By Habib Siddiqui
Thanks to the Saudi-led coalition, Yemen continues to bleed for the last three years. The country is wrecked by a bloody war between the Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemen's unpopular government.
The Houthis, who are Zaydi Shi’as, and the Yemeni government have battled on and off since 2004; the fighting was, however, confined to the Houthis' stronghold, northern Yemen's impoverished Saada province. In 2011, in the wake of the "Arab Spring" that spread across the Middle East, including Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted in 2012. He was succeeded by his vice president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who was chosen as a president for a two-year transitional period on February 21, 2012, in an election in which he was the only candidate. His mandate was extended for another year in January 2014. However, he remained in power after the expiration of his mandate.
In September 2014, the Houthis, dissatisfied with the outcome of the 2011 Revolution. took control of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and aided by forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh clashed with forces loyal to the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, based in Aden. On 22 January 2015, Hadi was forced to resign by the Houthis after a mass protest against his decision to raise the fuel subsidies and placed under house arrest. A month later, he escaped to his hometown of Aden, rescinded his resignation, and denounced the Houthi takeover as an unconstitutional coup d'état. In response to the Houthis' advances, a coalition of Arab states, led by the Wahabi state of Saudi Arabia, launched a military campaign in 2015 to defeat the Houthis and restore Yemen's government. Saudi Arabia, keen on ensuring its influence on the Peninsula has accused Iran of supporting the Houthis, which Iran denies.
It is difficult to get an accurate information on the death toll. Save The Children estimated at least 50,000 children died in 2017, an average of 130 every day. A 41-page report on 28 August 2018 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) showed that the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes, tortured detainees, raped civilians and used child soldiers as young as 8 — actions that may amount to war crimes. The report singled out Saudi and Emirati airstrikes for causing the most civilian casualties, saying they had hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, jails, boats and medical facilities. Earlier, OHCHR estimated that Saudi-led coalition air attacks had caused almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths, while the Houthis have been accused of causing mass civilian casualties due to their siege of Taiz, Yemen's third-largest city. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that more than 3 million Yemenis have fled their homes to elsewhere in the country, and 280,000 have sought asylum in other countries, including Djibouti and Somalia. As reported by Al Jazeera, internally displaced Yemenis often must cope with a lack of food and inadequate shelter. Many Yemenis who have not fled are also suffering, especially those in need of healthcare.
The mess in Yemen has naturally attracted the extremist Salafis to further fuel the crisis. Since the start of the war last year, al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has launched several attacks on Houthi rebels, whom it views as infidels. In 2015, AQAP took over Mukalla, a provincial capital and the fifth-largest city in Yemen, before they were driven out in April 2016, 2,000 by Yemeni and Emirati troops. The neo-Kharijite Daesh (or ISIL/ISIS) announced the formation of a wilaya, or state, in Yemen in December 2014. In March 2015, it claimed its first attack in Yemen: suicide bombings in two Sanaa mosques used by Zaydi Shias, which killed more than 140 people.
As the western governments, esp. the USA, supply and sell weapons to its friendly states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the future looks too bleak to find a peaceful solution to the grave situation in Yemen. A report released by Human Rights Watch in August of this year warned Britain, France and the United States that they risked complicity in unlawful attacks in Yemen by continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia.
Although the Talibans were removed from power after 9/11, its people continue to live unsafely and die every month due to the never-ending wars there; some 23,000 civilians died last year.
Let’s now review some of the trouble spots in Africa. Since 2014, Africa has experienced more than half of worldwide conflict incidents , despite having only about 16 percent of the world population.
There are currently fifteen African countries involved in war or are experiencing post-war conflict and tension. In West Africa, the countries include Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Togo. In East Africa, the countries include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Mozambique and Uganda. In North Africa, post-Ghaddafi Libya is in a civil war with competing governments claiming authenticity at the two ends of the country. At the center, the Central African Republic (CAR) continues to witness deadly violence in the form of genocide against its Muslim minorities there at the hands of Christian armed groups.
