On kidnappings, campaigns and Twitter (and other random thoughts)

The recent kidnapping of over 200 girls in northern Nigeria, and what has followed – i.e. absolutely no one cared and then all of a sudden everyone cared – has made me want to put my thoughts down on paper again. I know this issue is being discussed left, right and center, so I’m not claiming to make any new arguments. To the contrary, I’m more interested in sharing some of what I’ve read on the issue and how I feel about the different arguments being made.

What’s most interesting for me, looking at this case from a broad point of view, is the lessons we can draw from it, when it comes to awareness-raising, advocacy, campaigning. For those of us who work in development, human rights, conflict resolution or related fields, either as advocates, researchers, journalists or even policy-makers, we are always faced with this dilemma: how can we raise-awareness, how can we get an issue on the table, in a way that doesn’t cause more harm than good? And how can we do this in a way that creates long-lasting change, rather a two-week frenzy that will die down as quickly as it took life? I think the case of the Chibok girls highlights these dilemmas.

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Trying Hissène Habré: international justice in Senegal’s courts

Over the past two weeks, the investigating chamber (chambre d’instruction) of the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system, undertook a mission in Chad as part of its case against former Chadian president, Hissène Habré. Habré has been indicted by the court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed in Chad from June 7th, 1982 to December 1st, 1990.

The Chambers came about after years of negotiations between and decisions by Senegal, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other players – including the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Belgium. The Chambers were eventually created after a July 2012 ruling by the ICJ (Justice in Conflict blogged about the case in March 2012 here; iLawyer has a great analysis of the decision here) that Senegal – where Habré fled to after being overthrown in 1990 – was obligated to prosecute Habré if it did not extradite him to Belgium, where courts had been  trying to prosecute him for years.

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Prince William wants his son to grow up in the bush … sort of

Prince William is hoping to pass along his love of Africa to his newborn son, Prince George, starting with his son’s nursery. William, 31, told CNN that George’s room will be decorated with an African theme. “I’ll have toy elephants and rhinos around the room,” the new dad said in CNN‘s one-hour special, “Prince William’s Passion: New Father, New Hope.” “We’ll cover it in, you know, lots of bushes and things like that. [We’ll] make him grow up as if he’s in the bush,” he added.

CAR gets brand-new AU peacekeeping mission, no one cares

Two days ago, on August 14, the UN Security Council (UNSC) met to discuss the on-going situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) – which is just getting worse and worse, without anyone paying any attention. Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in her briefing to the UNSC, describes the overall situation as follows:

The Central African Republic is not yet a failed State but has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken […] If inadequately addressed, this crisis threatens to spread beyond the Central African Republic’s borders and to further destabilize a region already facing significant challenges.

For those unfamiliar with the African continent, CAR is bordered by Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon – none of which can really afford to have CAR’s conflict spreading across their borders. And within the country, the situation is pretty dire:

All 4.6 million Central Africans had been affected by the crisis and 1.6 million people were in dire need of assistance, including food, protection, health care, water, sanitation and shelter, [Amos] said.  More than 206,000 people had been internally displaced and nearly 60,000 had sought refuge in neighbouring countries.  Many people continued to hide in the bush and remote areas in poor sanitary conditions and without access to basic services or clean water.

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French Parliament votes to extend Mali mission

Yesterday, Monday April 22nd, 2013, the French Parliament voted to extend the French military mission in Mali, Operation Serval. Under Article 35 of the French Constitution, the government is required to submit requests to extend military interventions beyond four months to the Parliament, which then votes on the request. The Senate voted in favor 326 to 0 and the National Assembly, 342 to 0.

As part of the debate in the Senate, a report, dated April 16th, prepared by Jean-Pierre Chevenement and Gérard Larcher on behalf of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was introduced into the record. The 135-page report (which is only available in French as far as I can tell) argues that a continued French military presence in Mali is necessary for the time being, based on a number of concerns:

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CAR analysis round-up

There’s unfortunately not a whole lot of in-depth analysis being written (at least in English) on the situation in CAR (with the exception of the South African media). But for those interested, here’s a few pieces that provide some good background and updates on what’s happening in CAR these days.

General

Alex Thurston posted a good round-up on Sahel Blog on March 26th.

“CAR: How Bozize lost his piece of Africa” – article by David Smith in the Mail and Guardian

Security Council Press Statement on Central African Republic (25 March 2013)

Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on the situation in the Central African Republic (25 March 2013)

On the Seleka Rebels

“Timeline: Seleka alliance – what is it? and what were the events that lead to its taking of Bangui?” – post by Katharine Fortin on Armed Groups and International Law

“6 crazy facts about the rebel leader who just took over the Central African Republic” – by Max Fisher in the Washington Post

“Failure Has Many Fathers: The Coup in Central African Republic” – blog post by Thibaud Lesueur and Thierry Vircoulon on the blog of the International Crisis Group, the African Peacebuilding Agenda

