Published 19 Jun 08
by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
Around the Troubled Horn
Even by the much-reduced expectations of the subregion, the news emanating from the geopolitically-sensitive, but ever-volatile Horn of Africa has not been at all good these last few weeks.
Sudan-Darfur. Last week, the United Nations (UN) special envoy for Darfur, Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson, and his African Union (AU) counterpart, Tanzanian diplomat Salim Ahmed Salim, admitted that their efforts to resolve what the UN itself has termed "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" were on the verge of collapse. In an interview given to the Voice of America after briefing the AU Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Eliasson lowered his objective to merely preventing a "totally fragile" situation from turning into a total disaster:
Our best period was last summer ... At that time we thought we had the process starting. Since then we've seen very negative developments. And I think you should see is what we are doing today is we are reducing the ambitions. We don't expect we can start soon substantive talks. But what we expect is that everybody now puts his shoulder to the door and really make sure we have increased security, because an escalation of hostilities now could be truly fatal for the people of Darfur ...
We have said that many times, but this time it's really serious. I've seen it with my own eyes. The starvation is around the corner. It's actually starvation in many places already. And if we have an escalation of hostilities, at the side of rampant banditry and hijacking of cars, and problems of insecurity, we may have a large scale disaster at hand.
Six months ago in this column space, I wrote that while the AU/UN hybrid operation for Sudan's conflicted Darfur region, which was set to subsume the peacekeeping duties of existing African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) at the beginning of the year would "probably be inadequate to meet the combined pressures of the obstructionist regime in Khartoum and the various rebel movements in Darfur, a territory the size of France, that question is a metaphorical bridge that does not yet need to be crossed since the force has yet to be raised, leaving the international community with a terrible choice." Last week a report in the left-leaning British daily The Independent more than confirmed my earlier skepticism. Under the headline "UN's Most Expensive Mission Exposed as Farcical Shambles," correspondent Steve Bloomfield wrote from El Fasher that:
Just one third of the military personnel and one quarter of the police have been deployed in what has been billed as the biggest and most important mission in the UN's 60-year history. It is now threatening to turn into its most catastrophic failure. No new equipment has arrived. Peacekeepers have had to paint their helmets blue (or put blue plastic bags over them, tied on with elastic).
To cap it all, the general leading the force, Martin Luther Agwai, revealed he had considered quitting because "I thought the world didn't care about us". Only after reading a self-help book, Stop Worrying and Start Living, did he decide to stay.
To date, not a single additional soldier has arrived since the joint UN and African Union mission was born at the start of the year to help protect seven million Darfuris in Sudan's western province from militia and rebel attacks, and banditry.
Sudan-South Sudan. While the ongoing crisis in Darfur has received almost all of the global media attention, as I warned last month, "an even larger conflict is on the verge of breaking out in South Sudan." I had predicted in January, a lingering dispute over the oil-rich Abyei district between the National Congress Party-dominated central regime and the autonomous Government of South Sudan (GOSS), led by the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). Last year alone the territory, which bridges the lands and peoples of Sudan's north and south, generated some $529 million in oil revenue for Khartoum and its Chinese partners who are largest shareholders in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company. The simmering conflict threatens to overturn the framework of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the decades of civil war between the Arab-dominated Muslim north of the country and South Sudan, where the population is largely Christian or adherents of traditional African religions, that had taken the lives more than two million people, mostly South Sudanese.
