March saw significant improvements in resolving longstanding conflicts, particularly in Myanmar and Colombia. However, Yemen’s political crisis tipped into all-out war, and fighting increased again in South Sudan following suspension of the peace talks. In Africa, election-related tensions worsened ahead of Burundi’s June presidential elections, while renewed international support to Guinea-Bissau gave a lift to political stability and reform. In a significant development for West Africa and beyond, Nigeria witnessed, for the first time in its history, the ousting of a ruling party through national elections, with Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the 28 March presidential elections.
Yemen is at war. On 26 March, Saudi Arabia and ten other (mostly Arab) states launched an air campaign against the Huthis and allied military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, with the aim of restoring President Hadi’s government. Since his escape from house arrest in February, Hadi had been cobbling together an anti-Huthi alliance in the southern city of Aden. Clashes are fragmenting the country and could spread, while the regional military intervention is augmenting sectarian divides and diminishing the possibility of a negotiated political solution. In our latest report, we call for a UN Security Council brokered and monitored ceasefire, followed by UN-led peace talks with backing from Western and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies. In South Sudan, the conflict also worsened. Fighting increased following the early March suspension of peace talks between the warring parties. On 24 March, the UN Security Council threatened sanctions against “senior individuals” responsible for violence.
On a positive note, Myanmar’s government and ethnic armed group negotiators agreed on the text of an historic Nationwide Ceasefire Accord on 31 March, a significant step in bringing an end to six decades of armed conflict. The text now has to be ratified by the armed group leaders. Several contentious political and military issues have been left for a subsequent political dialogue process, including the shape of future armed forces; there is little time to address these issues before elections scheduled for later this year. The agreement followed a hiatus of almost six months in the talks, and comes despite ongoing serious clashes in the Kokang region between the military and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. In Colombia, the 33rd round of peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ended on 7 March with an unprecedented agreement on a joint humanitarian demining effort. On 10 March, President Santos temporarily suspended bombardments on guerrilla camps in a bold move that reinforces the message of conflict de-escalation and helps stabilise FARC’s three-month-old ceasefire.
Elsewhere in Africa, political tensions over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s potential third term and social discontent rose in Burundi ahead of June presidential elections. Ruling CNDD-FDD party hardliners announced they would use “any means” to secure Nkurunziza’s candidacy, and reportedly launched a terror campaign against those who oppose it. Intimidation and repression of the opposition continued: on 15 March, the wife of opposition leader Agathon Rwasa survived an assassination attempt. In a significant step forward, Nigeria’s 28 March presidential elections resulted in a peaceful transfer of power. Opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate Muhammadu Buhari defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, in a historic victory that saw the first ousting of a ruling party in a national election in Nigeria’s history. Electoral violence rose as the polls drew closer, but pressure from the international community and President Jonathan’s early acceptance of defeat significantly reduced post-election tensions. The international community together with national leaders will now need to keep stressing that any incitement to post-election violence will not be tolerated.
In Guinea-Bissau the highly-anticipated 25 March donor conference yielded positive results, as international partners pledged some €1.15 billion in aid over ten years. This influx of financial support prompted renewed optimism regarding the country’s long-needed wide-ranging reforms and economic development (see our new report on security sector reform in Guinea-Bissau).