Africa in the news: South Sudan’s famine, South Africa’s rate-fixing scandal, and DRC’s investigation into recent massacre

UN agencies and South Sudan government declare famine in two counties

On Monday, February 20, the South Sudanese government and three United Nations agencies (the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF, and the World Food Program) declared famine in the  Leer and Mayendit counties of the Greater Unity region in South Sudan. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update, which classified these situations as famine, reported that 100,000 people are already facing starvation in Unity State. It also estimated that 4.9 million people in South Sudan (accounting for 42 percent of the country’s population) will be severely food insecure between February and April 2017—with this figure rising to 5.5 million people by the peak of the lean season in July 2017. Civil war, which has thrown the nation into crisis since December 2013 (despite a 2015 peace accord), as well as economic challenges and hyperinflation have led to the widespread, pervasive food insecurity in the country.

President Salva Kiir stated on Tuesday that he would ensure “unimpeded access” for all aid organizations to provide relief to the catastrophe; however, for years the U.N. has accused the government of hampering humanitarian efforts throughout the country. For instance, this week David Shearer, head of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, criticized the government for still blocking aid delivery by delaying paperwork for the distribution of essential goods and erecting military checkpoints on routes to famine-affected regions.

Meanwhile, UNICEF named South Sudan as one of the four countries—also including Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen—that could see nearly 1.4 million children in total die from severe malnutrition this year. On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that the U.N. needs “$4.4 billion by the end of March to avert catastrophe,” affecting 20 million people in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen while the international community has only $90 million for relief thus far.

South Africa’s Competition Commission accuses banks of rate fixing

Recently, South Africa’s Competition Commission issued a statement claiming that seventeen international and local banks have been colluding to fix the rand/dollar exchange rate, over the last eight years, during spot currency trades, in which prices are agreed upon on the spot, and paid for rapidly. The commission is a regulatory body that investigates, controls, and evaluates restrictive business practices, among other tasks. The commission states that bank workers, using instant messaging, have been collaborating on when to start or halt trading. The workers are also accused of manipulating the prices of bids by creating fake bids and offers. As a result, prices of the currency are driven up and these increased currency prices result in larger profits for the banks. The Competition Commission is now seeking a fine amounting to 10 percent of the banks’ annual in-country turnover. If paid, the fine would cover South Africa’s budget deficit. Barclays Bank already issued an apology for its involvement in the rand-fixing fiasco after suspending two traders. Citigroup Inc. has agreed to pay a $5.4 million penalty.

In other news, a South African court ruled the withdrawal plan from the International Criminal Court as “unconstitutional and invalid,” stating that a withdrawal requires parliamentary approval. Last October, the Zuma administration voiced its intention to leave the ICC, claiming that the court is biased against African nations and membership in it creates legal complexities between national and international law.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo investigates recent massacre

On Wednesday, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced an official investigation into an attack on over 20 people by soldiers in the Kasaï region. Not long after the attack, a graphic video emerged that shows “a group of uniformed men opening fire, then walking among at least 20 bodies.” Early this week, the United States, France, the European Union, and the United Nations pressed the DRC to look into the incident with an independent investigation, which the DRC initially resisted, claiming that the video of the attack was fake.

In recent days, however, the government “announced that it has, after all, opened an inquiry into a video which appears to show troops carrying out a massacre on unarmed civilians.” Since then, government spokesman Lambert Mende announced that “the government was sending a judicial commission to the Kasaï area to investigate the allegations and that the government had ‘zero tolerance’ for indiscipline.” He also noted that arrests of officers and soldiers have already been made.

The Kasaï and Kasaï-Central regions, which are centrally located in the DRC, have experienced a massive uptick in violence in recent months since the death of opposition leader Kamwina Nsapu last August. Clashes between the local militia and government soldiers continue. According to the U.N., over 100 people have been killed in February alone.