Africa Notes: The Sudanese War

The news is bad. Sudan and South Sudan are, reportedly, now “locked in a logic of war” (BBC). The key disputes center on the still-disputed border regions where oil fields are present. (Map available here.)

Khartoum, unfortunately, seem to be moving along the path towards further conflict. Reports CapitalFm:

Omar al Bashir’s government says that will conscript all its citizens to fight in an all-out-war with South Sudan following an escalating oil conflict.
Sudan’s Ambassador to Kenya Kamal Ismail Saeed said on Tuesday Khartoum would sustain the war ‘at all costs’ until Juba withdraws its troops from a disputed oil field in Heglig.

AlJazeera has posted this report on how the Sudanese Parliament is now calling South Sudan the “enemy”.
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South Sudan, for its part, claims that Sudan is violating the laws of war, using “indiscriminate bombing” in its attack on Heglig.

Overall, I get the sense that Sudan may be beginning to win the land war, but South Sudan may be earning broader support from its African neighbors and the international community.

Regional Dimension
There is, of course, an important regional dimension to this conflict. Two regional powers, Egypt and Kenya, have made bids to help resolve the feud diplomatically.

Thurston reports on Egypt’s roles here. As he notes, “It is not like Egypt has resolved all of its own internal uncertainties, so the fact that Egypt is making the Sudans such a high priority right now says that Egypt is quite concerned.” My view is that Egypt’s current situation also means that it is unlikely going to have the kind of impact that is needed to resolve the situation.

With the case of Kenya, objectivity may be the big obstacle to their playing a role as peace broker. Kenya has been a big winner with South Sudan’s independence. It is likely, for instance, that oil will soon flow from South Sudan to its port of Lamu (Reuters). But the recent conflict threatens both those economic interests and potentially Kenya’s broader influence in the region. As Thurston mentions at Sahel Blog, concerns about future refugees and associated humanitarian challenges are also relevant here.

Ethiopia… well, there really isn’t much news about Ethiopia’s government playing a role in any of this, though they are the host for the African Union’s efforts. Indeed, Ethiopia and Sudan seem to have their own border dispute issues (Sudan Tribune).

Efforts by the African Union, including talks held since in July in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, have also failed thus far. As one security analyst notes: “Thabo Mbeki [former South African president who is leading the mediation] and his panel are losing their edge” (The Star).

The International Community
I am still not very clear on what roles China is currently playing in all of this. Ever since secession was clearly going to happen, China has actively courted South Sudan’s leaders. South Sudan’s President Kiir is due to make a state visit there within the next few weeks (Reuters).

As for the United Nations, no clear policy for dealing with the situation has emerged yet. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is making the basic pleas for peace. And the Security Council is hearing reports on the issue. One option on the table is sanctions (Reuters).

But we are all waiting.

Mubarak is gone, and the African Union is MIA

This coming Monday there will be a Foundation Laying Ceremony for the African Union’s new “Peace and Security” Building at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This buidling houses the AU’s efforts to support peace, security, and stability across the Continent. One can only hope that this structural foundation will be more than just material.  The Continent needs ideas, leadership, and resolve. So far, such things have only appeared sporadically in the rhetoric of the institution’s leaders. Nowhere have innovative ideas and leadership been more missing than during the recent string of political crises across Africa.

The events culminating in the departure of Tunisia’s and Egypt’s Presidents have received the most attention from the international media. What is striking is that at the same time these events began to unfold, 25 African leaders were meeting in Ethiopia for their regular AU Summit.  Almost nothing was said about Tunisia and Egypt. When leaders finally said something, it came at the end of the summit and was not part of the formal agenda. Perhaps ironic was what they did instead. The dictator of Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang, was chosen as the AU’s leader for the year. Fortunately, this position is largely ceremonial and provides Obiang with little power. Unfortunately, it is symbolic.  Despite all of the efforts that some have made to make the AU a progressive institution, supportive of good governance and capable of efficiently reacting to the needs of its members, the AU is still in many respects a club for African leaders.  The choice of Obiang is not the only controversial choice AU leaders have made in recent months. Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe was called on by the African Union to help find a “democratic solution” in Cote d’Ivoire.

To be fair, the African Union has not remained completely silent on Egypt. As noted above, some comments were made outside the formal agenda regarding events in Egypt and a minor declaration regarding Tunisia became part of the final report. Also the African Union’s record on dealing with “unconstitutional regime changes” includes some positive actions in Togo and Comoros, as Adekeye Adebajo at the University of Cape Town has noted.

Additionally, one could argue that the political events in Tunisia and Egypt are primarily a phenomenon that belongs to the Middle East, that their relevance to African is peripheral. However, this would be wrong for several reasons. First, it would miss historical role that countries such as Libya and Egypt have played in supporting the AU and framing its agenda. Second, it would miss the ways in which the demonstration effects of Tunisia have reverberated in other parts of the continent. Most of the effects have indeed been felt in North Africa.  Northern Sudan has seen protests, and just on the heels of the historic election for secession by South Sudan. Algeria, reportedly, is also feeling the impacts. However, other parts of Africa may be getting picked up in the “contagion”.  Gabon has experienced unrest as well with an opposition leader attempting to claim the presidency, inspired by events in Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire. Some are trying to find ties between Tunisia’s events and recent events in Zimbabwe.

