Monthly Archives: February 2014

UN Concerns About Somalia Weapons Purchases as Bomb Explodes in Capital

Yesterday, six people were killed in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu after a car bomb exploded.  Three Somali soldiers were killed in the attack.  The attack, near the city’s airport, appeared to target a United Nations convoy. The militant group Al Shabaab, linked to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  Note that the green areas are simply listed as "pro-government," indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

The bomb came as Reuters reported that it had obtained a confidential UN report regarding diversion of arms from official purchases by Somalia’s central government.  The report comes after the decision was made to ease the arms embargo against the country last March, in an attempt to improve its ability to fight Al Shabaab.

However, the report suggests that some of the arms shipments were diverted to various militias, including those aligned with Al Shabaab.  This serves to reinforce existing concerns about the strength of the central government in Somalia’s complex, clan-based social structure.

For instance, while some diversions could be traced to Al Shabaab-linked militias, the reason behind the diversions seemed to be more linked to clan loyalties.  The report mentioned the planning of arms deliveries to “Al Shabaab leader Sheikh Yusuf Isse,” who is a member of the Abgaal clan.  Somalia’s current president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is also a member of the Abgaal clan, as are many of his advisors.

President Mohamud had called on the UN to extend the easing of restrictions just last month.  According to Reuters, the new UN report recommends either restoring the full embargo or otherwise improving mechanisms to track arms shipments.

It is quite possible that President Mohamud could have been attempting to sway Sheikh Isse to switch sides with the deliveries.  Somalia’s central government relies heavily on warlords only nominally under its control to provide security in much of the country.  Other countries, like Kenya and the United States, have also been reportedly supporting such groups in an attempt to prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold there.

These parallel forces remain a significant impediment to the credibility of the central government, but are also critical in many ways to the providing of basic security in many places.  UN operations in the country in the 1990s were plagued by the same problems, as the UN struggled to find ways to disarm and demobilize militias, while at the same time finding it necessary to work with them to protect the distribution of vital humanitarian aid.  Finding a lasting solution to this ongoing problem will likely be critical to the establishment of a functional Somali state.

CAR’s New Interim President Announces Intent to “Hunt” Militias

Central African Republic’s Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who was appointed to her post just last month, has said that nominally Christian militias, referred to collectively as anti-balaka, “have lost their sense of mission.” She suggest that as the country’s first female President the militias saw her as weak, before promising that they would be “hunted.”  The anti-balaka militias have been responsible for brutal acts of violence in the country’s capital, Bangui, in recent weeks against the city’s nominally Muslim population.

Map showing numbers of IDPs (in thousands) by state in CAR, along with a timeline of significant events, from a larger situation map for CAR produced by OCHA, dated 5 February 2014.

Map showing numbers of internally displaced persons (in thousands) by state in CAR, along with a timeline of significant events, from a larger situation map for CAR produced by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, dated 5 February 2014.

The anti-balaka militia came into being as local self-protection organizations to protect Christian communities against violence and criminality perpetrated by former members of the Seleka rebel organization.  Militia groups say they are merely exacting revenge for these crimes.

The Seleka rebels ousted the country’s leadership last March, and their leader, Michel Djotodia, was subsequently appointed as the country’s interim president.  Djotodia officially disbanded the group, but could not demobilize them.  Before resigning last month and fleeing into exile, Djotodia also sought to justify the violence committed by former Seleka rebels by suggesting it was a natural expression of revenge against the former regime.

Former Seleka fighters and anti-balaka militiamen have both been accused of serious crimes.  Last week there were reports of at least three daylight lynchings in Bangui, including at least one where uniformed members of the military were said to have been complicit.  Today, African Union peacekeepers reportedly uncovered a mass grave at a military camp occupied by former Seleka rebels.

Limited access and security concerns have prevented international organizations from independently verifying many crimes and establishing accurate estimates of how many of have been killed since fighting exploded last year.  Hundreds of thousands, however, have been driven from their homes.  Amnesty International has described the current campaign by anti-balaka militias as “ethnic cleansing.”  Some UN officials say they share this fear.  UN Secretary General warned that the country could end up experiencing a de facto partition as a result the inter-communal violence.  CAR authorities deny that this is the case, saying that it is merely a “security problem.”  Peacekeepers have also so far been unable to help quell the violence.

The UN’s World Food Program did begin airlifting food aid into the country today, in an attempt to stave off a humanitarian disaster.  Food insecurity is a major threat, and many of the individuals driven from the capital in the recent violence are said to have been merchants involved in the sale and distribution of foodstuffs.  The UN estimates that over a million people could be in need of humanitarian assistance.