On the South African operations in CAR

“South African counter-attack against Central African Republic rebels would be ‘complete madness’” – article by Daniel Howden in The Independent

“CAR deployment and SA democracy: Can Zuma be held to account?” – analysis by Ranjeni Munusamy in the Daily Maverick

On the Implications at the ICC

“Trust Fund for Victims suspends its activities in the Central African Republic” – ICC Press Release

“ICC prosecutor warns as Central African rebels advance”AFP report

On Human Rights and the Humanitarian Impact

“CAR coup comes amid worsening humanitarian crisis”IRIN report

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – Central African Republic Humanitarian Bulletin (28 March 2013)

“2 million children now affected by conflict and insecurity”UNICEF report

CAR unlikely to be a new battlefield between France and South Africa

In early January, an IRIN analytical piece reported that South Africa’s deployment of South African National Defense Forces (SANDF) troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) was seen by some “not simply as an effort to assist CAR’s army but also as a move to counter French military influence in the region.” South Africa’s involvement in CAR, the argument goes, is part of South Africa’s intention of supporting “African solutions to African problems.”

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The situation in CAR in regional and historical context

For a few days now, worrying reports have come out of the Central African Republic (CAR) regarding advances by rebels. With substantial interests in the stability of the CAR (see more below), France called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, March 20th. In a statement issued the same day, the UN Security Council closed with the following:

The members of the Security Council expressed serious concerns at reports of human rights violations and abuses, in particular reports on the targeting of persons belonging to ethnic minorities and illegal detentions, and at the continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including recruitment and use of children in armed conflict and sexual and gender-based violence.  They emphasized that such activities must cease immediately and that those responsible for such violations and abuses should be held accountable.

At the time of writing, reports are coming in that the rebels – known as the Seleka rebel coalition – have entered Bangui, the capital, last night (Saturday), after fighting with Chadian and South African troops, and may have even taken the Presidential palace. It is also being reported that France has sent an additional 150 troops to help keep control over the airport in Bangui, where 250 troops were already stationed.

While I’m not an expert of the Seleka rebel coalition – and there are plenty of news stories and analytical pieces floating around that can explain it very well – I thought it would be interesting to discuss the regional and historical context (see below) for CAR’s current predicament, as well as clarify some of the military aspects which are being referenced to. A lot of the news pieces I’ve seen so far seem to say a lot, without going into details and I find them quite confusing. So here we go.

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Of note: French Communist Party MP Andre Chassaigne telling journalists “France, to an as-yet unknown extent, is responsible for this assassination … I believe that France, which today claims to behave differently towards Africa under what I personally would call a virtuous circle, must tell the truth.” Chassaigne will be pressing the French National Assembly to create a commission of inquiry into Thomas Sankara’s assassination in Burkina Faso in 1987.

Africa is a Country (Old Site)


Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaoré (that’s him above posing in between Michelle and Barack Obama at the UN a few years ago), is receiving some mixed PR right now. The Telegraph in the UK has said that even with a murky past, Compaoré may be shaping up to be West Africa’s chief negotiator in regional conflicts. Some sources remain non-plussed. Peter Dorrie argues in African Arguments that Compaoré may be helping to “resolve” conflicts that he’s already benefitted from. Some in France, however, are hoping to stir this up even more. 

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Mali analysis round-up (Part 4)

This is Part 4 to a round-up of interesting pieces that are related to the situation in Mali. Most aren’t directly related to France specifically but given the centrality of the Mali intervention in French foreign policy at the moment, it’s all relevant. Part 1 is available here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

General

The Atlantic Council has a good collection of resources (publications, posts, external resources, etc) here.

“When the Jihad Came to Mali” – first-hand account by Joshua Hammer in the New York Review of Books

“Understanding Mali’s ‘Tuareg Problem'” – blog post on Bridges from Bamako

On the Long-Term & Reconstruction

“The remaking of Mali” – article by Pietro Musili and Patrick Smith in the Africa Report (unfortunately, you can’t read the whole thing without a subscription)

“How to tackle Mali’s crisis in the long term” – analysis by IRIN News

“For Progress in Mali and the Sahel, Local Governance Cannot Be Ignored” – by Mireille Affa’a-Mindzie on the Global Observatory

On the Human Impact

“Mali conflict leaves dangerous legacy for children” – video on BBC News

“The returns challenge in Mali” – analysis by IRIN News (on the challenges with repatriating and reintegrating refugees from Mali)

On Military Intervention & Peacekeeping

“Tuareg rebels ask ICC to probe Mali army ‘crimes'”AFP wire

“French Officials Warn ‘Success’ in Mali Won’t End Islamist Threat” – article by Bruce Crumley in Time Magazine

“Stablising northern Mali: different approaches to peace operations” – analysis by Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni for the Institute for Security Studies

“Mali’s Peacekeeping Mission: Full-Fledged Behemoth, or Have Lessons Been Learned?” – by Arthur Boutellis on the Global Observatory

Response from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to accusations by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights against the Malian army