Category Archives: East Africa

Somalia – US sees increase in piracy linked with famine



U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis is greeted by Djibouti’s Minister of Defense Ali Hasan Bahdon as he arrives at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport in Ambouli, Djibouti April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Idrees Ali | DJIBOUTI

DJIBOUTI The United States is closely watching a recent increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia, a senior U.S. military official said on Sunday as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited an important military base in Djibouti.

The rise in piracy attacks has at least partially been driven by famine and drought in the region, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa said during Mattis’ visit as part of a week-long trip to the Middle East and Africa.

The United States uses the base in Djibouti, a tiny country the size of Wales at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, as a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.

The sudden string of attacks by Somali pirates comes after years without a reported incident. Attacks peaked with 237 in 2011 but then declined steeply after ship owners improved security measures and international naval forces stepped up patrols.

This month has seen a new rash of attacks, with two ships captured and a third rescued by Indian and Chinese forces after the crew radioed for help and locked themselves in a safe room.

“The bottom line is there have been a half dozen or so(incidents),” Marine General Thomas Waldhauser said at a press conference standing alongside Mattis.

“We’re not ready to say there is a trend there yet but we’ll continue to watch,” he said, adding one reason for the increase was famine and droughts in the region since some vessels targeted were carrying food and oil.

According to the U.N. World Food Programme more than 20 million people from Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are at risk of dying from starvation within the next six months.

In South Sudan alone, more than 100,000 people are suffering from famine with a further million on the brink of starvation.

Mattis added that while the situation was being watched, he did not expect a U.S. military response to the surge in piracy.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said international shipping companies had started to become complacent about their security, which could also help explain the rise in piracy incidents.


Djibouti is strategically important as it is on the route to the Suez Canal. The barren nation, sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, also hosts Japanese and French bases.

The U.S. base, which has about 4,000 personnel, is located just miles from a Chinese one, still under construction, which has caused concern to some U.S. officials.

Mattis’ visit to the base comes as the United States has been increasing pressure on militant groups such as al Shabaab in the region.

The White House recently granted the U.S. military broader authority to strike al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants in Somalia.

Waldhauser told reporters that he had not yet used the new authorities given to him by the White House.

Al Shabaab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the Somali government.

On Sunday, a military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Somalia’s semi autonomous Puntland region on Sunday, killing at least six soldiers and injuring another eight.

The United States recently sent a few dozen troops to Somalia to help train members of the Somali National Army.

It is also carrying out strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

AQAP boasts one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and it has been a persistent concern to the U.S. government ever since a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Clelia Oziel)

Kenya – the clear threat of election violence

The Conversation

Voters queue to cast their ballots during presidential and parliamentary elections in 2013. Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

In the last few weeks Kenya has seen an increase in intra-party political violence following the start of its political party primaries that began on April 13th and are scheduled to run for two weeks.

The primaries are “mini-polls” held by political parties to choose which candidates will vie for seats in the general election that will be held on August 8th.

The focus has been on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which was the first party to begin the nomination process. The ODM was formed in 2007 and is one of Kenya’s main political parties.

Since the start of the ODM primaries chaos has continued to mar the process. The worst cases of political violence were witnessed in Migori in south-western Kenya and Ruaraka in Nairobi. In both cases violence between rival camps led to injuries.

The Busia County primaries, which were the first to take place, also ended in chaos. Busia is a county in western Kenya on the border with Uganda.

The primaries are ongoing and continue to be characterised by palpable tension.

A storm has also been gathering within the ruling Jubilee Party, which began its nominations on Friday last week. Its preparations have also been characterised by internal party tensions.

Recently in Kirinyaga County in central Kenya supporters of two contenders for the gubernatorial seat clashed violently at a prayer rally. That must have been a foretaste of things to come because the first day of the Jubilee primaries was so disorganised that the party announced a nationwide postponement of the nomination exercise.

Kenya’s elections laws require all political parties to undertake internal party primary elections. But it’s a requirement they’d rather not fulfil.

The truth is that Kenya’s political parties coalesce around individuals and ethnic communities rather than ideology. This has made the running of party primaries an arduous task as dejected aspirants often troop to rival political formations after losing in a primary.

This means that parties have to contend with the nightmare of shifting alliances close to the general election.

Rivalry behind the chaos

Party-primary violence has been intense in regions where the main political parties command a strong following. Aspirants who are nominated in their party strongholds have a much better chance of winning. This means that the battle for the nominations is fierce and aspirants often resort to violence against their opponents.

Despite having disciplinary mechanisms the main political parties have failed to rein in those instigating chaos. They usually impose fines on offenders instead of taking more more drastic measures such as a suspension or expulsion.

