On May 16, South Sudan commemorated the 29th anniversary of the founding of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). On top of fighting a 22 year-long war that secured South Sudan’s independence last year, the SPLA will now protect the country in the event that the low-intensity conflict with Sudan escalates. While South Sudan’s security forces had already espoused a culture of impunity as a result of their role in the country’s creation, so long as the conflict with Sudan remains unresolved, the SPLA will have a pretext to allow this culture to persist.
This means that the SPLA will continue to suffer the legacy of a liberation army, and its human rights violations will continue. Yes, we have heard about indiscriminate violence in areas where the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) and the resurgent White Army have operated. But the SPLA, South Sudan Police Service (SSPS), and other organs of the state security apparatus have also abused civilians as they go about their daily routines in the new state. Civilians have been:
- Executed after a driver failed to stop while the flag was being lowered at the Dr. John Garang mausoleum in Juba
- Detained and beaten for reporting on a protest in which the security forces had indiscriminately fired into the crowd in Bentiu
- Brutally beaten and almost blinded after arriving at the airport in Wau
When we talk about what South Sudan needs/doesn’t need to protect itself from Khartoum, we shouldn’t take our eye off this underlying human rights issue within the security forces. I hope that when the SPLA celebrates its 30th anniversary next year, that its mission to protect South Sudan’s territorial integrity would have evolved to include protecting her citizens as well.
From outset of the international community’s efforts to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia, a wide range of options have been under consideration. In an article written in 2009, I identified eight possible counterpiracy options, which are as follows:
- Accepting piracy as a cost of doing business
- Tracing and targeting pirate finances
- Increasing the defenses of merchant vessels
- Addressing legal impediments to combating piracy
- Continuing multinational naval patrols
- Pursuing kinetic operations on land
- Building local and regional maritime security–sector capacity
- Building local and regional security-sector capacity on land
I then attempted to determine the positive and negative implications of each course of action.
Earlier today, European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia launched its first raid of pirate bases on land. This operation was a dramatic shift in the traditional sea-based approach to counterpiracy and was conducted entirely from the air. Although this type of operation was conducted in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1851, some of the countries and coalitions involved in sea-based counterpiracy operations had been reluctant to target pirate operations on land.
In my article, I argued that the unequivocal attractiveness of kinetic methods applied ashore was that piracy is a land-based problem, and as pirates and their support networks reside ashore, they should be targeted there. (To be clear, I did not agree with this, but was evaluating it as a potential way to counter piracy.)
Admittedly, in that section of the paper, I overlooked a very important potential implication of kinetic operations ashore – violence against the hostages. Somali pirates are believed to be holding 17 ships and 300 crew members. While pirates make money from ransoming both the ships and the crew, they will need to send a message to deter future EU NAVFOR strikes ashore – as well as any other countries or coalitions considering a similar course of action. It is therefore possible that they might decide to make an example of a handful of crew members not only as a reprisal for damage done to their bases and equipment at Harardhere, but also to reinforce that kinetic operations ashore may put the lives of other hostages at risk.
Therefore, EU NAVFOR’s strike against pirate bases at Harardhere represents a potential game changer for the treatment of current and future hostages.
Earlier this month, Senegal’s recently elected president, Macky Sall, revoked 29 licenses of pelagic fishing vessels belonging to Russia, Comoros, Lithuania, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Belize. This decision came a month after Sall’s first presidential speech in which he declared urgency to act in the country’s fisheries sector, and pledged to review the conditions for granting fishing licenses to foreign ships. Sall’s concern for the fisheries sector may be influenced by the need for a new, more engaged approach to the issue of food security, as well as the potential economic and national security implications of declining fisherman livelihoods.
Article 62, Section 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that a country may authorize other countries to fish in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Accordingly, Senegal and other West African countries have had fishing access agreements with foreign governments for decades. However, as demand for fish continued to increase in Europe and other parts of the world, fish stocks have decreased. According to a paper released by the United Nations Development Program, pressure on fish stocks in West Africa increased six-fold between the 1960s and 1990s – mainly due to fishing from European, Russian, and Asian fleet.
These large, mechanized fleets often employ fishing practices that damage the marine environment by dragging large nets across the ocean floor, unsettling fish breeding grounds and catching fish that are too small to be sold commercially or below the age of sexual maturity required for sustainable fish stocks. These fleets are also capable of catching, freezing, storing, and transporting large quantities of fish without needing to offload in nearby ports. The size of these fleets and the efficiency of their operations have decimated inshore fisheries and have made it harder for local artisanal fishers, who tend to use environmentally sustainable fishing practices, to make a living. It is estimated that one large trawler can catch up to 250 tons of fish per day, which is roughly equivalent to what 50 artisanal fishermen in pirogues would catch in a year.
