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 a story about my attempt to bridge the gap between my previous work on conflict and my expanded portfolio, which sometimes includes health:
Guide: South Africa’s health facilities are among the best on the continent. Many people come here for medical treatment.
Lesley: Yes, I understand South Sudanese warlords come here for treatment.
Guide: (Awkward silence)
Lesley: (Makes mental note to draft better small talk points and practice with close friends. Or avoid social interactions altogether.)
Apologies for my unscheduled blogging hiatus. In addition to dissertating, I’ve been learning more about U.S.-Africa relations outside of security assistance and trying to find linkages to what I know best. Like the time I suggested that assistance to health systems should also be harmonized to address infectious disease among trans-border populations based on my knowledge of regional counterterrorism interoperability. But I digress.
People complain that I use too many acronyms. And although I am a huge supporter of efficient communications, this was more a function of working the world of security assistance. Terms like Forward Operating Base (FOB), Guidance for Employment of the Force (GEF), Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and Cooperative Security Location (CSL) were my language. And while these are still part of my lexicon, I’ve been given the opportunity to learn a whole new world of acronyms. Yay.
I was recently traveling across South Africa doing urban and rural site visits to learn more about the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). My lord, health people. I have never had to learn so many acronyms in such a short amount of time.
Let me give you a freebie – HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). But then we get to terms like Voluntary Male Medical Circumcision (VMMC), which if you say the acronym really fast, makes me think it’s actually Mixed Martial Arts Circumcision – which I kind of hope isn’t a real thing. Then we also have People Living with HIV (PLHIV), Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB), Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT), Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), Men who have Sex with other Men (MSM), Female Sex Workers (FSW), Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
So now the acronyms of the security assistance world seem super easy. Thanks health people. I have finally been acronymed into submission.
If you’ve been following the news on the Central African Republic (CAR) over the past 13 months, you have probably seen many references to the country’s abundant mineral wealth, chronic instability, crushing poverty, sectarian (Christian vs. Muslim) strife, and allegations of genocide. Some of the recent analysis and media reporting goes beyond these clichés, so I thought I’d highlight them and explain why these pieces present the reader with a more complex understanding of recent developments in the country. Collectively, this reading list offers four things:
- These readings offer background on Catherine Samba-Panza, previously the mayor of Bangui, who was elected last week as the interim president of the Central African Republic. Beyond the fact that Samba-Panza is the first female to hold this position in CAR, these pieces offer insight as to why she’s different from previous leaders and what challenges she will face as she spearheads the transition to an elected government by February 2015.
- These readings offer a background of the events leading to and during the transition earlier this month, such as why Michel Djotodia (former leader of the Séléka rebel coalition that toppled former president François Bozizé last March) had to go and the process that dictated the selection of candidates for interim president.
- These readings offer a better understanding of identity in the Central African Republic beyond the Muslim/Christian labels, and gives the reader some perspective on notions of foreign-ness in the CAR and how they have come into play throughout the country’s history.
- Finally, these readings offer context on the historical and contemporary role of foreign – European AND African – influence on conflicts in the Central African Republic, which is critical for understanding the geopolitics of the region. Major headliners are France (bien sûr!), Chad, Libya, and South Africa.
So without further ado, here’s some of the good coverage I’ve read over the past few weeks:
- Central African Republic’s new president ‘a fresh start’ from the Institute for Security Studies
- Central African Republic: The Third Government in Thirteen Months Gets Under Way from the International Crisis Group
- Genocide-mongering does nothing to help us understand the messy dynamics of conflict in the CAR on African Arguments (by Louisa Lombard, who also blogs at Foole’s No Man’s Land)
- France, Chad, Gaddafi and the CAR: years of meddling should not be ignored now on African Arguments
- South Africa in the CAR: Was pulling the troops a catastrophic mistake? from the Daily Maverick (Last March, I had weighed in on the aftermath of South African casualties in the CAR with South Africa inspires a “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” in the CAR. Best title EVER, right?)
