Obama and Africa: where to start?

By Scott A Morgan

The United States peacefully voted for a change in government. After 8 years the Republican administration of George W. Bush will be replaced by that of a Democrat, Senator Barack Obama. Other pundits have been determining what situation in the world will be the focus of the new administration. Very few people have mentioned Africa however.

There are currently five crisis situations ongoing in Africa. Three of them (Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur and Somalia) are mentioned frequently in the international media. The fourth one, Zimbabwe, highlights the divide between Africa and the western powers. The fifth, which is in northern Uganda, has had a peace accord reached but it wasn’t signed by the rebel forces.

At this juncture, the main focus is on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over a period from 1998 to 2002, this was the most brutal conflict in the world. Millions were killed in this conflict which is a direct result of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In recent weeks there has been an upsurge in the fighting in the Kivu provinces. Renegade General Laurent Nkunda has threatened to overthrow the government of President Kabila.

The region is permeated with various rebel forces from, not only the DRC, but also neighboring Uganda and Rwanda as well. The militia that has been responsible for the attacks in northern Uganda is based in the DRC. There currently is a US diplomatic presence in the region as the UN mission is on the edge of disaster. Recently the UN has announced that it would like to have Special Forces augment this mission.

Switching to Zimbabwe, the controversial presidential elections held back in March show no sign of being resolved soon. After a violent campaign led up to the July runoff which saw the incumbent Robert Mugabe win, talks began to see if a Kenya-style government of national unity can be formed. Talks held to resolve the situation are stalled. The US has long been critical of President Mugabe for his prior attempts to remain in power.

Already, those activists who have been active in the campaign to solve the tragic situation in Darfur have called upon President-elect Obama to halt the genocide. During the campaign he did sign a document along with Senators McCain and Clinton criticizing the violence that has plagued the region. It is hoped that this effort can be successful before violence occurs in other parts of Sudan.

Right now the two major issues in Africa appear to be the conflict in the DRC and the inability to restore a functioning government in Zimbabwe. There is considerable concern that the fighting in the Congo could spread and involve regional neighbors in a conflict that could dwarf the war that ended in 2002. The political morass in Zimbabwe will create problems in neighboring states such as Botswana and Zambia if it is not resolved.

There are expectations that Obama will have African issues in a more prominent place in his administration. There were celebrations of joy across Africa when it was revealed that President-elect Obama had won the election. Despite the euphoria, there are indications that an Obama administration will follow precedent from previous administrations when it comes to the various hotspots.

The author publishes Confused Eagle on the internet and comments on US policy towards Africa. Confused Eagle can be found at morganrights.tripod.com


AFRICOM yet to rise to occassion

by Scott A Morgan

Even though it does not have a forward deployment base or a permanent location, the unfolding pirates saga in Somalia is an interesting way for AFRICOM to begin.

The Pentagon’s African Command or AFRICOM got off to a shaky start. Most African countries declined to host it soon after it was inaugurated by President George W. Bush to secure US interests in Africa. AFRICOM is the newest military command of the United States.

As efforts to restore a functioning government in Somalia continue to flounder, there has been an increase in piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping regions. The United States, among other nations, has deployed both naval and Special Forces to the region in an effort to curtail criminal and terrorist activity.

The vessel that was recently seized has intelligence specialists concerned not only about the cargo but where the cargo was eventually headed to. After all this is one of the most violent regions in the whole world, The MV Faina is a container ship of Ukrainian registry captured within the last two weeks. Part of its cargo was 33 T-72 main battle tanks.

Now a guessing game has begun. The pirates have demanded over $20 million in ransom. There are reports that the tanks were headed to Mombasa, Kenya. The Kenyan Government has stated they purchased the armor from Russia. There have been reports that the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) had acquired the weapons. US intelligence believes that this is an effort to go around the arms embargo against Sudan.

Let us look at these three scenarios: First of all, the Sudanese Government. This would not be the first time the Russian Federation has attempted to break sanctions against Sudan. As a matter of fact the Russians have supported Sudan in the UN on more than one occasion. so this is plausible but, if it were so, the armor could have been unloaded at Port Sudan.

What about the claims of the Kenyan Government? Well the armor was headed to a Kenyan port. This could give the claims some form of legitimacy. There are still concerns regarding abuse in the Mt. Elgon region to the west of the country but, on the whole, peace and stability are increasing in Kenya.  Unless the armor is meant to defend the northern border with Somalia and/or Ethiopia.

This brings us to the Government of Southern Sudan. This is an autonomous region of Sudan that fought a long protracted insurgency against Khartoum. There is still a level of distrust towards Khartoum to this very day. Also in recent weeks there have been clashes with the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) which is a Ugandan militia. The LRA was to have signed a Peace Deal with the Ugandan government after Southern Sudan negotiated a peace accord. When it came time to the signing ceremony, the LRA did not show.

