Western Sahara Is Not Mali – On Islamist Extremists and Saharwi Freedom Fighters

By Celeste Hicks


Following his most recent visit to Laayoune in November, the UN envoy for Western Sahara Christopher Ross said that “the conflict over the final status of the territory” has gone on too long.

Mr Ross is correct in saying the conflict has gone on too long – it’s now 21 years since a ceasefire was agreed between Morocco and the Polisario (the Saharwi independence movement); the next step was to organise a referendum which was to determine whether the people wanted to remain a part of Morocco – which annexed the territory illegally after colonial power Spain pulled out in 1975 – or opt for independence. That vote by indigenous Saharwi people and the thousands of Moroccan settlers who now live in Western Sahara has never taken place. Speaking to a number of UN officials from the Mission responsible for organising the referendum (Minurso) recently in Laayoune, the hurdles seem immense – it’s hard to see how it ever will take place.

But Mr Ross’s second assertion that it would be “a serious miscalculation to believe that the status quo can last, since it is now threatened by the rise of extremist, terrorist and criminal elements in the Sahel region” needs more analysis.

In a telephone conversation about Western Sahara to the Moroccan minister of Communications Mustafa Khalfi, I noted down three specific references to the current crisis in the Sahel. In one answer Mr Khalfi said that Morocco’s plan for economic development in the territory was with a view to ensuring “state stability”, explaining that the world “doesn’t need another failed state in the Sahara region”.

I believe this comment is indicative of Morocco’s campaign to convince politicians in Europe and the US that it is a bulwark of stability in a precarious region. Remember that as Ghadaffi’s regime collapsed in near-by Libya, it was remnants of his Tuareg supporters who streamed over the border into northern Mali to cause havoc with their newly-acquired weapons from his stocks – a region now dominated by extreme Islamist groups. Continuing political uncertainty in Tunisia and Egypt is a powerful argument for keeping the peace between Morocco and Western Sahara at almost any cost.

Much of the evidence for the “status quo being threatened by the rise of extremist, terrorist or criminal elements in the Sahel” appears to come from the case of three European humanitarian workers who were kidnapped in Tindouf camp in western Algeria, home to an estimated 40,000 refugees from the conflict between Morocco and Polisario in October 2011. When the three were finally released in July 2012, the kidnapping was claimed by MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), an off-shoot from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which is now one of the dominant players in northern Mali. However, the precise circumstances around this incident are questioned; even last month Polisario’s Spanish arm – equally adept as Morocco at propaganda (if on a smaller scale) – told me that it was Morocco who arranged the Tindouf kidnappings; at the time AFP reported US sources suggesting that it could even have been the Polisario.

While it is possible that jihadists from Mali could travel the more than 1500 kilometres across the desert sands to Tindouf to implicate themselves in the Western Sahara conflict, it must not be forgotten what an enormous job they have on their hands in northern Mali. Reliable estimates for the collective number of fighters that MUJAO and AQMI can call on are hard to come by, but some analysts believe it may not be more than a few hundred. Ansar Dine, the other Islamist group operating in northern Mali, may have more members but cracks have already appeared between the so-called ‘foreign’ elements of AQMI and MUJAO (many of them are Mauritanians and Algerians) and Ansar Dine which is led by the Malian Tuareg Iyad Ag-Ghali.

Representatives from Ansar Dine recently attended peace talks in Burkina Faso chaired by Blaise Compaore, something AQMI and MUJAO have rejected. If the proposed ‘AFISMA’ Ecowas mission to reclaim the north of Mali ever goes ahead, surely the already-fractured Islamists would think twice about stretching themselves too thin?

An appreciation of the genesis of both the Islamic groups in northern Mali and the Polisario would also suggest the two would make unlikely bedfellows. AQMI started life as Islamist group GSPC which led a violent campaign against the Algerian state from the country’s south for many years – yet the main protector and advocate for Polisario and the Tindouf refugees has been the Algerian state in its ongoing hostilities with Morocco. While there remains a danger of disaffected young Saharwis taking up arms out of frustration, my visit to Laayoune showed me many of those fighting for independence see their cause as unique and not associated with regional politics; (for example when I asked civil society leaders if the Gdeim Izik protest camp which was broken up by Moroccan police in November 2010 was the start of the ‘Arab Spring’, several of them told me that it was a similar movement but was specially focused on the Saharwi’s circumstances).

