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 .

IS PRESIDENT FARMAJO REALLY THINKING OF REFURBISHING SIAD BARRE’S OLD UNIFORM ?

Given what we just wrote about the military aid program resulting from the London conference , this question seems a bit out of place . But there are some strange signs that have to be taken into consideration , regardless of how real or unreal they may seem . The President has been trying to recruit 2,000 men in each of the Federated States that now constitute part of the new look Somali Federal Republic . Why not ? This could be part of an exercise in national unity which would have nothing sinister . But then he also asked the UN to remove the ban of weapons acquisition still applying to Somalia . Secretary General Guterres said he took good note but also declared that he was not personnally favourable to this lifting of the ban . This too , could simply be considered as a normal exercise in national sovereignty  . But then , there are deeper developments that do not seem to square off with “normal” sovereign prerogatives . The recruitment drive has been extended to

  • (a) the Dolbahante clan , a clan of the Darood clan-family which was used during the civil war as a reservoir of anti-Issaq soldiers . The Dolbahante live on Somaliland territory and some of them have thrown their lot with the self-declared State while others remain aloof since efforts at joining Puntland have aborted   Some of the Dolbahante responded to Farmajo’s demand while other warned Hargeisa instead , after declining to serve in a “national-federal” army
  • (b) The same recruitment drive was also extend to some sub-clans of the Majerteen and we do not have sufficient information to say what was the impact of that effort

Meanwhile Hawiye clan elders travelled to Hargeisa and warned of Darood/government plans to draw Somaliland into a dialogue aiming at the reunification of Somalia , and in case of a refusal on Somaliland’s part teh declaration of  a military break followed by an effort at reunification by force  . In order to stop this development , they requested help from Somaliland in militarily checking the Darood/Government plan . The Hawiye elders who made up the delegation were embarassed when their Somaliland counterparts thanked them for their kind warning/communication , but also remarked that after three Hawiye presidencies in Mogadishu they might have thought earlier of supporting the recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign state before the whole situation would turn into a conflict one . Obviously none of this was discussed , at least openly , during the London conference . How serious is the military effort ? And even more important , how would the various “federated” states take the idea of a military offensive against the North ?

Opinion polls , anybody ?

The discreet flop of the recent London conference on Somalia

“Prime Minister Theresa May gave a speech to support President Farmajo in building a secure , stable and prosperous future for the people of Somalia” . So says the FCO . This being said (by the FCO) can we point to something solid that would justify all the glorified terms of such a speech ? Hardly . Why ? Because the so-called “security Pact” which has been brandished as “New Measure of the Year” , is not in fact anything new . It is basically a recycling of the old idea of creating a national Somali Army while sponsoring the “development of an inclusive and federal democratic state”. The content of this “new partnership for Somalia” simply means we carry on the old partnership for Somalia . So what does it mean in terms of cash ? £110m emergency food assistance  and £21m over two years (!) for the Army . Not quite the price of a luxury apartment in London . All in all , that is not taking us very far . The emergency food deliveries is essential , given the present catastrophic drought situation . The cattle is dying all over the place and even if this is not what the “Special Somalia Conference” was supposed to be about , it has to look into taht gaping maw . Death is in the air and it cannot be neglected even if this has very little to do with nation (re)building . It is bare survival . But if we want to really look at Somalia  , look structurally , the main problem is not food aid , necessary as it may be . The question is political and territorial organization . Somalia is a nation in search of a state and if it can’t find one , it might be better to settle for several . Was it better to have a united Yugoslavia dripping with blood or are we better off with small , more peaceful , more balanced , inheritor states ? Somalia has always had a hard time surviving in a harsh natural environment and it has to make the best use it can from its few limited positive assets : the commercial genius of its population , its coastline , its unexplored oil resources . This is what a real “national” conference would have had to do about the territory :

  • What does “federalism” mean in the present context ?
  • Is it conceivable to negotiate a peace agreement with the Shebaab ?
  • What should the future tax system be ?
  • What about organizing referendums in both Somaliland and Puntland and decide to accept the result , no matter what discordant screams are heard in Mogadishu ?

In reality the “New Partnership” is just a way of trying to dump the Somali question overboard . Let AMISOM go and try to plug the security gap left behind by the troubled Burundians , the too eager Ugandans and the otherwise engaged Ethiopians . Hoping to foot the bill with £10m/year price tag  and a prayer for the Shebab’s slow motion death (an unlikely development) . Poor Somalia ! Betrayed by the Russians , manipulated by the Italians , falling from a mad military dictatorship into an absence of state , invaded by the Americans and finally left to the absent-minded care of the politically-correct international community (these days Great Britain since it seems to have nothing better to do after Brexit) . A monument should be erected in Somalia’s name on the UN esplanade in New-York , where the bronze pistol with the twisted barrel glorifies the impotence of world watchers .