The fact that most politicians can easily raise the fines has bred a culture of impunity. This has resulted in perennial acts of violence during election cycles.

If the violence isn’t contained it could be a harbinger of things to come when Kenyans go to the polls in August. And while the recent conflict has been a wake up call, it has not come as a surprise given Kenya’s history of election violence.

Since the return of multiparty politics, the country has repeatedly witnessed ethnic tension and violence around election time. Only the 2013 polls stand out as being relatively peaceful.

Deeper issues

The violence during and around election time is an indicator of underlying socioeconomic and political issues such as land injustices, marginalisation and disenfranchisement.

These issues were set out in the 2013 Truth Justice and Reconciliation Report, which was written in response to the post-election violence of 2007-2008. Its recommendations have never been implemented.

The 2007-2008 trajectory of ethnic animosity – which led to 1,133 deaths and 600 000 people rendered homeless – underscores the use of disputed elections to bring underlying issues to the fore.

Although the next election in 2013 was relatively peaceful ethnic tensions have continued to build up across the country. The theatre for this vicious ethnic driven political intolerance has mostly been on social media platforms which are dominated by young Kenyans.

The flame that has been fanned on social media since the 2013 polls is growing into a fire as politicians hit the campaign trail. While leaders engage in polarising rhetoric, it’s the youth who become either perpetrators or victims of the political violence.

There are more young people in Kenya than any other demographic cohort. They are also the most disenfranchised which makes them vulnerable to being recruited as perpetrators of violence. Widespread unemployment of 22% is also a contributory factor to young people joining campaign teams as vigilantes, militias or agents.

The making of a peaceful election

As Kenya’s general election approaches, the US and UK governments have raised the alarm over the potential for violence.

The National Democratic Institute has also warned about the likelihood of violence before, during, or after the elections. The institute is an international nongovernmental organisation whose primary task is to advance democratic principles and good governance. In Kenya it’s work has mainly involved strengthening electoral and political processes.

The institute has also given a raft of recommendations on how to avoid election-related violence.

But in the end only Kenyans can put a stop to ethno-political violence.

In the medium to longer term one way they could do this would be by implementing the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report.

Another would be to build programmatic political parties that are rooted in ideology rather than ethnicity.

In the short term the institutions mandated to ensure peaceful electioneering must actively discourage violence. For example the National Cohesion and Integration Commission must fulfil its mandate. The commission is a statutory body established against the backdrop of a reconciliation pact agreed after the 2007-2008 post–election violence. It’s aim is to support sustainable peaceful coexistence among Kenyans.

In addition, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has a crucial role in mitigating political violence by conducting free and fair elections. The commission is legally mandated to conduct primary elections for political parties.

But some stakeholders have opposed its involvement in party affairs citing the principle of neutrality. In my opinion, the commission should play an advisory and logistical role to ensure free, fair, and peaceful primary elections in the run-up to the general election in August.

South Sudan – Wau State governor vows to end night attacks

Sudan Tribuneseparation

WAU – The Andrea Mayar Acho , Andrea Mayar Acho on Friday said his government had now taken drastic measures against the deteriorating security within Wau town.

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Wau state governor Andrea Mayar Acho (ST Photo)

Members of the organized security forces, he said, arrived in the state on Saturday and will deployed to deserted areas in town in order to provide a maximum security protection to residents to allow civilians who sought refuge at the United Nations protection of civilian sites to return home.

The move emerged after a security meeting that was conducted Thursday at the state council of ministers aims at providing plenty security protection to those who fled their homes following the bloodshed carnage of violence, which affected populations outside and inside Wau town since last year.

“Yes the security committee met yesterday and we agreed that our internally displaced persons who are present here. For example those who came from Wadh-Alelo should be taken to safe areas that are chosen by government like Masana Biira factory, we have inspected the area yesterday and there are forces there in New site school which is mandated to protect people there,” said Acho.

“When these forces arrived in the place yesterday, resident of that area began returning to their homes, so in our meeting, we agreed on some areas where the forces would be deployed that is why today, we in the state security committee are moving to inspect the areas of deployment,” he added.

Acho said deployment would be extended in areas outside town.

“The security of Wau town will be stable, through you the media, am appealing to our people to feel free and make sure that their security is at the hand of government,” he further told reporters.

According to the governor, the protection forces would assisted by state special units and they will be deployed in all residential areas.

“There will be nobody that will attack you are take your properties at home, you will be protected, this is the work of your state government to protect you,” said Acho.

Kasmiro Natale Taban, a resident of Wau town, said he was happy when he saw Acho visiting them with the aim of providing security.

