“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial.  Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly.  What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status  quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience.  Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

My Memorial Day post: If a President Al Gore had invaded Iraq in 2003 with the support of Sen. Hillary Clinton . . .

all the current GOP presidential candidates would agree now that it was a foolish act of hubris given that the administration had in hindsight clearly been shown to have simply not known what they were doing.

I am not now nor have I even been a member of the Democratic party.  I worked in the defense industry throughout the whole bloody course of the Iraq war.  I even voted for George W Bush that first time in 2000 even though I knew deep down he had very thin, maybe too thin, experience on foreign and national security policy.  (In my defense I will say that I don’t think I should have been expected to know how strongly opposed many of his most senior advisers and subsequent appointees would turn out to be to the values he expressed in seeking our votes in his campaign that year.)

I certainly did not wish him to fail, nor did I wish the harm experienced by my country or by Iraq and its region from that decision but I cannot pretend it away.  It seems to me to be deeply misconceived for citizens of a democratic republic to create an “identity politics” around the competition of parties to the point of transcending a larger patriotism, moral and spiritual values, even the ability to observe and process basic facts.  Over 4000 Americans and over 100000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the Iraq war and the pre-ISIS aftermath and no one who wants to be the “leader of the free world” can plausibly duck an assessment of this war, of our choice, because of the identify of the party of the Commander in Chief at the time.

Part of the reason I took leave from my job and moved my family to East Africa in 2007 to work on democracy assistance is that I had seen how badly we were screwing up our relationships in the world by having embraced a doctrine of “preemptive war” that traditionally might have been seen as unworthy of our national ethos by both “hawks” and “doves” of other generations.  And how our biggest democracy assistance program, by far, was going in Iraq were it was in many respects too late in the wake of the invasion, as opposed to places like Kenya and Somaliland that were not at war where we had a bona fide opportunity to make a positive contribution.  The suspicions and damaged credibility of our country made the work more challenging even among those inclined to a positive view of our aspirations.

Other than the “moral injury” to our country as a whole, the Iraq war did me no personal harm–my taxes didn’t go up so my kids presumably get stuck with the bill, although it might cramp my Social Security and Medicare down the road.  I worked primarily in Navy shipbuilding, on which going to war or not going to war had relatively little business impact; we didn’t build more or less ships than we would have if we had not gone into Iraq from 2003-11.  Before we launched the invasion I was convinced by a senior friend in the industry who had been a naval officer that the sectarian situation in Iraq was beyond our grasp and I did not see the decision to launch the war as anything other than a huge risk that would have been warranted only by an extreme immediate threat which the Iraqi regime simply did not pose by any reasoned assessment.

But here at home now my dry cleaner is an Iraqi Christian.  Before we invaded, he was a medical doctor, a specialist, in his country, as was his wife.  He runs the cleaners himself six days a week, but will be closed and with his family for Memorial Day.  I’ll think of him with gratitude that he was able to get here and for the relative safety and freedom he has here, but with sadness that we elected to reach for the war hammer rather than have the patience to continue to turn the diplomatic screw in 2003 and in so doing upended his life, that of his family and community and his country.  (See Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, excerpted here.  A must read, to accompany all the war and political reporting, on life for middle class Iraqis following the invasion, for those who want to learn from the war.)

I will mourn those Americans who gave their lives for the endeavor, especially those young people who volunteered out of patriotism to protect our country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  The rest of us collectively let them down and the very least that is required of us now is to learn from their sacrifice and do better together whatever our preferences of party or domestic ideology.

I will also be thinking with gratitude of my uncle who volunteered for the Navy in World War II as a 17 year old on the family farm after Pearl Harbor, made it home from the Pacific and is still with us at 90.  He he told me years ago that he did not believe we had any business taking it on ourselves to invade Iraq to change the regime without the support of the United Nations that we created with our allies in the wake of that war that he and his “greatest generation” fought at high but shared cost.  And his grandson, serving in the Air Force now, with his own young son.  Let us use his service wisely, with a judicious and open debate over what we ask him to do for us, being honest enough with ourselves to learn from the experiences that have cost the lives of others.
 

