Monthly Archives: July, 2012

Ban on the Mombasa Republican Council Lifted

On Wednesday, the High Court in Mombasa ruled that the Kenyan government’s ban on the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) was unconstitutional. Established in 1999 to address the issue of marginalization of the Coast region by the central government, the MRC began to call for secession of the Coast region in 2008. This objective, which is based on what the group argues to be historical grounds, is reflected in their rallying cry “Pwani si Kenya” or “The Coast is not part of Kenya.”

The MRC’s grievances include a lack of employment opportunities in the region, issues with land tenure for the indigenous people of the coast (in contrast to title deeds issued to people who have settled there from other parts of Kenya), and the harassment and arbitrary arrests of its members by Kenyan security forces. Furthermore, given the role the region plays in contributing to the economic development of the country through revenues from tourism and the port of Mombasa, the MRC accuses the Kenyan government of being unresponsive to the region’s concerns.

The Court’s ruling lifted the ban imposed on the MRC’s activities by gazette notice number 12585 from October 2010, which declared the MRC, along with 32 other groups, to be organized criminal organizations under the Prevention of Organized Crimes Act of 2010. Later that year, the MRC filed a civil case with the High Court in Mombasa challenging the government’s ban. To date, the MRC has been the only one of these groups to challenge the state’s designation in court.

Citing a lack of evidence that the MRC had engaged in criminal activity, the Court accordingly declared that the government had failed to justify that the ban was justifiable and proportionate. However, the Court issued a caveat to its ruling, stating that it should not be seen as an endorsement of secession and dismemberment of the country, and warning that the MRC’s agenda must not incite war, violence, or hate speech. The Court observed that the group had the attributes of a political movement, and advised that it register as a political party and pursue its agenda through legal means. Kenya’s 2010 constitution offers a measure of devolution through which local grievances could be addressed, and elections in March of next year will be the first under this constitution. Nevertheless, the MRC believes that, even with increased local political representation as a result of the new constitution, elections cannot change the fortunes of the region.

Following the ruling, government officials with security portfolios met on Thursday to discuss the potential implications of the ruling for the security of Coast Province, amid fears that MRC grievances could make the region a flashpoint for the March 2013 elections. Kenya’s Attorney General has also announced the government’s intention to appeal the Court’s ruling, claiming that “the court decision failed to consider the legitimate constitutional concerns of the government in ensuring that any group or organization challenging the constitutional authority and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kenya cannot enjoy protection from Constitution.”

Regardless of how various parts of the government decide to move forward in the aftermath of this week’s events, the High Court ruling has a few key implications:

  1. The High Court ruling is a victory for the MRC, as it is now allowed to carry out non-violent political mobilization. However, it also potentially undermines the group’s claim that it cannot seek redress for political and economic wrongs within the framework of the Kenyan Constitution and thus needs its own state. This could create ideological conflicts that could fracture the cohesion of the movement around the idea of secession.
  2. Should the MRC continue to call for secession of the Coast, which I suspect it will, the Kenyan government will have to determine if this will continue to preclude opening a dialogue with the MRC – or more generally, with aggrieved coastal populations.
  3. What happens next will largely depend on whether either the MRC or the Kenyan government resort to violence. If the former resorts to violence, we will probably see the Kenyan security services responding in a heavy-handed manner, which could propagate further acts of violence on the part of the MRC. If the latter resorts to violence, this could also escalate the conflict, forcing legitimate socio-historical grievances to transform the MRC from a group that espouses non-violent protest  to one that adopts more violent methods.

I hope to write on this topic in more detail in the next week or so – admittedly, I have left a bit out about the MRC, including allegations that it has an armed wing and has links to al-Shabaab. But for now, for further reading on the MRC I would recommend Emmanuel Kisiang`ani and Mashaka Lewela, “Kenya’s Mombasa Republican Council: liberators or nascent radical fanatics?” and Paul Goldsmith,  “The Mombasa Republican Council Conflict Assessment: Threats and Opportunities for Engagement.” Also, when I was in Coast last month, I met a researcher doing fieldwork for a report on the MRC, so I’m hoping that in addition to these two sources, we will soon have another great resource that sheds light on the group and the government’s response to the situation as it continues to develop.

East Africa’s Oil/Gas Rush Highlights Kenya-Somalia Maritime Border Dispute

If you’ve been following energy news in Africa, you are probably aware that East Africa is experiencing a bit of an oil and gas rush. In addition to the discoveries of oil deposits in Puntland and in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya, there have also been discoveries of about 100 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of recoverable natural gas deposits both onshore and off the coasts of Tanzania and Mozambique. As Kenya’s coastline shares the same geological formation as some of the exploration blocks off the coasts of countries further south, there are increasing hopes that Kenyan waters may provide similar discoveries of fossil fuel deposits in the years to come.

