New International Crisis Group report on Somaliland-Somalia Dialogue

Somalia-Somaliland: A Halting Embrace of Dialogue” International Crisis Group commentary by Omar Mahmood and Zakaria Yusuf:

Ethiopia, the U.S. and the EU have brokered surprise talks between the Somalia and Somaliland administrations, which are historically opposed, though progress has stalled while both sides prepare for elections. The parties should cooperate on technical issues, pending a shot at deeper dialogue.

Mahmood and Yusuf review the background leading to talks in June in Djibouti, the mixed immediate results and events since, then offer their assessment of what will and should happen next:

. . . .

Especially given the distractions of forthcoming electoral cycles, leaders in both Somaliland and Somalia will find it difficult to resolve their longstanding differences relating to Somaliland’s status in the short term. Some of these differences will continue to be prominently displayed. Indeed, Somaliland has appeared eager to take advantage of the attention created by the talks and present itself internationally as a sovereign state. Since Djibouti, it has hosted high-level delegations from Kenya, Egypt and Ethiopia, all of which discussed upgrading the status of their relations with Somaliland, and announced that it would exchange representatives with Taiwan.

Still, the momentum generated by the Djibouti talks need not be squandered. Continuing to seek progress on technical areas of cooperation – for example, encouraging the joint technical subcommittees to keep meeting to hammer out details – while holding off on wider political discussions until the spectre of domestic politics no longer overshadows the dialogue, could be a good way forward, at least pending elections. Also key to success is continued international support, which will be needed to keep this newly emerging phase of dialogue on track. The U.S., EU and Ethiopia should keep up the pressure – potentially in coordination with an expanded range of partners, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development regional bloc and the African Union. Following the conclusion of elections, those same actors should be prepared to lean on the parties to re-engage with a deeper exploration of political issues in mind.

. . . .

Somaliland Foreign Minister Abdilahi Mohamed Dualeh lunch dialogue HargeisaDialogue with Somaliland Foreign Minister Abdilahi Mohamed Dualeh

April 1960 brief by CIA expected British Colonial Office not to oppose a post-independence unification agreement by Somaliland Protectorate with southern Italian Somali Trust Territory but to hope to delay it.

Here is a declassified CIA April 1960 briefing for the United States National Security Council covering “the Somali area” along with pre-independence Congo.  It discussed the “confused and explosive” situation involving impending Somaliland independence from Britain:

British Somaliland protectorate independence CIA NSC brief

The issue of Somaliland independence or union with the “to be” Republic of Somalia was on the table for Somalis, their neighbors and the international powers when Somaliland was still a British Protectorate and Somalia was a former Italian Colony being administered by Italy as a UN Trust Territory. We are approaching the point at which Somaliland has functioned almost an equal amount of years as independently self-governed as it was a part of the Somali Republic (July 1, 1960) and its successors.

Kenya-Somalia border conflict at Mandera

[Update 3/5: “Kenya and Somalia form teams to ease tensions” Daily Nation]

[Update 3/4: Democracy Assistance news– Longtime International Republican Institute board member, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, quietly leaves Republican Party, registers as Independent.]

Temperatures have risen between the Federal Government of Somalia and Kenya as they have risen with Somaliland:

Kenya accuses Somalia of ‘unwarranted’ attack on border town–Tensions between Nairobi and Mogadishu soar as they accuse each other of encroaching on border territory.Al Jazeera, March 3:

Temperatures rose further after heavy fighting erupted on Monday in the Somali border town of Bulohawo between Somali government troops and forces from the semi-autonomous region of Jubaland.

Legislators from the nearby Kenyan town of Mandera said the fighting was so intense it caused residents there to flee and take shelter.

A Kenyan government statement condemning “violations of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” appeared to indicate that Somali forces had crossed into Mandera during the battle.

“Foreign soldiers – in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions – engaged in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera,” it said. 

. . . .

The fighting in Somalia is the latest instance of tensions between Mogadishu and its regional governments.

Jubaland authorities in August accused Mogadishu of interfering in its election and seeking to remove President Ahmed Madobe and get a loyalist in power to increase its control.

