Africa News Roundup: Mauritania in Mali, Suicide Attack in Mogadishu, Museveni Impeachment Attempt, South Sudan Violence, and More

Mauritania’s army continues to hunt members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) inside Mali, but Mauritania’s government denies supporting the Tuareg rebellion in the region.

On Wednesday, a suicide attack occurred at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. The rebel movement al Shabab has claimed responsibility. Such events, in my view, boost the predictions of analysts who said that al Shabab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu would change the nature of the conflict there, rather than ending it.

The US military says that 2011 saw a major increase in bomb attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, and Somalia.

Ethiopian troops are still preparing to hand over areas in Somalia to African Union troops.

The administration of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni says an impeachment bid against the president has little chance of success.

The BBC re-examines Uganda’s role in Somalia.

The LA Times looks at ethnic violence in South SudanAlan Boswell, meanwhile, writes that the government’s army – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army or SPLA – is “part of the problem.”

Here in Jonglei state, where tit-for-tat raids have billowed into a full-scale internal war between the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes, South Sudan’s army has become part of the problem, despite the $270 million in American aid it’s received since a 2005 U.S.-brokered peace deal led last year to the creation of the country.

A broad group of U.S. activists who forged close ties with the South Sudanese rebel movement spurred that deal to end Sudan’s decades-long civil war. They included churches from then-President George W. Bush’s hometown of Midland, Texas, the Congressional Black Caucus and celebrities such as actor George Clooney.

The violence, and the role of the South Sudanese military in it, points out the difficulty of a legacy in which the U.S. and influential activists remain supporters of a government that often lies at the heart of the problem. Even with its poor human rights record, South Sudan continues to be the darling of its committed backers.



11 thoughts on “Africa News Roundup: Mauritania in Mali, Suicide Attack in Mogadishu, Museveni Impeachment Attempt, South Sudan Violence, and More

  1. The BBC piece on Uganda in Somalia was interesting. For the first few sections, I thought it was pretty much just a look at poor conditions in Mogadishu, but the last section had unusually straightforward and comprehensive analysis. The motivations behind continued Ugandan presence that the article mentions can be summarized as keeping troops happy, taking AU money, maintaining regional stability, forestalling political challenges to Museveni, serving donor/allies’ interests, avenging the suicide bombings of 2010, and of course acting on Museveni’s lingering pan-African ideological persuasions.

    As solid as this catalogue is, I think the article is wrong to portray these as necessarily competing motivations; I think the UPDF being in Somalia is a shrewd move from Museveni’s standpoint precisely because it accomplishes quite a few of these objectives. As for the reasons themselves, the only one on which I think the President may be mistaken is in keeping troops happy. Not many enjoy returning home missing limbs and lacking government support for rehabilitation and reintegration, and the very fact that the regime skims off the top of soldiers’ wages is likely to cause a bit of disaffection among the footsoldiers.

    • I have to admit that is one of the typical failings of newspapers. They write a lot on human suffering but not much on the reasons why something is happening.

  2. Dr Augustine Mahiga, the head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia is quoted by the Daily Nation newspaper:

    “From a bridgehead at the airport and the presidential villa, the AU troops have managed to secure most of Mogadishu. The new resolution allowing Kenya and other troop- contributing countries to come in with force multipliers such as helicopters will help. But, for this whole process to be meaningful, we need the impact of the Somalia administration to be seen on the ground. We need to bring the peace process to the captured areas. Pushing out the Shabaab creates a political, ideological and security vacuum. The Somalia government needs to fill that space. And that means we must end the rifts and divisions and work together to seize this opportunity.”

    THAT  is the crux of the Somalia conundrum: Never-ending political feuds and skullduggery among the current Somali political elites who mostly don’t really represent the people. There was a time when AMISOM and the world had a fighting chance. We lost that opportunity. We’re paying the price now.  It is tough for me to fathom the idea that the current men in suits and with the knack of globe-trotting  travel junkets  and penchant for corruption and feuds are able to do the job. Simply put, they are weak, very weak.


    It is not at all surprising that structurally weak states are far easier to beat. As in all other armed combat, the overriding objective of the guerilla ( HSM) is to vanquish his opponent’s army ( TFG). Success depends partially on how strong the central authority ( TFG) and its coercive apparatus are.

     ” success or failure of a guerilla movement ( HSM) depends not only on its courage, wisdom and determination bur equally on objective conditions and, last but not the least, on the tenacity and aptitude of the enemy,” notes Walter Laqueur.   Disgruntled, demoralized, and ill-disciplined troops ( TFG) do not fight tenaciously and competently.

