A recent government-controlled national dialogue, held at the end of September 2019 has done little to prevent the Anglophone crisis from deepening. Separatists, whose leaders are mostly based outside the country or in prison in Yaoundé, were not invited to the consultations, and viewed them as a government ploy to deflect international criticism. Even those Anglophones who seek a federalist solution rather than their own state were given little room to present their views. The officials responsible did not provide the dialogue participants the chance to discuss recommendations that were transmitted to the president. These included the idea of special status for the South West and North West under the decentralisation provisions of the 1996 constitution, but overall offered little new. If anything, the national dialogue strengthened the separatists’ resolve to pursue their rebellion and empowered hardliners on both sides.
The AU has so far taken only limited steps to help resolve the worsening conflict. Among the most recent was a tripartite mission to Cameroon in November 2019 along with the Commonwealth and the International Organisation of la Francophonie aimed at reducing violence and, in the mission’s own words, “increasing national cohesion”. The African Commission of Human and People’s Rights has condemned abuses committed during the crisis. But the AU PSC, the body charged with maintaining continental peace and security, has declined to add the Anglophone crisis to its agenda, largely due to lobbying from Yaoundé. If Cameroon joins the PSC in April 2020, as seems likely, it will be even harder for the council to discuss the conflict.
It is critical for the government to build on its national dialogue and enter mediated talks with Anglophone leaders of all stripes, which would likely mean shuttle diplomacy by a third party. Confidence-building measures on both sides are also required: the government should release a number of detainees and rebels should signal their willingness to accept a ceasefire. The government also should talk directly to all dissenting Anglophones in order to draw them away from the armed struggle. As a first step, it should allow an Anglophone forum, the Anglophone General Conference, to meet. The conference would bring together a wide range of Anglophones and help them forge a united position.
The PSC should urgently consider tabling Cameroon as part of a strategy of public pressure aimed at pushing both sides to compromise and enter negotiations. Optimally, it would ask Faki to appoint a special envoy for Cameroon, who would seek to liaise between the government and rebels. The AU should also renew its offer to mediate and help mobilise other key actors, such as the UN and the Catholic Church, to press both sides to agree to talks. AU leaders and potentially influential current and former African heads of state could be instrumental in moving President Paul Biya to agree to an inclusive dialogue.
Cameroon’s February municipal and legislative elections risk fuelling further violence, both in the Anglophone regions and elsewhere. Most Anglophones appear uninterested in the contests. In any case, many would struggle to vote: hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and there are no provisions for their participation; at the same time, separatists have kidnapped candidates, attacked election offices and vowed to obstruct the polls. The government has assured Anglophones they will be able to cast ballots, deployed additional troops and clustered polling centres to better secure them. But voters will still be unable to travel safely on election day. The main opposition leader, Maurice Kamto, a Francophone, has called for voters not to take part, fearing that holding the ballot without Anglophone participation would only strengthen the separatists’ claim to their own state. The AU should also urge the government to engage with Kamto and other political party and civil society leaders to address rising ethnic tensions, especially between the Bulu, President Biya’s community, and the Bamileke, that of Kamto.
VI. Press for Compromise Ahead of Elections in Somalia
Somalia is due to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in December 2020 and early 2021, respectively, but fraught relations between the federal government of President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” and Somalia’s regions, or federal member states, threaten to blight the ballot. These tensions will likely increase as elections draw closer. Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s Islamist insurgency, may well take the opportunity to step up its violent campaign. AMISOM, the AU’s counter-insurgency mission in Somalia, can play a key role in minimising such violence during election season. More immediately, the AU should step up efforts to reconcile Mogadishu and federal member states ahead of the vote.
Al-Shabaab remained a potent threat across much of East Africa in 2019, conducting attacks both inside and outside Somalia. On 28 December, a bomb blast near a crowded checkpoint in the capital killed approximately 100 people, more than 90 of them civilians. The January 2019 raid on the Dusit complex in Nairobi, along with last month’s storming of an air base used by the U.S. military on Kenya’s north coast, illustrate the group’s enduring audacity and agility outside Somalia’s borders. Al-Shabaab’s resilience stems in part from its ability to navigate complex clan politics, provide basic order and services in areas it controls, and raise funds through taxation and extortion.
The militant group’s endurance also stems from the federal government’s tenuous grip on security, which is loosened further by competition among elites. With an eye on the forthcoming elections, Farmajo has been trying to install allies at the head of key federal member states, despite local resistance. In Jubaland, the federal government refused to recognise state president Ahmed Madobe’s re-election in August, amid concerns about the conduct of the poll and government claims that the candidate selection process violated the constitution. As a result, relations between Jubaland and Mogadishu are essentially frozen. The situation is not much better in Galmudug, where leaders from across the political spectrum have rejected Mogadishu’s interference ahead of scheduled local elections.
