What are the (feasible) options for stabilizing South Sudan?

If you are following the farcical saga of the return of Riek Machar to Juba (the BBC reports that he finally landed!), here is an excellent backgrounder on the options available for stabilizing South Sudan (by Alex de Waaal).

Briefly stated:

South Sudan today is a collapsed political marketplace. The country’s political market was structured by competitive militarized clientelism for access to oil rents. Those oil rents have almost disappeared but the structure of competition is unchanged and the price of loyalty has not reduced to a level commensurate with the available political funding. The result is that political loyalty and services are rewarded with license to plunder. This is inherently self-destructive. South Sudan’s political economy is being consumed to feed its political-military elite.

How can the collapsed political marketplace be fixed?

The short term crisis could be resolved only by one of three means:

1. Buy-in: a power-sharing deal among the contenders. This was the strategy of the CPA. It was possible in 2005 because the budget was increasing by more than 25% per year. It is not possible under current conditions of austerity.

2. Victory and repression: one contender secures military domination and uses an efficient security apparatus to enforce loyalty. This is not possible because the civil war became an ethnic war, making outright victory impossible, and the army is unreformed.

3. Skilled management of the political market: the CEO negotiates a pact with the political financiers to obtain more funds and to regulate the marketplace, providing enough leeway to stabilize the situation. This remains an option but it requires skills and coordination that have been in short supply.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.38.29 AMThe Saudis and OPEC aren’t helping with Option 1. And for the longest time I had faith in the international community’s ability to engineer and enforce Option 3. But the older I get more I think about it, the more I am convinced that autonomous recovery, i.e. Option 2 might be the best long-run solution (with important lessons from Idris Deby’s Chad noted).

Too bad there is not a single warlord in South Sudan (including President Salva Kiir) who is strong enough to become the main stationary bandit in Juba.

So Option 3 it is. But for how long?

 

 

Hundreds of South African Mercenaries Fighting Boko Haram

The New York Times reports:

Hundreds of South African mercenaries and hired fighters of other nationalities are playing a decisive role in Nigeria’s military campaign against Boko Haram, operating attack helicopters, armored personnel carriers and fighting to retake towns and villages captured by the Islamist militant group, according to senior officials in the region.

The Nigerian government has not acknowledged the presence of the mercenaries, but a senior government official in northern Nigeria said the South Africans — camped out in a remote portion of the airport in Maiduguri, the city at the heart of Boko Haram’s uprising — conduct most of their operations at night because “they really don’t want to let people know what is going on.”

This does not look good for the $2.3-billion-per-year Nigerian military. It also shows a complete lack of tact on the part of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. I mean, how hard could it have been to launder the South African mercenary involvement through some AU joint task force?

The way I see it, the problem here is not that Nigeria is using foreign fighters (even the mighty U.S. uses mercenaries, and as Tolu Ogunlesi writes in FT, the tide is turning against Boko Haram). The problem is in how they are being used. Is their use short-circuiting accountability chains between Nigerians affected and their government? How is it affecting civilian-military relations? And what will be the long-run consequences on the professionalization of the Nigerian military?

Who will stop khartoum?

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?

 

child-bride index

African states dominate the Economist’s child-bride index, with the Sahelian states of Mali, Niger and Chad in the top three. They also have the lowest literacy rates among their female populations.

This is one of those problems associated with “culture” that most development experts shy away from. My take on this is that the cultural defenses of such practices is a lot of horse manure.

There is nothing African about marrying off a 12 year old girl.

Most child marriages have deep-rooted economic motivations. In most cases it boils down to the bride-price. Solving the problem will therefore require not just laws that throw “human rights” at young African girls, but a concerted effort that also includes development practitioners to provide alternative income to men who marry off their 12 year-olds in exchange for goats.

sustaining african (imp)unity

There is something to be said about the fact that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has mostly concentrated on atrocities committed on the African continent. Charges of a regional bias emerging from African State Houses definitely have some truth to them. For the court to appear serious about ending offenses that shock the human conscience like genocide and ethnic cleansing it must have a balanced, global reach.

That said, the current anti-ICC mood widespread across Africa is unfortunate. The African Union (AU) defended Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir against the ICC. Now it emerges that Kenya is lobbying other African states to garner support for an anti-ICC resolution in the upcoming AU summit later this month. Four prominent Kenyan politicians, a former police commissioner and a media personality have been named by the ICC as key suspects in the violence that rocked the East African nation in 2007-08.

In retrospect, the ICC might have shot itself in the foot by aggressively pursuing the Kenyan case. Mr. Ocampo’s actions betrayed the ill-informed view that Africa’s many diverse countries are all the same. Kenya is not Sierra Leone. The country receives less than 5% of GDP in overseas development assistance and has considerable regional influence. Many have been shell-shocked by Kenyan politician’s resolve to pull out of the ICC, even in the face of international pressure. Their threats are credible because they know they can without too high a cost.

The biggest losers from this anti-ICC drive within the AU will be citizens of poorer, less able African states. It is places like Chad, (North) Sudan, Central African Republic, Niger, Guinea, Zimbabwe, among others, where the collective interests of targeted communities are more or less not represented in the capital that most need the ICC. If Kenya succeeds the Deby’s and Mugabe’s of this world will get even more emboldened.

Impunity on the African continent is on the rise, again.

ushering in the new year

Happy new year to all readers.

2011 will be a crucial year for a few countries on the Continent. On January 9th Southern Sudan will vote for secession, creating the newest state in the world. The aftermath of that might be all out war with North Sudan (over borders and oil) and/or civil war in the south (ethnically motivated warfare over control of the new state). That is what most analysts predict. I think there is a glimmer of hope for peace due to heavy Kenyan investment in the south and the desire to build, link and orient the new nation towards the East African Community. Watch this space as it all unfolds.

Uganda will hold elections on February 18th. Yoweri Museveni will win big and dig in even more now that Uganda has oil in the west of the country. Also bolstering Mr. Museveni’s hold on power will be the LRA’s delusional insurgency in the north of the country and the continuing war on terror in the horn of Africa – Uganda’s troops form the core of the African Union (AU) forces in Somalia. Mr. Museveni has been in power since 1986.

The other major election will be in Nigeria, the continental behemoth in the west. President Goodluck Jonathan is favored to win, but his victory will most certainly be tainted with chaos and irregularities.

Other countries holding elections in the new year are Central African Republic, Benin, Madagascar, Cape Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Niger and Liberia.

Electoralism remains largely dysfunctional and inconsequential in Africa because of a myriad of structural impediments (poverty, weak institutions, monarchical presidentialism, etc). In the recent past events in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cote d’Ivoire have shown how far the Continent is from being a liberal democratic paradise (may be democracy is not for everyone at all times?). 2011’s elections will no doubt fail to buck the trend.

interesting links

The Economist has a nice chart showing a cross-section of states and their performance as far as human development goes. Kudos to Benin for doing a good job of improving its human resources. And shame to the tail-enders on the chart on the right hand side.

I just watched this interesting video from the MIT World video archives. Jump to about the 1hr mark to hear his take on African states and their development prospects.

Lastly, Aid Watch has a post on childhood development. For those (Kenyans) out there who think that having the primary school exams determine a kids future is wrong, think again. Everything might be determined at the kindergarten level.