Africa: Points of (no) return – ISN

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Destroyed Sudanese army tank, outside Malakal (Simon Roughneen, Feb 2006)

Destroyed Sudanese army tank, outside Malakal (Simon Roughneen, Feb 2006)

Peacekeepers and peace processes are unlikely to curb elemental violence and widespread suffering across Darfur, Somalia and eastern Congo, while shaky deals could unravel between North and South Sudan, and in northern Uganda.

“We have reached a point of no return from mediating peace and reconciliation in Uganda, therefore I appeal to all IDPs and Sudanese refugees to return to their respective homes.”

This unbridled optimism came just last week from Riek Machar, a vice-president in the regional government of South Sudan (GoSS) and facilitator of peacemaking efforts between the Uganda government and the feral Lords Resistance Army (LRA) – the rebel group that has terrorized northern Ugandans since the late 1980s.

But not so fast. While the mainly Acholi victims of largely Acholi-perpetrated LRA terror have had some respite since the peace parley opened in July 2006, talks have moved slowly, and given that previous dialogue attempts have come off the rails, for long-suffering northerners to return home en masse just now is premature.

Many points of no return loom elsewhere – but in a very different sense.

Northern Uganda’s 20-year agony is linked to conflict elsewhere – in Sudan, and more recently, intertwined with events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – crucible for the world’s worst war since 1945, where an estimated 4 million people killed.

Meanwhile, the epitome of failed statehood remains mired in anarchic clan violence, part of which now targets Ethiopian troops ensconced in Somali capital Mogadishu since a late 2006 invasion – launched with US support to remove Islamists that had set up shop there.

John O’Shea, CEO of GOAL, a humanitarian relief agency operating across the eastern and central African region, told ISN Security Watch that “Somalia is the biggest tragedy and the greatest challenge facing the world today.

“The world decided that it has no interest. We’ve had over 15 years of chaos and destruction in that country; aid workers can’t work there due to the sheer danger; there are huge death and displacement rates for [such a] small country; and still nobody will intervene – until terrorism needs dealing with.”

The LRA is currently left in faux hiding in Congo’s Garamba forest amid rumors that the group’s demotic and reclusive front-man, Joseph Kony, has tired of the sluggish negotiations, fearing future arrest given that he and four other LRA members have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Kony’s deputy, Vincent Otti, has been LRA point-man for talks so far, but he has not been heard from since October, and is rumored to have been executed on Kony’s orders. Talks are being held in Juba, regional capital of South Sudan. Kony apparently fears arrest or assassination should he attend in person.

Oil drilling in and around Lake Albert – straddling the Uganda-DRC border – has led to increased cooperation between Kampala and the 2006-elected Joseph Kabila presidency in Kinshasa.

While earlier this year troops from both countries exchanged fire and casualties, the lure of black gold prompted both sides to moot joint military operations against a recalcitrant LRA should the northern Uganda talks flounder.

Recent Ugandan media reports outline how a left-of-center US think tank called the Center for American Progress suggested that Yoweri Museveni’s government increase “leverage by devising a fallback military strategy.” Mixed messages indeed, given that Museveni sent proverbial olive branches Kony’s way while he entertained Commonwealth heads-of-state in Kampala in October.

Since the Uganda peace process began, much debate has centered on the political necessity of the ICC warrants – with many victims of the LRA preferring that indictments be dropped – but with some form of retribution, and utilising local justice and reconciliation means as well as due process. At stake, however, is ICC credibility, with good odds that the indictments made earlier in 2007 against Sudanese implicated in Darfur violence would be comprised by a climb-down in Uganda.

Sudan: Bleak outlook

In Darfur – and across Sudan – the outlook is bleak. Anyone reading ISN Security Watch over the past couple of years would be forgiven for thinking that line a mantra – but a much-heralded UN/AU hybrid peacekeeping force looks set for failure.

Sudan expert Eric Reeves told ISN Security Watch that the “hybrid nature of the mission is misconceived, and burdened, at China’s insistence, by an inadequate mandate and a lack of sanctions threats in the event of non-compliance by Khartoum.”

And on 19 December, a report signed by over 30 NGOs working in Darfur outlined how the Sudanese government continued to filibuster UNAMID deployment by not granting approval for non-African troops or night flights, and retaining the right to block communications.

Despite the 1 January start-up date, Khartoum has still not signed off on land for UNAMID bases. And European states are refusing requests to allocate any of the required 24 helicopters to the mission without which UNAMID cannot work.

The EU has done somewhat better in allocating resources to its Irish-led, French-dominated intervention due in Chad and the Central Africa Republic (CAR) – both feeling the spillover effects from Darfur. But even that force is not yet guaranteed to get off the ground, literally and metaphorically, as choppers have not been allocated amid Chadian rebel vows to fight the Europeans, whom they see as propping up the Idriss Deby government.