A Protocol on the Resolution of the Abyei Conflict mediated in 2005 by American special envoy for Sudan Jack Danforth, a former U.S. senator and later ambassador to the United Nations, referred the matter to the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC), an international panel of experts charged with defining and demarcating the boundary. Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir, however, rejected the ABC's definitive Report, and, in late May, fighting erupted in the district between the Sudanese military and its proxies and southern forces. Tens of thousands of civilians were forced to flee as the town of Abyei was largely destroyed by military units loyal to the regime in Khartoum. While a new "Abyei Roadmap Agreement" to defuse the situation was signed between the two parties two weeks ago, the accord is rather ambiguous and likely to result in little more than a temporary respite before renewed hostilities. The questions I posed five months ago remain unanswered:
If Khartoum is already more than two years behind schedule on adherence to its commitments on Abyei and giving no indication of being inclined to ever do so, how reasonable is it to anticipate that it will allow elections to take place in 2009 and the referendum on South Sudan to be held in 2011 as it supposed to under the CPA? Or whether, even if the polls take place, that it will honor the results? Consequently, should the GOSS feel itself legally or politically bound by the admittedly arbitrary timetables set by the CPA if it is clear that the northern Islamist regime has no intention of honoring the substance of the peace accord?
Alternatively, if the international guarantors who signed the CPA, including the Abyei Protocol – the U.S., which drove the negotiation of the accords, as well as Britain, Egypt, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, Norway, and Uganda, in addition to the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the IGAD Partners Forum, the African Union, the European Union, the Arab League, and the UN – have failed to hold Umar al-Bashir and his regime accountable for flouting the its treaty obligations, how can they credibly mediate the other conflicts they are currently trying to resolve in Darfur, East Sudan, and other regions of the fragile country, to say nothing of those in points beyond? And if these external partners are unable to act vigorously enough ensure the Bashir regime's compliance with clear international agreements which they themselves guaranteed, what moral right do they have to persist in their diplomatic resistance to the centrifugal indigenous forces seek to break free of Khartoum's yoke?
While international mediators continue to bandy around abstract notions of "national unity" based on "federalism" as a way to preserve a unitary Sudanese state beyond the 2011 date set by the CPA for a southern referendum on self-determination, such hopes fly in face of cold reality: Why, after more than a century of war, enslavement, and other abuse at the hands of the Arabized elites of the north, would the peoples of South Sudan want to remain in the same country with their oppressors when they can strike out on their own, taking with them at least 90 percent of the country's hydrocarbon wealth and leaving their erstwhile tormentors literally destitute?
Somalia. Last week a UN-back "peace agreement" was signed in neighboring Djibouti by "Prime Minister" Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein of the former Somalia's internationally-recognized, but otherwise ineffective "Transitional Federal Government" (TFG) and Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, former chairman of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) representing of the opposition "Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia" (ARS). The deal called for a three-month truce, the withdrawal of the Ethiopian military force propping up the TFG, and the deployment of the international peacekeeping force that was promised some eighteen months ago.
The ink on it was barely dry before the accord was quickly denounced by a leading spokesman for al-Shabaab ("the youth"), the militant Islamist group spearheading the insurgency which has been designated a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. State Department (see my March 27 report in this column). Mukhtar Robow, a.k.a., Abu Mansur, former ICU deputy defense minister and a veteran fighter alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, held a teleconference to declare:
We need to demonstrate that the deal in Djibouti was a false ceasefire agreement and to show that it would not be functioning in Somalia. This is because we will fight any time against the Ethiopians and the puppet government until we liberate our territory from Allah's enemy.
Mukhtar Robow also specifically dismissed any talk of the deployment of peacekeepers: "It is like replacing infidels with other infidels, and we will fight them because they are the same as the Ethiopians." As if to underscore the point, insurgent attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere have escalated dramatically in the days after the agreement was unveiled amid acclaim on the international stage. Mortars rained down on TFG "president" Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as he tried to board a flight out of the country, a World Food Program convoy was ambushed, and al-Shabaab even launched several attacks on Ethiopian military installations within Ethiopia proper, near the border town of Ferfer.
