THIS year, from southern Africa to the Horn, many African nations have done two things – withdraw or threaten to quit regional peacekeeping or international bodies like the International Criminal Court (ICC).
What’s going on?
The latest walk-away came after an independent United Nations-comissioned inquiry on November 1 issued a highly critical report on its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.
It described the response of its peacekeepers to an attack on a South Sudan hotel in July as “chaotic and ineffective”.
The findings were shocking. Peacekeepers abandoned their posts. No contingent was willing to participate in a rescue mission to help aid workers and civilians whose hotel was raided by government soldiers a little over a kilometre from their base, even though a senior government officer offered to accompany the reaction force.
In response, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon sacked Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, the Kenyan head of the South Sudan peacekeeping mission, known as UNMISS.
The response of the various UNMISS troop contributing countries was telling, and highlighted yet the difficult relationship Africa is having with the international community.
CHINA, JAPAN PICK UP THE PIECES
Kenya, perhaps justifiably, responded angrily, and announced its withdrawal from the South Sudan peacekeeping. Ondieki, it said, was made being a scapegoat for the UN systemic failures in South Sudan, seeing as he had taken over the command of UNMISS only about a month before the attack.
However China, which also has troops in UNMISS, criticised the report, but its Maj-Gen Chaoying Yang, the UNMISS deputy commander, went on to take over command of the mission. While Kenya stepped away, China acted like an expanding global power.
On its part, a few days ago Japan gave its military its first order under controversial new security laws concerning the use of weapons to rescue UN staff and employees of non-profit groups working as part of peacekeeping operations in conflict-torn South Sudan, if they were to come under siege.
It is unconstitutional for Japan’s military to engage in combat action in international armed conflicts. However, Japan does not recognise the situation in South Sudan as an “armed conflict”, as both government and rebel forces are involved in trying to forge a peaceful end to the conflict.
Kenya’s withdrawal, which contrasts with Japan’s and China’s increased engagement, is symptomatic of Africa’s increasing frustration with an international order that if feels is tone deaf to its sensitivities, and treats it without respect.
Nevertheless, it still represents an African shrinkage into itself, which contrasts sharply with the situation just ten years ago.
In October, the Ethiopia National Defense Force (ENDF) started multiple withdrawals of its units from Somalia.
Under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) it unilaterally departed from two strategic towns in the Hiraan region of central Somalia.
On October 23, another contingent abandoned a base in Halgan district of northern Hiraan. Then on 26 October, the BBC reported that ENDF units operating independently of AMISOM had vacated their positions in the Bakol region near the Ethiopian border.
Ethiopia blames lack of support by the international community, though some commentators say the political crisis at home, with protests in the Oromo and Amhara that led to the recent imposition of a six-month state of emergency, might also have contributed to the move.
Earlier in the year, it seemed the AMISOM mission would collapse, with Uganda, the main troop contributor, and Kenya, threatening to withdraw in the face of western donor financial cuts to the Somalia peacekeeping operation. A subsequent funding deal with the European Union averted the crisis – for now.
In June, Uganda announced plans to withdraw troops involved in U.S.-backed operations against its Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in the Central African Republic (LRA). The LRA have left a trail of destruction in eastern DR Congo and parts of CAR since they were pushed out of Uganda nearly 15 years ago. In 2005 the ICC issued arrest warrants for five LRA leaders, including its chief Joseph Kony.
Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, a military spokesman, said Uganda would draw down its 3,000-strong force in a process that will be completed by the end of the year.
He said the Kampala government was frustrated by declining support from other countries.
However, nowhere is this shrinkage of Africa’s engagement with the world more evident, than in its fraught relationship with the (ICC).
WAR AGAINST ICC
On the back of a widespread view in African officialdom that the ICC “targets mainly Africans” and is an “imperialist tool”, most of the last two years were dedicated to passionate denunciation of the world war crimes court.
The criticism mounted as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, faced trial at The Hague for alleged war crimes resulting from deadly post-election violence in the country in early 2008, years before their election in 2013. Both cases eventually collapsed.
Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is now the last sitting president indicted by the ICC, whose case remains unresolved. He has refused to appear at The Hague.
The refusal by South Africa to arrest him when he travelled to the country last year to attend an African Union summit, causing a diplomatic storm, pushed Pretoria to the point where it recently notified the UN it was withdrawing from the ICC.
