Estimating mortality in South Sudan’s civil war, 2013-2018

This is according to the Mail & Guardian:

southsudan.jpgDuring the period December 2013 to April 2018, we estimate that 1 177 600 deaths due to any cause occurred among people living in South Sudan, and that 794 600 deaths would have occurred under counterfactual assumptions. This yields an excess death toll of 382 900.

….. The first is that the researchers use different variables as proxies for mortality: proxies such as rainfall, climate, how much food is grown, the price of food (measured as “amount in kilogrammes of white flour that an average medium goat can be exchanged for”) and the presence of disease. This is how it works: if there is low rainfall, they know that people will struggle to get water and grow crops, so deaths are likely to go up. Using data from all around the world, they can make an ­educated guess about how many deaths were caused by a specific deficit of rainfall.

These proxies are combined with the limited survey data available to give an overall death toll for South Sudan in the relevant period. But the war didn’t cause all those deaths. It didn’t even cause most of them. Many deaths can be attributed to old age and natural causes; others to poverty and diseases such as malaria that would have happened regardless of the conflict.

Here is a summary of the state of the current iteration of the South Sudanese peace process.

And here is a documentary on the war economy and grand corruption in South Sudan.

 

Travel back in time with Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times

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South Sudan is in the middle of a political crisis that has a high risk of degenerating into genocide. Millions of lives are at stake. And the world needs to know (and do something) about it.

But this is not an excuse to use dehumanizing language in describing South Sudanese. Why did Jeffrey Gettleman choose, in this tweet, to lead with the trifecta of cannibalism, gang rape, and civil war? It is important to note that this is not what the piece was about. In the piece, actual acts of cannibalism and gang rape only get a single line each in this short paragraph.

Women were raped. Children were burned to death. Some people were even forced at gunpoint to eat the flesh of their dead relatives. The horror has been meticulously documented. Still, it goes on.

Gettleman’s gratuitous tweet may have been meant as clickbait. But seen in the context of his other pieces from the region, it fits a pattern. It was a dog whistle, meant to take us back to a time when callous dehumanization of Africans was commonplace, including in the most highbrow of outlets. From the DRC, to Kenya, to Uganda, Gettleman’s writings read like the works of a careless journalist who, for whatever reason, does not think that dehumanizing the subjects of his pieces is wrong.

It’s almost as if he intentionally wants to beat Joseph Conrad in producing piles and piles of horse manure on his imagined idea of what Africa and Africans are about.

It is a shame that, in 2017, the Times continues to feed this stuff to its readers.

 

Is China ready for state-building duties?

This is from the Journal, reporting on the recent deaths of Chinese peacekeepers in South Sudan:

Inside China’s government, differences have emerged about how to use the military overseas, said people familiar with the discussions. The prevailing view in the foreign ministry, they said, is that China should rapidly expand peacekeeping activities to show global leadership, as Mr. Xi demands.

Many military commanders, they said, by contrast want to move more slowly, conscious of their troops’ lack of experience and sensitive to domestic and international criticism.

China’s foreign ministry declined to comment. A senior defense official denied there were differences within the government.

The tragedy speaks to a pillar of Mr. Xi’s political agenda. Last year, he pledged to build an 8,000-strong standby peacekeeping force, adding to 2,600 Chinese deployed today. China is the second-biggest funder of U.N. peacekeeping after the U.S. and the biggest troop provider of the five permanent Security Council members. U.N. insiders said China is lobbying for one of its officials to head the U.N. peacekeeping office next year.

This is the all-important paragraph:

One of Mr. Xi’s goals is to protect the nation’s expanding global interests and citizens abroad. China’s leaders were “stunned” by the deaths in Juba, said one senior Western diplomat involved in discussions with China on South Sudan. “They’re fast realizing you cannot be a commercial giant without being an imperial power in some way.”

If China follows through on Xi’s dreams, will Chinese interventions and state-building efforts be any different than what the EU and the US are already doing? Does China really believe that an 8,000 strong standby force will be enough (even just for South Sudan)?

Also, this anecdote suggests that China will need to build a robust pension system before it can deploy large numbers of troops in dangerous hotspots abroad:

The cohort comprises mostly children raised under China’s one-child policy, so fatalities are likely to leave parents with no one to support them in old age.

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?

