The vagaries of the South Sudan government concerning the so-called “Peace Process” defy all logic

Faced with the tragedy unfolding in their country since December 2013 , some citizens of South Sudan have tried to organize and structure the civil society contribution to the peace process . In late August  , several civil society organizations applied for a permit to hold a forum at Quality Hotel in Juba on the theme “Revitalization of the Peace Process : Updates and Civil Society Perspective” . The National Security Service refused the authorization “due to security reasons”. This from the same government that two days before had asked for a review of the mandate of the recently-deployed Regional Protection Force , acccusing it of “creating havoc because it came into Juba carrying guns“. So the international force for peace could create havoc and the civil society could cause a security risk by holding a Forum on the revitalization of Peace (which was being discussed in Addis Ababa by the international community and the African Union) . To add another dash of surrealism to the situation , Information Minister Michael Makuei then declared that the South Sudan government “could hold elections in 2018 despite insecurity and fighting between government and opposition forces” . “You cannot take insecurity as an excuse for not running the election” , the Minister added . This seemed to consider that a general election in a country at war with four million refugees and even more IDPs was not a serious security risk while the meeting of a Forum of Civil Society members and the public display of weapons by a Regional Protection Force “caused havoc” and were “security risks” . After all this Alice in Wonderland talk , can the South Sudan government still be taken seriously ?

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Kenya unfurls the banner of democracy not only in Africa but worldwide

The September 1st decision by the Kenya Supreme Court to cancel the recent presidential elections is courageous and principled . Whether this  results in a peaceful rerun (hopefully) or in violent troubles (God forbids !) is a risk that the judges took . It is now up to the population to rise to the level of courage and lucidity of their judicial brethren. The responsability is incumbent on every Kenyan citizen . But meanwhile , what a spendid lesson in democracy ! Coming from the continent where that political choice is so often frustrated and brutally manhandled . Kenyans can certainly boast about the degree of maturity of their political system which has so often in the past come very short of decent behaviour . Every participant — pro or con — in the running of public life has been promoted and his situation/action dramatized positively or negatively by the decision of the Kenyan judges . Both President Kenyatta — by accepting the verdict — and chief challenger Oginga Odinga — by calling for a peaceful response — have risen to the occasion . And helped Africa into political adulthood and responsability . Whether the charges that led to the verdict are correct or not is secondary . Julius Caesar repudiated his wife who was accused of infidelity . Some friends of the Roman politician tried to defend her , saying that the accusation was false and due to envy . “It could be , answered the Roman general , and if so we will remain friends ; but the wife of Caesar cannot be under suspicion”. That this statement can apply today to a key segment of Africa’s politics is an inceredible democratic leap forward . Tonight every African (and non-African) dictator or life-president will sleep less at ease . The whole world stands in gratitude to these Nairobi judges .

Why Riak Machar should be released from arbitrary detention

In the next few days IGAD and the African Union are preparing to hold their conference on the “revitalization” of the South Sudan Peace Process . Whether such a damaged framework can be repaired is dubious but let’s be generous and vote that the ragged torn up unrespected document can still be readable . Miracles can happen after all . But not when you tip the scales against their occurring . And that is the case when the “international community” (or at least that part represented by the two African organizations) decides to stake the cards against its own sought after outcome . Any kind of peace process , short of total crushing military victory 1945 style ,  is supposed to allow enemies to talk to each other . And the more representative and most opposed the better. The Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs said so himself when he declared recently that the mediation should “prioritize the organizations with presence inside the country over those based abroad”. Excellent choice . But then what about SPLM/IO , the largest , best organized and strongest of armed opposition movements ? Could the mediation actually think of trying to have the Taban Deng Gaï small group of government collaborators take the seat of SPLM/IO ? It seems possible and would indeed be ridiculous . We would end up with an internationally-backed version of Salva Kiir’s “National Dialogue” where the President’s right hand cheerfully shakes his left hand . And yet this seems to be a distinct possibility when the same Ethiopian Foreign Minister said that Riak could be met by the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) “in another location” . Riak seems to be more and more looking not like a political figure but like an Ebola patient. And the same Ethiopian Minister adds the warning that the Nuer leader would “compromise his political future if he refused to cooperate with IGAD . What political future ? It is hard to fathom in such a toxic environment . And “cooperate” with what purpose and for what expected results ? Let us be realistic : can an effective peace process be the result of a “revitalization” from which one of the strongest actors is excluded ? Can the mute talk to the deaf ? Does the international community really expects such a lopsided process to arrive at a believable result ? The question is not whether Mr Machar is “good” or “bad”. He exists and , whether IGAD and teh AU likes him he has started the war with a large tribally-based army (Nuer) but when the conflict widened his support broadened from his tribe to a mosaic of diverse ethnic groups where Equatorians were increasingly represented . Was it because his leadership was momentous , popular and unifying everybody ? Not even . Many of those who joined the fight in the name of SPLM/IO knew him by name only and had no tribal links with him . But he was the only nationally (and internationnally) known leader who could carry the banner of change and reform in this suffering land . Whether bystanders approved or disapproved of him is irrelevant . He is part of the problem and therefore he has to be part of the solution . Keeping him in seclusion invalidates the “revitalization process” even before the door of the oven is opened .

