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Was the failure in South Sudan, and CAR, inevitable?

Was the failure in South Sudan, and CAR, inevitable?
  • PublishedJanuary 28, 2014

Was the failure in South Sudan, and CAR, inevitable? Looking at the current situations in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, Cameron Duodu asks whether Africa should continue with the current structure of democracy which is based on a European superstructure that has not worked so far in Africa, or change course.

The fire-brigades are out again – from the AU, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD; made up of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya) and, of course, the United Nations.

The fires they are trying admirably hard to put out are in Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). But those are not the only fires burning in Africa at the moment. There is also a “never-quenching” fire in the DRCongo. And Mali is still being scorched by the dying embers of the fire that tore into its national fabric in 2012 and 2013.

It sounds almost morbid to ask: where next in Africa will there be a fire outbreak? But it is a question that must be asked. For what the fire outbreaks tell us, if we are prepared to draw sensible conclusions from the evidence before our very eyes, are that the superstructure upon which many of the edifices that we call African “nations” are built, is extremely flawed.

The superstructure contains fatal fault lines that are largely visible and whose effects can be predicted with almost the same certainty as the seismologists predict the areas on the earth’s surface that are likely to experience earthquakes in the future.

Nobody dreams of describing the work of seismologists as superfluous. But where it comes to the science of predicting human behaviour, especially in Africa, everyone suddenly becomes enamoured of blinkers.

We allow sentimentality and false hopes to blind us to the reality of many situations. We paper over, for the sake of political convenience, cracks in the superstructure which, were we less unrealistic, we would be seeking expert advice to stem, in order to prevent future explosions that the cracks would cause, which would almost certainly bring the whole superstructure crashing drown.

The Garang factor
As soon as the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), John Garang, was killed in a mysterious helicopter crash on 30 July 2005 (while returning to his base in Juba, from a trip to Uganda), Africa and the UN should have smelt a rat.
Garang’s death was too “neat” to be accepted at its face value! He had led the SPLM/A in a protracted civil war against the Sudanese government based in Khartoum (the war was waged initially from 1955 to 1972 by other Southern Sudanese fighters, and later inherited by Garang in the 1980s).

Finally, Khartoum had agreed that South Sudan should become an independent state. A referendum was to be held to confirm the wishes of the Southern Sudanese people. And almost immediately, Garang gets snuffed out. The death is altogether so neat that someone or some group must have contrived it. But who? And why? The question has waited to be answered until 2014. I shall explain that later. But let us face this: Usually, the immediate question that must be asked about situations like Garang’s death is: “Qui bono” (who benefits from the event)?

Khartoum had no love for Garang, we know, despite his having acted as vice-president there during the short interim period, following the successful negotiations that were to usher in South Sudan as a fully independent state in 2011.

But questions about the substantial oil deposits in South Sudan remained to be fully settled. And Garang was a hard and stubborn man. Would a settlement more acceptable to Khartoum be easier to achieve if Garang was out of the way?

Indeed it is undeniable that Khartoum had wanted Garang out of the way for a very long time but had failed to rub him out. But why would it succeed in July 2005 where it had failed so often before?

However, if Khartoum had failed, what about the potential purchasers of the oil deposits for which lucrative exploration contracts were being secretly bought and sold in South Sudan by the day? Warlords and political “commissars” were being importuned with increasing urgency. There was talk that billions of dollars of South Sudan’s nascent revenues had already disappeared. Who paid it to whom, where?

Next, this question: Had Garang stepped on the toes of any of the companies queuing up to lick the boots of the SPLA leaders? Was someone afraid that Garang might turn out to be a Mohammad Mossadeq – the Iranian leader who was toppled in 1953 by the USA and Britain, because he nationalised Iran’s oil resources?

Iran’s oil was then under the control of the “British-Iranian Oil Company”, later renamed British Petroleum. Certainly, both Mossadeq and Garang were very educated people who knew the score about revenue from oil. To complicate matters, it was not only Khartoum or foreign oil companies that might want Garang dead. Within the SPLA itself, there were people who stood to benefit from the removal of the influential figure of Garang. The SPLA leadership was made up of a motley collection of politicians brought together mainly because of their common hatred of the authorities in Khartoum.

This Southern coalition of forces was led by members of two main ethnic groups – the Dinka and the Nuer. Garang was a Dinka, but he was a cosmopolitan Dinka with a largely pragmatic political agenda that took little cognisance of narrow ethnic interests.
Was he perhaps too “unspoilt” for the less modern-minded members of his coterie? Especially, the Dinka elements who were supposedly loyal to him but who might have been harbouring hegemonic tendencies suppressed as a sign of respect to Garang? Had Garang observed such tendencies but chosen to ignore them out of political expediency, only to have it all explode in his face, on the eve of victory?

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Catherin Samba-Panza waves after being elected interim president of CAR

Internal conflicts
The point is that all liberation movements contain cliques with hidden agendas. The most cold-blooded eruptions of conflict within them are often based on ideology. But equally devastating can be ethnic chauvinism, which is in fact sometimes camouflaged with ideological masking-tape.

