Resources-for-Infrastructure (RFI) deals between China and African countries are not always win-win as advertised. For example, the Angola-China deal trading oil for infrastructure spending did not pan out as conceived. However, this new RFI deal between China and Ghana should pan out differently because Ghana has negotiated a more favorable deal than other African countries have in the past.
In sum, Ghana has negotiated a deal with Sinohydro under which Ghana will receive $2 billion in financing for infrastructure—roads, railways, and bridges—in exchange for access to 5 percent of Ghana’s bauxite reserve. The deal, which is part of a $19 billion credit facility between both countries, also includes 100 vehicles to be donated to Ghana’s Police Service, $43 million in grants, and $37 million in debt waivers.
This deal has stirred controversy and debate within Ghana and across Africa concerning debt sustainability and the environmental degradation that could result from mining bauxite in the Atiwa forest. But considering the summary of the deal and information available in the public domain, Ghana appears to have negotiated a favorable deal with Sinohydro for three reasons.
First, this deal will not cause Ghana’s public debt to increase because China’s claim for repayment is not secured by Ghana’s general revenue. Rather, it is secured by revenues from aluminum sales. This distinction is important because it has implications for public expenditures. When loan repayment claims are against the general revenue, governments cannot prioritize other expenditures over the repayments. That is, if the indebted government desired to spend $1 million on building a new clinic, the government could not choose the clinic over repayment because that would lead to a default and higher borrowing costs in the future. But when a repayment claim is tied to a specific revenue stream, such as aluminum sales, the government is not obligated to use revenues from other sources to repay the debt. In this case, Ghana can spend the entire $1 million on building the hospital and not worry about debt repayment. This deal is similar to the revenue bonds that American and European municipalities issue to build toll roads and bridges; the repayments are tied to the tolls collected, not the general revenue. Thus, because Ghana’s obligation to repay the $2 billion is tied to aluminum revenues, Ghana will not face the dilemma of choosing between repayment and building schools or hospitals.
Second, Ghana remains in charge under this deal. Other RFI deals have made the Chinese responsible for both extracting and exporting the resources. Here, by contrast, Ghana remains responsible for extracting the bauxite, setting up the refinery to process the aluminum, and then exporting and selling the aluminum. Furthermore, this deal allows Ghana to build-up its industrial capacity through the value-added processing of bauxite to aluminum. In short, this will be a process setup by Ghanaians, run by Ghanaians, and owned by Ghanaians. China will simply receive its share of the sales.
Third, this deal will contribute to Ghana’s infrastructure. Specifically, Ghana negotiated the deal so that it will receive the $2 billion in infrastructure financing before it must begin mining bauxite or processing the aluminum. This will give Ghana the space to design an environmentally responsible bauxite mining process. Furthermore, these newly built roads, rails, and bridges will contribute to closing Ghana’s infrastructure gap. A recent World Bank report shows that Ghana needs to spend $2.3 billion per year over the next decade to close its infrastructure gap. This level of infrastructure spending will have the additional benefit of adding 2.7 percentage points to the GDP per year.
Despite these favorable points, mining for bauxite in the Atiwa Forest comes with serious risks to the environment. Atiwa is home to the sources for three rivers that supply drinking water to five million residents in Accra. It is also the habitat for rare and endangered species such as the West African White-naped Mangabey monkey, Mylothris atewa, and Anthene helpsi – the latter two being rare butterfly species found only in the Atiwa forest. The government, in consultation with environmental groups and stakeholders, therefore needs to formulate an effective environmental pollution mitigation plan to protect the forest ecosystem.
In conclusion, Ghana has negotiated well and received a better RFI deal that ensures it will develop necessary infrastructure, maintain control of the bauxite extraction process, and add value to the bauxite before selling it on the international market. For African countries to transition from being mere exporters of raw materials to also being value-added processors, they must trade the resources they have to acquire the infrastructure upon which a new economic model can be built. This deal accomplishes precisely this feat.
Francis Kiazolu is a Senior Derivatives and Securities Analyst at PRA Group, Inc.
Recent media reports claim that a covert Kenyan paramilitary team is responsible for the unconstitutional killing of terror suspects in nighttime raids. The reports are based on interviews with US and Kenyan diplomatic and intelligence officials.
