Report from Kenya #204 – December 29, 2012
Prospects for Peace and War in Eastern Africa
But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.
With the end of the year approaching, it seems useful to make an assessment of the prospects for peace and war in the greater Eastern Africa region. I will more or less go from east to west – Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and North and South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
No doubt that the best news in the region is that the area around the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, is booming after two decades of strife. There is a major building boom, international countries and companies are returning, and a new government, more legitimate than any in the past decades, has been installed. In percentage terms, economic growth is extraordinary, but this is due to the fact that the base is so low – an issue indicating why countries coming out of conflict usually have such large growth in GNP. Somali piracy has also declined significantly, although the center of the piracy was the Puntland region, north of Mogadishu.
Recently the Somali National Army — assisted by AMISOM troops mostly from Kenya and the local Ras Kamboni militia and paid for by the US taxpayer — took Somalia’s southern port town of Kismayo, not far north of the Kenyan border. The Kenyan press reports how brave the Kenyan troops were in this victory, but in reality the city was secured by the usual method of “fighting” in the area – the government side built an overwhelming military force and the targeted group faded away, ready to fight another time or conduct guerilla warfare. This is good as otherwise the city would have been destroyed similar to what is happening in Syria. The Ras Kamboni militia favored by the Kenyan troops is no more than the usual warlord group in the region, looking to control resources. For example, when the city was captured, there were four million bags of illegally cut charcoal worth $40 million on hand for export to the Middle East. Developing a stable, locally- supported government in the city is still elusive.
Much of the rest of the country is still controlled by al-Shabaab, who have fled from any direct military confrontation, but who still control vast parts of the countryside. This illustrates one of the problems with the military solution so beloved by the international community – it is all too easy for rebels to retreat and wait for a better day and then fighting re-erupts, perhaps under a different name. In the current, complex conditions of society, there are many openings to disrupt and destroy for political gain. Real defeat of insurgents comes, not when they are militarily defeated, but when conditions have improved so much that the local population no longer supports them. This implies negotiation, good government, and economic development of education, health, transportation, food production, and so on. Somalia has a long way to go to fulfill these conditions, but there is no doubt that optimism has returned to the most failed state in the world.
A secure, prosperous country of Somalia will have major benefits for Kenya. Since the October 2011 Kenyan attack on al-Shabaab with its invasion of Somalia, al-Shabaab has retaliated with attacks in northeastern Kenya and Nairobi, killing dozens of people and wounding hundreds. Recently there have been grenade attacks in the Eastleigh section of Nairobi, a predominately Somali neighborhood. As those who read my posting know, there are five major tribes in Kenya. The sixth biggest tribe is the Somali who are about 2 million or 5% of the population. Significantly in the listing of tribes in Kenya, the Somali are not even included! Yet they are the original inhabitants of a large part of northeastern Kenya – in the 1960’s Kenya fought a war with Somalia which wanted to annex that part of Kenya to Somalia (as well as the Somali part of Ethiopia and Djibouti). Immediately after the first grenade attack in Eastleigh, youth from outside Eastleigh converged on Eastleigh and begin beating up on Somali and destroying their shops – Somali have a strong commercial entrepreneurial tradition (some Somali merchants can be found in Turbo close by our house). Moreover al-Shabaab did not claim responsibility for these grenade attacks even though terrorist organizations including al-Qaeda often claim responsibility for attacks that they have nothing to do with. If al-Shabaab was not behind these attacks in Eastleigh, then who was? And why?
It is important that Kenya have a peaceful election on March 4, not only for Kenya, but all the rest of the region because most trade goes through Kenya. As I have indicated in previous posting, there is considerable amount of pre-election violence, much more than before the December 2007 election. Thursday night another one of our HROC participants from Mt Elgon was shot, wounded and taken to the hospital – for the first HROC workshop we did on Mt Elgon, he hosted the facilitators in his home. The Call-in Center has received two reports of hate leaflets being distributed. None of this is being reported by the media so I wonder how much is going on in other parts of the country that we do not know about. Perhaps I am pessimistic about the upcoming election because, compared to the pre-election period for the 2007 election, I am more attuned to reports of violence and intimidation and also because, with the Call-in Center, I have more information. I will be keeping you updated on the election situation in Kenya.