However, the prospects for oil or gas exploration off the coast of Kenya have called attention to the lack of a demarcated maritime boundary between Kenya and Somalia. Earlier this month, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) challenged Kenya’s attempts to award offshore exploration blocks to Total and Eni. Somalia’s rationale for its complaint is that some of the exploration blocks lie in an area where the maritime boundary has not been demarcated – and where both countries claim ownership of these waters. Kenya, on the other hand, rejects that ownership of these blocks is contested, and believes there is no reason to hold up the award of licenses.

At the heart of the dispute is how the maritime boundary between Somalia and Kenya should be demarcated. Kenya would like the maritime boundary to run due east from the point at which the two countries touch on land. However, Somalia would like the border to continue diagonally southeast into the ocean, following the border between the two countries on land. Somalia’s claim is, I believe, consistent with how the maritime boundary should be demarcated according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

Map of oil exploration blocks and disputed territory between Kenya and Somalia

Kenya claims that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Somalia’s TFG in April 2009 set the border running east along the line of latitude. However, Somalia claims that the MoU was not to agree to the demarcation of the maritime boundary between it and Kenya, but rather to grant non-objection to Kenya’s May 2009 submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to delineate the outer limits of Kenya’s continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile limit. (Each country’s claim requires proof of cooperation with its neighbors.) Somalia claimed that the MoU did not, in fact, have legal basis if it was not ratified by the parliament. Somalia’s parliament later rejected this MoU in August 2009, claiming that Somalia was adhering to the appropriate requirements for delimitation of the continental shelf – not agreeing to a maritime boundary with Kenya.

In order for this issue to be resolved, Kenya and Somalia would have to agree on where the border should be demarcated and sign a treaty to that effect. However, this may be unlikely until Somalia has a permanent government and is able to address other political, economic, and security issues that would compete for the government’s attention. At stake are approximately 38,000 km2 (23,600mi2) of maritime territory over which both countries assert the legal claims to sell rights for oil exploration and collect revenue from any discoveries.

The timing of this maritime boundary dispute is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it is a particularly inopportune time for Kenya to have a financial stake in where the boundary lies, given that it is currently involved in military operations in southern Somalia in the area adjacent to disputed waters. This is made worse by the earlier rumors that Kenya sought a “buffer zone” in that region. Nonetheless, I would be surprised if Kenya’s motivation to invade southern Somalia was tied to its future aspiration to award offshore exploration licenses. Second, this dispute between Kenya and Somalia may be the first of many similar disputes in the region if Somalia is able to reclaim a voice in regional issues. These disputes may be over trans-border natural resource deposits (as in the case with Kenya), or even over issues such as water rights and dam construction (between Ethiopia and Somalia).

Reflections of an Africa specialist trapped in the Beltway

On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is actually a non-analytical rant/musing on my current case of writer’s block and my exile to the Beltway, which is clearly not on the African continent:

Dear Readers,

Lesley on Africa has been afflicted by a rather common ailment – writer’s block. Is my own lack of creativity to blame? No, but I’ll tell you who IS to blame. The Republic of South Sudan.

See, I set out to write an article about South Sudan’s first year of existence last week, but I was trying to avoid writing a litany of the fledgling nation’s failures – to add to many similar articles that came out this week. I think I’ve finally found my angle, but I wanted to emphasize that South Sudan has utterly failed… to stimulate my creativity this week. Inshallah whatever I eventually write will add value to the dialogue on South Sudan’s first year.

So instead of writing about a country, I’ve decided to post a few reflections from the point of view of an Africa specialist trapped in the Beltway for the summer. If you haven’t already, you may gather that I have a love/aggressive hate relationship with the Beltway. On one hand, DC is a highly intellectual, international city brimming with opportunity and access. On the other hand, it can be very insular and one can easily fall into the trap of assuming all knowledge can be found in DC or its immediate vicinity. It’s the latter that irks me.

On top of having writer’s block, I’ve also had a very introspective week – which is why I was reminded of this Beltway dichotomy at an Africa event I recently attended. The speaker was addressing a pretty controversial topic, but was very politic in their remarks and when it came to Q&A. Their remarks did not spark a heated debate, which should have been the case given the subject matter. Instead, it sounded like a pitch for maintaining the status quo of U.S. engagement in Africa – regardless of the inherent idiosyncrasies of our approach (security at the expense of democracy, for example), or any potential areas for improvement.

