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 .


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 ?

Yes , more about South Sudan : and for once it makes sense

On April 12th Ms Priti Patel , British International Development Secretary dropped the rhetorical G-Bomb when she characterized the violence in South Sudan as “Genocidal”. It was not technically correct but it was politically and humanly appropriate . Since Rwanda, when you want to catch the world’s attention on matters of violence in Africa , you do have a problem . So hats off to her , she exagerated for a good cause . One sign she was right to say what she said is the fact that the confused and fractitious South Sudan opposition came together and five days later issued a common press release by all seven organizations . So let us have a closer look at the signatories who believed (rightly so) that is was time to close ranks and try to rally to the emergency :

  1. Big boys first , the SPLM/IO signature came from Peter Regbigo Tingo , the former SPLM/IO Governor of Wau (when SPLM/IO was still a supposed partner in peace instead of being divied by a fake allied membership of the government and a hunted fighting group) . “Tingo” , as everybody calls him , is a Ndogo , i.e. a member of that very small tribe of southern Bahr-el-Ghazal . He is a good and clever man but being a Ndogo he cannot have the ethnic weight to threaten still-detained Chairman Riak Machar Teny Dhurgon . Taban Deng Gai tried (and failed) but once was enough . In any case IO has the biggest fighting force on the opposition side
  2. Second came SPLM/FD (former detainees) . I can’t read the signature . It might have been Kosti Manibe . But in any case FD probably does not have 20 committed members and I am not sure they have even a single gun . They retain a bit of moral authority , which was seriously dented when Deng Alor broke ranks with them and joined the government.
  3. Lam Akol signed for the National Democratic Movement (NDM) . NDM is another twenty-something members movement . But Lam is quite clever and he can infiltrate himself into almost any moving thing . He has a limited following of Chollo (Shilluk) people , but not at more than battalion level . The Chollo King does not like him too much which can be understood because , as a King , he has a difficult time projecting his authority and Lam is not exactly the most obedient subject he could imagine .
  4. Is the signature of the South Sudan National Movement for Change (SSNMC) , led by former Western Equatoria Governor Henry Bakosoro . Apart from SPLM/IO , this is the only movement with a military capacity . Its capacity is limited to Western Equatoria and its fighters are either Zande of Kakwa . Bakosoro has taken refuge in the US and his military clout needs some reinforcement if it is to become significant
  5. Then there is the National Movement for Salvation (which insists to go by the initials NAS) and is led by General Thomas Cirillo . Cirillo is a Madi Brigadier who defected a few weeks ago and is now staying in Addis Ababa in the so far vain hope that the Ethiopians will provide him with the weapons he needs to equip his forces . Potentially Gen. Cirillo could raise a large fighting force in Central Equatoria but he is short of equipment and his men would also need training , given the fact that the rank-and-file SPLA was a kind of Dinka/Nuer preserve where Equatorians never held much space .
  6. Last (but not least) there is the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) led by Dr Hakim Dario Moi . Dr Hakim comes from the small Didinga tribe of Eastern Equatoria . His movement is multiethnic and largely diasporic . Dr Hakim is highly educated and seems surrounded by other highly educated people , the very type of people John Garang always tried to keep at arms’ length during his years at the helm of the SPLM . Which is one of the reasons why the high ranks of the SPLA are today still largely populated with poorly-educated cadres , many whom are functional illiterates . Dr Hakim seems to have been the moving force behind this united opposition appeal . And the next day he came out with a remarkable position paper on the idea of national dialogue . By far the best proposal/document published since the beginning of the civil war (get it by writing to ) . Will it have the capacity to get things moving forward , at least a little bit ? The last paper provides at least a good starting framework .

Why do I write a lot about South Sudan these days ?

The answer is simple : for the parts of the world this blog is about , this is the saddest , worst and sickest . It is also the one that receives practically no media attention . Sudan (North) is a close contender . As Sudan specialist Eric Reeves recently remarked , “for children , being killed by poison gas is very serious in Syria but not noticed in Darfur“. There is no use of poison gas in South Sudan . It is only killing the usual way (guns , knives and lack of food and medecines) . But for the media it is equally devoid of interest .

The fighting in Raja as a microcosm of the War in South Sudan or can we say “there is a genocide taking place there ?”