Madobe is a key ally of Kenya, which sees Jubaland as a buffer against al-Shabab fighters who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.

Kenya has been further drawn in, as it is accused of harbouring a fugitive Jubaland minister who was arrested by Mogadishu for “serious crimes” but fled from prison in January.

Tensions between the neighbouring countries are also high because of a spat over maritime borders, with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.

. . . .

Kenya urged Somalia’s federal and regional governments to focus on defeating the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab.

Observers say the myriad feuds between the fragile government in Mogadishu and its federal states is a major obstacle to fighting the armed group.

On Somaliland and Somalia tensions, I will quote the conclusion of an editorial from Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute titled “Farmajo fights separatism the wrong way” from back in January:

Somalia’s dream of unity is understandable and it can be compelling, just as those supporting Somaliland separatism can find their case persuasive. But, what Farmajo forgets or does not understand is that if Somalia is going to reunite with Somaliland, it must perform better than Somaliland. It must be more stable, more secure, more democratic, and less corrupt. It must have a better economy that will be a regional envy. Somalia cannot force Somaliland into its fold militarily; it is not strong enough and occupying Somaliland will never bring peace. Militaristic rhetoric from Farmajo will only exacerbate mistrust born from his relative Siad Barre’s rule and the human rights abuses he perpetrated in Somaliland. What neither Farmajo nor Yamamoto understand is that economic strangulation also will not compel Somaliland to rejoin Somalia. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Hargeisa under Mogadishu’s control when even Mogadishu is not under Mogadishu’s control.

Somali nationalists can cast aspersions toward Somaliland nationalists, and they can troll on social media. Farmajo’s advisors and his press spokesmen can insult from an official podium before they retreat into armored cars and locked-down compounds, or take official planes to Doha and Istanbul. But none of their tactics will achieve their goals; indeed, they only make them harder to attain. If Somali nationalists want to restore Somali greatness, there is no substitute for reform. Simply put, for there to be unity, Somalia must be better than Somaliland rather than try to suffocate Somaliland.

East Africa roundup for February: Rwanda, South Sudan, Kenya and Burundi

A roundup of East Africa democracy news and opinion:

Julian Hattem in World Politics Review explains that “Rwanda’s Opposition is Disappearing Along With Kagame’s Credibility“, keyed off the death of popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo in custody.

This is a good article and I recommend it (while I have to note my pet peeve that it indulges as so many accounts do in the Kagame mythology that the RPF “marched in from Uganda to end the genocide” rather than noting that they came across the border and began fighting years earlier than their march into Kigale in 1994.)

Is there a day coming where Americans notice the problem even of repression of religious freedom in Rwanda in spite of the lionization of Kagame and his willingness to transact with foreigners on terms not available internally?

In South Sudan, a formal unity government was announced to meet the extended February 22 deadline. Most important details are either unresolved, or to be executed from a dead start, but this was a necessary step for hope for deeper progress, especially for one day when the people are free of their current warlord leaders. Riek Machar upon being re-instated as First Vice President was accordingly released from IGAD “house arrest”.

Update–Here is a report from the International Crisis Group: “A Major Step Toward Ending South Sudan’s Civil War

Kudos are in order for the diplomatic efforts to step up pressure on both sides, and in particular on Salva Kiir who had the most power and leverage through defacto control of the government. It seems that the State Department under Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy in particular engaged and showed leadership. The US has a unique diplomatic responsibility and opportunity in South Sudan so it is encouraging to see us step up to the plate.

Not sure what to make of this article in which Kalonzo Musyoka and the reporter posit a leading role for himself as Kenya’s envoy: “Kalonzo: How we brokered Kiir Machar peace pact“:

Former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka returned to the country on Sunday from Juba after accomplishing a delicate peace deal that saw South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar form a unity government.

The negotiators of the peace agreement heavily relied on Mr Musyoka to achieve the long-delayed process towards ending a six-year civil war that has led to loss of thousands of lives.