 

 

South Sudan to relocate capital to Ramciel

The Sudan Tribute reports:

“The survey for the proposed new capital of South Sudan, Ramciel, is expected to be completed within the next six months, reports the official in charge of the project.

resolved to suspend any construction of new public buildings for the national government in Juba.

Juba was disqualified for a number of reasons including administrative stalemate over which level of government its jurisdiction should fall under.”

That is the official reason.

Source: Political Geography Now

I know very little about the deliberations that resulted in the move but another reason could be that Juba was too far from the new nation’s centre of (ethno) political gravity (see maps; click on image to enlarge). Relocations of capitals almost invariably have political considerations. One only hopes that the Bari community whose ancestral homeland is around Juba will not suddenly find themselves completely abandoned by the central government.

The government should ensure that Ramciel does not suddenly suck in all the money. It could prove beneficial to decouple the political and economic capitals of the country.

Source: Gulf 2000 Project

On the plus side this is a sign that the new government in Juba is willing to try out new things. A fresh start in Ramciel might not be such a bad idea.

A Ugandan journalist and a politician respond to Kony 2012

Angelo Izama, Ugandan journalist (and a good friend of yours truly) has a thoughtful op-ed piece in the Times. He makes the case that:

Campaigns like “Kony 2012” aspire to frame the debate about these criminals and inspire action to stop them. Instead, they simply conscript our outrage to advance a specific political agenda — in this case, increased military action.

African leaders, after all, are adept at pursuing their own agendas by using the resources that foreign players inject and the narratives that they prefer — whether the post-9/11 war on terror or the anti-Kony crusade. And these campaigns succeed by abducting our anger and holding it hostage. Often they replace the fanaticism of evil men with our own arrogance, and, worse, ignorance. Moreover, they blind us by focusing on the agents of evil and not their principals.

At the same time over at FP Nobert Mao, politician from northern Uganda and former presidential candidate, has the following to say:

It’s clear that the aim of the video [Kony 2012] was never intellectual stimulation. I don’t think the founders of Invisible Children are the foremost analysts of the complicated political, historical and security dynamics in our troubled part of Africa. They certainly wouldn’t earn high marks in African Studies. But I will go to my grave convinced that they have the most beautiful trait on earth — compassion.

Such sentiments matter, even today.  There are those who say the war is over in Northern Uganda. I say the guns are silent but the war is not over. The sky is overcast with an explosive mix of dubious oil deals, land grabs, arms proliferation, neglected ex-combatants, and a volatile neighborhood full of regimes determined to fish in troubled waters. What we have is a tentative peace. Our region is pregnant with the seeds of conflict. The military action in the jungles of Congo may capture Kony, but we need to do more to plant the seeds of peace founded on democracy, equitable development, and justice. Like peace, war too has its mothers, fathers, midwives, babysitters, and patrons. Perhaps Kony 2012 will help sort out the actors. The video has certainly shaken the fence, making fence-sitting very uncomfortable, indeed.

The two may disagree on the usefulness of tactics such as those that made the now famous video, but they certainly agree on the need to acknowledge agency of local actors in all these problems that require outside intervention.

My two cents on this is that there is definitely room for Africans to shape the narrative and tactics of advocacy in Western capitals (or elsewhere). Emotionally charged  mobilization tactics, like Kony 2012, are definitely a distraction from the real issues. But they also present an opportunity for African actors to leverage international attention and support against their own leaders who refuse to deal with problems that affect their daily lives. I am glad that in the case of Kony 2012 Ugandans have stepped in to provide perspective on the narrative and, hopefully, influence the eventual response by the relevant policymakers in DC.

The EAC needs a defense pact

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.

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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:

  • They can foment civil war within South Sudan – there are a lot of disgruntled armed bands within South Sudan who might decide to take their chances with Khartoum; Remember that even Riek Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan, formed a Khartoum-backed splinter group (SPLA-Nasir) that fought Garang’ back in the early 1990s.
  • They can use armed groups in the wider central African region – including Kony’s LRA and the plethora of roving bandits in eastern DRC to engineer insecurity in South Sudan. Khartoum has used the LRA against SPLM in the past.
  • They can invade in an all out war. This option is the riskiest because of its potential to generate international opprobrium. But remember that Ethiopia and its secessionist former province Eritrea fought a bloody war that generated nothing but “stern” warnings from the UN and the wider international community. The US even armed Ethiopia because it needed Addis Ababa to fight its war in Somalia.
  • Lastly, they can use non-conventional tactics. Terrorism is slowly growing in the wider east African region. So far Eritrea has been the biggest state sponsor of terror in the region – mostly aimed at Ethiopia in the Ogaden, Oromo land and Somalia. The involvement of Ugandan and Burundian troops in Somalia has created even more enemies for these groups. There is no reason to believe that Khartoum would not use these same groups to destabilize South Sudan, if for nothing then as a survival tactic for a beleaguered Bashir administration that will forever be blamed for having lost the South’s oil.