For instance, not everyone in the leadership of Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA movement in Angola was in favour of capitalism. But his most trusted followers were from the Ovimbundu ethnic group. The toxic cocktail of ideology and ethnicity often causes “revolts” and “purges” within movements. Usually, serious blood-letting ensues, as happened in UNITA.

Even relatively more enlightened or “progressive” movements are not immune from such cataclysms. The treachery that enabled Amilcar Cabral of the PAIGC (African Party of Guinea and Cape Verde) to be assassinated in Conakry, Guinea, in January 1973 – even as elements in the Portuguese army were beginning to conspire to overthrow the Caetano regime in Lisbon – originated from ethnic rivalries, and were then given an ideological sheen. Manwhile, Cabral was dead.

If we go to Zimbabwe, too, we find disturbing instances of acute distrust. The commander of the ZANU army, Zanla – Josiah Tongogara – was killed in a mysterious road accident on 26 December 1979, when the ink was hardly dry on the Lancaster House Agreement, under which ZANU was to wrest power from Ian Smith and his racist “cowboy cabinet” in 1980. Was Tongogara “accidentalised” or did he die through a completely fortuitous mishap?

Mention of accidentalisation as a means of eliminating political rivals also brings to mind the case of Dunduzu Chisiza of Malawi, who was killed in a mysterious car crash in September 1962, again just over a year before Malawi was to gain its independence.
Was the hidden hand of Dr Kamuzu Banda (who regarded Chisiza as something of a competitor for international attention) to be found behind his “accident”?

Such deaths or upheavals within liberation movements are necessarily a precursor of instability to come: Think of what happened to Ahmed Ben Bella only three years after Algeria’s independence; of the murders of the Kenya politicians, Pio Gama Pinto in 1965 and Tom Mboya in 1969. Ethnic differences? Personal vendettas? Putative ideological schism? Take your pick. But they all presaged trouble – sometimes, deep trouble. Yet few were worried about such potential troubles at the time.

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South Sudan president Salva Kiir

A Dinka movement?
But back to the SPLA case. The immediate beneficiary from Garang’s death in 2005 was his deputy, Salva Kiir – another Dinka. A Dinka might not be expected to conspire to kill a Dinka, right? But that was only one problem solved for the SPLA. What about the succession painting the SPLA as a Dinka-dominated movement?

Indeed, those with long memories remembered, on the accession to power of Kiir, that Garang himself had faced a revolt by non-Dinkas within the SPLA before – in 1991. Who had led the anti-Garang and anti-Dinka group that had sought to depose Garang in 1991? Someone called Riek Machar.

Surprise, surprise – it is the same fellow whose challenge to Salva Kiir has now plunged South Sudan into the current crisis in which, at the time of writing, at least 1,000 people have been killed and over 200,000 forced to flee their homes.

And guess what – in the current hostilities, Uganda has sent troops to help Kiir defeat the forces loyal to Riek Machar. Shouldn’t Uganda be at least worried that people might “misconstrue” the hasty military support it has given to Kiir, the man who succeeded Garang, after Garang died in a Ugandan helicopter, as a move that could arouse suspicion in South Sudan?

Does Uganda accept the current dispute as an internal SPLA matter or not? Furthermore, having supported Kiir, can Uganda be expected to play an objective role in the IGAD negotiations aimed at a ceasefire and the eventual reconciling of Kiir and Machar? If the AU and the UN do not find answers to such sensitive questions but go on playing the role of a fire brigade, they may be storing trouble for the future. Certainly, everything must be done to halt the terrible massacres that have been going on since Machar started his current revolt. But the killings suggest that Machar might have plotted against Kiir a long time ago and that the fuse was lit immediately Kiir foolishly attempted to prevent Machar from standing against him, in the presidential election which would have been held in a few months’ time.

How did Kiir expect the Southern Sudanese populace to believe that Machar wanted to topple him in a “coup”, when Machar had announced publicly that he wanted to contest against him in the next presidential election?

If a president sacks – and detains – 11 members of his cabinet (as Kiir did), then is it he who has carried out a “coup” or those he has sacked? Can he convince the country that he is a democrat, if he closes the door to elections in which those who disapprove of his government could legitimately throw him out?

But it would be naïve to put too much weight on the undemocratic way in which Kiir acted. The scale of the subsequent bloodshed suggests, as noted earlier, that since the 1991 revolt, the Southern Sudan communities have become irreparably splintered.

In other words, dormant ethnic hatred must have resurfaced, especially when talk began to be focused, within the ruling circles – as it was bound to do – on who should get what from the country’s potentially lucrative oil industry. On whose land is the oil? it is being asked. And more crucially, who should decide what is to be done with the revenue from the oil?

These are issues that rear their heads whenever poor people suddenly become aware that their lands are teeming with rich resources. The lifestyle of a country’s leadership can, of course, turn consideration of these issues from legitimate, rational discussion into increasingly emotional and personalised in-fighting.

