June 7, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 183

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: Hunger crises in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria; Trump’s move to privatize air traffic control. People: Bill and Nate Produced: June 5th, 2017.

Episode 183 (50 min):
AFD 183


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Selected reading materials on the humanitarian crises

Washington Post: UN aid chief in Yemen warns of cholera rise without more aid
Washington Post: UN: 3,000 to 5,000 suspected new Yemen cholera cases daily
Washington Post: UN food agency warns South Sudan conflict is fueling famine
Washington Post: The untold story of how Africa’s poor are rescuing people from famine
Washington Post: UN food agency warns South Sudan conflict is fueling famine
Washington Post: Somalis are fleeing famine — only to find death in a place of refuge

Burundi: Major military coup attempt in progress

Update May 15, 2015: The coup has failed.

A military coup attempt is in progress after weeks of demonstrations against the president’s unconstitutional re-election bid for a third term and against his violent security forces or youth paramilitaries. BBC Africa covered the blow-by-blow events of the day on its live feed.

President Pierre Nkurunziza was in Tanzania for a regional leaders meeting when General Godefroid Niyombare — a former intelligence chief fired in February for advising the president against seeking a third term — took to the airwaves to announce he was closing the airport and borders to keep the president from returning and would be taking power. Protesters began leaving the streets, after initial celebrations alongside the supportive troops, on the orders of pro-coup forces who began arriving in tanks and armored vehicles. Police fell back.

President Nkurunziza’s team said its loyal security forces remained in control of key government and broadcast functions as well as the presidential palace. They dubbed the coup attempt a failure:

“It is with regret that we have learned that a group of soldiers rebelled this morning and made a fake declaration about a coup. The Presidency of the Republic wants the public opinion both in Burundi and abroad to know that this coup attempt has been stopped and that the people who read that statement on private local radio are being sought by the defence and security forces so that they are brought to justice. The Presidency of the Republic is asking the people of Burundi as well as foreigners to keep calm. Everything is being done to maintain security across the national territory.”

However, I fear we might be looking at a South Sudan situation in Burundi. The coup attempt may only partially succeed but it will likely not completely fail either (given the large presence of participating tanks and troops already). The military is multi-ethnic and comprises multiple factions from the country’s civil war. Some of them will back the president, some will back the coup, and some will back neither. It will also likely be a more violent split than in Lesotho last summer. And it will certainly not be as clean a break as the Burkina Faso military coup last October, which also involved an unconstitutional re-election bid.

As another complication, Nkurunziza had indeed been elected democratically but was now attempting to violate the constitution and has been widely accused of deploying death squads against his political enemies. Thus the coup is (if successful) removing a democratic leader but one who had become about as undemocratic as possible over the course of his tenure.

Flag of Burundi

Flag of Burundi

Violent clashes in Burundi as the president clings to power

After Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his long-anticipated plans to seek a third term as president in violation of the post-civil war constitution’s term limits, deadly protests erupted this weekend. They have escalated rapidly after initial fatalities:

Gunfire was heard and streets were barricaded in parts of the capital, Bujumbura, in the third day of protests, witnesses told the BBC. Police are blocking about students in the second city, Gitega, from joining the demonstrations, residents said.

The protests are the biggest in Burundi since the civil war ended in 2005. The army and police have been deployed to quell the protests, which have been described by government officials as an insurrection.
BBC Burundi analyst Prime Ndikumagenge says the phone lines of private radio stations have been cut, a decision apparently taken by the authorities to prevent news of protests from spreading.

This may be the contagion some observers speculated might unfold after the uprising in Burkina Faso last October, when President Blaise Compaoré tried to extend his presidency in a similar fashion.

Flag of Burundi

Flag of Burundi

Burundi’s Army has been accused repeatedly of conducting extrajudicial mass executions of “rebels” and political opponents. Already, thousands of people have fled political persecution to neighboring countries in just a matter of months. Burundi also has a very low median age — half the population is younger than 17, according to the CIA World Factbook — and the President has essentially created child death squads by arming teenage members of his political party’s “youth wing.”

Burundi, which has the same colonially-fostered Hutu/Tutsi split as neighboring Rwanda, experienced a 12-year civil war beginning shortly before the Rwandan Genocide and continuing until 2005, despite repeated attempts to share power. The presidents of both countries were killed in a surface-to-air missile strike on their plane in 1994, in the incident which was widely seen as the trigger signal to initiate the genocide in Rwanda. However, the war in Burundi was already in progress at that point. Hundreds of thousands died before the 2005 peace deal.

It is interesting, however, to note that so far the armed forces have continued to respond to orders from President Nkurunziza. He is Hutu, and the armed forces are a mix of ex-rebel Hutus and the Tutsi regular troops from before the peace deal. In South Sudan, a merger of various ex-rebels from competing ethnic groups, which had been secured around the same time as the Burundi deal, basically broke down completely in December 2013 as certain factions obeyed the president and others the former vice-president, who had been sacked.

China will send its first armed peacekeepers to South Sudan

Almost exactly a year after I published an op-ed calling on China to break tradition and contribute combat-ready peacekeeping infantry — something they’ve never done before — to the UN mission in South Sudan, they have announced they will be doing just that.

700 troops will be arriving in January and March — along with drones, armored vehicles, mortars, anti-tank weapons, light arms, and body armor. China’s military and government stressed that the troops will only be armed to protect themselves from attack. (Although this seems like it might be overkill, at least two UN peacekeepers were killed in December 2013 while trying to defend a UN military base and refugee haven from being overrun by two thousand rebel child soldiers, who began massacring civilians once inside the base.)

