Monday, February 04, 2008

Africa on Fire

The violence and chaos sweeping across Africa in recent weeks has shown the world that the entire continent is in danger of becoming completely engulfed by political unrest and widespread violence. The ensuing clashes have left hundreds of thousands dead and as each domino falls, the chaos spreads from border to border.

This weekend, “after a three-day advance across the desert, hundreds of rebels fought their way into the capital of the oil-rich nation of Chad.”

The government of Chad, a former French colony with a population of almost 10 million and a newly booming oil industry, has in recent years battled a variety of rebel groups along its volatile eastern border with Sudan, forcing an estimated 170,000 Chadians to flee their homes for sprawling camps in the scrubby desert.
While tonight, Chadian President Idriss Déby, the “cowboy of the sands”, appears to have the upper-hand in the conflict, the outcome is far from certain. Regardless, its implications will undoubtedly have international implications, spreading beyond Chad and likely fanning the flames of the violence in Darfur.

As reported, “Some 3700 EU soldiers are on alert for immediate deployment along Chad's eastern border with Sudan under a UN mandate to protect hundreds of thousands of refugees from Darfur. Advance units were meant to begin deploying last week, but the mission's Irish commander, Lieutenant-General Pat Nash, said the operation is on hold until the security situation becomes clearer.”

If (Déby) survives, he will emerge stronger, the crisis emphasising his importance to western strategy in containing the Darfur conflict across the border in Sudan… But if Mr Déby falls, the conflict in Darfur could worsen, plans to deploy European Union troops in Chad may stall, and turmoil could spill into Central African Republic, potentially destabilising a swathe of Africa.

Although he was originally installed with Khartoum’s help in 1990, his support for Darfur rebels from his Zaghawa community has angered his former friends. Observers say the Sudanese government has adopted Chadian rebels in the hope of ousting Mr Déby and cutting supply lines to fractious insurgents in Darfur... The real winner if Mr Déby falls would be President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s Islamist government in Sudan, who might feel encouraged to try to smash the Darfur rebels and even challenge Mr Déby’s allies in CAR (Central African Republic).
A victory for Bashir, one of the world’s worst war criminals, is the last thing we need, given the ongoing futility of our efforts in Darfur.

There has been no shortage of outrage in the Western democracies over the genocidal repression of Darfur's African population. Effective action to force Sudan to stop it, however, has been harder to come by. The latest illustration of the gap between rhetoric and action is the proposed joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force, which was supposed to be up and running with 26,000 soldiers by Jan. 1 - but isn't. In fact, only about 9,000 poorly trained and equipped soldiers are on the ground, most of them African Union troops left over from a previous, ineffectual force sponsored by that organization...

Through administrative harassment and diplomatic obstruction, Sudan's government has thwarted the deployment of other forces, including those from more substantial Scandinavian and Asian militaries. The danger is compounded by the splintering of Darfur's rebel groups, which has made it more difficult to bring all the parties into peace talks.
And while the fires burn in central Africa, the New York Times highlights the turmoil in Kenya.

It is far too easy to become inured to bad news from Africa, a continent of great promise and peril. Kenya’s rampage of ethnically driven killings that is now five weeks long is especially sickening and attention-grabbing because of how much hope the world had for Kenya’s democracy and economic revival - and how fast the country has descended into madness...

The vicious tribal violence - condemned by one American official this week as “ethnic cleansing” - has spread with stunning speed since late December when Kenya’s electoral commission hastily handed a second term to President Mwai Kibaki, despite independent reports of glaring voting irregularities. The toll is now more than 800 Kenyans dead, 70,000 driven from their homes and thousands more fled to neighboring countries. The economy is paralyzed.

Instead of trying to calm their supporters and negotiate a political solution, Mr. Kibaki and his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, have called for peace, and then incited more killing, accusing each other of orchestrating the mayhem. For too long, both men have succumbed to their baser ambitions and resisted high-level mediation...

Sustained and robust international efforts are needed to persuade the Kenyan rivals to do the right thing. We are encouraged that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decided to personally intervene and that his chief mediator, Kofi Annan, the former secretary general, was able to announce on Friday an agreement on a framework for talks that could resolve the crisis. Major countries, including the United States, which provides Kenya with more than $600 million in aid per year, need to bring a lot more pressure on both Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga to ensure that that happens. If reason can’t persuade them to reconcile, then sanctions and a suspension of nonhumanitarian assistance must be seriously considered.
The United States lack of an Africa policy is compounded by the precarious situation our military is confronting by being overstretched and under-equipped in Iraq. Putting a substantial number of American troops on the ground in Africa may never be practical or politically acceptable in Washington, especially in the aftermath of Somalia. But without the ability to leverage that sword over the head of the Bashirs of the world, we can only expect more of the same.

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