Africa News Roundup: South Sudanese Oil, ECOWAS Meeting in Mali, Flooding in Nigeria, and More

AP: “South Sudan ordered oil companies to restart production Thursday and officials said oil export could resume in about 90 days, ending a nearly nine-month shutdown following a dispute with Sudan over borders and oil.”

IRIN with a piece that is worth thinking about in the context of how the Islamist coalition in northern Mali works to attract support:

Hundreds of displaced northerners in southern Mali are risking life under Sharia law to return home, lured by the prospect of jobs, free water and electricity, and in some parts, relatively cheaper food, Malians in the north and south told IRIN.
Islamist groups have removed taxes on many basic goods, say traders in the region, provide erratic electricity and water services at no charge, and have fixed the price of some basic foods. They are also paying youths to join their ranks, as talk of intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mounts.

A major meeting of ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations took place in Bamako yesterday.

Lagun Akinloye on recent flooding in Nigeria.

Garowe writes that talks between the Ethiopian government and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front have hit “deadlock.”

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and others have raised the possibility that al Shabab, now that its major strongholds in southern Somalia have fallen to African Union forces, may seek to establish more of a presence in Puntland. The BBC reports on a seizure of weapons imported into Puntland that were apparently meant for al Shabab.

Yesterday I wrote about border issues in Niger, but neglected to mention that this week Niger and Burkina Faso were at the International Court of Justice to settle a border dispute. It’s worth noting how colonial legacies still come into play: “During the hearings, Burkina Faso explained that the delimitation of the disputed part should be based on a 1927 French colonial decree, when both countries were part of French West Africa, while Niger contended that the decree was not precise enough to define the frontier in certain areas and asked the Court to delimit it by using a 1960 map of the French Institut Géographique as adjusted with factual evidence of territorial sovereignty.”

What else is happening?

Ethiopian Rebels Seize the Town of Galalshe (Map)

The rebel movement in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), does not appear to stand much chance of taking control of substantial territory, but their activities are worth keeping an eye on. Recently the ONLF captured – or claimed to capture – a town called Galalshe. The incident has attracted attention partly because of the rebels’ assertion that they freed two captured employees of the World Food Programme.

“The Ogaden National Liberation Army of (the) ONLF has captured the town of Galalshe in Jigjiga Region near Babili,” the group said in a statement that did not disclose any dates.

The rebels said they had inflicted casualties on government troops while also capturing armaments and ammunition.

“The (ONLF) army found hundreds of civilian prisoners detained in the Galalshe jail who had been tortured and badly treated. Among the prisoners found were the two WFP workers abducted by the Ethiopian Army,” it added.

The conflict in the region has been exacerbated by drought and food shortages. As with other conflicts in this latitude, the specter of climate change lurks in the background. A rise in temperatures in the coming century could make conflicts like this one even fiercer.

This map pinpoints Babili, near where the rebels said they captured Galalshe.

Ethiopia, the ONLF, and the Somali Civil War

In the Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia home to many ethnic Somalis, the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has launched a new round of fighting against the state. This fighting has repercussions not just for Ethiopia, but also for war-torn Somalia next door.

Ogaden region, Ethiopia

It is difficult to tell exactly what is happening in the Ogaden. The ONLF says it has inflicted hundreds of casualties on the Ethiopian army, but the government in Addis Ababa denies these claims. Journalists have not been able to enter the area.

However severe the fighting is, it seems clear that at least some violence is taking place. That, in and of itself, has regional implications. Ethiopia’s government accuses its rival Eritrea of funding the ONLF, which keeps tensions between the two countries running high. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian-Somali border region is already the zone of intense fighting, including cross-border interventions by Ethiopia in Somalia‘s Hiran region. Reports from Somalia continue to speak of Ethiopian troop movements inside the country. With violent conflict raging at their doorstep, and armed rebellion inside their territory, the Ethiopian military is likely on edge, to say the least.

ONLF actions have repercussions not just for Ethiopian-Somali interactions, but also for the interlocking conflicts inside Somalia. As Somalia’s two main Islamist groups, al Shabab and Hizbul Islam, continue to spar, al Shabab is accusing the ONLF of supporting Hizbul Islam. (To complicate matters, Ethiopia claims that ONLF assists al Shabab).