It is China’s first UN peacekeeping mission that doesn’t just involve sending medics, engineers, guards, and other non-combat troops (of which they have sent thousands to UN-monitored conflicts all over the world).

China is very likely the only country with relatively good ties to just about everyone in South Sudan’s crisis, due to its role as the primary buyer and developer of South Sudanese oil. Although they lean somewhat toward supporting the incumbent government, they also need the rebels to cooperate (to restore the oil production levels) and the rebels need China (to buy the oil from their areas and give them revenue). This gives China an unusual opportunity to be the force in the middle. But it is also a sign that China is stepping up its role and responsibilities in world affairs to a level proportionate with its size and power.


South Sudan: Gathering the victims

south-sudan-map-ciaThe fighting in South Sudan is somewhat reduced, in large part because of a massive Ugandan Army operation on behalf of the South Sudan government, but it’s still going on.

Meanwhile, human rights workers are already undertaking the awful task of trying to assemble and count the bodies from hundreds of different massacres in December. In those incidents, entire groups of civilians — ranging in size from a dozen to well over a hundred — were cut down by rampaging soldiers from the divided army after it split suddenly along ethnic lines at the end of last year. In the past 3 weeks alone, one man and a few helpers have recovered 2,000 bodies.

Does the US still have leverage in South Sudan?

South Sudan: This is the house that Jack built. If the house is a new state in sub-Saharan Africa and Jack is the United States.

The New York Times identifies one of the more pressing problems in the current crisis:

The problem, analysts say, is that the United States does not have the influence it had before 2011. Then, the South Sudanese needed American aid and support for a referendum. Now they have independence and more than $1 billion a year in oil revenue that used to go to the north.

“Very quickly after independence, we saw increasingly authoritarian instincts, not just on the part of Salva Kiir, but all the members of the South Sudanese political elite,” said Cameron Hudson, a former State Department official who is now the policy director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

This time around, powerful neighbors like Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya are taking a lead role in trying to broker peace.

south-sudan-map-ciaOn the one hand, I think that reinforces the need for oil purchase partner China to get involved — particularly as I don’t trust those regional powers to be fair brokers.

On the other hand, it’s also a cautionary tale for the United States in future. That’s a point explored in more depth in the key read from The Guardian, How Hollywood cloaked South Sudan in celebrity and fell for the ‘big lie’.

South Sudan: The world should be watching

south-sudan-flagSouth Sudan is Africa’s newest country and is a significant oil-producer (mostly selling to China) and fledgling democracy. At the beginning of the week we got scattered reports that there had been an attempted coup d’état by the former Vice President of South Sudan and troops loyal to him.

He is of a different ethnic group than the President, a U.S. ally. While the takeover failed in the capital, it seems the rebelling units quickly moved outside the city. The ex-VP now says his troops have control of the oil fields.

The United Nations mission on the ground — continuing to oversee the transition process from 2005 to independence in 2011 and then to present — soon reported 500 deaths in the clashes between loyalists and renegade troops in the capital. These figures have been rising quickly as casualties mount in the countryside and other towns.

Within a couple days, 20,000 civilians had crowded onto UN peacekeeping bases, seeking refuge from the fighting within the Army. That number is now up to 35,000 according to the UN. There are fewer than 7,000 UN peacekeeping troops in the country, and two soldiers from India have already been reported dead as approximately 2,000 child soldiers aligned with the renegades overran one of the bases and began massacring civilians of a the President’s (majority) ethnic group.

Troops from neighboring Uganda and Kenya have already arrived to “intervene” in the crisis as “stabilize” the government. It is fairly standard practice for the African Union — both countries are key members in AU military operations — to officially back the incumbent governments during leadership struggles and rebellions, mostly out of self-interest but also to promote legitimacy/sovereignty of existing governments. But it’s also common for East African nations to interfere military in each other’s conflicts, sometimes on the side of rebels.

The United States has hundreds of staff in the country, most of which have been evacuated from non-rebel-held areas. But BBC Africa and the New York Times reported earlier today that a U.S. emergency evacuation military mission of three planes to South Sudan was fired upon while en route from Uganda.

It turned back without completing an evacuation and landed safely in Uganda, but there were injuries on board to four U.S. service personnel. They are all in stable condition now. The Ugandan Army (a U.S. military ally in the region) said that, based on the location of the attack, that renegade troops siding with the attempted coup initiated it. The U.S. military has officially backed this hypothesis. It’s unclear when the U.S. will be able to rescue its people on the ground in the rebel zone.

President Obama announced that he has already put 45 troops on the ground — potentially from existing Ugandan or Kenyan deployments or the offshore anti-piracy patrol deployments — to protect U.S. civilians stationed in the country as part of the transition to democracy. He also announced that he would end U.S. and Western support for South Sudan for the first time, if the government falls to the rebels through force.

So to summarize: We’ve got U.S. troops on the ground now in a significant oil producing nation with close ties to China (I argued earlier this week that they should step up and intervene), the oil seems to have fallen to rebel control, UN peacekeepers have already been killed trying to protect some of the 35,000 civilian refugees hiding on their bases, and we’ve now had U.S. casualties. Oh and it’s a democracy the U.S. carefully guided into existence in just the last decade. This is about to be a way bigger global concern — unfortunately — than the nearby Central African Republic chaos.