Liberia Appoints First Chief of Staff Since Army Disbanded in 2003

Yesterday, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf confirmed Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Dee Ziankan as the new chief of staff of the country’s armed forces.  Colonel Ziankan becomes the first head of the nation’s military since it was disbanded in 2003 as part of a peace agreement that ended the most recent of Liberia’s civil wars.  Since then, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has been responsible for the country’s internal security.

A Liberian rifle range line coach instructs a soldier from the Armed Forces of Liberia in order for him to complete his annual rifle qualifications on the range at at Edward Beyan Kesselly Barracks in the country's capital Monrovia, 1 April 2011.

A Liberian rifle range line coach instructs a soldier from the Armed Forces of Liberia in order for him to complete his annual rifle qualifications on the range at at Edward Beyan Kesselly Barracks in the country’s capital Monrovia, 1 April 2011.

Liberia has had a tumultuous history since it was established in the early nineteenth century as a homeland for freed slaves from the United States.  From 1989 until 2003 the country experienced two brutal civil wars, in which the national military was a significant actor.  As part of the agreement signed in 2003 in Ghana’s capital Accra, the military was disbanded and UNMIL took over responsibility for providing security.

The 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement also called for the development and formation of a new, professional national military.  The initial Liberian Security Sector Reform (LSSR) program, led by the United States through the Department of State, focused first on the demobilization of the existing Ministry of Defense personnel.  This took substantial time, only being completed in 2006.  Subsequently a plan was drafted to develop a new Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).  A human rights vetting process for new recruits was a key component of the transformation plan.

With the formal activation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, the US military became actively involved in the LSSR program.  Soldiers from US Army Africa (USARAF) and Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) were called upon to support the effort.

In 2010, AFRICOM initiated a new effort, called the Liberian Defense Sector Reform (LDSR) program, as a separate component of the larger State Department LSSR effort.  The change also indicated that what had already been established of the new AFL had reached significant milestones.  Under the original LSSR efforts, US forces were directly responsible for training AFL personnel at all levels.  Under the LDSR effort, nicknamed Operation Onward Liberty, the AFL would be responsible for training its own forces on company-level basic infantry tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as providing logistics training to its soldiers.  The US would continue to provide advisory and mentoring support for the AFL as it continued its development.  AFRICOM also designated US Marine Forces, Africa (MARFORAF) as the lead entity in charge of Operation Onward Liberty.

This most recent milestone is indicative of how far the AFL has come since 2003.  Reports suggest that unlike the pre-2003 force, Liberians view the current AFL positively and as a professional force.  Last year, AFL personnel joined other African peacekeepers as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  This constituted the first deployment of Liberian military personnel outside of the country since the end of the civil war.  The continued progress by the country’s military is indicative of how far Liberia has come since then more broadly.

South Sudan Talks Resume, Remain in Doubt

The second phase of talks between the government of South Sudan and rebels in that country began today in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.  Ethiopia had hosted the first phase of talks, sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which led to a ceasefire agreement last month.  There have been numerous reports that the ceasefire has been violated since that time and rebels threatened to boycott the second phase of the talks.

Map showing internally displaced persons per state in South Sudan, from the OCHA Humanitarian Snapshot for South Sudan, dated 7 February 2014

Map showing internally displaced persons per state in South Sudan, from the OCHA Humanitarian Snapshot for South Sudan, dated 7 February 2014

Despite the rebels subsequently agreeing to participate, it is very debatable what the talks could hope to achieve under the current circumstances.  Since the ceasefire agreement a number of significant events have occurred.  Firstly, the South Sudanese government released some, but not all, of those detained following a reported coup attempt in December that touched off the current crisis.  This remains a major demand of the opposition and their delegation.  It is a demand supported by some members of IGAD, notably Kenya, where the detainees who were released were promptly deported. Some members of the international community have also supported this demand, including the United States.

Secondly, Uganda has officially confirmed its intervention on behalf of the South Sudanese government.  Uganda, an important IGAD member, has caused division within the bloc.  Ethiopia, the host of the talks, demanded yesterday that Uganda and any other foreign power withdraw from the country.  The US has also called for a withdrawal of foreign forces. It appears that these demands do not reference international peacekeepers deployed to the country as part of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  South Sudan will likely be reluctant to agree to the departure of Ugandan forces without concessions though.  Their intervention can be seen as having stabilized the situation and prevented rebels from overrunning government forces.