 

 

“Rival Somali forces send in more troops”–Somaliland and Puntland

Rival Somali forces send in more troops – Africa | IOL News | IOL.co.za.

Somaliland and Puntland are continuing to deploy more troops in the disputed border regions of Sool and Sanaag.  A peaceful, mutually accepted resolution of these disputes with the support of the local population would be a gamechange for the region which has seen these conflicts and tensions periodically escalate for years.

Somaliland rejects local UNSOM presence; Kenya reading

Khat Shop Hargiesa

Khat Shop Hargiesa

The Somaliland Sun reports that the Government of Somaliland has informed the visiting head of the new United Nations Mission to Somalia (UNSOM) that Somaliland will not host a UNSOM office. Somaliland wishes to continue hosting and receiving aid through various individual UN agencies and organizations but considers the overall UNSOM mission in support of the Federal Government of Somalia incompatible with Somaliland’s independent status.

In the meantime, the questions of governance for Kismayo and the “Jubaland” region remain an immediate challenge as does the unsettled Somaliland-Puntland border. Somaliland has indicated a desire to strengthen relations with Kenya, which shares a common interest in some degree of regional autonomy for Jubaland on the Kenyan border.

Of note on Kenya:

Wachira Maina–“ICC: Kenya’s is a lose-lose strategy even if African Union has its way” in The East African.

Dr. Stephanie Burchard, “How Fraud Might (Indirectly) Promote Democracy in Africa” in the Institute for Defense Analyses’ Africa Watchdiscussing the judicial review of Ghana’s presidential election in contrast to the procedure in Kenya.

David Anderson on the Mau Mau case, “Atoning for the Sins of Empire” in the New York Times.

Wycliffe Muga on “A Brief History of Election Rigging” in The Star.

Jaindi Kisero on “There is more to the Kenya Pipeline Company saga than nepotism; is it someone’s turn to eat?” in the Daily Nation.

Paul Wafula on “Hidden pain in financing Jubilee’s bag of goodies” in The Standard.

George Kegoro, “There’s need for an independent team to probe conduct of election” in the Daily Nation.

Somaliland Update

Home Decoration Shop

Britain warns of “specific threat” to Westerners in Somaliland and urges its citizens to leave. This is sad; I found Somalilanders to be most welcoming and especially appreciative of the interest and attention of Western visitors. Likewise, during 2007-08, Hargeisa just felt safer than Nairobi, or Addis or Khartoum for that matter.

Former Ambassador David Shinn recently gave an interview with the Somaliland Sun that will be reassuring to Somalilanders wondering about the impact on them of the U.S. decision this month to give formal recognition to the new Somali government:

While I don’t speak for the U.S. government, I doubt that the formal recognition of the new Somali government will have any significant impact on Washington’s interaction with Somaliland. I believe the U.S. government will continue to work with Somaliland as it has in recent years. While there may not be public references to the two track policy, the separate administration in Somaliland remains a reality and I believe Washington will treat it as such. It is up to the leaders of Somalia and Somaliland to determine the nature of their relationship. I see no indication that the United States has abandoned any commitments reached in last year’s London conference. Nor do I expect this development will change in any perceptible way U.S. policy on combatting piracy in the region.

See David Shinn’s blog here.

Red Sea

Friday Reading [updated]

Update–here is a new blog post from Progressio on the Somaliland election: “Election hots up, but remains largely peaceful.”

Somaliland election–preliminary observation report due on Monday.. Initial impressions are generally positive.

Turnout is low in Kenya’s voter registration so far.

The legal petition challenging the legal eligibility of ICC defendants Kenyatta and Ruto to seek the Kenyan presidency was suddenly dropped Thursday. The civil society petitioners’ lawyer, Ambrose Weda, “promised” an amended re-filing that would also seek an eligibility ruling on the other 3 candidates, Kalonzo, Odinga and Mudavadi:

There had been speculation that the group withdrew their petition as a result of pressure. Lawyer Ambrose Weda denied this, but in an interview with DW’s “Africalink”, political analyst Martin Oloo said he believed that they been under intense pressure and that “with the passage of time, we’ll get to know the details.”

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has released a detailed report on the Tana River violence: well organized and planned attacks and killing. Fundamental tension over resources will remain unless/until solved. Download “28 Days of Terror in the Delta”.

