Stability is not a term one would use to describe the Central African Republic – particularly in light of the recent conflict which has engulfed the country. Last December, the Séléka rebel coalition challenged then-President François Bozizé’s grasp on power and eventually ousted him in March 2013. At first, the international response to the humanitarian and human rights crises that have ensued was muted. Eventually, over the summer, the African Union launched an International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA), with an authorized force strength of 3,600, to help protect civilians and provide security throughout the country. MISCA, which may not be operational until 2014, replaced the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX) in August 2013, which had been in CAR since July 2008 with 400 soldiers. Former colonial power France, which abstained from preventing Bozizé’s collapse earlier this year, has 400 soldiers in the capital city of Bangui to protect their interests, and is in the process of deploying 1,000 more. Finally, the UN Security Council is also considering authorizing a peacekeeping mission for CAR, but it would not be able to deploy for at least two to three months – even with a speedy UNSC Resolution. Therefore, the French and AU forces would have to act as a stopgap measure until the UN would be able to put boots on the ground.
The question is, after this crisis has been unfolding for almost a year, why is an international response only coming together now?
- Perhaps the international community was inundated by the response to the crises in Mali. Note that France’s Opération Serval commenced in January, accelerating the deployment timelines for the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) from September to mid-January. The Séléka rebel coalition that eventually toppled Bozizé commenced their rebellion around mid-December 2012, agreed to a ceasefire in mid-January 2013, and entered Bangui to overthrow Bozizé for failing to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire at the end of March 2013. If you think about it, the time period between the initiation of the Séléka rebellion and the current rumblings of an international response has been more or less dominated by the French intervention in Mali, the AFISMA deployment, transition to the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and Mali’s presidential and legislative elections. And now that Mali is in a better pace than it was last year at this time, the international community now has the bandwidth to turn to the next pressing crisis on the continent – the Central African Republic.
- Perhaps the humanitarian toll has risen too high. Approximately one-tenth of the country’s population, or 460,000 people, have become internally displaced fleeing the communal violence between Christians and Muslims (15% of the population), and over 220,000 people have become refugees in neighboring countries. Recent Human Rights Watch reports have documented the destruction of over 1,000 homes between March and June 2013. (See satellite images of ‘what war crimes look like from space’).
- People are starting to say the “T-word.” As the Central African Republic continues to spiral into anarchy, there is speculation that terrorist groups, like Nigeria’s Boko Haram, could set up shop in the country. Although such reports are unconfirmed, the mere presence of an unstable territory may make it an attractive safe haven for terrorist or criminal actors with regional or even global agendas.
- People have started using the “G-word.” Whether genocide is – or is not – occurring in a given conflict, using the “G-word” is supposed to trigger an obligatory international response. My personal view is that the term genocide tends to be overused, and as a result, genocide has been conflated with “mass killing,” and more generally “human rights abuses” or “crimes against humanity,” thus distancing it from its true meaning. Therefore, whether or not genocide is actually occurring in the Central African Republic, any response would have to be measured against the international community’s failure to respond to allegations of genocide in places like Syria and Sudan’s Nuba Mountains.
In any event, the true reason for the recent focus on the conflict in the Central African Republic, albeit belated, may be a combination of two or more of the aforementioned factors. Now, as with regional and international attempts to respond to previous crises in Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we shall see if the international community can put its money and military might where its mouth is.
This is a month overdue, but in case you missed it, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) General David Rodriguez held an online press conference on U.S. Foreign Policy and Security Cooperation in Sub-Saharan Africa. You can find a video with closed captioning on YouTube and remarks on the State Department’s website. U.S. Embassies in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia held watch parties and sent in questions for Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and General Rodriguez to answer. I also tuned in and submitted a question on how the Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 23 on Security Sector Assistance, announced in April 2013, would affect security assistance in the AFRICOM Area of Responsibility (AoR). In my opinion, PPD-23 had gone under the radar for several months, and I was genuinely interested in how the policy directive may or may not be influencing the evolution of U.S. security assistance in Africa. Oddly enough, it was the only question from the chat room that wasn’t answered during the session.