South Sudan is now about a year and a half old and it is still tottering. One problem is that after decades of armed violence, youth know how and are willing to use guns – there is a lot of insecurity in this large country with a relatively small population. Tensions between Sudan and South Sudan continue. Sudan wanted $35 per barrel to transport South Sudanese oil to the world market – the normal rate is about $2 to $3 per barrel – so South Sudan, rather than agree to this extortion, closed down its oil fields, leaving it essentially penniless. There have been numerous small armed skirmishes between Sudan and South Sudan, but none, thankfully, have escalated into major fighting. Sudan itself has at least three major regions of this largest country in Africa trying to obtain independence like South Sudan – all a function of mis-government from the center in Khartoum.
At least Sudan and South Sudan are talking and negotiating since any renewed fighting will be extremely negative for both. Considering the situation in many parts of eastern Africa, this must be considered as a major positive point – talking rather than fighting.
The YouTube video sensation, Kony2012, viewed over 100 million times, demanded the capture/death of Joseph Kony and his chief lieutenants by the end of 2012. With only a few days left in the year, he has not been caught even with the “help” of 100 US military advisors – these are based in Kampala, far from the area where Kony might be. The speculation in the region is that there real purpose for the US soldiers is to shore up Yoweri Museveni, another pro-US dictator who has long passed his time in power.
Kony has not been in Uganda for the last five or six years and northern Uganda is slowly returning to normal. The international community has allotted significant funds for its rehabilitation. Recently the Office of the President has stolen $13 million earmarked for this rehabilitation. As a result, a number of European countries have suspended $300 million in aid to Uganda. The Ugandan Government has responded by passing an allocation to re-pay the embezzled funds. The international community gives aid, which is stolen, and then the country — that is, its taxpayers — reimburse the international community, leaving those who stole the funds with the loot in hand. A number of government officials have been suspended from office, pending an investigation, but as is common in the region, the stolen funds will not be returned to the Ugandan treasury.
Uganda has been accused in a United Nations’ report of supporting the M23 rebels in North Kivu in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It has denied the accusations and has threatened to withdraw its troops from the AMISOM force in Somalia. It is a bluff as one has not heard much of this threat lately – Uganda and its military benefit too much from the financial support they received. Uganda soldiers get over $1000 per month while in Somalia while back home in Uganda they might get more like $100 per month (if, in fact, they get all their pay). The number of Ugandan troops killed in Somalia has been suppressed because, if the actual number were know, significant resistance would develop in Uganda for their continued deployment in Somalia.
Ironically, President Museveni has taken the lead in promoting the diplomatic solution to the problems with M23 in North Kivu. He is hardly a disinterested party. But the fact that nothing permanent will be resolved until Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC have reached an agreement on how eastern DRC will be ruled by Kinshasa when this region is much more politically and culturally tied to East and Central Africa.
Rwanda was also indicted by the UN report mentioned in the Uganda section. Rwanda also vigorously denies any involvement with the M23 rebels in North Kivu and has threatened to remove its peacekeeping troops from Darfur. The international community does not believe Rwanda’s denial and has also suspended aid, including a small amount of military assistance provided by the US. After eighteen years in power and using the genocide to justify any actions the government takes — this includes its two invasions of the DRC and support of client groups there — the luster of the current regime has become tarnished in the international community. Opposition is also growing inside the country, even among some of its previous Tutsi supporters, some who have had to flee the country. While there have been a number of grenade attacks in Rwanda, at the present time there is no likelihood of major violence within the country.
Burundi, like Rwanda, is essentially a one-party state as there is no viable opposition. Any opposition politician, a critical media person, or human rights advocate is arrested and imprisoned. One good example is a reporter, who reported that many more Burundian soldiers have been killed in Somalia than were officially acknowledged and was thrown in jail.