In short, there is not much evidence that either the Malian Islamists or the Saharwi/Polisario are particularly interested in one another. Just as the collapse of Mali caught almost everyone (including me) by surprise, a simplistic reading of the over-arching terrorist threat in the Sahara may not be a useful prism through which to view the Western Sahara conflict. While widespread instability in the region is in no-one’s interests, responding to Morocco’s red flags about the danger of terrorist and criminal networks (smuggling networks have been running across the Sahara for years) risks absorbing the implicit message that only a strong Morocco can protect Europe and the US, and that any attempt to interfere in Western Sahara could tip a precarious balance.

Mr Ross needs to recognise the complexities of what’s going on further south in the Sahel, and not be seduced by Morocco’s pro-Western stance. The EU’s recent announcement that it has appointed a Rapporteur on Human Rights in Western Sahara (British MEP Charles Tannock) and its decision last year to rescind the EU fisheries agreement with Morocco because the Western Sahara problem has not been resolved are encouraging signs.

Celeste Hicks is a freelance journalist with a focus on African issues. She has a particular interest in the Sahel.

Lagos Pipeline explosion: Many injured in stampede

Residents of Ijedodo community in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State have continued to flee the community in droves, following Monday night pipeline explosion that rocked the community.

They took the option of relocating from the community when they saw that the inferno that resulted from the explosion was still glowing and raging fiercely as of Tuesday afternoon.

The explosion was said to have been caused by activities of pipeline vandals who ruptured the facility.

Many residents of the community sustained varying degrees of injuries in the stampede that arose from the pandemonium that greeted the incident.

When the Nigerian Tribune visited the scene of the fire, helpless fire-fighters, whose remedial efforts were hampered by the inaccessibility  to the scene of the fire, were seen miles away from the burning pipelines.

Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, residents of the community queried the motive behind the removal of the security guards manning the pipelines at Oke Agemo area of Ijedodo.

They heaped the blame on the authorities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for the explosion, which they described as an annual ritual.

The contract for the security of the facility, it was learnt, was earlier given to the head of the community, Alhaji Tajudeen Suberu Ododo before the NNPC terminated it.

The Baale called on the NNPC to construct a make-shift bridge that will allow people access to the scene of the incident and also help in times of disaster as well as prevent vandals from operating in the area.

Meanwhile, fuel scarcity appears looming in the South-West region following the Ijedodo pipeline explosion.

NNPC spokesperson, Mr Fidel Pepple, who confirmed the explosion, said the corporation had shut down fuel flow to the stations linked to the pipeline.

It is recalled that a similar incident at Arepo suburb of Ogun State disrupted fuel distribution within the region, leading to acute fuel scarcity.

After Months of Instability, Uncertainty Prevails in Mali

Prime Minister forced to resign for supporting intervention, country divided on issue
By Kremena Krumova

As jihadist groups in northern Mali terrorize the population and increase instability in the once-peaceful nation, Malians debate the advantages and disadvantages of using foreign military intervention to regain control of the north.

Until this spring, Mali had been a notable example of African democracy. A coup in March, however, ruptured the stable leadership structure.

Islamist terrorist groups took the opportunity to invade the north, imposing their version of Sharia (Islamic law). Separatists from the Tuareg ethnic group also took advantage of the government’s instability to fight for autonomy.

Mali is one of the 15 nations in the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS is ready to support its member state with military aid, as are European forces.

A plan for intervention took a hit last week, however. Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra—who supported plans for West African military intervention—was arrested by the military and swiftly replaced by Diango Cissoko.

The United Nations and the United States decried the arrest, pressing Mali for a fast decision on intervention. The arrest took place at the order of former coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who opposes military intervention in the north.

“We expect the new authorities to agree rapidly on a roadmap and commit themselves to a short transition leading to elections and the return of the state in the north,” said a European Union spokesperson. “We also hope that credible negotiations with groups rejecting terrorism and recognizing the unity of Mali will move forward rapidly.”

Some EU officials have said the adoption of a roadmap would show Islamists that the government and main stakeholders have consensus—a strong, unified front.

Diplomatic negotiations have taken place with non-jihadist groups while Mali hesitates to use military intervention.

Earlier this month, representatives of the Malian government met with Islamist group Ansar al-Din and Tuareg group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). A ceasefire statement released jointly by the two groups and the government said that all parties agreed to “respect national unity and the territorial integrity of Mali”, and “reject any form of extremism and terrorism.”

The negotiations excluded al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), the main targets of the military intervention.

Guns at the Ready

ECOWAS and the EU still encourage having military might at the ready to address the significant threat should negotiations fail to progress.

“While dialogue remains the preferred of the two options being deployed by the region to resolve the problem, there is increasing evidence that some of the elements involved in the crisis are not amenable to dialogue,” said Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman, ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, in a statement.

Suleiman warned it is “dangerous” to rely on dialogue as the sole strategy.