Lastly, at the beginning of this month, Riek Machar, the defacto leader of the rebellion, officially announced that he had formed a resistance movement.  Machar has said that the confusingly titled Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Sudan People’s Liberation Army will seek to unify various militias into a common front.  South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has accused Machar of being behind the coup attempt, which Machar has consistently denied.  Machar, however, has embraced his position as head of the opposition.  Late yesterday, President Kiir announced that Machar, as well as some of his political allies, had been formally removed from the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement political party.  Also removed was Taban Deng, who signed the ceasefire agreement in Ethiopia last month on behalf of the rebels.  Both Machar and Deng are currently wanted by the government on charges of treason relating to the coup attempt.

The goal of the second phase of the peace talks is to come to an agreement on a political solution to the crisis.  Given all of these factors, it seems unlikely that a clear mutually agreeable political solution will make itself obvious to the negotiators.  While many of the opposition demands are supported by the international community, the situation in South Sudan has largely stabilized in favor of the government, though the situation remains fragile.  The UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said today that South Sudan faced a “very long, complex process.”  Almost nine-hundred thousand people have been displaced in the crisis.  A lack of access has made determining the number of fatalities difficult.  The UN estimates that more than three million people in the country are threatened by food insecurity.

New Violence in Central African Republic

Jean-Emmanuel Djarawa, identified only as a “politican” in Central Africa Republic, was killed overnight in the capital Bangui.  Djarawa was reported to have made a speech yesterday, where he called for nominally Christian militia, referred to as anti-balaka, to be “confined to the barracks,” and denounced recent violence.

A map and key facts and figures, from a Congressional Research Service report on the Crisis in Central African Republic, dated January 27th, 2014.

A map and key facts and figures, from a Congressional Research Service report on the Crisis in Central African Republic, dated January 27th, 2014.

Last week there were reports of a number of daylight instances of mob violence in Bangui, against the nominally Muslim population.  These included at least one incident where government troops were accused of being complicit. The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary examination into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country.  The violence has displaced hundreds of thousands both internally and externally, and the UN believes that half of the country’s population requires humanitarian assistance.

Anti-balaka militia appear to be taking revenge on those they see as having been supports of the ex-Seleka rebels, who themselves acted with impunity and terrorized the capital after the ouster of the country’s President Francois Bozize last year.  The leader of the Seleka movement, Michel Djotodia, was subsequently made Interim President, before resigning and fleeing into exile last month.

Djotodia was replaced by current Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who became the country’s first female president.  She has herself called for an end to the violence, but has, like her predecessor, shown little ability to control the country’s localized militias.  Reports of truces after her appointment by the country’s Transitional National Council, were met by skepticism that they would not reflect the will of the majority of the actual individual militias, each having their own leadership.

International peacekeepers have had trouble themselves in helping to contain the violence, being accused of complicity with various factions, as well as clearly not having the required manpower to maintain law and order.  Looting was reported on the day of Interim President Samba-Panza’s inauguration, as peacekeepers were called to protect the ceremony.  There is the suggestion that looting and other theft has become a way of life due to the country’s chronic instability.

Security Assistance News from the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea, and North Africa

Providing assistance to national security forces has long been one of the key elements of international assistance to developing nations broadly.  The basic concept is that professional militaries and police forces can help instill a sense of confidence in governments, making them more stable as a result.  The stability in turn promotes development in other areas.  Essentially, more security equals more stability, when in turn equals more development.


This is definitely the goal behind the announcement last year to work on the development of a so-called “General Purpose Force” in Libya, where the central government has been largely ineffectual following the ouster and killing of the country’s former leader, Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011.  The various militias in the country that helped overthrow the previous regime continue to hold significant power, especially at the local level, and act with relatively impunity.  In addition, the lack of a functional national security apparatus has meant that much of the country has slipped into what might be described as an under-governed state.  Concerns about terrorists using these regions to establish bases of operation have been voiced by Libya’s neighbors, as well as partners farther afield.

Last week, Libya’s interm Prime Minister Ali Zidan said that almost eight hundred personnel had either been sent to Europe recently or were on their way as part of the new General Purpose Force effort.  Four hundred had already deployed to Turkey, and another four hundred were to go soon to Italy.  Another four hundred are scheduled to eventually travel to Britain.  In total, some eight thousand Libyan personnel are expected to go through twenty-four week training programs in Europe, with additional support provided by the United States.  Zidan also said that there are currently some five thousand Libyan personnel around the world receiving training.  Countries providing training for Libyan forces were said to include Algeria, Britain, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Persian Gulf states, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States.

