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.

Dozens of Kenyan Soldiers Die in Somalia Base Horror – ‘The area was full of bodies’

During the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 15, several vehicles strapped with explosives drove into the perimeter defenses of the Kenyan base in El Adde in southwestern Somalia. With the perimeter breached, around 200 militants stormed the camp and killed dozens of soldiers.

The attackers were of course members of Al Shabab, a long standing Somali Islamist group that still holds considerable territory, while the Kenyan soldiers were part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, an African peacekeeping force that has been fighting Al Shabab for years in cooperation with Somali government forces and allied local militias…

Read more on War is Boring.

Rich Links: Oil and Uranium across Africa

Quite a long list of noteworthy reading material this time around:

Falling gold prices lead to job cuts

Mining company AngloGold Ashanti Limited will lay off 400 miners in Ghana, reacting to falling prices for gold on the world market. Gold has fallen by $500 over the last months, coming down from a historic heigh point. The lay-offs in Ghana are the first signs of wider repercussions for gold miners around Africa. Mining Review

Oil – a blessing or a curse?

A series of articles from different media look at the benefits and drawbacks of petroleum exploitation for African societies. AllAfrica/This is Africa | AllAfrica/NewVision | AllAfrica/Deutsche Welle

Uncertain times for Somalia’s oil and gas business

Recent finds bring hope for new revenues for Somalia’s embattled government, but the recent attacks on a Kenyan shopping centre also put the remaining challenges for foreign investment under the spotlight. AllAfrica/Sabahi | Africa Confidential (subscription required)

Uranium mining around Africa

There is a rising interest in uranium mining across Africa. Recent articles look at projects in Tanzania and Botswana. Mining Review | African Mining Brief | AllAfrica/Tanzania Daily News

Petroleum exploitation in central Africa

The Jeune Afrique takes a look at the fortunes of the petroleum industry in central Africa. Jeune Afrique

East African states take stake in Ugandan refinery

The planned refinery project in Uganda, which will be provided with oil from the country’s nascent oil fields, has been given another boost with neighbouring states Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi agreeing to take a 40 per cent stake in the project together with the host country. The remaining 60 per cent will be financed by private companies involved in the exploitation of oil reserves. Engineering News | Africa Energy Intelligence

Benefication laws in Zambia lead to growing backlog for copper stocks

After the Zambian government has enacted laws forcing copper mining companies to process a larger part of their production in the country itself, those companies complain over limited smelting capacities. Stockpiles have been growing, according to the industry and threaten to block operations at the mines. Some observers allege that the bottleneck has been created intentionally by investors, to force the government to loosen the new regulations. Mining Review

Oil theft in Nigeria

A look at the origins and consequences of oil theft in Nigeria. Baobab | the guardian

Rich Links: Diamonds, Oil and Charcoal

Diamonds from Zimbabwe return to European markets

According to a Zimbabwean newspaper, the European Union has begun the process of delisting the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) from the E.U. sanctions list. That would allow the ZMDC, a state-owned enterprise, to sell diamonds from the controversial Marange mine in the E.U. Main proponent of the lifting of the sanction was Belgium, which also hosts the biggest market for diamonds in the E.U. AllAfrica

Blockage of Libyan oil harbours continues

Militias continue to block most oil exports in Libya, reports the German tageszeitung. These militias want to strengthen their position in negotiations with the government about regional autonomy and religious questions. Libya depends heavily on oil for its export earnings. taz

United Nations want Gulf states to crack down on Somali charcoal smuggling

The U.N. has urged the governments of the countries in the Arabic Gulf, especially the United Arab Emirates, to respect a U.N. embargo on the export of charcoal from Somalia. The charcoal trade is one of the main sources of income for Al Shabaab, an Islamist militia fighting against the U.N. supported government in Somalia. Its main trading partners are traders from the UAE. Shabelle Media

African governments are pushing for better resource deals with China

China finds it harder to impose its own terms for resource deals in Africa. African governments are keen on setting the rules for infrastructure development and environmental protection. New York Times

Son of Liberia’s president steps down from national oil company

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was widely criticised for putting her son into a powerful position, heading the national oil company. Now he stepped down, citing the recently achieved completion of the sector reform process, with which his work would be complete. Baobab

War is Boring: Africa Round-Up

Mali

There hasn’t been much of a change in the overall situation during the last weeks: the northern half of Mali — an area about the size of France — is occupied by a range of rebel groups. While neighboring states and the international community are deeply concerned over the Islamist policies of some of these groups, the Malian state has proven to be incapable to act, due to a coup d’etat which send the government into a deep crisis.

There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about what lies ahead. The regional organization ECOWAS and especially its member Niger would like to send an intervention force to set things straight in the north and south. […]

Read the rest of the Round-Up on Mali, the DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Somalia over at WarisBoring.com!

