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Increasing tension in the DRC and the army’s declining role in the stabilization process in Africa

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Operational situation. Congolese rebel group called the March 23 Movement (M23) declared their readiness to “free” the whole territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo after seizure of its capital city of Kinshasa.

This was announced by the group’s representative Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama. After seizing the country’s largest Eastern city of Goma located on the border with Rwanda on November 20, the rebels declared their intention to take control of the city of Bukaka, and then advance towards the capital city.

President Joseph Kabila refuses to hold negotiations with the rebels. However, he went to Uganda to meet its President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagame whom he accuses of supporting M23.

Military operations in the region of Congolese city of Goma started immediately after UN and US imposed penalty on 38-year-old M23 leader and ex-Colonel of the Congolese Army Sultani Makengi. He is accused of murders, kidnapping and military use of children as soldiers.

Escalating violence in the DRC was the result of choosing wrong, in our opinion, tactics for settling the conflict between the tribes of Hutu and Tutsi.

According to 2008 ad-hoc report of Da Vinci AG analytical group demilitarization of units of General Nkunda and FDLR soldiers will not settle the current issues as the presence of rival tribes itself on the territory of Congo where neither is represented in the government de facto creates equal conditions for them – thus allowing settling the conflict by means of guerrilla war and ethnic cleansing. This forecast turned out to be correct since arrest of General Nkunda in 2009 on the territory of Rwanda resulted only in disintegration of CNDP and strengthening of the fraction led by Bosco Ntaganda’s (the “Terminator”) who now controls rebel armed forces. The attempt of integration of Nkunda’s soldiers into the DRC’s armed forces failed and was followed by the creation of the M23 group which de facto replaced other previous units representing Tutsi’s interests.

V.Kazarama’s statements iterate L.Nkunda’s rhetoric in 2008. At that time, he too turned from the outgivings regarding control of the province of Kivu to threats to take control of the whole territory of the DRC. Just as four years ago we still believe that such outgivings are mostly demonstration of power rather than rebels’ plans. M23 – as well as forces led by General Nkunda – is supported only by representatives of the Tutsi and cannot count on support of most of Congolese population. Especially considering the fact that the Tutsi represent minority even in Rwanda of which they hold control and Burunda.

Moreover, M23’s main unit is now located 1600 km away from Kinshasa (2706 km road distance) which makes marching towards the capital city rather difficult, especially taking into account that it means leaving the Tutsi’s compact habitation. M23 group – according to different estimates – consists of around 5500 soldiers which rules out the possibility of simultaneous movement towards Kinshasa and maintaining full control of Kivu. This, in our opinion, reduces the possibility of capital seizure and at the same time increases chances for further localization of rebels’ operations in the province of Kivu.

Therefore, according to our estimations, M23 is seeking to use the current situation to take complete control of the province of Kivu and locate its troops on the territory providing possibility of granting autonomy thereto in future. It is obvious that the conflict will be supported by relative passivity on the part of President Kabila – an ethnic Lubo who time and again actually stood for ethnic Hutu dominating in the ethnic composition.

We believe that the optimal way of settling the issue would be transferring the conflict into political mainstream, as well as forming M23 and FDLR as political forces. In this case creation of political alternative to the Congolese Rally for Democracy actively supported by Rwanda and Burundi will have strategic significance which will result in political contradictions within the ethnic Tutsi group and decreasing the external influence on the part of official Bujumbura and Kigali. Further politicization of this process will allow balancing the interests of the tribes via holding local election, change of governors and bringing representatives thereof to the cabinet. Implementation of this scenario will be facilitated by election of members of the Senate and provincial governors scheduled for June 2013.

Otherwise the relations between the tribes will remain at the phase of confrontation between the Hutu military groups and the Tutsi rebels. Such infiltration will cause not only military confrontation within Congo but also instability within the regions bordering with Rwanda and Burundi for which the conflict in the DRC means the opportunity to avoid transferring the confrontation to their own territory.

At the same time, the tactic of arresting leaders of rebel movement turns out to be inefficient as here an ethnic conflict is concerned which is actively supported from abroad and goes beyond the DRC’s geographic borders involving neighbouring countries. After Nkunda’s arrest significant decentralization among rebels took place which are now to a great extent influenced by several leaders: Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, Bosco Ntaganda and V.Kazarama. In our opinion, before Nkunda’s arrest rebel leadership was more centralized, and provided there was a sole leader Joseph Kabila could hold effective negotiations and implement a conflict regulation plan.