It is very much true that (1) Kalonzo was a Kenyan insider under Moi and then Kibaki’s Foreign Minister on though the negotiation of the CPA in 2005; (2) Kenya is inevitably of importance in South Sudanese power struggles because of the role of Nairobi as at least the “back office” and “capitol of capital” for South Sudanese kingpins; (3) Gideon Moi (as reported by The Sentry) and certainly other leading Kenyan figures are major players in financial dealings at issue in South Sudan; (4) the U.S. as the leading international power involved in the nascent building of a South Sudanese nation is closest to Kenya and to Uhuru Kenyatta in particular among the IGAD members and leaders, so Kalonzo in representing Kenya and Uhuru presumably has standing with the US in addition to his own background with the negotiations.

Remember that after his deal with Mwai Kibaki during the 2007 presidential campaign to stay in the race and be appointed Vice President, Kalonzo was trusted enough by Kibaki and his men to represent them in Washington during the Post Election Violence in lobbying against a “unity government” with Raila. At that time in early 2008 Uhuru was also in Kibaki’s initial cabinet Minister of Local Government, as he had been under Moi in 2000-2002, administering Nairobi issues in those pre-devolution days.

Speaking of Nairobi, Uhuru and devolution, the purported “sign over” of governmental powers from Nairobi Governor Sonko, to the Kenyatta Administration, while seemingly suspended from official action by court order and facing impeachment and criminal charges, is the big new story.

According to The Standard, “Human Rights Activist Okiya Omtatah and Lawyer Robbin Murimi filed separate applications at the High Court Nairobi challenging the move.”

Uhuru Park

Close behind is the damning latest round of leaks of secret details of corruption and dereliction in the Kenya Railways/Standard Gauge Railroad saga.

Otherwise, as it has become more clear that the BBI is generating inevitable controversy, Ambassador McCarter has tempered his language of American support to emphasize a robust debate with wananchi involvement on “which provisions to enact”. At the same time, three months now since the release of the original BBI Report and almost two years after the Handshake, it remains unclear (or undisclosed) exactly what the “deal” is.

Meanwhile, elections are coming up fast in Burundi on May 20. For the latest on the ongoing pre-election violence, see The New Humanitarian: “Killings, arrests as elections draw near in Burundi.

The EAC will send Observers since Burundi is a member:

EAC Secretary General Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko informed the UN delegation that the EAC observes elections within the context of the National Constitutions of the Partner States.

He assured the delegation that preparations were underway for the launch of a longterm EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the Burundi electoral process in its entirety, as well as a short-term EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the polling only.

“I am confident that the peaceful spirit we have experienced during the party nominations will continue during and after elections,” said the secretary general.

“The EAC is calling on all the people of Burundi to sidestep violence, regardless of the situation,” he added. In 2018, Burundi promulgated a new Constitution.

Please note that Hargeisa, Somaliland in mid-2008 was safer and less repressive than Addis or Khartoum (re that Pete Buttigieg vacation trip)

Apparently my post from December 7 “Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed” has gotten shared on Facebook and otherwise linked by people with both an aggressive left and aggressive right position as to the U.S. presidential election to the point that I thought it was worth coming back to note that my intention is for this blog to be nonpartisan. I am not a member of a political party at present and am not intending to give any advice here about who anyone should vote for in any of the primaries.

One specific thing that people seem to miss is that in 2007-2008 there was regular direct commercial air service between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Hargeisa, Somaliland. So visiting Hargeisa was not some daunting overland journey or even some exotic series of “puddle jumps”. Again, there was an issue involving permission by the United States Government for United States Government employees and contractors to travel to the country which did not have formal government recognition, even though the United States was funding some aid programs, such as the one I and other International Republican Institute staff managed from our East Africa office in Nairobi and then with a satellite office in Hargeisa opening in the spring of 2008.

Hargeisa Somaliland Ministry Tourism and Culture murals

Somaliland Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Hargeisa

Buttigieg’s co-author in the New York Times op-ed from their brief visit to Somaliland was working for the World Bank in Addis and thus conveniently located for a quick trip.