Once again, the failure of international policy towards the former Somali Democratic Republic is rooted in the obstinate refusal to deal with reality. Specifically, how can anyone but the most process-bound functionary expect the TFG, an entity which otherwise lacks not only political effectiveness, but also moral credibility, to deliver on any accord? As for the other side, those interlocutors the TFG could attract were parleying precisely because they had no other cards to play – a point underscored by the fact that the ARS central committee is expected to meet in the coming days to depose Sharif Shaykh Ahmad from his position in its leadership. In contrast, those opponents of the TFG who have real military strength, including the al-Shabaab terrorists, have no need to sit down with a literally broken septuagenarian like Abdullahi Yusuf who spends the majority of his time outside the country he pretends to lead and what little bit he is forced to actually be within it cowering in a bunker or making a run for the next flight out. But expect this elaborate, but tragic, farce to continue until the advice I last proffered in my May 1 column is taken:
The international community needs to formally acknowledge de jure what is already de facto: the desuetude of "Somalia" as a sovereign subject of international law. Unitary Somalia is not only dead, but the carcass of that state has been putrefied; reanimation is no longer in the realm of possible. To apply Max Weber's thesis, a government like the TFG that does not even enjoy the monopoly on the legitimate use of force in its own capital – much less elsewhere in the territory it claims as its own – is no government at all. Instead of constantly trying to put the best face on a bad situation, ... the emphasis should be shifted to local Somali entities which have taken responsibility for governance in their respective regions. As I argued in the March/April issue of The National Interest, these latter – the Republic of Somaliland, the Puntland region, and others – should be progressively rewarded for achieving benchmarks of progress.
Eritrea-Djibouti. Last week, in the second series of incidents in little more than one month, fighting broke out along the Eritrean-Djiboutian border after Djiboutian forces near the town of Ras Doumeira on their side of the frontier came under fire from Eritrean troops. At least nine Djiboutian soldiers were killed and more than sixty wounded in the skirmishes. A small statelet straddling the strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Djibouti hosts not only France's largest foreign military base, a relic of the colonial era that includes in its several thousand-strong contingent the 13th Half-Brigade of the Foreign Legion, but also the largest United States military presence on the African continent, the approximately 2,000 Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines, as well as civilian government employees and contractors of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), based at Camp Lemonier.
U.S. State Department director of press relations Gonzalo Gallegos issued a statement "condemn[ing] Eritrea's military aggression against Djibouti," which he described as "an additional threat to peace and security in the already volatile Horn of Africa." Over the weekend BBC reported that French troops were providing logistical, medical, and intelligence support to the Djiboutian forces, while Reuters reported early this week that two French naval vessels – a frigate and a helicopter carrier – had moved into Djiboutian territorial waters. Meanwhile the six-member subregional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) condemned the Eritrean attack while urging "the sister states of Djibouti and Eritrea to exercise restraint and to resolve the dispute amicably through dialogue."
The problem, of course, is that it takes two to tango and, in this particular case, one of the pair is Eritrea which, as I reported here nearly a year ago, has degenerated into a rogue regime "which, for its own reasons, is fomenting a growing cycle of violence phenomenon that not only threatens the stability of its neighbors, but, because of its support of an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgency, risks opening a broad terrorist front across the entire Horn of Africa." As I documented in reports last October and November, President Isaias Afewerki already has a longstanding border dispute with Eritrea's larger neighbor, Ethiopia. His regime plays a critical role in supporting the Islamist insurgency in Somalia (see my report last September 18). In short, the likelihood of negotiating a reasonable resolution with Eritrea as long as Isaias retains his iron grip on the country is, at best, very slight; an accord may have to wait for the emergence of a new, and hopefully less paranoid, leadership in Asmara.
For the moment, despite the recent developments, the overall situation in the Horn of Africa remains stable, even if it is not exactly trending positive. If the United States and other international actors are serious about seeking not only a temporary cessation in conflict, but also a sustainable strategic balance in this important subregion, policymakers and analysts would do well to make use of the time given them by the current lull in open hostilities to start worrying less about diplomatic convention and, rather, dealing more with geopolitical reality.
— J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., as well as Vice President of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.
Dr. Pham is the author of over two hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).
In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.
© 2008 J. Peter Pham
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