Sudan, Uganda, and Rebels

Sudan and Uganda have been trading accusations this year that each side is supporting rebel groups against the other. In April, Uganda charged that Sudan was backing the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group whose rebellion began in Uganda in the 1980s but has since metastasized into a regional problem. Uganda’s Chief of Defense Forces Aronda Nyakairima stated that Joseph Kony, the LRA’s leader, was now operating out of Western Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan near the borders with Sudan and the Central African Republic. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni even weighed in, warning Sudan not to support the LRA.

Sudan fired back with allegations that Uganda was supporting rebel groups against the Sudanese government, allegations that Uganda denied. Uganda does allow Sudanese rebel groups to operate in its territory, though. On October 4, rebel groups in the Sudanese Revolutionary Front coalition held a ceremony in Uganda’s capital Kampala where they signed a document “detailing how Sudan should be governed once the regime of President Omer Al-Bashir is brought down.” Fighting continued in Sudan this week as “Sudanese air force and ground troops attacked positions of rebels of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North on Wednesday in an attempt to halt a rebel advance on the city of Kadugli, South Kordofan’s capital.” The SPLM-N is a member of the Revolutionary Front.

Amid violence inside Sudan and diplomatic tensions between Kampala and Khartoum, Uganda and Sudan are attempting a rapprochement. Sudan Tribune reports:

Sudan and Uganda agreed to reactivate a joint committee between the two countries to discuss contentious issues and improve strained relations, a Sudanese official said .

Salah El-Din Wansi, state ministry for foreign affairs told the official news agency SUNA on Monday evening following his return from Kamala that the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, directed to reactivate a joint committee to tackle ways to improve bilateral relations and to ease tensions.

[…]

The two countries held different meetings in the past but they failed to settle the issues of rebel groups as Kampala insisted that Sudan should help to arrest Joseph Kony. But Khartoum kept saying they have no contact with the notorious rebel leader.

Sudan and Uganda made an effort at reconciliation in May, but it seems to have yielded little progress. We’ll see if this time is different. The outcome will have implications for a number of issues, including the hunt for Joseph Kony and the trajectory of negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan (of which Uganda is a major ally).

Africa News Roundup: LRA, Boko Haram, Guinea-Bissau, Malian Refugees, and More

Several items on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA):

The Federal Government of Nigeria has reportedly opened a special prison for detainees from the Boko Haram movement.

The aftermath of the coup in Guinea-Bissau continues, with the Economic Community of West African States and the junta at loggerheads.

Some 60,000 Malian refugees have fled to Mauritania since the war began in Mali in January. The overall number of displaced persons from the conflict in Mali is around 260,000.

The New York Times on the Ethiopian holy cities of Aksum and Lalibela.

Jeune Afrique (French) on the “war” to succeed defeated President Abdoulaye Wade within Wade’s Parti démocratique sénégalais (Senegalese Democratic Party, PDS). Seneweb (French) reports on the recent visit of one PDS leader, Senate President Pape Diop, to Touba, center of the country’s Mouridiyya Sufi brotherhood.

Reuters: “Kenya, Somalia border row threatens oil exploration.”

What else is going on?

US Troops in Uganda: Will History Repeat Itself?

On October 12, US President Barack Obama

authorized the deployment to Uganda of approximately 100 combat-equipped U.S. forces to help regional forces “remove from the battlefield” – meaning capture or kill – Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and senior leaders of the LRA.

The forces will deploy beginning with a small group and grow over the next  month to 100. They will ultimately go to Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the permission of those countries.

The LRA, formed in the late 1980s, is one of the most brutal rebel groups in the world. Although it began as a rebellion against the Ugandan government, it preys on civilian communities in countries throughout the region.

Halting the LRA is a laudable goal. Killing Kony could fragment and weaken the movement. But the deployment of US troops to Uganda carries political risks, and missions against the LRA have failed in the past. By most accounts, December 2008’s “Operation Lightning Thunder,” a Ugandan-led campaign against the LRA to which the US gave operational support, was a disaster: Kony lived, and many civilians died.