The issue of national defence policy as a cause of destabilization of the situation in Africa. Weakening of national armies in African countries significantly increases the risk of destabilization of the situation within the region. Regular army units traditionally constitute the basis for statehood and guarantee stability of inter-tribe relations on the continent. Development of the situation in Congo in November 2012 and in Mali in July 2012 shows that weak state support of national armed forced facilitates increasing confrontation and decentralization processes in the countries suffering from ethnic contradictions. Thus, in both mentioned countries destabilization of the situation was the response to the militants’ discontentment with the living and material conditions. Therefore, the army’s declining role in the society, as well as its social and economic importance and prestige increases the possibility of aggravating the current ethnic conflicts.

Hence, scenarios of integration of rebels in regular armies will be vain in case of maintaining the current amount of financing, supply and national military policy.

At the same time, no forces today can confront soldiers on the territory of these countries. Thus, regular troops more and more prefer to avoid confrontations. For example, 2100 government soldiers and 700 policemen came and laid down their arms in Goma upon request of the rebels.

According to our estimations, the nearest future might see similar scenarios of revitalization of ethnic confrontation – when national armed forces will find themselves unable to restrain the spread of violence – in a number of other countries on the continent.

Corruption in the regular army also facilitates material and technical support to rebels which is proven, in particular, by discharge of Major General of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Gabriel Amisi who is suspected in the creation of a network of weapon and ammunition trade to  poachers and rebels, including members of the March 23 Movement.

Under such conditions United Nations Peacekeeping Mission (MONUC) not only lose the opportunity of efficient conflict prevention but also grow extremely vulnerable in front of rebel groups. This is confirmed by Kazarama’s statement, “We warn DRC MONUC that bombed our units instead of remaining neutral – attacked must stop immediately. M23 group so far never attacked units of UN peacekeeping forces. However, this may change soon”. We believe that attacks on peacekeeping forces under M23’s direct instruction are most improbable, however, such attacks may be launched by separate rebel fractions. In our opinion, today’s situation somewhat differs from the events of 2008 as M23 members include ex-representatives of regular armed forces which qualifies them different from those acting under command of General Nkunda.

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Africa

Scientific and trade cooperation between China and Africa

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China was crumbling into misery, degradation and despair, in the middle of that 109-year period (1840-1949) known as the era of semi-wild and semi-colonial China. As early as 1840, the year of the Opium War, declared by Britain on China to bring in the drugs that the Chinese refused, China’s history had been one of rapid ruin.

The ruin was not only material, caused by the vampirism of colonial power that exploited the Middle Empire with weapons, forcing it to accept unjust treaties, burning Beijing palaces, beating and massacring the people with the British Sikh policemen, claiming huge “compensation payments” for wars waged against it. It was also spiritual ruin. None of the old values and traditions could curb that wave of destruction.

However, over the last seventy years, things have changed and the main contradiction between the pious sermons of Western democracy and the simultaneous indiscriminate exploitation of China has disappeared with the expulsion of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek). It has disappeared in all fields.

On December 6, 2019, during the 5th South Africa Science Forum (Pretoria, December 4-6, 2019), Chinese Ambassador Lin Songtian was invited to participate in the Forum parallel workshop,”China-Africa Scientific and Technological Cooperation: Impact and Prospects”, and delivered the opening speech. The major media widely and proactively reported the diplomat’s words, claiming that China’s investment in Africa was second to none.

Ambassador Lin Songtian said that the Belt & Road Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping had effectively promoted Africa’s development. China’s cooperation with Africa has always followed the principle of truthfulness and honesty, justice and mutual benefit. China has always been committed to achieving win-win cooperation and joint development with Africa. This stands in stark contrast to Western countries that pursue their own interests first and not those of equal and mutual benefit.

The United States, Japan and the EU are not involved in every large-scale infrastructure. Only China has invested and provided massive amounts of funds. Ethiopia, for example – once one of the poorest countries on the African continent – has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world after over ten years of development.