The team was trained, armed and supported by US and British intelligence officers.
This has drawn renewed attention to the reality of widespread foreign security operations in Africa.
Several African governments are hosting foreign military bases. This is despite the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council’s ongoing concerns about the proliferation of foreign military bases on the continent. The AU is also concerned about its inability to monitor the movement of weapons to and from these military bases. Regardless, a host of bilateral agreements between AU member states and foreign powers underlie the spread of foreign military forces across the continent.
At least 13 foreign powers have a substantial military presence on the continent. The US and France are at the forefront of conducting operations on African soil.
Moreover, private military groups are active in several conflict zones on African soil. Northern Mozambique is the most recent case.
These dynamics coincide with claims that Russian MiG-29 and Su-24 warplanes have now conducted missions in Libya in support of Kremlin-backed private military forces to extend Moscow’s influence in Africa.
Military base mapping
Currently, the US has 7,000 military personnel on rotational deployment in Africa. These troops carry out joint operations with African forces against extremists or jihadists. They are hosted in military outposts across the continent, including Uganda, South Sudan, Senegal, Niger, Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In addition, 2,000 American soldiers are involved in training missions in 40 African countries. American special forces operate across east Africa in so-called forward operation locations in Kenya and Somalia.
Like the US, France has either deployed military forces or established bases in a number of African countries. The country has more than 7,500 military personnel currently serving on the continent. Its largest presence is in the Sahel, especially in the border zone linking Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Since then China has maintained an anti-piracy naval presence in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden. Between 2008 and 2018, the Chinese Navy deployed 26,000 military personnel in a variety of maritime security operations.
Lemonnier was established alongside French, Italian, Spanish, German and Japanese bases. China has developed a 36-hectare military facility to host several thousand Chinese troops and provide facilities for ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. These are counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden; intelligence collection on other countries; noncombat evacuation of Chinese citizens in East Africa; international peacekeeping operations where Chinese soldiers are deployed; and counter-terrorism operations.
India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. The country has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean to counter China’s rising military footprint in the region.
It also wants to protect its commercial sea lanes from piracy.
India has ongoing deployments that monitor developments in the Horn of Africa and Madagascar. The country also plans to establish 32 coastal radar surveillance stations with sites in the Seychelles, Mauritius, and other locations outside Africa.
When it comes to the Middle East, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the two countries with a notable military presence in Africa.
Turkey joined the international counter-piracy task force off the Somali coast in 2009. In 2017, it opened a military base in Mogadishu, Somalia. The purpose is to train recruits for the Somali National Army. Turkey will also support the Somali navy and coastguard.
The UAE has had a military base in Eritrea since 2015. It comprises a military airfield with aircraft shelters and a deepwater naval port. The base has been used in operations against opposition forces in Yemen.
Foreign military motivations
It is clear that the Horn is the epicentre of foreign military activity in Africa. Foreign troops have been deployed there to counter threats to international peace, subdue terror groups and pirates, and support foreign security initiatives.
But there are other motivations to establish military bases in Africa. These include protection of commercial interests, aligning with friendly regimes, and expressing dominance on a continent that is the focus of rising global competition.
Of course, Africa is not the exception. The US, for example, also maintains a substantial military and security presence in the Gulf region. It has bases in countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE.
For some observers it might seem like foreign governments are imposing their militaries on Africa, but, in fact, many African governments are keen to host them.
Bilateral agreements with major powers generate income for African states. The opening of China’s military base in Djibouti is a case in point. Most of Djibouti’s economy relies on Chinese credit.
The presence of foreign military forces has also played a significant role in fighting terror groups. These include groups like al-Shabaab in East Africa and jihadists in Mali. This explains why several African countries are willing to turn to foreign governments for advice, intelligence and support.
But there is a downside to the presence of foreign forces on the continent. For instance, the African security landscape has become overcrowded by a multiplicity of foreign security and military activities. These activities often function at cross purposes.
Finally, African countries are not agreed on how to regulate foreign security and military activities. The approach so far has been disjointed.