In January 2009, the UN news agency IRIN wrote:

The LRA has been blamed for the murder of hundreds of civilians. Uganda has also faced criticism over the operation. The Enough Project described it as “poorly executed” and “operationally flawed”, noting that “LRA camps were largely empty of fighters and high-level commanders when struck by Ugandan aircraft”. The advocacy group added that Lightning Thunder had made the situation in north-eastern DRC worse by playing to the strengths of the LRA, “who know the tricky terrain better than their adversaries … are able to move and disperse quickly in small numbers … have shown every willingness to loot and pillage to survive”.

Read an even more critical account here.

Even though the design of the current mission is different, the same risks remain: poor coordination among different militaries, civilian deaths, and the inability of local or outside forces to find Kony.

Some believe that this time could be different. In March 2009, Enough called for a second mission, one that would “place civilian protection front and center.” Undoubtedly US civilian and military authorities have carefully studied Operation Lightning Thunder and its failures.

But Richard Downie of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has put together a helpful background piece on the LRA, writes that applying the lessons of the past “will not be easy”:

One of the consequences of Operation Lightning Thunder was that the LRA scattered into smaller groups, making them much more difficult to track down. Kony himself is believed to be operating in the Central African Republic. The groups have discarded any communication equipment that would allow them to be traced and instead rely on runners to relay messages. In addition, the LRA is a hardened guerilla force used to operating in difficult terrain. It has survived against the odds for a quarter of a century. U.S. policymakers and military planners emphasize that there is no quick fix to ending the scourge of the LRA and that even the death or capture of Kony and his senior commanders may not be sufficient to finish off the group unless broader efforts are made to address the grievances that caused it to form in the first place.

Things could be different this time around, but the challenges are large enough to make me pessimistic about the chances of success.

Finally, there is a broader political risk to note. Across Africa, many leaders and ordinary people are wary of deepening US military involvement on the continent. Given direct US military involvement in Libya, various forms of involvement in Somalia, and the planned construction of a US drone base in Ethiopia, this deployment of US troops to Uganda, small though it is, could make for even more nervousness in Africa regarding the United States’ long-term intentions there.

Africa Blog Roundup: Abuja Bombings, Erdogan in Somalia, the LRA, Cote d’Ivoire, and More

Ambassador John Campbell and Tolu Ogunlesi offer thoughts on Friday’s bombing of the UN building in Abuja, Nigeria. Next republishes and updates part of an editorial posted after the June bombing of the police headquarters in Abuja.

Baobab on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent visit to Somalia:

BAOBAB…was moved beyond cynicism by the Turkish prime minister’s visit to Mogadishu on August 19th. Mr Erdogan is not the first head of state to visit Somalia’s wrecked capital since central authority collapsed there in 1992. But the nature of his visit was different. It was not about regional security. He came with his wife and daughter, his cabinet ministers and their families. The trip was brief and choreographed to boost standing at home. But that should not diminish the courage shown. The Turkish plane scraped the runway on landing. Even though the Shabab had been forced out of the city, the visit was an extraordinary security risk.

Osiama Molefe, meanwhile, writes that the $70 million that African leaders have raised for Somalia calls their commitment to “Africans solutions for African problems” into question.

Kal offers his initial thoughts on the fall of Colonel Moammar Qadhafi.

Kim Yi Dionne posts some results from her team’s study of protests in Malawi.

Sanou Mbaye asks, “Can Senegal Succeed?” (h/t Loomnie)

Philip Lancaster on the intractable problem of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Ashley Elliott takes a look at where things stand in Cote d’Ivoire.

What are you reading today?

Africa Blog Roundup: Sam Childers, al Shabab, Niger Delta, Twitter in Uganda, and More

Brett Keller has done fascinating research on Sam Childers aka “the Machine Gun Preacher,” whose complicated story involves hunting Joseph Kony, working with PR firms, and cultivating a strange relationship with violence and Christianity.

Loomnie: “How a Chinese Syndicate Is Screwing Africa”

Amb. David Shinn comments on al Shabab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu. The Economist’s Baobab blog looks at how civil war complicates aid delivery.

