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IPRI Conflict Weekly, 03 June 2020, Vol.1, No. 20

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IPRI # 70, 3 June 2020

Conflict Weekly 20
A week of violence in the US, Afghanistan and Africa, Urban drivers of political violence, and anti-racism protests in Europe

  IPRI Team

Rahul Arockiaraj, D. Suba Chandran, Harini Sha, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Sourina Bej and Aparupa Bhattacherjee


A Week of Violence in the US: A small fire in Minneapolis, spreads across the American cities from Los Angeles to New York

In the news
On 25 May, Minneapolis resident, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, was restrained on the ground, in handcuffs, as a police officer pinned his knee against Floyd's neck for 8 minutes. Shortly after, Floyd was reported to be dead. Lawmakers, media, and residents have deemed this to be another act of police brutality against African American men, and in the days following his death, protests calling for the justice of Georg Floyd, occurred in most major cities across the United States. The officer who had placed his knee on Floyd's neck was arrested and charged with third-degree murder. Additionally, the three other officers involved in the situation were fired from the department. 

However, public unrest persists, and on the day this journal is being written, there have been seven straight days of protests in most major cities including Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC, as well as Minneapolis, where the incident occurred. In addition to instances of peaceful protests, there have also been several accounts of arson and looting, which has drawn a very divided response from many residents.

Issues at large
First, the protests have a multitude of messages, beyond the justice of George Floyd. This situation has been treated as a catalyst in the response to the treatment of African American people through a sociological and systemic lens. In other words, protests have called for an end to racist oppression both in the society that people live their daily life, as well as a system that has allowed police brutality to destroy black lives. Furthermore, this issue concerns far more than just the death of George Floyd, but a release of pent-up anger toward the oppression of African American people.

Second, the violence across the US is not in response only to the death of Floyd, but what has been happening within the US during the recent period. During the past decade, there has been a continuous domino of black lives that have been unjustly affected by police brutality. They all have led to this moment. Each step of the way, there has been a different form of protest that has been taken. Whether it be kneeling during the national anthem or holding a peaceful march in honour of a fallen victim, many residents have been active in addressing the issue of racial inequality. However, the death of George Floyd is taken, in the form of evidence to many people, that the message has not been received by the political system. Decades and centuries of continued oppression and ignored messages have led to this moment. People are angry because George Floyd was publicly lynched hundreds of years after slavery was abolished.

Third is the response from the American President. In addition to this incredibly troubling situation that is incredibly apparent in the lives of black men and women, the added division in the American political atmosphere, fueled by President Trump's rhetoric, as well as left-wing media's constant attention to the presidency's action, has created an ever more divided political conversation. This division was heightened by the death of George Floyd, resulting in an incredibly angry response starting with peaceful protest, and eventually leading to some of the violent responses occurring in cities around the world.

In perspective
To many people of the international community looking at this distressful time in American history, the solution seems simple. The question of "Why can't we all get along," seems quite trivial. People look to South Africa as an example where the history of racial injustice and oppression was, arguably more intense, but has resulted in a much more relaxed political and social atmosphere today. This begs the question of why is it different in America? Unfortunately, this question is incredibly complex and cannot be answered in such a short narrative.

The more important issue is what will happen in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. How will this issue affect next year's election, as the political atmosphere seems more divided than ever? Vice President Biden has recently gained public attention through his increased level of participation immediately following the protest, while President Trump has continued the ignition of his base with his Twitter account. How will COVID-19 factor into the situation both economically and medically? And most relevant to the issue: Will race relations ever be fixed? While we'll know the answers to some of these questions sooner than others, it is important to understand that these are questions being asked in many residents' minds. And this presence in people's mind, evidenced in social media post, actions are taken to protest, as well as donations made, show that there is a definite change in attitude. Only time will tell what specifically will happen.

Finally, Circling back to the root of the issue: the protests. Some of the controversy and the critiques that they face include statements such as "When the looting starts, the shooting starts," as well as, "This response is not the answer." The latter is a very familiar critique of political disobedience. It's the same critique that Gandhi heard when he started the Salt Satyagraha. The same response that followed Dr King as he marched through Alabama. Protest cannot be considered "right" because, by definition, it challenges the notion of "right" and "wrong" set by the very system it is 'protesting.'