Though Africa’s peacekeeping capacity has increased significantly, the AU is still highly dependent on external funding and resources for its peacekeeping operations. It does not have the freedom to take independent strategic, operational and even tactical decisions in its operations.
As long as these shortcomings exist in Africa’s response to armed conflict, foreign militaries and intelligence services will continue to operate on the continent.
These are matters that have to be addressed before African states can heed the AU Peace and Security Council’s concerns about extensive foreign military involvement on the continent.
Theo Neethling is professor of political science at the department of political studies and governance at the University of the Free State in South Africa.
Trump has never been to Africa. At least not as president. Not for six decades, since JFK, has an American president even met with fewer African leaders than Trump. During JFK's time of course most African states were still colonial territories. His attitude toward the continent appears to be mired in either indifference or outright hostility, as his “shithole countries” comment and repeated (but unsuccessful) efforts to cut foreign aid demonstrate.
The feeling is mutual. As with the rest of the world, Africa’s view of the United States has declined under Trump’s leadership.
Yet, as more astute observers than the President recognise, this is exactly the moment to care about Africa. According to the UN, Sub-Saharan Africa is the only global region expected to sustain rapid population growth over the course of this century. By 2050, Nigeria will overtake the U.S. as the third most populous country in the world. The spill over effects of recent crises – such as piracy in the Gulf of Aden or the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean – demonstrate that Africa is an important geopolitical theatre with growing clout. America’s rivals, particularly China and increasingly Russia, recognise this and have seized the initiative, exposing U.S. policy as shallow and out of touch.
With the prospect of a new administration on the horizon, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) conducted a series of debates with expert contributors from both the U.S. and Africa. The key critiques and recommendations are summarised in a proposed New U.S. Policy Framework for the African Century.
The framework is built on three key pillars: real partnerships, new partners, and revitalising public diplomacy. The key elements of these pillars are presented below.
The report argues that U.S. policymakers do not give Africa the same careful strategic consideration as other conglomerated regions around the world, such as Latin America and the Middle East. The U.S. needs to take its relationships on the continent more seriously.
That begins with undoing Henry Kissinger’s 1974 division of the continent into two separately imagined sub-regions – North and Sub-Saharan – and approaching Africa as a united whole. By standardising the scope of African affairs across all its foreign policy organisms – from the State Department to USAID, the Pentagon and beyond – the U.S. could consolidate the actual number of policymakers and potentially achieve greater focus in its policymaking. Indeed, more voices rarely add greater clarity to a discussion.
With a re-imagined African continent, the U.S. president and his top officials should engage more directly to influence policy outcomes. Instead of waiting at the finish line to shake the hands of pliant leaders, the president should be more of an active “problem solver” on the continent. This engagement should be supported with more meaningful policy tools – “real carrots and sticks” – to sway these outcomes.
Africa’s transformation will require a new paradigm of relationships – both within the continent and externally – to help the U.S. achieve its strategic aims.
According to the UN, by 2050, Africa will be home to fourteen megacities spread right across the continent: including in Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Angola, DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and South Africa. These cities will be engines of economic growth and centres of political power which the U.S. should leverage to diversify its existing partnerships and increase economic ties.
And with the growing global trend of regionalism, the U.S. needs to boost its engagement with Africa’s plethora of regional bodies, including SADC, COMESA, ECOWAS and ECCAS. This could include deploying personnel to work with these institutions and providing financial assistance.
In terms of external partners, the U.S. should look beyond France and the UK when engaging international partners to help fulfil its aims on the continent. And at home, U.S. companies require more hand-holding and strategic direction to increase foreign direct investment into Africa, particularly in the agribusiness, energy, entertainment, finance, services, and technology sectors.
African popular culture is vibrant, politically engaged, and growing in global influence. From the Afrocentric iconography of international blockbusters like Black Panther and the Lion King to the Afrobeat superstars topping charts around the world. Yet, the U.S. persists with old-school communication strategies and public diplomacy initiatives like the “Jazz Ambassadors” programme first established in the 1950s, when Louis Armstrong was sent on a tour through the continent. Now, as then, the U.S. needs to leverage its most popular African American stars to rebuild its positive image on the continent.
