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While Eritrea has in the past been repeatedly accused of supporting Somalia’s Islamist militia Al Shabaab, a charge it strenuously denies, the current report catalogues Afewerki’s growing notoriety in the world of terrorism finance, and in particular the global web through which these funds are routed, with Kenya serving as a global transaction distribution hub.
The report details the country’s activities in funding the terror group, following the money trail from its citizens in the diaspora in Europe and North America, through Dubai and the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi, and into the hands of Al Shabaab, all the while concealed in convoluted and opaque informal financial networks.
That is The East African reporting on Eritrea’s support for armed groups in the wider eastern African region. Mr. Afewerki’s actions are a threat to regional security for the following reasons:
1. Eritrea’s (opportunistic and cynically instrumental) use of Islam as a galvanizing force (against “Christian” Ethiopia) threatens to ignite a wider regional conflict that would probably include North Sudan and Egypt. The reason this is likely is because:
(a) Remember that the use of the waters of the Nile continues to be a source of friction between Egypt and the riparian states of eastern Africa. Egypt itself has in the past been linked to armed groups in Somalia opposed to Ethiopian rule of the Ogaden region. Both countries have a history of funding rival clan militias in Somalia. In all of this the principle of my enemies’ enemies’ are my friends will most likely apply.
(b) Because of its own problems with South Sudan, North Sudan might have an interest in using Eritrea’s networks to destabilize its southern neighbor. Recently the government of South Sudan banned all people of Somali origin from entering the country by land for security reasons. Juba clearly suspects either direct or indirect links between Khartoum and the myriad armed groups in war-torn Somalia
2. Given that the groups it supports (e.g. al-Shabaab) have other enemies besides Ethiopia, President Afewerki has effectively declared war on countries like Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan and Kenya that have also either been attacked or threatened by al-Shabaab. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of these EAC states decided to materially support the Ethiopian side the next time Addis and Asmara fight over their barren disputed border lands.
UPDATE: The Government of South Sudan has barred people of Somali origin from entering the country by road for “security reasons.” This wrongheaded move has created an awkward situation since not all people of Somali origin are from Somalia. In Kenya, for instance, a good chunk of the long haul transport sector is run by Kenyans of Somali origin.
The Ugandan government recently went on a $1 billion shopping spree for six fighter jets. The deal, which almost broke the bank, made a significant dent on Uganda’s forex reserves. Many, while acknowledging the risks that might have motivated the purchase, have questioned the wisdom of spending that much money on six jets.
For those not in the know, the key motivation for Museveni’s purchase was a desire to project military power in the region for two key reasons:
Firstly, in order to create a market for Ugandan light industries – cooking oil, soap, etc – Kampala has had to project military power to help in the pacification of pockets of eastern DRC and northern Uganda/South Sudan. These markets are crucial because they create jobs in Uganda, allowing Museveni some room as he continues to preside over Uganda’s decline into a dysfunctional police state.
The second reason was Museveni’s desire for military grandeur in the region. Kigali and Khartoum are not in the best of terms with Kampala. Museveni is probably suspicious of a potential Odinga presidency in Kenya. For these reasons, the Ugandan military establishment – the real rulers of Uganda – might have wanted to ensure that non of their neighbors are in a position to bully them in the near future.
While most of Museveni’s militarism is inspired by a mentality from a bygone era, I find Kampala’s fears against Khartoum as legitimate grounds for a regional defense pact. It is an open secret that Khartoum will try as much as it can to destabilize the new government of South Sudan (and by extension the wider region). And they have a few options:
Needless to say, an unstable South Sudan is bad for the region. Period.
The proliferation of small arms is already a major problem in the areas bordering the Ilemi triangle and eastern Uganda. That instead of sticks pastoralists have to roam around with AK-47′s says it all. More conflict in South Sudan will only make a really bad situation even worse. The potential for proxy wars within the region would also be an unnecessary drain on limited resources. Because of various interests in Juba, an aggression by Khartoum against South Sudan will definitely be met with reaction in one form or another from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.The conflict will definitely be regionalized. Lastly, Eritrea’s bad habit of supporting terrorists should not be permitted to catch on. Khartoum must know that if it tries this dirty tactic it will be met by more than just resolutions from the AU, IGAD or the UN.
