Category Archives: Central Africa

DR Congo-AU – how neutral and effective is the UN intervention brigade?


To say violence is endemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would be a cliché. It is a graveyard not only of hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people, mostly civilians, killed in the violence which has plagued the region since the Rwanda genocide of 1994 overflowed that neighbouring country’s border. It also appears to be a graveyard of hope.

A year ago hope seemed to be reviving. The Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) component of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO provided the Congolese government army (FARDC) with enough firepower to defeat the Rwanda-backed M23 rebels and drive them out of the territory. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) battalion in the FIB, with its Rooivalk attack helicopters, played a vital role in that rare military success for the UN in the DRC.

After the M23 captured the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma in November 2012 – while MONUSCO troops stood by – the UN Security Council in March 2013 passed Resolution 2098, establishing the FIB as the first UN-led overtly offensive force. Though administratively part of MONUSCO, it was given its own unique mandate to take the initiative and ‘neutralise’ the M23 and two other foreign armed groups terrorising this area: the FDLR and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

The cynical interpretation is that the FDLR is only trying to forestall military attack by the FIB and FARDC

With the FARDC, the FIB began operations against the M23 in August 2013 and defeated it by November. The next target was supposed to have been the FDLR – the French acronym for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, originally established by ethnic Hutus who fled Rwanda after participating in the genocide of the Tutsi population.

The FDLR have been present in eastern DRC for the last 20 years, and provided the Rwandan government with a reason – or pretext – for invading eastern DRC several times, and so has been one of the most destabilising factors in the area.

Earlier this year, faced with the threat of concerted military action against it, the FDLR announced plans to voluntarily disarm. But by May, the deadline for that process came and went, with only a handful of surrenders. In July the member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) gave the FDLR another six months to implement its agreement to surrender, or face military action. This has placed MONUSCO in a difficult position.

The FDLR has been largely dragging its feet. Some of its less-able bodied fighters have participated in the UN-led disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation and rehabilitation for foreign fighters and returned to Rwanda. This week about 90 of those fighters moved, as agreed, from a transit camp in the east to a more substantial camp in Kisangani much further to the west in the province Orientale. This appeared to be a largely ceremonial gesture to demonstrate the extraction of the FDLR fighters from the war zone.

There is a sense that the FIB thinks that its mission is now accomplished

The cynical but widespread interpretation of the FDLR’s motives is that they are only trying to forestall military attack by the FIB and FARDC. Most of their fighters and weapons remain at large but this small gesture may be taken by the UN and DRC as a sign of sufficient progress.

Meanwhile other killers have been busy. Over the last two months about 200 civilians, including women and children, have been killed in Beni territory, north of Goma in North Kivu province. The ADF, an armed group originating in Uganda, has been blamed, though it is not quite clear if all the attacks, including reported beheadings, mutilations and rape, can be attributed to them. Like the M23 and the FDLR, the ADF are on the list of foreign armed groups targeted by the FIB. Joint operations were planned for early 2014. Surprisingly the FARDC then launched a unilateral operation – Operation Sukola – against the ADF in January this year, claiming victory just a few months ago.

In recent weeks an angry local population has attacked MONUSCO bases in the area for failing to come to its defence. This week MONUSCO military spokesperson Colonel Felix-Prosper Basse strongly denied that MONUSCO had failed the people of Beni, insisting that, ‘We are putting all our efforts together in order to neutralise these people.’ He recalled that when the ADF attacked the FARDC position at Kamango on 25 December 2013, MONUSCO intervened with an attack helicopter to drive the ADF out of Kamango.

The overriding impression one gains from talking to non-government people in the region is that the FIB has not done very much for nearly a year.

This is unfortunately reinforcing the suspicion that the FIB was largely created at the instigation of SADC to help its fellow-SADC member state, DRC, defeat the M23, which was backed by its enemy Rwanda. There is a sense that the FIB thinks that its mission is now accomplished.

The overriding impression here is that the FIB has not done very much for nearly a year

Basse denied that MONUSCO and the FIB were reluctant to go after the FDLR, insisting they would do so it if failed to give up by the 2 January deadline. But whether the FIB itself is impartial and neutral is the growing question. Ironically, the concerns about the FIB’s current relative dormancy come at a time when the legality and impartiality of its aggressive mandate are being questioned.

The International Peace Institute (IPI) has just published a report which argues that by giving the FIB a uniquely-offensive mandate, the UN Security Council inadvertently made not just the FIB but MONUSCO as a whole, a party to the armed conflict. ‘As the UN is now a party, all military members of MONUSCO will have lost the protections afforded to them under international law … and therefore no longer enjoy legal protection from attacks.’

