership, but South Sudanese diplomats may not take part in or contribute to African Union meetings. He said efforts were under way to resolve the matter.

The failure to pay its dues points to South Sudan’s economic woes as it tries to formalize a unity government, a critical component of the 2019 peace agreement that put an end to a bloody seven-year civil war. The deal was struck around the same time that the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report detailing how several South Sudanese officials had embezzled state funds, and how lucrative oil contracts had been used to fund armed militias engaged in the civil war.

 

The suspension risks hampering critical discussions

 

Suspending South Sudan’s participation in meetings is the result of new measures the AU implemented in 2018 to ensure member states fulfill their financial obligations. But it risks alienating South Sudanese and hampering critical discussions, especially as the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) struggles to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. South Sudan’s healthcare infrastructure is among the poorest on the continent, and millions of internally displaced people living in UN-protected camps are at high risk of contracting the virus.

 

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