Why has the international response to CAR taken so long?
Stability is not a term one would use to describe the Central African Republic – particularly in light of the recent conflict which has engulfed the country. Last December, the Séléka rebel coalition challenged then-President François Bozizé’s grasp on power and eventually ousted him in March 2013. At first, the international response to the humanitarian and human rights crises that have ensued was muted. Eventually, over the summer, the African Union launched an International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), with an authorized force strength of 3,600, to help protect civilians and provide security throughout the country. MISCA, which may not be operational until 2014, replaced the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX) in August 2013, which had been in CAR since July 2008 with 400 soldiers. Former colonial power France, which abstained from preventing Bozizé’s collapse earlier this year, has 400 soldiers in the capital city of Bangui to protect their interests, and is in the process of deploying 1,000 more. Finally, the UN Security Council is also considering authorizing a peacekeeping mission for CAR, but it would not be able to deploy for at least two to three months – even with a speedy UNSC Resolution. Therefore, the French and AU forces would have to act as a stopgap measure until the UN would be able to put boots on the ground.
The question is, after this crisis has been unfolding for almost a year, why is an international response only coming together now?
- Perhaps the international community was inundated by the response to the crises in Mali. Note that France’s Opération Serval commenced in January, accelerating the deployment timelines for the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) from September to mid-January. The Séléka rebel coalition that eventually toppled Bozizé commenced their rebellion around mid-December 2012, agreed to a ceasefire in mid-January 2013, and entered Bangui to overthrow Bozizé for failing to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire at the end of March 2013. If you think about it, the time period between the initiation of the Séléka rebellion and the current rumblings of an international response has been more or less dominated by the French intervention in Mali, the AFISMA deployment, transition to the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and Mali’s presidential and legislative elections. And now that Mali is in a better pace than it was last year at this time, the international community now has the bandwidth to turn to the next pressing crisis on the continent – the Central African Republic.
- Perhaps the humanitarian toll has risen too high. Approximately one-tenth of the country’s population, or 460,000 people, have become internally displaced fleeing the communal violence between Christians and Muslims (15% of the population), and over 220,000 people have become refugees in neighboring countries. Recent Human Rights Watch reports have documented the destruction of over 1,000 homes between March and June 2013. (See satellite images of ‘what war crimes look like from space’).
- People are starting to say the “T-word.” As the Central African Republic continues to spiral into anarchy, there is speculation that terrorist groups, like Nigeria’s Boko Haram, could set up shop in the country. Although such reports are unconfirmed, the mere presence of an unstable territory may make it an attractive safe haven for terrorist or criminal actors with regional or even global agendas.
- People have started using the “G-word.” Whether genocide is – or is not – occurring in a given conflict, using the “G-word” is supposed to trigger an obligatory international response. My personal view is that the term genocide tends to be overused, and as a result, genocide has been conflated with “mass killing,” and more generally “human rights abuses” or “crimes against humanity,” thus distancing it from its true meaning. Therefore, whether or not genocide is actually occurring in the Central African Republic, any response would have to be measured against the international community’s failure to respond to allegations of genocide in places like Syria and Sudan’s Nuba Mountains.
In any event, the true reason for the recent focus on the conflict in the Central African Republic, albeit belated, may be a combination of two or more of the aforementioned factors. Now, as with regional and international attempts to respond to previous crises in Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we shall see if the international community can put its money and military might where its mouth is.
The one where the SPLA accidentally downs an UNMISS helicopter…
I have developed a habit for blaming South Sudan for my inability to get anything on my “To Do” list done. That appears to be the case again today.
News broke this morning that the SPLA had allegedly shot down a UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Mi-8 helicopter that had been conducting a reconnaissance mission near Likuangole in Jonglei state. The ensuing crash killed 4 Russian crew on board.
Those who follow security issues in this part of Africa will know that Jonglei is an area of South Sudan that has been afflicted by:
- violence between the Dinka, Lou Nuer, and Murle, most recently detailed in the June 2012 UNMISS report “Incidents of Inter-Communal Violence in Jonglei State”;
- proliferation in small arms and light weapons (SALW) due to the porous border with Ethiopia and the inability of the security forces to protect the population from said violence; and
- a spate of militia violence, most recently perpetrated primarily by David Yau Yau, who has been in a state of off-and-on rebellion since his unsuccessful bid for the Gumuruk-Boma seat in the Jonglei State assembly. (For additional information on Yau Yau’s rebellion, you must read Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment’s brief on him, updated earlier this week).