Anyway, if you look at the wording of PPD-23, it seems rather straightforward and, to be quite honest, mundane. According to PPD-23, the principal goals of U.S. security sector assistance are to:
- Help partner nations build sustainable capacity to address common security challenges.
- Promote partner support for U.S. interests, through cooperation on national, regional, and global priorities.
- Promote universal values, such as good governance, transparent and accountable oversight of security forces, rule of law, transparency, accountability, delivery of fair and effective justice, and respect for human rights.
- Strengthen collective security and multinational defense arrangements and organizations.
The policy guidelines for Security Sector Assistance are to:
- Ensure consistency with broader national security goals.
- Foster United States Government policy coherence and interagency collaboration.
- Build sustainable capacity through comprehensive sector strategies.
- Be more selective and use resources for the greatest impact.
- Be responsive to urgent crises, emergent opportunities, and changes in partner security environments.
- Ensure that short-term interventions are consistent with long term goals.
- Inform policy with rigorous analysis, assessments, and evaluations.
- Analyze, plan, and act regionally.
- Coordinate with other donors.
But going back to my earlier comment about the PPD being mundane, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what the PPD says isn’t as significant as what the PPD represents – a high-level forcing mechanism to 1) improve the way in which U.S. government agencies provide foreign (security) assistance and 2) clarify and expand upon what the government understands to be “security sector assistance.”
For example, on the first point, interagency and international donor coordination have always been implied when it comes to security assistance. Yet, the fact that there’s a high-level policy directive spelling out why this is important and in what sectors coordination should take place serves to force (or more realistically, will) this cooperation to improve.
On the second point, PPD-23 emphasizes that building partner nation capacity in the public safety, security, and justice sectors remains an area of focus to the Administration. You can see previous references to building partner capacity in the 2010 National Security Strategy under “Invest in the Capacity of Strong and Capable Partners.” However, note the expanded reference to the sectors the U.S. seeks to develop according to PPD-23: “ Security sector actors include state security and law enforcement providers, governmental security and justice management and oversight bodies, civil society, institutions responsible for border management, customs and civil emergencies, and non-state justice and security providers.” I have always believed that the 2010 NSS expands the concept of “security” when compared with previous National Security Strategies. Now, when compared with the 2010 NSS, it appears that PPD-23 has expanded the concept of Security Sector Assistance.
In any event, I look forward to seeing what any of this means for U.S. security assistance in Africa – if anything at all.
This weekend, I attended the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) 6th Annual Leadership Awards and had a blast meeting fellow DAWNers and supporters of DAWN. DAWN’s mission is to develop and support the next generation of African diaspora women leaders focused on African affairs by promoting the role of the diaspora in Africa’s development, diversifying the African affairs workforce, and advancing women’s leadership in the workplace. At the reception, DAWN handed out three awards:
- 2013 Mentor of the Year: Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art;
- 2013 Honoree of the Year: Ms. Mimi Alemayehou, Executive Vice-President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); and
- 2013 DAWNer of the Year: Ms. Nina Oduro, founder and editor of AfricanDevJobs
The reception provided some very interesting food for thought, as I became involved in a sidebar on how the United States underutilizes its African-born, U.S.-educated population – many of whom maintain familial and commercial links with the continent - in its efforts to engage politically and economically on the continent. But I’ve digressed and shall leave it to a diaspora expert to expand upon how the U.S. could better leverage this talent pool.
The next day, DAWN held a conference whose theme was “Looking Ahead: Investing in Diaspora Leadership Today.” DAWN’s Founder and Executive Director Semhar Araia reminded participants that the African Union has recognized the African Diaspora as the “Sixth Region” of Africa. (The other five regions being North, South, East, West, and Central Africa). With this recognition comes the acceptance that the diaspora is more than remittances; it can also wield political and professional capital.