Many countries in Africa seem to be going through an important period of political transition. It would be great if their Continental body could begin to play an active role in managing these transitions, both for these countries and for the African Union.

Darfur and the ICC

A major debate has been brewing over whether the ICC’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir was a “good idea”. In my view, our answer to this question depends on our criteria for a “good idea”. I think a common perception is that this is a justice versus order issue. Justice may be achieved by the ICC’s actions, but at the cost of more lives and greater political chaos in the Sudan. However, a number of commentators have (rightfully) muddied that easy equation. A roundtable discussion at The New Republic is also trying to answer these questions while making suggestions for what, exactly Obama should do.

Criteria One: Good Idea = Contributes to End of the Humanitarian Disaster in Darfur

Probably the most popular criteria is based on the assumption that our primary goal should be to end the current humanitarian disaster in Darfur, whether or not we call it a genocide (I still like Scott Strauss’ Foreign Affairs article on this point).

Julian Ku at Opinion Juris makes the clear academic argument that international criminal tribunals can lead to greater humanitarian atrocities (but not that this is a necessary outcome). Michael Kleinman offers a similar view from the perspective of someone who has worked in the field of humanitarian relief, arguing about the already clear dire humanitarian consequences of the ICC’s decisions.

Chris Blattman,  is among those who seriously doubt that the ICC’s actions can have positive consequences. He has a great link to Wronging Rights’ post on the subject.

However, one could also make the argument that the short-term costs are outweighed by the long-term benefits of action, as Kevin Heller seems to in a recent post. After all, someone has to do something about the roots of the crisis and no other actions (yet) seem to aim for that.

Criteria Two: Good Idea = Contributes to the Development of International Human Rights

Human Rights Watch clearly supports the ICC’s decision. In a separate Q&A section, they highlight the cases that arrest warrants against Liberian leader Charles Taylor and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic actually helped the peace processes in those countries as well. One can wonder whether these are useful cases as a number of commentators have mentioned that, for instance, the international community only went after Milosevic once the conflict had been settled.

Alex de Waal also makes a great case for how the ICC actions may actually undermine the cause of human rights in Africa. He wonders whether African countries will follow Libya’s calls to de-ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC.  I’m not convinced this is really going to happen on a large scale, but it is true that the ICC’s actions may make some African states that have not joined more wary about joining (there are only 30 African states that have ratified at this point, I believe).

Criteria Three: Good Idea = Contributes to Justice (International and/or Local)

As some of the commentators already mentioned above have argued, the question of how to achieve justice is far from clear. Alex de Waal mentions Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s New York Times call for African states to support the ICC and its role in providing justice.  However, Alex notes that South Africa demonstrated that retributive justice is not the only form of justice.  Additionally, there is the concern that ICC’s actions have undermined the ability of local judicial (and political–there is to be an election later this year) institutions to deal with the problem.

Criteria Four: Good Idea = This is What International Law Tells Us to Do

This is essentially the case that Eric Reeves makes when he argues that Obama should support the ICC’s actions (Elizabeth Rubin makes a similar point.)

Some question issues of ICC jurisdiction and whether the UN Security Council’s referral to the ICC undermines the principle of complementarity (the idea that the ICC should be a court of last resort and that local judicial institutions should be used first).

Relevant to these points is a consideration of the proper role of the ICC. Should we think of ICC prosecutors as we think of criminal prosecutors in domestic legal systems?  A common theme in American legal textbooks is that the role of the prosecutor is “to seek justice”. This is not too different from the primary emphasis described in the Rome Statue: Prosecutors should investigate crimes.  Does the ICC really have any responsibility to consider the trade-offs between justice and peace/order?  Justice Goldstone has argued that the Prosecutor’s duites are “exernal to the political process of negotiations to end armed conflict”, but there is an “order” dimension to Moreno-Ocampo’s assertion that the Prosecutor’s office should also contribute to the prevention of crimes (see Winfield‘s post on this). But has the international community provided the ICC with all of the necessary tools to consider such trade-offs?

Further Thoughts on What To Do About Leaders We Do Not Like

All of this reminds me of arguments that have been made a number of times about what should be done about problematic political leaders, and especially dictators.  Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, has even piped in on such debates with his idea of a “retired dictator program”.  His idea is more serious than it might at first sound.  Kieth Hartley at York University, made the argument in 2005 that it would have been cheaper to pay Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq. And, while optimistic about the role of an ICC, Hans Koechler has argued in the past that “the promise of a comfortable pension or discreet exile is sometimes the most expedient way to dislodge despots from power” (cited by Jeremy Bransten).

More generally–and not necessarily directed at “bad” leaders–Mo Ibrahim has wondered whether something should be done to make retirement more attractive to African leaders. This thinking contributed to his prize for African leaders who rule fairly and resign to elected successors.

Final Thoughts

In many respects, the debate about whether or not the ICC should have issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al Bashir is rapidly losing relevancy.  We now need to turn to thinking about what to do about the current situation. Clearly there have been short-term negative consequences for the humanitarian situation in Darfur.  What can we do to make the medium- and long-term situation improve?