There have been numerous killings and assassinations in the country since the 2010 election. Government forces and their para-military supporters have killed a number of opposition politicians, some not even particularly prominent (the purpose here is to give a warning to others). On the other hand, there have been massacres and assassinations of government supporters. While the government usually claims that they are just “bandits” looting the population, others think that these killings are done by one of the various opposition groups, whose leaders fled the country after the last election. Frequently these attacks originate from South Kivu.
Therefore the situation in Burundi is still precarious and can easily degenerate into renewed violence. When the opposition or critics of the government – Burundi is considered by independent investigators to be even more corrupt than Kenya or Uganda – are silenced, the seeds for violence are sowed. The government responds with greater repression in a continuing downward cycle. It is unclear where Burundi is headed in this respect, but I put it on the danger list.
North Kivu, DRC:
The most precarious situation in the region is in North Kivu. While the rebel group, M23, has evacuated Goma after holding it for twelve days, they are still close to the city and probably can re-capture the city if they want. When they were first attacking the city, prisoners knocked down a prison wall and 1200 escaped. There is little security in the town and so, when a person is accused of stealing, according to my sources, he is lynched by the local population. While the Congolese government and the rebels are in negotiations, their demands are so far apart that it seems unlikely that any agreement satisfactory to both sides can be reached. The result is probably an interim agreement to cool the situation down in the short run, but not a permanent solution to the conflict. A long-lasting solution will depend upon the Congolese government functioning as a legitimate government – something that hasn’t yet happened in the history of the Congo.
In 2006, the governors of the various provinces were given much more authority to make decisions at the local level – previously all decisions were made a thousand miles from Goma in the capital, Kinshasa. In theory this decentralization is a step in the right direction towards making this large country (the size of the US east of the Mississippi River) governable. In other parts of the DRC, this change has helped, but in eastern Congo this does not seem to have been effective. One main reason for this is that the Congolese army is no different than the rebel groups – in fact, before M23 revolted in April, it was part of the Congolese army.
South Kivu, DRC:
South Kivu is similar to North Kivu in that there are numerous competing rebel groups vying with the Congolese government and army for control of resources. While South Kivu is often the staging ground for rebel groups to attack Burundi, Burundi, both politically and economically, is unable to muscle the situation as Rwanda and Uganda are able to do in North Kivu. Interestingly enough the Tutsi group in South Kivu, the Bayamulenge who have been in South Kivu for well over a hundred years, has felt manipulated and abandoned by the Rwandan government and therefore are not in the type of client relationship that M23 is. This may make it easier to make some kind of accommodation that is acceptable to all the various groups, but, as in North Kivu, this is a long way off.
A country-by-country summary as I have given above also underestimates how all these countries are linked – Rwanda and Uganda in North Kivu; Burundi Rwanda, and South Kivu; Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya in Somalia; Kenya with all the other states; and so on. While progress may be made in a country or two, the region will only become stable when all these countries are post-conflict – think of the Hundred Years’ War in Europe versus the current European Union.
On the one hand, there are positive developments — particularly in the formerly hopeless situation of Somalia — and there is no overt fighting or wars at this time in the region. On the other hand, in too many places the potential for a flare-up caused by some spark can easily ignite one or more of these countries into flames. The crucial issue is the March 4 election in Kenya as chaos in Kenya would be detrimental to all the other countries in the region. The international community is playing an unusually heavy hand in suspending aid to Uganda and Rwanda – a necessary, long overdue step in pushing the governments in the region to act responsibly. Talking and negotiations in Sudan/South Sudan and Rwanda/Uganda/Congo are significant steps towards some resolution and much better than armed conflict. In most countries the situation is fragile, yet recovering from war, misrule, genocide, and rebellion is a decades’ long process.
Too few people in the region are able to sit, unafraid, under their banana trees.
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Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region (available atwww.davidzarembka.com).
David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams
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