So in sum: I had a fantastic DAWN Weekend and really enjoyed meeting the truly talented women that contribute to this organization. As a relatively new DAWNer, I look forward to being a part of DAWN and DAWNers’ contributions to the field of African Affairs. (DAWN is a global organization and it’s continuing to grow, so if you’re not already a member, join today!)
As the title of this post so emphatically declares, I love when my projects require fieldwork. I’m working on a project in FY13 that has had me traveling to African Country A (Niger), African Country B (Chad), African Country C (Mali), African Country D (Senegal), African Country E (Morocco), African Country F (Algeria) and African Country G (Nigeria). (I’m currently in African Country H and am traveling to African Country I in early September.) And because of my fieldwork, I’m being forced to learn more about these countries and the United States’ relationship with them.
I love doing fieldwork not because I enjoy the unending abuse from Delta/Air France, but rather because I’m a hands-on learner. On this project and the others that preceded it, I’ve found that the assumptions I had before conducting fieldwork were contradicted, or my understanding of how a process did or did not work became more nuanced. I’ve learned, as government-types like to put it, how the sausage is made, and why said sausage sometimes comes out as a cob of corn to the dismay of the people responsible for designing and implementing programs. There is very little that can substitute for this type of learning experience.
Here’s an example of the types of things I’ve learned during my fieldwork in various African countries. Out of necessity, this description is in the abstract and combines the characteristics of multiple countries:
The United States sees the extremist Prophet’s Revolutionary Militia (PRM) as a threat and makes countering the PRM a focus of its programs in the neighboring African countries of Azania and Matobo. However various U.S. government agencies perceive the PRM threat differently and can’t agree on a comprehensive approach. State is concerned about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, while DoD believes the U.S. isn’t doing enough to counter the threat. Dissenters from both agencies believe the PRM isn’t even the right threat to be countering, and that U.S. programs should have a more comprehensive approach to support state stability. However, Azania and Matobo are marginal to global U.S. strategic interests, and a more comprehensive approach reeks of nation-building à la Iraq & Afghanistan. No thank you.
All U.S. government agencies are on the same page about working with the government of Azania because it has a history of democratic transitions, there’s freedom of the press, and the military has a close, longstanding relationship with the U.S. In Matobo, it’s a different story. The State Department is reluctant to work with the government of Matobo, which is a corrupt, nepotist dictatorship. The Defense Department, however, sees Matobo as a key counterterrorism ally and would like to increase military assistance, but State is concerned about governance, human rights, and upsetting the local balance of power within the country. The difference of U.S. government views on Matobo creates discord between State and DoD, whereas interagency relations with regard to Azania are much smoother.
The U.S. government wants Azania and Matobo to increase regional security cooperation to go after the PRM. Yet, Azania and Matobo are reluctant to work together to counter the PRM because the former believes the latter’s military intelligence leaks like a sieve and there are whispers that people in the Matobolese government have a tacit agreement not to go after the extremist group. In addition, Azania and Matobo have historical animosities due to Azania’s support for the independence movement in the Zangaro region of Matobo. This is why when the U.S. tries to hold multilateral exercises or regional conferences geared towards facilitating regional security cooperation that are held in either country, Azania will invite everyone but Matobo, and vice versa. This refusal to work together persists even though the PRM is increasingly gaining revenue from smuggling along the Azania-Matobo border.
Although limited by State’s resistance to military engagement, DoD conducts minimal training in Matobo. However, they routinely have to change their security cooperation plans if an exercise is planned when the dictator is in Europe receiving medical treatment. This is because no military assets are allowed to move if he is out of the country – this is how he prevents a coup. Engagement is also delayed by requirements to do Leahy vetting for each unit. In a country like Azania that has a long history of military professionalism this is not a problem, but the majority of units in the Matobolese military have been accused of involvement in the country’s three most recent coups, as well as of human rights violations within the disputed territory of Zangaro – even though the Zangaro incidents happened 20 years ago and didn’t involve the current soldiers in the tainted units. On top of this, Matobo is not great at keeping records, so it’s difficult for the U.S. to ascertain who was and was not involved in these violations. And on top of that, there’s a dispute within various elements of the U.S. government as to whether these units were involved in these violations. And on top of that, the dictator recently attempted to change the constitution to stay in power another 5 years, so the military just deposed him and intends to support a transition to democracy in 9 months. Since this is technically an unconstitutional change of government, all U.S. military assistance has been cut off.
