Kenya Wants to Displace the Displaced

Kenya has threatened to close down all refugee camps within its territory and send all refugees, all 600,000 of them, back to their home countries.

This is not the first time that the Kenyan government has announced to make the country a refugee-free zone. But previous threats have been squarely aimed at increasing international funding for supporting the refugee population, which largely originates from neighboring Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia. But this time, many observers think that the government is serious, as it has already shuttered the government agency responsible for dealing with refugees.

Kenya has been a hostile environment for refugees for a few years now, in many ways providing the template for the European reaction to the massive influx of Syrian refugees. Kenya, a developing nation, has some legitimate concerns: housing and feeding such a massive refugee population has economic ramifications and Kenyan security services has identified camps like Dadaab, the world's largest, as a staging ground for terrorist attacks by the Somali group al-Shabab.

For these reasons, the refugee question has become highly politicized. And with presidential elections coming up in August 2017, it doesn't take a great amount of cynicism to see this as a campaign move by President Kenyatta.

The Kenyan government has of course to answer for their own responsibility for the ongoing violence in Somalia. Kenyan troops invaded the southern part of their neighbor in 2011, intent on creating a buffer zone towards the notoriously unstable neighbor in anticipation of the development of a major pipeline and infrastructure project along the common border. But instead of working with the federal Somali government, Kenya has chosen to support a local strong man, Sheikh Madobe and push for the autonomy of the buffer zone, greatly compromising efforts to unify Somalia after decades of civil war.

The Kenyan army has also failed to expel al-Shabab from the southern parts of Somalia. And Kenyan officers have been implicated in profiting from sugar and charcoal trafficking, al-Shabab's major source of income. Scapegoating the Somali refugee and immigrant population has also been used to deflect from the incapability of Kenyan security forces to prevent and contain terror attacks. In contrast to statements by the Kenyan government, many of the local operatives of al-Shabab are Kenyan citizens and wouldn't be affected by an expulsion of the refugee population.

These arguments of course won't sway the Kenyan government. Western pressure and money would, though. But it is questionable if the E.U. and U.S. can muster the motivation and resources to do so. Both powers face highly controversial debates over refugees and immigration domestically and have not reacted to increased refugee populations with commensurate funding.

So what would happen if Kenya actually does close down the camps? One scenario would be that a significant part of the refugee population stays in Kenya, but moves within the country to find ways and means to support itself. But this outcome would actually be worse for the Kenyan government than the status quo. It would loose the ability to effectively control and supply these refugees and given Kenya's inclination to nasty intercommunal conflicts over land rights, having several hundred thousand people roaming the country in search for a place to settle down would be a recipe for disaster.

The government's only priority can therefore be to expel these people. As no other country in the region will be willing to accept more than half a million refugees, their countries of origin are the only option. But neither Somalia, nor South Sudan have overcome the instability and conflicts that have motivated these people to flee in the first place. And without a well-organized and prepared effort, simply herding people back over the border will doom many of them to misery and death because they will have no means of supporting themselves.

To be clear: Kenya, like other African countries with considerable refugee populations, should have earned our respect for providing shelter to such a large number of refugees for a considerable length of time. But despite the challenges associated with this, giving up now is simply not an option. Both international law and basic human decency leave only one response to the Kenyan government's threats: Suck it up. And think about your own potential to alleviate the conflicts in Somalia and South Sudan. There's a lot of it.

But the international community has to accept responsibility as well. The easiest is financial: overall funding for all 2016 humanitarian appeals is currently at only 22 percent of the required $14.7 billion (a mere 0.4 percent of U.S. federal spending). Dedicating only a fraction of the world's military expenditure to humanitarian assistance would reduce many of the problems that countries like Kenya face.

But there is also a political responsibility. With the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons the highest it has been since the end of the Second World War, wealthy industrialized nations have welcomed only a fraction of those in need world wide. The overwhelming majority have found refuge in countries of the global South. All countries should therefore re-examine their capacity to accept more victims of war, violence and displacement.

With One Arrest, Congo May Have Broken a Notorious Rebel Group

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In a heavy blow against one of Africa’s most notorious militias, Col. Leopold Mujyambere — chief of staff of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR — was arrested last week by Congolese intelligence officers in the town of Goma and later transferred to the capital Kinshasa, where he awaits either a trial or extradition.

Read the rest of my latest article on War is Boring!