This could discourage countries from contributing troops to MONUSCO. The authors of the IPI report also worry that the FIB could undercut the existing mandates of MONUSCO and other UN missions to protect civilians. They argue that MONUSCO already had a robust mandate to protect civilians before the FIB was created and suggest that it was more the lack of political will and capacity than the weakness of its mandate, that had prevented MONUSCO acting more aggressively.

Presumably this is a reference to the widespread belief that several countries which have contributed large contingents to MONUSCO have given their soldiers standing orders not to endanger themselves.

The IPI report also contends that in a situation where Congolese government forces ‘are responsible and largely unaccountable for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, the [Force] Intervention Brigade’s offensive mandate to “neutralize” the non-state armed groups and its relative silence on the FARDC stretches the concept of impartiality.’

As a key actor – perhaps the key actor – in the FIB, South Africa bears a special responsibility to remedy these faults. The FIB’s mandate is now a fait accompli and it is perhaps understandable why SADC insisted on it, given MONUSCO’s weakness. But it is still possible for the FIB to prove its impartiality by going after the FDLR as aggressively as it pursued the M23.

South Africa, incidentally, could also use some of its leverage through the FIB to discourage Congolese President Joseph Kabila from changing the constitution so he can stand for a third term in 2016, as he is widely suspected to be contemplating.

The Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework agreement signed by the DRC and other countries in the region in March 2013 also imposed many conditions on the Congolese government, notably that it should re-establish its authority in eastern DRC and take further measures to entrench democracy in the country. Kabila clinging to power would not serve that end.

Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers, South Africa

Zambia – Sata’s son withdraws bid for PF presidency

Mail and Guardian

Son of late Zambian president Michael Sata, Mulenga has withdrawn his candidature for presidency of the Patriotic Front.

Son of late Zambian president Michael Sata, Mulenga has withdrawn his candidature for presidency of the Patriotic Front. (Reuters)

Son of late Zambian president Michael Sata, Mulenga has withdrawn his candidature for presidency of the Patriotic Front (PF) saying he wants to dispel the notion that the family is at war with itself.

“Having carefully reflected on this matter for several days, I have come the rational conclusion that one or some of us have to take the logical and selfless step backwards in the best interests of the party. A polarised and divided party does not augur well for our future,” Mulenga said.

Mulenga is one of four of Sata’s relatives who filled in nomination papers to stand as presidential candidates for the PF. His withdrawal leaves Miles Sampa (nephew of Sata), Christine Kaseba (widow of Sata) and Robert Sichinga (Sata’s in-law) still in the race.

Mulenga who is Lusaka mayor, says there have been hurtful comments made by party members and others intimating that the Sata family is greedy and wants to perpetuate a legacy which could be likened to an “imperial monarchy”. “On the contrary, the Sata’s entered the presidential race out of a genuine desire to serve the party and the country”.

Mulenga (50) added that in political terms he is still a young man and can stand for the presidency in the future.

Thick political skin
While not endorsing any of the remaining candidates, Mulenga who once boasted he had a thick political skin,  said the forthcoming conference should elect a leader that would carry on his father’s legacy and vision for the PF and Zambia. “We shall need mature and level heads to prevail. This will be the best way of honouring and respecting my father’s legacy and everything that he stood for.”

Mulenga, who started his political career as a councillor, had earlier this month announced his intention to take over from his late father saying as his son, he wanted to carry out his father’s vision.

On Saturday, the PF will hold a conference to choose its presidential candidate for the January 20 poll. Excluding Mulenga, the party has nine candidates who have designs on the presidency. The party has been split over who will replace Sata.

Sata, who died on October 29 after a long illness had no clear preferred successor. Also vying for the position is Defence minister Edgar Lungu whose popularity within the party is growing.

South Sudan rejects proposal for separate armies in interim peace period

Sudan Tribune

November 25, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese government has rejected a proposal by the armed opposition allied to the former vice-president Riek Machar which sought to allow the existence of two armed forces during the pre-interim period should there be a consensus for the proposed government of national unity.

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Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) at Jonglei’s Bor airport in January 2014 (AFP)

The opposition group says allowing two armies would enable them assemble and organise their forces in designated areas ahead of the reintegration process.

However, government officials have interpreted the demand as an attempt by the opposition to prepare for a referendum in the event the agreement is not fully implemented.