The fate of General Paul Malong and the Fate of South Sudan

Two weeks ago I was writing in this blog about the possibilities of a Paul Malong rebellion . To be frank I was wondering whether the Dinka hardliners had lost their good sense because in the incredibly tragic South sudanes landscape a fight between two segments of the dominant tribe seemed — without passing (yet) any judgement on what they have done , to be , in the least , a tactical mistake . Since the Dinka are presently at war with almost all the other tribes of South Sudan  , starting another fight between two sub-sections of their number seemed like sheer madness . Paul Malong was indeed in a state of mental and personal secession from the Government probably due to his hostility to the deployment of the new RPF international force and to the fact that he felt his word should amount to a writ of law in his camp. Hence his angry leaving of Juba without any contact with the president and his bizarre declaration of self-decided “retirement” . And hence the security precautions made by all the Juba-controlled authorities along his way to Aweil . But no , finally , he did not mutiny . He even accepted to come back to the capital and to talk to the President (even if their meeting was far from cordial) . Why ? Probably because any other course of action , whether he would be “successful” in the short-term or not , would have amounted to suicide in the medium term . The Jieng Council of Elders , seen as “patriotic” or “evil” , depending on the political wing looking at them , is , in any case far from stupid . Some of his old tactitician members like Bona Malwal could not condone such a rash decision . But does that mean that “things are OK” inasmuch as such a term can be used in South Sudan ? Probably not. The Dinka hard core is now so sure to be if not victorious at least unavoidable , that it displays the typical hubris of the blindly succesfull . The fact that they stand on a quickly melting micro-iceberg does not seem to have entered their mind . Meanwhile there are 832,000 refugees in Uganda , 170,000 in South Kordofan 287,000 in Ethiopia and 80,000 in South Darfur . The UN demand for finacial contibutions ($1.66bn) has only been 18% funded . And there are 1,793,000 IDPs . Do General Malong , the JCE and Salva Kiir even care ? The notion that the rebels share the blame is ridiculous : Riak Machar is under detention , Thomas Cirillo is so far incapable of mustering a coherent force and the other components such as Colonel Bakosoro or Lam Akol , are only paper organizations with very little military capacity . And yet the war does not stop . Why ? Because the South Sudanese population , in its majority (and that means all tribes) , refuses to obey this unelected government made up of tired Dinka warlords who simply got fat on stealing the product of 370,000 bpd of the pre-2013 oil production (today according to Oil Miister Stephen Dieu Dau , it has fallen to 130, 000 bpd ) . Even if a conference of rebel leaders were to be organized to-morrow , it is not even sure that those who are fighting now would obey their call of laying down arms . South Sudan is not into a planned and coherent rebellion , it has exploded , it is shredded from the bottom up . And pushing the angry genie of popular discontent back into the bottle will need more than a minimum of attention to the complaints