Andrea Bohnstedt in The Star: “Anti-Corruption Fight in Uganda Seems Dead”.

James North in The Nation on M23, the DRC, Rwanda and the West.

U.S. Policy Toward a Post-Election Democratic Republic of Congo, Feb. 12, 2012 Testimony of Daniel Baer, Deputy Asst. Sec., Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, before House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights; Testimony of Don Yamamoto, Principal Deputy Asst. Sec, Bureau of African Affairs, Dept. of State; Testimony of Sarah Mendelson, Deputy Asst. Admin. for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs, USAID.

Election Day in Somaliland

Ministry's Murals
MINISTRY OF TOURISM AND CULTURE

[Update: Polls have now closed. Here is a VOA story with interview with Dr. Steve Kibble of Progressio.]

Voters in Somaliland will chose local officials around the country, and the results will determine the three officially recognized political parties for the next ten years under the Somaliland Constitution. Kulmiye, UDUB and UCID have been the three parties, and will face competition from recognized “political associations”. The three parties will then compete in the future parliamentary and presidential elections.

Here is the link to the “From the Ground” blog from Progressio, which is leading the international monitoring.  Also follow the hashtag #SomalilandElection.

From the Somaliland Press:

Here in the capital voting started around 7 a.m. in most of the 404 polling stations including Ga’an Libah, where President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo cast his vote. He was joined by first lady Amina Sheikh Mohamed Jirde and members of his cabinet including minister of presidency, interior, minister of finance and members of the ruling Kulmiye Party.

The president expressed a sense of opportunism and congratulated the people of Somaliland for their commitment to democracy and stability.

He urged everyone to vote peacefully and respect the electoral officials, volunteers, observers and the outcome of the result.

An international observation team of 56 from 15 countries is on the ground monitoring the elections. They see this as a crucial step in the democratization of the whole Horn of Africa region. Two teams from Puntland and Mogadishu are also there to observe and discover their neighbour’s voting system.

The polls close 6 p.m. and results might not be known until the weekend. . . .

Fighting was reported with militias in the town of Hudan in Sool, in the uncertain eastern border region with Puntland.

Good reads

“Kenya’s once safest town, now famous for the wrong reasons” Xinhua,

Kenya’s northern town of Garissa that was once voted as the safest town in East and Central Africa by Interpol has all of a sudden lost its glory as it continues experiencing a spate of grenade and gun attacks allegedly being executed by Al-Shabaab militants. . . .

“Somaliland Elections: Everything’s fine, except when it isn’t” Progressio Blog.

“Why fighting corruption in Africa fails” by William Gumede in Pambazuka News.

The Citizen reports on the release of the 2012 Afrobarometer “Round 5” poll for Tanzania, highlighting growing public perception of corruption by the CCM government.

Weekend reading on Somalia and the Somaliland elections

The Daily Nation’s Rashid Abdi reports on a new review of security in Mogadishu:

The 27-page report by Saferworld, a conflict-prevention research and advocacy organization based in London, entitled Mogadishu rising? – Conflict and governance dynamics in Mogadishu”, notes tentative gains in security.

It acknowledges that there is an improved public perception, but says progress “remains inadequate and uneven with significant areas of Mogadishu – particularly the city’s northern districts – almost entirely unpoliced.

“In the absence of state-provided security, residents and officials have formed an array of neighbourhood vigilante groups and private militia to protect themselves and their property.”

The report, based on a comprehensive field research that involved opinion surveys and focus groups, from April to July 2012, accuses the TFG of failing to capitalise on the military gains achieved to improve security and instead fuelling a “privatization of security” likely to undermine the efforts to stabilize the capital in the longer term.

Here is the link to Saferworld’s summary and to download the full report.

Lisa Otto at the South African Institute for International Affairs writes in yesterday’s Africa Portal “At the End of the Transition Period Somalia is Going Nowhere–Slowly.  Her piece is dated August 10 and doesn’t reflect the latest developments in the final week of transition, but provides a pessimistic summary of the TFG’s eight years.

