Africa Blog Roundup: Susan Rice, Mali, Darfur, Kenyan IDPs, and More

Africa in DC: “What Does Susan Rice’s Appointment as National Security Adviser Mean for Africa?”

Bruce Whitehouse:

As French troops hunted Islamist fighters in northern Mali this past winter, historian Greg Mann said that what was taking place in the region was not one war, but several. For a few months starting in January 2013, the various armed conflicts that had broken out over the previous year appeared to converge, as did French and Malian interests. But, as Gregreminded us in March, the French government’s war was not the Malian government’s war. And now it seems that Mali’s war — after a long hiatus — is starting up again, and breaking away from France’s war.

For weeks there have been rumblings of an impending resumption of armed conflict between Malian government forces and the MNLA separatist rebel group that controls the northern region of Kidal. Rumors of Malian troop movements north of Gao have been circulating since February. But this week these were joined by an army statement that government forces had massed midway between Gao and the rebel-occupied town, and by news today that Malian troops took the village of Anafi, 100 km southwest of Kidal. Areport on Malijet claims that Malian soldiers are within 35 km of the town, and that MNLA forces are retreating toward Algeria; a similar report has appeared on Reuters.

Amb. John Campbell: “Racism in Mali and the Upcoming Elections.”

Aly Verjee:

The second honeymoon of Darfur’s Doha peace process lasted just over a month. On April 6, Mohammad Bashar, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement-Sudan (hence referred to as JEM-Bashar) signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD; English, Arabic) in the ballroom of the Doha Ritz-Carlton hotel.
In Doha, Bashar told delegates he was looking forward to going home. On May 12 he was dead, killed on the Sudan-Chad borderlands at the hands of his former comrades in the mainstream Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Internally Displaced: “Kenya and South Sudan – The Border Question Resurfaces?”

Africa UP Close: “Youth Farming and Aquaculture Initiatives Aim to Reduce Food and Political Insecurity in Senegal.”

Prisca Kamungi: “Municipal Authorities and IDPs Outside of Camps: The Case of Kenya’s ‘Integrated Displaced Persons’.”

What are you reading?

Africa News Roundup: Davos and Africa, Arrests in Mauritania, Darfur Talks, and More

Reuters: “At Davos, Bankers Close in on Africa.”

French and Malian soldiers may take Gao soon.

Timbuktu is apparently something of a ghost town at the moment.

AFRICOM: “AFRICOM Commander Addresses Concerns, Potential Solutions in Mali.”

Mauritania:

“Mauritanian police arrested eight students of the Islamic University in Laâyoune, 800km northeast of Nouakchott, and accused them of having ties with the extremist Islamist groups in northern Mali,” Sahara Media reported on Monday (January 21st). [Original story in Arabic here - six of them seem to have been subsequently freed (Arabic).]

Another young Mauritanian was arrested Monday in Guerou, 600km east of Nouakchott, Al-Akhbar reported.

Somalia:

Somali security forces will not be able to replace African troops until the international community provides “predictable” funding for their training, according to the United Nations.
“The withdrawal, whether it’s Ethiopian or Amisom, is contingent upon adequate replacement by the Somali forces,” Augustine Mahiga, the UN sectrerary-general’s special representative to the Horn of Africa nation, said in an interview in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “The pace at which Somali forces are being trained is not as fast because there hasn’t been predictable funding.”

Sudan Tribune: “The Sudanese government and a rebel faction of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have agreed on an agenda to negotiate a peace deal, an international official told the UN Security Council (UNSC).”

IRIN: “Chad’s Health System Struggles to Combat Malnutrition.”

What else is happening?

Another Round of Protests in Sudan

Sudan experienced protests in January-February 2011, November-December 2011, and June-July 2012. The protests have responded to a diverse set of grievances, including economic stagnation, austerity policies, and political dissatisfaction with the regime of President Omar al Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup. The protests, particularly those in early 2011, can be understood as part of the “Arab Spring,” but they should not be reduced to some parochial echo of a regional roar; the protests were and are grounded in Sudanese politics. Students have played a major role in organizing the demonstrations.

Sudan is now experiencing a fourth protest wave (Sudan has experienced protests in the past, notably in 1964, but I am grouping the protest waves of 2011-2012 together for the sake of analysis). This wave is connected to Darfur, which was the site of significant protests during the summer. The December 7 discovery of Darfuri student protester corpses in Gezira has touched off student protests in Khartoum. Protests reportedly occurred on Sunday and Monday, drawing crowds in the hundreds. Police gassed, beat, and arrested protesters on Sunday.