With the armor being seized by pirates its possible that the tanks could end up being used in Somalia unless either ransom is paid or the vessel is liberated by naval elements that have surrounded the ship at this time.

The Author publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet. It can be found at morganrights.tripod.com

Zimbabwe playing to Kenya’s script

Zimbabwe’s path to a grand coalition seems to be following a carefully choreographed script perfected in Kenya a few months ago.

The Movement of Democratic Change of main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the Speaker’s seat inspite of intimidation by the government of President Robert Mugabe. In Kenya, the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) took the Speaker’s seat when Parliament was reconvened for the first time after disputed elections in December 2007. Like the MDC in Zimbabwe, Kenya’s ODM had a slim majority which it used to capture the position.

At the moment, coalition talks between President Mugabe and Tsvangirai seem to have broken down due to disagreements over the proposed Prime Minister’s office. Tsvangirai accepted to become Prime Minister but wants full executive powers. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party wants the Prime Minister as a subordinate to the presidency.

The same disagreement marred Kenya’s coalition talks between President Mwai Kibaki and ODM’s Raila Odinga. The post of Prime Minister was created for Raila, who got powers to co-ordinate government affairs. The Kenyan presidency still has ultimate executive authority. Going by the same script, Tsvangirai will have to accept much less power than he is currently demanding.

A significant difference between the Zimbabwe and Kenya situations is that whereas President Kibaki was not sure of the loyalty of his security forces, Mugabe’s control of Zimbabwe’s military and police is absolute. Thus, Mugabe is in a better bargaining position during talks than Kibaki was.

With 3 million Zimbabweans already outside the country, the prospects of widespread violence against Mugabe are very slim.

The question is: who is writing this new model for African governance and what does it mean for the people of the world’s poorest continent?

Kenya’s giant coalition and its effect on Africa

For better or for worse, Kenya’s formation of a giant coalition in the wake of a disputed election will be replicated across Africa. Negotiations in Zimbabwe for the formation of a similar coalition is evidence of this worrisome trend.

Zimbabwes Robert Mugabe will form a coalition government with his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe will form a coalition government with his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai. Picture by the Sidney Morning Herald.

Kenya’s giant coalition was formed by the three leading contenders in the December 2007 General Elections. According to the Electoral Commission of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity (PNU) won the polls. Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) came second but immediately rejected the results on account of opinion polls which had put him in the lead. The third placed candidate was Kalonzo Musyoka of ODM-Kenya, a splinter group of ODM.

Violence after the elections led to the formation of Kenya’s first coalition since independence. Kibaki retained his position as President, while a new post of Prime Minister was created in Kenya’s constitution to accommodate Raila Odinga. Kalonzo became Vice-President in the new equation.

In Zimbabwe, its becoming evident that Robert Mugabe will keep the presidency while Morgan Tsvangirai will have the yet-to-be-created post of Prime Minister. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the first round of elections in March but Mugabe refused to vacate office. Negotiations are now stuck on who between the two will have greater executive authority for the government of Zimbabwe. Like in Kenya, a third political candidate, Aurthur Mutambara, is part of the talks.

There is growing fear among political observers that the little democracy that exists in Africa will be destroyed by the trend established by Kenya and Zimbabwe. With elections scheduled soon in Malawi and Angola, the fears may have some credibility.

The prospect of retaining the presidency will encourage African leaders to subvert the electoral process and negotiate a coalition. African leaders are not exactly famous for leaving power. Indeed, across Africa, democratically elected presidents are busy changing constitutions in order to remove the two-term limits. In Malawi, a former two-term president is among contenders in the forthcoming polls. Now, with possibilities of forming giant coalitions, African leaders may have found a new tactic to lengthen their occupancy of the top seat.

Contrary to what is portrayed by Western media, opposition parties in Africa are not the bastions of democracy they claim to be. Virtually all opposition in Africa consists of people that fell out with their governments for purely self-serving reasons. The new trend of giant coalition governments will induce opposition movements in Africa to reject electoral results – even where the process is fair – and demand slots in government. We are likely to see increased ethnic and other violence in African countries as opposition candidates play to the gallery of international media while seeking sympathy for their cause.

For this, the prospects for the ordinary African remain rather bleak. He and she will be used by politicians, both government and opposition, both claiming to represent the people but in reality hungrily eying the riches of the land. Once the giant coalition is formed, it is a resumption of the usual business of hyena-style politics, with discussion revolving on whose cronies get jobs in the state apparatus.

Such is the Pandora’s box that has been opened by Kenya.