Raja is the capital of Lol State and this is not a joke . There is nothing to lol about in Raja and when the town was attacked on April 15th the fighting was brutal  . SPLM/IO occupied the town for about a day and a half and withdrew when SPLA counter attacked, supposedly led in combat by Governor Riziq Zakariah Hassan . In fact Governor Riziq Zakariah Hassan ran away and took refuge at SPLA Headquarters in Wau , leaving the fighting and troop reorganization to General Paul Malong Awan who immediately flew in from Juba . Governor Riziq Zakariah Hassan is an opportunist whose past ambiguous political positioning and peculiar ethnicity (half Fertit , half Baggara Arab from Darfur) have put him in a very delicate situation as he is now seen as a willing tool of local Dinka domination . During the war of independance the province of Bahr-el-Ghazal was the theatre of a savage war between mostly-Dinka SPLA insurgents and mostly-Fertit Khartoum National Army units . The present situation is still wrapped up in the memories of these years and in many ways the present conflict is Act 2 of the previous war . I was wrong when I wrote in my recent “Titanic” Blog that the attackers were SPLM/IO Nuer . SPLM/IO they were but they belonged , just like in Wau a couple of days earlier , to a whole variety of tribes (Fertit , Balanda , Jur) who are local . And their fight was so typical of the present state of ethnic war in South Sudan , with the “national” SPLA forces being in fact simply a Dinka militia while the opposition — which naive foreigners (even me !) still tend to ascribe to “Nuer” — was made up of local smaller tribal units . Even among the commanders there was not a single Nuer : Peter Marcello is a Balanda and the others were Fertit or even Ndogo . Similarly , after the street fighting was over many of the victims of the repression were civlians belonging to the “wrong” tribes . Which is why talking about “genocide” , as the horrified British Secretary of State did a few days ago , is difficult . Yes , people are killed because they belong to one ethnic group rather than to another . But this is multiple and pluri-headed : the Dinka kill members of other tribes (but are they ordered to do so by the government or do they do it spur-of-the-moment ?) while isolated Dinka (especially in public transport) are killed by insurgents because they are Dinka (of course in retaliation for the massacres committed by the DinkaS themselves) . But , does this all adds up to “a genocide” ? “A genocide” , such as that of the Jews in World War Two or that of the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 , implies a single killing agent and only one category of victims . Or does it ? The Germans (and their allies in Croatia , Hungary or Rumania) also killed Gypsies , mentally-handicaped people or homosexuals of any nationality and Russian POWs . In Rwanda 80,000 Hutus were killed ……………………….by other Hutus , for not being sufficiently ethnic radicals . So genocide or not genocide ? This is a typical case where a law , an accepted Treaty , ends up being more of an obstacle than a help . The 1948 UN Declaration on the repression of genocide was drafted as a (late) answer to the German-organized genocide after 1942 . It did not attempt to envision all possible situations and it lumped large killings based on a well-defined criteria together . This is not the case in South Sudan . But does it make any difference ? Not really . The basic scandal is as follows : The South Sudan “Government”, while pretending to be “national” , supports up to and including killings limited ethnic interests which is presents as representing the whole nation . Killing people on the basis of such a lie is intolerable

South Sudan as an abandoned Titanic (2)

It is possible to understand the degree of spite of the international community towards Africa by looking at the treatment given to South Sudan over the last six months . In this ocean of neglect one should commend Ms Priti Patel , British International Development Secretary , who was in Juba a couple of days ago and had the frankness to describe the situation as “absolutely abhorrent and inhumane” due to the “scorched earth policy” practised by the Government . In any other part of the world , the type of violence and the absurdity of the policies (if they can be called that) that are pursued would cause , if not an uproar , at least some noise . In South Sudan , nothing . The government is not paying the salaries of the teachers , of the civil servants or even of the soldiers . The only people who still have money are the employees of the Petroleum Company NilePet who can skin the beast directly and chop off enough to eat , drink and make merry . In a burst of gallows’ humor , the local blogger Den Kiir Akok wrote a piece called “How you can tell if a bridegroom works for NilePet” . And this because lavish weddings are still organized while ordinary people are litterally starving to death a mile or two away . Violence is becoming surrealistic . In Wau , the Acting Governor explained the flight of 8,000 civilians in three days by the fact that “unknown gunmen started attacking civilians” . The “unknown gunmen” were in fact Dinka soldiers and militiamen who started to kill Belanda , Jur , Fertit and Luo civilians to take revenge on them after their comrades had fallen into an ambush outside of town . Robert Ladu , Chairman of the Land Commission , declared : “This country is in a state of decay . …..If I have to extort money from somebody and I have a “security man” , I use him to threaten you . Even when men are competing to get women , the use these “security men” to threaten each other” . Inflation has reached 900% and a gun is more useful than a bank account . International silence . Vague remarks about a “peace process” . Which “peace process” ? Those innocent souls still talking about that ghost refer to the August 17th 2015 Peace Agreement . Even  Vice President James Wani Igga concedes that “it is hobbling on one leg only“. This is the understatement of the year concerning a dead body . The last country to have joined the UN has in fact died with its boots on at age two . But does somebody still care , apart from pathetically overworked NGOs?