Which is why I think that the EAC should have a robust defense pact. War should have to be a last resort. But that does not mean that the East African Community should not prepare for such an eventuality, if it arise.
That way, no single country will be burdened with the task of buying all the necessary hardware needed to keep Khartoum deterred.
Such a plan would face significant challenges, of course – key among them the fact that the region’s armies are non-professionalized. A functional defense pact would require near total civilian control of the army. Only Kenya and Tanzania come close to this in the EAC. Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda are dominated by their respective armies. Burundi can’t even win against rebels within its territory and remains a militarized tin pot dictatorship. And Ethiopia, if it were to join, is still dominated by the remnants of the rebellion that ousted Mengistu.
These challenges aside, it might be worth a try. Such a pact might even help professionalize and de-politicize the officer corp in the region’s armed forces.
And the biggest winner if this were to happen is MORE regional trade.
The African Union (AU) has had a rough few months. The diplomatic failures in Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, and Madagascar exposed the organization’s incompetence. The misguided anti-ICC crusade continues to cement the image of the organization as nothing more than a club of out-of-date and tone deaf autocrats. To many observers, calls for “African Solutions to African Problems” amid all this failure has been seen as a cover of impunity and mediocre leadership on the African continent.
It says a lot that the current chairman of AU is President Theodore Obiang’ of Equatorial Guinea; a man who leads an oil-rich country of under 0.7 million people, with a per capita income of more than 30,000; but with more than 70% of its population living on less than $2 a day.
The epitome of the organization’s woes was the total snub it got from NATO before the military campaign against Libya’s Gaddafi, one of the AU’s main patrons. The AU was created by the Sirte Declaration, in Libya. Mr. Gaddafi’s influence ranged from his “African Kings” caucus (in which he was the King of Kings) to investments from Libya’s Sovereign wealth fund. I bet Gaddafi had a hand in the organization’s green flag.
So what ails the African Union?
The AU’s problems are legion. In my view, the following are some of the key ones.
What would reforming the AU entail?
I am not a fan of the idea of the United States of Africa. That said, I believe that a regional organization like the AU can be a force for good. But in order for it to fulfill its purpose, it has to change. The change must reflect the regional power balance; it must increase the competence quotient in the AU and it must increase the voice of the average African within the organization.
UPDATE: A related article on Uganda’s influence in the soon to be independent South Sudan can be found in the New York Times.
In three days the East African Community will celebrate the independence of its next newest member. Because of SPLM connections in Kenya, among other East African nations, the Southern Sudanese economy will most likely orient itself southwards.
Kenya’s Vision 2030 development plan, for instance, will link Southern Sudan to the Indian Ocean coast via a pipeline and railway line. Oil from South Sudan is currently exported through Port Sudan, 3,000 kilometres away. The planned link to Lamu would reduce that distance to 1,700 kilometres.
For Southern Sudan, economic ties with its southern neighbors will not only grant it access to much needed capital and skilled labor but also implicitly guarantee it security against its menacing neighbor to the north.
I doubt that Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda will sit on their hands if the north decides to bomb local offices of Equity Bank, Ethiopian Airlines or Ugandan retail outlets in Juba (Remember the “Kenyan” tanks fiasco?). It also helps that IGAD has suddenly woken up to the security challenges posed by proxy wars among its member states. Kenya’s president, and current head of IGAD, recently chastised Eritrea for its ties with militant groups in the region.
IGAD will provide yet another forum for the region to put pressure on Khartoum to honor the CPA and not resort to war.
Several Kenyan companies have already set up shop in Juba. About 70,000 Kenyans live and work in Southern Sudan. According to the Business Daily:
Although several major Kenyan companies like Equity Bank, KCB, UAP Insurance and many small enterprises operate in South Sudan, the independence declaration on July 9 is expected to trigger another wave of corporate movement there.