Shopkeeper and daughter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia youth bakery

Youth working at bakery in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Traveling to and from Hargeisa from Nairobi did require us to overnight in Addis where the Meles Zenawi government had staged a major crackdown on political opposition in the context of the contentious 2005 election and kicked out U.S. democracy assistance organizations including IRI and arrested lots of political dissenters. Thus, walking around the streets in Addis was for me, at least, a tenser environment than what I experienced in Hargeisa, although not quite to the level of Khartoum at that general time. (I never visited Somalia as NDI had the programs there and as best I recollect no commercial air flights were then scheduled into Mogadishu which was still impacted by the early years of the present war with al-Shabaab.)

In fact, see this 2010 Foreign Policy piece from Nathaniel Myers, Buttigieg’s co-author on Somaliland: “Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham“.

Hargeisa Somaliland Student AssemblyHargeisa Somaliland donkey tankerHargeisa Somaliland Red Sea marketHargeisa Somaliland Jibril Super Market and Baby ShopHargeisa Somaliland Deeq Alla Shop and Cold Drinks

No time like the present for diplomatic resolution between Somaliland and Somalia, once elections are on track

James Swan, the retired American diplomat and subsequent Albright Stonebridge advisor in Nairobi, appointed last year as UN representative for Somalia, was in Hargeisa, Somaliland last week for the first time in six months. The UN maintains a full time office in Somaliland. Swan spoke to encourage implementation of agreement among the parties to hold long delayed parliamentary elections in 2020, and to “welcome initiatives aimed at mutual confidence and fostering dialogue between Hargeisa and Mogadishu“.

Somaliland Hargeisa independence democracy

Unfortunately it appears the new agreement to resolve the impasse among Somaliland’s three recognized political parties has not yet been implemented.

See Somaliland: President Yet to Solve Elections Impasse as Agreed (Somaliland Sun, 13 Jan 2020):

Somalilandsun -After agreements from two meetings between president Muse Bihi Abdi and Opposition parties Wadani and UCID leaders Abdirahman Irro and Eng. Feisal Ali respectively, the fate of parliamentary and local council elections remains in the dark.

The darkness emanates from the still in office new national elections commission NEC that has been disputed by the opposition parties leading to an agreement that the former NEC commissioners be returned to office thence elections sometimes in 2020 as pursued by the international community with a stake in the Somaliland democratization process.

Following the two meetings between the three principle politicians in the country it was agreed that president Bihi shall uphold the agreements to reinstate the former NEC as per elders mediation that had garnered support from the international community.

But despite all arrangements more the 10 January date in which the president promised to finalize the issue nothing has been done and the status remain the same notwithstanding numerous visits and meets with senior IC diplomats the latest being the UN SRSG to Somaliland and Somalia Amb James Swan.

While the commitment to 10 January was hailed as a conclusive decision failure to implement anything returns the country to the days of political tensions.

A statement released this week from the Minister of Information states that the Government concluded following the agreement among the parties that legal authority was lacking for either the President or Parliament to effect the negotiated agreement and replace the existing membership of the National Election Council. The Government argues the only way to proceed would be to call for voluntary resignations which is reportedly not acceptable to the other parties.

Somaliland receives support from “16 United Nations offices, agencies, funds and programmes active in Somaliland” according to Swan’s statement in addition to support and diplomatic interaction from the EU, the UK, the US and various other individual nations, including Kenya and the UAE–while still subject to the protracted “limbo” associated with a lack of formal recognition.

Somaliland has now been functionally independent almost as long as it was part of the independent Republic of Somalia following independence from the UK and joinder with the former Italian Somalia. I agree that once parliamentary elections are finally held it would be wise for the US and the UK to step up a concerted diplomatic effort to facilitate with the UN and AU a durable resolution of Somaliland’s status and relationship with the federal Somali government in Mogadishu and the regional government in Puntland. This will have to include resolution of the Suul and Sonaag borders and at least a mechanism to address mineral rights issues.

The venerable Edna Adan, world famous for her work in women’s health and her teaching Maternity Hospital, and previously Foreign Minister from 2003-06, has been designated as Somaliland’s lead representative for negotiations.

The diplomatic task will never be easy with the passions involved but I think the effort is timely now with a balance of progress in the South and the risk of some unexpected disruption to the status quo from waiting too long. The move of the Gulf Cooperation Council to establish a Red Sea security initiative without reference to Somaliland, while others have supported national maritime security efforts by Somaliland is an example highlighting the growing potential for international misunderstandings as the Horn region attracts growing outside interest.

Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president, is mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in the Great Lakes region. South Bend is known nationally as the home of Notre Dame University. Notre Dame is famous here in the American South as one of the traditional Northern powers in American college football and for a period of years in the last century a rival to the University of Alabama.

In 2008 “Mayor Pete” was back in the United States as a McKinsey Consulting “whiz kid” based from the Chicago office after his Rhodes Scholarship at England’s Oxford University. He had joined the Washington-based Truman National Security Project, but had not yet become an officer in the United States Naval Reserve. In other words, he was taking a normal prep course to run for president. His membership in the Truman Project distinguishes him as a Democrat. [Editorial note 2/2020: I am not a party primary voter and intend the blog to be non-partisan; when I say “a normal prep course” I do mean “normal”, not something conspiratorial such as discussed in a FP piece this week: “No, Pete Buttigieg is not a CIA Asset“]

In July 2008, Buttigieg and Nathaniel Myers, identified as a “political analyst” in Ethiopia, had published in the New York Times an op-ed under the understated headline “Tourists in Somaliland“. I have no clear idea why. The substance of the article is not about tourism but rather the argument that the United States was failing to adequately support Somaliland and should initiate formal recognition, but with very little real detail or heft. Myers was working as a World Bank consultant in Ethiopia at the time according to his bio online at the Carnegie Endowment where he worked until recently (update: Myers was a friend of Buttigieg’s from Harvard). Myers also published two op-ed pieces in 2010 in Foreign Policy on the authoritarianism of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia and analogizing Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea”. My involvement in East Africa has been as a democracy advocate so I agree with the sentiments of Myers’s writings, even if I don’t think the “Tourists” piece with Buttigieg was really on point.

Where the “Tourists in Somaliland” piece misses the mark is failing to notice that USAID was supporting Somaliland, albeit in a constrained and unusual way. I am particularly aware of this because in the fall of 2007, as the resident director for East Africa based in Nairobi at the International Republican Institute, I was asked by IRI management to extend my unpaid leave from the law department at a major defense contractor, to stay past my scheduled January 2008 return to the States following Kenya’s December 2007 elections because of our new increased work for Somaliland. In particular we were tasked unexpectedly by USAID to open an office in Hargeisa with Somaliland parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2008.

The company generously agreed to give me additional “public service leave” through June 1 so long as I promised to definitely be back at that time. As it turned out the April 2008 parliamentary elections were postponed, and sadly have faced serial postponements since, with the latest being challenged in court now. Somaliland presidential elections have continued successfully, however.

In the picture below I am visiting with the leadership of the Kulmiye Party on behalf of our USAID-funded IRI program in November 2007. Chairman “Silyano” is to the far right and I am next to him. Silanyo served as President of Somaliland from 2010-2017.

With Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders in his office

As late at least as mid-2008, US Government civilians and direct contractors were not allowed to travel to Somaliland, which is perhaps one of the reasons USAID was keen for us at IRI to ramp up and open an office. Later Buttigieg did work visits to Iraq and Afghanistan under contract to an unidentified US department. As an employee of McKinsey as a US Government contractor Buttigieg would not have been able to go to Somaliland on business under ordinary circumstances to the best of my understanding. As employees of a Government-funded NGO working under a “Cooperative Agreement” with USAID rather than a “Contract” we at IRI were not subject to that restriction.

During our Election Observation Mission for the ill-fated Kenyan December 2007 election, we brought a group of observers from Somaliland under the Somaliland program. This was a successful endeavor for that program although their return was slightly delayed by the violence triggered by the Kenyan election fraud (see my piece “The Debacle of 2007: How an Election Was Stolen and Kenyan Politician Frozen with US Connivance” in The Elephant). Somaliland has continued to have peaceful presidential elections with incumbent parties accepting narrow defeats at the polls twice, including with Silanyo’s accession in 2010.

I am not sure whether Somaliland has been better off or worse off over these intervening years for not being formally recognized while agreeing sentimentally with the desire that the Somalilanders’ achievement of defacto independence be “blessed” legally.