The Sudanese protests have not been large, rarely reaching four-digit numbers for crowds. But this round of demonstrations comes at a bad time for the regime, which recently put down an alleged coup attempt. A recent New York Times article discusses the “open secret” of “discontent within [the] ranks” of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party. During the past two years, the regime has been able to put down protests again and again, and I doubt this time will be different. But the multiple challenges the regime faces, internal and external, are serious and suggest a long-term crisis of legitimacy.

Africa News Roundup: Refugees in Darfur, Clinton and Nigeria, Meles Zenawi, Kenya’s Elections, and More

Darfur:

All 25,000 people living in a refugee camp in Sudan’s Darfur region have fled amid fighting between armed militia groups and Sudanese government forces, U.N. officials said Friday.

Many of the refugees have sought shelter in nearby Kutum town or the Zariba area, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said, but lack water, food and sanitation.

[...]

A UNAMID statement Monday said the violence began after an incident on August 1, when three armed men carjacked the local district commissioner and his driver and shot them dead.
“Subsequently, on the same day armed men surrounded Kassab, looted the market, burnt down the Sudanese Police post in the camp and reportedly killed four persons (three civilians and one police officer) and injured six others,” the statement said.
Security continued to deteriorate over the following days in Kutum town, Kassab camp and another camp, Fataborno, “including fighting between the armed elements and government forces, as well as looting and displacement of civilians,” it said.

Map of Kutum. And a story from IRIN: “Chad: Darfur’s Forgotten Refugees.”

A New York Times editorial on the negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan:

Sooner rather than later, both sides also have to deal with even more fundamental challenges: improving governance, ending human rights violations and eradicating corruption. Sudan and South Sudan are inextricably intertwined. If the two can carry out the [recently announced oil transit] fee deal, they will have a better chance to resolve other critical issues.

AP reports that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Nigerian security officials to  “create an ‘intelligence fusion cell’ that would combine information from the military, spy services, police and other federal, state and local agencies.” The US is apparently ready to enhance its intelligence cooperation with Nigeria.

A video is circulating showing French hostages held by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole traveled to northern Mali this week to meet with Iyad Ag Ghali, leader of the Islamist militia Ansar al Din.

As rumors of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death circulate, the Ethiopian government says Meles will return from his sick leave in September. Think Africa Press asks, “What Might A Post-Meles Era Bring?”

Arrests of journalists in Djibouti.

Kenya:

Kenya needs to improve security to ensure that voters are not deterred by recent grenade and gun attacks and threats by a coastal separatist movement to disrupt the election due next March, the head of the electoral commission said on Friday.

What else is happening today?

Anti-Government Protests in Darfur

It’s worth keeping an eye on the anti-government, anti-austerity protests that occurred on Tuesday and Wednesday in Darfur, Sudan:

Some 400 people gathered in the main market and two other areas of the western city of Nyala [on Wednesday] to protest against the government and rising inflation, but were dispersed by the baton-wielding police, a journalist and witness said.

[...]

More than 1,000 demonstrators clashed with police in Nyala on Tuesday, according to witnesses. Activists published a list of 12 people they said had been killed in Tuesday’s clashes, countering the official death toll of eight.

Map of Nyala here, and more on Tuesday’s protests here.

A wave of anti-austerity protests began in the capital Khartoum and elsewhere in mid-June. These protests in Darfur remind us that people are dissatisfied with the economic situation in various parts of the country, not just at the center. The protests are also a reminder that not all politics in Darfur revolve around rebel movements – though government officials have accused rebel groups of stirring up these protests. I was surprised to learn that Nyala has an estimated population of 500,000, a population is certainly large enough to support a movement of dissent.

In what may be an unrelated incident, a local government official and his driver were shot by unknown gunmen this week in Kutum, Darfur (map). Two similar incidents have occurred in recent months, with gunmen seizing land cruisers (Arabic).

Qadhafi’s Fall and the Sahel

Yesterday, Libyan rebels entered the capital Tripoli (follow live updates here). With the fall of Col. Moammar Qadhafi seeming nearly complete, many are wondering what comes next for Libya and for the Arab world. Something I’m going to be thinking about (and writing more about) in the coming weeks is the impact of Qadhafi’s fall on the Sahel. Some Sahelian leaders, such as Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade and Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, have been siding with the rebels and anticipating Qadhafi’s ouster for some time. Others, such as Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure, have endeavored to remain neutral. All of them, now, face a new political reality in the region. What will the absence of a once-powerful figure, who sometimes brokered peace and sometimes stoked conflict, mean for the countries that lie to Libya’s south?