A Week of Violence in Afghanistan: A deadly combo of bombings, peace process, prisoners' release and American withdrawal

In the news
Last week was bizarre within Afghanistan. While the Afghan government and the Taliban moved ahead with releasing the prisoners, there was a series of violence across the country. Taliban owned a few attacks, while the Islamic State also claimed one.

Outside Afghanistan, a UN led report claimed that the Taliban has been in touch with the al Qaeda and the leaders of both organization met more than six times, while it was also in touch with the US in Doha.

Issues at large
First, the violence within. Last Thursday (28 May 2020) attacked a security checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, killing 14 military personnel. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.

On Saturday (30 May 2020), the Islamic State targeted a bus carrying employees of a local TV station in Kabul. The New York Times quoted an IS release accusing the employees as "loyal to the Afghan apostate government." On the same day, there was another roadside bombing in Kabul. Elsewhere outside Kabul, in Maidan Wardak province, there was an attack on a convoy, that resulted in killing seven, including a woman and three children. In Parwan province, three more children were killed in a mortar firing on the same day. Last Saturday was a deadly one for Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, (1 June), a bomb exploded in a mosque in Kabul, killing the cleric and two more people, besides wounding the others. On Wednesday (2 June) in Kandahar province, nine passengers were killed in a bomb attack on a bus.

Second, the prisoners release between the government and the Taliban. While the Taliban was attacking the security outpost last week, its delegation was in Kabul negotiating the release. It appears the Taliban is negotiating the release on the one hand and targeting the security forces on the other hand. The only other explanation could be – there is a section within the Taliban that is targeting, while the other negotiating. This is less likely.

Third, the American naivety. On Monday, in between the attacks in Kabul and elsewhere, the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan, who was the brain behind the deal between the US and the Taliban made an interesting statement: "We are in a good place…We are optimistic that finally we're moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations." (New York Times, I June 2020). Who is in a good place, and who moving forward to start intra-Afghan negotiations?

Fourth, is the duplicity of the Taliban, as nailed by a report published by a UN Committee early this week. According to the report, now available in the public domain, the Taliban was in touch with the al Qaeda leadership and met them at least six times, when they were engaging the US in a dialogue at Doha. One of the crucial components of the US-Taliban deal is that the latter cut its linkages with al Qaeda. The Trump administration perhaps wants to believe that. Naivety.

In perspective
Taliban is winning the game. The US is losing it and in the process is pulling the Afghan government into it. The transfer of prisoners would not have happened without the Americans pressurizing and arm-twisting the Afghan government.

The US wants to withdraw. Especially Trump. Because he wants to showcase the withdrawal as a success before his elections. And in the process, he will undermine most of the achievements that the previous American administrations have made, under tremendous pressure and extreme sacrifices. Trump and Khalilzad are not only letting down those brave Afghans but also those Americans who believed and sacrificed their lives for a secular, democratic and liberal Afghanistan.


A Week of violence in Africa: From Libya to South Sudan, across Congo 
In the news
Violence erupted in three of the African countries of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya this week. On 28 May, South Sudan faced a fresh wave of inter-communal violence which killed hundreds of villagers indicating another cycle of retribution between the two competing cattle-herding communities. On the same day, the neighbouring country of the Democratic Republic of Congo witnessed the latest series of massacres when a group of rebel fighters attacked a village in Ituri province and killed at least 40 people with machetes. Such reports of massive violence and constant threat to civilians are accountable even in the oil-rich country of Libya. The unilateral ceasefire announced by the rebel fighter, Haftar on account of Eid and the COVID-19 crisis was rejected by the ruling government that led to the continuance of violence. Thousands of refugees have been forced into overcrowded detention camps without food and shelter, leaving them to the mercy of brutal armed groups.

Issues at large
Ethnic divisions, resource politics, and network of the arms trade are the issues driving the violence in the region.  