The whole affair reminded me of an Africa event I was tied to in another life. I didn’t actually have to brief anything (minions rarely do), but more senior people were discussing my project, which was proposing some new, innovative concepts. In my relatively more youthful idealism, I was pretty psyched because I truly believed that if a bunch of really smart people got together to discuss a controversial topic, they would be self-critical and seek to improve upon current concepts. However, instead of seeking to improve upon the weaknesses of current concepts, the event was a venue to reaffirm that these concepts were the right course of action and needed no improvement. Well, what was the point of all that?

This all makes me wonder if we in the Beltway are doomed to reaffirm the status quo time and time again – that our Africa strategy is forward-leaning and balanced, and that Africans – all 1 billion of them – are warming to our approach. From what I gather when I do manage to escape the Beltway, such sentiments lack introspection – and more importantly, nuance. And I think there’s a danger that such sentiments could enshrine superficial engagement with the continent that obstructs the development of new engagement strategies.

On that very optimistic note, I’m off to bed. Also, if you don’t like this post, blame South Sudan.

Calls Continue for Military Intervention in Mali

In June, the African Union (AU) Peace & Security Council called upon the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to endorse the deployment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Standby Force to ensure the security of the transitional institutions; restructure and reorganize the Malian security and defense forces; and restore State authority over the northern part of the country and combat terrorist and criminal networks. In response, the Security Council passed Resolution 2056 (2012) this past Thursday, but stopped short of authorizing an ECOWAS force to intervene in Mali. Instead, the Security Council expressed its readiness to “further examine the request of ECOWAS once additional information has been provided regarding the objectives, means and modalities of the envisaged deployment and other possible measures.” In other words, the UN has not ruled out endorsing military intervention in Mali with a UN mandate, but if it is to do so at some point in the future, it needs some sense that ECOWAS has thought through this rather complicated affair.

And the Security Council has a point. Amid concerns that Mali’s north may become the “next Somalia” or the “Afghanistan of West Africa,” groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (Ansar Dine and MUJWA – Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) continue to hold territory – including major cities in the north. Meanwhile, the transition from military to constitutional rule in the south has largely failed, and there are few indications that the political vacuum that exists in Bamako will be resolved any time soon. These concurrent crises make a military intervention of any kind very complex.

Nigeria, Niger, and Senegal have pledged to provide most of the 3,300 troops that ECOWAS hopes to deploy. Their initial mission would be to bolster Mali’s armed forces and stabilize political institutions, and turn to retaking the north if ongoing negotiations with Tuareg rebels in Burkina Faso fail. However, they may not even get that far. Persistently opposed to foreign intervention, coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo has requested that Mali’s army receive foreign support – but not foreign troops – to restore Mali’s territorial integrity. But the small problem with this is that, at least for the United States, it is technically illegal to allocate security force assistance when a military has seized power by unconstitutional means. Furthermore, giving into Sanogo’s wishes means the international community would be, in essence, sanctioning his unconstitutional seizure of power, while diminishing its leverage to get him out of the picture. It’s a game of chicken – with each side seeing how bad things up north can get before the other gives in.

While the UN mulled authorization of an ECOWAS intervention this week, about 2,000 protesters demonstrated in Bamako, calling for a military intervention in the north. According to Al-Jazeera, a leader of a northern citizens’ collective was quoted as saying “If the army doesn’t want to go to war, then give us the means to liberate our territory!” Mali’s National Assembly joined in, issuing a statement calling for the “restoration of territorial integrity,” and calling on the Malian people for “implacable resistance to the occupation and boosting solidarity by all possible means.”

At least in rhetoric, the Malian army is on board with restoring the country’s territorial integrity. Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra conducted a review of the army in Ségou in early June, and military preparations were observed in Sévaré, which is just south of the de facto border of Azawad and what remains of Mali. Yet, just like before the coup, the armed forces will be unevenly matched in the fight for the north. In fact, one can argue that they are worse off than before – still lacking the training, equipment, and air support that contributed to their inability to defeat the Tuareg rebels before the coup. Except now, in addition to being cut off from security force assistance from foreign partners, it faces a plethora of armed groups – some of which possess arms not only from Libya, but also from the stockpiles abandoned by the Malian army as it fled south in late March/early April.