“We are very happy to hear from the governor about provision of security protect, this is what we want such that our people who are at United Nations protection of civilian sites return home,” he said.


Somalia – Kenyan forces say 52 Al Shabaab fighters killed


Colonel Joseph Owuoth, spokesman for Kenya Defence Forces, said the incident happened in Badhaadhe in Lower Juba.

Rifles, three improvised explosive devices and bomb making materials were recovered in the assault, he said.

“The intelligence led operation was executed after surveillance assets sighted al Shabaab terrorist concentration on the location. Ground troops supported by mortar and artillery fire were employed to neutralise the camp thereafter,” the statement said.

“Following the operation, the initial assessment indicates that 52 terrorists were killed while others fled with injuries.”

Al Shabaab, whose assessment of casualties often differs markedly from official versions, could be immediately reached for comment.

Kenya has thousands of its troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to help curb al Shabaab and improve security as part of a reconstruction drive after two decades of civil war that shattered the country.

Kenya initially sent troops into Somalia in 2011 after a series of attacks on Kenyan soil by the al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab.

The Islamist group has been fighting for years to impose its own harsh interpretation of Islam on Somalia.

It once controlled much of Somalia and wants to topple the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and drive out the peacekeeping force, which is also made up of soldiers from Djibouti, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and other African countries.

In January, al Shabaab said its fighters killed dozens of Kenyan troops when the group attacked a remote military base in Somalia, while Kenya’s army said nine soldiers had died and 70 militants were killed.

In January 2016, al Shabaab said it had killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in El Adde, a camp near the border with Kenya.

The military did not give details of casualties in that attack, but Kenyan media reports suggested a toll of that magnitude.

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Alison Williams)

Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa: Somerville’s knowledge of the ivory trade past and present is close to unparalleled




Something slightly different today – a book review. But I’ve not reviewed a book since…well, I can’t remember… So let’s start with a quote to get us going:

“The elephant is the most harassed of all African mammals…Its reduction in numbers is still progressing, and special measures may become necessary in order to save it from extinction”

Perhaps surprisingly, this is not a recent observation from an NGO, government body, or conservationist. It comes from Major Hingston of the Fauna Preservation Society (a British NGO), writing in the 1930s. Evidently, the poaching threat facing Africa’s elephants, and recognition of their uncertain future, is far from new.

Keith Somerville’s Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa tracks the ebb and flow of ivory trading across Africa over the centuries, reflecting on ivory’s relationship with foreign traders, colonial administrations and modern-day insurgencies. We read of elephant herds being wiped out in various regions, of the “exploits” of big-game hunters, of the early movements towards regulation of hunting, and of the tensions between local communities and the elephants themselves.  It’s sobering to see many hundreds of years and tens of thousands of poached elephants reduced to numbers on a page – often accompanied by the price (not value, I should emphasise) of their ivory. From the Congo Basin’s forest elephants to the last of the Saharan herds; from Kenya to South Africa; from Gabon to Mozambique, Somerville masters complexity with a clear, well-researched and fluid narrative.

Ivory burning
A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Nairobi National Park.  A number of African governments have taken to burning tusks as a show of defiance against poaching. Critics say this is little more than a publicity stunt and that efforts to stop poaching still fall short.  Photo Credit: The Daily Telegraph

He argues strongly in favour of bringing local communities on-board in conservation efforts throughout this book (something we’re seeing work well in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, among others). He is critical of colonial regimes and modern western NGOs for imposing their visions of appropriate wildlife management on African states, and for distancing local people both physically and emotionally from their immediate natural environment.  As long as they lack the support of local communities, conservation efforts will be fundamentally hamstrung.  Farmers and pastoralists are far more likely to kill elephants which trample crops or break fences if they see no value in the elephant.  At the same time, they are less likely to inform the authorities of poaching, and more likely to facilitate or participate in that poaching for financial gain. Yet to place the blame for the shocking declines in elephant numbers in recent decades on the farmer who shoots or poisons an elephant which destroys or threatens his/her livelihood, is very misleading.

“Corruption, political power and wealth accumulation and utilisation are at the heart of the ivory trade, but it also feeds off impoverishment of communities, resentment over alienation from control of wildlife sources, and conflict leading to availability of weapons and opportunities to poach with impunity, whether by local people, criminal gangs, militias, rebel groups, and national armies – or a combination of them all”

Keith Somerville, “Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa”, p.317

By a similar token, Somerville argues that the narrative of “ivory-insurgency-terrorism”, which has sprung up and gained much momentum in recent years, is overly simplistic, perhaps close to baseless.  To stress how Boko Haram, Al Shabaab or other insurgencies have used illicit ivory trading to fund their operations overlooks far more significant revenue streams available to these groups. They may dabble in ivory trading opportunistically, but, writes Somerville, it is not central to their financing.

