A brief announcement for those who might be interested in the Horn of Africa. There will be an event about state-building in Somalia on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. in the Intercultural Center on Georgetown’s campus (7th floor, Executive Conference Room). We’ve got some great panelists from the State Department, the National Endowment of Democracy, Relief International, and an organization called Somali Family Services. It should be a valuable chance to learn about recent developments and interact with practitioners that have worked on Somali issues for many years. More information is below. I hope to see you there!
State-building in Somalia
New Government, Old Challenges
Abdurashid Ali, Somali Family Services
Rob Satrom, Department of State
Eric Robinson, National Endowment for Democracy
Steven Hansch, Relief International
Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 10:00 – 11:30 AM
Executive Conference Room, 7th Floor, Intercultural Center (ICC), Georgetown University
In August 2012, Somali leaders from around the country implemented a series of steps to replace the Transitional Federal Government, which had exercised nominal control over the country since 2004. A National Constituent Assembly adopted a new constitution, and members of Somalia’s new federal parliament elected an academic and civil society activist, Hassan Sheikh Mohammad, as president. Meanwhile, political progress in Mogadishu has been accompanied by security gains against al-Shabaab, which has been pushed out of its largest remaining urban stronghold in Kismayo by AMISOM forces.
Despite these developments, many core issues remain unresolved. How will the federal government consolidate its authority beyond Mogadishu? To what extent will regions like Puntland and Somaliland, with their own political transitions, choose to participate in the new system? What are the implications for development efforts across the country, and how can the international community assist in state-building? Please join us for a discussion of these issues, and more.
In nearly 50 years of independence, Kenya has never held a presidential debate. Until yesterday. Lucky for all of us living halfway around the world, the video coverage was streamed online.
All eight contenders participated. You can find a profile for each here. The moderators pulled few punches, displaying a forceful, sometimes combative posture on a number of important issues. They kicked things off with a provocative series of questions about tribalism, described as a “cancer” that afflicts all aspects of governance and politics in Kenya (minute 16:15). Moving right along to possibly the biggest controversy of the entire campaign, the next topic took a direct shot at Uhuru Kenyatta and the ongoing case at the ICC for his alleged role (with 3 others) in the 2007-2008 post-election violence (minute 47:40). In a line that was surely canned, but memorable nonetheless, Raila Odinga — who has maintained a slim lead over Kenyatta in recent polls — quipped that “I know that it will pose serious challenges to run the government by Skype from The Hague” (57:27).
If nothing else, the debate certainly tested the endurance of each candidate, coming in at just over three hours long. For those interested, you can view it in its entirety below.
“Choices have consequences.” That was the message from Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, the top U.S. diplomat for African affairs, in a recent conversation with reporters about Kenya’s upcoming election. “Individuals have reputations, individuals have images, individuals have histories. Individuals are known for who they are and what they do, what they have said, and how they act.”
The comments were surprising, and perhaps ill-advised. Carson’s confrontational tone appeared to contradict the more benign message from President Obama only two days earlier, in which he expressed his simple hope for a peaceful, free, and fair election. But the sub-text from Carson was even more striking. His not-so-subtle remarks read as a not-so-veiled threat, with a clear implication of “consequences” on the international scene in the event of a win by a certain individual, left unnamed but well known to every Kenyan (more on that below). A look at recent Kenyan political history reveals the risk of adding this sort of pressure to an already combustible electoral environment.
When Kenyans head to the polls on March 4, they will select a president to replace Mwai Kibaki, the octogenarian leader that has presided over the government since 2002. The election will be Kenya’s first since the troubled poll in 2007, when allegations of fraud quickly escalated into widespread ethnic violence that left over 1,200 dead and displaced another 350,000.
Despite considerable evidence of irregularities and manipulation — including the sudden replacement of almost the entire election commission with Kibaki loyalists only weeks before election day — the United States chose to publicly support the official 2007 results, with the incumbent Kibaki (an ethnic Kikuyu) as a slim winner over opposition candidate Raila Odinga (a Luo). Some contend that U.S. officials went so far as to prevent the release of an exit poll conducted by the International Republican Institute, the results of which not only showed an Odinga victory, but gave him a margin so large it would have undermined Kibaki’s claim to power. Odinga was eventually given the role of prime minister as part of a post-election, power-sharing deal to reestablish stability. Yet, his supporters remain bitter about what they believe was a stolen election aided, in part, by the complicity of the United States and other international actors.