SPLM/IO and the growing confusion of the South Sudan

On August 3rd the National Salvation Front (NSF) , the paper-thin rebellion led by General Thomas Cirillo , issued an angry communique reproaching SPLM/IO for “attacking its forces under Lt. Gen. John Kenyi Lo Buron ………which was triggered by Lt. Gen . Lo Buron’s exercise of his inalienbale right to choose to join NSF”. This is typical of the growing confusion affecting teh South Sudan rebellion . Kenyi Lo Buron was the key commander of SPLM/IO in Central Equatoria ; he is a Pojulu by tribe but the vast majority (in fact the quasi totality) of SPLM/IO forces in Central Equatoria are Kakwa . At the beginning of the month , from his place of house arrest in South Africa , Riak carried out a re-shuffling of his forces in the Equatorias and he bypassed Lo Buron in favour of a Kakwa . Lo Buron then tried to uplift the armament under his control . But his own soldiers mutinied against him and took back the equipment from their “leader” who then promptly defected to NSF , in the hope he could use that switch to keep control of his guns . This failed and he had to run away northwards towards Moru territory . This fighting is typical of the continued disagregation of forces in the opposition . When the Juba troops took Maiwut and later Pagak , it marked new bouts of fighting between pro and anti government Nuer . The same splits marked the rebel counter-attacks on the same sites . These rebels splits do not mean that the government is more united : many of the Matyang Anyoor militias deserted the government troops and returned to Bahr-el-Ghazal when General Paul Malong was recently arrested and detained . Actually the military situation in South Sudan is progressively growing as intricate as the political one.

President Museveni has finally found the best solution for ending the war in South Sudan

The past three weeks have seen an interesting amount of activity on the question of peace in South Sudan   . It all started with the meeetings organized by President Museveni in Kampala to try to reconcile/reunite the various strands of the SPLM. Everybody agreed that it would be a good idea but the enthusiasm was limited particularly when on July 21st the Troïka countries (the US , Great Britain and Norway) decided to suspend their financial help for the implementation (which implementation ?) of the August 27th 2015 Peace Agreement . On that same day , the same Troïka countries warned the South sudanese government that blocking information news website did not seem very coherent with trying to achieve National Dialogue , Peace & Reconciliation . These were the last dying gasps of the official , traditional , diplomatic peace process . After two years of agony , nobody was taking it very seriously any more . And among those who did not , was President Museveni himself . He had just welcomed in Kampala a vital delegation consisting of Kuol Manyang Juuk (Defense) , Speical Envoy Nhial Deng Nhial , Mrs Rebecca Nyandeng , widow of JohnGarang , former Chief of Staff Oyai Deng Ajak , Former minister Kosti Manibe , John Luk and SPLM Acting Secretary General Jemma Nunu Kumba . Coming from Juba full of his own importance and quite ready for extreme measures , the President Himself  , who had the day before proclaimed a state of Emergency over lage parts of South Sudanese territory . There the scenario was not any more trying to “revive” or “revitalize” the dead body of the Peace Agreement . Museveni had a much bolder idea : organize elections , gently accompany Salva Kiir to the exit door and promote Mrs Garang as a unity candidate for the Presidency . She has all what is needed : she is a Dinka , a respected person , the widow of the Great Man , she strongly dislikes Salva Kiir , her own son is in SPLA-IO , seriously so , not Quisling-like in the mode of Taban Deng Gai and she could drag behind her Deng Oyai Ajak as SPLA (Sorry : SSDF) Chief-of Staff . Such a unity candidate would blind some of the fears of the ordinary population . Of course there are many obstacles :

