On August 7th and 8th, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) heads of state met to discuss the deployment of an international force to fight the M23 rebel movement that has been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu region since April of this year. While they did not end up reaching a consensus on an intervention force, I still thought I’d attempt to think through the kind of questions that would need to be answered to establish such a force.
- What would the mission be? Like the current discussions the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is having about a regional intervention force for Mali, it will be essential for regional stakeholders to articulate what their objectives are and what their concept of operations might be in order to attain said objectives. Will they be focusing on fighting M23, or will they also be addressing instability caused by the Raia Mutomboki? Would this force attempt to address the underlying causes of the ongoing conflict in North Kivu, which could be a long-term commitment that would surpass a purely military intervention? Would this force focus on protecting civilians while allowing the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC in French) to deal with rebel groups? Starting to answer these types of mission-oriented questions would be a prerequisite for obtaining African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) mandates, which could facilitate international support – which gets to my next question.
- Who would pay for this deployment?Troop-contributing countries (I’ll get to who they might be in a minute) would need to determine whether they can afford to pay the salaries of the units they would deploy, the use of (or acquisition of) contingent-owned equipment during the deployment, the transport of military assets to the eastern Congo, and the maintenance of these assets in the field. (I’m sure I forgot something, but you get the picture.) If troop-contributing countries cannot foot the bill, then the AU, UN, European Union (EU), United States would need to be willing and capable of providing financial assistance – either on a bilateral basis or on a multilateral basis – which gets to my next question.
- What framework would be used for an intervention force? The UN already has just under 20,000 military and police personnel as part of the UN Organization and Stabilization Mission in the DRC(MONUSCO), but it is possible that the UN (and the AU for that matter) are overtasked, both globally and in the DRC itself. Therefore, we might be looking at a sub-regional organization taking the lead akin to what ECOWAS is attempting to do in Mali. Unlike the situation in Mali, however, the DRC is not a member of a sub-regional organization that has a functional security component with a precedent for regional military intervention. The DRC is a member of both the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC in French) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and these sub-regional organizations are supposed to have regional brigades that would fall under the African Standby Force (ASF). However, I don’t know whether the SADC Standby Force Brigade (SADCBRIG) or its CEEAC equivalent, the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC in French), would be willing and capable of leading an intervention force. Therefore, if there is no sub-regional organization that has an established military component is able to take the lead, then how would this intervention force be comprised?
- Who would the players be? Since we don’t know whether a sub-regional organization or a multilateral coalition of countries would intervene in the DRC, it’s difficult to ascertain which countries could be part of this notional force. But since the ICGLR is talking about such a force, we’ll start with their members: Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan (not sure if South Sudan is a member), Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. If I were compiling an intervention dream team from these members, I would want Angola, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda on my team. Why these and not the others? Off the top of my head, these countries have reasonably professional militaries with proven warfighting capabilities, are active in AU and UN peacekeeping operations (with the exception of Angola), and have countries stable enough that deploying soldiers abroad would probably not inhibit their armed forces from addressing other national security threats. That said, many of these countries have baggage in the DRC as a result of their involvement in the 1998-2003 civil war (Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda), or more recently, alleged support for M23 (ahem…Rwanda). Also, would these countries even be interested in intervening? I would say Rwanda would because of the threat it perceives from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Angola’s participation would depend on the extent to which its security is affected by events on the opposite side of the Congo, as well as the extent to which the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA in Portuguese) feels more comfortable keeping the military at home in case there is instability surrounding this month’s elections or to contain additional protests by civil war veterans. And while I don’t think Kenya has baggage in the DRC, I doubt that instability in North Kivu is compelling enough to deploy the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) there when their focus is really on Somalia. Thus, the militaries that might be the most capable of fighting M23 in North Kivu may either fail to be perceived as a neutral force or their countries lack a compelling reason to get involved. As a result, an intervention force might have to look further afield to get troop contributors or make do with less capable forces.
So I guess the bottom line is that I don’t think an intervention force will come to fruition for the eastern Congo due to some of the issues I’ve raised above.
Yesterday, Al-Jazeera reported a “mass defection” of Sudanese troops to South Sudan after their refusal to attack the Kadar oilfield in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state over the weekend. According to Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesperson Colonel Philip Aguer Panyang, they defected with “full equipment, ten vehicles, seven mounted with heavy machine guns including 14 heavy machines guns.” Aside from pointing out that 200 soldiers does not a mass defection make, I thought I’d speculate on who these guys might be and what the implications of this development are.
Who are they?