Fast forward to today. The leading candidates to succeed Kibaki are familiar characters; two men who bear the scars of 2007, and whose political pedigrees are symbolic of recurring battles since Kenya’s independence. Odinga is back on the ballot, and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) coalition party has amassed a large base of support among many of the smaller tribes throughout the country. His primary challenger is Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu and son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. Odinga’s father served as Jomo Kenyatta’s first vice president before the relationship between the two men soured, Odinga resigned to form a new opposition movement, and Kenyatta threw him in jail for two years. Even in a country known for fluid political arrangements and shifting alliances, the animosity between the two families has had lasting political implications.
Jomo’s son, Uhuru, first entered big-time national politics as a presidential candidate running opposite Kibaki in the 2002 election. Although he received an endorsement from Kenya’s retiring President Daniel Moi, Kenyatta could not secure the support from other prominent members of the ruling KANU party, including then-KANU Secretary General Raila Odinga, who chose instead to join a new coalition in support of Kibaki. Kenyatta, of course, lost that election. Five years later, Kenyatta announced that instead of challenging Kibaki for the State House, he would endorse his re-election campaign. That decision proved consequential. In the post-election chaos that followed, Kenyatta was accused of organizing a variety of Kikuyu groups (Kibaki’s base) to commit acts of violence against members of the Luo and Kalenjin communities, which had largely supported Odinga’s campaign. Odinga and his political allies were suspected of fomenting the violence as well, particularly since the riots that erupted immediately after the results were released included weapons that were clearly distributed before the election. Yet, of the two men, only Kenyatta was directly implicated when the case was referred to the International Criminal Court in 2010. The ICC ultimately indicted Kenyatta and three others for crimes against humanity. Their trial is set to begin in April.
So Uhuru Kenyatta is the individual left unnamed by Assistant Secretary Carson. But Kenyatta is also the single candidate for whom the stakes are highest. For him, this election is an insurance policy against criminal conviction, an extra layer of defense to preempt an involuntary trip to the Hague. And for Odinga, the election is not only a shot at redemption in what could be his final presidential bid, but an opportunity to give his Luo community an office that has eluded every Kenyan tribe not named Kikuyu or Kalenjin. It also carries the prospect of defeating a man whose father imprisoned his own.
These sub-plots add intensity to a battle that already carries significant consequences in Kenya. The presidency is associated with access to jobs, state contracts, resources, and land — all for the particular tribe or tribes within the ruling coalition. Though Kenya has a new constitution with devolved political structures intended to reduce presidential power (and perhaps the intensity of the competition to fill that office), the fundamental ingredients for political violence and instability remain.
Few expected the United States to wade deeply into this kind of environment. To an outsider observer, there would seem to be little benefit for the U.S. to raise the stakes even higher and potentially restrict future options for engagement. Kenya is an important U.S. regional partner for any number of issues, including international security and terrorism. The country’s proximity to the Horn of Africa and pirate-threatened international shipping lanes, in particular, make it a valuable ally — and the U.S. will certainly wish to maintain that relationship regardless of who wins come March. Perhaps some officials believe that the simple threat of cooler relations will siphon off enough support from Kenyatta to ensure an Odinga victory. But it’s unclear whether that result would be any more or less advantageous to U.S. interests than a Kenyatta presidency. Indeed, both men (and their supporters) are sensitive to the importance of relationships with the West, as well as the financial and material support those relationships yield.
My guess is that Carson’s remarks do not reflect actual U.S. policy. The State Department is in a transitional phase between Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and perhaps Carson exploited a temporary vacuum in policy guidance to wander off the reservation and push his personal views. As a former Ambassador to Kenya, he certainly has close ties to the country and strong views of recent events. But his extensive diplomatic experience also suggests that he is not someone to riff off the cuff in front of reporters. His words had the cadence and style of comments that were thoughtfully crafted in advance. Official U.S. policy or not, what he says in public does not go unnoticed by local politicians.