The fate of General Paul Malong and the growing anarchy in South Sudan

Last Tuesday (May 9th 2017) General Paul Malong was fired from his position as Army Chief of Staff by President Salva Kiir Mayardit . The tension in the streets of Juba had been evident for several days and many people feared a sudden showdown . In addition the president had been trying to get some kind of control over the growing rift between the Bor Dinka and the Murle in the East , a conflict not directly linked to the civil war but which the conflict has allowed to fester . Michael Makuei Lueth , himself a Bor Dinka had issued statements which the President did not accept and after a while the government itself , seen as “Dinka” (but which kind of Dinka ? There are a dozen main Dinka sections which are in fact like so many tribes) but nevertheless an actor in the conflict . This came just as the UN was announcing a figure of one million refugee children (and 1.3m moving about inside the country as IDPs) and off the record was estimating the number of casualties over the last three and a half years at around 300,000 . The combination of figures might be a bit exagerated in order to shock international public opinion into giving more than the 20% of the appeal already pledged but unfortunately the exageration is still largely within the realm of what is believable (no casualty statitistics have ever been gathered by any of the actors or observers , a very common fact for African conflicts) . After being fired , general Paul Malong had left Juba for an unknown destination in Lakes State , near Aweil . And then the meaning of what happened started to blur . Santo Domic , the SPLA Spokesman , said Gal Malong had left peacefully “and is not planning to rebel“. But then Ateny Wek Ateny , Salva Kiir Spokesman declared that General Malong was “near Yrol and that there are steps being taken to convince him to return to Juba” . Next came an undisclosed military source saying that General Malong had rebelled agaisn the government and that six generals — Charles Duot Akot , Akech Adim , Marial Nuor , Jiel Mangok , Yel Deng Nguel and Riny Tueny Mabior — had followd him into rebellion . This has pushed the security situation to a kind of complete upheaval. The “explanation” given to the conflict in 2013-2014 was that it was a war between the Nuer and the Dinka . Then a year later , as the Equatorias started to agitate , it was seen as a war between the Dinka and the Equatorians . Then this year as rebellions started to germinate in Bahr-el-Ghazal it was explained as a war between the Dinka versus the Fertit , the Jur , the Balanda and so on . Observers who dared to speak frankly began to say it war a war of all tribes against the Dinka . But now the Dinka seem poised to fight each other , not even between distant sections like the Bor and the Aliab but even between neighboring Dinka sections in Bahr-el-Ghazal itself . The government seems to have lost all control over the situation without any rebel faction managing to substitute itself to teh central forces . The result is near complet anarchy, a Hobbesian  war of all against all , to the accompaniement of a huge number of starving displaced and refugee civilians . It seems that the trigger point was unvoluntarily reached  by the deployment of  400 British Army logisticians . They arrived a few days ago (May 2nd) , in charge of building a helicopter landing site and a jetty on the Nile . Not a very martial task but it seems that Salva Kiir’s calculation was that the presence of these foreign troops would deter Paul Malong from directly taking to the streets . The President might have been right and Juba has been protected by this symbolical umbrella . But the only result seems to have been to move the faceoff from the capital to the Bahr-el-Ghazal region , where the future remains more than uncertain .

 

Errata and more on South Sudan

About two weeks ago , when I was sleep-deprived and about to fly to the US I posted a comment on the document jointly issued by the whole opposition . It was marred by several errors . Sorry . Here are some points to be corrected :

  1. It was Mr Henry Odwar and not Mr Peter Regbigo who signed the document for SPLM/IO
  2. Mr Bakosoro’s first name is Joseph , not Henry
  3. General Thomas Cirillo is a Bari , not a Madi

This being said the situation remains terrible and even though this united opposition document is a step in the right direction , it is only a half-way progress . It is so needed that the signatories have re-issued the document in slightly modified form on April 30th . The point of re-issuing this appeal is that in the meantime President Salva Kiir had issued another “Republican Order” (n° 08/2017) pretending to revive the peace process and re-open the dialogue . The opposition refused to take this seriously since the head of the collapsing state kept insisting that he was the one who was going to set the terms of dialogue and appoint its steering committee . This is a bit like the process where “my right hand shakes my left hand in friendly congratulation” . Not much of a result can be expected from a situation where the dialogue would in fact be reduced to a monologue . Mrs Rebecca Nyandeng , Chairman Garang’s widow , who had been appointed by Salva Kiir as a Committee Member (without being consulted or even notified of her appointment , a style which in itself speaks volumes about respecting the opinion of political actors) refused to be appointed  on April 27th , explaining that the conditions for a free and honest dialogue had not been created . Salva Kiir is desperately pushing for some kind of a diplomatic/political process as his grip on power is increasingly sliding  . Not so much under the attacks of the armed opposition (even though it remains active) but because all other actors seem to be increasingly pursuing their own aims and agendas , without any government discipline

  • The Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) publicly announced that it refused the deployment of the RPF international force , even though Salva had (reluctantly) accepted it and even though the first elements of the force (Banglaseshi technicians) had arrived
  • The UN is now discreetly discussing the possibility that Juba has lost control of its own Army . The frequent attacks by SPLA forces , followed by immediate denials , suggest the fact that the Army runs to the music of a different drummer , and perhaps even of several . What is Juba’s Army doing with its continuous attacks ?
  • Members of civil society seem worried that the Army is now on a global offensive , even as the President keeps talking about peace and dialogue , and that this attack might go all the way to replacing Salva Kiir himself , perceived as “weak”. Many troops are deployed in the streets of the capital , with tanks back-up . Whether they are there to protect the government or to overthrow it is unclear  . General Paul Malong Awan is particularly worried about the situation in Bahr-el-Ghazal after the fighting in Wau and Raja a week ago . He seems to think a firmer hand is needed at the helm . His , perhaps ?