  1. How convinced is Salva Kiir that being showed the door is the best strategy ?
  2. What is going to be left of the government’s army after it knocks over the Maiwut/Pagak defensive area ? Victory could be more destructive than defeat since the Army will be the roayal path to power for whoever can get control of it . Could an M7/Rebecca team actually succeed to do it ?
  3. The Troïka and international community in general will be a bit shocked by such cavalier lack of principles

But nothing succeeds like success . Right now the IGAD/AU mediation has produced absolutely nothing . The question will be how does the Ugandan president’s bright new idea takes off the ground ? The first few metres of the taking off will be the hardest and it might all end up there and then . But if the ungainly thing actually starts moving , the international community , which is brain dead on South Sudan , might be seduced into such a scheme which has at least one advantage : it exists . Now , whether it will succeed, that is quite a different cup of tea .

Djibouti/Yemen : FRAGILE JOURNALISTS OR FRAGILE GOVERNMENT ?

Three BBC journalists who were trying to get to Sana’a via Djibouti were prohibited from boarding their flight by the Arab Coalition Authorities who are allowed by Djibouti to operate on its territory and to monitor the communications with Sana’a (which they bomb but do not control) . Yemen President Abd Abbo Mansur Hadi , more or less safely ensconced in Aden , deplored that the UN had tried to allow journalists on one of its flights , “fearing for their safety”. Yes , true , oh my God ! Journalists going to a war theater ? Who had ever heard of that ? The BBC reporters were safely kept on the ground on the western shore of the Red Sea . Now , if we discount official fibs , what was it that the good president was trying to hide ? The extent of the Saudi bombing destructions , carried out with US armament ? The fact that the Sunni ordinary Yemen street population had much more hostility towards the bombings carried out by their Sunni Saudi brothers than towards the Houthi Zaydi (Shiite) so-called “invaders” ? The hatred towards the Arab Coalition perceived as the real invaders ? Well , we’ll never know for sure since those daring BBC journalists were deemed to fragile to try finding out . Djibouti gave no comment .

The non-decision on the Sudan sanctions

On July 11th 2017 , the Office of the President of the United States issued an executive order …….deciding not to decide .Or , more positively said , “ALLOWING ADDITIONAL TIME FOR RECOGNIZING POSITIVE ACTIONS” . The main modification to the previous Executive Orders (13067 [1997] , 13412 [2006] and 13761 [2017] ) was purely one of date : the Executive Orders were up for revision on July 12th and a day before the dial was rotated forward to October 12th 2017 . A couple of days later , Ibrahim Gandour in Khartoum spoke at a press conference where he declared that “relations were strained between Sudan and the US but that the Sudanese Government had no intention to escalate tensions and return to the state of intenhostility that previously characterised the relations in the past years“. But why the whole hullabaloo about these sanctions ? Because for years the security establishment in the US had pushed for normalization of the Washington-Khartoum relations . In the last months of the Obama administration , Samantha Power had given a voice to this demand of the cloak-and-dagger  community which had been persuaded for years of the sympathy , support and efficiency of the Sudanese Mukhabarat . As the readers who know me probably know , I have entertained the strongest doubts about any genuine Sudanese security commitment of the Khartoum government  against its former Islamist friends . Many critics , and among them Eric Reeves who strongly dislikes Khartoum policies , have pointed at the gross human rights behaviour of the Islamo-Military Junta in Sudan , concerning Darfur IDPs , bombings , health neglect , restriction to humanitarian aides in conflict areas , support of brutal militias and so on . All these are true and the “sea change” in Sudanese behaviour that Samatha Power was pointing at was just a mere hologram that only she could see . But the argumentation of the spook establishment was different and belonged more nakedly to the Realpolitik school of thought . Yes , the subconversation went , these fellows are not quite dispensing the milk of human kindness around but they are useful , they help us chop off a few tentacles from the Great Islamist Octopus . It is a bit like the attitude towards post-2003 Kadhafi: nasty fellow , with Lockerbie and all that , but useful . The difference was that al-Qaida genuinely hated Kadhafi and had tried to kill him several times . Today the Libyan Islmists love Khartoum and receive help from that quarter . But even if we forget  the milk of human kindness and try to adhere to a drab and realistic Machiavellian outlook : it still does not work . The Khartoum government is humanly nasty but in addition , it is still trying to support interests that are directly opposed to those of the West . So how can “sea changing” President Beshir hope to fool us ? Because he has powerful friends , the kind that just ordered $100bn of weapons from the US at the time of the recent Trump visit in Saudi Arabia . Yes , $100 bn , this is not a typo (although how much of that money will actually ever be paid by the Saudi remains a question of suspended belief) . With friends like those , Beshir can afford to relax a bit when dealing with Washington . But why is Prince Salman such a good friend of the ar-rajil dakran fi’l Sudan ? Because the Saudis prefer ice cream to bullets and their anti-Houthi capacity in Yemen is rather slight . The Americans have already poured $12bn of military equipment into the hands of Saudi Arabia since the war began and the military impact has been zilch , rien , nada , zero . Will $100bn change the results ? Probably not . So Prince Salman needs mercenaries and Beshir is glad to oblige . Small gifts such as this help reinforce friendship . ICC-indicted Besir indirectly has good friends in Washington . But the bottom line is this : does it work ? would removing sanctions help the criminal leadership in Khartoum serve American (and other western) interests ? There again , probably not . If we look at the way things are going in Libya (a much more important theater of operation than Yemen for the Khartoum regime) , the Sudanese are solidly helping their Islamist friends and trying to undermine those who either support or even indirectly ally themselves to General Khalifa Haftar . Not that General Khalifa Haftar is a mild and pleasant democrat : he is a recycled Kadhafist of authoritarian temperament  , but he , at least , can be fitted within a Realpolitik framework . Not nice , but useful and rather efficient . Is President Trump aware of all this ? Unlikely . The position of Under-Secretary of State for African Affairs is still vacant in the U.S. diplomatic organigram and Mr Trump is probably too involved in his own survival as a President for such details to matter to him . So whether the dial will be turned to zero , or towards a later date again  on October 12th , will probably depend on factors that will have very little to do with the Horn of Africa and the Sahel .