In closing, I would highly recommend reading two great sources on political/military intervention in Mali. The first is “Why Mali’s Path to Peace Must Start in the South” by Todd Moss. This is a brief post written about two weeks ago that lays out several helpful assumptions about Mali’s distinct but inter-related crises, and offers a sequenced approach to addressing these crises. It’s well-thought out and well-argued, and gets at some of the difficult issues that need to be resolved in order to improve the situation in Mali. The second is “Intervening in Mali: West African Nations Plan Offensive against Islamists and Tuareg Rebels” by Andrew McGregor. The most helpful parts of this article are where the author analyzes the likely current capabilities of Mali’s army, gives an overview of the various armed groups that are proliferating in northern Mali (aside from AQIM, MUJWA, and the MNLA), and offers a nascent concept of operations for how Mali would go about recapturing the north – and how foreign military support might fit into these plans.

Austerity and Corruption in South Sudan

Last month, South Sudan’s Minister of Finance & Economic Planning presented the country’s 2012/2013 budget before the National Legislative Assembly. The budget, which is 6.4 billion South Sudanese Pounds (roughly $1.3B USD at black market rates), went into effect at the beginning of this month, taking into account the austere conditions brought about by the government’s decision back in January to cut off oil production in order to pressure Sudan to agree to more favorable oil pipeline transit fees. Prior to the shutdown, oil revenues accounted for 98% of South Sudan’s public expenditure, and 99% of foreign currency export earnings. To put South Sudan’s potential economic prospects over the 2012/2013 budget year in perspective, I would advise reading the leaked World Bank memo that outlined the likely economic and social impact of the oil shutdown, the policy decisions the government will face, and the support the World Bank may be able to provide.

Back in February, Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank Director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programmes in Africa briefed South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on the likely economic impact of the government’s decision to shut down oil production. The details of this briefing were then disclosed to a group of key donors that included the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Norway, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – and subsequently documented in a memo labeled “CLOSE HOLD NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION OR ATTRIBUTION.”

Giugale opens with the assertion that the World Bank has never seen a situation as dramatic as the one faced by South Sudan, and the belief that neither the President nor senior government ministers were aware of, or understood, the economic implications of the oil shutdown. These potential consequences include: collapse of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), massive depreciation of the South Sudanese Pound, an exponential rise in inflation, and depletion of government reserves. On the last point, the World Bank estimates that, with the austerity measures the government adopted in the aftermath of the oil shutdown, government reserves would be depleted by July 2012. (In the memo, one can also find estimates ranging from an estimated depletion of government reserves by June 2012 if there is a 0% reduction in monthly expenditure to an estimated depletion of government reserves by December 2013 if there is a 77% reduction in monthly expenditure.)

Based on the social impact of the oil shutdown anticipated by the World Bank, indicators of social well-being are expected to revert to 2004 (wartime) levels by 2013 – essentially erasing peacetime improvements in the standard of living in South Sudan. The projected social impacts of the shutdown may include:

  • Increased proportion of people living in poverty – from 51% in 2012 to 83% by 2013
  • Doubled under-5 child mortality rate – from 10% of live births to 20% by 2013
  • Reduced school enrollment rates – from 50% in 2012 to 20% by 2013

Amid such pessimistic prospects for South Sudan’s economy over the next year, President Kiir sent a letter to over 75 former and current senior government officials in May in an effort to recover stolen government funds. Key excerpts from the letter are as follows:

“The people of South Sudan and the international community are alarmed by the level of corruption in South Sudan.”

“Many people in South Sudan are suffering, and yet some government officials simply care about themselves. The credibility of our government is on the line.”

“An estimated $4 billion are unaccounted for or, simply put, stolen by current and former officials, as well as corrupt individuals with close ties to government officials.”

“We fought for freedom, justice, and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people.”

The amount of money unaccounted for is estimated to comprise about a third of South Sudan’s oil revenue between the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 and the country’s independence last July. In addition to opening a bank account in Kenya to which accused parties could return said stolen funds – either in part or in full – Kiir offered to grant accused parties amnesty and keep their name confidential if they returned stolen funds. As of the beginning of June, about $60M of the stolen money had been recovered.

As the impact of austerity measures really takes hold across South Sudan, it will be interesting to see how the population reacts to a regression in their standard of living to wartime (and pre-oil revenue) levels amid allegations of massive government corruption. According to the World Bank memo, the government asserts that the people of South Sudan have suffered for years, and will be prepared to suffer again. And this is, in my opinion, compounded by the fact that the government can point an accusatory finger towards Khartoum as a source of the population’s woes. The government of South Sudan should hope that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s need to restore subsidies and other forms of patronage to cripple the protests that have erupted across Sudan since the middle of last month forces Sudan back to the negotiating table before South Sudan’s economy faces complete collapse – and before doubts about Kiir’s stewardship of the government boil over in the South.

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