However, that also requires an honest dialogue about American society’s persistent challenge with racism. These issues matter to Africans and the U.S. needs to do more to understand and influence these sentiments through programmes like the Young African Leaders Initiative, established by President Obama in 2010.
CSIS’ framework presents an optimistic and progressive agenda for future U.S.-Africa relations. An agenda which, frankly, seems unobtainable with the ideology and tendencies of the current administration. Trump has never demonstrated the intellectual sophistication to suggest he might grasp Africa’s growing strategic importance and involve himself more directly in its affairs, as he does with China, for example.
The administration’s open disavowal of multilateralism suggests that it would be unlikely to build new coalitions to address the challenges facing Africa. Furthermore, its antagonistic relationship with its own (predominantly Democrat-controlled) megacities and the steady hollowing out of State Department capacity, provides little hope for innovative approaches to engagement on the continent. Never mind Trump’s unprecedented racial divisiveness.
The prospect of a Joe Biden presidency looms ever more likely and with greater promise for a revitalised American foreign policy. Yet, it would be naïve to imagine that Africa would be among his priorities. The relationship with China requires a serious strategic re-set; America will need to reingratiate itself with multilateral platforms such as NATO and the Paris Agreement; and Russian interference in the Middle East and Europe will persist.
However, with Vice President Harris and Susan Rice as a potential Secretary of State, the Biden administration would be well placed to rebuild good will and engage its most senior representatives with African affairs. Similarly, high profile African Americans would likely be more inclined to represent their country under Biden’s leadership.
The U.S. presidential election is never a parochial affair. Africa’s leaders, like those around the world, will be watching closely in November.
Illegal firearms trafficking remains a critical problem for African states, and a new United Nations’ report on the problem may reveal just the tip of the iceberg.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released a report on firearms trafficking in July, a follow-up on a 2015 study on firearms. “Pistols are the world’s most seized type of firearm… driven to a large extent by the Americas,” the “Global Study on Firearms Trafficking 2020” notes. “In Africa and Asia, shotguns were the most prominent type. Rifles were the main type of firearm seized in Oceania, and in Europe the distribution was equal between pistols, rifles, and shotguns.”
Africa’s oversupply of shotguns suggests many of the weapons seized are used for poaching activities, particularly the poaching of birds. Yet, in focusing on trafficked weapons, the UN report left out the role of improvised weapons, an essential part of the illegal weapons trade in Africa.
Relying on data from 2016 and 2017, the report noted that some 550,000 firearms were seized in eighty-one countries. By comparison, a January 2019 BBC news report on Ghana’s illegal arms trade suggested that illegal gunsmiths in Ghana have the capacity to make up to 200,000 guns a year. While much of the improvised weapons are used to commit crimes, a large portion of these guns are essentially single use.
About 90 percent of armed robberies in Ghana are reported to involve the use of homemade guns, according to the Ghana Police Service. Such weapons can be purchased for as little as US$9, and most are used for home defense by residents who live in areas with a high crime rate. Many of these weapons are crudely fashioned single-use zip guns.
Ghana’s blacksmith may be the most productive on the continent. By comparison, Mali authorities estimate that some 5,000 guns are produced in the country each year.
Ghana’s blacksmiths have been making guns for centuries after European traders often refused to sell Africans firearms in large quantities to not lose their comparative military advantage during colonial era conflicts. Ghana’s gunsmiths are perhaps the most advanced on the continent capable of producing weapons that mimic in appearance (but, not functionality) Kalashnikovs AKMs, for example. What they lack in modern machinery they more than compensate with skill.
Some twenty-two African countries have notable illegal firearms manufacturing, most of which are located in West Africa. Such ECOWAS countries include Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, and Mali.
Homemade weapons usually lack the durability to become a significant combat arm of insurgent groups. One exception is in the Cameroonian conflict known as the Anglophone Crisis, where the relative lack of availability of internationally produced weapons has led some armed Anglophone separatists to rely on improvised hunting rifles as their primary combat arm.
In 2019, the African Union Commission and the Small Arms Survey released a study, “Weapons Compass: Mapping Illicit Small Arms Flows in Africa”, that identified the scale, availability, and supply patterns of illicit small arms on the continent. The study estimated there were some 40 million firearms in the hands of African civilians (including militias and rebel groups), whereas governments held fewer than 11 million firearms.