Depleted fish stocks have implications for food security. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that fish provides 22% of the protein intake in sub-Saharan Africa, and 47% of protein intake in Senegal in particular. Fishing practices employed by foreign vessels exacerbate food insecurity by causing fish shortages, higher prices, and a decline in the quality of fish available for local consumption.
Depleted fish stocks have implications for economic security. A United Nations Environment Program report from 2002 estimated that Senegal’s fishing industry generates 100,000 jobs, of which more than 90% were in artisanal fishing. An additional 600,000 people are employed in related industries including building and repairing nets and transporting, selling, and processing fish. Additionally, fish caught and shipped in excess of government quotas or treaties, or illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is believed to result in over $1 billion per year in lost government revenues in sub-Saharan Africa.
Depleted fish stocks have implications for national security. There has been speculation that the declining livelihoods of artisanal fishermen could drive them to engage in piracy, as some believe this to be the initial cause célèbre for Somali pirates. While I have yet to see data linking unemployed fishermen to piracy in particular, it is certainly plausible that declining livelihoods could lead to increased involvement in general illicit maritime activity – including trafficking in arms, humans, and narcotics. In fact, last year the United Nations Office on Drugs and Organized Crime (UNODC) released a report that found that fishing vessels around the world were used for a range of illicit activities. However, while local fishermen were recruited for their skills and knowledge of the sea, they were seldom the masterminds of criminal enterprises.
Regulation and Enforcement within the Fisheries Sector
Part of the solution to these challenges to Senegal’s fish stocks has to do with regulation – and Sall appears to be engaged on that front. Under Sall’s predecessor, there had been allegations that the government’s fishing licensing system was vulnerable to corruption, and that local politicians could profit by soliciting bribes in exchange for issuing licenses. Another issue raised has been that under international law, the country where a fishing vessel is registered is also responsible for ensuring that vessels flying their flags adhere to local fishing regulations. However, many foreign fishing fleets fly flags of convenience while operating in the exclusive economic zones of Senegal and her neighbors. Many countries that issue flags of convenience tend to have minimal capacity or intention to ensure that vessels registered in their countries are adhering to legal and sustainable fishing practices. (For additional details on the issue of flags of convenience, see Real and Present Danger: Flag State Failure and Maritime Security and Safety.)
The other part of the solution to the challenges to Senegal’s fish stocks has to do with local capacity to enforce regulations. At this point, I do not know if Sall intends to complement his review of fisheries regulations with a review of enforcement mechanisms. But in order to enforce fisheries regulations, Senegal’s maritime security forces would need to be capable of monitoring the country’s exclusive economic zone and being able to conduct boardings, searches, and seizures of vessels suspected of operating illegally. Increased enforcement capability could result in fines paid to the government, which could be reinvested into improving fisheries management and further building the capacity of the country’s maritime security forces.
That said, any progress made in Senegal with regard to marine fisheries regulation and enforcement would be compromised by lack of progress on these fronts in neighboring littoral countries. After all, fish do not respect international boundaries.
Yesterday, Al-Jazeera reported a “mass defection” of Sudanese troops to South Sudan after their refusal to attack the Kadar oilfield in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state over the weekend. According to Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesperson Colonel Philip Aguer Panyang, they defected with “full equipment, ten vehicles, seven mounted with heavy machine guns including 14 heavy machines guns.” Aside from pointing out that 200 soldiers does not a mass defection make, I thought I’d speculate on who these guys might be and what the implications of this development are.
Who are they?
Based on the scarce media reports I’ve been able to find, these 200 soldiers were southerners under the command of Major General James Duit Yiech that crossed into Upper Nile State from Sudan over the weekend. Al-Jazeera reports that they defected from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), while Sudan Tribune and Radio Miraya report that they were militia members sent by Khartoum to attack South Sudan. There has also been a Joint Statement released by the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF), National Democratic Front (NDF), South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) and the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) stating that these forces were southern militia members that defected to the SPLA due to a disagreement over MG Yiech’s forced retirement and replacement by a younger officer. The statement also accused the SPLA of manipulating the circumstances of his defection and spreading lies about these militias receiving support from Khartoum.