Initial reports on the helicopter incident were hazy, with people like myself speculating that:
- It would be illogical for South Sudan to deliberately target a UN helicopter, given the role the UN tries to play as a security guarantor against South Sudan’s security threats. Yes, relations between the government and the UN mission have been challenging from time to time (i.e., the government’s response to the June 2012 report on Jonglei), but I would not describe relations between them as hostile. Therefore, this must have been an accident. OR
- It would be more likely that non-SPLA armed groups – perhaps Yau Yau’s men or local communities resisting the SPLA’s forcible, and often uneven disarmament campaigns – were responsible for shooting down the helicopter. The UN was supporting disarmament in this region, and although they differed with South Sudan’s security forces on the means, both sought to neutralize the threats posed by militias and armed civilians.
It has since been confirmed that the SPLA was indeed responsible for the incident, believing the helicopter was of Sudanese origin and sent to resupply Yau Yau’s forces. According to SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer, the SPLA was not aware that an UNMISS aircraft would be in the area. When they requested information from the mission, the UN was allegedly not forthcoming until it was too late.
While the incident is still under investigation, I would be quite surprised if it was revealed that the SPLA intentionally downed an UNMISS helicopter. Say what you want about the Government of South Sudan’s governance and decision-making, but it’s not a rogue nation. My initial conclusion, therefore, is that this was an unfortunate accident that underscores three things about South Sudan’s security forces:
- The SPLA is not known for having good command-and-control – especially when forward deployed. An UNMISS inquiry of the crash may reveal that mid- or low-ranking soldiers fired without receiving an order from their commanding officer. Another possibility is that there may have been too many commanding officers there, and this may have obscured what the appropriate response to seeing the helicopter should have been. I mention the “too many commanding officers” theory because rank harmonization has been one of the challenges that has come with integrating non-statutory groups that were formerly anti-SPLA into the SPLA.
- On occasion, the South Sudan’s security forces do not respond to security incidents with appropriate rules of engagement. One only need look across to the police‘s (and possibly the military’s) heavy-handed response to the recent protests in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr al-Ghazal state. Thus, it is not altogether surprising that the SPLA’s response to the UNMISS helicopter was to shoot first and ascertain the threat later.
- In addition to flawed C2, and inappropriate ROE, lack of training may have been a factor. On one hand, you could argue that the UN has white helicopters with the letters “UN” clearly marking it, and they have been present in Sudan/South Sudan since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. On the other hand (and I don’t favor this argument, but am just throwing it out there), literacy may have been an issue. According to data compiled by Richard Rands, “up to 90 per cent of the ranks are illiterate, as are at least 70 per cent of the officers.” Again, I would presume most SPLA should be able to ID a UN helicopter, so perhaps the UNMISS investigation will conclude that the helicopter was shot down before the SPLA could properly see it to identify it as friendly and not hostile.
Anyway, that’s what I have so far, but I’m curious to see what the result of the UNMISS investigation will be, and how this incident could impact UNMISS operations in South Sudan.
In near term, containment may be the name of the game in Mali
If you’re following the news on Mali, you’ve no doubt seen the most recent developments in the political crisis in Bamako in which the military junta “encouraged” or “facilitated” the resignation of PM Cheikh Modibo Diarra on Tuesday. (For thorough roundup of analyses and reactions to this incident, I would refer you here).
Two months ago, I wrote a post called “UN inches closer to approving ECOWAS intervention in Mali” and I thought I’d add some additional insights to it in light of recent developments.
In recent months, there have been no fewer than a gajillion (to use an analytical term) reports of ECOWAS drafting a plan for intervention and the UNSC telling them they’re on the right track, but not quite there. Amidst reports that a military intervention is inevitable, some differences have come to light vis-à-vis how the international community should approach said intervention.
- France favors swift approval by the UNSC of ECOWAS’ most recent intervention plan – a process complicated by the fact that Captain Sanogo has consistently been opposed to foreign intervention, and has successfully removed one of the key figures calling for such an intervention – PM Diarra.
- The United States has been more cautious in its support, favoring a dual-phase intervention that commences in the south with the training of the Mali Armed Forces (MAF) that would ideally complement (an actual, rather than cosmetic) political transition in Bamako. The second phase would then involve a mandate for military intervention to reconquer the north.
The way I see it, the United States’ reticence to throw unconditional support behind an ECOWAS-led intervention is primarily influenced by two factors.
- The first is the legacy of the arguably haphazard intervention in Libya that did not consider the broader regional implications of military intervention. I sense little appetite on the part of the United States to be held responsible for endorsing an ECOWAS intervention if it goes north and exacerbates the situation, or fails outright.
