Bentiu changes hands for the 4th time

UPDATE as of 9am EST: Sudan Tribune reports that SPLM-IO has claimed to have recaptured Bentiu, while the government of South Sudan claims the SPLA is defending their positions in the town from rebel fighter.

 

In case you missed it, Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment released some new briefs last week on the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. In light of today’s reports that the city of Bentiu, capital of (formerly) oil-producing Unity State has once again changed hands, I would direct your attention to The SPLM-in-Opposition and The Conflict in Unity.

Today’s developments mark the fourth time since the outset of conflict in December 2013 that Bentiu has changed hands between the government and the rebel forces, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO). The SPLM-IO first seized the town the week the conflict broke out around 20-21 December and held it until it was retaken by the government on 10 January. Bentiu again fell to the opposition on 15 April, but was retaken by the government on 4 May. Both times the SPLM-IO has taken Bentiu, they have only been able to hold it for a maximum of 3 weeks. Why has that been the case?

For the answers to that question, I turn to the aforementioned Sudan HSBA briefs, which were on the money about the relative weakness of the rebellion in Unity, when compared with its relative strength in Upper Nile State to the east. One reason it’s been difficult for the SPLM-IO to hold Bentiu is that Unity State is exposed to President Salva Kiir’s homeland region on Bahr el Ghazal, from which the SPLA 3rd Division (Northern Bahr el Ghazal) and SPLA 5th Division (Western Bahr el Ghazal) can reinforce the SPLA in Unity. Second, the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), a mainly Nuer former rebel group which had accepted the government’s amnesty prior to the outbreak of conflict and had been awaiting integration into the SPLA, sided with the government, which not only provided the government with additional manpower, but also forced the Nuer soldiers in Unity to decide between remaining with the government and the SSLA or defecting to the SPLM-IO.

Despite the signing of the cessation of hostilities in January, which was never honored and, quite frankly, isn’t worth the paper it was printed on, we will continue to see the government of South Sudan and the SPLM-IO strengthen their positions before the imminent onset of rainy season and before peace talks gain any real traction. Meanwhile, Toby Lanzer, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan estimated via Twitter that approximately 6 million people (2/3 the population of South Sudan) will be at severe risk of starvation or will have fled their homes by the end of 2014.

Never a dull moment with the SPLA…

Although I’m writing this from my cushy office in northern Virgina, It seemed like relative calm had returned, at least, to Juba after the outbreak of violence across parts of South Sudan in mid-December. (For background on the roots of the current crisis, see Radio Tamazuj’s Nine questions about the South Sudan crisis: A guide for confused observers and South Sudan crisis: A guide for confused observers (II).) However, gunfire broke out at the SPLA barracks at Giada, which was also apparently the same barracks in Juba where the mid-December gunfights started. The cause of this morning’s fighting, in which at least five soldiers were killed, appears to have been a dispute over pay, and may have involved some soldiers from Salva Kiir’s presidential guard, the Tiger Division. Brig. Gen. Malaak Ayuen, an SPLA spokeman, stated “This is purely an issue of salaries. It is not political and will not spread… Soldiers have not been paid since January, why I don’t know, and went to the commander seeking answers.”

It appears that a new procedure for distributing salaries was the cause of this morning’s dispute. The Government of South Sudan had created a new payment system to prevent the payment of SPLA salaries to “ghost soldiers,” thereby requiring soldiers to collect their payments in person. Cabinet affairs minister Martin Elia Lomoru stated ““The whole intention was for the good of the country. It was not meant to deny anybody their rightful dues…the intention was to build confidence in our financial systems so that the issue of transparency and accountability is not ignored.” From the few media reports of the events surrounding this brief outbreak of violence, it appears that miscommunications about this procedure prompted the gunfight as soldiers were queued waiting for their payments.