One primary issue is the unsettled territory in the borderlands between Somalia’s Puntland state and Somaliland. See the latest in a new report from the Institute for Strategic Studies: “Overlapping Claims by Somaliland and Puntland: the case of Sool and Sonaag.” One of the key events in the history discussed in that report was the takeover by Somaliland of Las Anod after the defection of Ahmed Abdi Haabsade, former Puntland Defense Minister in November 2007. I was introduced by Foreign Minister Abdilahi Mohamed Dualeh when Haabsade arrived in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa:

Somaliland Hargeisa Foreign Minister Puntland 2007

As fate would have it a month before Mayor Pete’s op-ed on Somaliland ran in The New York Times on July 31, 2008 a Times investigative reporter contacted me at my office in Mississippi about the unreleased IRI exit poll showing an opposition win against Kibaki in that December 2007 election in Kenya. I gave the interview and initial follow-up that contributed my input into the investigation that the Times eventually reported on on the front page, after the Obama inauguration, on January 30, 2009: “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll.

Some thoughts on US relations with the governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the Armenian genocide, in the context of NATO, military vision and religious freedom and pluralism

This is a piece reflecting some partly tongue-in-cheek musing on complex and deadly serious larger questions of “who we want to be” in the world, with specific immediate relevance to the Sudan crisis, Libya and Yemen, along with current issues with Iran that I touched on in my last post.
I decided to subordinate the title and add this preface to make sure that it was clear that I hoped to be taken “seriously but not literally”:

———————————–

If we replaced Turkey with Saudi Arabia in NATO could we acknowledge the Armenian genocide while cutting hypocrisy on current support for religious freedom versus security interests?

Update: “Erdogan dealt stunning blow as Istanbul elects rival candidate” Bloomberg, June 23.

There are a few moving pieces here, but stay with me.

First, we have longstanding unfinished business on simply acknowledging historic fact on the Armenian genocide.

This was a basic premise of the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008–the whole “hope and change” versus fear and loathing thing. The whole Samantha Power to lead our Mission to the UN thing. Unfortunately, it got Overcome By Events, along with the notion that Obama’s personal background, “story” and manner would allow him to be a sort of “Christian Islamist Whisperer” to realize the hopes reflected in his June 2009 Cairo “remarks to the Muslim world” from Al-Azhar.

Instead, we have let ourselves be embarrassingly bullied by Turkey. See “For Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Obama Calls It an ‘Atrocity’ Instead“, NYTimes, April 24, 2014: (“Although Mr. Obama called the acts against the Armenians genocide as a presidential candidate in 2008 and vowed to do so once he reached the White House, he again chose not to follow through on his promise for fear of offending Turkey, a NATO ally that denies that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide. Instead, Mr. Obama implied that he still thought it was genocide even if he did not say so directly.”). To what benefit? While we have and will continue to have some interests in common with the regime in Turkey it is clear that Turkey continues to move away from democratic values, including respect for religious freedom and tolerance at the same time they have made it clear that the security relationship is very situational. What might have made sense during the Cold War when confronting the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact during Turkey’s years of secular authoritarianism make less sense under Turkish Islamism now that even Greece has democratized, the Russians dissolved direct control of the various European and Central Asian republics previously colonized and the Warsaw Pact disbanded in accordance with the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Of the Islamist governments in the region, it is Saudi Arabia with whom we seem to be mutually committed rather than Turkey. Likewise, in the context of NATO if there is one Western government more committed to the Saudis than we are, it is the UK (London), the other party to our “special relationship”. Selling arms to the Saudis is a “national emergency” for the Trump Administration, and keeping the Saudis off the list of countries using child soldiers just now and earlier certifying that the Saudis were serious about trying to miss civilians in their Yemen bombings join our commitment to “knowing” as little as possible about the Khashoggi murder in demonstrating some extraordinary bond. Just as British “national security” trumped law enforcement by the UK on the BAE bribery in the al-Yamamah deals.

Our relationship with the Saudis predates the formation of NATO and a time of recognition of reality vis-a-vis Turkey may be the time to more formally recognize what the Saudi alliance has now come to be.