Rosebell Kagumire: Male survivors of rape in northern Uganda and Ongwen trial

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Some really interesting information on sexual and gender based crimes during Uganda's civil war. Every now and then a story like this about male rape survivors surfaces, making clear that this is a much more common feature of conflict than is generally known. The public (and to a certain extend the victims) are increasingly outspoken when it comes to sexual crimes against women, but male victims still have to fight tremendous stigmatization. In Uganda's case, this is compounded by the fact that one of the conflict parties (the National Resistance Movement/Army) is still in power:

The question of justice at home is the biggest. Yes Ongwen’s trial is key and but for most survivors like Okidi, a trial of one side of the conflict will not bring him peace and justice. Many of the crimes committed before the ICC came into force and especially those by NRA (later called UPDF) have remained unaddressed. Uganda government is still yet to deliver on reconciliation, reparations and real tangible reconstruction and healing of the survivors of the conflict in northern Uganda.

via Rosebell's Blog.

Is France Prepared to Fight in a Hostile Environment?

Is France Prepared to Fight in a Hostile Environment?

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From France 24:

Demonstrators stormed an airport runway in northern Mali on Monday to protest against arrests by French forces of people suspected of links to Islamist militants who operate in the region, local officials and witnesses said.

Security forces fired warning shots and teargas to deter the mostly female protesters in the town of Kidal who also ransacked and set fire to airport facilities, said a local official, witnesses and the U.N. mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

The protests appear to mark a deterioration in relations between foreign forces and the local community in Kidal, a town at the centre of a separatist movement and violence by Islamist militants, some of whom are linked to al Qaeda.

One person died and six were injured, said Ahmoudane Ag Ikmasse, who represents Kidal in the national assembly. Ikmasse said he was in the capital Bamako but was in contact with people in Kidal.

A doctor in Kidal’s health centre said two died from gunshot wounds.

When France started its military intervention in January 2013, it was greeted as a liberator by southern Malians and parts of the northern population. But France has not been able to resolve the political conflicts within Malian society and instead concentrated on hunting down members of terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

France's strategy has been described as "permission to kill" suspects without any transparency why certain individuals were designated as targets. Unfortunately for the French forces, AQIM's and other terrorist organizational structures overlap considerably with purely criminal endeavors, primarily large-scale smuggling of narcotics and contraband within the wider region. Smuggling in turn, while also a contributor to AQIM's finances, is widely accepted among the local population as a normal way to make a living, with few other economic opportunities available.

Under these circumstances, it is almost assured that France's aggressive anti-terrorism operation results in a lot of people perceived as innocent either in body bags or in prisoners after pre-dawn raids.  With political tensions complicating the picture, France's position vis à vis the local population will become ever more precarious and other international forces, like the U.N. and E.U. missions, are liable to become swept up in the anti-French sentiment.

So if France so far wasn't even able to limit the activities of isolated groups like AQIM, how will the international presence fare if large parts of the population especially in northern Mali turn hostile?

The death of South Sudan’s economy won’t end its civil war

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Ever since early 2012, South Sudan’s imminent economic collapse has been routinely predicted. Impressions from a recent visit to Juba indicate that this time around it might be more to these divinations than before.  The economic crisis is compounded by a de facto break-down in peace negotiations and South Sudan faces a formidable threat to its existence as an independent state.

This is an interesting blog post by Øystein Rolandsen on the economic situation of South Sudan (spoiler: its bad). But I don't agree with some of its conclusions and observations.

First of all, I don't think that South Sudan's "existence as an independent state" is threatened. The country's independence in 2011 was the result of several decades of civil war and intense international negotiations. There are many people, including all parties of South Sudan's civil war that would in no way accept the integration of  the country back into North Sudan (assuming Khartoum would even want that) or into another of its neighbors.

Due to the civil war and the government's inability to foster a national cohesion (which is strongly related to the economic problems), South Sudan might follow the trajectory of Somalia and fracture into smaller fiefdoms that act with autonomy from each other. But statehood is still a very entrenched concept and the state of South Sudan will continue to exist for decades, if only as a mostly empty shell (like the state of Somalia has, for more than two decades).

I'm also pessimistic about Rolandsen's hope that "the crisis might generate enough momentum for Juba and SPLM-IO to reach a compromise […]."

South Sudan's civil war is not about financial resources per se, but about who controls access to them. This is a function of South Sudan's "winner takes all" political system. All resources are worthless, unless your faction controls the presidency and therefore the power to distribute those resources. In that sense the economic crisis contributed to the outbreak of the conflict (because president Kiir had less money to pay off rivaling factions) but will do little to increase the will to compromise of any of the parties involved no that the war is in full swing.

Lastly, I should note that Rolandsen's assumption that "neighbouring countries appear to have no appetite for external military intervention" is not accurate. Uganda has committed substantial military resources, including ground troops and its modern aircraft fleet, to keep the government from being overrun. The government of president Kiir is also leaning on support from rebels from North Sudan, making an overt or covert intervention of the regime in Khartoum only a question of time.