Choices do have consequences, as Carson rightfully said. Hopefully his choice to issue diplomatic threats will not create more problems in an already difficult election, or box the U.S. into a corner if Kenyatta does emerge with a win.
In an interview with USIP, our director Daniel Brumberg “considers the potential for al-Qaida’s growth in North Africa, and the challenge this poses to U.S. relationships with the new, post-conflict governments in the region”. Check it out below:
How do you assess the regional implications of the January 16 seizure by radical Islamists of a gas field along the border area of Algeria and Libya—as well as the resulting (and horrific) casualties? And what are the implications for the “Arab Spring” uprisings, which are now in their third season?
Well, let’s take those one at a time. Mokhtar Belmokhtar — the Jihadist whose forces led the attack on the Algerian gas facility — declared that his actions were meant as a rebuke to France for its military intervention in Mali. But Belmokhtar’s assault was surely planned well before Mali’s acting government invited France to intervene. So, this much is clear: in a strategic sense, the attack on the Algerian gas facility represents an effort by a regional off-shoot of al-Qaida to use the northern Mali conflict as a lever to amplify al-Qaida’s violent message throughout the Maghreb.
Would the makeup of the group that led the assault in Algeria illustrate your point?
Yes, for sure. The attackers hailed from the wider region: only three were Algerian, and the rest came from Mali, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Niger, and Mauritania—as well as other countries. Their goal is to exploit the political upheavals to expand and solidify their bases of operations, and in so doing, put the U.S. and its Western allies on notice that regardless of the particular governments that have emerged via the Arab Spring uprisings, the future lies with al-Qaida and its allies. It is very likely that these groups want to derail the transition tracks of democracy, while at the same time signaling that they are ready to revive attacks against the government of Algeria – an autocratic regime that has thus far survived the tremors of political change in the region.
Some experts have argued that the French decision to intervene in Mali needlessly internationalized a conflict. What are your thoughts?
I am not sure I would put it like that. The rise and expanding threat of Jihadist forces in Mali created a dilemma for Western states and those African states that felt threatened by this development. If you failed to act, Mali could become a permanent base for an African/Maghrebi al-Qaida branch. But at the same time, intervention carried the risk that Jihadists would leverage the situation to their advantage by decrying it as an example of Western imperialism. The French decided that the potential cost of waiting outweighed the risks of moving now.
You have asserted that one probable goal of the Algeria attack was to interfere with—even derail—the Arab Spring, or democratic transition efforts. This seems interesting, especially since, in the case of Egypt and Tunisia, elections have put Islamists into power, and/or magnified conflicts between Islamists and secularists, a trend that radical Islamist forces would welcome.
Well, first keep in mind that from the vantage point of al-Qaida affiliates, both in terms of ideology and strategic orientation, the Islamist leaders whose political fortunes have benefited from democratic change are hardly “authentic” representatives of their vision of Islam. The relatively moderate form of Islamism advocated by the Nahda Party in Tunisia, and even the sterner Islamist vision propounded by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, represents –in the eyes of al-Qaida’s allies– a much watered down Islamist agenda.
Moreover, the continued strategic cooperation between Washington, Tunis and even Cairo –despite all the ups and down of the last few months—represents a strategic challenge for al-Qaida, since from its perspective, these governments remain close allies of Washington.
Are you suggesting that al-Qaida plans to take on or even attack these governments?
No, not in a direct or immediate sense. Whatever the ideological and strategic differences with the Islamist leaders who have come to the political fore in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, al-Qaida affiliates have no incentive to directly challenge or attack these new governments, or even more so, their security forces. But, they are probably trying to establish local cells or affiliates where they can, and these cells could certainly be seen, from the perspective of these new Arab governments – or certainly their security forces—as a threat.
Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, al-Qaida affiliates are keen to exploit the capacity of these new and governments to secure control over their vast territories, be it in Egypt’s Sinai, in the southern areas of Algeria, or the border regions of Libya, Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria. Such efforts not only raise the troubling prospect of geographic fragmentation and state weakening, they can deeply embarrass democratically elected governments, whose Islamist leaders control movements, many of whose young adherents find the radical Islamism of al-Qaida in North Africa and that of Mokhtar Belmokhtar deeply alluring.
How have the governments of Tunisia and Egypt reacted? Is this strategy working?