Amb. John Campbell on environmental degradation in the Niger Delta:

It is easy to blame the international oil companies for degradation of the Niger Delta environment, all the more so when Exxon is reporting that its profits world-wide increased by 69 percent during this year’s first quarter while Shell’s are up 30 percent. But, the real story does not lend itself to a morality tale. “Bush refining” (illegal mom-and-pop refining operations) supplied by “bunkering” (oil theft by puncturing pipelines) substantially contributes to the pollution, as the UNEP study acknowledges. More importantly, the Nigerian government is deeply involved with all elements of Delta oil and gas production through the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and all oil and gas is the property of the Nigerian state, and provides the state with about 65 percent of its total revenue and 95 percent of export earnings. NNPC owns a majority interest in the assets operated by Shell under a joint operating agreement, for example. Such partnership agreements require NNPC to fund its share of petroleum production, including pollution abatement efforts, making the federal government at least partially complicit in the degradation of the Delta environment. But the Abuja government too often fails to appropriate the funds necessary for the NNPC to fulfill its partnership obligations because of politicians’ other priorities.

Rosebell Kagumire looks at a Ugandan minister’s claim that activists are using Twitter to prepare an insurgency.

No doubt the Uganda opposition uses social media much better than the government. We have seen top opposition leaders updating their facebook and twitter accounts as they are in running battles with the police. But government’s reaction to social media has been slow ad hence they see the opposition having some good advantage in the race to put out information. I remember in April when the protests were on high, the presidential press secretary told the Guardian that they were not bothered about the impact of social media because “farmers in Uganda don’t know what it is.” Today we see the government waking up to accept the power of social media-in a disguised way- on the youth in the country. Social media use in Uganda has been steadily increasing since end of last year.

Check out my friend Kristi’s new blog on lived religion.

What are you reading today? Any new blogs on your radar?

Africa Blog Roundup: Somalia, DRC, Malawi, Senegal, and More

Yesterday’s big news was al Shabab’s withdrawal from the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. James Gundun reacts here, and here is coverage from the New York Times and the AP. The BBC’s Andrew Harding, writing several days before the withdrawal, reported on how some government and AU officials see the ongoing famine as an opportunity to break al Shabab.

Over at Al Wasat, Ibn Siqilli posts photographs of al Shabab leaders.

Jason Stearns‘ interview with Eric Kajemba, director of an NGO in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, has occasioned a lot of commentary about the impact of the Dodd-Frank “conflict minerals” legislation on the DRC. Laura Seay reacts here. A Bombastic Element, meanwhile, looks at relations between the DRC and Angola.

Dipnote has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s expression of concern over the recent deaths of several Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei, a border region of Sudan.

Kim Yi Dionne details what the fuel shortages in Malawi look like on the ground.

Africa Is A Country posts a lecture by Dr. Jean Comaroff about crime in South Africa.

At African Arguments, Pascal Bianchini says Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade may fall from power.

Amb. John Campbell explores the issue of Cote d’Ivoire’s “Dozos,” their role in security, and the implications of trying to disarm them.

Rosebell Kagumire writes a powerful reaction to her interviews of female victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda.

I highly recommend Kal‘s review of Robin Wright’s Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World.

Hope you’re having a relaxing Sunday.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: AQIM, MEND, LRA, Sudan, China…

Haven’t done one of these in a while!

AQIM: Kal considers the geographic and economic aspects of AQIM‘s career in the Sahel, and how those affect policymakers’ decisions about confronting terrorism.

MEND: Elizabeth Dickinson posts another bomb threat from rebels in the Niger Delta.

LRA: Texas in Africa pushes back on Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth’s call for a “humanitarian use of force” against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan, DRC, and CAR.

I have a ton of respect for Human Rights Watch and the incredible work they do, especially in Africa’s Great Lakes region. [But] this recommendation is off base. Aside from the significant logistical and diplomatic quandaries such operations would pose (How, for example, does Roth think Khartoum would react to an American military presence on south Sudanese soil? Would the French agree to the presence of an American force in the CAR?), fighting in the dense forests in which the LRA hides without knowing the territory, the languages, or the local cultures means that troops undertaking such an operation would be at a significant tactical disadvantage.

Sudan: Dipnote (State Department) discusses Ambassador Susan Rice’s recent visit to South Sudan with the UN Security Council.

China in Africa: Loomnie calls our attention to the opening of a Chinese business school in Ghana.

I hope to update the blogroll at right soon. What links are most useful to you? What should I add or take away?