At their core, tensions between Mogadishu and the regions centre on unresolved questions about federal versus state powers and the distribution of resources, overlaid with fundamentally divergent visions of what federalism means in practice. Recently, some member states have complained that the federal government has not consulted them adequately in putting together new legislation, such as a bill to regulate the petroleum sector and another on the electoral system.
The AU should press Mogadishu to improve relations with federal member states.
Tensions are likely to deepen as elections approach. The polls are due to be held under universal suffrage for the first time since 1969 (past elections have been indirect, using an electoral college – involving only about 14,000 voters – based on the clan system). The government maintains its commitment to providing all Somalis the franchise. Voter registration is expected to begin in March, but sizeable parts of the country under Al-Shabaab control will be inaccessible. In addition, federal member states are unhappy with the new electoral law, in particular one article which could pave the way for an extension of Farmajo’s term in office if elections cannot be held as scheduled. A May 2019 meeting between the government and federal state leaders aimed at resolving this dispute, among others, collapsed without resolution.
The AU should press Mogadishu to improve relations with federal member states. A starting point could be fresh talks between Farmajo and the regional presidents in a format similar to the National Leadership Forum, which met regularly ahead of the 2016-2017 elections. Such a dialogue would seek to forge agreement on voting procedures. The federal member states might agree to work with the federal government to ensure that elections run smoothly, and in return Mogadishu could agree to greater consultation with the regions on electoral rules. It may be necessary to delay passage of the electoral law in the upper house even if that affects the electoral calendar. The AU could seek to broker such a compromise. AMISOM, which can reach dangerous areas of the country that are off limits to the UN and other partners, will be vital to maintaining security during the ballot, especially if the government does attempt to extend the franchise to Somalis across the country.
VII. Keep South Sudan’s Beleaguered Peace Agreement on Track
South Sudan’s peace process is floundering. A ceasefire in place since the latest peace deal, signed in September 2018 by the two main belligerents, President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar, is thankfully holding. The truce enables South Sudanese to return to their villages to cultivate crops and avail themselves of basic services and humanitarian aid. But it could break down if Kiir and Machar do not settle their disputes. Less than a month remains before a 22 February deadline by which Kiir and Machar are to form a unity government. Sustained high-level mediation is urgently needed if they are to stand any chance of hammering out agreements on their differences before then. The limited engagement by East African heads of state over the past eighteen months gives little cause for optimism that they will play this role. As an architect of the original 2015 peace agreement, which failed in part due to insufficient outside involvement, the AU should redouble its efforts to ensure that the current accord remains on track.
Anything less [than an agreement on the configuration of states] would be seen as capitulation by many rebels.
Three key issues that were set aside in the September 2018 deal still need to be resolved. The first and immediate hurdle is the fraught question of the number and demarcation of states within South Sudan, which effectively establishes the distribution of power across the country. In 2014, Machar called for a 21-state division, but Kiir subsequently redrew the map, creating 28 and then 32 states, so as to favour his political base. South Africa’s deputy president, David Mabuza, proposed a 90-day arbitration period that would extend past 22 February. Machar rejected the proposal and demands that an agreement on the configuration of states be reached before he joins a unity government. Anything less would be seen as capitulation by many rebels, risking the fragmentation of Machar’s coalition. A compromise should be possible. Both Kiir’s and Machar’s parties appear to have space to budge from their particular positions without losing critical levels of support. Mediators could also signal that the intransigent party would shoulder the blame for a collapse over the issue.
A second sticking point is army reform: the proposed unification of the 83,000 fighters loyal to Kiir or Machar has lagged due to shortages of food, water and medical supplies, which have forced soldiers to abandon cantonment sites. An important first step would be for Kiir to make sure that the funds he pledged for army unification are actually allocated to related activities and that his troops arrive at designated training sites to allow the new joint units to form. With this gesture he could demonstrate his commitment to rebel forces’ integration. Machar will likely need to give ground on the timeline and the screening of his forces, as well as accept a reduction in the number of troops he can bring into the army.
The third outstanding issue involves provisions for Machar’s personal safety in the capital Juba once the unity government is formed. His return to Juba in 2016 led to the 2015 peace deal’s collapse and fresh hostilities breaking out in the city between his bodyguards and Kiir’s. To prevent Machar from returning to the capital with a large contingent of fighters, the UN Mission in South Sudan or the AU could offer him third-party protection.
February’s AU summit provides the perfect venue for spurring IGAD into taking … action.
Any accord between Kiir and Machar will require concerted diplomacy by regional leaders. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, brokered the deadline extension in November, the first such high-level mediation in 2019. But since then, Museveni and Burhan have remained disengaged and mediation by the secretariat of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the sub-regional bloc charged with leading negotiations, as well as heavy engagement on the issue of the number of states from Mabuza and envoys from South Sudan’s neighbours, has proven insufficient to bridge the gaps between Kiir and Machar. For their part, IGAD heads of state have been largely absent due, in part, to disagreements over who should chair the body. Now that Sudan has assumed that role, they should step up. Ideally, IGAD would convene a summit aimed at pressing the South Sudanese parties to find common ground. February’s AU summit provides the perfect venue for spurring IGAD into taking such action.
