As China eats West’s lunch in Africa, bad policy reaps chaos in S. Sudan, CAR

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Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, Global Information System / Defense & Foreign Affairs

Major Western states, with historical dominance over key African regions and markets, have, in the first years of the 21st Century, been losing influence in many areas of Africa.

Often the Western states — the U.S., UK, and France in particular — have been ceding political and economic influence to either the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Iran, or merely to an increasing unwillingness of African societies to comply with the wishes of external powers.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir.  /AFP/Ashraf Shazly
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir. /AFP/Ashraf Shazly

Recent Western military or political interventions in such areas as Mali, Central African Republic, Libya, Sudan, and elsewhere have not produced the strategic outcomes desired by the West, implying that Western policies have lacked the ability to adapt to changing African circumstances, or to the attraction of Chinese or other options.

“Ground truth” intelligence and historical trends seem to be indicating that superficial, broad brush assessments by international media and policy think tanks of the causes of insurgency and perceived instability in a range of Sahel and sub-Saharan African states may be fueling, rather than helping to suppress, conflict in the region.

Non-African tendencies to attribute all instability and violence to Al Qaida-related jihadists have proven to be both factually incorrect and counterproductive. Consequently, growing numbers of grassroots forces, not all of them Muslim, seek the support, supplies and expertise from local jihadists to combat Western-sponsored crackdowns which they cannot endure or withstand.

Meanwhile, the vast energy and mineral resources in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa have become the key to the ability of the industrialized West — particularly Europe — to modernize and restore the industrial base and thus slowly emerge from the protracted and debilitating economic crisis.

Simply put, Western senior officials and economists are now convinced that it would be impossible to resurrect Western, particularly European, economies without access to Africa’s untapped energy and mineral resources, as well as Africa’s growing markets.

This also comes at a time when most Western analysts recognize that the West’s once-undisputed dominance of African resources has now been eroded by the growing presence of developers and traders from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Presently, Western leaders are frustrated with their inability to communicate and deal with African leaders on virtually anything. African interlocutors frequently raise issues which are beyond the comprehension of their Western counterparts. With instability and violence escalating and spreading, any Western communication becomes complicated and hostage to populist media outcries about both real and imagined human rights issues.

As well, the Chinese spread into Africa and its increasing dominance over energy and mineral resources, as well as the scant strategic infrastructure deemed vital to the West, seem unstoppable.

Hence, Western leaders are increasingly inclined to intervene militarily — both directly and via international conduits such as the UN, the AU, and African regional entities — as a shortcut to retaining influence in Africa without coping with the challenges. The crux of the Western logic and policy is “Africa is too important to be left to the Africans to handle and manage”. However, the West lacks (or has lost) the depth of knowledge and patience to address the crucially important sub state grassroots dynamics without which nothing will move in Sub-Saharan Africa. Consequently, Western military interventions — both direct and sponsored — have proven counterproductive, if not outright disastrous, to the West’s own vital interests.

The latest developments in two of the most explosive crisis points illustrate.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), the French-led military intervention already led to the return of Iran and Sudan on the coattails of the wave of atrocities against Muslims. This is a dramatic reversal of then President Michel Djotodia’s decision in late Summer 2013 to abandon the Khartoum agreement he had signed earlier, and instead appeal for help and cooperation to the West (which ultimately betrayed him).

[See Bodansky, Yossef: “Iran and Sudan’s plan to gain control over Central and Western Africa and its natural resources“, July 1, 2013]

Meanwhile, French forces and their Francophone African protégés have been aggravating the grassroots crises by dividing the entire diverse population into two camps — “with us” and “against us” (essentially, anti-Séléka and pro-Séléka respectively) — even though the CAR is rife with close to ten distinct conflicts. Consequently, the most vicious and violent Christian vigilante groups — the Anti-Balaka — became the core of the ostensibly pro-French grassroots forces.

Hence, the myriad of fighting forces gravitated to the lowest common denominator of the warring factions.
The sectarian divide has become distinct, thus, transforming the fratricidal carnage into a sectarian war. The Bangui area, for example, was originally dominated by economics-driven clashes where Christian vigilantes attempted to take over markets and distinct economic activities dominated by predominantly Muslim clans from the northeastern zones for their cotribals from the western zones.