In December 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic (COI) issued a report finding a “pattern of ethnic cleansing committed by the anti-balaka in the areas in which Muslims had been living.” In the first part of January 2014, anti-balaka Christian fighters deliberately killed Muslims because of their religious identity or told them to leave the country or die. As a result, the COI reported that in 2014, 99 percent of the capital’s Muslim residents left Bangui, 80 percent of the entire country’s Muslim population fled to Cameroon or Chad, and 417 of the country’s 436 mosques were destroyed. Since 2014, few Muslims have returned to CAR.
Most Muslims in western CAR continue to live in peacekeeper-protected enclaves. The few who have returned to or continue to live in their home villages report that anti-balaka soldiers forced them to convert or hide their faith. The UN reports that Muslim IDPs and returning refugees have been harassed and abused.
Although the genocidal pogroms against Muslim minorities in CAR has eased somewhat in late 2016, religious violence has grown in recent months in the central and southeast regions of the country, esp. since May 2017 when more than 300 people got killed and over 100,000 displaced. Much of the fighting has taken place in Bangassou, a southeastern border town near the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Red Cross said in May 2017 that it had found 115 dead bodies following a series of militia attacks. The out-going head of the U.N.’s humanitarian office, Stephen O’Brien told AP that he saw 2,000 Muslims trapped in a Catholic church; they had fled their homes after being attacked by anti-balaka militias. O’Brien said that the militias were “lying in wait” to kill the Muslims, while “every Christian family’s house was left standing.”
Prior to 2012, 85% of the population of the Central African Republic was Christian with a 15% percent Muslim minority. This has changed significantly over the years. Now Muslims comprise only 8.9% of the population.
Religious identity continues to be one of the most significant predictors of violence in the Central African Republic. Many Muslim communities remain displaced and in the western parts, Muslims cannot practice their faith freely. The CAR Government has initiated some work to ensure renewed interfaith cooperation and address the growing tensions between religious communities. However, as noted by Ewelina U. Ochab, author of the book “Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East,” in a Forbes essay, without adequate reconciliation efforts, this has not achieved the desired results.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that the situation in CAR merits the designation of a country of particular concern (CRC). In its 2018 report, USCIRF reported that Muslim minorities in CAR had been subjected to marginalization even before the recent conflict arose. Muslims continue to suffer from systemic discrimination in a wide range of areas including their access to education and identity documents. The ongoing violence has resulted in over 2.3 million people requiring humanitarian assistance. It has created more than 450,000 refugees and almost 350,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Thousands lost their lives. Ochab recommends that CAR “must accommodate interfaith dialogue and reconciliation. Above all, it must ensure that human rights are afforded to all, including the right to freedom of religion and belief to the minority Muslim groups. More needs to be done to help Muslim minorities in the Central African Republic. This includes ensuring that the refugees and IDPs are allowed to return to their homes, that they are provided adequate protection and that they are guaranteed basic rights in equality with other majority groups. The CAR Government must also ensure that the religious war between ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka fighters is adequately investigated and that prosecutions are pursued against these parties for their role in the sectarian violence in CAR. Combating impunity can greatly support reconciliation and community cohesion efforts.”
Fueled by America’s drone war, the Somali civil war is still going strong in its third decade. Nearly 5,000 people died last year there.
The Boko Haram conflict in northeastern Nigeria is another epicenter and situated in relative proximity to an area of conflict hot spots in the Central African Republic, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and Darfur. The insurgency is the deadliest conflict that Africa is currently experiencing. Although the casualty figures from Boko Haram have ebbed significantly in recent months, thanks to President Buhari’s new methods of managing the conflict, unless long term strategies are found that address the root causes such conflicts may not be easy to resolve.
South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in 2011, becoming the world’s newest country, with the backing of Western nations. But two years later, civil war erupted in South Sudan creating some of the worst records in bloodshed, massacre, rape and wanton savagery.
