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Lebanon on the Brink

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Courtesy Nicolas Raymond/flickr

This article was originally published by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) on 30 August 2016.

Summary

Gravely affected by the Syrian crisis, Lebanon has managed to remain relatively stable against all odds – despite the influx of some 1.5 million Syrian refugees and internal political crisis involving actors who support opposing Syrian factions. Lebanon’s resilience can be explained by the high opportunity cost of state breakdown for domestic, regional and international political actors. Moreover, international economic assistance, diaspora remittances and informal networks established by refugees help to prevent outright economic breakdown. Yet, stability remains extremely precarious. Important tipping points include (1) the IS strategy of spreading the conflict to Lebanon, and the consequent disintegration of the army along sectarian lines, (2) democratic decline and popular dissatisfaction, (3) Hizbullah’s domestic ambitions and Israeli fears over the group’s growing military power and (4) the potential for frustration between refugees and host communities turning into recurrent violence. However, (5) the slow economic decline and the worsening sanitary conditions stand out as the greatest challenges.

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Violence Wracks Ethiopia  – But Don’t Expect Anything to Change

Courtesy of US Navy/ Wikimedia Creative Commons

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 11 August 2016.

Violent protests have shaken Ethiopia in the last month. More than 50 people have died, most of them shot dead by security forces. In contrast to an earlier wave of demonstrations that claimed the lives of more than 400 protestors and security agents early this year, this time the protests weren’t limited to the Oromo federal state, but instead originated in the Amhara region.

The spread of the protests — and the accompanying violence — points to increasing dissatisfaction with the government among large segments of the population. Together, the Oromo and Amhara people, whose presence largely correlates with the eponymous federal states, account for more than 60 percent of Ethiopia’s population.

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Venezuela’s Toxic Combination: Too Many Guns, Too Little Food

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Chavez, courtesy of mwausk/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by The International Crisis Group on 6 June 2016.

Venezuela is a country of almost 900,000 square kilometres with over 30 million inhabitants. But a few, run-down city blocks in the west of the capital, Caracas, carry a significance far beyond their size and population. Known as “el centro”, this part of Libertador municipality holds the presidential Miraflores palace, many ministry buildings, the Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, or TSJ) and the headquarters of the electoral authority (Consejo Nacional Electoral, or CNE). In the past few days “el centro” has been the scene of a variety of events that speak volumes about the depth of the combined political, economic, social and humanitarian conflict that seems finally to have caught the attention of the wider world. And about the difficulty of resolving it through dialogue.

Crisis Group has for years warned that authoritarian governance, economic mismanagement, violent crime and lawlessness in Venezuela would eventually prove a toxic combination. The crisis spiralled out of control following the untimely death from cancer of the country’s charismatic leader Hugo Chávez in 2013 and the near simultaneous plunge in the price of oil, on which the economy is almost wholly dependent. Acute shortages of food, triple-digit inflation, one of the world’s highest homicide rates and the collapse of public services, including health care, are signs of deeper dysfunction. This is a country on the verge of implosion.

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The AU’s Less Coercive Diplomacy in Burundi

East African soldiers from Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Sudan practice counter-IED movement

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 16 February 2016.

Burundi’s political crisis continues, but it has entered a new phase with the conclusion of the 26th African Union summit on January 31st in Addis Ababa. In a December 2015 Global Observatory article, I analyzed the AU’s novel use of coercive diplomacy in Burundi. This approach came under scrutiny at the January summit, to the point that many consider it a failure. The truth is more complicated.

Before the AU summit, the last decision on Burundi taken by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) was set out in its communiqué of December 17th last year. Among other things, this seven-page document authorized the deployment of a 5,000-strong African Protection and Prevention Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU). It gave President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government 96-hours to consent to MAPROBU’s deployment, called for the relaunch of the inter-Burundi dialogue between the government and opposition, and for the complete deployment of the 100 human rights and military observers that the AU had authorized in May 2015. The principal goals of the PSC in taking this decision had been to facilitate a political settlement to Burundi’s ongoing crisis and reduce the threat of armed conflict and violence against civilians.

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What (else) to Expect in Africa in 2016?

“Africa” written in the evening sky in Malawi

This article was originally published by ISS Africa on 12 January 2016.

Africa starts the New Year with many burning issues that escalated in 2015 and need urgent action. The crisis in Burundi, where grave human rights violations are continuing, and the war in South Sudan are the two most pressing among these.

This year will also see a number of important elections taking place in Africa. Uganda’s presidential polls are being held next month, and those scheduled for the Democratic Republic of Congo later this year will also be top of mind for most Africa watchers.

It will also be a very challenging year for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who will now have to make good on his 2015 election promises.

This includes effectively dealing with terror group Boko Haram and bringing back the kidnapped Chibok girls. Africa’s most populous nation will also look to him to continue the fight against corruption and boost economic development, despite the slump in the oil price.

But what are we missing, beyond the big newsmakers?

In 2016, we should watch for surprises from unexpected quarters. One of these might be from Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe, who turns 92 next month, is not immortal – even if his supporters vow to push him onto the stage in a wheelchair to celebrate his victory at the next party elections in 2019.

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