Weapons originating outside the continent can have diffuse origins. Europe and the Middle East have long been a source for Africa’s illegal small arms trade (especially in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. However, China is a growing source for much of the continent’s weapons. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China’s conventional arms sales surged from US$645 million in 2008 to US$1.04 billion in 2018. Though only a small percentage of those weapons have ended up in Africa, the number is growing.
A 2020 study released by Conflict Armament Research found that most of ammunition used to fuel conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria originated in China.
Checkpoints for weapons searches and quicker response times to reports of shots fired by local security forces are two measures that can lead to more arms seizures. Indeed a combination of tighter enforcement measures within countries and renewed searches at borders suggest probable.
The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been told to start making plans to move its headquarters out of Stuttgart, Germany. In a media statement released on July 31, AFRICOM commander General Stephen J. Townsend said it would likely take months to consider potential locations and make a decision, but the process had started.
This news comes two days after US defense secretary Mark T. Esper announced that the US Department of Defense will withdraw 11,900 troops currently stationed in Germany, sending some home and moving the rest to other NATO countries. The headquarters of the United States European Command (EUCOM) will also move from Germany to Mons, Belgium.
This fits with the Pentagon’s troop reallocation plan as part of a broader initiative to shift American military policy away from counterterrorism and toward counteracting China and Russia’s expanding influence. But it also reflects the increasing estrangement between the US and Germany, a key European ally.
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), has been cleared of corruption following the conclusion of a second ethics probe, which the United States had insisted on. A three-person team found insufficient evidence to prove allegations of corruption and nepotism that whistleblowers had leveled against Dr. Adesina, and found his submission to be persuasive.
A report by the AfDB’s Ethics Committee and Board of Governors had cleared him of misconduct in April, but the US, which is the second-largest AfDB shareholder, rejected the internal investigation and insisted that an independent panel review the case. The panel, led by former Irish president Mary Robinson, reviewed all the evidence and agreed with the earlier finding.
The Americans’ demand for a second investigation into Dr. Adesina’s conduct sparked outrage among African states that hold shares in the AfDB, with Nigeria in particular pushing back against what they perceived as an imposition on the bank by a non-African nation.
Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB
The AfDB has been a key financier of major infrastructure projects, such as Mozambique’s liquid natural gas plant in Cabo Delgado province and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Inga III hydropower project. The AfDB has also committed US$10 billion in funding to assist in the fight against COVID-19 on the continent.
With his name cleared, Dr. Adesina is free to pursue his re-election bid for president of the AfDB in August, running as the only candidate for the position and generally supported by the Bank’s African shareholders.
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s office put out a press release on July 21 confirming the first year’s filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been achieved thanks to heavier than normal seasonal rainfall and runoff. Abiy commended the African Union for leading the latest talks between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to address their differences over the dam’s filling and operation, and said that further technical discussions would continue.
The statement was light on details but seems to indicate that Ethiopia is pulling back from some of its more aggressive rhetoric used against Egypt, as the two nations have rattled sabers at each other over the course of negotiations. Egyptian hackers have even launched a cyberattack on Ethiopian government websites in the past month.
There has been no official response to the press release from Egypt or Sudan.
Egypt has referred to the GERD as an “existential threat” over fears that a rapid filling of the dam could lower water levels in the Nile to a dangerous degree. Amid rumors last week that Ethiopia had begun to fill the GERD before an agreement had been reached between the three countries, Sudan reported a drop in the water level of the Blue Nile—also known as the Abbay River—reaching it from upstream Ethiopia.
When Egypt sought urgent clarification from Ethiopia over the reports that the reservoir was being filled, the Ethiopian water and energy minister responded that the level was rising due to heavy rains and not to conscious efforts to fill the dam. He said the overflow would be “triggered soon.”
Key Questions Remain
The key questions are how much water Ethiopia will release in years of low rainfall, and how future disputes will be resolved.
