As French troops hunted Islamist fighters in northern Mali this past winter, historian Greg Mann said that what was taking place in the region was not one war, but several. For a few months starting in January 2013, the various armed conflicts that had broken out over the previous year appeared to converge, as did French and Malian interests. But, as Gregreminded us in March, the French government’s war was not the Malian government’s war. And now it seems that Mali’s war — after a long hiatus — is starting up again, and breaking away from France’s war.
For weeks there have been rumblings of an impending resumption of armed conflict between Malian government forces and the MNLA separatist rebel group that controls the northern region of Kidal. Rumors of Malian troop movements north of Gao have been circulating since February. But this week these were joined by an army statement that government forces had massed midway between Gao and the rebel-occupied town, and by news today that Malian troops took the village of Anafi, 100 km southwest of Kidal. Areport on Malijet claims that Malian soldiers are within 35 km of the town, and that MNLA forces are retreating toward Algeria; a similar report has appeared on Reuters.
The second honeymoon of Darfur’s Doha peace process lasted just over a month. On April 6, Mohammad Bashar, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement-Sudan (hence referred to as JEM-Bashar) signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD; English, Arabic) in the ballroom of the Doha Ritz-Carlton hotel.
In Doha, Bashar told delegates he was looking forward to going home. On May 12 he was dead, killed on the Sudan-Chad borderlands at the hands of his former comrades in the mainstream Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
I am not interested in joining the debate about whether US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice should be the Obama administration’s next Secretary of State. Nor am I interested in the political controversy concerning Amb. Rice’s remarks about the attacks in Benghazi. Nor, finally, am I much interested in criticisms of Amb. Rice’s personal style and how that affects US relations with other countries, although I do feel that diplomats’ personal styles are important. What does interest me are the critical perspectives that the debate about the Ambassador’s longer record is opening regarding the last two decades of US policy in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the most important lessons from looking at these criticisms and controversies is that some of the same dilemmas that US policymakers wrestled with in the 1990s still haunt them today, particularly when it comes to working with African leaders like President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.
Amb. Rice has been a key foreign policy thinker for the Democratic Party since 1988, when she was an adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Governor Michael Dukakis. She served on the National Security Council and in other positions during President Clinton’s first term, and was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during his second term. A senior foreign policy adviser to then-Senator Barack Obama during his first presidential campaign, she served as Ambassador to the United Nations during President Obama’s first term, and holds that position still. Given her experience working in senior positions for the last Democratic president and the current one, Amb. Rice has been involved in a number of important decisions related to US policy in sub-Saharan Africa – as well, of course, as other parts of the world.
Mainstream criticism of the Ambassador’s policy preferences on sub-Saharan Africa focuses on three specific issues (arranged in chronological order from most recent to furthest past). Again, although the criticisms of Amb. Rice are extremely serious, I want to discuss the decisions and principles involved, which involved multiple actors and institutions. With each point I highlight the criticism against her and then what I see as the broader issue.
Rwanda 2012. Critics charge that Amb. Rice has made the violent conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) harder to resolve by blocking efforts to charge Rwanda with responsibility for backing the M23 militia. (Pieces by Armin Rosen, Jason Stearns, and Colum Lynch outline the issues at play, and Rosen’s piece quotes several critics of the Ambassador.) For me, the key question is: To what extent should the US attempt to shield its allies from criticism and international reaction?
DRC 1996-2001. Critics charge that Amb. Rice endorsed Rwanda and Uganda’s intervention in the present-day DRC circa 1998, feeling that such intervention would help prevent renewed genocide in the region. (See Howard French’s piece here.) This support, French writes, reflected a broader Clinton administration policy of “promoting a group of men it called the New African Leaders, including the heads of state of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, and Rwanda. As Clinton officials saw it, these New Leaders were sympathetic and businesslike, drawn together by such desirable goals as overthrowing Mobutu, by antagonism toward the Islamist government of Sudan, which shares a border with northeast Congo, and by talk of rethinking Africa’s hitherto sacrosanct borders, as a means of creating more viable states.” For me, the key question is similar to the one raised above: To what extent should the US support allies in Africa who have, themselves, questionable foreign policies and domestic records?
Sudan 1997. Critics charge that Amb. Rice’s opposition to reopening the US embassy in Sudan in 1997 prevented an opportunity to influence Sudanese attitudes and hampered US intelligence-gathering about Al Qaeda and other armed Muslim groups (see Roger Cohen’s opinion piece on the topic). For me, the key question is: To what extent should the US prioritize punitive actions and “sending a message” to states policymakers believe have committed or abetted serious crimes, and to what extent should the US prioritize open diplomatic exchange in the interest of information-gathering and the normalization of relations?
These questions and complex situations could be boiled down even further, to a set of interrelated questions: How does Washington define its allies, and do these alliances make sense? And how does Washington define its enemies, and does treating these states and leaders as enemies make sense? That these questions have haunted US policy in the Great Lakes region of Africa and in Sudan from the 1990s to the present suggests how difficult such questions are to resolve; Rosen writes that with the DRC and Rwanda, events in 1998 and 2012 “have played out in an eerily similar fashion.” The similarities between past and present also suggest that the US approach has limited Washington’s ability to halt violence in these areas. Howard French argues forcefully that Washington’s Africa policy of the past two decades, as symbolized by Amb. Rice, has failed: “The United States…remains mired in an approach whose foundation dates to the Cold War, when we cherry-picked strongmen among Africa’s leaders, autocrats we could ‘work with,’ according to the old diplomatic cliché…What this leaves us with, in effect, is a policy stripped of any real moral force.”
