Decades-old tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are providing fuel for a diplomatic crisis that is threatening to escalate. Last month, M-23 rebels began an offensive against Congo. The Congolese government accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebels. The Rwandan government, however, denies any ties with M-23, which is made up largely of members of the Tutsi ethnic group. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is also a Tutsi. Congo has also directly accused Rwanda of making incursions across the border and vice versa. The new batch of tension is causing alarm in East Africa. So much so that Kenya is urging the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force to the border area.
Congolese rhetoric has grown sharper in recent days, as the government seeking to suspend all current agreements with Rwanda. If Rwanda wants war, “it will have war,” a spokesman for the military governor of Congo’s North Kivu province told thousands of protesters earlier in the week.
This morning the crisis escalated further when the DRC government ordered Congo’s border with Rwanda closed after a Congolese soldier was killed while attacking borders guards inside Rwandan territory. Two Rwandan police officers were injured when the Congolese soldier crossed the border and opened fire, before an officer on duty fired back and killed him 25 meters inside Rwanda, the Rwandan military said in a statement. The incident is being investigated further by the DRC and Rwanda, yet tensions appear likely to continue rising.
Admittedly, I have not kept up with the events in East Africa recently and this crisis has taken me a bit by surprise. I’ll keep an eye on it and do some research to try and get a better feel for the history behind the DNC-Rwanda tensions as well as this present crisis.
North Korea’s food shortages are fast approaching the crisis level. Food totals for this year look to be short by 850,000 tons, an amount that equates to two months of demand. So, in this regard the math is quite simple. The government has been surreptitiously warning about a possible shortage for months and encouraging the population to grow its own food. This effort has not been successful and there are now reports of starvation deaths emerging from non-government sources inside North Korea. The state’s food rationing system has collapsed under the strain imposed by the food shortages as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a humanitarian crisis all but assured, North Korea can count on little help from the international community for the time being. Sanctions, COVID and a border that has been closed for an extended period of time have produced an environment that is unconducive for international relief organizations to operate in. Security is also tightening across North Korea as conditions deteriorate. There has been a hard crackdown in border regions to prevent smuggling activities and defections. Food hoarding is another crime which the government is trying to stop. Citizens caught hoarding food will face execution now, according to media sources familiar with the internal situation in North Korea.
The security measures are indicative of a government desperately attempting to keep its country together. Kim Jong Un and his inner circle are keenly aware of how far out on a limb North Korea is right now. The food shortage is just the latest in a series of setbacks and crises in the previous eighteen months. From the pandemic to this food shortage, time could be running out for Kim and his regime. A potential North Korean collapse is one of those nightmare scenarios that could provide the spark for a regional conflict or worse. But unless the situation in the North improves markedly between now and the end of the year, we could very well be looking at an inevitable collapse.
Just days after pressing its member-states to keep their borders open amid the coronavirus outbreak on the continent, the European Union has thought better of the idea. With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing since the weekend, the EU has announced plans to implement a 30-day ban on non-essential travel in the Schengen Area. Better late than never, I suppose. The travel ban is not a complete lockdown, instead designed to minimize the movement of people around Europe as much as possible. It will also include a more stringent closing of Europe’s external border for 30 days, similar to the plan the United States put in place last week.
Part of the EU’s motivation in proposing bloc-wide travel restrictions is political. A number of European nations have been implementing unilateral control restrictions to their borders. Brussels is looking to develop a more coordinated EU-directed approach to borders, and in the process bring all of the member-states in line beneath an umbrella policy. The EU response to the expanding coronavirus crisis has been criticized for being too slow, and limited in many regards.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president has said the restrictions will last 30 days initially, and could be extended if the situation calls for it. The move has received considerable support from France, and Germany. Both nations are grappling with growing numbers of coronavirus cases right now, and Germany at least, has indicated the crisis could last for months, not weeks as originally hoped.
Open internal border travel has been a foundation block of the European Union’s desire to create a European Superstate. The Schengen network was regarded as a crown jewel, heralding a new era of openness and unity at a dawn of what many hoped would be a ‘One Europe’ mindset. It braved a migrant crisis, as well as the wave of populist nationalism sweeping across the continent since 2016. However, Schengen may have met its match in the coronavirus pandemic. Europe’s freedom of movement is descending into chaos as a growing number of EU nation-states are opting to close their borders in order to stem the flow of the coronavirus. Many EU nation-states are imposing strict entry measures on their borders, or closing them entirely, defying warnings by Brussels to avoid blanket travel bans.
As the hours roll by, the situation at land borders across Europe continues to evolve. The continent has become new epicenter of the pandemic and this fact is driving the border closure actions in every case. Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic will close their respective borders almost entirely in the coming days. The most recent EU member to announce border restrictions is Germany. According to the German government, Germany’s borders with France, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Switzerland will be partially closed on Monday. Germany’s federal police chief Dieter Romann explained that his country will not be closing its borders, but controlling them. “We are not closing the borders, that is what they do in North Korea,” he told reporters. “We are controlling the border, that is something completely different.”
Romann’s comments came as the number of coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 1,000 from Saturday. There are now 4,838 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Federal Republic and that number is most likely going to increased more in the coming days.