The United States, United Nations, and African Union have mediated negotiations to resolve the impasse. The American response has been ambivalent, however, as some in the Trump administration want to side with Egypt, a strategic US military partner, whereas others worry this risks driving a wedge between the US and Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation.
Egypt’s parliament has given President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi a mandate to deploy troops “outside the borders of the Egyptian state, to defend Egyptian national security in the Arab strategic direction against the actions of armed criminal militias and foreign terrorist elements.”
The mandate was passed only a few days after Sisi met with Libyan tribal leaders, who asked for the support of the Egyptian armed forces to “expel the Turkish colonizer.” The vagueness of the mandate’s wording, however, suggests that this approval by parliament could also have been given in the context of the ongoing dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
It increases the risk of the conflict turning into a full-blown regional proxy war
Egypt has been a continuous supporter of the Libyan House of Representatives, based in Tobruk, the rival government to the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Tripoli. The House of Representatives is supported by the Libyan National Army (LNA) under its commander Khalifa Haftar, which has been waging a steady campaign to oust the GNA since April 2019. Just a few months ago, Turkey began to send troops and material support to the GNA, helping to stop the LNA’s advance on Tripoli and reverse several key gains it had made.
Reacting to these setbacks, Sisi has issued several public statements making it clear that the seizure of the Libyan cities of Sirte and Jufra by rival forces would be viewed as a red line, thus inviting military intervention. Jufra functions as a corridor into western Libya and is home to an airbase that has been crucial for LNA advances. Sirte is an oil port that plays a key role in the Libyan oil economy. Both Egypt and Turkey are looking to expand their Mediterranean energy markets, with Libya a key strategic location for both countries.
Unlike prior escalations of the Libyan conflict, the direct involvement of the Egyptian military in Libya’s protracted civil war increases the risk of the conflict turning into a full-blown regional proxy war akin to what has transpired in Yemen and Syria. With Turkey a member of NATO and Egypt an ally of the United States, the fallout of such a conflict would be catastrophic for regional security and for the well-being of Libyan civilians. Every effort now needs to be made to pull all foreign actors operating in Libyan territory back from the brink.
A transport vehicle carrying French troops came under fire from Chadian security forces outside the private residence of President Idriss Déby on Monday night. Luckily, no injuries were sustained and the vehicle continued on toward a French base, returning from a sortie carried out earlier in the day.
An investigation has been launched into the events leading up to the incident, but observers have expressed concern that this was the second time that Chadian troops have engaged in accidental friendly fire against French forces, the first occurring on June 9, again outside the presidential residence.
The US expressed deep concern over allegations of human rights abuses
The June 9 incident happened three weeks after a meeting between the heads of state of the G5 Sahel military alliance and French president Emmanuel Macron, where all parties agreed to stay the course while noting the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Last Thursday, the United States Department of State released a statement expressing deep concern over allegations of human rights abuses committed by Sahelian security forces, and threatened to cut support for the offensive should they persist. This is an outcome the G5 Sahel cannot afford, nor can France, which has asked its European partners to send more soldiers and equipment to the Sahel.
Juba, South Sudan— Developments in both Sudans suggest that peace prospects are starting to bear fruit in a region that has known decades of war. In February 2020, signatories to the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan formed a new government, called the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity, thus breathing life into the implementation of the ailing agreement, signed in 2018.
The agreement had faced a number of uncertainties and weathered two extensions, the first by six months and the second by one hundred days. The fact that the situation has remained stable has raised hopes among South Sudanese that the dividends of peace can now be enjoyed.
Yet competition for economic resources and control at both local and national levels persists, an obstacle on the road to sustainable peace.
David Shearer, special representative of the United Nations secretary-general in South Sudan, briefed the UN Security Council on this and other issues on June 23. His presentation is part of concerted efforts by the international community and the wider region to ensure that this time the peace will last. The various entities involved are the UN, the African Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Norway (which were all instrumental in facilitating the formation of the transitional government); countries bordering on South Sudan, notably the Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia; and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a trade bloc of eight countries from the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes region, and the Nile Valley.
The breakthrough political compromise that regional mediators put in motion has provided the opening for President Salva Kiir, former rebel leader turned First Vice President Riek Machar, and other key political leaders to join the three-year transitional government.