    Revolutionary insurgents ( HSM) use guerilla warfare as their main tactic, especially in the early phase of their struggle. The ideal terrain for the guerilla is an expansive area of forests, marshes, or mountain ranges and gorges ( particularly the Kenyan army’s operational area) that are not easily accessible to conventional motorized forces. A vast stretch of territory gives the guerilla maneuverability, while rugged or forested terrain provides ” natural concealment.” The guerilla can more easily strike or ambush his enemy from his hideouts and retreat swiftly. The greater the contested area and the more scattered the rural settlements ( Bay, Hiiraan, Galgudud, Juba regions),  the more laborious  it is to track the guerilla ( HSM) and control the population. Overstretched supply and communication lines necessitate dispersal of troops (AMISOM), who then become more vulnerable to discreet attacks

    The army ( AMISOM) seeks to quash the insurgency quickly and cheaply but often fails. The guerillas elude it by exploiting the environment to their advantage, thereby prolonging the conflict. Relying on speed and mobility, they attack suddenly and disengage as quickly, or, in Mao’s famous words: ” The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.” Put another way, ” The guerilla fights the war of the flea. The flea bites, hops, and bites again, nimbly avoiding the foot that would crush him. He does not seek to kill his enemy at a blow, but to bleed him and feed on him, to plague and bedevil him, to keep him from resting and to destroy his nerve and morale.” Through hit-and-run tactics, the guerillas wear down the opponent, who tries to contain them through a series of sweeps and  encirclements. They profit from lulls in the conflict to expand their combat effectiveness. 

    ( I borrowed those lines from Prof Gebru Tareke’s excellent book,, with the added parentheses of mine)

    • Personally I think the political situation, especially the relative power and unity of the state, is of more importance than geography though I will admit that nations with certain terrain are easier to operate in than others. Notice that many of the most successful revolutionary groups enjoyed firm control of one man or a few men such as Algeria’s FLN or China’s CCP.
      Revolutionaries will begin with far fewer resources than the state, but in times of uncertainty when the state has to bring in a large number of individual elites and cannot force them to cede power to the state the revolutionaries can have a strong institutional advantage. Normally I would have thought that the presence of the Al-Shabaab in the cities and the U.I.C. before them would have forced a more efficient government into existence but I wonder if a lot of Somali elites are either betting that foreign soldiers can keep them safe or if they’re already maneuvering to be able to exist in an Al-Shabaab dominated government.

      • Gyre 

        The world swallowed hard the false notion that UIC was a force to be reckoned with. It never was. Somalia is NOT only Mogadishu.  The UIC were nothing but the same south-central and Mogadishu-heavy forces of past warlords-cum-turned  UIC-turned -TFG.  Granted, they did bring some kind of peace to their area before they unwisely provoked Ethiopia to enter Somalia ( and then cry wolf). NOW, the Chief of the UIC is TFG President ( thanks to the international community bribing them with 550 ” MPs”!)

         NOW, Ethiopia and Kenya are present deeper into Somali soil.  NOW Missing  AWOL is the much-publicized Somali nationalism against the Ethiopian/Kenyan incursion. To be blunt with those “analysts”,  who fell into that false nationalism trap, the crux of the Somalia quagmire is/was devolution of power. The chaotic south-central will never accept federalism, let alone decentralization simply because the Notional Capital city ( Mogadishu) is in their sphere of control.

        One Somali commentator wrote, 

        ” Even in the unlikely event that peace is achieved within the year it will take a long time for the South to heal. People have been traumatized beyond measure and rancor will linger far too long. Decentralization, even in a federal system will be a challenge because, on the one hand, politicians will still resist giving up some of their powers and on the other hand, the communities at the periphery have yet to learn how to use the functions and powers devolved upon them. But a start has to be made as decentralization, particularly devolution, is essential to both human and physical development; and people at the local levels will learn governance by governing themselves. Remember, Aristotle said: “The only way to learn how to play the flute, is by playing the flute”. 

        AND here is what Somali politician who mastered that flute stated, 
         ” Somalia does not need one city-state where you must go for education, for health, for passports, even for driver’s license. Somalia failed because when one city failed [Mogadishu] the entire country failed….We pray that Mogadishu is reconstructed, but  Bosaso ( Puntland) and Hargeisa ( Somaliland) and other cities will stay the same. Somalia’s cities must be balanced to ensure that the mistakes of the past never occur again. The foundation for all of this is a constitution.”

        In a nutshell, that is the real line in the sand for our problem. And because the Somali leaders are hopelessly blind to that fact and are not united despite the great photo-ops during the London summit, because of the lack of real Somali reconciliation, because of the  international community’s main priorities ( war on piracy, terrorism, drones and yet more hired boots on the ground and nothing else),  I’m afraid the militarily-weakened HSM will find succor and relief because of those weaknesses. 

        Let’s see if the June Istanbul Conference will be enough to correct those mistakes, diversify their humanitarian and reconstruction efforts ( THANK YOU!) to all parts of Somalia ( Somalia is NOT only Mogadishu), and heal Humpty Dumpty.  I sincerely hope so.

      • The U.I.C was however present in Mogadishu, the supposed center of the Somali government. My point was that if being barely able to hold part of Mogadishu didn’t force the TFG politicians to actually work together then I really don’t think anything will.

        As for devolution, it might be de facto taking place on the ground but absent some kind of national bargain between periphery and central leaders it isn’t going to be a kind affair. A question that can determine the center’s power is this: if Al-Shabaab and remaining warlords were completely defeated and all foreign forces left Somalia, would the center be able to hold onto any of the gains?