- To understand the second factor, you really need to take a closer look at the lessons of the African Union intervention in Somalia. In particular, the United States touts the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as a potential model for an ECOWAS-led intervention in Mali. Notably, AMISOM came into being because of a regional and international demand signal for such an intervention force in Somalia. However, it was continually plagued with trying to determine how to achieve its objectives when troop contributions and funding were either unpredictable or altogether not forthcoming. As a result, it was only four and a half years into its mandate and over $385 million USD later that it started to see success. I think that although the U.S. sees AMISOM as a model for African-led conflict resolution supported by the international community, it simply lacks the time or the money to make the same mistake – in spite of a similar demand signal for intervention in Mali. Hence the requirement for extensive planning for concept of operations, troop commitments, and a resourcing plan prior to a mandate for intervention.
I think there’s a general consensus that Mali is a festering sore in the Sahel and that someone needs to do something about it, but the means and modalities are still TBD. In the mean time, I don’t foresee U.S. boots on the ground – at least the kind of boots you or I would even be aware of (wink, wink). But I would not be surprised if the U.S. approach to northern Mali is containment. Like in Somalia and the broader Horn of Africa, I see this as an approach in which the U.S. focuses on ensuring that the activities of AQIM, Ansar Dine, and MUJAO are confined to northern Mali and do not spread to Algeria, Niger, or Mauritania. I could also see this approach utilizing kinetic means (i.e., drone strikes) to disrupt terrorist operations in northern Mali, as well as non-kinetic means (i.e., public diplomacy programs) focused on countering violent extremism in Niger and Mauritania.
Until the political situation in Bamako becomes less unstable, the U.S. and European allies can agree on an approach to intervention, and ECOWAS can get boots on the ground (perhaps not until late 2013), I think containment is going to be the name of the game in northern Mali.
Playing chicken with the UN, Uganda threatens to withdraw from peacekeeping operations
You could argue that the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, seeks to replace Muammar Qadhafi as the alpha male of Africa and Meles Zenawi as the pan-African mediator. But those aspirations may have to be put on hold.
In the UN Group of Experts (UN GoE) report that was leaked last month, Uganda and Rwanda were accused of supporting M23, an armed group that has been operating in the eastern Congo since the spring. Although Rwanda’s reputation as the donor darling and example of Singaporean-style economic development has been damaged, it unlike its neighbor, lacks the regional security clout and leverage that Uganda holds.
On Thursday night, Uganda’s Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced to the country’s parliament that the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) would be withdrawing from regional peacekeeping operations to protect the country’s western border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Accusing Western powers of failing to recognize Uganda’s contribution of peace in the region, Mbabazi asked, “Why should we continue involving Uganda where the only reward we get is malignment? Why should the children of Ugandans die and we get malignment as a reward? Why should we invite retaliation by the al-Shabaab by standing with the people of Somalia, only to get malignment by the UN system?” This announcement was the other shoe to drop, following last month’s statements by Uganda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Okello Oryem that the accusations leveled in the report were “rubbish and absurd,” and that the country was “reassessing all its peacekeeping engagements and operations in the region.” The Ugandan government has now sent an envoy to UN Headquarters to inform them of its ‘irreversible’ decision.
As of late September, Uganda only had 47 personnel assigned to UN peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan, Liberia, and East Timor. Therefore, the brunt of Uganda’s threats would fall upon the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to which the UPDF contributes approximately 6,500 troops (about a third of AMISOM’s authorized force strength of 17,731). The UPDF also provides the force commander – a position that has been held by a Ugandan since the mission began in 2007. To a lesser extent, these threats could also affect Uganda’s contribution of at least 2,000 troops to the African Union-initiated Regional Task Force to hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Central African Republic and DRC.
Aside from its regional military footprint, Uganda has been chairing the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) effort to facilitate a dialogue with the M23 rebels and, if necessary, plan a multinational military intervention in the eastern Congo. The accusations leveled in the UN GoE report certainly hurt Uganda’s credibility as a mediator in this process, but also threaten Museveni’s legacy as the man who brought an element of stability to Somalia in what many believed to be a suicide mission, when other nations refused to commit troops. (By the way, details for an ICGLR intervention force are still being worked out, and I believe a UN mandate would help facilitate financial and logistical support. Without that kind of support, an intervention would be highly unlikely.)
In reality, however, I doubt that Uganda can pull all of its troops out of peacekeeping operations. Quite simply put, it’s going to cost too much. Museveni’s survival is, in part, contingent on maintaining a large military deployed outside the country’s borders in case he needs them for internal security. While 8,000+ UPDF are deployed in support of AU or UN peacekeeping operations, Museveni doesn’t have to worry about paying them. However, if he brings them home, he’ll need to find a way to keep them occupied – and paid – so they stay out of trouble. Unless there’s a war in Uganda (unlikely) to rally the troops around him, he needs to keep them deployed on someone else’s dime. In addition, one of the reasons Uganda is so important for regional security is due to its involvement in peacekeeping operations. If you take that away, you also lose the justification for allocating the same level of security assistance from international partners to train and equip the UPDF in the future. This is income that Museveni would now have to find a way to make up for.