GOAL’s O’Shea credits contributing countries for their courage in agreeing to deploy to Chad, but believes that European soldiers are “getting drawn into a Chadian fight and will be seen as taking sides.”

While there are far fewer deaths in Darfur now than during the high period of fighting in 2003-2004, the conflict has mutated as contending parties have splintered and confrontations have multiplied. UN-led peace talks hosted by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya went nowhere, other than to show the folly of bringing a minority of vested interests to the table.

As some of the more popular and militarily effective insurgents stayed away, Darfurian Arabs began to turn from their erstwhile backers in Khartoum, adding to the growing complexity on the ground and threatening to spread the conflict outside Darfur, into the oil-rich central Sudanese region of Kordofan.

The National Congress Party (NCP) – the dominant party in Khartoum – is stalling UNAMID to prevent whatever small chance the force has of stabilizing Darfur in advance of elections set for 2009.

NCP power in Khartoum is dissipating under duress from the 2005 peace deal inked with the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) – now the lead partner in the GoSS. South Sudan is likely to secede in 2011 and take with it much of Sudan’s oil.

In the meantime, 2008 will be dominated by NCP undermining conditions for the 2009 polls. The NCP ran Sudan as a military dictatorship from 1989-2005 and will likely lose any free fair poll.

For its part, the SPLM/A is working more closely with Darfurian rebel leaders – building coalitions in advance of elections, and more ominously, forging alliances should the 2005 peace deal collapse.

While the SPLM/A rejoined the NCP in the Khartoum government, after quitting in October due to stalled implementation of the peace deal, that Potemkin village rapprochement cannot mask stasis on key sticking points: oil, north-south borders and disputed territories.

One thing Darfur has going for it is sustained western attention and civil society advocacy.

With China providing diplomatic cover for Khartoum at the UN Security Council, and extracting much of Sudan’s lucrative oil sector – money given to fund NCP-sponsored violence in Darfur and spoiling in South Sudan – expect a crescendo of celebrity-humanitarian noise in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The DR Congo has not received the same attention: A LexisNexis news database search offers up roughly 230 significant newspaper articles on Darfur in the past year; Congo gets only 60.

The DRC has other things going for it: a lush array of natural resources such as oil, coltan, gold, timber, diamonds and hydroelectric potential. The problem is, if these are heading anywhere, it is out of the country, with revenues going to corrupt officials and parasitical warlords. Furthermore, 60 contracts signed during and since the 1998-2002 war that took almost a dozen countries into the Congo are now under dispute.

In the eastern Kivus region bordering the Great Lakes, fighting resumed this time last year between the DRC army and Tutsi rebels led by Laurent Nkunda after attempts to integrate the latter’s troops into the regular army failed.

UN attempts to mediate and/or impose a ceasefire have been lax, and a recent investigation into fraud among UN peacekeepers worldwide has implicated officials that served in the DRC mission – the largest UN peacekeeping operation anywhere.

In many ways, these are Congolese chickens coming home to roost. Fighting in the Kivus has gone on since the Rwandan genocide, and dealing with this fallout was put on the back-burner prior to ensuring Kabila’s entrenchment in Kinshasa.

And if anything, the human suffering in eastern Congo exceeds that in Darfur or Somalia (with the caveat that data on the latter is hard to gather and collate). An epidemic of rape has lurched through the dense jungle, with army and militia groups all involved in a horror where scale is only matched by the gut-wrenching details, with sexual mutilation of victims – many of whom are young girls – commonplace.

Points of return

In 1993, then-US president Bill Clinton took American troops out of Somalia after 18 died fighting warlords. Apparently this trauma deterred western intervention in Rwanda one year on.

Darfur has been portrayed as another Rwanda, and catch-cries of “never again” have been rolled out to spur international action against what Eric Reeves described to ISN Security Watch as “Khartoum’s gĂ©nocidaires.” UNAMID is the outcome.

And Rwanda’s legacy thrives, not just in the figurative sense. The Hutu foot soldiers of the Rwandan genocide still stalk forests in eastern Congo – to where they fled in 1994 – legitimizing Nkunda’s Kigali-backed Tutsi militia and in turn the Congolese Army scorched-jungle counterinsurgency. In the mix is an array of local ragtag militias – some of whom cannibalize pygmies as if proof of martial prowess.

Somalia remains the archetypal failed state – with 60 percent of Mogadishu’s citizens chased out since the Islamist insurgency sparked a furious Ethiopian reaction. And some of the same gunmen and freebooters that took on the US Marines are fighting Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu now.

Points of no return seem more like distant specks on the horizon for these regions. Not even in northern Uganda does the situation seem redeemable, which of all the above laundry-list items has the best shot at a clean start.

Given that the NCP has Kony in its pocket, the prospect of renewed LRA violence in South Sudan and northern Uganda is not unthinkable, should things run against the incumbents in Khartoum.

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