From the Publisher
As we go to press, the situation in South Sudan is unraveling and deteriorating fast, with former Vice President Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon challenging President Salva Kiir Mayardit in a struggle for power and resources. The situation did not just develop overnight. With the past divisions and splits within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and rival factions, all the signs of the country relapsing into conflict have been there for quite sometime. Meditation between President Kiir and his opponents should have started long before his recent dismissal of his entire cabinet, including Vice President Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon. As in many African crises, early warnings are often not heeded or taken seriously until it is too late. For years, tensions had mounted among different ethnic groups, in particular the Dinkas and Nurs. African leaders, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia must be commended for their mediation effort, belated though it may be. But anything short of a robust international presence will not be enough. The decision of the United Nations Security Council in resolution S/RES/2132 (2013, based on plans by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to increase the number of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to 12,500 military and 1,323 police, is reminiscent of the situation in Rwanda in 1994. The Security Council had also decided belatedly to augment the capacity of the United Nations Mission in Rwanda by increasing the number of troops by 5,500. But, it was unable to mobilize the troops as the situation deteriorated, resulting in the genocide that took the lives of over 800,000 Rwandese. It is hoped that other UN Peace operations – UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), AU/UN Hybrid Operations in Darfur (UNAMID), UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) – mandated to provide the additional personnel and resources will be able to spare enough troops to help in South Sudan and avoid a repeat of what happened in Rwanda without causing disruptions in those missions. Both the Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have previously condemned human rights violations by all sides in Juba, Akobo, Bor and other areas in the country and demanded that the perpetrators be held accountable. Unless the international community acts fast, the situation may degenerate into another Rwanda. With only a few days into the conflict in the country, mass graves have been discovered in Juba and rebel held areas and about 120,000 internally displaced persons. It is hoped that this time around, that the United Nations will be able to get all the additional troops to South Sudan in time before more people are killed. Perhaps, a Multinational Force, under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and led by a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as France did in Mali and recently in the Central African Republic, could be the answer. Relying on overstretched African countries alone to provide the troops would be a mistake, due to lack of resources and capacity for deployment.
The situation in the Central African Republic has recently further deteriorated. The attack on Bangui by the anti-Balaka forces on 5 December and the counter-attack by Seleka forces, including the sectarian violence and reprisals, resulted in more than 600 people dead and 40,000 internally displaced persons in Bangui. The latest incident was characterized by systematic house searches and targeted killings along religious lines. Following the deployment of a French force, OP SANGARIS, on 9 December and the transition from MICOPAX 2 to African-led International Support Mission for the Central African Republic (MISCA) on 19 December, the two forces have been embroiled in crisis whose battle lines are becoming less clear by the day. In an attempt to forcibly disarm the armed groups, some of the peacekeepers have paid the ultimate price: two French paratroopers, 6 Chadian soldiers and one Congolese. There have been exactions and gross human rights violations committed by both sides, and in the absence of nationally reconstituted and restructured security force, it is now free for all. The attacks on religious lines have resulted in the Muslims murdering Christians and Christians murdering Muslims in neighborhoods of Bangui. There are widespread reports of human rights abuses and sexual violence, looting, destruction of property, illegal arrests and detentions, illegal checkpoints, extortion, torture and summary executions. Meanwhile, the transition government, MISCA and the French force have failed to prevent a descent into chaos in urban areas, in particular Bangui, as well as in the countryside. The absence of State and national security forces coupled with a strong political framework are real challenges. The French and MISCA forces are struggling to enforce peace as they have now been drawn into fighting with the perpetrators; with the perception that some of them are either sympathetic to Seleka/Chadian forces or the Anti-Balaka militia. Unfortunately, the situation on the ground is deteriorating at a much faster pace and Bangui is vulnerable to a total breakdown in law and order. In the provinces, the situation remains volatile and unpredictable, with continued reports of violence, killings and displacement. Outside of Bangui, fighting was observed in various locations, namely, Begoa, Bossangoa, Bouar, Bozoum and Paoua. Tensions remain high and clashes occur continuously between anti-balaka and ex-Séléka combatants, other Muslim-affiliated and Christian-affiliated armed groups, and among civilians from both communities. In addition, the presence of Boko Haram elements has been reported. MISCA, which took over from MICOPAX, is struggling to set up its Force Headquarters and to organize its force to implement its mandated tasks, which includes the protection of civilians. Given the gravity of the situation, the African Union Peace and Security Council decided to increase the AU troop levels to 6000. While this may be a welcome development, it must be noted that troop enhancement without ensuring adequate capabilities risks further complicating the deployment of MISCA. Although there are plans to canton the Seleka forces, there are serious concerns that given the volatility of the situation, there is a pressing need to first address the violence at the community level. Recent attacks on MISCA peacekeepers from the Chadian contingents and separate demonstrations against Chadian contingents and French forces in Bangui also illustrate the increasing polarization of the situation and the difficulty to establish an impartial force. On 24 December, a national staff member illustrates increasing risks for United Nations personnel, but hopefully the deployment of a 250 strong guard force to protect UN personnel and installations should bring some relief and create secure environment for UN staff to implement their mandate. Meanwhile, there is no unanimity at the Security Council as to how to address the CAR crisis or at least stabilize the situation. While some strongly recommend a UN peacekeeping to take over, others oppose such a proposal for either budgetary reason or to give the AU a chance. Even for those who support the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation in the CAR, there are big questions now demanding answers. (1) Given the nebulous and precarious nature of the security and humanitarian situations, is a UN peacekeeping operation the best tool? (2) If not, how can the UN make a difference?; ( 3) Should the UN engage other partners, on the basis of their comparative strengths, to address the CAR crisis; and (4) Given the weakness of the Transitional authorities, should the international community consider bringing the CAR under a UN Trusteeship in the short term?
Shola J. Omoregie,