First, ethnic divisions in South Sudan. The country of South Sudan is divided along ethnic lines and the leaders in power frequently exploit the divisions by fractioning the military in fighting the ethnic conflicts. South Sudan is engulfed in inter-communal fighting wherein the Nuer ethnic community backed by the State's President is fighting with the sub-tribal community of Marle who is represented by the ousted vice president. As the ethnic politics deepen, the violence among the group has simultaneously increased with an aim to control political power. 

Second, the resource politics in Congo. The competition for power in resource-rich zones is dominated by the dozens of armed groups who often take up the ethnic clashes among the communities as a reason to continue violence. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the active presence of more than one hundred armed groups such as the Ugandan Allied Democratic forces that terrorize communities and control weakly governed areas. These areas are often resourced rich regions which are then used by the armed groups to wield power and money. The government authorities have failed to protect the people which emboldens the rival militia groups from the neighbouring countries like Rwanda to gain assets in Congo's rich resources.

Third, the network of arms trade sustains violence in Libya. The states are engulfed in more or less a proxy war between the countries of the US and Russian forces or regional powers like Turkey and Saudi Arabia who are much more eager on 'oil' than the "peace in the region." The flow of arms and ammunition to the rebel groups channelized through the arms black market networks that receive from the International bodies have kept the conflict in oil-rich Libya alive.

In perspective
The African continent is facing violence since decolonization. The countries became democratic with an offer for independence that has remained short of nation-building and systemic fault lines. These democratic leaders have taken up old warring techniques to access power in the new governing style which has ultimately failed the democracy of peace in the continent.   


Urbanization is a key driver of conflict in Kabul, Karachi, Nairobi and Mogadishu, says an IISS Report 
In the news
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) brought out a research paper titled "Urban drivers of political violence" by Antônio Sampaio. This IISS study is a field-based research that identifies urban drivers of political violence in four cities located in the fragile states of Mogadishu, Nairobi, Kabul, and Karachi and highlights the specific policy challenges in these cities, which require personalized measures to tackle the rapid urban population growth.

Issues at large 
First, unplanned urbanization feeds local tensions. The demographic trend of urbanization in these cities although not a direct cause has increased local tensions and weakened the already weak government. The rate of growth of the urban population in the four countries are above the global average for the 2015–2020 period. This rapid and unmanaged urbanization process aggravates local tensions and state weakness. Further, this demographic trend has profound implications for state stability and security.

Second, nonstate actors as parallel seat of state power. The presence of militias, gangs, and non-state actors has delegitimized state authority. The unequal distribution of public services has created an entry point for armed groups who look to acquire political influence and economic benefits in sections of the urban territory. These groups include private militias linked to former warlords in Kabul, gangs linked to political figures in Nairobi, and wealthy entrepreneurs who use corrupt police officers to grab land in these cities. Further, violence from external actors and terrorism. Violence from external factors such as the Taliban and al-Shabaab have undermined the State's authorities by exposing the defects within its institutional framework. 

Third, weak and corrupt rule of law. Although the above two issues have further contributed to the drivers of violence and the diminishment of state authority, these cities have a weak mechanism to tackle political violence for authorities are unable or unwilling to meet the population's basic expectations such as the provision of physical security, necessary services, and legitimate political institutions. Further, weak and corrupt security forces have also been a contributing factor.
These issues have given rise to political challenges for the policymakers who will find it increasingly difficult to achieve key goals in fragile countries without addressing the specific sources of political violence and instability in the world's rapidly expanding cities.

In perspective 
First, this study has brought out an inward-looking aspect of political violence and the importance of looking at internal and the urban factors that drive political violence. Further, the study also highlights the direct influence of states themselves who give rise to political challenges. These aspects will help in comprehending and addressing issues more effectively thus allowing state authorities to formulate better policies. 

Second, the study sheds light on the complexities of that exist in urban settings where density, vulnerability, and unpredictability of these areas demand new paradigms of intervention.


Europe: In a show of solidarity to the US, anti-racism protests spread across the Atlantic
In news
The site of the anti-racism protests might be separated by thousands of miles, but that didn't stop the 'Black Lives Matter' protesters in Europe from marching in solidarity with their US counterparts on 31 May. Hundreds gathered and marched in a peaceful protest in London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Netherlands, holding signs with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and chanting, "No justice, no peace." The protests in different parts of Europe took place after violent protests broke out in the US over the video that showed George Floyd, an African American, gasping for his breath as a policeman knelt on his neck in Minneapolis. 

