In West Africa and Paris, Chad’s President Idriss Deby Calls for Clarity on Military Intervention in Mali

Chadian President Idriss Deby has made several forceful calls recently for clarity on plans for a possible military intervention in Mali. Deby’s met Tuesday with Boni Yayi, President of Benin (and Chairman of the AU), and Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra. Deby told reporters:

“It’s up to the Malians to tell us as clearly as possible what kind of support they expect from Africa, beyond what has been done by [the Economic Community of West African States, of which Chad is not a member], and what kind of contribution they expect of Chad.”

He and the AU called formally for the UN to authorize a military intervention in Mali (see a timeline of steps toward intervention in Mali here).

On Wednesday, Deby met with French President Francois Hollande in Paris. A military intervention in Mali was one of the central subjects they discussed. This was the first time the two men had met face to face, but not the first time they had discussed Mali: on July 5, the Presidents had a telephone conversation on the topic. Jeune Afrique (French) reported that at the time Deby gave his conditional support to the idea. But he recommended that the framework of the intervention be broadened beyond ECOWAS to include the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), with Western powers’ logistical support. “Under these conditions, Chad could participate,” he reportedly said. Since that time, the AU has signed on, and some Western powers (including France) have indicated they would support an intervention logistically, but the UN Security Council has yet to approve the force.

On Wednesday, following his meeting with Hollande, Deby spoke (French) of “total confusion” on the issue of Mali coming from ECOWAS, the UN, and Mali itself, confusion concerning the military option as well as the option of negotiations. Nonetheless he reaffirmed Chad’s intention to work “alongside the Malians so that Mali may recover its territorial integrity.” Deby’s statements in Paris tracked closely with his remarks the preceding day.

Steps Toward External Military Intervention in Mali: A Timeline

Yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon formally “recommended that the Security Council approve an African Union peace enforcement mission be deployed to combat Islamist extremists in northern Mali, but did not offer financial support from the world body.” Some observers expect that the Security Council will, as Ban urges, provide a mandate for an intervention in Mali led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Paul Melly is an Associate Fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. He says that, because the recovery of territorial integrity is at stake, the UN is expected to hand down a fairly robust mandate, endorsing the ECOWAS intervention.

“The UN mandate will be more one of providing UN support and political authority for this intervention. So it’s not quite like a UN peacekeeping mission with a specific mandate laying down what forces can or cannot do, as you would have, for example, with the MONUSCO force in Congo,” he said.

I imagine we will be discussing and debating the merits and prospects of intervention in the months to come, but in this post I simply want to review the steps that the intervention’s architects have taken in recent months. ECOWAS, of course, has been deeply concerned by the crises in Mali since the conflict in the north began in January, and especially since the March 22 coup in Bamako. But non-African partners, through the spring and summer, expressed some doubts about ECOWAS’ intervention plans. The US and others have worried that the plans lack specificity, both in terms of means and ends. The current process is in large part an effort to address those concerns and secure international support.

Here are some steps taken so far:

  1. On October 12, the UNSC “called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, at once, military and security planners to [ECOWAS], the African Union (AU) and other partners to help frame a response to a request by Mali’s transitional authorities for such a force, and to report back within 45 days.”
  2. In early November, international military experts met in Bamako to draft a plan to retake northern Mali. They submitted the plan to ECOWAS on November 6.
  3. On November 11, heads of state from ECOWAS approved the plan at a summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
  4. On November 13, the AU approved the plan.
  5. On November 15, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal Poland, and Spain signaled their willingness to provide training for Malian forces. (Statement here, .pdf.)

Events still to come:

  1. On December 7, international envoys will meet in Rome “to coordinate strategy on Mali…focus[ing] on coordinating positions against terrorism, humanitarian issues, encouraging dialogue, and reinforcing political structures so that elections could eventually be held.”
  2. I assume that the ECOWAS/AU plan was formally presented to the UNSC by the deadline of November 26, but I have not seen a date for when the UNSC is expected to make a decision on approving an intervention. From what I have read the decision is expected soon, though.