Based on the scarce media reports I’ve been able to find, these 200 soldiers were southerners under the command of Major General James Duit Yiech that crossed into Upper Nile State from Sudan over the weekend. Al-Jazeera reports that they defected from the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), while Sudan Tribune and Radio Miraya report that they were militia members sent by Khartoum to attack South Sudan. There has also been a Joint Statement released by the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF), National Democratic Front (NDF), South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) and the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) stating that these forces were southern militia members that defected to the SPLA due to a disagreement over MG Yiech’s forced retirement and replacement by a younger officer. The statement also accused the SPLA of manipulating the circumstances of his defection and spreading lies about these militias receiving support from Khartoum.
If these forces were indeed anti-Government of South Sudan militias, then their defection this weekend is a slight departure from the norm. Based on my understanding of South Sudan’s approach to militias, militia leaders will come in from the field if they fall out with other field commanders (which may have happened with MG Yiech) to see if they can negotiate beneficial integration deals, including money, promotions, food for the men under their command, and positions in the government and military. Militia leaders also tend to spend months negotiating the terms of amnesty and integration into the SPLA – especially when it comes to issues of promotions and salaries. They normally reach an agreement on these issues well before they bring their men and arms in from the field. This case, however, seemed to be an impromptu defection, which leads me to suspect that video footage of the forces crossing over the border from Sudan into South Sudan and the SPLA’s subsequent statements on the matter are being used to turn this seemingly trivial defection into propaganda that gives the impression of Khartoum’s weakness.
What does this mean?
Regardless of who these forces actually are, the injection of these forces into Upper Nile state could exacerbate instability in that region. Whether or not they were SAF or southern militia members, they were accustomed to receiving arms, food, and other supplies from somewhere and will be seeking out ways to sustain themselves. This means that the SPLA will have to rapidly integrate them (doubtful, given budget constraints and the various other militias that have been waiting in the integration queue for months) or these forces will have to live off the land – by which I mean prey on the local population. Alternatively, if these forces are not integrated, but allowed to act as southern proxies in the cross-border region, can they be trusted to fight on behalf of Juba and fall under SPLA command and control?
When the situation along the Sudan-South Sudan border started to rapidly deteriorate a few weeks ago, I started to wonder what factors could be causing the Sudans to push each other closer and closer to conflict. So, I decided to explore a line of logic focusing on whether war, or at least low-intensity conflict, served political interests for the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan and the Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in South Sudan. (I should caveat this by saying that what follows is based on observation and speculation rather than hard evidence, so this is really just food for thought.)
In both countries, conflict could provide a distraction from the current financial situation.
- In contrast to the oil boom years following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Sudan has had to introduce economic austerity measures due to the loss of most of its oil revenue from fields in the South. Prior to South Sudan’s independence, oil comprised 60% of the government’s revenues and 95% of export revenues. The country’s economic prospects deteriorated even further as a result of the shutdown of oil production in South Sudan as a result of disagreements over oil transit. With the loss of oil revenue, the NCP’s ability to coerce opponents and use patronage to co-opt potential rivals has been significantly reduced.
- Like Sudan, South Sudan recently introduced an austerity budget to cope with the loss of oil revenue, which comprised 98% of total government revenues and 99% of export revenues. After the CPA was signed in 2005, there was an expectation among South Sudanese that with peace, and the CPA’s Protocol on Wealth Sharing, the SPLM would be able to deliver them a “peace dividend.” However, given the challenges inherent in establishing a new government, even by independence, the SPLM was still struggling to keep pace with the population’s rising expectations. The dispute over oil transit fees and Sudan’s bombing of areas along the border allows the SPLM to deflect blame for the population’s continued hardship on Sudan’s intransigence.
In both countries, conflict has the potential to consolidate political support and quell dissent.
- Since losing the South and the revenue from its oilfields, President Omar al-Bashir has been extremely vulnerable. Arguably, Bashir has chosen war to rally the population behind him in similar situations (i.e., in Darfur to divert attention from the concessions the NCP had to make to the South during the CPA negotiations, and in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile state in the lead up to South Sudan’s independence). Bashir has even used the term “jihad” to consolidate Northern Muslim support against Southern non-Muslim aggressors. A conflict might also allow Bashir to minimize the emergence of a student uprising, for example, that could topple his regime. Such uprisings were responsible for the fall of the Ibrahim Aboud and Jaafar Nimeiri regimes in 1964 and 1985, respectively.
- Although several issues (political, tribal, regional, etc) divided South Sudan during the civil war, what brought the population together was its collective opposition to the north. However, as independence grew closer, the SPLM faced allegations of exclusionary politics, nepotism, and corruption, in addition to dissatisfaction with the SPLM’s commitment to improving state and local government. Thus, for South Sudan, conflict with Sudan affords SPLM the opportunity to rally the population around the government by reasserting Sudan as an existential threat in order to transcend internal divisions.
In both countries, conflict has the potential to consolidate military support – or at least distract the armed forces.