Super Market & Baby Shop

In Somaliland, delayed local elections are now set for November, with a new court ruling upholding the selection of six “political associations” to participate in addition to the three established parties (Kulmiye, UCID and UDUB) in the last two presidential elections.  Progressio has released a report on August 31 entitled “Preparing for local elections in Somaliland: plans, challenges and progress.” From the announcement:

The lack of a robust voter registration system could also lead to issues such as multiple voting.

There are also concerns about the process of assessing new ‘political associations’, which are vying to join the three existing authorised political parties and so be able to participate in the elections. According to the report, there is “the potential for six political associations to join the three existing political parties to contest the elections, and for each of those nine parties/associations to stand a candidate in every seat”.

Recent and continuing challenges to press freedom also pose a barrier to legitimate elections, and there are worries that recent gains in promoting women’s involvement in democratic processes could be undermined by the ‘open list’ system.

Despite highlighting these concerns, the report makes recommendations and suggestions for improvements by a number of key players, including the government of Somaliland, the National Electoral Commission (NEC), political parties and associations, civil society organisations, and the international community including donors.

Michael Walls says: “Our hope is that this report will help encourage all concerned to pull together and ensure that these elections become another significant milestone in Somaliland’s progress towards democratic accountability.”

Here is the Somaliland Press this week on the court ruling on the political association registration:

A High court in Hargeisa has dismissed a civil case filed by a group of political parties to contest the decision by the political associations and parties Registration & Approval Committee (PPR&VC).

The case which had been filed by a cluster of parties namely UDHIS, NDB, HORYAAL and jamuuhiriga were part of the nine out of fifteen political organizations which failed to qualify verification and approval process hence their disqualification from the process.

The chairman of the High Court Prof. Yusuf Ismael Ali while reading the court’s ruling said that with all due respect, we hereby find no evidence of the irregularities in the qualification process contrary to what was alleged by the disqualified political parties.

Progressio notes the complementary British-funded work of the International Republican Insitute (IRI) in the Somaliland election preparation, along with Interpeace and others.

U.S./Somaliland relationship continues to mature as U.S. leads donor delegation on preparation for municipal elections

The key focus in current Somaliland politics is the municipal elections set to be held soon.  The National Election Commission reports being close to readiness, having (with some significant dispute) determined six additional parties to compete with the established three national parties, Kulmiye, UDUB and UCID.  Somaliland’s first local elections since modern independence was declared in 1991 were held in December 2002.  The next election was originally scheduled for December 2007, when I was there, to be followed by the April 2008 presidential election coinciding with the scheduled end of President Riyale’s term.  The Presidential election was delayed until ultimately held successfully on June 28, 2010–and now the local elections are to follow.

The top deputy for Somalia/Somaliland at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi has led a six-member donor group to Somaliland to assess preparations for the elections and opportunities for donor support.

President Silanyo told the visiting delegation his government has already allocated funds for the upcoming electoral process and all preparations have been finalized, he reminded them the need for the international community to support this country in pertinent issues as security and bilateral ones.

Mr. Douglas Meurs said, the United States continues to engage with the administration in Somaliland on a range of issues, most directly Somaliland’s continued progress towards democratization and economic development.

In Feb 2007, the United States provided a total of $1 million through the International Republican Institute to support training for parliamentarians and other key programs in preparations for the upcoming municipal and presidential elections in Somaliland.

The United States will continue to engage with Somaliland, in order to support the return of lasting peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

by Goth Mohamed Goth
somalilandpress.com

This is encouraging progress in several respects. For my first months as IRI East Africa director, we had to keep our contact with Somaliland on life support as best we could at “no cost”, hoping for renewed funding to come through from the U.S.  When funds were available, we were able to re-start programming supported by travel from Nairobi, then open an office in Hargeisa.  At that time, U.S. Government employees and direct contractors were generally not allowed to travel to Somaliland–even prominent U.S. professors who were contracted to assess our programming in the spring of 2008 were left to work from Nairobi without being allowed to go to Hargeisa. We participated in donor meetings which happened only in Nairobi.  Having senior U.S. officials lead donor groups and interact with the Somaliland stakeholders directly in the county is one more sign of de facto “normalcy” in the interactions.

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With now-President Silanyo (at right) and Kulmiye Party group at party headquarters (I’m second from the right.)