The parliament in Burundi, where the ICC said it was investigating abuses in the violence that has consumed the country since April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza made a grab for a controversial third term in power, also voted to withdraw from the ICC.
After South Africa and Burundi, The Gambia, where the oppressive and eccentric Yahya Jammeh has been in power since 1996, also indicated it was parting ways with the ICC.
10 YEARS AGO IT WAS DIFFERENT
The current mood could not be more different than what prevailed about 10 years ago. When the AU voted to send a peacekeeping mission to war-torn Somalia, Uganda dispatched the first contingent.
It flew troop carriers into a Mogadishu held by Al-Shabaab militants, landed at the airport, and the soldiers basically fought their way as they got off the planes.
A military transporter was shot down by the insurgents as it landed at the Mogadishu airport. Fortunately the soldiers didn’t perish. They thus only established themselves in the areas that they conquered.
It would be unthinkable for a peacekeeping mission to start that way today.
Equally, the response by the international community to Africa’s frustrations and tantrums, were very different a few years ago.
In 2010 a leaked report by a UN expert panel, accused Rwanda troops of massacring civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s, and said the atrocities were equivalent to a “genocide”.
RWANDA AND KI-MOON
Rwanda, where nearly one million were killed in the 1994 genocide, hit the roof and said it would withdraw its peacekeepers from the troubled Darfur region in Sudan. The Rwandan units had been the first to arrive in the charged region, and at that time formed the backbone of the operation.
UN chief Ki-Moon begged Rwanda not to ditch the mission, and jumped on the next flight to Kigali to assuage frayed nerves.
Ki-moon said he was “disappointed” the draft had been released, after he held talks with President Paul Kagame in Kigali.
Rwanda pushed back that the document was “malicious” and “ridiculous” and wanted it amended. It good some of its wishes. The UN delayed publication of the document to give countries more time to comment on its contents, and the language in the final report was softened.
However, this year in June, after Uganda said it was jumping out of the CAR mission, no one publicly begged it to stay.
Instead a US State Department official praised Uganda’s involvement in the mission, but said the U.S. would continue to work with other countries affected by the LRA.
In Kenya’s case, the UN said it “respected” its decision to withdraw from UNMISS.
A UN Peacekeeping official in New York, said it would engage with the government of Kenya to discuss the modalities of the withdrawal.
“This is the prerogative of the Kenyan Government and we respect it. We will now consult with the Kenyan Government regarding the modalities of withdrawal of its contingent,” he said.
In effect, Uganda and Kenya got a “thank you and goodbye”.
It would seem then that the international community is either coming to terms with the reality that Africa will be a reduced diplomatic player in the world in the years to come, or it is jaded and no longer has the energy to manage its fits of rage.
However, in all this a far-reaching problem is facing the continent. A diplomat at the African Union, who spoke to Rogue Chiefs on condition he is not identified, acknowledged that the continent body is undergoing a “crisis of purpose”.
The AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) “was founded in a period of ideological clarity”, he said. “The goal was liberation, and the opposition to apartheid in South Africa. You couldn’t argue against both”.
…AND OUT WALKED MANDELA
“Then Nelson Mandela was released in 1990, and in 1994 he was elected president of a democratic South Africa”, he said. “Apartheid had ended”.
Africa entered a period of post-Cold War euphoria, with economic and political reforms, and what he said “became a focus on good governance, and economic growth”.
It was in those conditions that the rebooted OAU was rebranded the AU in 2001. Almost immediately it birthed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the AU’s agency aimed to promote good governance, eradicate poverty and create sustainable growth on the continent.
The AU leaders have since gutted NEPAD, and with hard realities setting upon the heydays of the “Africa Rising” momentum, the continent is at a crossroads.
Without sufficient own resources to fund regional activities, including peacekeeping, or even keeping the lights on at the gleaming giant Chinese donated-and-built AU headquarters in Addis Ababa without donor funds, the diplomat said “Africa is grappling. It’s the ‘Mandela hangover’. Years after he walked out of prison, we are still struggling to find something big enough to keep us collectively angry or with sufficient moral power to get everyone energised”, he said.
However, domestic concerns might also be driving this shift. It is happening at a time when there is a growing army of young rebellion-prone Africans, and in the face slowing growth, governments need to improve their lives to make the national project worthwhile for them.
There is therefore more political capital to be gained from spending time and resources domestically, than on regional military and pan-African expeditions. Looked at from that perspective, there might be political dividends in Africa’s growing national parochialism.