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?

Rebellion in the Central African Republic

Events in the Central African Republic generally lie outside my radar, but major developments there are relevant to an understanding of events in Chad, Sudan, and for that matter Uganda and other countries in central Africa. Recent fighting in CAR thus merits some discussion here.

Darfuri Refugees, Sam Ouandja, Central African Republic

On Thursday, a rebel group called the Patriotic Convention for Justice and Peace (CPJP) attacked the town of Ndele in northern CAR, inflicting some casualties, temporarily gaining control of the town, and causing most of Ndele’s inhabitants to flee. The BBC calls CPJP a “fringe movement” but also says that “the events in Ndele offer another bleak reminder of the CAR’s fragility.” The fighting, coming on the heels of several kidnappings of French aid workers in CAR and Chad, highlights the difficulties regional governments have in controlling their territory and the difficulties international agencies face in delivering aid.

The army has retaken Ndele, but the political issues that drive the rebels remain unresolved. This fighting is the latest eruption of a conflict that began after 2003, when current President Francois Bozize took power. AFP explains CPJP’s position in the rebel network:

The CPJP is led by Charles Massi, who was a prime minister under Ange-Felix Patasse, the president toppled in a bloodless coup by General Francois Bozize in 2003.

Massi in May 2008 joined the Union of Democratic Forces for the Rally (UFDR) led by Zakaria Damane, who signed bilateral and then global peace accords with Bangui in April 2008 and June this year.

Massi then left the the UFDR for the CPJP, which has not signed any accords with the government.

He was arrested last May just over the border in neighbouring Chad and accused of attempting to destabilise the CAR but released by Chadian authorities a month later.

From that account, it seems to me that whatever other factors are driving the rebellion – regional tensions within CAR, for example – the power struggle between elites is a major reason for the fighting. Bozize, likely recognizing that, wants to solve the conflict through political means:

President Francois Bozize says he is pushing ahead with the [2008 peace] accord.

In an interview on state-run radio, President Bozize says a new structure is in place within local committees near former combatants and former rebels. If this demobilization takes hold, he says conditions will be in place to bring more investment and social development.

With the recapture of Ndele, President Bozize says the situation is now normal after rebels cut the route to the north. He says there is peace now, as illustrated by the October return of former President Ange Felix Patasse.

Mr. Bozize toppled Mr. Patasse in a 2003 rebellion and won election as the country’s president in 2005. Mr. Patasse returned from exile in Togo last month promising to challenge Mr. Bozize in next year’s presidential elections.

[...]

President Bozize says Mr. Patasse is free to contest the 2010 election, in which they will be joined as candidates by former prime minister Martin Ziguélé.

As that vote approaches, President Bozize is eager to secure the demobilization of former fighters and end the rebellion in the north to restore security along the border with Chad, where two aid workers were kidnaped at gunpoint one week ago.

Trying to fit these developments into a regional context, I came across this 2006 report from the US Institute of Peace on the “triangle of instability” in CAR, Chad, and Sudan. The report explains how the fact that “CAR and Chad have a history of harboring each other’s insurgent groups” has contributed to regional upheaval, exacerbated by the crisis in Darfur. Incursions by the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army, up to and including a raid last week, have also contributed to the destabilization of CAR (and South Sudan, for that matter). These intractable and interlocking crises make the region a true powder keg.

Saturday Links: Chadian Army Spoof, Nigerian Roads, LRA in South Sudan

A television spoof of the Chadian army is attracting fans and anger:

Brandishing a radio in one hand and a baton in the other, “Commandant Alkanto” barks abuse in a mix of crude French and local Arabic dialects at a rag-tag bunch Chadian soldiers on parade in the baking sun.

In another film clip, Alkanto is roused from his nap under an acacia tree to deal with a group of village elders whom he literally kicks into army prison with his trademark gammy leg.

The result is an unlikely local hit — a series of comedy films about the shortcomings of the military in Chad, a poor central African state accused of frittering away its oil wealth on the army rather than bettering the lives of its population.

“I received threats from the military but that encouraged me to continue,” Haikal Zakaria, the bank manager-turned actor who created and plays Alkanto, told Reuters in an interview. “Chadians welcome the work of Alkanto. They appreciate the message that he puts across in his sketches,” he added.