By recognizing the Armenian genocide while formally including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mutual defense obligations, we can show that we disapprove historically of the purging of Christian and other minority religious populations while making clear that our own security as we see it in an immediate sense is our first and foremost priority and that we do not object to exclusivist and repressive Islamist governments that are willing to cooperate militarily and on national security. (And this could be another opportunity for President Trump to cooperate with Kim Kardashian on a policy initiative, as in some criminal justice reforms.)

For insight on a military view of the value of the alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I recommend this writing contest piece from special forces officer Scott Horr in Divergent Opinions: “Assessment of the Impacts of Saudi Arabia’s Vision2030 on U.S. Efforts to Confront Iran.”

Amidst the continuing turmoil and instability that touches many parts of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) maintain a fierce rivalry vying for regional and Islamic dominance. Both countries factor prominently into U.S. regional goals and interests as Iran (since its Islamic Revolution in 1979) serves as the preeminent regional threat and adversary to the U.S. while the KSA, in many ways, serves as the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to counter and degrade Iranian influence in the region[1]. As the region’s premiere Islamic rivals, internal social, economic, and political movements within the KSA and the IRI inherently shape and inform U.S. actions and efforts aimed at undermining hostile (IRI) objectives while supporting friendly (KSA) initiatives. U.S. President Trump, for instance, was quick to voice support in early 2018 for protesters in Iran railing against (among other things) perceived regime inaction and contribution to the stagnant Iranian economy[2]. Alternatively, Trump preserved U.S. support to the KSA even after allegations of KSA government involvement in the killing of a prominent and outspoken journalist[3]. Such dynamics underscore how the inner-workings of regional rivals create venues and opportunities for the advancement of U.S. interests confronting regional threats by applying pressure and defining alliances using different elements of national power.

In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as “MBS,” unveiled an ambitious and grandiose plan for economic, cultural, and social change in the Kingdom. In response to a worldwide decline in oil prices that drastically shrunk Saudi cash reserves and simultaneously highlighted the precarious state of the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, MBS released “Vision2030”- a sweeping program of reform that aimed to create a vibrant society, build a thriving economy, and establish a culture of ambition within the Kingdom[4]. Motivating these ideas was a desire to increase the privatization of the economy and make Saudi society attractive to foreign investment to diversify the economy and decrease its dependence on oil[5]. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the mechanisms of change that drive the execution of MBS’ Vision2030 rest on the extent to which Western values (namely free-market principles and social liberalism) can be inculcated into a historically conservative and closed society. Given the magnitude of Vision2030’s scope, targeting all of Saudi society, the ideology involved in its execution (incorporating Western values), and the KSA’s geopolitical status as a key U.S. ally against Iranian foreign policy objectives, the implementation and execution of Vision2030 cannot fail but to have far-reaching impacts on both Middle Eastern regional stability in general and U.S. efforts confronting Iran in particular.

. . . .

For an appreciation of the extent to which things have fallen apart during the Bush, Obama and Trump Administrations, See Janine di Giovanni’s “The Vanishing: the plight of Christians in an age of intolerance” in the December Harpers on the impact of war and oppression in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. And then last month, Emma Green’s Atlantic piece, “The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East: An ancient faith is disappearing from the lands in which it first took root. At stake is not just a religious community, but the fate of pluralism in the region.”

In terms of aid, the Trump Administration deserves credit for stepping up some overdue help and attention to minority religious communities beleaguered in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the rise of al-Queda in Iraq/ISIS. At the same time, they have turned a harder, colder shoulder to accepting immigrants while embracing the exponents of Wahabist ideological expansionism who have done so much harm to pluralism and tolerance even in areas where it once thrived.

For a more divergent take suggesting that things have just not been adding up over the years, see retired career soldier and historian Andrew Bacevich’s “America’s War for the Greater Middle East“.

Ten years into the major multinational counter piracy missions off the Horn of Africa, are China and India paying their fair share?

Operation Atalanta of the European Union (EUNAVFOR) commenced in December 2008 and was joined by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Combined Task Force for counter piracy force (CTF-151) in 2009.

The Combined Maritime Forces are a multinational security venture based in Bahrain, with U.S. and U.K. top command.