The AU and other African countries could usefully get more involved. IGAD frequently kicks into gear only when competing mediation initiatives begin to take form. Increased AU interest could lead either to greater IGAD engagement or to talks about how to share responsibility for the peace process or even transfer it away from the sub-regional bloc. AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki could appoint an envoy to work with other guarantors, including the UN, EU, the Troika (U.S., UK and Norway) and China, to salvage the transition. This approach would borrow from a model used with some success in Sudan. The C5 group of African states (comprised of Algeria, Chad, Nigeria and Rwanda, with South Africa as chair) mandated by the AU to support IGAD’s work on the peace process should also throw its weight behind calls for IGAD members to convene a summit and Kiir and Machar to resolve outstanding issues. The PSC could help by spelling out to Kiir and Machar the punitive measures they will face, including targeted sanctions and diplomatic isolation on the continent, if they fail to reach an agreement by 22 February.
Lastly, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa himself could assume a larger role, as chair of both the AU and the C5. He might, for example, lobby Museveni to convince his ally Kiir that agreeing to compromise on the three outstanding issues is greatly preferable to more years of international isolation. As a sitting head of state, the South African president would also have the clout to mediate directly between Kiir and Machar, an opportunity not yet afforded to Mabuza, Ramaphosa’s deputy and envoy.
VIII. Stay the Course on Sudan
Sudan’s transition remains promising albeit on shaky ground. The country faces acute economic and security challenges, and the population is hungry for change, having seen few dividends since the new administration took office. Keeping the transition on track requires external economic and political support and, in particular, a credible guarantor to maintain the delicate power-sharing arrangement. The AU, which has been instrumental to the transition, is well placed to play that role.
Last year, the AU took strong action at a number of critical moments that helped the revolution survive. First, it condemned the April 2019 military takeover that forced President Omar al-Bashir from office – and by extension refused to recognise the subsequent military government – despite determined support for the putschists among influential member states such as Egypt. Secondly, it suspended Sudan following the military’s brutal crackdown on protesters on 3 June. Then, together with Ethiopia, the continental body helped bridge the divide between the civilian coalition and the security establishment, brokering a power-sharing deal that, if it holds, will usher in full civilian rule in 2022.
The transitional administration, led by the widely respected economist Abdalla Hamdok and comprising a largely civilian cabinet, faces formidable challenges. Expectations are high, both inside and outside the country, that it will bring peace to Sudan’s war-ravaged peripheries and overhaul the country’s constitution in preparation for elections planned for 2022, all the while maintaining the fine political balance between its military and civilian members. Its top priority, however, must be to reform and revive Sudan’s ailing economy. Sudanese continue to suffer from rampant inflation and inadequate state welfare support. Indeed, if anything, the economic crisis that brought people into the streets in 2019 has intensified. Reversing Bashir’s legacy will almost certainly take time, but the population displays little patience and expects rapid change.
The AU should encourage international donors to … deliver projects that have near-term benefits for the Sudanese.
While the AU and its member states are in no position to offer Sudan an economic lifeline, they can use their diplomatic leverage to urge other international partners to do so. As part of the Friends of Sudan forum, the AU should encourage international donors to coordinate their economic support and identify and deliver projects that have near-term benefits for the Sudanese. It could also push for the establishment of a multi-donor trust fund, to be managed by the World Bank, which would support economic diversification away from extractives and reinvigorate Sudan’s agriculture sector.
The AU and its heads of state should also work with European and Gulf countries to press the U.S. to lift its outdated designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism. Rescinding the terrorism listing will not solve all Sudan’s problems, but it would encourage international investors to re-engage with Sudan and remove a major obstacle to debt relief worth $60 billion. It would also provide a welcome political boost for the transitional government, particularly its civilian members. To assuage U.S. concerns that the Sudanese security establishment could use the lifting of the terrorism designation to deepen its control over a more open Sudanese economy, gain influence and even leverage the return of an exclusively military-run government, the AU PSC could consider setting out its own sanctions regime that would target those who impede the political or economic transition.
The absence of an official guarantor jeopardises Sudan’s power-sharing deal. The AU could step up as an informal guarantor by appointing a new special envoy. Operating out of the AU’s liaison office in Khartoum, which would need to be strengthened accordingly, the envoy would support the implementation of the transitional agreement and reform agenda. This task could entail mediating to resolve disagreements between the parties in the transitional administration, who still distrust each other. In addition, the envoy could oversee any peace agreement struck as the result of talks in Juba between the government and armed groups in the country’s periphery – in Blue Nile, Kordofan and Darfur regions. In any event, the PSC should closely monitor the agreement’s progress, ideally by holding monthly meetings on Sudan.
Addis Ababa/Nairobi/Brussels, 7 February 2020
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