Bidco Refineries that has a dealership in South Sudan, for example, is expected to consider having a physical presence there, said the company’s CEO Vimal Shah in an earlier interview. Kenyan manufacturers are, however, discouraged by low consumption levels and shortage of power, water and sewerage systems.
Co-operative Bank of Kenya is also expected to start setting up its banking infrastructure with a new venture that will be 30 per cent owned by the Government of South Sudan.
The new bank is expected to benefit from government business as it will process salaries of government employees and enjoy business arising from the government’s shareholding in the venture. The peaceful aftermath of the January 9 referendum that voted for secession from the North has helped to improve the country’s risk profile.
It appears that the war between north and south Sudan is inevitable. The north overran the disputed town of Abyei last week and now is angling to take over two border states. The Times reports:
Now, according to a letter from the Sudanese military’s high command, the northern army, in the next few days, plans to take over Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states, two disputed areas with a long history of conflict that are still bristling with arms.
Analysts, local leaders and Western diplomats fear that if the northern army carries through on its threat to push out or forcibly disarm the thousands of fighters allied to the south in these two areas, it could set off a much bigger clash between the northern and southern armies, who have been building up their arsenals for years in anticipation of war.
Malik Agar, Blue Nile’s governor, said Sunday night that northern forces had recently moved “dangerously close” to the bases of southern-allied fighters and that he didn’t think the southern-allied forces would surrender.
A part of me still thinks that Bashir’s sabre-rattling is designed for the northern public. After all he will go down in history as the president who lost the south. In order to avoid immediate ouster he must, at least, pretend to put up a fight. My other side, however, thinks that Bashir (and his generals) might actually want war. Oil and water are on the line.
So how can a war be avoided?
Right now everyone appears to be looking in the direction of the UN for help. But the UN is busy putting out fires elsewhere, not least in Darfur where Khartoum’s forces keep firing at UN helicopters.
That Khartoum would let the south go peacefully was always a long shot. Many analysts had predicted that the north would either finance mini-rebellions in the south or go for a full blown war. It appears that Khartoum is going for both.
South Sudan does not need this war. The whole country has less than 200 Kilometres of paved road, among other mind-boggling underdevelopment records. Its human capital development is lagging behind the regional average by decades. A sustained war would take away vital resources from much needed development work.
Which brings me back to the title of this post. Many a time I have lamented at Africa’s lack of a regional hegemon. A hegemon that would take the mantle of regional conscience and policeman. A regional power that would put out fires even when the UN and the global powers that be were too busy (like they are now) or just plain indifferent (remember the mid-1990s?).
If it occurs the north-south war will be bloody and dirty (read land mines, more child soldiers, crimes-against-humanity tactics). As many as hundreds of thousands of people could die. Millions will be affected. It will also mean more light arms in an already volatile region, not to mention potential for spillovers into ongoing insurgencies in The DRC, Chad, Uganda and Ethiopia. Who will stop Omar al-Bashir and his generals?
This week the Economist rightly called out South African president Jacob Zuma on his country’s lack of a coherent foreign policy. South Africa was reborn in 1994 with the moral authority and international goodwill to be Africa’s shining light in the world. Instead, under Mbeki and now Zuma, the country has squandered all that away.
Mbeki did it with his intransigence against reason on the issue of HIV/AIDS and support of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Mr. Zuma is doing the same with his support for Mugabe and equivocal pronouncements against other murderous tyrants on the Continent. Since his election he has not spoken strongly against any injustices or electoral fraud on the Continent; this task has been left to Ian Khama, president of tiny but relatively prosperous Botswana.
Sub-Saharan Africa is desperately in need of a regional hegemon to help it chart a coherent path in global politics. Latin America has Brazil. South Asia has India. East Asia has China. Even Europe has Germany. In Africa, Nigeria (pop. 150+m), South Africa (~40m, biggest economy), Ethiopia (85m) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (~70m) – all potential regional leaders – have woefully underperformed.
