Soon, when the floodgates fail to open and no torrents of money reach Bangui, the people will blame the West (and particularly the heavy-handed public moves of both Washington and Paris) for their plight. Public support for President Djotodia — who had attempted to defend his country against Western interventionism until toppled by superior forces — will only grow. The West will pay the price in the hasty elections now planned for early 2015.
Meanwhile, the coup in South Sudan would not have happened without the conviction of the Machar camp that they had the support and endorsement of the U.S.-led West.
In Autumn 2013, the Obama White House all but encouraged Machar to rebel. Washington and other Western liberal foci of power warmly endorsed Machar’s rhetoric about reforms and human rights, arranged for supporting coverage in the Western liberal media, and harshly criticized President Kiir’s actions and record. Private foundations, mostly very close to the Obama coterie, were urged to funnel funds to Machar. Thus, the Obama White House and the liberal foci of power in the West created the impression of support and endorsement should Machar seize power.
Obama’s Washington took sides from the moment the coup erupted in mid-December 2013.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice remains in constant contact with Machar and is advising him concerning the Addis Ababa negotiations. Meanwhile, U.S. Amb. Susan Page continues to pressure President Kiir and official Juba to commit to power-sharing with the rebels and to the unilateral concessions they are demanding. Obama’s Washington even publicly doubted there had been a coup attempt and continues to threaten President Kiir and Juba with sanctions and cutting of aid in order to coerce Juba into giving Machar victory in a failed coup rejected by the vast majority of South Sudanese.
Significantly, the U.S. position stands in stark contrast with both all African states and all other Western powers, all of which rejected the coup and have supported the restoration of state authority in Juba.
The outcome of the Machar coup attempt is being decided on the ground throughout South Sudan.
The grassroots Nuer population from Bor to Bentiu refused to cooperate with the coup attempt. The main Nuer communities demonstrated by action that they preferred Kiir’s tribe-blind nation-building to Machar’s sectarian benefits.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) — including both Nuer troops and senior officers — remained loyal to the State and carried out successful operations against the rebel forces.
The Obama Administration’s distinct — and failed — intervention on the side of a power-hungry Machar and its willingness to derail the ethnicity-blind nation building effort in South Sudan will not be forgotten or ignored not only by virtually all South Sudanese, nor by the bulk of African leaders and peoples who dread the reawakening of the ethnic-secessionist ghosts.
Given the changing realities, the U.S. and France are playing with fire in Africa.
The region is undergoing a tense and explosive transformation. The populace is facing a lot of frightening uncertainties on account of hasty urbanization, popular mobility, and an information-communication revolution. There is a grassroots dread of the evolution of the role and power of clans, ethnicities, and states (regarding authority, legitimacy, corruption, abuse of power, etc.). There is confusion regarding the potential impact on society of the development of riches. Finally, there exist the seduction and lure of violent criminality, as well as religious and ethno-centrist militancy and radicalism. Taken together, these grassroots apprehensions create a very explosive yet confused and confusing environment. It doesn’t take great effort to exacerbate such a volatile situation and spark a major eruption.
Moreover, there exists the evolution in the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) attitude toward, and commitment to, Africa.
The role of Africa is evolving from just an economic resource for China into a Chinese strategic lever against the U.S.-led West. The Chinese have long been investing heavily in Africa as the key long-term source for energy, ores, rare earths, and other raw materials for their industrial growth.
Recently, the PRC has been expanding its operations into sponsoring the creation of a secondary industrial base in Africa itself in order to better support their economic undertakings. Beijing is now also looking to Africa as a prime instrument for preventing, or at the least controlling, the flow of resources to the West. The PRC is worried because the PRC leadership perceives that the U.S. is desperate to revive its sagging economy and disappearing industrial base while discussing an explicitly anti-Chinese pivot to East Asia.
The Chinese are also apprehensive that Europe is embarking on re industrialization and thus might lessen its dependence on Chinese imports and the trans-Asian venues of transportation — the new Silk Road — and their strategic value. It is in such a grand strategic context that Beijing is studying U.S.-led Western activities in Africa and, not without reason, is becoming increasingly apprehensive about them. Hence, Beijing is now determined to capitalize on the PRC’s preeminence in Africa in order to pressure, if not extort, the West. The margin for error under these conditions is extremely narrow.
America’s “humanitarian interventionism” in Africa is markedly increasing tensions and exacerbating conflicts all around. The specter of current and future U.S.- and French-led military interventions and the ensuing toppling of leaders and governments is sending both African leaders and aspirant strongmen to posture for better positions in case the U.S. and France intervened in their states and regions. Desperate to increase their military capabilities, they make Faustian deals with any anti-Western power they can reach out to, be it China or Iran. Hence, there exists a growing possibility that U.S.-Chinese tension will also spark a clash in explosive Africa.
Where the next eruption in Africa will lead is anybody’s guess. In a recent Brookings Essay entitled “The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War”, Professor Margaret MacMillan warned of the growing and disquieting similarities between the world of Summer 1914 and the world of early 2014.
“It is tempting — and sobering — to compare today’s relationship between China and the U.S. with that between Germany and England a century ago,” Professor MacMillan writes.
She also points to the prevailing belief — then as now — that a full-scale war between the major powers is unthinkable after such a prolonged period of peace. “Now, as then, the march of globalization has lulled us into a false sense of safety,” Professor MacMillan writes. “The 100th anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident.”