I wouldn’t say that the above strategy is working, but the new governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are surely worried. They are seeking to secure their legitimacy in the midst of ongoing political battles between secular and Islamist forces, struggles that have intensified as a result of the growing influence of radical Salafist groups, some of which openly advocate violence. The challenge facing the region’s new governments, especially those that contain and/or are dominated by mainstream Islamist parties, is to distance themselves from the extremists, while maintaining their Islamic or populist credentials. That is something of a balancing act.
For example, Tunisia’s leaders –and interim President Moncef Marzouki in particular –have praised Algeria’s rescue effort. Particularly after the violent attack on the U.S. embassy in October 2012, the Tunisians are keen to demonstrate that they are clamping down on radical Islamists. Moreover the country’s Interior Minister announced on December 21 that the security forces had just discovered and dismantled an al-Qaida outside Tunis. But Nahda, which is the leading political party in the increasingly fragile ruling coalition, would also like to integrate non-violent Islamists into the political process, and thus wants to avoid being seen as simply carrying out the wishes of Washington. This not easy to do when the party finds itself compelled to rely on the very security forces that were once aligned with the previous regime to maintain order.
I assume that Egypt’s leaders are also walking a similarly fine line?
Even more so. Morsi has proclaimed his support for the Algerian government and its assault on the gas compound, but he has also denounced France’s military intervention in Mali. The very idea of Western military intervention in a Muslim or Arab country is something that Morsi and many of his allies in the Muslim Brethren reject on principle. At the same time however, they are striving to rebuild relations with Washington and to reassure the U.S. that Egypt is not rocking the strategic boat.
Your response raises the tricky question of Libya and its role in the wider region.
Indeed. I suppose you can make an argument that full and complete control of one’s national territory is not absolutely required in order to advance a democratic transition. But in the long run, the survival of militias in Libya constitutes a threat to any chances for serious democratic progress. After the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi — and the tragic killing of our ambassador and other Americans — there was some hope that the government could reign in the militias, but this has not happened. Indeed, the continuing activity of radical Islamist groups in Western Libya, aided by access the arms seized after the fall of Qaddafi, has been a huge regional boon to al-Qaida affiliates. This represents, as one of my colleagues put it, the “dark side” of the Arab Spring.
Finally, what of Algeria, a country about which we have heard very little since the Arab Uprisings began in early 2009?
We have to remember that Algeria experienced a long and bloody internal conflict following the military’s intervention which in late 1991 put an end to process of democratic elections that would have put the country “Islamic Salvation Front” into power. In the ensuing eight years, some 200,000 Algerian died. But by 2000, through a mix of repression and cooptation, the regime succeeded in restoring some degree of political stability. Thus when the Arab Spring erupted in 2009, the political class –such as it is—and the wider population evinced little interest in emulating its Tunisian neighbors, since the prospect of democratic reform also seemed to raised the prospect of internal political strife and even violence. The key to this strategy, of course, was not only to keep a lid on radical Islamists, but also to make sure that they did not pose a threat to domestic oil production, which is, quite literally, the life line of the regime.
So it seems that the attacks on the gas installation represented a powerful threat to this strategy, no?
Precisely. Algeria’s leaders have been waging a low intensity conflict with al-Qaida’s affiliates in North Africa, managing to keep them at bay. But the attack on the gas installation represents an assault Algiers’ strategy both regionally and domestically. It not only raises the prospect of instability in its oil producing region, it also raises the prospect that Algerian territory will once again become an organizing ground for radical Islamist assaults throughout the region. This concern helps to account for the determination of the Algeria military to draw a literal and figurative line in the sand by assaulting Belmokhtar’s forces at the gas installation and refusing any negotiated outcome. Algeria’s leaders look at the Arab Spring and see a recipe for regional disorder and violence. Events in Mali, Algeria and Libya will only reinforce their determination to hold on to power, and to resist what they see as a black hole of political upheaval in the region.