Al Shabaab.jpg
Members of Somalia’s Al Shabaab militia. Somerville sets out to debunk what he considers a convenient “ivory-insurgency-terrorism” narrative, which does not fit with reality on the ground. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

So who – or what – is to blame? Well, corruption and conflict certainly play key roles in facilitating and increasing poaching.  Somerville stresses that whenever there has been little threat of punitive action due to poor law enforcement, corruption or civil war, then officials, poachers, traders and smugglers have been able to act with impunity, and hundreds of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered as a result.  It comes as no surprise that the most politically stable African states with the lowest levels of corruption – Botswana, for instance – have the fewest problems with poaching and have been most successful in sustaining elephant populations.

Somerville’s account is replete with instances of well-connected individuals within the political, military and even “conservation” elites being actively involved in poaching and ivory smuggling in their respective countries. There has even been evidence of military helicopters and heavy weaponry being used to kill elephants in large numbers. Whistle-blowers have often been ‘silenced’, so to speak, or otherwise removed from the spotlight.

There is some indication that African states have begun to tackle the corruption which has been so endemic in the post-colonial period. Ceremonial burnings of seized ivory or national stockpiles are now used by a number of African governments as a show of resolve against poaching. However, unless these public displays are backed up by significant anti-poaching and, just as important, anti-corruption measures, their real impact is understandably limited.

“Levels of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trading in a country are more likely to be related to wildlife management practices, law enforcement and corruption than to choice of CITES appendix listings and consequent extent of trade restriction.”

Zoological Society of London, ‘International Wildlife Trafficking: Solutions to a Global Crisis’, Symposium, February 2014

The everyday reality of corruption, crime and politics enables illegal poaching to survive in spite of international pressure for a more extensive ban on the trade – in addition, that is, to the CITES ban of 1989.  But following Somerville’s logic in his conclusion takes us to a slightly disconcerting conclusion: if “a free-for-all for illegal raw ivory [as a result of a complete trade ban under CITES]” is not the answer, then some degree of regulated trade must be. What Somerville terms “locally acceptable forms of sustainable use” necessarily entail management of elephant populations. Some reviewers have suggested that this leaves the door open to a legal, regulated trade in ivory as a logical extension of Somerville’s argument.  Sustainable management of elephant populations doesn’t necessarily mean legal (or illegal) ivory trading, but that’s based on zero demand for new ivory. Realistically, that’s not going to happen for some time, if indeed ever.

For some, this conclusion might be uncomfortable, but Somerville’s knowledge of the ivory trade past and present is close to unparalleled (this book is certainly one of the most comprehensive studies of pan-African ivory trading to date), and we would do well to heed to his words. His research for this book began in the early 1980s, and over the past 35 years he has travelled extensively throughout sub-Saharan Africa, interviewing men and women on the front line of elephant conservation efforts. Their views evidently inform his analysis as much as his own.  According to Somerville, it’s wrong to assume that all conservationists – many of the people who devote their lives to protecting elephants – are in favour of a blanket ivory ban.

Elephants Fence Breaking.jpg
Fence-breaking and crop-destruction are two of the most common instances of conflict between local farmers/pastoralists and elephants. As you can see, even the most sturdy of fences cannot stop a herd of elephants if they are determined to move through the obstacle.  Photo Credit: / Hitchcock et al. (2015), Elephant Engagements and Indigenous Peoples: Borders, Boundaries and Barriers in Southern Africa

The inescapable truth is this: Africa’s human population is growing faster than that of any other continent, and is forecast to eclipse 2.4 billion by 2050.  This will, beyond any shadow of doubt, intensify the scope and scale of Africa’s human-wildlife conflict in years to come. If sustainable solutions on a local level can be developed as a means of conserving elephant populations – even if, and it pains me to write this, a legal trade in ivory results – surely that is preferable to local, regional, or continental extinction of the species?  Not ideal by any means; but preferable.  What we cannot lose sight of is Somerville’s focus on getting local communities onside in conservation efforts. It is so crucial in giving us the best possible chance of preserving Africa’s majestic giants for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.