South Sudan's economy has already collapsed. Waiting for it to collapse further in the hope that it will take the civil war with it into the grave will be fruitless. Instead, mediators and third parties should focus on the roots of the war that predate the country's economic woes (and its very existence): Its centralized, top-heavy political system; low levels of trust between political actors; the abysmal failure of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) after the civil war; military and political interventions of neighboring states (not only North Sudan); and the incapability of unwillingness of central political actors (including Kiir and his direct opponent Makar) to put the interest of their country and their people before their own.


Source: Dead economy walking in South Sudan

ADF retaliates against Tanzania, kills two peacekeepers in the DR Congo

The Ugandan rebel group Allied Democratic Forces has ambushed a column of Tanzanian peacekeepers in the DR Congo. According to the United Nations, two peacekeepers were killed, thirteen are injured and four missing.

It is safe to assume that the attack comes in retaliation for the arrest of ADF's leader Jamil Mukulu last week in Tanzania. Uganda has asked for Mukulu to be extradited and there was no reason to suspect that the request would not be granted.

With four Tanzanian soldiers now possibly in the hands of the ADF, the situation might have changed. It is unlikely that the Tanzanian government will push ahead with the extradition until the fate of its servicemen has been confirmed. This could in turn strain relations with Uganda.

South African Defence Review passes from committee to National Assembly

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The adoption takes the (defence) policy a step further towards adoption by Parliament and is a major milestone in ensuring the revitalisation of the country’s armed forces.

I have written about the Defence Review (essentially a whitepaper on the future of South Africa's military) several times in the past. South Africa's National Defence Force really is in a dire state and not at all equipped for the missions it is currently expected to fulfill. Like being part of the U.N.'s Force Intervention Brigade in the DR Congo.

To the best of my knowledge this is not disputed by anybody in South African politics. What I'm missing from the debate around the Defence Review so far is a discussion about how South Africa wants to use its military in the future. The Defence Review gives several possible scenarios but these cover only the operational capabilities of the SANDF. So far, South Africa's government has not formulated a convincing military doctrine, e.g. under which circumstances it will be prepared to deploy the military inside or outside its borders.

Source: Defence Review given the thumbs up by Parliamentary review committee | defenceWeb

Trends in Political Violence

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Jay Ulfelder on the newest revision of the Center for Systemic Peace's dataset on political violence:

Consistent with other measures, CSP’s data show an increase in violent political conflict in the past few years. At the same time, those data also indicate that, even at the end of 2014, the scale of conflict worldwide remained well below the peak levels observed in the latter decades of the Cold War and its immediate aftermath.

Be sure to klick through to Jay's article. I'd be interested to see the same graph for African countries.

Source: An Updated Look at Trends in Political Violence | Dart-Throwing Chimp

Gatia takes control of Méneka from MNLA

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A reminder that the civil war in Mali has by no means been resolved until now:

Le Groupe autodéfense touareg Imghad et alliés (Gatia) - proche du pouvoir malien - a pris lundi le contrôle de Ménaka, dans le nord du Mali, selon l'AFP. Une localité jusqu'ici partiellement entre les mains de la rébellion.

Source: Mali : le Gatia prend le contrôle de Ménaka |

Conflict minerals in the Congo: a look at the new GoE report

The United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo is maybe the authority on anything conflict related in the central African country. Tasked with briefing the Security Council twice a year on all developments related to the extensive sanctions against various actors in the DRC, their reports offer a wealth of information on everything from conflict financing to outside intervention. The upcoming report has now been leaked to African Arguments. This blog post explores the information it offers regarding the use of resources in the context of conflict in eastern DRC and elsewhere in the country.

Conflict minerals are important aspects of every GoE report, the current one being no exception. In the second paragraph of the executive summary, the GoE states that

Many armed groups in eastern DRC have derived funding from the production and trade of natural resources. […] The Group estimates that 98 percent of the gold produced in DRC is smuggled out of the country, and that nearly all of the gold traded in Uganda – the main transit country for Congolese gold – is illegally exported from DRC. […] While initiatives by OECD and ICGLR have advanced the validation of mining sites and improved adherence to conflict - free and child labor - free international standards, armed groups and the FARDC [Congolese army] continue to control many mining sites and to profit from mining and the minerals trade.

The limits of the concept of "Conflict Minerals"

It should be noted that the GoE never speaks of "Conflict Minerals" itself. The term is the invention of advocacy groups* and its implication that the occurence of minerals can prolong or even cause conflict and violence is contested.