The Republic of South Sudan officially becomes independent today, the result of a referendum held exactly six months ago in which Southerners voted overwhelmingly to secede from North Sudan. Congratulations to the people of the world’s newest country – whatever challenges lie ahead, you have fought long and hard for this achievement, and I hope you enjoy this day to the fullest extent.
Please treat this as an open thread, and if you are tracking events in Sudan on Twitter, I suggest following @glcarlstrom, @bechamilton, @wasilalitaha, @maggiefick, @rovingbandit, @SudaneseThinker, and @simsimt for coverage, along with a host of others.
From the US side, Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman, former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, and other diplomats are set to attend. It will be interesting to see who else attends – and what Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, who is also scheduled to be there, has to say to his former countrymen. It will also be interesting to see who recognizes South Sudan, and in what order.
Please post your reactions in the comments, and I’ll update with any critical information.
Yesterday, final official results from South Sudan’s independence referendum showed that 98.83 percent of voters opted for secession from North Sudan. The Obama administration, which has been deeply involved in the referendum process and which has also faced repeated criticisms over its policy toward Sudan, congratulated South Sudan through a variety of channels. These messages expressed genuine goodwill toward South Sudan, but also subtly emphasized the administration’s diplomatic accomplishments in Sudan and hinted at the future of US policy toward the North.
President Obama’s statement highlighted his personal involvement with Sudan, promised a future of US friendship toward Sudan, and indicated that a normalization of US-North Sudan relations is possible:
As I pledged in September when addressing Sudanese leaders, the United States will continue to support the aspirations of all Sudanese—north and south, east and west. We will work with the governments of Sudan and Southern Sudan to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition to independence. For those who meet all of their obligations, there is a path to greater prosperity and normal relations with the United States, including examining Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. And while the road ahead will be difficult, those who seek a future of dignity and peace can be assured that they will have a steady partner and friend in the United States.
We look forward to working with southern leaders as they undertake the tremendous amount of work to prepare for independence in July and ensure the creation of two viable states living alongside each other in peace…
In line with the bilateral discussions held between the United States and the Government of Sudan, and in recognition of the success of the Southern Sudan referendum as a critical milestone of the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the United States is initiating the process of withdrawing Sudan’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, the first step of which is initiating a review of that designation. Removal of the State Sponsor of Terrorism designation will take place if and when Sudan meets all criteria spelled out in U.S. law, including not supporting international terrorism for the preceding six months and providing assurance it will not support such acts in the future, and fully implements the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including reaching a political solution on Abyei and key post-referendum arrangements.
The statement from Ambassador Susan Rice, US Permanent Representative to the UN, is here.
Christian Science Monitor and VOA have more on the future of US policy toward North Sudan; both point to the conflict in Darfur, and North Sudanese President Omar al Bashir’s indictment for war crimes, as outstanding issues in US-North Sudan relations.
Yesterday the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission released a timetable to guide the preparations surrounding the scheduled January 9 referendum on southern independence. Having concrete dates and numbers, however, has not completely relieved observers who fear the possibility of violence.
To look at the preparations in detail, registration will run from November 14 to December 4. Other key dates include December 7, when campaigning begins, and December 31, when “the definitive electoral register is to be completed.” Here’s a look at the logistics:
Voter registration material is being printed in South Africa, while ballot papers will also be printed outside Sudan with security devices fitted to prevent fraud, Reec added.
Polling will take place across Sudan but only those able to prove they come from the south will be eligible to vote.
Voting will also take place in eight other countries — neighbouring Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt, as well as in Australia, Britain, the United States and Canada.
In those countries, the intergovernmental International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will assist the registration process, Reec said.
The current schedule reflects a large delay that came down late last month. With preparations running behind schedule, “The BBC’s Peter Martell in the southern capital, Juba, says the timing for the referendum…is extremely tight.” Commissioners promise the vote will take place on time or after a very brief delay, but Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir has warned that violence may follow any delay. Meanwhile, “progress has been slow in settling a number of issues leading up to” a separate but related referendum in the border region of Abyei. Northern and Southern Sudanese officials are meeting with US mediators in Ethiopia this week to address the situation in Abyei, but they are behind schedule as well.
Several council members, including U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, pointed a finger at Eritrea, which stands accused of supporting extremists in Somalia.
“The United States is particularly concerned about the financial, military, logistical and political support that the government of Eritrea is offering to al-Shabab and other extremists in Somalia,” said Rice.
She said the United States and others have repeatedly tried to engage Eritrea’s leaders, with the aim of getting them to stop aiding illegal armed groups, but those attempts have been rebuffed. She said it is not too late for Eritrea to change course.
The council has the power to implement sanctions based on earlier resolutions it has adopted on Somalia. The Somalia Sanctions Committee, which is headed by Mexico, has a report due at the end of this month and could recommend then which entities or individuals to sanction. Those measures could include travel bans, asset freezes and arms embargoes.
I wonder how sanctions against Eritrea would be perceived in the region, though. As evidenced by IGAD’s position, Eritrea is unpopular with many of its neighbors, including the Somali government. On the other hand, given Ethiopia’s active interference in Somalia, critics might say that the UN – and the US – are employing double standards.
The ultimate question for me is whether these sanctions would help bring about peace in Somalia. If external authorities can halt or reduce the flow of foreign fighters and weapons into Somalia, perhaps a resolution to the civil war will come more quickly. Yet if sanctions cannot prevent traffic in men and arms, what good are they?