  • 33 member nations: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, The Netherlands,  New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, The Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, United States and Yemen.

China and India do send ships independently to cooperate in the CTF-151 mission. But given the volume of Chinese and Indian trade and shipping at this point, are they bearing their fair share of the cost?

Piracy has been radically reduced in recent years off Somalia and in the bab-el-Mandeb, Gulf of Aden region patrolled by CTF-151.

For the United States to solve the “free rider” problem for trade competitors, especially the PRC, the best approach it seems to me is to increase our own trade and investment in East Africa, as well as globally where we have facilitated the rise of the PRC as a trading power through free global maritime security, direct and indirect foreign investment, lax cybersecurity and intellectual property protections, etc.

While it has been our policy since my childhood to facilitate the rise of China, although under slightly varying rationales at different times over the years, President Trump has sometimes, along with a few of his advisors, expressed a desire to change this policy and our formal National Security Policy calls for recognition of “great power competition” as the superseding longterm priority to the ongoing war with al-Queda and progeny or similar groups.

National Security Advisor Bolton announced a “New Africa Policy” suggesting some rethinking back in December, but it seems to have been largely overcome by events since then. Bolton’s “back to the 80’s” focus on Cuba and Nicaragua to add to the standoff involving Venezuela, along with primary redirection of focus to the permanent “shadow war” with Iran, takes bandwidth, already constrained, away from African issues. Meanwhile rapidly unfolding events in Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Egypt at a time of increased uncertainty in much of Central Africa with limited clear U.S. engagement suggest that we are very much in flux about whether we are serious about recalibrating our overall reticence to compete in Africa.

Powerful forces of bureaucratic inertia and domestic American politics suggest that we are likely to continue deficit spending to help secure Chinese trade with Africa without get much further toward making it pay for itself at least through the 2020 election.

As of 2017, US exports to Sub-Saharan Africa were $ 11.7B., or somewhat less than the cost of an aircraft carrier or two amphibious assault carriers, with a trade deficit of $3B. Chinese exports were $37.4B with imports of $18.5B. (India had exports of $13.1B and imports of $19.7B.) The Chinese trade surplus with Sub-Saharan Africa approximately equals the annual U.S. Navy Shipbuilding and Conversion budget.

Podcast recommendation: over the past six months Travis Adkins’ “On Africa” from Washington has been a great resource

Djibouti IGAD Election Observation Mission press conference led by Kenya’s Issack Hassan of IEBC

There has been an explosion of great work in English relating to Africa in the podcast genre recently, and as an amateur I am way behind in sampling the free learning available just from time constraints. Today I want to flag the relatively new “On Africa” podcast hosted by Travis Adkins which has been a great teacher for me.

Start with Episode One, on October 4 of last year with Amb. Johnnie Carson, who has lived the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Zimbabwe, on “Zimbabwe after Mugabe.” November 6 on Cameroon as an “Electoral Dictatorship in Crisis” with Dr. Chris Fomunyoh of NDI was especially helpful for me since I focus on East Africa and do not have much background on the unique challenges there. Dr. Fomunyoh is a native of Anglophone Cameroon but attended university in Francophone Cameroon and has been a high level fixture for many years at NDI where he is Director for West and Central Africa.

Episodes of December 19, 26 and 31 on Sudan and South Sudan with Amb. Susan Page were especially good. Amb. Page has a personal background with the negotiations leading to the 2005 provisional government, served as NDI Regional Director and was appointed by President Obama as the first U.S. Ambassador following South Sudanese independence–so again, a sweep of recent history on into current events from an “insider” perspective.

Most recently for me, the February 13 episode with Zach Vertin, former diplomat now at the Brookings Institution Doha gives a 39 minute dive into the current “Red Sea Rivalries” shaking up international relations in the Horn of Africa region. Partin has a new book out on the birth of South Sudan which sounds fascinating and I have on my list.

Most of the best Africa podcasts I have been able to take time for in recent years have been more of an academic nature–what Adkins is doing at “On Africa” with accessible overviews of high level politics and diplomacy with people directly involved is a welcome addition for someone like me who wants to deepen and broaden their knowledge as an interested citizen with limited time due to other responsibilities.