Issues at large 
First, entrenched social-economic and political discrimination. George Floyd's killing is a stark reminder of how deep-seated racist violence is across the Western liberal democratic countries including  Europe. The protests in America found an equal voice of support in Europe as the race-related violence, discriminatory police profiling, and discrimination in the search for jobs and housing is commonplace in several European counties. A research study by the EU's agency for fundamental rights in 2018 showed that people from several African countries face "widespread and entrenched prejudice and exclusion" across the Union. 

Second, the protests reflect a frustration of everyday structural racism. The protest in Europe is really about the frustration and desperation that several black communities feel in the face of institutional racism. This is not solely an American problem rather anti-black racism is all-pervasive in the Western countries. This was evident from the 2011 protests that took place in London after Mark Duggan, a black man, was shot and killed by the police. Across France, major protests and riots broke out in 2005 after the deaths of two black teenagers who were electrocuted while trying to evade the police. The same year, Oury Jalloh, a Sierra Leonean asylum-seeker, died in a fire in a police cell in Dessau, Germany.

Third, the colonial perception of exclusion feeds systemic racism. The perception of the Western societies of what it means to be black has not changed significantly as the ideas are largely dominated by a few historical events like slavery and colonialism. The difference based on colour has shaped the hierarchies within Western civilization and has now fed the structural marginalization. The voice of the black community is often underrepresented or have fallen prey to a single narrative dictated only by the colour of the skin. The media has done little to offset this collective under/misrepresentation, rather the language used to represent the community is that of a problematic coloured narrative. By harping on the colour of the person while reporting one puts a moral compass on how a particular community needs to be viewed or represented in society. 

In perspective 
First, the everyday racism has manifested frequently through local conflict between the administrative authorities, police and the community. This conflict has always been normalized to an extent that until a death occurs the stark realities to how deeply faulted and underrepresented the majoritarian liberal system go unnoticed. Only rarely an incident happens that triggers one to the core. This protest in Europe seems to be doing the same as the protesters prepared a long list of names who have died in police attack in the region triggering a public memory of loss and marginalization.

Second, this largescale protest is undoubtedly a trigger and has joined the global protest movement against the history of systemic discrimination. The protest is rather unique as it questions some of the living memories of discrimination coupled with the historical memories of slavery and apartheid as it still begs for reconciliation and acceptance. Hence it remains to be seen how the protest seeks that path of reconciliation with the larger majoritarian society or turns into a wave of violence only to be cramped heavy-handedly. 


Also in the news…
In a step defying Congress, the US State Department to sell arms to Saudi Arabia
The Trump administration has informed the Congress about its intention to allow the sale of arms worth 478 million dollars to Saudi Arabia. This step, if taken will defy the Congress and ignore the objections of lawmakers in both parties regarding this deal due to Riyadh's human rights record. This may lead to a difference between the two departments. 

Israel starts preparation to annex the West Bank
The newly formed Unity government in Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to go ahead with the plan of annexing West Bank as decided on 1 June. Despite facing possible blowback from Europe and the Arab states, the Israel government has ordered the military to bolster security as preparation for annexing the parts of the occupied West Bank. 

IISS releases 2020 annual review on 33 conflicts
The annual review of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), 'Armed Conflict Survey' have focused on 33 conflicts across the globe. For each of these conflicts, the report highlighted key developments in 2019, causes for the conflicts, data, the drivers, political and military developments, and analysis on the significance of the conflict. 

Violence against minorities in Bangladesh during COVID
On 2 June, an editorial in The Daily Star focused on the consistent trend of human rights abuses in Bangladesh during the pandemic. A report by a group called 'Sixteen' has highlighted the incidents of violence, harassment, and human rights deprivation of minority communities, since the shutdown. The group has drawn their evidence for the report from media coverage and different social organizations who have been reporting on these incidents. 

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Global Politics
January 2019 | IPRI # 1
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Myanmar: Will 2019 be better for the Rohingya?

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