The money originally designated for Matobo is reprogrammed to help Azania develop more robust border security, but both the Embassy and the Azanian security forces have a problem with absorptive capacity. Since Azania is a permissive environment for government & NGO programs and has few mechanisms to coordinate and deconflict these programs, funds obligated for Azania are not spent until two fiscal years later. In addition, donor nations eventually discover that they have parallel training programs that are training the Azanians on conflicting doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).
The current Azanian president is very receptive to receiving more specialized military training from the U.S. However, the U.S. wants to train Azanian forces to go after the extremist PRM, while the Azanian government sees the PRM as more of a U.S. and European problem. Plus, everyone knows the PRM has a safe haven in Matobo from which they launch attacks into Azania, and the Azanians are annoyed that Matobo isn’t pulling its weight in countering the PRM. To complicate matters, the Azanian force designated for U.S. training is not well resourced by the Azanian government because they only have a Captain in charge of their unit. Other Azanian security forces, which may have overlapping missions and compete for influence, have Brigadier Generals in charge and they have the background and political capital to ensure that their forces are well resourced. For these reasons, the force led by the Captain stays in a training cycle and never becomes an operational force that can operate independent of U.S. assistance. Therefore, specialized training never takes root in Azania.
Oh and guess what. There’s been an election and the new Azanian president was indicted by the ICC for his alleged incitement of violence during a previous election cycle, so security cooperation is now experiencing a “strategic pause.” The Azanians have wisely anticipated that U.S. military assistance has strings attached and they’ve recently diversified their security cooperation relationships. They now receive most of their training from European Country X and Asian Country Y.
Hopefully, this little story gives you a sense of the types of factors I’ve come to understand better once I see them in play
On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent.
Early yesterday morning, the international arrivals terminal at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, Kenya was gutted in a four-hour blaze. Fortunately, no one was injured, and measures are being put in place to resume full operations at the airport by this evening. Regardless, as JKIA is a hub for air transportation in the region, with some 16,000 passengers transiting daily, it is difficult to imagine that such transportation in East Africa will not be crippled until JKIA fully recovers – or until a regional alternative is sought out.
Those of you who travel frequently to the continent know that there are relatively few hubs where you can fly from one African country to another, or nonstop to the U.S. So here’s a story about my efforts to get to one of those hubs from JKIA and get home to the U.S. – while avoiding European airspace.
A few years ago, I presented a paper at a conference in Nairobi. My flight to DC via Amsterdam was scheduled to leave on Friday night, so I had planned a whole day of sightseeing and shopping all over the city before heading to the airport. The night before, my mother had warned me via email that my flights into and out of Amsterdam might be canceled due to the volcanic ash from Iceland.
On Friday, in the midst of playing with baby elephants and feeding giraffes, I overheard several American and European tourists lamenting the fact that the airlines were not able to determine when they could fly home. They spoke of delays not in terms of hours or days, but in terms of weeks. Rather than going shopping, which I had been looking forward to for weeks, I raced back to the hotel to see if I could get the conference organizers to book me another flight through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia or Johannesburg, South Africa – two of the few hubs for transcontinental air traffic in Africa.
With the amount of information available to us at the time on the projected spread of the ash, I was clearly more bent out of shape than the conference organizers about my prospects for getting stranded in Nairobi, where my options for returning to the US would be extremely limited. Knowing that I needed to be back at CNA by Tuesday morning for an Africa maritime security seminar for my project, I told the conference organizers that I didn’t care what needed to be done or how circuitous the route, but if I wasn’t back in DC by Monday night, I would lose my job. True or not, my flair for the dramatic paid off. With little time to spare before their flight to Addis departed, they packed me up and took me with them, promising that I would get flights home from there.