Arms deals in Africa

Update: This article was just picked up and republished by A Peace of Conflict. You can find the (largely identical version) here, but be sure to check out the excellent “this week in conflict” reports on their page as well!

SIPRI just published a new report on arms deals and weapons flows in sub-saharan Africa (SSA). The report offers little news for those who are familiar with the weapons market in SSA, but this actually makes it only more important. I don’t want to summarize the whole report here (it has a good two page summary included), but discuss some issues in more detail that I think are crucial to the arms transfers debate in Africa.

A Ugandan soldier trains with his foreign supplied assault rifle. Photo by Flickr user US Army Africa, CC-BY

Transparency of arms transfers

This is a main point of the report and with good reason. The SIPRI is considered the best source on arms transfers and deals which is accessible to the public, but even they can only estimate the amount and types of weapons which flow into SSA each year. The reason for this is simple: neither the delivering countries, nor the recipients have a great interest in making their transfers public.

While the report stresses that some arms transfers are legitimate and actually have the potential to improve the security situation, I think it is safe to say that most arms flows in SSA are ambiguous at best and outright dangerous at worst. The report confirms that it is common for African countries to meddle in each others affairs by delivering arms to the government or rebel groups. Western and Eastern nations frequently use preferential arms deals as a means to gain political favors. And while the total value of the African arms market is little (only 1.5% of the global market), it remains a lucrative business to deliver arms to those places where they are actually used: the 20 or so African states that experienced conflict over the last five years.

The lack of information about arms transfers is also contributing to a lack of knowledge on how exactly fresh arms influence security in volatile regions. This makes targeted political actions close to impossible, if one tries to influence conflicts through providing or limiting arms supply. So from a policy perspective, the most important step would be to have the principle exporters (China, Russia and Ukraine) and ideally the African states sign up to a weapons transfer database. But as even the EU has difficulties providing timely data on arms deals, I have little hope that we will see progress in this quarter soon.

Effectiveness of arms control regimes

Sometimes, the UN security council actually gets its act together and issues an arms embargo against a state or individuals. This is great in theory, but these embargoes (and other arms control regimes) are often beset with so many problems, that one has to ask oneself if they are worth the paper they are written on.

Take the arms embargo against the region of Darfur for example. The SIPRI report details that it had little practical effect, as the government in Khartoum was still allowed to receive arms transfers as long as it guaranteed the sender that these arms would not be used in Darfur. I imagine this looks something like this:

Chinese/Russian/Ukrainian arms dealer: Thanks very much for your order Mr. Bashir. We will be happy to provide you with the AK-74s/MIG bombers/tanks you requested. Just one last formality; We will need some form of guarantee that you won’t be using these weapons in Darfur.

Mr. Bashir: Oh no problem. I’ll give you my word that we will only use these shiny new killing machines when parading around in our baracks and in case Egypt tries to invade us!

Arms dealer: Great! That’s settled then.

The deadliest of all good-will gifts

While a huge motivation for arms transfers is still monetary gain, the SIPRI report also points out to the frequent practice of using preferential arms deals as political gifts. This is common for the main arms exporters (think China’s interest in Sudanese oil) as well as for African states (who frequently support one party of a conflict for ideological/political reasons).

Western powers are not above using arms as a political tool as well. This is showcased by the recent support of the (former) rebels in Libya (though not SSA), as well as by the acceptance of western allies Ethiopia and Kenya arming militias in Somalia in their fight against islamists.

This aspect is probably one of the most worrying issues. The current situation in Syria shows that political patronage (in this case by Russia) can have disastrous effects on the possibility to resolve conflicts. African countries are no strangers to political maneuvering by foreign powers and African elites have repeatedly shown that staying in power through the use of guns is an option they will gladly consider, if it is made available to them.

Conclusion

Especially when it comes to small arms and light weapons (SALW, like AK-74s), decades-old thinking needs to be revised. We finally need a political push – probably on UN level – for a comprehensive treaty on transparency in arms transfers. This would be the first step towards more effective arms control regimes, which could reign in the use of weapons as political gifts.

For this to succeed, western nations would have to push this topic onto the international agenda. It remains to be seen if the recent experiences of the Arab Spring (where western sourced weapons were used to fire on peaceful demonstrators) provide sufficient reason for policy makers to rethink stance on arms exports. Only if the West manages to agree on ethical standarts and tight control of their arms exports, getting others to sign up to such rules will be realistic. For Africa, it would be a good development.

For those of you who want to dive deeper into the details of arms deals in Africa, you can find the main report here and various other reports, detailing the role of South Africa, Ukraine, Israel, Somalia and Zimbabwe here. If you can read German, you can find an interesting article on the German weapons company Heckler&Koch and its shady business here.