Even where there is a relatively homogeneous community, the sharing of oil resources can create an incendiary atmosphere. How much more in a country like South Sudan, where for decades, the Khartoum government had deliberately fostered a divide-and-rule policy, to make it easier to subvert and defeat the SPLA? A tragedy was waiting to happen. And alas, now – it has.

And it could easily degenerate into the sort of near-terminal, unceasing instability that has been plaguing DRCongo for many decades now.

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A woman pays her respects at the grave of the late souther Sudanese leader John Garang

The crux of the matter
All that I have written so far may seem like speculative fluff to those readers who do not follow African affairs closely. But if they have stayed with me up to now, then it is only fair that I should give them the pay dirt, and I am going to do so right now. Remember I have been saying that many African nations were built on a flawed superstructure? Well, which was the European country that engaged in creating the most “nations” in Africa? It is France.

Since 1960, France alone has created at least twenty new nations in Africa. It gave each of them a constitution based on the European idea of “democracy”, namely, that the larger the number of people who voted for a party or other grouping, the greater the amount of power that entity should command over the country’s politics, and its power over how the resources of the nation were to be shared for projects that brought modern amenities and other “development”.

Having presided over this state of affairs, which more often than not, generates intense discord, the French have now admitted that they might have been wrong all along!

The Reuters report about what the French representative said is so far-reaching that it needs to be quoted verbatim here:

“The level of hatred in the Central African Republic between Muslims and Christians has been underestimated and is creating a ‘nearly impossible’ situation for African Union and French forces to combat, France’s UN envoy said. Speaking at a UN event about early warning signs for mass atrocities, [the French representative] Gerard Araud suggested that the United Nations consider turning to psychologists or ethnologists to help understand and combat the deadly resentment, because religious leaders’ calls for calm were being ignored.

“Waves of massacres and reprisals by Muslim and Christian militias have killed hundreds, if not thousands, in the Central African Republic since rebels seized power in March 2012 …France last year hurriedly deployed roughly 1,600 troops to help a largely ineffective force of African peacekeepers, but they are too thinly spread to prevent tit-for-tat attacks. Araud suggested the job was proving to be much more difficult than Paris had anticipated.

“ ‘In Central African Republic I think we had maybe underestimated the hatred and the resentment between the communities,’ Araud told the event, which was organised to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

“ ‘It’s nearly an impossible situation for the soldiers, the African and the French soldiers,’ he said. ‘We have to think in terms of tactics, what to do, in very practical terms to be effective to prevent people from killing each other when they desperately want to kill each other.’ ”

French dilemma
The question is: when did the French begin to realise that it was dangerous to impose a simplistic one-person-one vote democracy on communities that had the potential of hating each other, to the point of murdering one another? What about the army of CAR? How were its top personnel selected?

Is it only in CAR that such hatred exists? What caused the hatred in the first place? Is the situation by any chance analogous to that in Mali, or Côte d’Ivoire?

It is not only the French who have blundered in this fashion and loaded tonnes of explosive material beneath the superstructures of the “nations” they have created in Africa. It was foolish on their part, of course, to assume in the first place that the simplistic numbers game that had worked in Europe only at the point of a gun, would also work in Africa. But there we have it.

Let me quickly add that it is not only the French who have committed this murderous blunder that threatens the lives of millions of African people. The British have also done it. It took Nigeria only seven years after its independence in 1960 to realise that the numbers game did not quite work.

The Biafran secession that brought a civil war to the country between 1967 and 1970, during which at least a million people died, with untold suffering being inflicted on sections of the population, especially women and children, was the biggest indication that the British solution did not work either.

Mind you, that happened in a country that had been given a federal constitution to try and minimise the iniquities that the winner-takes-all democratic system necessarily entailed.

Even though the Biafran secession was defeated – at great cost – Nigeria is still not quite settled. Apart from Boko Haram – which is a religious insurrection – there are indications that the oil-producing areas do not consider the Federal Government to be a trustworthy custodian of the nation’s revenue from oil.

Another ex-British colony, Sierra Leone, is just recovering from the unenviable status of being classified as a failed state. And in nearby ex-British Ghana, too, corruption and incompetence at all levels of officialdom are alienating great swathes of the population, especially the unemployed, semi-educated youths.

Yet it is only Nigeria that is so far talking about holding a national conference to take a second look at the unsafe superstructure upon which its nation’s future has been erected. Unless all other African countries begin to take a hard look at their constitutional and political arrangements in the 21st century; unless they look on the 21st century as the time to begin to talk to one another – directly and candidly – about how to live peacefully together, under an equitable economic system, the 21st century will be their century of intense agony.

It won’t be much use to Africa to be receiving belated apologies from either the French or the British. They came to Africa, used Africa for what they wanted, and went back when their appetite was sated.

It is for Africans now to acknowledge that history has short-changed them, and say to one another, “Hey, but they are gone now. What can we do about the problems they left us – ourselves?” That way lies true maturity.

Written By
New African

1 Commentaire

  • The article really helps non politicians like us to understand African problems and where they go wrong

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