Gulf of Guinea

Also last week, Maritime professionals from West Africa, Europe, South America, and the United States met in Lagos, Nigeria to finalize the exercise plan for this year’s iteration of Obangame Express, a US maritime cooperation exercise held in the Gulf of Guinea.  Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey, and the United States will participate in Obangame Express 14, which is the fourth iteration of this exercise.

The exercise is designed to help improve regional capabilities to deter piracy and drug smuggling, as well as other maritime contingencies.  As the threat of piracy has reduced in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, attention to the problem has turned to the Gulf of Guinea, where it remains a serious issue.  Last November, the were reports of a proposal to base US Marines afloat to help address the problem.


Today, the German government announced its intention to contribute troops to the European Union training mission in Somalia.  Germany had previously been involved in the training of Somali security forces when the EU mission was located in Uganda.  When the EU moved the operation to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu last May, the Germans dropped out of the program, citing the increased risk of operating there.  The EU had relocated the program as a gesture meant to affirm its support for the central government in Somalia.

Germany, which has some five thousand personnel taking part in nine international missions, has been urged recently by other European powers, notably France, to become more involved in such efforts.  The bulk of Germany’s international commitment is its three thousand personnel in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.  Last week, Germany also announced it would be increasing the size of its contribution to international peacekeeping efforts in Mali.

These announcements potentially signal a change in German foreign policy, which has since the end of the Second World War traditionally been inclined to avoid international commitments where there is a significant potential for violence and casualties.  This month, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said earlier this month that “Germany, with all its diplomatic, military and aid capacity cannot stand by when its help is needed”.  Steinmeier is a member of the country’s Social Democrat party, which entered into coalition with the conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.  It has been suggested that this new coalition has been instrumental in these changes in German foreign policy.

Crises in South Sudan, Central African Republic Fester

Despite various significant events in the past few weeks, crises in both South Sudan and Central African Republic continue to fester.  Both countries have continued to experience significant violence, even just this week, in spite of moves meant to promote peace and stability.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

In South Sudan, rebels accused the government of violating a ceasefire signed in January by attacking their positions near Malakal in Upper Nile state.  This is not the first time the rebels have accused the government of breaching the agreement, which is less than two weeks old.  International monitors are supposed to be monitoring the ceasefire agreement on the ground.  The allegations did come the day after Riek Machar, the defacto leader of the opposition to the government, formally announced the formation of a united resistance movement to bring various rebel factions together.

The ceasefire, brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, was intended to be the beginning to additional negotiations on ending the crisis that has displaced hundreds of thousands and killed an untold number.  The UN has experienced significant difficulties in assessing the conflict and distributing aid in many areas, including Malakal.  The allegations of ceasefire violations along with the intention of the South Sudanese government to pursue treason charges against seven individuals, have raised doubts about the viabaility of further negotiations.  Among those charged with Treason are both Riek Machar and Taban Deng, who signed the IGAD-backed ceasefire on behalf of the rebels.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the Central African Republic Crisis, as of 14 December 2013

In Central African Republic, inter-communal violence also continues to rage, despite the recent appointment of a new president, who has vowed to work for peace and reconciliation, and a significant international peacekeeping presence.  The United States has also threatened the possibility of sanctions against any who would prevent efforts to end the crisis there.  As in South Sudan, the conflict has displaced a significant number of people, but it has been difficult to assess the true extent of the conflict or how many people have died as a result.

This week saw significant acts of violence in the capital Bangui, with soldiers reportedly participating in the lynching of a Muslim man by nominally Christian so-called anti-balaka militiamen.  Today it was reported that another act of mob violence had claimed the life another Muslim man as he and other Muslim residents attempted to flee the capital. Newly appointed interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has repeatedly called for a stop to such acts of sectarian violence, but may have limited tools with which to stem it.  The International Criminal Court announced today that in response to the growing evidence of both crimes against humanity and war crimes that it would be opening a preliminary examination in CAR.

CAR has a significant international peacekeeping presence as well, and UN and the African Union have sought to expand it further.  However, peacekeepers have been criticized by the locals and others of being biased toward ex-Seleka fighters.  Prior to the resignation of the previous interim President and former Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotodia, anti-balaka militia had also expressed their displeasure with the fact that international forces had not actively worked to oust him from power.  Most recently, Human Rights Watch reported that researchers in CAR had seen Chadian peacekeapers escorting ex-Seleka rebel leaders from the capital, and expressed concerns that this might indicate collusion between the two entities.  This had previously been reported with the even more worrisome detail that the fighters evacuated had subsequently gone missing.  Regardless of their true intentions and affiliations, peacekeepers have had a difficult time in CAR quelling the violence.