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.

south sudan and the challenges of self-rule

The BBC reports that at least 100 people have been killed in clashes between the South Sudan government and soldiers loyal to a renegade rebel, George Athor, in Jonglei State.

This latest clash does not come as a surprise. Most analysts predict a high likelihood of civil war in post-independence South Sudan. Conflict will most likely come from two sources: Khartoum funding local dissident groups in order to check Juba and internal ethnic rivalry over government positions and the sharing of oil wealth.

Civil war in South Sudan may prove to be deadlier than the 2 decade war against Khartoum. Civilianization of the two decade war placed guns in the hands of most able bodied young men (In the South cattle herders tend to their animals with AK’s in hand). The prospect of Khartoum supporting secessionist movements along its border with the South is not pure fantasy.

The spotlight is on the political elite in the South. Will they hammer out a power and resource sharing deal or will despotism yet again kill the independence dreams of an African nation? I can’t stop thinking that John Garang’ de Mabior died too soon.

southern sudanese independence: cause for cautious optimism

That Southern Sudan ought to be an independent state should have been apparent as early as 1956. The Anglo-Egyptian condominium that ran the Sudanese colony ensured a legacy of division between the North and South. The idea of two Sudans, already etched in people’s minds at independence, was further buttressed by years of what some have called “internal colonialism.” The marginalization of the South precipitated the two civil wars (57-72 and 83-05). 2 million people died and millions more were displaced from their homes.

Challenges abound for the new nation. The lack of basic institutions of state is hard to miss. Poverty and illiteracy are endemic. Corruption and ethnic favoritism remain to be serious threats to post-independence stability. To compound these problems, the North still refuses to recognize boundaries along oil-rich borderlands. Both sides are arming in case of a flare up.

The challenges aside, there is cause for optimism. Investors from Kenya and Uganda have been trooping into Juba since the signing of the CPA in 2005. Kenyan banks are now a familiar presence in Juba. Kenya also plans to build a new port in Lamu and link it to the oil fields of Southern Sudan. Juba will be a natural new member of the East African Community. Because the regional economies stand to lose in case of a return to conflict, I am cautiously optimistic that Southern Sudan will prove the naysayers wrong.

Southern Sudan is not the Belgian Congo circa 1960.

southern sudan

As the January 9th, 2011 referendum draws closer the international community is getting concerned about the consequences of Southern Sudanese independence. Many fear that the north, led by the strongman Omar al-Bashir, will not honor the CPA and let the Southerners go. Southern stability is also a concern. Once in the early 1990s the SPLA/M split along ethnic lines (Machar, the leader of the splinter SPLA-Nasir, eventually came back to the fold). Recent skirmishes in the South are testament to the fact that ethnicized civil war may yet visit an independent Southern Sudan.

Check out this post on FP.

In other news, the Continental club of ineffectual autocrats African Union is meeting in Uganda. More on this soon.

foreshadowing post-independence southern Sudan

It is an open secret that Southern Sudan will likely descend into civil war once it secedes from Khartoum. Reports of a mutiny against Southern Sudanese government troops after last week’s election may foreshadow what is to come after Juba achieves full autonomy. Divisions within the South are not new. In 1991 Riek Machar led a rebellion of Nuer officers against the Dinka-dominated SPLM/A. In the end John Garang’ and SPLM/A prevailed after SPLM-Nasir (Machar’s faction) was accused of being stooges of the regime in Khartoum. The same divisions may plague post-independence Southern Sudan – there are already widespread grumbling about Dinka domination of state affairs in Juba. Khartoum is almost likely to play a role in destabilizing the South. The Southern referendum on secession will be held on January 9th 2011.