Defence minister Kuol Manyang Juuk told reporters on Tuesday that the leadership meeting had agreed for one national army, saying it rejected the proposal to allow another group to operate under a different command.

“The leadership has agreed that there will be one army under one command. It was also resolved that those who defected will be reintegrated at the same rank [held] when they left,” he said following the meeting on security arrangements.

“The other issue which was also discussed and agreed was that the integration process should only be limited to those who defected. Those who joined the rebels and were not in the SPLA (South Sudanese army) [previously] shall not be accepted,” he added.

Cabinet affairs minister Martin Elia Lomuro also confirmed to reporters on Monday that the consultative meeting, which brought together senior government and party members from across the country’s 10 states, had unanimously agreed to reject the existence of two armies.

“The unanimous decision of the conference is that we are one country and we have 64 communities or tribes. Therefore there is no way one community can demand to have 50 per cent or 70 per cent of the army,” said Lomuro.

Government and rebel forces have been locked in an armed struggle since mid-December last year after a political split in the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) turned violent.

Peace talks in Ethiopia between the rival parties, which are being mediated by the Intergovernmental Violence Authority on Development (IGAD) have been marred by ongoing delays and political differences.

Previous ceasefire deals agreed by both sides have failed to hold amid fresh outbreaks of violence between the warring factions on the ground.


Cameroon army frees hostages held by CAR rebels


Cameroon army frees 16 hostages, including Polish priest

2:31pm GMT

YAOUNDE (Reuters) – A Cameroonian army operation has freed 16 hostages, including Polish Catholic priest Mateusz Dziedzic, who were abducted by rebels from Central African Republic last month, Cameroon’s government said on Wednesday.

“A special operation of Cameroonian defence and security forces permitted the liberation last night of 15 Cameroonian hostages …as well as the Polish priest Mateusz Dziedzic,” the statement said.

The head of the organisation that runs Poland’s overseas Catholic missions had said a rebel group known as the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) abducted Dziedzic on the night of Oct. 12 in neighbouring Central African Republic.

The FDPC, one of a number of armed groups that has fought the Central African government and other militants in an off-on conflict in the former French colony over the past decade, had demanded Cameroon release its leader Abdoulaye Miskine.

It was not immediately clear if this condition had been met.

The FDPC was initially allied with Seleka, a coalition of local rebels that also included fighters from neighbouring Sudan and Chad which toppled the Central African government and seized the capital Bangui in March 2013.

After falling out with Seleka, Miskine fled to Cameroon and was arrested there in September 2013.

(Reporting by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Emma Farge)

Sudan accused of violating South Sudan airspace

Sudan Tribune

(JUBA) – The South Sudanese government said on Monday that two warplanes from neighbouring Sudan entered its airspace last week, calling it an act of intrusion and a “serious violation” of international law.

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Sudanese Air Force MiG-29 (Photo Wikipedia)

The planes were witnessed flying over the Khorshamam area in Western Bahr el Ghazal’s Raja county.

Raja county commissioner Hassan Jallab told Sudan Tribune on Monday that the area had witnessed two warplanes flying over Khorshamam area, which

The area was bombed by Sudanese jet fighters in earlier this month, resulting in the death of at least 35 people and wounding of 17 others.

It remains unclear why this particular area, located about 20km east of Raja town, has been targeted by Sudanese military.

Raja county commissioner Hassan Jallab has expressed fears over possible further bomb attacks by Sudanese warplanes, saying he had called on Juba to raise the issue with the Sudanese government at the highest level.

“I thought things would change to better when our president [Salva Kiir] visited Khartoum recently. They assurances we heard he was told by the Sudanese president and his government, which was in the press, is that his government and the Sudan armed forces, have no interest in destabilising South Sudan, especially people in the border areas, but now these developments are raising concerns and questions asking whether the president of Sudan was really serious with the statements he made,” he said, adding that people in at-risk areas had been told to take precautionary measures against future attacks.

Jallab said Sudan’s military activities in border areas were becoming an increasing concern to local communities.

He said he had raised his concerns with the state government and was told they would be passed on to Juba.

“I brought to the attention of the state government. I talked to the governor about these military activities which are causing security concern to the people,” he said.

Jallab said he had also raised the issue of rising consumer prices for basic items.

“Things are becoming expensive in the markets. Local markets are empty. They are no items to buy. Things like soap, salt and other basic commodities are not there,” he said.

“These things come from Sudan, but because of these military activities, traders are afraid to cross when they see huge presence of troops at crossing points,” he added.