The war in Yemen and its African projections

War is not nice but it has at times positive side effects . The increasing UAE implantation in Eritrea is bringing a slight vibration of light  prosperity in an otherwise dull economic landscape . To call it “development” would be an exageration but there are visible effects. Nobody knows how much Abu Dhabi is paying for its base in Assab but there are rumours of a $500m yearly bill , way more than either the French of the Americans are paying in Djibouti . The UAE presence has had an impact on the afar population on the Yemen shore , increasing smuggling and fishing . With at times dire consequences : the Emirati , not well-learned in local peculiarities , did not know that the Eritrean coastal waters are richer in fish than the Yemeni ones . Too many boats coming from the other side scared them (the coast they face is controlled by their Houthi enemies) and they bombed them , killing a lot of Yemen-originating Afar fishermen . Their fear , even if unjustified , was not ridiculous : the so-called “rebels” are in fact solidly entrenched on the Yemen side , not only Houthi but also former regular Yemeni troops who have remained loyal to their former President , ali Abdallah Saleh , who has sided with the Houthi whom he used to fight when he was in power . UAE aircraft based in Eritrea bomb them from Assab while Saudi aircraft bomb them from Saudi Arabia . The bombing is now well factored-in by the Yemeni civilians who have learned how to protect themselves from it and on the ground the GCC troops remain blocked , incapable of advancing . Issayas Afeworki does not care , he gets his money as well as a new access path to resources : small Chinese investors have come from Abu Dhabi and Dubaï and brought a modicum of prosperity  . Behind this slow motion war and its economic dimension , it is obvious that the UAE authorities worry about the future . Hence their increasing presence on the African shore (Berbera is another example) and a calculated way to double the Saudi presence in an independent way . The calculation is clear : there is an increasing agitation in the Shiite-populated provinces of Saudi Arabia and the vibrations can be felt all the way to Riyad . The Qatari were foolish to run too far ahead and insist on the importance of the Iranian factor . But they were wrong for being right too early (and too loudly) . Abu Dhabi shares their worry and quietly prepares a plan B for the case Saudi splinters and falls apart . The UAE have no desire to go down with them and Africa is part of their contingency planning . The military stalemate is a preocuppying non-development . Saudi Arabia litterally drips with US weapons and Trump’s jocular friendship is there to guarantee that there will be more . But this lethal American delivery is useless , the Saudi are incapable of using it (hence the increasing use of mercenary troops of all origins : the latest batch came from Columbia) . And this is unlikely to stop : by now most of the former PDRY , the former southern British Yemen colony , is in reality independent , with a theoretical overview of the legal Yemeni government and a reality on the ground that bears no relationship to this comforting picture : the South is a crisscross of alliances between al-Qaida fighters , independentists and tribal militias . Some accept to declare themselves subjects of President Abo Mansoor in order to benefit from Saudi largesse of money and weapons . But they do not feel constrained by their “loyalty” . More than ever , the Horn of Africa is being drawn into continued interaction with the Yemeni side