The Chinese government has recently announced that 67 of its licensed ivory facilities are being shut down, including 12 of its 35 ivory carving factories and several dozen of its more than 130 ivory retailers. According to the Chinese State Forestry Administration, which oversees wildlife trade issues, the other facilities will be closed before the end of the year. This is being hailed as a massive step forward in tackling ivory supply & demand in the Far East. Although Somerville’s book doesn’t go into Far Eastern demand in great detail, he does acknowledge that the twin pressures of rising demand and the sort of corruption/conflict on the ground in African range states are two sides of the same coin. It’s pretty simple, really – break the demand for ivory, and you go a long way to reducing the poaching of elephants.  But it’s still a long road ahead to bring the illegal ivory trade under control. And there’s likely to be further ups and downs on the way.

Ivory carvin
China’s 3,000 year old ivory carving industry is finally being reined in by Beijing, with the announcement in March 2017 that 67 licensed ivory facilities are being shut down. China remains one of the largest sources of demand for African ivory. Photo Credit: National Geographic/How Hwee Young (EPA)


If you want to buy Somerville’s Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa for yourself, a quick google will take you to a number of online bookstores, or, if you’d prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, just head into your local bookshop!

Kenya – Kenyatta warns against violence during party nomination process


By George Obulutsa | NAIROBI

NAIROBI Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Thursday his government would not tolerate violence between rival camps of supporters in party primaries before a national election in August.

Two parliamentary candidates have been treated in hospital after being caught up in such a clash – a decade after an eruption of ethnic violence, in which more than 1,200 people were killed, following a disputed presidential poll.

“A culture of hooliganism during the electoral process must not and will not be allowed to gain currency and acceptance,” Kenyatta told a news conference at the main State House.

Kenyatta, the wealthy son of the country’s first president, is running for a second and final five-year term in the Aug. 8 vote.

The 2013 election passed off fairly peacefully, after opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is seen as Kenyatta’s main rival, challenged Kenyatta’s election in court. The court upheld the result.

Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party and dozens of others are nominating their candidates, to beat the April 26 deadline, and hand over nominees to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) by May 10 as required by law.

The main opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance of Kenya (Nasa), has yet to name its presidential candidate from among its top leaders, who include Odinga, and his 2013 running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka.

Millions of voters will also pick a new parliament and local authorities when they cast their ballots in August.

Contests to lead the country’s 47 local authorities are expected to be hard-fought affairs due to their budgets of billions of shillings.

Kenyatta said that all political parties taking part in the nominations had been given police protection to stem any acts of violence or hooliganism.

“Anybody who engages in acts of violence will be dealt with in accordance with the law, irrespective of who they are,” he said.

(Editing by Duncan Miriri and Alison Williams)

Uganda – defector says LRA leader Kony is ill

Monitor (Uganda)

Wednesday April 19 2017

Kony is ill – LRA defector

Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader

Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader Joseph Kony



Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony is reportedly battling peptic ulcers and has instructed his top commanders to find him drugs, an ex-rebel who defected last year has told Daily Monitor.
Peptic ulcers are sores that develop in the lining of the stomach, lower esophagus, or small intestine (the duodenum), usually as a result of inflammation caused by the bacteria H. pylori, as well as from erosion from stomach acids.
The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is burning abdominal pain that extends from the navel to the chest, which can range from mild to severe.
The former sergeant in the LRA ranks who requested not to be named for his own safety, said Mr Kony who is believed to be hiding in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been instructing them (fighters) to among other things carry out raids on particularly drug shops for supplies to treat his condition. “Acquiring fire arms for LRA fighters is no longer an important thing as Kony works towards his health that is deteriorating,” the ex-rebel said
Mr Kony who led a more than 20-year bloody war against government that left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced has as far back as 2006 been reported very ill.
In 2006, the then Gulu Resident District Commissioner, Col Walter Ochora, who had spent some time with Mr Kony at his hideout in the Garamba Forest said the LRA commander was in poor health and coughing blood. Mr Ochora died in 2011.
Another defector from Kony’s camp told journalists in February that Kony had been sick for a while.
Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM), Peter Kidega, 33, who claimed to have last seen Mr Kony on October 9 last year said the war lord had relinquished command to his sons Salim Saleh Kony, 23, and Ali, 21, due to ill health.
Mr Kidega, who served in LRA as a signaler and intelligence officer, revealed that Kony had told some of his officers about his ill-health.
Lt Hassan Ahmad Kato, the 4th Division Army spokesman, citing the accounts of recent defectors who are backing up reports of Kony failing health says with the LRA senior commander ill, the rebel group is in decline.
“ Kony has lost the battle, he cannot fight any more according to the reports that we are getting from the those who are defecting,” Lt Kato said.
Kony a self-anointed ‘messiah’ is wanted by The Hague based International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
At the height of the northern Uganda war, Mr Kony is believed to have abducted more than 30,000 children to strengthen his army, forced an estimated 1.5 million people into Internally Displaced Camps and tens of thousands lost their lives.