The conflict began as a feud between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and to then-Vice President Riek Machar. It soon spiraled into fighting among several factions, engulfing the country in ethnic violence and eventually producing a devastating humanitarian crisis. An estimated 383,000 people have died in this country of 12 million people as a result of civil war, according to a new report that documents the extraordinary scale of devastation after five years of fighting in the world’s youngest country.
The report, published by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and financed by the U.S. State Department, revealed that about half of the dead were killed in fighting between ethnic rivals as it spread across the country, and the other half died from disease, hunger and other causes exacerbated by the conflict.
The number far surpasses earlier estimates from the United Nations and brings into focus the tragedy of a conflict that has received little global attention. The Aid Worker Security Report, an annual global assessment of violence against aid workers, determined that last year, for the third year in a row, South Sudan was the most dangerous country in the world for aid workers. At least 113 aid workers have been killed in the country during the first half of 2018.
In June 2018 a UN peacekeeper from Bangladesh was killed when unidentified gunmen ambushed a humanitarian convoy on a road in South Sudan.
On a positive note, the Christian ruled Ethiopia has been showing progress in its desire to finding peace with its Muslim-majority neighbor Eritrea. In October 5, 2018, its ruling coalition extended the chairmanship of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, further anchoring his authority as he pushes through sweeping political and economic reforms. He will now lead the ruling EPRDF coalition until the next congress, which usually takes place every two to three years.
Abiy Ahmed, 42, an Oromo, took power as Prime Minister in April 2018 after his predecessor resigned following three years of protests led by ethnic Oromos, who were demanding an end to what they considered their political and economic marginalization despite being the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
The reforms he has introduced were unthinkable not so long ago. Abiy Ahmed’s priorities included freeing political prisoners, pledging to open up the state-controlled economy and promising to overhaul the security services. He has released thousands of political prisoners and unbanned groups, including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which had been labelled terrorist organizations.
He has also ended the state of war with Eritrea by agreeing to give up disputed border territory, in the process normalizing relations with the long-time foe. The East African countries fought a bloody border war that erupted in 1998. The two-year war left more than 80,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
A UN-backed peace agreement in 2000 awarded the disputed border territories to Eritrea, but the deal was never implemented. The countries have skirmished since then in one of Africa's longest-running conflicts
Abiy traveled to Eritrea in September, his first visit since the Horn of Africa neighbors ended a 20-year state of war in July. Phone services and travel between the two countries have resumed. The two countries have also reopened embassies.
These are laudable examples too rarely seen in our time! If the newly found peace can be sustained, the two countries will have a huge potential for economic, cultural and political cooperation - that will have a great impact not only for the security and integration of the Horn of Africa but also the bigger Eastern Africa.
We are living at a time when people are getting killed for no reason except their ethnicity, race, color, language and gender. Sometimes they are getting killed for no reason at all. It is a messy world that is increasingly becoming hostile, difficult, suffocating, unsafe and insecure for the vast majority of global citizens. They like to see a change for better not only for themselves but also their posterity.
What can be done to make things better? It starts with people and the polity. After all, as the Prophet Muhammad (S) famously said, as you are so will be your leaders.
It is long known that political leaders and entrepreneurs in and out of government tend to fan the flames of division dividing and marginalizing communities along the ethnic, racial, sectarian, religious or whatever lines that suits them. They frequently do so in their desire to solidify their control and maximize their faction’s interest. In that pursuit they often ignore or forget the consequences of their divisive actions.
Responsible leadership means looking to the future beyond today and realizing that there is accountability for everything – good and bad. That means making difficult choices and compromises something that is short in supply these days. But as the recent thawing and normalizing of relationship between two former foes Ethiopia and Eritrea demonstrated peace is attainable when right people are chosen for the right job. They can take people to new highs and open new doors of opportunities, previously either unknown or untapped.