It’s difficult to disentangle all the potential relationships here, but VOA’s suggestion that “the fighters identified as ONLF by al-Shabab may be a group from the Ogaden region. But they are more likely to be fighting alongside [Hizbul Islam] as fellow clan members rather than as representatives of the ONLF” may be on the money. If so, that means regardless of what groups are formally allied with other groups, the ethnic Somalis on both sides of the border are involved in the conflict regardless of their official nationality. Depending on the scale of that involvement, this trend could destabilize eastern Ethiopia.

Back in Addis Ababa, meanwhile, maneuvering in advance of Ethiopia’s 2010 parliamentary elections continues. The Globe and Mail writes that the ruling party is conducting a “campaign of intimidation,” and the British government is concerned about charges that Ethiopia is “keeping food aid from opposition members to force them to join the ruling party.” But Western aid to and support for Ethiopia’s government is likely to continue, and as many observers have mentioned, that support may play a key role in maintaining the ruling party in power.

What effect would increased violence and instability in eastern Ethiopia and western Somalia have on the political atmosphere in Ethiopia, and on Western countries’ calculations regarding their support for Ethiopia? No one can predict the future, but it seems more likely to me that instability will boost, not reduce, Western powers’ support for Ethiopia as a bulwark against greater chaos in the region.

Ethiopia: ONLF Rebels on the Move

The buildup to Ethiopia’s 2010 parliamentary elections has drawn coverage here and elsewhere, but Ethiopian politics also involves armed conflict: in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia, largely populated by ethnic Somalis, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) periodically mounts offensives against the government. Their latest campaign has, if reports are to be believed, turned into a serious rebellion.

Last week, ONLF fighters said they had captured seven towns in the Ogaden. The rebel movement claims local townspeople have welcomed their presence and that it has inflicted substantial casualties on Ethiopian government forces.

EthioBlog writes that western media sources have fallen victim to unsubstantiated ONLF propaganda, which is at least somewhat unfair considering that outlets like the BBC and AFP qualified their statements about ONLF victories. Whatever the case, EthioBlog reminds us that the story is still evolving, and that we should all be cautious about whose accounts we accept.

The situation in the Ogaden raises serious questions. What effects would instability in the Ogaden have? Would an active rebellion influence the election process in Ethiopia, either by causing a clampdown by the government or by exposing deeper fault lines in the country? Would increased violence near the border with Somalia stir up greater conflict inside Somalia, or raise hopes among hardline Somali groups that they might be able to unite ethnic Somalis into a broader polity? I’ve had difficulty getting reliable information about the ONLF, but all these issues are worth considering.

Somali Civil War Continues to Destabilize Kenya and Ethiopia

As the death toll from the current round of fighting in Somalia mounts, further evidence of the civil war’s destabilizing effects on Kenya and Ethiopia is appearing.


I’ve discussed al Shabab recruitment and incursions in Kenya before, and those trends have continued into September. Reuters warns that “chaos in Somalia is spilling over its borders, fuelling a climate of suspicion in Kenya’s remote northeast where recruiters have been seeking new jihadists to send into battle.”

Now, Kenya’s Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula is warning of a different source of destabilization: the US’s recent raid on wanted terrorist suspect Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.

Asked about the U.S. raid, which analysts say risks further inflaming anti-Western opinion a region of growing concern, Wetangula expressed mixed feelings.

“To the extent that the United States has said that the operation had some limited success … if their operation has any value to add, we would welcome it,” Wetangula told Reuters in New York where he was attending the U.N. General Assembly.

“What I do not feel comfortable with is the fact that the U.S. would want to conduct operations in our neighborhood without information or cooperation or collaboration,” he said.

“That lone ranger behavior has often not succeeded in many places.”

Wetangula also warns of the dangers posed by foreign fighters flocking to Somalia.


While casualty counts in the battle for the border town of Yeed claimed headlines yesterday, one item must have been making Ethiopian authorities a little nervous: al Shabab did not attack Yeed on its own, but rather in a joint effort with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist faction in Ethiopia. The separatists have raised their profile again recently with threats to attack oil companies in the region. Would an al Shabab-ONLF alliance provoke another major Ethiopian campaign in Somalia?

With trouble spilling over Somalia’s borders into at least two countries, the situation is as dangerous as ever for regional stability.