How to describe the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)? Last week, the rebel group March 23 (M23) took over the Eastern city of Goma. In their communiqué they mention this is “the result of a deliberate decision of the Kinshasa regime of refusing to implement the peace agreements negotiated on March 23, 2009 in Goma”. These agreements marked the end of a previous rebellion, many of whose participants take arms again. It appears to be clear that the current rebellion is a continuation of long-time grievances between ethnic groups in the East of DRC, Uganda and Rwanda. But is the takeover of Goma an expected development of this long-lasting conflict or is it just people trying to seize a window of opportunity for personal gains? Is it possible to dig into the true and deep motives of the M23 or its relationship with foreign governments in the region?
First, the genealogy. In 1994, Tutsi rebels took power in Rwanda days after the genocide against this group. Hutus, fearing repression, fled into then Zaire (now DRC). Three years later, Laurent Kabila took power in Zaire by overthrowing Mobutu Sese Seko, who had ruled the country since 1967. Rwanda, whose security forces entered the country to raid Hutus, backed Kabila. However, the next year after taking office Kabila was accused by Rwanda of not acting against Hutus, thus threatening to overthrow him. This provoked a five-year war which involved the DRC (Kabila thus renamed the country), Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe and in which more than three million people may have died. The conflict formally ended in 2003, but clashes between Hutus and Tutsis continued in the east DRC, just next to Rwanda. In 2006 the first elections were held in DRC; Kabila’s son, Joseph, won. Later that year the DRC army officer Laurent Nkunda formed the rebel group National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). This group took over Goma in 2008. The next year an agreement was signed on March 23 between CNDP and DRC to stop the fighting; CNDP members were reintegrated into the army and Nkunda was imprisoned. To some extent this was possible because Bosco Ntaganda rebelled against Nkunda and said he would help Rwanda fight against the Hutu. In April 2012 Ntaganda and some of the soldiers under his command rebelled against the government of the DRC, backed again by Rwanda. The most recent installment in this rebellion is the take over of Goma.
It is very tempting to say that this series of rebellions was guided by a greed for power of their leaders. Nkunda and Ntaganda are sought by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed during the five year war and for recruiting children for their militias. Indeed, the reincorporation of the CNDP to the DRC army served as a kind of insurance that their crimes would not be further investigated and that participants of these rebellions would have jobs in the government in the region of North Kivu, which borders Rwanda and where Goma is. Allegedly, the DRC did not respect this latter part of the agreement as the salaries and positions received by former CNDP members did not correspond to their military ranks. In an interview with Al Jazeera, former UN official Jason Stearns (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/11/20121126936588395.html) suggests that the reason for the April rebellion was that the government wanted to reduce the benefits received by former CNDP members, most importantly the free accumulation of wealth by means of bribes and smuggling, all protected with patronage networks. The DRC, Stearns continues, expected to apply the strategy of “divide and conquer”: some of the former CNDP members would not be fired, but redeployed to other parts of the country. So, it do seems to be the same old story of a government facing opposition from the group whose privileges are being affected.
Neither group appears to have the sufficient strength or legitimacy as to reach an outcome other than a military gridlock. In their communiqué expressing the motives for the takeover on Goma, the M23 accuses the government of not respecting the truces brokered throughout the year, attacking them by night. Without a question, Kabila’s rule is corrupt and unpopular, and the very same networks which benefited former CNDP members could restrain an effective military move against the rebels. On the other hand, inhabitants of Goma and the surrounding towns are blatantly afraid of the M23 and his leader, nicknamed “Terminator”. In contrast with other insurrections which in one way or another garner the support of the local population, giving them some additional strength or legitimacy, this seems not to be the case of M23. A group feels threatened in its privileges, but apparently cannot do much to defend them after its first move.
A factor that could be decisive is the help Rwanda could give to M23. This country’s Tutsi government has been very close to the rebels in DRC as long as they have collaborated on the attacks against Hutus. It is also tempting to think of a larger involvement of Rwanda in the development of the series of rebellions in DRC, but this conspiracy-theory perspective does not seems to hold for long. In any case, far from harassing the Hutu the question remains of what are the expected gains for Rwanda with it involvement in DRC.
In their communiqué, the M23 has asked the government for the cease of attacks against them, the demilitarization of the airport of Goma, the opening of borders so displaced people can collect their first-need belongings, and an open declaration informing the start of negotiations with them. Authorities have said no. Rebels have said they will not leave their positions until the government accepts their demands. Whatever adjective is used to describe this situation, prospects do not look good for the region.
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