If these forces were indeed anti-Government of South Sudan militias, then their defection this weekend is a slight departure from the norm. Based on my understanding of South Sudan’s approach to militias, militia leaders will come in from the field if they fall out with other field commanders (which may have happened with MG Yiech) to see if they can negotiate beneficial integration deals, including money, promotions, food for the men under their command, and positions in the government and military. Militia leaders also tend to spend months negotiating the terms of amnesty and integration into the SPLA – especially when it comes to issues of promotions and salaries. They normally reach an agreement on these issues well before they bring their men and arms in from the field. This case, however, seemed to be an impromptu defection, which leads me to suspect that video footage of the forces crossing over the border from Sudan into South Sudan and the SPLA’s subsequent statements on the matter are being used to turn this seemingly trivial defection into propaganda that gives the impression of Khartoum’s weakness.
What does this mean?
Regardless of who these forces actually are, the injection of these forces into Upper Nile state could exacerbate instability in that region. Whether or not they were SAF or southern militia members, they were accustomed to receiving arms, food, and other supplies from somewhere and will be seeking out ways to sustain themselves. This means that the SPLA will have to rapidly integrate them (doubtful, given budget constraints and the various other militias that have been waiting in the integration queue for months) or these forces will have to live off the land – by which I mean prey on the local population. Alternatively, if these forces are not integrated, but allowed to act as southern proxies in the cross-border region, can they be trusted to fight on behalf of Juba and fall under SPLA command and control?
Earlier this week, The Independent published an interview with Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani, “Somalia, Museveni, and Militarising the Region.” The interview was a good read and confirmed many of my suspicions of Uganda’s (read: President Museveni’s) perception of the country’s role in regional security. However, I was slightly annoyed at his allusions to the U.S. military’s role in the matter because I think he made it seem like Uganda’s militaristic proclivities were as a result of the U.S. military engagement in the region. I think it’s an oversimplification for him to allude to the United States causing Uganda to be more militaristic. It is, however, fair to say that increased U.S. military engagement in the region has probably facilitated a trend that was organic to the Museveni regime.
Regardless, the article reminded me of a conversation I had with a handful of academics several years ago about African perceptions of U.S. military engagement in Africa. I was in an East African country for a conference, and after the first day, a bunch of us went out to dinner. As the token American on the trip who also happened to work on African security issues, I was soon confronted with complaints about increased U.S. military activity in the region since 9/11, and most particularly, criticisms of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). My first instinct was to be defensive. After all, I did (and still do) believe that a military command whose priority was Africa (like U.S. Central Command’s priority is the Middle East and U.S. Pacific Command’s priority is the Asia-Pacific region) was, in principle, a good thing. This was also around the time that AFRICOM was doing a lot of damage control because the public relations part of rolling out a new combatant command hadn’t gone over well in many parts of Africa. However, I quickly realized that as an objective analyst, it wasn’t my job to defend what the U.S. military was doing, but rather to shut my trap and listen.
The more salient points of the ensuing conversation were as follows:
- U.S. policies in Africa are contradictory, and mixed messages delegitimize U.S. engagement. For example, we preach good governance while simultaneously supporting corrupt regimes.
- Military-to-military engagement, as envisioned by AFRICOM, was not ideal because it strengthened regimes that were democratic on paper, but not in reality, such as Uganda and Ethiopia. Furthermore, they were concerned that U.S. military training could be used to suppress popular discontent and keep authoritarian leaders in power.
- Many blamed the U.S. military for the fallout of its counterterrorism-focused operations in the region since 9/11. They were particularly concerned that kinetic counterterrorism operations were destabilizing to the region, and created terrorist problems in areas where they did not exist before
While I learned quite a bit from this conversation, I realized that I needed to take the academics’ points with a grain of salt for two reasons. First, these academics were all from the Horn of Africa, where U.S. strategy has been executed through an almost exclusively counterterrorism lens. This may explain their hostile views on U.S. military involvement in Africa. Second, my dinner companions all came from academia or think tanks, so their perspectives were a subset of civil society perspectives in the Horn of Africa.
This experience, which was reawakened by the Mamdani interview, made me wonder what other perceptions of increased U.S. military engagement in Africa are out there. Do perceptions differ by region or by position in society? It would be nice to be able to systematically gather those perspectives from ministers in African governments, members of parliament, and members of civil society, including NGOs, advocacy groups, academia, and the media. If I ever got the opportunity to collect that data, I think I would get closer the answering that question. Because I think it’s an important question to answer if the United States plans to continue security cooperation with African countries.