After the French-led intervention and sharp divisions of the fighting elements, these economics-driven attacks evolved into extremely violent ethnic cleansing of Muslims on the basis of religion by machete-wielding Christian vigilantes under the watchful eyes of the French forces. [Ironically, the Anti-Balaka name translates from the local Sanga dialect into “anti-machete”.]

The flight and plight of the Muslims were quickly seized-upon by the Islamist-jihadist leaders eager to restore the surge westward which Djotodia had stopped. The jihadists and their sponsoring states — Iran and Sudan — are only too happy to exploit the ascent of sectarian violence.

The Islamist-jihadist media, both Sunni and Shi’ite, all over the Muslim World and increasingly in Western Europe, is urging volunteers to come to the aid of the persecuted and slaughtered Muslims of the CAR.

On March 24, 2014, the Al Qaida-affiliated and authoritative al-Minbar Jihadi Media Network urged French jihadists to assassinate President François Hollande in retaliation for the persecution of the Muslims of the CAR. “To our lone wolves in France, assassinate the president of disbelief and criminality, terrify his cursed government, and bomb them and scare them as a support to the vulnerable in the Central African Republic,” the message read. “Neither Hollande, nor his soldiers, will know peace in France as long as the Muslims of Mali and the Central African Republic cannot live properly in their country.”

Officially Iran, Sudan, and other Muslim states already committed to intervening in support of displaced Muslims communities. In Khartoum, the jihadists are burning French flags in solidarity rallies and recruiting volunteers for the jihad in the CAR. A trickle of jihadists, both Africans and Arabs, are already making their way to the CAR, either clandestinely or as members of numerous Muslim charities and NGOs out to help their brethren in distress.

Meanwhile, the AU peacekeepers — MISCA: International Support Mission to the Central African Republic — keep disengaging from challenging missions because of their mounting losses to ambushes by the Anti-Balaka forces.

On March 25, MISCA formally announced that “MISCA considers Anti-Balakas as terrorists and enemy combatants, and they shall be treated accordingly”. The French forces still refuse to embrace the designation. Presently, overwhelmed by the sudden expansion and escalation of the fighting, Paris acknowledges that the intensity and spread of violence had been underestimated when France committed to military intervention.

The UN is seeking huge donations for meeting the most basic humanitarian needs of a crisis spinning out of control. France is looking for additional troops and resources from other EU states in order to confront the calamity and violence France had needlessly created out of sheer ignorance of the prevailing conditions in the CAR.

Meanwhile, the fragile and explosive situation in South Sudan is being aggravated through the negotiation sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

The crux of the crisis is that African leaders are under immense pressure from foreign entities, mainly from the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth; the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of UNMISS, Hilde Johnson of Norway; and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General, Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative, UNMISS, Toby Lanzer of the United Kingdom.

Consequently, the IGAD conflict resolution process is well-meaning but out of touch with reality.

IGAD’s objective is to create a process of negotiations and possible compromise (or power sharing) between two competing leaders/camps — South Sudan’s democratically elected President Salva Kiir Mayardit and self-anointed rebel leader Riek Machar — which would lead to restructuring of governance in Juba after the elections of 2015.

However, the political dynamic does not reflect the real situation and tapestry of powers on the ground.

Back in mid-December 2013, Machar did attempt a coup under the banner of Nuer-against-Dinka tribal politics.

There have been very few takers. Instead, a myriad of locally-focused groups in northeastern South Sudan — only some of them Nuer — picked up arms in order to protest and further localized grievances against Juba.

Significantly, while all of these groups are anti-Juba/anti-Kiir, only a small minority are pro-Machar. Machar does not control these groups and cannot order them to fight or cease violence.

However, arranging for a ceasefire is a prerequisite for the beginning of negotiations in Addis Ababa. Indeed, in mid-March 2014, when IGAD announced the formation of the Protection Deterrent Force (PDF) for South Sudan, Machar announced that “his forces” would not cooperate with the PDF ostensibly because he had not been consulted in advance. The real reason is that Machar does not control “his forces” and cannot tell them to do anything, be it fight or ceasefire.