What do you think will happen? Will the UNSC approve the force? Will external actors insist that Mali hold elections before attempting to reconquer the north? Will this ultimately be settling at the negotiating table – with Ansar al Din, perhaps? Many questions – we’ll see soon how ECOWAS, AU, and the UN attempt to resolve them.

A UN Report on Somalia – And Somali Leaders’ Responses to It

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea is due to release its 2012 report soon, but the report has already been widely leaked. It is available, for example, at the website Somalia Report. Journalists have already begun to analyze it, and Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali have already responded to it. Leaks of such reports, one contact told me, have become relatively common. Members of monitoring groups and panels of experts are sometimes thought to leak reports out of a desire to forestall the possibility that members of the UN Security Council, or governments criticized in reports, will try to censor or block publication of damaging findings. Whatever the case may be, the political storm around the report has started.

The report’s findings are particularly sensitive (though some findings are not necessarily surprising) given that Somalia is currently in the midst of a transition set to culminate with presidential elections in August. This transition has already fallen behind schedule. Critics charge that the transition is hollow: it will produce a government similar in personnel and design to the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG), critics say, and will not solve core political questions regarding corruption, federalism, inclusiveness, and legitimacy.

The BBC highlights ten critical takeaways from the UN report. To my mind, three findings outrank the others in importance. First, the scale of corruption in the TFG, which apparently cannot account for upwards of 70% of its funds. Second, the abuse of diplomatic passports, including passports given to senior pirates. Third, the potential for the rebel movement al Shabab, which is steadily losing territory, to shift its center of gravity to the northeastern region of Puntland. All of the findings the BBC mentions, as well as the report itself, are worth reading.

Below are some excerpts from Sharif and Ali’s responses to the leaked report. In his response, the President attacked the Coordinator of the UN Monitoring Group, Matthew Bryden, whom he accused of being a supporter of Somaliland and of partitioning Somalia. Sharif further accused the Monitoring Group of disrupting efforts toward peace in Somalia. The Prime Minister, meanwhile, focused on rebutting accusations that mentioned him and his office, addressing his criticisms to the media as well as to the report itself. (I am indebted to a reader for passing on these links.)

The President:

President Sharif spent half of his one-hour speech to discuss the recently leaked report by the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group, and he launched a clear attack against Monitoring Group Coordinator Matt Bryden.

“Matt Bryden is not ashamed to support the division of Somalia into two countries. Matt Bryden has a track record of being against the restoration of peace in Somalia,” said President Sharif to the crowd’s applause.

Responding to Monitoring Group allegations of corruption, President Sharif said: “This government is ready for transparency. If any money is missing, I am ready to resign and to be taken to Guantanamo Bay,” President Sharif joked.

The TFG president expressed his disappointment that the Monitoring Group report was leaked at such a time when Somalia is ending the transitional period for the first time since 2000.

“This Monitoring Group report was timed to coincide with the end of transition period in order to discredit the TFG,” said President Sharif.

The Prime Minister:

The Office of the Prime Minister of Somalia (OPM) condemns allegations contained in news reports appearing in some of the media on a “leaked Monitoring Group’s report” linking The Office of the Prime Minister to alleged corruption and misconduct.

The Office of The Prime Minister maintains that the allegations are absolutely and demonstrably false. This deliberate misinformation is intended to tarnish the good name and integrity of the Prime Minister and also constitutes defamation and libel intended to maliciously harm the hard earned reputation of the Prime Minister.

[...]

H.E Abdiweli Ali Gaas reassures the Somali People and development partners of his personal commitment in ensuring transparent and accountable utilization of donor funds especially at this critical time in the history of Somalia.

Parsing these statements helps show what accusations sting Somali leaders the most (corruption, lack of transparency), but my guess (and it is only a guess) is that the denials and refutations will not substantially diminish the widespread sense of pessimism regarding Somalia’s political trajectory that the report seems bound to reinforce. Of course, some of the TFG’s most powerful backers appear to regard it as the most viable political framework for Somalia, whatever the Government’s flaws, and will continue to back its successor government on that basis, at least for a time. But the combination of the report’s damning conclusions and the missed deadlines in the current transition make the outlook for political stabilization in Somalia (despite recent military successes by the TFG and its allies) look quite grim.