Although these positive developments were painstakingly slow, the chance that the peace agreement could hold only became firm when a parallel fast-paced process was taking shape: the Sudanese peace talks initiated by President Kiir.
Developments in the Sudan
Following the Sudanese Revolution of December 2018 that led to the ousting of long-serving president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, there has been positive steps in Khartoum. It has provided a window of opportunity to address the root causes of the Sudanese crisis; to finally bring sustainable peace to the long-suffering people on the margins in Darfur, South Kordofan, Nuba Mountains, and Eastern Sudan; and to build a state based on freedom, justice, and shared prosperity.
The success of the popular uprising against the regime created a leadership vacuum and power wrangling between protest groups and the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which immediately took over from Bashir, albeit leading to a transitional power-sharing deal between civilians and the military brokered by the AU and Ethiopia. However, this agreement left out other key players, such as the armed rebel movements in Darfur and the Two Areas (South Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile).
South Sudanese president Salva Kiir exploited this opening during the swearing in of the transitional government in Khartoum to declare his willingness—with the support of Sudan’s neighbors and Gulf states—to mediate between the new rulers and the rebel groups, capitalizing on his in-depth knowledge of the Sudanese crisis and its actors. It should be recalled both governments in the past have often accused each other of hosting and supporting hostile forces that seek to overthrow their respective governments. At the closing session of the general conference of the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum in 2017, Bashir openly called for the two states to be reunited.
For his part, President Kiir had long repeated that the armed conflict in the Sudan was directly affecting stability in his country, as the clashes were mainly located in the border region. Also, he said, the continuation of fighting in the Sudan provoked Khartoum to back South Sudanese armed groups after accusing Juba of supporting the Sudanese rebels.
With the rapprochement started by Khartoum leading to the signing of South Sudan’s own peace agreement in September 2018, the time was ripe for Juba to play a leading role. In the past, Bashir had always resisted Kiir’s advances to facilitate peace talks with the Sudanese armed groups. After Kiir’s involvement in the IGAD-mediated peace talks to end the three-year armed conflict in the South, however, Bashir accepted his involvement.
Sudanese Peace Talks
In early September 2019, Kiir hosted talks in Juba between rebel movements, military members of the Sovereign Council, and Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok. Rebel movements involved in the Juba meetings included four Darfuri armed groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM), the Sudan Liberation Movement–Transitional Council, and the Alliance of Sudan Liberation Forces; the Blue Nile/South Kordofan rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu (SPLM-N al-Hilu); and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), an alliance of Sudanese rebel groups created in 2011 in opposition to Bashir’s government.
The negotiations were divided along five tracks, in which each track addresses the grievances of a region, namely, Central Sudan, Eastern Sudan, the Two Areas, the North, and Darfur.
A first round of negotiations took place in Juba in mid-September. In the second round in October 2019, agreements were signed on the Two Areas track between the government and the SPLM-N al-Hilu, and on the Darfur track between the government and the SRF. The third round started in mid-December on the Eastern Sudan track, the Two Areas track with the SPLM-N Agar (the faction led by Malik Agar), and the Darfur track.
“The president of South Sudan has an experience similar to the Sudanese situation, and he is one of the first fighters who resisted injustice,” a leader of the SRF said in an interview with this analyst. He declined to be named, as he was not the spokesperson for the delegation in Juba.
The delegate also stressed that Kiir is well placed to mediate the Sudanese process. The authorities in Khartoum are also keen to reach a peaceful settlement of conflicts as per their country’s constitutional declaration, which sought to achieve peace in all of the Sudan within six months of its signing.
The vice president of the Sovereign Council of the Sudan, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti), has helped to facilitate the formation of the new government of South Sudan, accompanying South Sudanese opposition leader Machar and guaranteeing his security on multiple visits to Juba in preparation for the government formation.
In parallel, Hemedti has continued Juba-based peace talks with Sudanese armed groups, including the Sudanese Revolutionary Front and SPLM-N al-Hilu, as cited in a UN panel of experts report on South Sudan released on April 28, 2020.
