AFRICANGLOBE – Western political leaders and media are often quick to make demands of African states and their leaders while completely absolving the “rebels” in the bush. Rebel leaders are customarily romanticized in the traditions of Fidel Castro’s adulation. In contrast, state leaders are handed long lists of programs to follow and implement in total disregard of the real situation on the ground and the prevailing circumstances.
Both the reforms and military interventions advocated by major Western governments end up aggravating the situations rather than contribute to alleviating regional crises.
The African Union has declared the fratricidal fighting and conflicts in adjacent South Sudan and the Central African Republic the most threatening crisis on the continent. The outgoing AU Chairman, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, stressed the African anxiety and sense of urgency. He called for “urgent solutions to rescue these two sisterly countries from falling into the abyss. … Failure to do so will have serious implications for peace and security in the region.”
The AU is convinced that the key to the resolution of both conflicts is negotiations between the various sides. “Both protagonists should know that the problem cannot be resolved through the barrel of the gun,” Hailemariam explained. “Therefore they should be fully prepared to sit at the negotiation table without any preconditions.”
AU Commission Chief Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma of South Africa emphasized the humanitarian aspects of the brewing crises. “Our hearts go to the people of the Central African Republic and South Sudan who face devastating conflicts in their countries and especially to women and children who’ve become the victims,” she said. “We have to work together to ensure that we build lasting peace.”
But, as usual, the AU ended up adopting the U.S. and Western approach to crisis resolution; an approach which is impractical at best. This was emphasized in the conclusions and recommendations made by the Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union, Smail Chergui of Algeria. “The important thing is to be able to meet the expectations of the people … so that they can have at least by the end of 2015 elections and a return to the constitutional order,” Chergui stated.
The people in both the Republic of South Sudan and the Central African Republic, however, yearn for stability, security, and availability of most basic food, water and services. With their bare necessities threatened repeatedly by a myriad of foreign backed rebel forces, future elections are the last thing on their mind. Securing the lives and health of their children and grandchildren is the people’s focus and priority.
The profound discrepancy between the ideals and principles espoused by the AU and the situation on the ground is evident in both the Republic of South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
In South Sudan, the ceasefire is becoming a political nightmare. Localized fighting continue because coup leader and former Vice President Riek Machar and his coterie have no control whatsoever over the rebel forces, something they readily acknowledge to Western diplomats in order to absolve themselves of responsibility for the enduring violence. At the same time, the Administration of President Salva Kiir in Juba is under international pressure to make more and more concessions, mainly toward de facto power-sharing in order to have the ceasefire implemented even when the other side acknowledges they can’t deliver.
The liberal West’s traditional approach — that the “rebels” represent the real interests of the people while the government pursues interests of the establishment — is maintained irrespective of emerging evidence to the contrary. This approach is being applied to Machar, the ostensibly romantic rebel, hiding in the bush in northern Jonglei State.
In reality, however, Juba has to cope with the destruction and looting of the stockpiles of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Malakal (the capital of the Upper Nile State) when it was under rebel control.
Seemingly organized and systematic looting unfolded for a few days. According to UN officials, thousands of people — mainly rebel soldiers and ordinary civilians — loaded the supplies into donkey carts and trucks and took off for the bush where Machar’s forces were trying to reorganize under SPLA pressure. The WFP estimates that 1,700 tonnes of food were stolen: long-term supplies for about 100,000 of the poorest people in South Sudan.
Concurrently, rebel forces assaulted and looted the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Leer, Machar’s hometown in the southern parts of Unity State. This hospital treats both the local population and refugees from across the Sudanese border. Consequently, most of the staff and ambulatory patients fled the hospital.
Only about 30 staff members remained, trying to care for severely ill patients in the nearby bush. Until the rebel attack, the Leer hospital was the only functioning hospital in Unity State. On Feb. 2, SPLA forces returned to Leer and restored order. Throughout South Sudan food shortages are growing because rebel ambushes and raids make food distribution by international aid organizations impossible.
Meanwhile, long-term genuine opposition and rebel leaders have begun to read the situation correctly. The overall position of IGAD, including erstwhile-nemesis Sudan, has been very clear. All the region’s states are committed to the prevailing of a unified tribe-blind South Sudan. The IGAD states would not permit the dismemberment of South Sudan or the ascent of tribal-dominated political forces for fear the menace will cross into their own fragile populace. Hence, veteran rebel leader David Yau Yau realized that his patrons and sponsors in Khartoum are far more afraid of the collapse of the state of South Sudan than of Juba’s influence in restive South Kordofan. Since Sudan can no longer be trusted as a long-term sponsor, David Yau Yau rushed to sign a ceasefire agreement with Juba as the first step toward making peace before it becomes too late.
In Bangui, both officials and the public are facing reality. Western and UN officials have long argued that fratricidal fighting would begin to subside quickly the moment President Michel Djotodia resigned and left the country. Djotodia was forced to resign on Jan. 10, and went into exile in Benin. Since then, there has been a marked escalation in the fighting throughout the Central African Republic.
All factions and aspirant forces, mainly tribal and clannish rather than purely sectarian, are posturing in haste in order to consolidate their gains and slaughter their enemies before a major foreign military intervention limits their ability to operate. The growing assertiveness of the French and MISCA (the African Union International Mission for Support to the Central African Republic) forces has so far failed to consolidate the tottering Government of President Catherine Samba-Panza. “The security situation in the Central African Republic is getting even worse despite the inauguration of a new leader,” a senior UN official in Bangui determined. “Many lives are at stake.”
The security situation deteriorated markedly in late-January 2014 just as MISCA was given a more assertive mandate. The escalation of fighting in Bangui started after the French evicted the Séléka fighters from the city. On Jan. 27, Séléka and pro-Djotodia forces evacuated Camp de Roux in downtown Bangui — the Army’s main base in the capital — and left town escorted by French forces. The next day, the Séléka and other pro-Djotodia forces also vacated Camp Kasai at the edge of Bangui and were escorted out of the city by French forces. Immediately, there began a “rising wave of reprisal attacks”, in the words of the senior UN, by the Anti-Balaka and other vigilante groups.
Within the next few days, more than 60 civilians were killed and a few hundreds wounded, most of them religious Muslim, by the Anti-Balaka. “Muslim civilians are now extremely vulnerable,” warned the UN official by the end of the week. “Most Muslim civilians have fled Bangui by now or are preparing to do so.” Throughout, the French and MISCA forces proved incapable of blocking the rioting Christian vigilantes. Muslim leaders insist the French and MISCA were reluctant to confront anti-Djotodia forces no matter what they did.