Somaliland : the Berbera base , the regional turmoil aud the upcoming elections

In a discrete way , the Berbera former military base keeps inching back towards its former status . On May 13th a Russian member of Moscow’s Embassy in Djibouti , Yuri Koroshiko , visited Hargeysa and met with the Somaliland authorities . The usual platitudes were diplomatically exchanged but there was a sub-conversation to the meeting : The Russian diplomat  — who ha&d taken advantage of his presence in the unrecognized State to visit the base formerly built in the 1970s by the USSR  — that a return of these installations to his country might be reciprocated by an official recognition process , the golden prize sought after by all Somaliland politicians — and beyond them by most citizens . There was no official declaration but the hint was there. Meanwhile , a few days later , a delegation came from the Arab Emirates to inaugurate the beginning of the work on the harbor . Lo and behold , no UAE officials there , 100% businessmen from the DP World company. No hints of recognition , a purely business-as- usual approach in spite of the presence of President Silanyo , Foreign Minister Saad Ali Shire and a whole bevy of Somaliland officialdom . DP World yes , UAE no . With the present fitna between the UAE+Saudi Arabia versus Qatar and Iran (+ assorted Shiites in other places) the United Arab Emirates’ prudence acquires an added relevance . But this might not be of Somaliland’s liking . Hargeysa’s irritation is palpable . After being reprimanded by London for several postponements of its elections , and after being subjected to hostile popular demonstrations (a rare phenomenon in the self-reliant country) , Somaliland has finally decided to hold the polls next November . State-of-the-Art electoral cards have already distributed in Awdal , Sahel and parts of Sanaag and these electoral cards are being used as a play for reinforced national unity . Since both the East and the West are not populated by Issaq — the core clan family in the North — they protested about their under-representation in these coming elections and asked for more MPs . Yes , answered the national electoral autorities , vote in the Presidential polls and you’ll be able to use these same electoral cards for the legislative elections in 2019 . That way your larger population will be enumerated and able to elect more MPs . The inducement seems to be working but the Mogadiscio authorities complained about this “plot” . On June 2nd , Foreign Minister Saad Ali Shire declared to the journalists : “We are tired of being too polite . We are going to be nasty . It is only nasty children who can get attention , the good boys get nothing“. Indeed . But how ? There are plenty of occasions to get nasty in the region but none that looks very appealing to the Somaliland leadership . Except if those Russians decided to project their Iranian alliance on the South Red Sea Shore. Who knows ? This could get a bit of attention

President Ismail Omar Guelleh artistic display

Early last month the Republic of Djibouti put in an application to join the OECD World Forum for Transparency so as to turn the small Red Sea state into a fully modern embodiement of liberal and up-to-date transnational economics . This was a very nice announcement . But what was less nice was that , at the same time , the ODPIC (Office Djiboutien de la Propriété industrielle et Commerciale Djibouti Office for Indsutrial and Commercial Property) stopped putting its property registry online . Why did OPDIC suddenly go silent on this essential statistical and legal element ? Well , well , well , there were silent constraints dictated by the economic (and political) realities . Djibouti is dreaming of becoming a financial hub , even perhaps one of these tax havens on the Luxemburg-Virgin Islands-Jersey model . And at the same time is is getting closer and closer to the People’s Republic of China which is building both a commercial harbor and a military base in Djibouti , side-by-side with the French , US and even Japanese installations (the Japanese are nervous about the Chinese deployment and would like an extension of their hitherto modest perimeter) . Big player military games , conflicting interests , large investments , the projected financial hub is right now defering to Chinese demands for discretion . Chinese companies are perched on the edge of the Red Sea and would like to step into the regional great game with discretion . You said “transparency” ? Yes , by all means . But let’s have a “managed transparency” , transparent for some and opaque for others , according to needs and status . In modern liberalese the good word for this is “flexibility” . President IOG is extremely flexible .