The Sudanese army has maintained silence over the different accusations of bombing in Raja.

Military experts in Khartoum confirm the air attacks saying the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) pulled out of South Kordofan and has established a military base for its fighters in the Western Bahr el Ghazal’s county which borders the southern part of Darfur region.

JEM has started a new round of talks over a cessation of hostilities in Darfur and needs to have its troops inside the region.

Sudan and South Sudan trade accusations of support to rebel groups from both sides. Last April, said Juba is using JEM fighters in its conflict with a splinter faction of the SPLA in the Unity state.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan after a 2005 peace deal paved the way for a referendum on self-determination, ending more than two decades of brutal civil war.

Although the South officially gained its independence in 2011, a number of contentious post-secession issues remain unresolved, resulting in ongoing tensions, particularly in border areas.


Would an arms embargo help end the South Sudan civil war?

African Arguments

Would an arms embargo help end South Sudan’s civil war? – By James Copnall

JamesCopnallIn filthy camps for the displaced, thatched huts in half-forgotten villages, and Juba’s proud new concrete buildings, South Sudanese are waiting. As the rainy season peters out, and the deadlines rush to expiration, everyone wants to know whether a meaningful peace agreement will be signed.

Alongside the sort of optimism born of desperation, there is also the fear that the squabble over power, and other issues, will lead to renewed heavy fighting. Can leaders from both sides overcome their differences, their desire for revenge, and their overwhelming need for power?

If not, if the war rumbles back to a heightened state of intensity, if thousands more are killed, and hundreds of thousands more displaced, there must be consequences.

Already the US and the EU have imposed sanctions on individual commanders accused of breaking the cessation of hostilities agreement. To date, though, these have been on field commanders rather than on those with real decision-making power.

More than 50 South Sudanese and international human rights organisations have called for an arms embargo to be imposed on both sides, in an effort to make further conflict less feasible. The rights groups wanted the regional mediators IGAD to inform the UN Security Council of a ‘clear request’ to impose the embargo.

IGAD did not go quite that far, but the mediators were unusually direct in the November 7 communique following IGAD’s 28th extraordinary summit. South Sudan’s neighbours threatened collective action, including, but not limited to, asset freezes, travel bans, and the ‘denial of the supply of arms and ammunition, and any other material that could be used in war’.

The threat of regional sanctions is now explicit, along with the possibility of further US and EU action, and even UN measures too. But how likely is it that sanctions will be applied?

The first point to note is the extent to which IGAD drives international thinking about South Sudan.  Individual countries or entities may opt to punish the South Sudanese leaders, but UN sanctions are unlikely unless IGAD acts first.

There is some logic to this. After all, IGAD, for better or worse, is in charge of the mediation process. It is also difficult to see how meaningful sanctions could be imposed on South Sudan if neighbouring countries were not prepared to apply them.

Second, the terms of IGAD’s sanctions threat are interesting. Targeted sanctions are directly tied to any ‘violation of the cessation of the hostilities by any party’. The key point here is that IGAD is not threatening sanctions on leaders who fail to make the necessary concessions needed for peace, merely on those who break the cessation of hostilities.

It is not immediately clear if this would target the individual commanders, or those higher up the chain. Is IGAD sending a shot across the bows of Riek Machar and Salva Kiir? Or warning those giving the orders in the field?

Linking the sanctions to Cessation of Hostilities violations means that it is particularly important to increase the effectiveness of the monitoring and verification teams. At the moment, they struggle to work in SPLM/A – In Opposition areas.

So far, although the monitors have accused both sides of initiating conflict, most of the blame for the violations has been directed at the SPLM/A-IO forces.

Both the rebels and the government have expressed, at different times and for different reasons, their reservations about IGAD’s neutrality. In fact, there are strong reasons to question whether IGAD are the right people to adjudicate sanctions.

Uganda is heavily involved militarily in the conflict. Its troops have fought alongside forces loyal to Salva Kiir. Both Uganda and Kenya have strong economic interests in South Sudan too. Neither is particularly likely to want to impose sanctions on those in power in Juba.

Sudan, for all its public declarations of support for Kiir, has also been accused of supporting his enemy, Riek Machar. The neighbours are all too involved in the conflict to be considered impartial.

There is a possibility that any regional punishments will not be a fair reflection of the abuses on the ground. There must also be serious doubts, given their obvious interests, whether the region is really prepared to take the necessary steps to impose sanctions.

