Yesterday, East African heads of state announced their decision to deploy an international force to South Sudan starting April in an attempt to stem the conflict there. Troops will reportedly come from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda, all of whom are frequent particpiants in other African peacekeeping operations. Djibouti, which also participates in peacekeeping operations on the continent, may also contribute forces to this new mission. Ugandan troops, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government in January, have said they will withdraw after the new force is deployed.
A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014
The force will operate under a mandate from the the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African economic bloc, which has been mediating talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to try and bring an end to South Sudan’s crisis. The crisis erupted last December following a reported coup attempt. The government subsequently implicated a number of opposition political figures, most notably Riek Machar, as having been behind the attempted overthrow. Riek Machar announced a formal “resistance movement” in February and the country is effectively in a state of civil war.
The IGAD-sponsored talks did produce a ceasefire agreement in January, but this has been repeatedly violated. A second phase of talks to find a lasting political solution to the crisis has stalled. One of the main rebel demands is the release of individuals detained in connection with the coup. South Sudan is proceeding with their treason charges against eleven individuals, and a court has demanded that four individuals previously released and deported to Kenya return to face the indictments.
South Sudan has also accused the UN mission in the country, UNMISS, of collaborating with rebel forces. Last week, South Sudanese forces seized weapons and ammunition from a UN convoy, which UNMISS said had mistakenly been loaded in with humanitarian supplies. UNMISS also denied that landmines were among the munitions and has called on the South Sudanese government to respect their personnel and existing agreements. UNMISS is providing humanitarian assistance and shelter to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. The UN also estimates that millions in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Already well noted elsewhere, African nations are becoming increasingly more willing and able to engage in military interventions to respond to crises on the continent. This is especially true when talking about neighboring countries, who may fear spillover of refugees, violence, and other negative effects. In keeping this trend, the African Union announced today that Ethiopian forces will formally become a part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The four thousand Ethiopian troops will be responsible for the regions of Gedo, Bay, and Bakool in the southwestern portion of the country and will help AMISOM reach its new mandated size of twenty-two thousand personnel.
Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.
Ethiopia has a long history of military confrontation with Somalia, notably the war over the status of the Ogaden region. Fearing spillover from a rise in violence in the early 2000s, Ethiopia intervened in 2006 on behalf of the UN-backed Somali government to curb the rise of the Supreme Islamic Courts Union. Ethiopian forces, along with warlords nominally supporting the UN-backed Somali government, dispersed the ICU. This in turn led to the rise of the Al-Shabaab militant group, who began a concerted campaign against Ethiopian forces, eventually leading to their withdrawal and replacement with AMISOM.
However, border skirmishing continued and Ethiopia has conducted cross border operations with the tacit support of the Somali government. Ethiopia has also reportedly provided a base for US unmanned aerial vehicle operations over Somalia. The integration of Ethiopian forces into AMISOM in many ways represents a formalization of the existing situation and gives them a mandate for increased operations. This, it is hoped, will allow other AMISOM peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi, the opportunity to refocus their operations against Al Shabaab. Concerns exist, however, about whether traditional enmity between Ethiopians and Somalis may lead the formal intervention to be used as a recruitment tool for anti-government militants.
Whatever the case, Ethiopia’s new large scale intervention in Somalia is just the most recent in a series of moves by African powers to intervene in regional crises in recent weeks. Yesterday, the US military reported that it continues to assist in the deployment of Rwandan peacekeepers to support the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA). Last week, Uganda also admitted that its forces had intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government and were conducting operations against rebel forces. Uganda has also been a key component of US operations to airlift peacekeepers into CAR and has reportedly established a rapid response center within its Army to better respond itself to regional crises. African Nations are also picking and choosing their interventions, with Kenya, for instance, saying it would not contribute forces to the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). Kenya, a major contributor to AMISOM, said it would push for a diplomatic solution in the world’s youngest country.
A Selex EX Falco unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) crashed today. The aircraft crashed at the airport in Goma in Eastern DRC, where the aircraft are based. There does not appear to be any reporting yet on what might have caused the crash. Initial reporting by the wire services, variously citing DRC or UN officials, seems suggest there is some uncertainty about whether the aircraft was leaving for or returning from a mission.
Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The city of Goma in the highlighted zone has historically been a major point of contention in the region.
MONUSCO only received the drones at the end of 2013 and they were expected to help monitor the activities of the numerous armed groups active in DRC. If there have been no additions to the proposed force, then this reduced the MONUSCO fleet to four unmanned aircraft. Later reports indicated that the drone’s surveillance equipment was undamaged and repairs would allow the aircraft to return to operations.