- Without oil revenue to grease Sudan’s patronage machine, Bashir cannot guarantee the loyalty of the military. Having come to power by coup, Bashir might fear a coup launched by disgruntled mid-level officers, and seeks conflict with South Sudan as a diversion. Aided by South Sudan’s invasion of Heglig earlier this month, Bashir has been able to cast South Sudan as aggressors and turn the military’s attention outwards, away from him, in spite of 700 officers warning him to avoid war back in January.
- For the past six years, the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has been simultaneously undergoing Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) and integrating former militia members who have accepted the government’s offers of amnesty. Ideally, DDR would reduce the number of solders on the SPLA’s payroll by 50%, allowing the government to spend more money on socio-economic development. However, with the possibility of conflict with Sudan on the horizon and a shortage of economic livelihoods to occupy demobilized soldiers, the government continues to devote up to 40% of its expenditures on conflict prevention and security. (As a side note, the security sector was also subject to budget cuts, but remains one of the better-funded sectors of government. See the Minister of Finance & Economic Planning’s speech to the Legislative Assembly last month.) Renewed conflict would not only give the oversized military something to do, but it would also allow the government to justify massive defense expenditures while the population suffers the effects of the austerity measures.
Based on the financial constraints of both countries, I would expect that it is actually in both countries’ interest not to engage in all-out war. This is, of course, unless the ongoing brinkmanship spirals out of control and war cannot be prevented. However, based on the political and military points raised above, a limited conflict along the border potentially serves the interest of both the NCP and the SPLM. If this is the case, we can expect both countries to continue supporting armed proxies in the other country because they are cheaper to support than a conventional military, allow the countries to continue exerting pressure on one another for concessions if/when negotiations resume, and in principle offer the governments plausible deniability for perpetuating instability along the border.
It’s been a few days since South Sudan withdrew its troops from Heglig…or was expelled from the area, depending on which side you favor in the ongoing tit-for-tat between Sudan and South Sudan. Yet, there have been no signs of either country backing away from the precipice of war. In a nutshell, the causes of this round of conflict are the disagreement over oil transit fees (plus South Sudan’s subsequent shutdown of oil production and the breakdown of African Union-sponsored negotiations) and the yet-to-be-demarcated North-South border, which has several disputed areas.
I decided, a few weeks after the fact, to try and think through what South Sudan’s invasion and brief occupation of Heglig might tell us about South Sudan’s evolving negotiation tactics. Here’s what I came up with:
- South Sudan intended the incursion to demonstrate that it was capable of disrupting a vital part of Sudan’s economy, and to establish parity with Sudan at the negotiating table. The logic to this point is that Juba has demonstrated that it can respond to Khartoum’s intransigence or outright aggression with military action, and should be considered a serious adversary in any potential conflict or future negotiations.
- In spite of statements to the contrary, I don’t think South Sudan intended to hold Heglig. Considering the massive Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) presence in South Kordofan to fight the Southern People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLM-N), it would not have been rational for the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to believe that it could hold Heglig and defend it against massive SAF retaliation. Furthermore, the rainy season is imminent, which would have made sending reinforcements and resupplying troops in a region with limited transportation infrastructure very challenging – especially for a military that already has limited ground mobility. Therefore, having made the point that it could invade Heglig, the SPLA withdrew after 10 days in order to avoid a full-scale war and/or a humiliating expulsion from Heglig.
- In spite of possibly violating international law during its Heglig incursion, Juba has tried to remain the “good guy” as the situation along the border deteriorates. South Sudan couched its invasion of Heglig in terms of self-defense, claiming that it invaded Heglig because it was being used as a staging ground for attacks on Unity state. Moreover, it disputed Sudan’s interpretation of the 2009 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that Heglig was not part of Abyei, but was part of South Kordofan state (Sudan) and not part of Unity state (in future South Sudan). (See the PCA’s award map of Abyei.) After rejecting appeals by the international community to withdraw from Heglig, South Sudan agreed to withdraw its forces if the United Nations would deploy a neutral international force to ensure that the area would not be used to launch attacks on South Sudan. That said, although referring the case to the UN allows Juba to remain in the right, it would be illogical for Juba to expect that such a force would be particularly effective, considering the inability, to date, of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to secure the withdrawal of SAF troops from the disputed area of Abyei.
- South Sudan’s status as a darling of the international community may be catalyzing its brinkmanship with Sudan. As the victim of “northern aggression” for over half a century, and a product of a lengthy and internationally mediated peace process, South Sudan has many supporters in the international community – particularly in the West. Many countries and international organizations hope for the best for the new country, and may be biased in their efforts to persuade Sudan and South Sudan to avoid war. In both rhetoric and action, both Sudans are responsible for contributing to the escalation of violence. If there is still a chance to mediate between the two Sudans, then both sides need to be held equally accountable for the actions they take that could derail any cessation of hostilities.