Several well-known scientists from the South African Republic participated in the Forum, maintaining that China – also a developing country – fully understands Africa’s needs and its willingness to open the door to cooperation in the field of scientific and technological innovation on an encouraging basis.

The joint scientific research conducted by China and Africa is able to strongly promote the development of the African continent. Africa has missed the first three industrial revolutions and cannot miss the fourth. China has many useful experience gained with Africa to teach.

If China can create scientific and technological companies for training African entrepreneurs, the Black Continent will certainly be able to offer valuable candidates; with the hope that Africa will also achieve scientific, technological and managerial independence.

Some scholars have also pointed out that the survey conducted by Afrobarometer has shown that because China’s aid and investment in Africa have promoted the building of infrastructure, Chinese products are high-quality and cheap, and that 63% of Africans believe that China has a positive influence on Africa. 15% of Africans have a negative attitude towards China because they know very little about it and are influenced by irresponsible news from the former colonial media criticising the People’s Republic of China.

The imperialist drug dealers, the exploitative colonialists and the pimps of the past, in new guises, complain about the lack of democracy, only because they have seen their centuries-old banquetat the expense of the Chinese people precluded.

At the same time, Africa, as China’s economic and trade partner, has brought huge mutual benefits. Africa has the 53 most important minerals on the planet and some rare strategic resources, but the rate of development and use of arable land is lower than 30%. Although China is the world’s richest country for mineral resources, its per capita share is less than half of the world’s level. Hence, together with the regular distribution of mineral resources, it is also necessary to establish greater China-Africa relations to broaden the trade channels for these resources.

Although the African market has a high rate of return, it also has a certain degree of risk, which requires foreign companies to have better conditions to withstand fluctuations in the African market.

The benefits of China’s investment in Africa are indisputable. Nevertheless, the Belt & Road Initiative has always been questioned by Western countries.

Over and above the politically correct dispute over the Asian country’s lack of democracy, the main controversy has focused opportunistically on whether China has increased its risks of debt to recipient countries and whether these projects have adequate environmental protection plans.

Some Western theories argue that China uses “debt trap diplomacy”, a means of providing a large amount of loans that beneficiaries cannot repay, so as to influence developing countries’ policies.

However, in reality, the external debt profile of the beneficiary countries is very varied. Before Africa was hit by the Covid-19 epidemic, the average debt of the ten largest beneficiary countries was 36.5% of China’s total income, close to 37.2% of the rest of Africa. Moreover, the situation in each country is different: these ten countries include high debtors such as Zambia and other countries with very low debt such as Angola, Kenya and Nigeria.

The loan initiative has always been in the hands of African countries which – when the funds and blackmail of multinational financial institutions do not meet their needs – have the right to rely on China to build the necessary infrastructure.

Therefore, to a certain extent, the high demand for loans is adapted to the development needs of African countries, which would remain blocked by the inertia of the West and its financial institutions.

At present, the method for financing the building of infrastructure is relatively simple. In general, governments obtain preferential loans from the Export-Import Bank of China or the China Development Bank, with the hiring of Chinese building contractors.

Furthermore, the Chinese government and private companies are paying increasing attention to environmental protection. For example, in April 2019 the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment published Guidelines on the promotion of works and a cooperation plan for environmental protection.

China has understood the importance of the eco-environmental issue in transforming the green economy and promoting the sustainable development goals developed by the United Nations, and has further improved and implemented a range of risk prevention policies and measures.

The Chinese government is also making greater efforts to regulate private companies’ behaviours. The number of these companies is much higher than reported by the statistics of the Ministry of Commerce and almost all of them use their own capital. If the Chinese government can provide more funding channels for private companies, it will have more say in encouraging private companies to pay attention to social responsibility.

According to the International Energy Agency’s report, in 2019 almost 70% of the world’s energy-deficient population lived in Africa and energy development is a huge driving force for economic growth. This means that the energy market will become an important area of China-Africa economic cooperation.

In a situation in which sustainable development has become a global trend, China-Africa economic cooperation shall inevitably adapt: from traditional energy extraction to alternative energy development; from large loans to the development of human capital. The focus on sustainability will not only lead to short-term contractual relations, but also to long-term partnership.

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Africa

‘Full scale’ humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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Ethiopian refugees fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, rest and cook meals near UNHCR's Hamdayet reception centre after crossing into Sudan. © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

A “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on Tuesday. 