I had informed my boss and my project sponsor that it was quite possible that I would get stranded indefinitely somewhere in Africa, as most flights from Africa to the US go through Europe. My boss replied by mentioning some Eyjafjallajokull thing. I didn’t know what that was. I assumed he’d fallen on his keyboard and made a massive typo. My sponsor’s response – “Sorry to hear that. Can you write a quick turn around paper on the situation in Sudan?” So, in the midst of my last minute dash to the airport, I frantically typed out some poorly spelled, poorly worded key points on my Blackberry as the taxi swerved in and out of Nairobi rush hour traffic. And oh yes, my mother was also sending me frantic emails saying “You’re leaving Kenya for ETHIOPIA??? I don’t understand. There’s a State Department warning against traveling there close to the elections!!!”
Normally when I travel to new countries, I like to arrive well informed about my surroundings. I boarded an Ethiopian Airlines plane without a visa, without sufficient knowledge about traveling in the country as a single female, and concerned that I was affiliated with these conference organizers who came from a think tank whose activities had been severely repressed over the past few months as the Ethiopian government prepared to
steal hold elections the next month. The last elections had been accompanied by violence, and although the U.S. and Ethiopia were on decent terms, I wasn’t mentally prepared to be around if the excrement hit the oscillating unit.
I arrived in Addis on Friday night and the conference organizers gave me a flight leaving Monday at 1am to Istanbul, and then on to New York, and then on to Dulles, arriving Monday night. Having received an email from my mother saying the cloud was moving south and east, I asked for an earlier flight, but to no avail. They gave me 2 days in a hotel near the airport, a $100 bill which was actually too old to use in Ethiopia, and pointed me in the direction of the visa office. The visa officials asked me how long I would be staying, and I said I didn’t know. At this point, I was really concerned that my flight from Addis would be canceled if the ash moved into Turkish airspace. To lighten the mood, I was about to make a joke about being a refugee in their country until I realized it was incredibly inappropriate. So I got a 6 week visa and prayed that I could get out of the city before the elections in May.
Still in shock, I was delivered to the hotel, which was an oasis of calm in a sea of construction chaos. I was given a lovely room with a flooded balcony adjacent to an abandoned building. Ordinarily, I would have been thrilled to explore a new city, but the hotel staff was not at all helpful in explaining to me what their city had to offer and how they could arrange for me to go sightseeing. Over the course of the next two days, I was glued to the TV and the internet awaiting the latest news on European airspace closures and plotting out scenarios of flying home through Dubai if Istanbul didn’t work out. Occasionally, I would have a panic attack that I would be indefinitely stranded in Addis. I left the hotel once – only to prevent an international incident that was almost brought on by non-functioning internet at the hotel the day before I was scheduled to depart.
During one of my interactions with the hotel staff, I met a random Sudanese businessman who consulted for Saudi companies investing all over Africa. Prior to our meeting, I had no idea the extent of Saudi investment on the continent. Over tea, he advised that I take a flight to Jeddah and head east to get back to the U.S. if Istanbul didn’t work out. That night, I got down on my knees and told God that if he got me home soon, I would do whatever He asked – even if it meant quitting my job and giving up all my worldly belongings. I am not a religious person, but I just wanted to go home.
Thanks to Turkey not closing the airspace over Istanbul even as the ash was closing in, I was able to land there in the morning and catch my flight to JFK in the afternoon. Upon arriving at JFK, I begged the people at the ticket counter to please give me not only an earlier flight to DC, but to also make me not fly in to Dulles. I knew that I was far too stressed and tired to bother to make it home to downtown DC if I didn’t fly into National. Heck, I was so relieved that the ordeal was over that I almost gave up at JFK. I arrived home on Monday night at 8pm, after 81 hours in transit from Nairobi to Addis Ababa to Istanbul to the United States. So if I quit my job and sell all my worldly belongings, you’ll know why.
The following Wednesday (the 21st), KLM notified me that my Nairobi to DC itinerary from the 16th had been cancelled and sent me a ticket to leave Nairobi on the 24th. Way to be on top of things, KLM.