A critical perspective on the concept of conflict minerals is supported in some parts of the GoE report. For example the group notes that the M23 - the most prolific armed group in eastern Congo during the year of 2013 - didn't derive any income from direct involvement in the minerals trade (§32). Rather, the M23 concentrated on levying taxes on property and transport (which of course may have included mineral transports). The territory controlled by the M23 had no major mineral deposits, despite being the site of major violence and fighting during the eventual defeat of the M23 at the hands of the FARDC and U.N. troops.

This is not to say that resources, including minerals, are unimportant factors in the development of conflicts and violence. But their relevance clearly depends on the local context and this should be reflected in advocacy work and policy.

Dirty Gold

Coltan may be the best known conflict mineral from eastern Congo, but presently gold may be more important when it comes to the financing of armed groups. The GoE puts the sum lost in taxes due to smuggling of the precious metal and the corresponding profits for armed groups in the millions of Dollars - of the estimated 10,000 kg of gold mined in the DRC per year, only 180,76 kg is declared to government authorities (§170). Some of the most violent attacks by armed groups described in the report were targeting gold mining sites (for example §65).

For some armed groups, like the Rwandan FDLR and Raia Mutomboki, their involvement in gold mining and trade is their main mode of financing (§95, 168). The  limited traceability and high mobility of the mineral has resulted in an extended trade networks that reaches from small scale mining operations in eastern Congo to the Ugandan capital Kampala and onwards to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (§198).

Gold mining is of course also an important source of income for many artisan miners who have little choice in who is benefiting from the downstream trade. With regard to this group, the myriad ways the GoE lists that are employed by gold traders to fraud their way to a larger share of the profits are highly interesting ($177ff).

That armed groups and criminal actors are able to profit from the gold trade is attributed by the GoE mainly to the reluctance of the Ugandan and Congolese governments to engage in a effective regulation of the sector. Existing laws are not enforced and known actors are allowed to act openly in eastern Congo and Uganda alike.

The three Ts

Tin, tungsten and tantalum (which can be found in the mineral coltan) are the best known conflict resources produced in the Congo. They occur mainly in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and northern Katanga. Their production and trade is one of the most profitable sectors of the economy in eastern Congo and a large part of the production is smuggled out of the country via Rwanda (§200).

At several points in the report the GoE indicates the involvement of Rwandan authorities in the smuggling activities (for example §204). Smuggled ore from the DRC is tagged in comptoires in Rwanda, which hides it true origin and dramatically increases its selling price (§200). This should make clear that any certification mechanism based on "tagging and bagging" can not rely on measures solely controlled by the Rwandan government.

The lure of ivory

Showing that the use of resources to finance conflict is highly opportunistic, at least one armed group switched from poaching for ivory to attacks on gold mines, according to the GoE (§65).

Nonetheless, at least 310 elephants (and likely many more, §225) were poached in 2012 and 2013. Poaching is often done by locals in close cooperation with corrupt members of the security forces (§229). South Sudanese nationals are also heavily involved in poaching activities in Congo's Garamba national park.

The main transit country for ivory from Congo is Uganda, its destination are usually markets in eastern Asia.

Oil: the new kid on Congo's conflict block

Like many other countries straggling Africa's enormous rift valley, the DRC is hoping that this geological formation may feature crude oil deposits. Uganda is already preparing to start production, while the DRC is still in the early stages of exploration. These activities are controversial mainly because of the environmental threat they pose, but the GoE also mentions some connections between the exploration activities and armed groups in eastern Congo.

Parts of exploration Block III, owned by French company Total, are for example in the area of operation of the FRPI, an armed group responsible for considerable displacement among the local population. The report (§59) mentions that Total has demanded from the government to resolve the security issues posed by the presence of the armed group, but the company declined to discuss how the situation has been reflected its social and environmental assessment of its exploration activities.


The GoE recommends that companies

Conduct due diligence in minerals purchase in the Great Lakes region, in addition to investing in traceability schemes.

This is mainly in accordance to the demands of many advocacy organisations. In addition, the various governments are asked by the GoE to strengthen their laws, the application of these laws and their cooperation to limit the smuggling of natural resources from the DR Congo.

My take on the information on resources in the context of conflict provided by the report is that activities of policy makers and advocacy organisations should focus on realising the potential associated with natural resources in the Congo. While minerals and other resources can be used to finance conflict and in some cases their presence contribute to specific acts of violence, they also provide much needed economic opportunities for many people in the DRC.

To achieve this goal, governments in the region as well as in Europe and America need to enforce stronger regulations regarding the circumstances under which these resources are produced and traded. Transparency is key here and companies should be forced to provide information about the conditions under which their raw materials were produced to consumers.

What are your thoughts on the report?

*According to google, "conflict minerals" were first mentioned online in 2009