It’s entirely possible that South Sudan’s actions vis-à-vis Sudan are meant to increase their leverage if and when negotiations resume. However, the situation has continued to spiral out of control as both sides continue to try and outmaneuver the other. I would argue that South Sudan’s invasion of Heglig changed the nature of a potential conflict between Sudan and South Sudan from one in which they could continue to wage war through proxies to one in which both sides could be in a state of all-out war. Let’s hope we can stick with low-intensity conflict – or better yet, no conflict at all.
Over the past few months, there has been a steady escalation in the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. Earlier this week, regional media sources reported that Uganda would support Juba in the case of a full-scale war with Khartoum. What are some potential reasons for Uganda’s to get involved in this conflict?
Historical Ties, Historical Proxy Wars
Uganda and the Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in South Sudan, have historical ties due to Uganda’s support of the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) during the second civil war (1983-2005). In addition to providing financial and military support, Ugandan troops were directly involved in operations alongside the SPLA. Uganda also served as a vital sanctuary and rear base after 1991, when the SPLA was expelled from western Ethiopia after the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg regime.
In retribution for Uganda’s support for the SPLA, the Sudanese government supported the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a proxy to destabilize northern Uganda and weaken the SPLA. Having been expelled from Uganda between 2005 and 2006, the LRA has since been operating in remote areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Ugandan intelligence suggests that Khartoum has recently made contact with the LRA in order to use the group as a proxy in the event of renewed hostilities with Juba.
Trade and Economic Opportunity
Uganda has substantial commercial interests in South Sudan that could atrophy if South Sudan were attacked. South Sudan is Uganda’s biggest trading partner, although this relationship is disproportionately skewed in favor of Uganda. In 2008, South Sudan’s formal imports from Uganda were $246 million, while informal imports were estimated to be as much as $389 million. Furthermore, approximately one million Ugandans reside in South Sudan, not only capitalizing on the country’s postwar economic opportunities, but also escaping the dearth of such opportunities in Uganda. This is possibly the largest group of foreign nationals in South Sudan.
Influx of Refugees
Although a conflict between Sudan and South Sudan would take place far from the Ugandan border, Uganda might be reluctant to play host to another generation of South Sudanese refugees. By the time Sudan’s civil war ended, over 200,000 Sudanese refugees were in Uganda; many of these have since been repatriated. However, renewed instability in South Sudan could add to the recent influx of refugees from North Kivu province in the DRC. Earlier this month, former rebel leader General Bosco Ntaganda and soldiers loyal to him defected from the Congolese armed forces and Congolese President Joseph Kabila subsequently called for his arrest. Ntaganda had been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006, but had been integrated into the Congolese military in a 2009 peace deal, as he was believed to be critical to the peace process as well as to regional stability. More than 3,000 residents of North Kivu have fled to Uganda since the beginning of the year as a result of instability in the province, and Uganda is already struggling to manage this most recent influx along its border with the Congo.
Security…and Regime Longevity
Finally, Uganda’s involvement in a conflict between Sudan and South Sudan would ensure its own security. Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the DRC have formed a Regional Task Force (RTF) to capture LRA leader Joseph Kony, whose movement originated in northern Uganda. If South Sudan is preoccupied by fighting along its border with Sudan, Uganda might be concerned that Juba might not be able to fulfill its commitment to the RTF.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also sees himself as a regional patriarch, and demonstrates this, in part, by deploying the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) abroad. In addition to being part of the RTF to capture Joseph Kony, Uganda is the largest troop contributor to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Uganda is keen to remain a key player in the realm of regional security, which would necessitate its involvement in a full-scale war between Sudan and South Sudan.
Although he tends to prefer his military deployed abroad to ensure that it is not a nuisance at home, Museveni simultaneously tends to like his military large and reasonably capable in case he needs to call upon them to restore order in Uganda itself. Museveni’s heavy-handed crackdown on last year’s “Walk to Work” movement to protest high fuel prices was one example of the growing pressures for Museveni to step down after 25 years (at the time) in power. (For analysis of Museveni’s political challenges and prospects for Uganda’s future, see International Crisis Group’s report Uganda: No Resolution to Growing Tensions released earlier this month). Furthermore, a recent news report on Uganda’s increase in defense expenditures suggests that the types of equipment Uganda is acquiring might be more useful for securing regime longevity and sowing fear in the population than for addressing the country’s actual security threats.
The bottom line is that Uganda has a wide range of legitimate interests in South Sudan, but in my opinion, the most compelling reason is that a new war is a new shiny object for Museveni’s military.