In thinking about these questions, I’ve found two pieces particularly helpful. One is the Globe and Mail‘s map of Qadhafi’s influence in Africa, which highlights the breadth of his influence but also shows that some of his most significant interventions were in the Sahel, in places like Mali, Chad, and Sudan. The other is Howard French’s reflections on Qadhafi’s political legacy and the impact of his maneuvers to support revolutions and rebels in the Sahel and further south in Africa.

As I said, I plan to write in greater depth about Qadhafi and the Sahel in the weeks to come. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts. How will events in Libya affect Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Darfur, and other places in the Sahel? Let us know in the comments.

Darfur: Peace Talks and Skirmishes Continue Amid Sudan’s Other Conflicts

In her book Fighting for Darfur, Rebecca Hamilton describes a pattern where outside observers of Sudan tend, at any given time, to focus on one of the country’s problems to the exclusion of others. US government concern with brokering the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 and ending twenty-two years of civil war between North and South Sudan, for example, limited the attention policymakers gave to the violence in Darfur. We are back at a time when it has become difficult to maintain a comprehensive view of the problems Sudan is facing. With Southern Sudanese independence approaching on July 9, conflicts are raging in North-South border areas like Abyei and Southern Kordofan. The South struggles with its own rebel groups – seven, by Reuters’ count. Ironically, Darfur may be getting the least attention of all right now. This post gives an update on the situation there.

Far away from Darfur, the African Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations have been coordinating peace talks in Doha, Qatar since 2009. A draft peace agreement (read the Sudan Tribune’s copy here [.pdf]) that emerged from the talks was presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Monday. The Arab League is urging the Darfur rebels to sign the accord.

But in Darfur itself, violence has picked up since December 2010. Human Rights Watch attributes the recent clashes to a break between Sudanese President Omar al Bashir and Minni Arko Minawi, a leader in the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) “who signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006 and was appointed special adviser to President Omar al-Bashir and head of the Darfur Transitional Regional Authority.” Bashir’s dismissal of Minawi helped touch off a new wave of fighting that has continued up to the present. HRW said earlier this month that “since December 2010, a surge in government-led attacks on populated areas and a campaign of aerial bombing have killed and injured scores of civilians, destroyed property, and displaced more than 70,000 people, largely from ethnic Zaghawa and Fur communities linked to rebel groups.”

Just this Sunday, 27 people died in government attacks on rebels.

The situation in Darfur is not isolated from developments elsewhere. North Sudan’s other conflicts, like the conflict in Darfur, stem partly from objections by “peripheral” populations to the policies pursued in Khartoum, the political center. The potential for groups in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and elsewhere to articulate shared grievances and demands could boost rebel morale and even introduce a degree of coordination between the groups, but any signs of cooperation could also heighten worries in Khartoum, which might respond by unleashing further violence. Darfur is also affected by the civil war in Libya, where some rebel leaders, such as the Justice and Equality Movement’s Khalil Ibrahim, reside. Khartoum has accused Darfur rebel groups of fighting for Qaddhafi, and it seems Khartoum may fear that Qaddhafi’s fall or prolonged war in Libya could convince some rebel leaders to return home to Darfur. One source even alleges that the Sudanese government recently tried to assassinate Ibrahim.

The challenge for me, and I suspect for some others, in viewing the violence in Darfur is to keep coming back to the larger picture without omitting crucial parts of it. Julie Flint points out in a piece on Southern Kordofan that none of Sudan’s multiple conflicts is reducible to any other:

The war in the Nuba mountains is already being seen through the lens of earlier wars: the north-south war; the Darfur war; the jihad. It is different. The sheer number of armed men under organised command on both sides has never before been matched in Sudan— including more than 60,000 on the government side. In focusing so heavily on the north-south conflict, the international community has underestimated the determination of the Nuba: their fighters are more numerous and much better led than the Darfur rebels, with formidable organisational skills, command capabilities and discipline.

The uniqueness Flint finds in Southern Kordofan is also manifest with the conflict in Darfur. At the same time, all of these conflicts affect the stability of Sudan, and indeed of surrounding countries like Chad and the Central African Republic. As multi-sited violence continues in Sudan, the least we can do as observers is to attempt to keep zooming in and zooming out, preserving a sense of what makes each conflict different while holding on to a sense of what makes each relevant.