Therefore, for a genuine conflict resolution process to be effective in South Sudan, the complex reality on the ground must be recognized and addressed.

Conflict resolution should be in two distinct phases.

First, the diverse grievances of the myriad of grassroots groups (no matter how valid or invalid) should be addressed, studied, and, where warranted, resolved. This process should be conducted separately with each group. Ceasing violence should be a precondition to engaging these groups. Ultimately, each and every localized group should be convinced that Juba recognizes its plight and grievances, and is making a genuine effort to address and resolve them.

There is no other way to stop the bulk of the fratricidal violence currently plaguing northwestern South Sudan. The second phase can come only subsequent to this step.

Only when violence subsides or ceases would it be possible to engage in meaningful discussions and negotiations with ALL the key political camps in South Sudan — not just Kiir’s and Machar’s — about governance reforms and the future political process of the nation.

Significantly, President Kiir has outlined an eight-point “Road Map for Return to Peace and Moving The Country Forward” which comprehensively addresses his plans and conviction of what needs to be done (see annex below). These eight points must be taken into consideration by the international community, the UN, the AU, and IGAD when judging or criticizing President Kiir.

As well, it must be noted that there is no comparable document from the opposition camps (including Machar’s). All the self-anointed opposition and their Western backers want is for President Kiir to leave power and for them to be empowered by the West.

However, the U.S. and UN keep pressuring the AU and IGAD to focus on simplistic Kiir-versus-Machar negotiations on governance reforms and election.

Meanwhile the PDF is preparing to suppress by force, if necessary, the lingering fighting.

Western financial and logistical support is conditioned on adopting this mandate. However, as presently planned and structured, the PDF will be ill-equipped to confront any of the myriad of localized forces in northeastern South Sudan. At best, the PDF will push the localized forces into the bush where they’ll wait for another day to strike out anew.

As for the Addis Ababa negotiations, irrespective of their outcome, Machar cannot deliver the “rebel” side because he is not their leader. Therefore, nothing tangible can come out of the U.S.- and UN-demanded negotiations process other than diverting attention, efforts, and resources from pragmatically addressing the real crises in South Sudan.

The plights in South Sudan and the Central African Republic are not unique. The U.S. and West European advise — or, rather, their demands and instructions — to other African states immersed in insurgencies and fratricidal fighting, from Mali to Nigeria to Somalia, are equally unsuccessful, self-serving, and out of touch with the complex, nuanced, and convoluted realities on the ground.

While there is no denying of the growing importance of Africa’s resources, there should also be no denying the West’s endemic failure in interventions and crises management in the 21st Century. This is because of the profound lack of knowledge and comprehension of Africa’s complex circumstances. While Sub-Saharan Africa desperately needs Western technological expertise and investments, and is ready to share its riches with the West to expedite these, African leaders know Africa far better than their Western counterparts.

Former Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida clairvoyantly stressed that there was no substitute to finding and implementing “African solutions for African problems”.

Annex: President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s Road Map for Return to Peace and Moving The Country Forward:

1. An unconditional cessation of hostilities and ceasefire among the warring parties in the country as soon as possible.
2. Humanitarian assistance to the war affected citizens wherever they are in the country; while an immediate focus on efforts to return the Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) home will be given quick attention.
3. Grand National Peace and Political Dialogue in the country with participation of the Suspects of the Coup. The suspects of the Coup will be subjected to due process of law. This is in accordance with the laws of the Republic and the Communiqué of IGAD Head of States in Nairobi on December 27th, 2013.
4. Continuation of investigations into the crisis and hold people accountable for the atrocities committed. The results and legal process shall be opened fully to the public.
5. Presidential Pardons and General Amnesty shall be part of peace efforts in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the Country.
6. Establishment of a National Peace and Reconciliation Council which shall reach all corners of South Sudan.
7. Review and strengthening of Government institutions in the country particularly the Army, Law Enforcement Agencies, Judiciary and Anti-Corruption.
8. Preparation for the Elections 2015 by conducting National Census, setting up of the Geographical constituencies and the Voter Registration List.

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