        Incidentally the international community really can’t do much to force unity through. As Afghanistan nicely shows, unity is either built internally or not at all. Even though it’s at least as important as the presence of A.U forces the U.S and the world can’t do anything to help it.

  3. The U.S has shown differences in opinion on South Sudan in the past. A few years ago Obama pressed (or at least Wikileaks says he did) Kenya to stop allowing weapons to illegally move from their nation into South Sudan. Of course now that the nation is independent he may have changed his mind about that.

    If war were to break out between Sudan and South Sudan I wonder which groups would side with the Sudanese government. Problems like that might lead to the South Sudanese government sponsoring ethnic cleansing or even genocide. Ironically they might go the same route the Sudanese government did in Darfur.

  4. Quick hits
    Obama started allowing US arms sales to South Sudan in early 2012. Don’t know if they bought any weapons although they were very eager to get anti-aircraft defense systems. With the shut down of oil production, S Sudan is basically broke.
    Best book I’ve read on the region is Richard Crockett’s Sudan: Darfur and the Failure of an African State. The title is narrower than the book actually is. Look, they’re just as self-serving and incompetent in Juba as they are in Khartoum. What the small “Arab” elite in Khartoum tried to do to the rest of the country is what the much larger Dinka/Nuer alliance is trying to do. So you have guys like George Athor who didn’t get the slice of the national pie they expected and picked up arms against Juba. Only difference is that the boys in Juba also fear the big boys up north.

    • That might suggest a U.S opinion that war is likely (which seems reasonable). Frankly I’m not sure if the South Sudanese government is really worth backing, at least not militarily over development.

      As for fears, Sudan also has to keep a large force near the border with South Sudan. The two nations are a constant drain on the other’s resources.

      I wonder what China thinks of the plans to change where South Sudanese oil goes, they might be the best chance for forcing Sudan to negotiate (though I don’t know how much sway China will have in South Sudan anymore).

  5. Gyre

    Somalis did reach agreements in all the reconciliation conferences held in an attempt to revive the State. The problem was that they lacked a joint mechanism to enforce their decisions and the international community implicitly encouraged recalcitrants or spoilers by requiring unanimous agreement before it could even lift a finger.  Our main problem has been, in my view, that whenever progress was made there were people who would not leave a stone unturned in order to pull us back to square one.

    Zooming back into our past tortured history and knowing what we know now, the following options may resolve our conundrum. One of these options could’ve saved us:

    1. The Somalis to be left alone. Let the strongest group (s) take the helm. Help them with immediate recovery projects if they were not a threat to world peace. Don’t expect them to be your mirror image. This is not popularity contest but painfully reconstituting a failed state, a situation the world  powers accelerated during the cold war by providing us dangerous weapons and looking the other way when atrocities were being committed as a result and then cutting us loose.

    2. Take action if they were dangerous group like HSM but not cheaply through African proxies, per favor. Do it like in Afghanistan. Hold your thoughts. I know it failed there. The latter failed because inept Karzai was parachuted on the Afghan people and he couldn’t accomplish anything in spite the incredible security and development the man received from NATO and USA. In the case of Somalia, we had leaders, believe it or not, who could’ve reconstituted Somalia with less than 2% the hapless Karzai received. They maybe, in your view bad bastards, but they’re OUR bastards. Once they become too strong, the Somalis would’ve taken care of them anyway.

    3. If you have no appetite for Somalia because of bad  past memories, forget any region or notional capital ( forget this obsession of “capital city” or “seat of power” in failed states), identify those areas who want to rescue their people from anarchy and proved to all who care their accomplishments. Get in with nothing short of Marshal Plan and not analyses and speeches before they’re too are discouraged and turn your worst nightmare in the form piracy, terrorism ( don’t take their relevant peace for granted). This, if nothing else, will expedite the masses under the yoke of the  anarchic forces to rise up and decisively deal with their tormentors lest they’re left in the race for peace and prosperity. 

    4. Close your eyes,  nose and prejudices and jump in with full supportive effort like the Turkish.  Go in to all four corners of Somalia. 

    5. Come August 2012 and with the end of 20-year-old transition, Somalis will either wake up with one of those above options OR just have musical chairs ( a president, speaker, prime minister, members of parliament, $ 60 million constitution no one will even bother to read past the first paragraph, engineered ” consensus” and back to square one. 

    Be warned.

    • Ironically even though American soldiers are better trained and armed than most of the world* it’s far more politically acceptable for the U.N or A.U to send soldiers (admittedly that’s partially from short sighted backing of coups in the ’50s and ’60s).

      As for supportive efforts, if the Turks want to take the lead then I see no problem with encouraging them and backing them. U.S/Turkish relations aren’t as strong as they used to be but I have far more faith in Turkey than I do in most of the world, faith increased by a slow move to democracy in a nation prone to coups**.

      *Scandals aside, the U.S military really does have far fewer crimes than most of the armies in the world.
      **I just wish they’d do something about those laws on Ataturk and the Armenian genocide.

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