Well done everybody! Al Shabaab is now part of al Qaida

Al Shabaab fighters. Photo by Christian Science Monitor.

So the Somali islamist movement al Shabaab has now sworn allegiance to al Qaida. Several officials in the United States, Ethiopia, Kenya and in the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia will have silently thanked their deity at this news, as it makes it much easier to justify the ongoing invasion of Somalia and the frequent targeted assassinations against radicals on Somali soil.

But this view is short sighted. It disregards the direct responsibility of U.S. anti-terrorism strategy for the ever-increasing radicalisation of fighters in Somalia. In a way Somalia and al Shabaab is the best example how the mantra of a militarized anti-terrorism campaign has been successful at nothing, except at creating its own enemies.

It may be hard to remember (it happened over five years ago), but al Shabaab was once part of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) – it’s youth movement to be precise. While the ICU was certainly no progressive, freedom-loving organisation, it was the first institution to return something resembling order and a functioning (albeit archaic) legal framework to large parts of Somalia, after years of often chaotic inter-tribal and militia fighting.

This of course ended abruptly when Ethiopia decided to invade Somalia in 2006. The Ethiopian government was suspicious of the islamist rhetoric of the ICU and was supported in this stance by the U.S. government, who saw every “islamic” movement as a potential safe haven for al Qaida terrorists (no matter that at this point no evidence suggested a link between the two groups).

The ICU proved to be unable to resist the technologically advanced Ethiopian army. After suffering a series of defeats, the ICU officially switched sides and today its former leader, Sheik Sharif Ahmed, is the President of the TFG.

But the grievances that gave rise to the ICU did not go away when the Ethiopian army invaded. So the most hard-core part of the ICU – al Shabaab – decided to keep fighting, but with a change of tactics. Suicide bombings against Ethiopian and TFG troops became frequent. I spoke to many people on my recent visit to Ethiopia who said that in these times you could here the cries of mourning of family members every day, when they received the news of the death of their son, brother or husband via SMS (!) from the army.

The new way of fighting proved to be successful and in 2009, Ethiopian troops began to withdraw from Somalia without adequate alternative troops being in place. The result was simple: soon, al Shabaab was in possession of much of the territory of southern Somalia, exactly the area that was ruled by the ICU before the Ethiopian intervention. Of course the laws and regulations enforced by al Shabaab reflected their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam and it is safe to say that many Somalis and also the neighboring states preferred the ICU in hindsight.

Not so the military strategists. They just saw al Shabaab as a new and even greater threat to “security and stability” and reacted in the usual way: targeted assassinations through U.S. drones, warplanes, special forces and even bombardment by U.S. Destroyers instead of negotiation.

This “strategy” culminated in 2011 with a renewed invasion of Somalia – this time Kenya made the start and Ethiopia joined after some deliberation (or persuasion by the U.S.?). History repeats itself as the troops of various African nations with U.S. support manage to use their technological superiority to achieve military victories (though so far this has not translated into territorial dominance yet).

With enough time, money and life spend, this campaign may defeat al Shabaab as we know it today. But it will not make anybody more “secure” – not the average Somali, nor Kenyans, Ethiopians or Westerners. Al Shabaab may cease to exist, but the proclaimed merger between the group and al Qaida points to the inevitable consequence: the most motivated and radical elements of al Shabaab will keep on fighting, one campaign richer in experience and many lost comrades less likely to ever consider a peaceful solution for their grievances.

WarIsBoring: Africa Round-Up

Tuareg rebels. Al Jazeera photo.

Mali

The regional repercussions of the fall of Gadhafi are beginning to come clear as Tuareg militants attacked a total of six towns since Jan. 17. The Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) — the group responsible for the attacks — has been formed only recently and is believed to have many former Gadhafi mercenaries in its ranks. The group has recently claimed to have shot down a MIG bomber, probably with ground-air missiles pilfered from ammunition depots in Libya.

The official objective of the MNLA is the autonomy of the Malian part of Azawad, an area that many Tuareg see as their traditional homeland. But the Sahel Blog points out that the Malian government tried to prevent an escalation by offering concessions to the Tuareg community before the attacks even started. It is also interesting that the MNLA seems to have no interest in liberating those parts of Azawad which are situated in Algeria. The conclusion might be that the string of recent attacks did not happen with the intention to capture territory, but to demonstrate the military strength of the group and to bolster its position on the negotiating table.

Nigeria

Over the last year the terrorist group Boko Haram has made its way from a little known splinter group to an international security threat. Its attacks have become increasingly more sophisticated and cover a much wider area than its original area of operation. The latest hotspot seems to be Kano, which saw a huge attack on Jan. 20 and a number of smaller incidents since then. […]

Read the rest (covering developments in Somalia, Sengeal and the Sudans) over at WarIsBoring.com.