Nigeria is Nigeria. Ethiopia is dirt poor and needs to clean its own mess, Somalia’s and Eritrea’s, before it can venture further afield. The DRC is struggling to keep itself afloat. South Africa, by far, has the capacity and the requisite soft power to take up the job of regional guiding light. The country is slated to become a BRIC country soon, making the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
It is a shame that Mr. Zuma has chosen to abdicate his role as the Continental leader. He alone, among the members of the Continent’s club of kleptocratic autocrats (a.k.a AU), has the clout to stand up to the evils we continue to see in Cote d’Ivoire, Darfur, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
FP Magazine reports:
In short, all the carrots that U.S. diplomats are offering the Sudanese president seem to be working. Among the prizes for Khartoum are a U.S. promise to remove Sudan from its list of terrorism-supporting states and a possible visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to the Sudan Tribune. Earlier this month, U.S. State Department officials also signaled that they would be ready to begin normalization following Sudan’s acceptance of the vote.
While the US approach has yielded good results in securing the secession referendum in the South, American policy in the wider region leaves a lot to be desired. Washington appears to be ready to cut a deal with any dictator, as long as they serve a short-term US need.
America needs to do more on Darfur. America needs to do more in Ethiopia, where Meles Zenawi continues to reign with an iron fist without any pretense of respecting human rights. America needs to do more in Uganda, where Museveni has emerged as an anti-terror crusader who does not care for any liberal (in the classical sense) ideals.
The choice between protecting American interests abroad and respecting the rights of other peoples of the world is a false choice. Liberty (the world over) is not incompatible with American security. The ideals embodied in the federalist papers, the American declaration of independence, and the first amendment of the US constitution should not be confined within the US borders as far as American policy goes.
The just concluded AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia had two key problems to address: the political crisis in Ivory Coast and the legal battles involving six Kenyans who face charges at the ICC. So far the continental body appears to have failed on its attempts to address both problems.
In the Ivory Coast, Mr. Gbagbo’s camp has already declared that the five person panel formed by the AU is dead on arrival unless Burkinabe president, Compraore is dropped. The Daily Nation reports:
The president of Burkina Faso, named on a high-level African Union panel tasked with settling Cote d’Ivoire’s leadership crisis, is “not welcome” in this country, a top ally of strongman Laurent Gbagbo said here yesterday.
And in Kenya, the political football involving the setting up of a credibly clean local judicial system to try perpetrators of the 2007-8 post election violence diminished the prospects of a deferral from the UN Security Council. Kenya must guarantee that it will try the suspects for the ICC to consider a deferral. It does not help that the appointment of high members of its judiciary, including the chief justice, the attorney general and the director of public prosecutions has already been soiled by political grandstanding.
Omar Bashir faces a tough few days ahead. More than 99% of Southern Sudanese voted for secession in the just concluded referendum, effectively guaranteeing the split of Africa’s biggest country in July of this year. Many in the North blame Bashir for losing the South. The waves of protests in the Middle East following the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia is adding fuel to the flames. The Independent reports:
Violent clashes broke out at two Khartoum universities yesterday as heavily armed police surrounded stone throwing students. Social media groups similar to those used elsewhere in the Arab world to mobilise protesters have started to mushroom in northern cities.
One of them calling itself “Youth for Change” has attracted 15,000 members to its Facebook page. “The people of Sudan will not remain silent anymore,” it says. “It is about time we demand our rights and take what’s ours in a peaceful demonstration that will not involve any acts of sabotage.”
Security forces arrested Hussein Khogali, the editor of al-Watan newspaper, whom they accuse of orchestrating the online protests.
And in other news, the African Union summit opened on Sunday with the Ivory Coast top of the agenda. The Continental
club of autocrats body agreed to set up a five member panel to continue negotiations with Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivorian president who lost an election but refuses to step down. Also on the AU’s agenda is Kenya’s misguided attempts at battling the ICC through threats of en masse pullouts from the Rome treaty by African countries.
The failure to force Gbagbo out of power and the ill-fated fights with the ICC are additions to the litany of failures that make most on the Continent question the relevance of the AU. In my opinion regional bodies are only as strong as their dominant members. With South Africa continuing to be disinterested in regional matters and Nigeria being Nigeria the AU is guaranteed to remain rudderless into the foreseeable future.