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Zimbabwe: Protests against Mugabe

By James Mott

Roughly 2,000 protesters took to the streets of Harare in protest against Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, the first protest in several years. Earlier that week, a judge on Zimbabwe’s High Court ruled that police “should not interfere” with the planned march, led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The protests come after worsening inflation, scores of lost jobs, and accusations of Mugabe’s government siphoning 15 billion dollars of state funds into personal accounts. The protests are being led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the primary opposition party to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which dominates both houses of parliament.

The march comes as a surprise, as previous public marches have been denied by the High Court, presumably under pressure from Mugabe’s executive. However, many Zimbabweans have begun to turn against the government as economic pressure begins to impact the middle-class. MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu quipped that he wouldn’t be “surprised if some disgruntled and unhappy members of [ZANU] who are disgruntled by the way the economy is being mismanaged join us [in protesting]”.

An upcoming deadline for the “indigenization” of Zimbabwe’s economy could spark more protests in the future. Under the plan, all foreign firms must meet a 51 percent benchmark of local ownership, or have their assets seized. Such a move would drive foreign direct investment out of Zimbabwe and into the nearby states of Botswana and Zambia, both with economies massively outperforming Harare’s closely controlled economy. With Zimbabwe’s economy still in a deep recession since 2013, it is foreseeable that protests could increase in attendance and frequency as the economy worsens.

An interesting dynamic to the protests is the role of remittances and the Zimbabwean diaspora. It is estimated that over a billion in USD is sent to Zimbabwean citizens, and so far have failed to produce any noticeable changes in their economy. The role of remittances could both prolong and quell protests – if families are able to survive on weakened wages bolstered by remittances, many won’t risk their jobs to protest. However, if remittances fail to provide an effective enough supplement to most individuals’income, then there will be sufficient motivation for individuals to protest.


“Zones Rouges”: Violence in Madagascar’s Lawless South

By Janice Freeman

Cattle-raiding, formerly a long-standing cultural tradition in Madagascar’s rural south, has become increasingly violent and profit-focused, leading to the deaths of 17 individuals during one raid. Zebu, a prized humpback cattle in Madagascar, are the targets of these bandits, known in Malagasy as “dahalo,” who frequently sell the Zebu domestically and abroad.


The rise in zebu-raiding is due in part to increasing poverty rates in the rural areas in Madagascar’s south, where youth struggle to find employment and instead turn to raiding to earn an income. Now, instead of simply acting as a coming-of-age ritual, zebu-raiding is a structured activity, carried out by as many as 50, heavily-armed men.


It’s difficult to see this problem being solved by Madagascar’s national government. The leaders in Antananarivo have little access to or control over the “zones rouges,” or red zones, nor do their priorities lie with the remote southern populations. Corruption and a complete lack of good governance hinder the government’s power in the south, leaving these rural communities vulnerable to violence on behalf of the “dahalo.”


The community response has also been largely insufficient. Too scared to turn over the “dahalo” to the corrupt justice system, community patrols try to kill the bandits instead of apprehend them, fueling the violence and death toll in the region. Security forces do not assist the communities either, fearing that the “dahalo” will publicize their collusion with police and security.


Without significant security sector reform and an increase government attention to “zones rouges,” the raids could become even worse. Already the “dahalo” have increased the violence of their raids, frequently kidnapping women and burning down entire villages. This destruction creates even larger conflict and violence. These displaced villagers not only have to travel great distances to find another village in which to live, but they are frequently not accepted by the villagers in the host community. They may be denied access to the village or they may be greeted with a violent response.


While the remoteness of Madagascar’s “zones rouges” makes effective security and governance difficult to implement, it is critical that the government in Antananarivo make a significant attempt to improve safety and security in the area. Further, corruption needs to be addressed, as collusion between the “dahalo” and security forces is fueling continued conflict.

What Does Moldova’s Collapse Mean for Russia and the EU?

By Janice Freeman

The government of Europe’s poorest nation has collapsed amidst a banking scandal involving the disappearance of one billion dollars from the banking scandal. Moldova’s Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet short, three-month term ended on Thursday when Moldova’s parliament backed a motion of no-confidence in the pro-European government. The motion received 65 votes in favor, many more than the 51 required to pass, after the Democratic Party defected from the ruling coalition government.

The no-confidence motion was brought in connection with government corruption and fraud in which one billion dollars, one eighth of Moldova’s GDP, disappeared from the banking system over the past few years. The disappearance the of the billion dollars has weakened Moldova’s currency and lowered living standards in an already struggling economy.

This government instability and fraud on the part of a pro-European government could open the door for pro-Russian communist and socialist opposition parties to take power and align Moldova more with Putin than with the EU. Further, the worrisome culture of corruption in Moldova’s government will prevent it from any increased integration with the EU in the near future.

Thousands of Moldovans have taken to the streets of the capital, Chisinau, to voice their frustration with state corruption and government fraud. The image of the ruling elite in Moldova has been seriously tarnished, as many ordinary Moldovans live on an income of only $300 per month. This frustration also opens the door to increased political instability and uncertainty as a new candidate is selected.

You may ask, why does a small country like Moldova, with a GDP of only $8 billion, matter? With the Soviet breakaway republic, Transnistria within its borders, Moldova could represent a ripe opportunity for Russia to expand its influence in Eastern Europe. Sandwiched between Romania, an EU and NATO member, and Ukraine, a state torn between Western and Russian interests, Moldova could be a tipping point in relations between the EU, Russia, and the United States.

Colombia: Is Peace Finally on the Horizon?

By Janice Freeman

Since the 1960s, conflict between the guerilla insurgent group, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the government, has plagued Colombia. The conflict was triggered by the assassination of the populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and the following anti-communist repression in the rural areas of the country. The FARC claims its goals are to promote social equality and fight government violence against the poor and the government says it is combatting the FARC in order to protect citizens and promote stability. Since the beginning of the conflict, 220,000 people have died, the majority civilians, and more than five million Colombians have been displaced, creating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons.  However, after years of failed dialogue between the government and the FARC, the two groups have agreed to a peace process. While a significant achievement, much of the hardest work is yet to come.

The peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC, with involvement by the Venezuelan and American governments, has reached agreement of many key topics that are essential to Colombia’s future. So far, the two sides have agreed on land reform provisions, the elimination of illegal drug trade with the FARC, as well as transitional justice reforms (amnesty and truth commissions, for example). Agreements on new topics continue to be revealed, with an agreement on “disappeared persons” (those missing due to the conflict) announced this week.

However, there is still a long way to go. With a goal of document signing in March 2016, there is little time to finish negotiations. There is also much public doubt with regards to the motivations and commitment of the FARC to peace in Colombia. Many Colombians also have issues with the amnesty and transitional justice provisions. With less punishment for combatants, many of those who were affected by the conflict don’t feel as though the agreement is fair.

While reaching a peace agreement is a huge step, there are still potential problems in Colombia’s future. Reintegrating former combatants will be not only costly, but it could cause animosity and violence in Colombian communities. Also, Colombia needs to focus on keeping former combatants out of Colombia’s robust drug trade in order to prevent the continued growth of narcotics trafficking. Hopefully, Colombia and the FARC will be able to cooperatively approach these issues and ensure peace in Colombia’s future.