In the hit film “Brigade Mobile” Zakaria pokes fun at military units who are meant to control customs and prevent smuggling but in fact do little but harass citizens. His character Alkanto is a proud but illiterate officer who, when not castigating soldiers for shoddy uniforms, is telling them to stand ready to fight to defend the “dishcloth” — a term he uses for Chad’s national flag.

The message is an indictment of the state of the military in Chad. Having come to power in a coup and a wave of optimism in 1990, President Idriss Deby’s time in power has been marked by flawed elections, coup attempts and eastern rebellions.

VOA had a ton of interesting articles this week, four of which I’ve linked here. The first concerns road quality in Nigeria.

IRIN reports that attacks by suspected LRA units are still a big problem in Southern Sudan:

Suspected Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters have attacked Nzara region of Southern Sudan at least three times this month, forcing civilians to flee their homes, local officials said.

Several armed groups operate in the region – including Ugandan and southern Sudanese soldiers hunting the LRA since peace talks failed in 2008. The recent attacks, however, bore the “typical signs” of LRA raids, they said.

“The LRA continue to harm us, killing and burning homes,” said Col Sentina Ndefu, commissioner of Nzara county, one of the hardest hit regions in Western Equatoria state.

The November attacks, she added, left at least seven people dead and eight abducted, indicating that the LRA were still active – despite ongoing military operations against them and humanitarian efforts to support those affected.

Two journalists, a Canadian and an Australian, have been freed after fifteen months of captivity in Somalia. Meanwhile, morale runs low among AU troops in Mogadishu, who have not been paid since May.

Low rainfall is affecting autumn harvests in the Sahel, driving up food prices for staple crops in countries like Niger even as countries like Burkina Faso continue to grapple with damage from floods earlier this fall.

South Sudan Death Toll Mounts, Civil War Fears Rise

Recurring violence in South Sudan this summer – and now fall – has caused serious concern among many observers, who fear signs point to a renewal of civil war between North and South.

Jonglei state has seen a number of clashes recently – 185 people died in raids between ethnic groups in August, and over 100 were killed in a battle this weekend. Though ethnic tensions are the ostensible reason for the violence, some Southern officials and foreign observers point to another source for the trouble: the government in Khartoum.

Major General Kuol Diem Kuol told the BBC a nearby company from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) had been able to retake the village.

He said the attackers had targeted the military and that 22 of the dead were soldiers, including the major commanding the unit.

“This is not a raid for cattle but a militia attack against security forces,” he said[...]

Mayen Ngor, the commissioner of surrounding Duk County, said the attack had been part of a campaign against [the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005].

He told Reuters news agency that 260 huts had been burned down along with the police station and local government buildings. Thousands of people had fled, he said.

A national election is due next year and southern Sudanese are meant to vote in a referendum to decide whether to secede from the north in 2011.

The BBC’s Peter Martell in the southern Sudanese capital Juba says many people fear that Khartoum is orchestrating the violence.

Some southern politicians believe the government is arming militias from both sides in an attempt to destabilise the region and delay the votes indefinitely.

But the south is made up of a patchwork of rival ethnic groups who have long fought over grazing land, cattle and other resources.

Khartoum vehemently denies playing any part in the violence in the south.

UN officials did not accuse Khartoum of orchestrating the violence, but did say the clash this weekend represented a targeted attack on Southern authorities.

David Gressly, a regional co-ordinator in south Sudan for the United Nations Missions in Sudan, said the attack appeared to have targeted SPLA forces based in the village.

“It is quite clear that the focus of the attack was on the organised forces themselves,” he said.

“It is way too early to call this a civil war, but it is a significant law and order problem and one that the government of southern Sudan needs to stand up and address,” he told the AFP news agency after visiting the area.

Hopefully US policymakers have a clear plan for addressing this conflict even as they grapple with how to help resolve the conflict in Darfur.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning another source of destabilization in South Sudan: Uganda’s LRA, whose raids in the region – and in CAR and DRC – have killed hundreds and forced youth from South Sudan and elsewhere into military service. Some analysts warn that the LRA “may resume its role as a proxy force for those keen to destabilise oil-rich south Sudan before its independence referendum due in 2011.”

In other words, the pressures on South Sudan are intense and coming from multiple sides. Let’s hope they don’t make the region explode.