Violence continues to plague Africa, brutalizing, killing and displacing large numbers of people and creating a permanent state of crisis and anarchy in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Much of the violence stems from civil strife. Southern Sudan, for example, is scheduled to vote on independence from the north in April. Experts worry that the election could reignite violence in this oil-rich nation. Some complain there will not be enough time to organize a legitimate vote. Others warn that unrest could break out if the process does not go ahead. Much of the oil is in the south, but pipelines run through the north. In a divided country, one side could disrupt the economy of the other by shutting off oil production (the south) or closing the pipeline (the north). Although both sides have much to gain by working together, problems in Africa are seldom resolved by consensus.
Sudan is also ground zero for one of the most brutal wars in recent history: the government’s offensive against rebels in Darfur Province. The conflict, which includes charges of genocide against the Janjaweed, a government-aligned militia, began in 2003. Although peace treaties have been signed, fighting continues. Amnesty International estimates that more than 200,000 have been killed in the war, and 2.6 million displaced in Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) since fighting and refugees routinely spill into neighboring countries.
Violence doesn’t respect borders. In December, Chad’s army entered the northwestern part of the neighboring CAR to attack the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), a rebel group that had captured the CAR town of Birao, which had been vacated by United Nations’ peacekeepers 10 days earlier. CAR forces beat a retreat upon being attacked. The CPJP withdrew after Chad moved tanks into the area.
CAR has been pursuing peace with rebel groups but hasn’t been able to get CPJP to sign an accord. The unrest calls into question the scheduled departure of U.N. peacekeepers from Chad and CAR this month. CAR scheduled elections for Jan. 23, but there may not be enough stability to ensure a legitimate outcome.
Ivory Coast ended the year with a crisis over disputed presidential elections. At press time, security forces were on alert and the opposition was threatening war if its candidate, Alassane Ouattara, was not named the winner. Ouattara was declared the winner on Dec. 2. The next day, however, the constitutional council announced that incumbent Laurent Gbagbo had won. The council, led by Gbagbo loyalists, was accused of invalidating results from the north where Ouattara had a strong showing.
Piracy in Somalia is attracting less attention than a year ago, mostly because multinational naval operations have disrupted attacks off the Horn of Africa. But the mission is far from accomplished. It may be that pirates have shifted their operations, or that the piracy season is just gearing up in that area.
The Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab insurgent group continues to operate in Somalia, while garnering headlines with a July terrorist attack in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 74. Al Shabab perpetrated its first “naval operation” on Nov. 6, using a merchant ship it seized to attack an African Union military mission aboard a Somali supply vessel. A Spanish corvette, operating as part of the European Union Force, repelled the attack.
Elsewhere, trouble spots percolate unabated. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operates with relative impunity in Algeria and Northwest Africa. Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta continues to be plagued by violence. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, pillages and murders far from civilization and across borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, CAR and Sudan, kidnapping children and pressing them into service.
Meanwhile, U.S. Africa Command (Africom) continues to develop relationships with countries on the continent while maintaining a low profile. President Barack Obama nominated Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, as Africom’s next leader. Among the concerns he cites: Al Shabab’s growing operational capability in Africa and its links with Al Qaeda.
The command is looking for a base. It has been declared unwelcome in a number of countries. Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) wants Africom headquarters in Norfolk, Va., home of Joint Forces Command, which was recently recommended for closure. Unwelcome or not, Africom may be a difficult sell in Africa if it is based well away from its area of operations.