Africa

Prospects for peace

Robin McKie and David Smith, Stephanie Wolters

David Smith and Stephanie Wolters look at conflicts in the continent's war-torn countries.

Nigeria
The government of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua received a much-needed boost in mid-December when the Nigerian High Court ruled that the 2007 elections that brought Yar’Adua to power were legitimate.

The court ruling should pave the way for a more confident Yar’Adua government to tackle the key issues it pledged to address, such as resolving the ongoing crisis in the Niger Delta and revamping the moribund energy sector; it will also provide a boost to investor confidence, which waned in the face of the legal challenge and the government’s slow pace of key reforms.

Still, it will not be all smooth sailing for Yar’Adua in 2009. Rumours that the president is critically ill have not been laid to rest and the dropping oil price could play havoc with the country’s economy. About 80% of Nigeria’s revenue is derived from oil exports and, with the oil price dropping to below $50 a barrel in late December, there is likely to be a significant shortfall in the national budget. Other challenges include ongoing discontent in the Niger Delta and recurrent religious and sectarian violence, which recently led to the deaths of more than 400 people in the northern city of Jos.

Rwanda
For such a small country, Rwanda has some big enemies, the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and France among them. Relations with the DRC in particular will play a significant role in the next year. Rwanda openly backed the main Congolese rebel group in the 1998-2003 war, but it has since claimed to have nothing to do with the emergence of the militia led by Congolese Tutsi Laurent Nkunda, which in the past five months has again plunged eastern DRC into mayhem.

But a December report by the United Nations Panel on the Arms Embargo in the DRC provides evidence that the Rwandan government is supporting Nkunda and it will be hard for the Rwandan government to wriggle out of this one. The Netherlands, one of Rwanda’s key international donors, has already said that it is freezing support to the country and others may follow, albeit reluctantly. The United Kingdom in particular has grown closer to Rwanda, especially as it has distanced itself from La Francophonie and chosen to become a member of the Commonwealth.

DRC
The resolution of this long-standing spat with the DRC should have positive outcomes for both countries; the same report confirms suspicions that the DRC government continues to support the former Hutu militia responsible for the 1994 genocide, an accusation Rwanda has been repeating for years. The repercussions of the report’s findings coupled with the massive human suffering caused by the latest Nkunda crisis could mean that the international community will choose to use its leverage and force the governments of Rwanda and the DRC to commit to finding a solution to their common problems; Rwanda in particular rarely comes under pressure from the international community.

This may mean that Rwanda has to make some political concessions to the Hutu community and that the political space may open somewhat in Rwanda. Although it is inconceivable that senior Hutu militia commanders involved in the 1994 events should return and be granted amnesty, the younger generation will have to be convinced that it is safe to return home. The peace dividend for DRC would also be obvious: an end to the disastrous cycle of violence in the east and an opportunity to focus on what really needs to be done—reconstructing the economy, tackling high levels of corruption, building a strong national army and consolidating democracy through the holding of local elections, scheduled for 2009.

Côte d’Ivoire
2008 was meant to be the year that Côte d’Ivoire put its difficult recent past behind it with the holding of elections for the first time since 2001. But the elections have been postponed again and again and are now roughly scheduled to take place in the first half of 2009. The main sticking point is the lack of progress on the disarmament of the armed groups and the issuing of identity and voting papers to those living in the north of the country, who have long been denied this right by successive southern-led governments—a key reason for the war. In the meantime both the UN peacekeeping force and the French military operation are being drawn down. From 5 000 troops at its height, the French presence has been reduced to 1 800.

Central African Republic
The Central African Republic usually manages to stay off most radar screens and that’s probably how President François Bozizé would like it to remain. Bozizé first took power in a coup in 2003, overthrowing then president Ange-Felix Patassé, who, through his son, has been waging a bush war ever since in the northwest of the country. He returned from five years in exile to the capital Bangui in mid-December to participate in “politically inclusive” peace talks.

Internal political problems are compounded by geography—the north-eastern part of the country is wedged between Chad and Sudan’s Darfur region. This Arabic-speaking area has been victim of attacks from the CAR’s armed forces allegedly for not supporting the Bozizé administration at the polls and is the playing field for rebels and government soldiers alike from both Chad and Sudan, fighting for regime changes in both Khartoum and N’Djamena. Both the UN and the European Union maintain peacekeepers in the country.

Somalia
If an award were to be given to the most consistently failed state, Somalia would stand a good chance of winning. African Union attempts to secure peace in the country are limited to a few buildings in the capital Mogadishu and even this small foothold is under pressure. If Ethiopia’s President Meles Zenawi is telling the truth, Ethiopian troops in Somalia will be gone by the beginning of next year. About 3 400 Ugandan and Burundian troops, wearing the AU’s green beret, could be gone before that.

The Transitional Federal Government controls barely more terrain than the AU and its small support base will be all but gone once the Ethiopians leave. The only relatively stable part of the country is the breakaway region of Somaliland, where an administration in its self-proclaimed capital Hargeisa looks for international recognition and battles to keep inter-clan fighting as well as the Union of Islamic Courts and the radical al-Shabab youth group, which control much of the south, at bay. One of the only glimmers of hope for 2009 is the possibility of a full-scale UN peacekeeping mission.

Chad
Chad is, in some respects, a mirror-image of Sudan. Tensions between the predominantly Muslim north and the Christian-Animist south are compounded by a cross-border war between the two countries. President Idriss Déby clings to power by only the thinnest of threads. Rebel forces have reached the gates of the presidential palace in N’Djamena on at least two occasions in the past two years and continue to hold pockets of territory in the east.

Some of the many attempting to remove Déby from power by force include members of his own family. Had it not been for the support of a local French garrison, the palace would almost certainly have new occupants by now. An EU peacekeeping force provides protection to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Sudan and internally displaced Chadians and with humanitarian workers near the border with Darfur. The UN is scheduled to take over this task next year.

Sudan
A visit to Khartoum gives the impression of an economic boom. New glass towers and highway construction are evidence of the windfall from the oil industry. A wider look at this, Africa’s biggest country, shows this prosperity resting on a fragile foundation.

Peace in Darfur appears as elusive as ever, although to Khartoum’s credit, the region has benefited from some federally funded infrastructure projects. Whether President Omar al-Bashir gives the UN-AU hybrid mission to Darfur a free hand to build and keep peace has yet to be seen; much hinges on how the UN Security Council decides to deal with an AU request to scrap the International Criminal Court’s pursuit of the Sudanese leader.

Then there’s the north-south divide. The failure by Khartoum and Juba to agree on a boundary through the heart of Sudan’s oil producing region puts at risk the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south. A referendum in the south on the question of sovereignty, scheduled for 2011, has little chance of being peaceful if the spoils of oil aren’t sorted out beforehand. UN peacekeepers remain in Khartoum and in the south in an attempt to ensure that the agreement is respected.

Eritrea
One of the reasons Ethiopian troops are pulling out of Somalia is to reinforce the still undefined border with its northern neighbour Eritrea. Since independence in 1993 President Isaias Afewerki has involved his country in numerous regional disputes, not just directly with Ethiopia, but usually with Ethiopia as a factor. Afewerki kicked out the UN peacekeeping mission earlier this year, claiming it was allowing Ethiopians to occupy Eritrean territory.

The Eritrean government has been accused of supporting the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia as a means of fighting Addis Ababa’s troops by proxy. In June Eritrean troops opened fire on their Djiboutian counterparts across the border, drawing the wrath of the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Eritrea remains the only country in Africa with no independent media outlets.

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