Concerns about the basic safety of drones have been a matter for debate domestically in both the US and Europe, and were also said to have been the primary motivator for moving US drone operations in Djibouti from Camp Lemonnier to a remote desert airstrip, Chabelley Airfield, last September. The issue of basic safety in these operations will no doubt become a matter of debate in this instance as well.
A team of technicians prepare a Falco unmanned aerial vehicle for the inaugural flight in Goma, North Kivu province, during an official ceremony organized in the presence of Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, on 3 December 2013.
The crash also comes as the UN reports that elements of M23 may be active again and possibly recruiting new fighters. Representatives for M23 have denied this, but that very fact highlights what has been said here and by other observers about the ongoing uncertain. M23’s final status remains up for debate, and accusations about support from Rwanda and Uganda remain unresolved. This potential connection should not be dismissed out of hand, especially in light of accusations that Rwandan authorities orchestrated the murder of a Rwandan dissident in South Africa earlier this month. Even if M23 is gone for good, there remains a significant number of rebel groups that threaten security in eastern DRC, such as the FDLR, which MONUSCO said it would focus on following the military defeat of M23 last year.
On 5 November 2013, M23 President Bertrand Bisimwa released a statement that requested rebel commanders prepare fighters for “disarmament, demobilization and social reintegration.” This announcement comes as Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende told members of the press that military operations effectively ended overnight, following the capture of rebel positions in the tri-border region between DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda. The rebel held areas in Tshanzu and Runyoni had been the only ones still in M23 control as DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) and UN elements had continued a major offensive against the group. African leaders meeting in South Africa to discuss the security situation in the Great Lakes region had also called for an end to the fighting.
Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo showing the approximate zone of conflict. The city of Goma has historically been a major point of contention and one can see the tri-border region with Uganda and Rwanda.
The future of the region, however, remains uncertain. For one, Bisimwa has already stated that he intends to continue to pursue his group’s goals through political means. This highlights that while M23 may be militarily defeated, its leadership does not view the matter as settled. The sources of conflict between ethnic Tutsi in DRC’s Kivu region and the central government remain unresolved, as does the issue of alleged involvement of Uganda and Rwanda in supporting ethnic Tutsi aspirations in the region.
M23 itself had spawned from rebels who had previously fought the central government over similar grievances before coming to an agreement in 2009 and being integrated into the FARDC. It is also not the first time DRC authorities have tried this, having attempted to integrate National Committee for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebels into the FARDC as part of a peace plan in 2006, which also failed to produce a lasting peace. Unless the government has a way to address the significant differences in opinion, there is nothing to suggest that a similar outcome is not in the offing. This is especially so seeing as members of M23, notably its military chief Sultani Makenga, were reported to have fled into either Uganda or Rwanda, rather than enter into a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process. One can only hope that the DRC’s government will take advantage of this military victory to address the sources of conflict, possibly with the help of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
The leader of the M23 rebel group, operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s historically restive eastern region, issued a statement today calling for a cease-fire with the central government. Bertrand Bisimwa’s call comes as government forces continue to make gains against M23 strongholds and as African leaders prepare to meet in South Africa to discuss a way forward in the Great Lakes Region.
UN-backed talks between the DRC government and M23 rebels, being held in Uganda, were said to have stalled in October. The major point of disagreement was reported to be the desire by M23 negotiators to secure an amnesty for their members. The DRC government is likely wary of issuing such an amnesty given M23’s history, having spawned from demobilized rebels who were integrated into the DRC security forces in 2009 as part of a previous peace agreement.
United Nations peacekeeping forces have also been active in attempting to protect civilians from the conflict. Concerned by the persistence of the conflict in the country’s east earlier this year, the United Nations approved the activation of a reaction brigade in DRC in response to the expanding crisis in the country’s east. The activities of this brigade, authorized to take more offensive action, have also been seen as a reason for government government victories against the M23 group.
DRC’s eastern region, notably the Kivu region, has seen persistent conflict for years now due to various issues, including its ethnography. M23’s members are primary ethnic Tutsi, and have been reported to received assistance from Rwanda and Uganda, though both countries have denied this. M23 is also only the latest in a series of rebel groups, which the DRC government has continually attempted to strike deals with and otherwise integrate into its security forces.
This perpetual conflict in Africa’s Great Lakes Region prompted a meeting between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which led to an agreement in February to continue to coordinate and seek lasting peace in the region. Another summit organized by the SADC and ICGLR is scheduled to begin tomorrow.