Peace talks in Nigeria, chemicals in Syria, and a political meltdown in Afghanistan: The cheat sheet

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors looks ahead at what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

Talking to Boko Haram

 

It may be hard for many Nigerians to swallow, but the government is talking to Boko Haram. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said this week that negotiations had gone “quite far” over the release of more Chibok schoolgirls still in the custody of the jihadists. But the end goal seems even more ambitious. Zannah Mustapha, one of the mediators involved in the talks, told IRIN the next step would be to agree humanitarian access to the areas of northern Borno State still controlled by the insurgents, and ultimately a cessation of hostilities.

 

That would necessitate an agreement with all three factions of Boko Haram, led by Abubakar Shekau, Abu Musab al-Barnawi and Mamman Nur. The Nigerian military would also need to be on board. Getting a deal will be a Herculean effort. But according to Mustapha, the choice is stark.  “Do we want to continue this war or do we want to stop it? If you say stop it, then you need to find the political courage to do that.” The talks are supported by the Swiss government, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and coordinated by Nigeria’s Department of State Security. Look out for IRIN’s upcoming in-depth report on a post-conflict northeastern Nigeria.

 

Syria chemical weapons redux

 

Thought you’d heard the last of the politicking over last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Idlib Province’s Khan Sheikhoun? Think again.  On Tuesday, the White House released a declassified intelligence report that said the government of Bashar al-Assad hit his people with sarin gas, and Russia had covered it up.  On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a draft Security Council resolution that condemned the attack and called on the Syrian regime to cooperate with international investigations.  And on Thursday, al-Assad himself said the entire attack was a “100 percent fabrication” intended to justify the US strike that followed.  Even without the help of the latest vetoed resolution, fact finders from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ have gone to Turkey to collect samples and speak to survivors  – you can read up on the OPCW and banned weapons in general in our recent briefing. Expect more denial and finger pointing about the deaths of 87 people, but also, in 3 to 4 weeks, look for evidence-based findings from a joint OPCW and UN-created Joint Investigative Mechanism probe. 

 

Charity begins at home?

 

Donor governments spent a record $142.6 billion on development aid in 2016, a rise of nearly 9 percent from 2015, according to figures released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) this week. Good news for the poor nations that are supposed to benefit from that aid right? Not quite. The increase was mainly the result of donor nations counting domestic spending on hosting refugees as part of their official development assistance (ODA). Nearly 11 percent of global aid in 2016, equivalent to $15.4 billion, was actually spent inside donor countries, up from just 4.8 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, aid to the least-developed countries fell by 3.9 percent last year. The main culprits are EU states that have absorbed relatively large numbers of asylum seekers in the last two years, namely Germany, Italy, Austria and Greece. They spent more than 20 percent of their ODA on refugee costs in 2016. Aid groups are not impressed. “Rich countries are misleading the public,” said Oxfam’s deputy director of advocacy and campaigns, Natalia Alonso. “All countries are obliged to help refugees at their borders, but they must stop pretending that the costs of doing this are ‘aid’ to fight poverty and promote development overseas.”

 

Heading off a political meltdown in Afghanistan

 

As if Afghanistan didn’t have enough challenges, this new report from the International Crisis Group is an early warning about the very real possibility that the government could disintegrate. The root of the problem is the quixotic nature of the so-called National Unity Government, which was a product of the disastrous 2014 elections. Both leading candidates claimed victory in a poll marred by massive fraud. The UN was then called in to do an audit, but the results were never released. With the threat of conflict looming, John Kerry, who was United States secretary of state at the time, flew to Kabul. He brokered an agreement between Ashraf Ghani who became president, and Abdullah, who was given a position created just for him – chief executive officer. An argument over which of them is truly the top boss is only one of the fissures that are now widening and threatening to tear apart the NUG. “Several options are being discussed in Afghan and international circles for how best to tackle the political and constitutional tensions that, if left unresolved, would increase the risk of internal conflict,” says ICG.

 

Did you miss it?

 

A year ago today, opposition activist Solo Sandeng led a march to call for free elections in a Gambia then ruled by a brutal autocrat, Yahya Jammeh. The demonstration succeeded in lighting a spark that finally led to Jammeh’s ouster, but it also cost Sandeng his life. The court case into his murder is the first attempt to hold the secret police to account. The demand for justice is powerful as the country transitions from dictatorship to democracy. But does Gambia have the capacity to deliver? Journalist Louise Hunt talks to victims and activists as Gambia wrestles with the legacy of Jammeh’s 22-years in power, and the anger and pain that still remains. Today will be a difficult one for Solo Sandeng’s family. But his daughter, Fatoumatta, consoles herself that he chose to be “on the right side of history”.

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PHOTO: A military-escorted convoy on the Maiduguri to Damboa road, northeastern Nigeria