According to multiple sources involved in both mediations, the connection between the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan and peace talks in relation to the Sudan has become inextricable. For instance, Hemedti has tried to capitalize on his patronage relationship with Machar to ask for Juba’s support in softening the position of Abdelaziz al-Hilu, leader of the armed group SPLM-N al-Hilu, who is hosted in South Sudan. Machar’s party told the panel that Machar’s last-minute entry into the government had been “forced upon him” by the Sudan, Uganda, and the international community, and that Machar was “now a prisoner in Juba.” This intertwined relationship has carried the risk that the implementation of the agreement hinges on the Sudan making progress in its peace talks.
Progress has been made, including the signing of the declaration of principles (a political agreement that includes a renewed ceasefire) and the delivery of humanitarian assistance by government agencies to areas under conflict. A framework agreement has also been drawn up for the smoldering Darfur conflict, covering issues such as power sharing, wealth sharing, transitional justice, and a commitment to continue the negotiations.
The SRF and Sovereign Council representatives agreed on the creation of a special court for Darfur to conduct investigations and trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out during the war by the Bashir presidency and by rebel warlords. They did not discuss the issue of whether or not to transfer Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court.
Furthermore, Hemedti signed political and security agreements, constituting a framework agreement, on behalf of the Sovereign Council and Ahmed El Omda Badi on behalf of SPLM-N Agar. The agreements give legislative autonomy to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, propose solutions for the sharing of land and other resources, and aim to unify all militias and government soldiers into a single unified Sudanese military.
A “final” peace agreement for the North track—including issues of studies for new dams, compensation for people displaced by existing dams, road construction, and burial of electronic and nuclear waste—was signed by Shamseldin Kabashi of the Sovereign Council and Dahab Ibrahim of the Kush Movement.
Also, on March 25, the death of Sudanese defense minister Gamal al-Din Omar of a heart attack in Juba further delayed the process to allow for mourning. In a press statement, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the Sovereign Council, said he mourned the death of Omar, “who died while struggling for the stability of the Sudan,” a reference to peace talks with rebels.
Delays, But Also Progress
Following this development, Tut Gatluak, chair of the mediation, stated that the Sudan, South Sudan, and other African countries are committed “to end all forms of war” in Africa by the end of 2020, referencing the African Union’s theme of Silencing the Guns.
Notwithstanding, delays have also plunged the ten-month process into uncertainty, with extension of negotiations month after month with no time limit. Some observers say the process has lost momentum.
The spread of COVID-19 to the two countries has also slowed the peace process, as social distancing measures have meant that delegates could not easily meet. Thanks to the European Union missions in both Juba and Khartoum, talks resumed via video teleconferencing.
The Sudan Liberation Movement of Minni Minnawi, however, has refused to take part in video conference meetings, saying the security arrangements require the involvement of military experts and physical negotiations.
Talks between the government and SPLM-N al-Hilu were suspended for several months, as the armed group wanted to put the right to self-determination and the relationship between state and religion on the agenda, a request the government wouldn’t consider. Sudanese government spokesman Mohamed Hassan Eltaishi announced an invitation by the mediators to resume dialogue via video conferencing with the SPLM-N delegation on June 22.
For now, negotiations to achieve a comprehensive peace continues in Juba with a pattern of extensions of deadlines for the signing of a final agreement. It is undeniable, however, that the fate of the two countries is intertwined.
Lasting peace in South Sudan is most likely to reflect positively in the Sudan, especially in the Two Areas, traditional strongholds of the SPLM-N, a movement with very close connections to SPLM, the ruling party in South Sudan. Once comrades in the armed struggle against the oppressive Islamist government in Khartoum, they were separated on July 9, 2011, when the south seceded to become an independent state.
Failure to achieve peace in the Sudan, on the other hand, is likely to be detrimental to South Sudan’s long-term stability, as the Sudan is a known haven for South Sudanese dissidents. But the Sudan has also been pushing for compromises thus far made by South Sudanese parties, which has spurred progress in the peace process. Any disinterest by Khartoum could lead to loss of momentum in Juba’s own implementation of agreements, possibly sparking a new wave of violence.
Patrick Anyama Godi is the editor of True African Magazine, a South Sudanese lifestyle, fashion, and business magazine