The UNSC and the AU Move to Settle the Sudans’ Conflict

After months of basically fruitless negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan following the latter’s independence from the former last July, the countries have recently been flirting with a return to war. South Sudan’s seizure of the Heglig oil field from Sudan (now under Sudanese control once more, production at Heglig has apparently resumed) and Sudan’s bombing campaigns inside South Sudanese territory have caused worldwide concern. This week, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the African Union (AU), working in tandem, moved to settle the conflict, the UN by means of threats and the AU with a plan for peace.

Bloomberg on the UNSC:

The United Nations Security Council warned Sudan and South Sudan to halt fighting and settle their differences on splitting revenue from South Sudan’s oil reserves within three months or face possible sanctions.

The 15-member council unanimously passed a resolution today calling for withdrawal of all forces from disputed territories, an end to air raids by the north and a negotiated solution to the issue of payments by South Sudan for shipping oil to Port Sudan in the north.

The resolution reinforces a peace plan outlined by the African Union and comes two weeks after troops from the South withdrew from the disputed oil-producing Heglig region. Support for the resolution came from China, a major buyer of Sudan’s oil, and Russia, which both generally oppose sanctions.

That the UNSC’s resolution applies to South Sudan as well as to Sudan symbolizes for me how much international sympathy South Sudan has lost during the present conflict, although when South Sudan occupied Heglig, the international community’s reaction was complex.

Read the text of the UNSC resolution here.

VOA on the AU:

The African Union says Sudan has accepted an AU roadmap for halting violence and resolving issues with neighboring South Sudan.
[...]
The roadmap gives the two countries 90 days to settle their issues or face binding international arbitration. The AU said South Sudan accepted the plan earlier this week.

Now we will see how threats and plans from the outside affect the reality on the ground. That the UNSC and the AU are working together improves the odds of peace, it seems to me, as does the fact that the AU has been able to get buy-in, at least in speech, from both sides.

Focus on Sahelian Food Shortages

The Sahel gets a lot of attention for its security issues, but droughts and food shortages loom much larger in the lives of ordinary people than terrorism does. On Friday the European Commission boosted its food aid to the region by 10 million euros. This announcement calls attention to the scale of the problem:

Seven million people are already facing shortages in Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, with major shortfalls in food production in many areas. The figures point to a massive problem of food availability next year.

[...]

The poor 2011/2012 agro-pastoral season in the Sahel, with erratic rainfall followed by localized dry spells, is causing massive concern. Increased world market prices for rice will also have a negative impact on rice import levels and on prices in West Africa. As a consequence many of the poorest households will be unable to access adequate food and will fall rapidly into crisis…Niger and Mauritania have already declared a crisis, prepared national action plans and appealed for international assistance.

The UN gives more detail on the situation in Niger:

The majority of villages in impoverished Niger are now considered to be in a food and nutritional crisis, the United Nations humanitarian wing warned today, with the country facing especially tough times as the annual harvest season ends.

According to a joint UN-Nigerien communiqué, some 6,981 villages are deemed to be vulnerable to food insecurity, with particular concerns over the levels of infant and maternal malnutrition.

[...]

In the communiqué, issued last week, the UN and Niger say the landlocked nation has ended its harvest season with a deficit of more than 500,000 tons of cereals and at least 10 million tons of fodder for livestock.

As external donors sound alarms and increase aid, some national governments are taking steps to address the crisis before it escalates. For example, “The Burkina Faso government is attempting for the first time to implement a nationwide dry-season agricultural campaign to counteract possible food insecurity in areas that received poor or erratic rainfall this year.” Niger’s government, in contrast to the denials of famine that ousted President Mamadou Tandja made in 2005, is now “work[ing] with its humanitarian partners to establish an early response plan to try to alleviate the situation.”