Like the mid-December gunfights in Juba, it’s very difficult to piece together what exactly happened, but the three most helpful news sources I’ve seen thus far have been:

I’m not an expert on military compensation, but when you have segments of the military that, as one security consultant previously described it to me, are being paid not to fight the government, it’s probably best to make sure they’re paid within a reasonable period of time. Especially when you might need them to (re)establish the government’s monopoly on the use of force and retake territory held by anti-government rebels. Just a thought…

Happy 90th, Mr. Mugabe

Zimbabwe is one of the countries I don’t follow too closely, but it was hard to miss President Robert Mugabe’s 90th birthday celebration over the weekend. (His actual birthday was on Friday the 21st). I paid my respects by watching Nando’s “Last Dictator Standing” ad, which features a sad Mugabe reminiscing over the presumably fictionalized good times he had with now-deceased dictators. In the ad, Mugabe has a running golden water gun fight with  Muammar al-Qadhafi, makes sand angels with Saddam Hussein, swings on a swingset with P.W. Botha, and relives the iconic “I’m Flying” scene from the movie Titanic on a tank with Idi Amin. You can watch the full ad here:

On a more serious note, as the ruling ZANU-PF prepares to elect new party leadership during its December 2014 congress, eyes are not only on Mugabe’s longevity, but also on his succession. Leading candidates to replace Mugabe are his current Vice President, Joyce Mujuru, and the Minister of Justice, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Simukai Tinhu has written a really helpful analysis of the succession dynamics at play: “Understanding the ZANU-PF succession: Mugabe’s choice likely to be decisive”.

Lastly, Jeffrey Smith (@Smith_RFKennedy) called my attention to a few of Mr. Mugabe’s accomplishments since taking office in 1980 using the hashtag #MugabeAt90:

Museveni plays peacemaker by day and combatant by night in South Sudan

(Originally published in African Arguments on January 31, 2014)

Within days of the outbreak of the violence in mid-December, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) deployed to South Sudan at the government’s invitation. The UPDF’s mission at the outset was ostensibly to evacuate the over 200,000 stranded Ugandan nationals and to secure strategic installations in Juba. However, several weeks into the operation, President Yoweri Museveni disclosed that the UPDF was also involved in combat operations alongside government forces.

Indeed, the UPDF’s helicopter gunships, heavy artillery, tanks, and approximately 1,600 soldiers have been instrumental in helping the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) retake cities held by anti-government forces affiliated with former Vice President Riek Machar. In a motion passed in the Ugandan parliament to retroactively approve UPDF operations, the UPDF’s raison d’être in South Sudan was couched in terms of protecting the Ugandan expatriate community, ensuring Ugandan national security, and preventing genocide and other atrocities against humanity.

Nevertheless, the manner in which Uganda is securing its interests compromises concurrent efforts on the part of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), of which Uganda is a member, to mediate the crisis.

(Read the rest of the article on the African Arguments website)

Catching up on CAR, trying to avoid clichés

If you’ve been following the news on the Central African Republic (CAR) over the past 13 months, you have probably seen many references to the country’s abundant mineral wealth, chronic instability, crushing poverty, sectarian (Christian vs. Muslim) strife, and allegations of genocide. Some of the recent analysis and media reporting goes beyond these clichés, so I thought I’d highlight them and explain why these pieces present the reader with a more complex understanding of recent developments in the country. Collectively, this reading list offers four things:

  1. These readings offer background on Catherine Samba-Panza, previously the mayor of Bangui, who was elected last week as the interim president of the Central African Republic. Beyond the fact that Samba-Panza is the first female to hold this position in CAR, these pieces offer insight as to why she’s different from previous leaders and what challenges she will face as she spearheads the transition to an elected government by February 2015.
  2. These readings offer a background of the events leading to and during the transition earlier this month, such as why Michel Djotodia (former leader of the Séléka rebel coalition that toppled former president François Bozizé last March) had to go and the process that dictated the selection of candidates for interim president.
  3. These readings offer a better understanding of identity in the Central African Republic beyond the Muslim/Christian labels, and gives the reader some perspective on notions of foreign-ness in the CAR and how they have come into play throughout the country’s history.
  4. Finally, these readings offer context on the historical and contemporary role of foreign – European AND African – influence on conflicts in the Central African Republic, which is critical for understanding the geopolitics of the region. Major headliners are France (bien sûr!), Chad, Libya, and South Africa.

So without further ado, here’s some of the good coverage I’ve read over the past few weeks:

Catherine Samba-Panza being sworn in as interim president of the Central African Republic (SOURCE: http://www.tvzimbo.com/)

Catherine Samba-Panza being sworn in as interim president of the Central African Republic (SOURCE: http://www.tvzimbo.com/)

Si vous lisez français, the articles below offer background on the new interim president, and why her civil society roots and Chadian/Central African heritage may make her the right leader at the right time:

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