Si vous lisez français, the articles below offer background on the new interim president, and why her civil society roots and Chadian/Central African heritage may make her the right leader at the right time:
- Catherine Samba-Panza: «Maire de Bangui, j’ai toujours eu de bonnes relations avec tout le monde» (Q&A with Catherine Samba-Panza: “Mayor of Bangui, I have always had good relations with everyone”) from Radio France Internationale
- Centrafrique : 5 choses à savoir sur Catherine Samba Panza la nouvelle présidente de transition (Five things to know about Catherine Samba-Panza the new transitional president) from Jeune Afrique
- Catherine Samba-Panza, nouvelle présidente de Centrafrique: pourquoi elle (Catherine Samba-Panza, the new president of the Central African Republic: why her?) from Radio France Internationale
Today, President Obama kicks off his second visit to Africa as since becoming president, and will be visiting Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania over the course of the next week. Accordingly, Thomas Tieku, Mwangi Kimenyi, Cobus van Staden, Witney Schneidman, and I are featured in Think Africa Press’ Experts Weekly: What Next for US-Africa Relations?
My comments in particular refer to the emphasis the Administration placed before the President’s visit to the continent in 2009 on including Ghana in a multi-region tour that included Russia and the G8 in Italy to demonstrate that Africa was ‘not a world apart, but a part of our interconnected world.’ (See the reference to this concept in the full text of his July 2009 Ghana speech). Four years later, this emphasis has been lost. Check out the rest of what I have to say about the significance of the President’s visit, as well as the contributions of my colleagues!
South Africa has found itself in a situation where it looks more like an Executive Outcomes B-team than a regional power seeking to contribute to peace and stability on the continent. Over the weekend, approximately 200 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops were involved in a nine-hour battle with Séléka rebels in the Central African Republic. Séléka, an alliance of anti-government armed groups, had launched a rebellion against President François Bozizé in December 2012, only halting their offensive to negotiate the terms of the Libreville agreement in January.
In early January 2013, South African President Jacob Zuma authorized the deployment of 400 SANDF to help train the Central African Republic Armed Forces (FACA), as well as assist in the planning and implementation of the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process. (Apparently, only 200 troops had been deployed thus far). Potential reasons for the SANDF deployment to the Central African Republic vary. On one hand, it may be a natural progression of South Africa’s pursuit of regional influence on the continent, and perhaps a way to counter French influence. On the other, South Africa may have commercial interests in the Central African Republic.
The deployment was in accordance with the provisions of section 201 (2) (c) of the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which states that “Only the President, as head of the national executive, may authorize the employment of the defence force in fulfillment of an international obligation.” The international obligation to which the constitution referred was, in this case, a five-year military cooperation agreement initially signed between South Africa and the Central African Republic in 2007, and renewed in December 2012.
In early January, a SANDF spokesperson stated that the purpose of the SANDF deployment was not to engage rebel fighters, but to train the FACA. Accordingly, they were not combat-equipped, making them vulnerable to attack and likely to suffer heavy casualties if Séléka engaged them in battle – which they did when Séléka broke the ceasefire as a result of Bozizé’s unwillingness to implement the terms of the peace agreement. During the course of Séléka’s push towards Bangui, 13 SANDF were killed, seven were wounded, and one is missing in action. The South African National Defence Force Union (SANDU) subsequently released a statement condemning the involvement of the SANDF and asserting that the deployment should have been curtailed the moment Bozizé showed signs of not honoring the January 2013 Libreville agreements. In a press conference on Monday, Zuma stated that troop casualties were suffered whilst SANDF was defending a South African military base outside Bangui, stating “Wherever our troops are deployed they have the duty to defend themselves if their positions fall under attack.”
The events of this past weekend cast a shadow upon the previously constructive role South Africa has played with regard to conflict resolution in Africa, and taints its image as a neutral broker for future peace agreements on the continent. South Africa’s experience transitioning from apartheid to democracy provides a prime example of a peaceful transition that occurred on the heels of a deeply divisive period of history. Yet, Zuma’s decision to deploy the SANDF in support of the Bozizé regime has negated South Africa’s ability to present itself as a nonpartisan broker between Séléka and remnants of the ancien régime.