Short-term measures like these could save thousands of lives, and it seems cooperation between governments and aid agencies is increasing over time. But the problem of food shortages in the region – like the problem of drought and famine in the Horn of Africa – will require long-term solutions also if the cycle of hunger is to be broken.

Boko Haram’s Abuja Bombing

This morning, a suicide bomber from Boko Haram attacked the UN building in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.

This is a sad day for Nigeria, and my thoughts go out to those who are injured, and to the families of those who died.

There has already been some discussion of the bombing in the comments section of the previous post. Feel free to continue the discussion there or here.

Somalia’s Famine: Arguments for Giving Aid

Yesterday, the United Nations declared a famine in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of southern Somalia. While outside observers are in some ways “getting used to famine,” the technical designation of famine carries a dire meaning that goes beyond the typical meaning of “famine.” The UN notes (see first link) that

It is the first time since 1991-92 that the UN has declared famine in a part of Somalia.

Famine is declared when acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 per cent, more than two people per every 10,000 die per day, and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Mr. Bowden warned that malnutrition rates in Somalia are currently the highest in the world, with peaks of 50 per cent in certain areas of the country’s south.

In the two regions of southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, acute malnutrition rates are above 30 per cent, with deaths among children under the age of five exceeding six per 10,000 per day in some areas. In the last few months, tens of thousands of Somalis have died as a result of causes related to malnutrition, the majority of them children.

Consecutive droughts have affected the country in the last few years while the ongoing conflict has made it extremely difficult for agencies to operate and access communities in the south. Nearly half of the Somali population – 3.7 million people – are now estimated to be in crisis, with an estimated 2.8 million of them in the south.

The answer to the crisis would seem to be aid from the outside, but control of southern Somalia by al Shabab, an Islamic militia designated as a terrorist group by the US State Department, poses a legal and political wrinkle. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Tara Vassefi explain, “two competing desires — to help the Somali people, and to prevent money from reaching militant groups — sets up a real dilemma for American policymakers.”

Washington’s working solution to this dilemma is a conditional delivery of aid.

The deputy administrator of the US Agency for International Development, Donald Steinberg, said the aid must not benefit al-Shabab.

“What we need is assurances from the World Food Programme and from other agencies, the United Nations or other agencies, both public and in the non-governmental sector, who are willing to go into Somalia who will tell us affirmatively that they are not being taxed by al-Shabab, they are not being subjected to bribes from al-Shabab, that they can operate unfettered,” Mr Steinberg told the BBC.

I believe that giving aid to southern Somalia is the right decision for two reasons.

  1. I think it is the morally laudable option. I have been struck, in some of the discussion around the issue, by the lack of compassion some commentators seem to show for ordinary people in southern Somalia. To these commentators, all that seems to matter is denying funds to terrorists, regardless of the human costs. I do not think giving relief will be completely simple and straightforward, but I think it is a worthy thing to do, even given the risks.
  2. I think giving aid is the wise move politically. If the US increases its efforts to help alleviate suffering in Somalia, it will take pressure off of countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, which are already seeing massive surges in refugee flows from Somalia. That will help reduce chaos in the region. Additionally, working in a limited fashion with al Shabab to deliver aid could both improve the image of the US in Somalia and could create future channels for dialogue with al Shabab. In an age when talk of negotiations with the Taliban has become common, is it out of the question to think that at some point the US-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) might negotiate with al Shabab?

The response from hardliners, of course, will be that I am naive. I would challenge the hardliners to answer the same charge: was it not naive to expect that Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia from 2006-2009 would bring an end to political Islam there? Was it not naive to think that backing the TFG would result in anything more than a protracted stalemate, or at best a slow – and possibly meaningless – advance against al Shabab within Mogadishu? Is it not naive to think that 10,000 African Union peacekeepers and a few American drones can undo the effects of years of brutalization and war in southern Somalia? Al Shabab may be in retreat in Mogadishu, but its tenacity – and potential for longevity – makes it likely to retain its importance within the politics of southern Somalia over the medium term. Aid flows can always be stopped. But for now, it seems worthwhile to feed the starving and to see what political opportunities may come of it. I believe Washington has made the right decision here.