So to be clear, I don’t expect Uganda’s threats to come to anything. It’s just putting the UN and the West on notice to back the (insert expletive here) off over allegations of providing support to M23.
In possibly unrelated news, the United States’ Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman visited Uganda to discuss advancing regional security and to extend U.S. appreciation for Uganda’s peacekeeping efforts. This was the same day the PM made the announcement to withdraw from peacekeeping operations. #Awkward.
Key questions for African-initiated intervention force for eastern DRC
On August 7th and 8th, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) heads of state met to discuss the deployment of an international force to fight the M23 rebel movement that has been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu region since April of this year. While they did not end up reaching a consensus on an intervention force, I still thought I’d attempt to think through the kind of questions that would need to be answered to establish such a force.
- What would the mission be? Like the current discussions the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is having about a regional intervention force for Mali, it will be essential for regional stakeholders to articulate what their objectives are and what their concept of operations might be in order to attain said objectives. Will they be focusing on fighting M23, or will they also be addressing instability caused by the Raia Mutomboki? Would this force attempt to address the underlying causes of the ongoing conflict in North Kivu, which could be a long-term commitment that would surpass a purely military intervention? Would this force focus on protecting civilians while allowing the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC in French) to deal with rebel groups? Starting to answer these types of mission-oriented questions would be a prerequisite for obtaining African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) mandates, which could facilitate international support – which gets to my next question.
- Who would pay for this deployment?Troop-contributing countries (I’ll get to who they might be in a minute) would need to determine whether they can afford to pay the salaries of the units they would deploy, the use of (or acquisition of) contingent-owned equipment during the deployment, the transport of military assets to the eastern Congo, and the maintenance of these assets in the field. (I’m sure I forgot something, but you get the picture.) If troop-contributing countries cannot foot the bill, then the AU, UN, European Union (EU), United States would need to be willing and capable of providing financial assistance – either on a bilateral basis or on a multilateral basis – which gets to my next question.
- What framework would be used for an intervention force? The UN already has just under 20,000 military and police personnel as part of the UN Organization and Stabilization Mission in the DRC(MONUSCO), but it is possible that the UN (and the AU for that matter) are overtasked, both globally and in the DRC itself. Therefore, we might be looking at a sub-regional organization taking the lead akin to what ECOWAS is attempting to do in Mali. Unlike the situation in Mali, however, the DRC is not a member of a sub-regional organization that has a functional security component with a precedent for regional military intervention. The DRC is a member of both the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC in French) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and these sub-regional organizations are supposed to have regional brigades that would fall under the African Standby Force (ASF). However, I don’t know whether the SADC Standby Force Brigade (SADCBRIG) or its CEEAC equivalent, the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC in French), would be willing and capable of leading an intervention force. Therefore, if there is no sub-regional organization that has an established military component is able to take the lead, then how would this intervention force be comprised?
- Who would the players be? Since we don’t know whether a sub-regional organization or a multilateral coalition of countries would intervene in the DRC, it’s difficult to ascertain which countries could be part of this notional force. But since the ICGLR is talking about such a force, we’ll start with their members: Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan (not sure if South Sudan is a member), Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. If I were compiling an intervention dream team from these members, I would want Angola, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda on my team. Why these and not the others? Off the top of my head, these countries have reasonably professional militaries with proven warfighting capabilities, are active in AU and UN peacekeeping operations (with the exception of Angola), and have countries stable enough that deploying soldiers abroad would probably not inhibit their armed forces from addressing other national security threats. That said, many of these countries have baggage in the DRC as a result of their involvement in the 1998-2003 civil war (Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda), or more recently, alleged support for M23 (ahem…Rwanda). Also, would these countries even be interested in intervening? I would say Rwanda would because of the threat it perceives from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Angola’s participation would depend on the extent to which its security is affected by events on the opposite side of the Congo, as well as the extent to which the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA in Portuguese) feels more comfortable keeping the military at home in case there is instability surrounding this month’s elections or to contain additional protests by civil war veterans. And while I don’t think Kenya has baggage in the DRC, I doubt that instability in North Kivu is compelling enough to deploy the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) there when their focus is really on Somalia. Thus, the militaries that might be the most capable of fighting M23 in North Kivu may either fail to be perceived as a neutral force or their countries lack a compelling reason to get involved. As a result, an intervention force might have to look further afield to get troop contributors or make do with less capable forces.
So I guess the bottom line is that I don’t think an intervention force will come to fruition for the eastern Congo due to some of the issues I’ve raised above.