More than 27,000 have now crossed into Sudan through crossing points in Kassala and Gedaref states, as well as a new location further south at Aderafi, where Ethiopian refugees started crossing over the weekend, according to UNHCR

The scale of the influx is the worst that part of the country has seen in over 20 years, according to the agency. 

“Women, men and children have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since 10 November, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground,” said Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson, briefing reporters in Geneva. 

“Refugees fleeing the fighting continue to arrive exhausted from the long trek to safety, with few belongings”, he added. 

According to news reports, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has indicated the military operation that was launched in response to the reported occupation of a Government military base by Tigrayan forces nearly two weeks ago, would continue, although he said it was now in its “final phase”.  

‘Needs continue to grow’ 

UN agencies, along with relief partners have ramped up assistance – delivering food rations, hot meals and clean water, as well as setting up latrines and temporary shelters. They are also supporting the Sudanese Government in its response. But the needs continue to grow.  

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also supporting other humanitarian workers in its response, providing fuel for vehicles and generators in remote locations. The UN Humanitarian Air Service, managed by WFP, has also increased flights from three times per week to daily flights for aid workers. 

Since Saturday, UNHCR has relocated 2,500 refugees from the border to Um Raquba settlement site, in eastern Sudan. There is however, a “critical need” to identify more sites so that refugees can be relocated away from the border and can access assistance and services, said Mr. Baloch. 

UNHCR has also issued an emergency fundraising appeal, through which people can help provide urgent, lifesaving assistance to refugees. Click here to make a donation

‘On standby’ in Tigray 

Meanwhile in the Tigray region of Ethiopia itself, lack of electricity, telecommunications, fuel and cash, continue to severely hamper any humanitarian response, the UNHCR spokesperson said.  

“After nearly two weeks of conflict, reports of larger numbers of internally displaced grow daily, while the lack of access to those in need, coupled with the inability to move in goods to the region, remain major impediments to providing assistance,” he said. 

UNHCR and partners are on standby to provide assistance to the displaced in Tigray, including basic items, when access and security allow. 

The conflict is also a major ongoing concern for the Eritrean refugee population of nearly 100,000 in Tigray, who are reliant on assistance from UNHCR and partners.  

“Potential for further displacement of refugees inside the country is increasingly a real possibility … The humanitarian situation as result of this crisis is growing rapidly” he warned, reiterating UNCHR’s call for peace and urge all parties to respect the safety and security for all civilians in Tigray.

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Africa

Russia to Build Naval Facility in Sudan

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Emerging from the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi a year ago, Russia will make one huge stride by establishing a naval facility in Sudan. This marks its maritime security presence in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region. Sharing a northern border with Egypt, Sudan is located on the same strategic coastline along the Red Sea.

According to the executive order, the published document says “the proposal from the government of the Russian Federation to sign an agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Sudan on creating a facility of the Navy of the Russian Federation in the territory of the Republic of Sudan be adopted.”

It also authorizes “the Defense Ministry of Russia to sign the aforementioned agreement on behalf of the Russian Federation.” The document stipulates that a maximum of four warships may stay at the naval logistics base, including “naval ships with the nuclear propulsion system on condition of observing nuclear and environmental safety norms.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved the draft agreement on establishing a naval logistics base in Sudan and gave instructions to submit the proposal to the president for signing. The draft agreement on the naval logistics facility was submitted by Russia’s Defense Ministry, approved by the Foreign Ministry, the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee of Russia and preliminary agreed with the Sudanese side.

As the draft agreement says, the Russian Navy’s logistics facility in Sudan “meets the goals of maintaining peace and stability in the region, is defensive and is not aimed against other countries.”

The signing of the document by the Russia president shows the positive results of negotiations, the possibility of constructing a naval base in the region, over the years with African countries along the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean.

During a visit by then-President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir to Moscow in November 2017, agreements were reached on Russia’s assistance in modernizing the Sudanese armed forces. Khartoum also said at the time it was interested in discussing the issue of using Red Sea bases with Moscow.

On the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Russia had a naval base in Somalia during the Soviet days. Currently, Djibouti hosts Chinese and American naval bases. China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. In order to protect its commercial sea-lanes from piracy, it has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean.

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