Ethnic Violence

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been mired in severe instability and violent conflict since 1994, with rival militias, foreign governments’ proxy forces, and ordinary civilians clashing against a backdrop of underdeveloped social services, lucrative natural resources, and pervasive lack of government accountability. A small step forward came in 2009, when a peace agreement provided for the absorption of a major rebel group into the Congolese national army. Last month, however, the rebels’ former leader, Bosco Ntaganda, defected from the army along with hundreds of soldiers, launching a fresh rebellion and plunging the eastern DRC back into conflict. Violence between the newly baptized M23 rebel group and government forces has displaced at least 45,000 people since April 27, and there are reports that Ntaganda has returned to his past practice of forcibly recruiting child soldiers.

Côte d’Ivoire was once a promising model of economic prosperity and stability for West Africa, but in the last decade alone it has fallen prey to two civil wars, untold human misery, and large-scale impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations. The complex problems currently besetting the country are linked to the failure of its leaders to both commit to and successfully foster genuine democratic principles and practices.

Burma’s parliamentary by-elections on Sunday were seen as a make or break moment for the reform process that has taken place over the last two years. The country, long ruled by one of the world most repressive authoritarian regimes, inaugurated a new parliament and a nominally civilian government in early 2011, though both are still dominated by the military and its allies. The authorities have since taken a series of other steps, such as the release of some political prisoners that were designed to improve relations with democratic powers including the United States. The international community in turn has sought to engage the new leadership and encourage further reforms.

At the end of November, a Kenyan High Court judge ruled that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir should be arrested “should he ever set foot in Kenya.” The decision is a welcome sign that Kenya’s judiciary is emerging from its long subservience to the country’s powerful and often unaccountable executive branch, and that international law might soon be catching up with more alleged war criminals.

 

 

On December 1, Kyrgyzstan inaugurated Almazbek Atambayev as its new president in the country’s first orderly transfer of power since independence. Atambayev won more than 60 percent of the ballots in an election that monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) characterized as peaceful, though suffering from significant irregularities, particularly in the vote tabulation process and the compiling of voter lists.

At the end of this month, national elections will decide who will serve as Kyrgyzstan’s first full-term president since the April 2010 revolution that ousted the increasingly authoritarian Kurmanbek Bakiyev. And at the end of the year, Central Asia’s first and only female president, interim leader Roza Otunbayeva, will also become the first leader in Central Asia to leave her post in a voluntary and peaceful transfer of power.

 

In an October 15 opinion piece in the New York Times, provocatively titled “Democracy’s Collateral Damage,” Ross Douthat makes a series of arguments and observations about ethnicity, democracy, and stability. While they touch on a legitimate scholarly debate about the difficulty of establishing new democracies in multiethnic countries, they also seem to posit dubious cause-and-effect relationships and assign blame where it is clearly not due. Because these arguments sometimes contradict one another, they are best addressed one or two at a time.

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