This is unfortunate, because I believe sanctions are necessary.

It is certainly possible to argue that they may not be effective. Economic sanctions in Sudan have largely hurt the people, not the politicians. Travel bans and asset freezes may not be enough to deter further conflict.

However, those who commit abuses simply cannot be allowed to escape without punishment. Those who have fled conflict, or been raped by unruly soldiers, or suffered the unnecessary pain of a lost loved one, deserve to know that the world is watching, and will punish anyone who continues to fight.

This idea must be extended, too, to a more general sense of accountability, which has been missing in South Sudan for so long. When the conflict ends, the worst abusers must face justice, both for the sake of their victims, and to deter future fighting.

The AU Commission of Inquiry report on South Sudan will make interesting reading. Several sources suggest a strong draft has already been written, in which names are named. This could form the basis for future prosecutions – if that version makes it out into the public domain.

Among the sanction options suggested by IGAD, the arms embargo seems the most promising. It has the potential to squeeze the warring parties’ ability to fight, if not stop the war entirely. It would need to be thoroughly policed, however, and here regional commitment to the embargo would be vital.

However one option outlined by IGAD seems to me to contain more risks than potential rewards.

Point 4 of the 7 November communique states that: ‘Further, the IGAD region shall, without further reference to the warring Parties, take the necessary measures, if need be, to directly intervene in South Sudan to protect life and restore peace and stability.’

This threat of military action, surely intended to push Kiir and Machar to a deal as quickly as possible, should remain just that: a threat.

Already the military presence of the Ugandan troops, and apparent Sudanese support for Machar, has made resolving the conflict more complicated.

Regional military action runs the risk of regionalising the conflict, the last thing South Sudan needs.

James Copnall is a journalist and author of ‘A Poisonous Thorn in Our Hearts: Sudan and South Sudan’s Bitter and Incomplete Divorce’He is editor of ‘Making Sense of the Sudans’.

South Sudan – SPLA says plans for uprising uncovered in Equatoria

Sudan Tribune

November 23, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) claimed it uncovered a plan by some politicians and former militia members allegedly to form a rebellion parallel to that of the armed opposition led by the country’s former vice president, Riek Machar.

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Troops from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) have been engaged in an armed struggle with rebel forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar since mid-December last year (Photo: Reuters)

“Through coordination and the work of true and patriotic south Sudanese people from Equatoria region, who are peace loving members, we have discovered some disgruntled politicians and former members of militiamen in the person of Martin Kenyi,” a senior military intelligence officer told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.

The army, he claimed, has closely been following activities of Kenyi and his group over the past months until it allegedly landed on a group that agreed to reactivate Equatoria Defense forces to fight an independent state from the rest of the republic of South Sudan.

“The group conducted their meeting in Kampala, Uganda on Tuesday last week and they agreed to appoint Martin Kenyi as the overall commander of the group,” said the senior army officer.

The group, as part of its resolutions, reportedly agreed to operate as a separate entity from the armed opposition led by Machar.

“Their objective is to fight for separation of Equatoria region from the rest of South Sudan,” claimed the military source.

Sylvester Akar and Michael Okuni were allegedly named the movement’s chief of general staff and head of mobilisation respectively.

Sudan Tribune was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the allegations from the military, although several opposition sources and government critics from Equatoria region do not rule out the existence of armed opposition groups intending to defend people.

Kenyi was commander of the Equatoria Defense Force, a military wing of political group associated with Theophilus Ochan Loti, who broke away from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) at the height of the past civil war between 1983 and 2005.

Kenyi later became a member of the South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF), a group of armed forces operating in southern Sudan, aligned with the government of Sudan against the SPLM/A. The SSDF was a composition of tribal militiamen based in their areas, which were used by Khartoum to resist SPLM/A incursions during the 1980s, alongside fighters who remained loyal to Machar after 1991 split.

The group signed the Khartoum Agreement in 1997, which committed the government of Sudan to self-determination for southern Sudan, but for which the referendum promised was never conducted, prompting Machar to return to the SPLM/A in January 2002. Most of his forces, together with a group of government allied militias which joined the SSDF in mid-2001 continued to maintain their commitment to the Khartoum agreement until peace signed in 2005.

Kenyi as the military leader of the Equatorial Defence Force, one of the components of the SSDF, became the 11-man military high command of the SSDF. During the last round of the Inter-govermental Authority on Development (IGAD) negotiations held in Kenya in May 2003 on the security arrangements, Kenyi was a member of the government of Sudan negotiating team.