ECOWAS plans to deploy 3,000 soldiers in Mali, with an initial mandate of 15 months, and 200 instructors provided by the EU. It awaits word from the U.N. Security Council and Mali’s government to move in.


According to Jon Temin, director of United States Institute of Peace’s Sudan and South Sudan program, the uncertainty in Mali’s capital, Bamako, will raise more questions about plans to confront extremist groups in the north.

The tensions must be resolved in an inclusive way, said Temin.

“In order for Mali to overcome its recent instability and thrive in the long-term, it has to address the grievances that motivate rebellions in the north and Malians’ frustrations with their political leadership,” wrote Temin in an email.

Local Fears

Malian scholar Mohomodou Houssouba said his compatriots are “puzzled” about the mission of the ECOWAS forces.

“Malian people are thoroughly divided, also because its leadership is quite divided. That’s the core issue in this latest bump,” wrote Houssouba in an email. “I must confess my own fear of open-ended foreign military intervention in northern Mali.”

”There seems to be a constant erosion of support for direct involvement on the ground … even in the north where people are desperate to get help. They used to pray for a rapid intervention. Now they are quite disillusioned or more realistic about the outcome.”

According to Houssouba, Malians do not believe that such a force is effective enough to deal a decisive blow to the different armed groups. But many support a swift action to liberate cities like Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal, where an isolation of armed groups could help the humanitarian situation.

Houssouba said many Malians are also afraid intervention would open Mali up to foreign occupation for an undetermined period.

Predicting Mali’s Future

Dr. Jeremy Swift, Africa researcher, policy adviser, and expert on pastoral Tuareg in Mali, sees several possible scenarios playing out in Mali.

First, the Malian army could invade the north without waiting for U.N.-sanctioned ECOWAS support and successfully rout the Jihadists and Tuareg forces—unlikely, given the Malian army’s limited capacity.

Second, Mali could use its own forces with some minimal foreign help and try to take Gurma and Timbuktu. This would likely lead to a stalemate, however, said Swift.

Third, the Malian army might embark on its own campaign in the north, meet with decisive defeat, and need to be rescued by international forces.

“The third option is possible, but unlikely, although that is the direction events are moving,” said Swift. “International supporters will try to talk Mali out of this, but may fail.”

And fourth, Mali could wait for full international backing, train its troops and set up a well-planned international operation to reclaim the north.

“Scenario four is the most desirable, but seems unlikely as long as Captain Amadou Sanogo and the southern nationalists are in power,” said Swift.

His conclusion was grim: “All four scenarios lead to a massive humanitarian crisis.”

Refugees International estimates that between 360,000 and 630,000 may flee their homes if the situation deteriorates. U.N.-affiliated news source IRIN news reports that, as of the beginning of December, 353,745 Malians were displaced due to a combination of the conflict and a severe drought that struck the Sahel region.

Mali: Stability at stake in West Africa

By Ramzy Baroud,

The chances of a political solution are all but completely dissipated and the growing chaos will likely benefit interventionist states like France and the US.

‘Many of us may not be able to point to Mali on a map,’ began National Public Radio show host Neal Conan last Thursday, “but this landlocked nation in West Africa has emerged as a crisis.” The buzzword is, of course, Al Qaida. Although it is the least urgent component of the current Malian turmoil, according to some, it is enough to vindicate yet another war.

“US military planners have begun to help organise a multinational proxy force to intervene next year in Mali,” reported UK’s the Independent newspaper on December 6. The proxy force is likely to be fashioned around the war model used by the US-Nato in Afghanistan in 2011.

Mali, which until recently was applauded for its stability and promising nascent democracy, has been frequently compared with Afghanistan. Malian soldiers will join thousands of troops dispatched from various West African countries, as they will all receive US funding, training and logistical support to fight a war in the quickly disintegrating northern and western parts of the country.

France too is demanding “rapid” military intervention in the famine-stricken country. Its unmanned drones have reportedly been scouring the desert of the troubled West African nation — although it claims that the drones are seeking the whereabouts of six French hostages believed to be held by Al Qaida.

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The French are likely to get their wish now that the Americans are fully on board. This is especially so following the recent political fiasco engineered by the country’s strong man and coup leader Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo. The latter plotted an ousting of a prime minister and the induction of another.

The American involvement is a reflection of growing US interests in the region, where African countries remain somewhat divided and have no clear alternative to restore Mali’s territorial integrity — and equally important political sovereignty — disjointed between Tawareq secessionists and Islamic militants in the north and factionalised army in the south.

Despite official US statements that no American troops will be sent to Mali, a direct American participation is unavoidable. According to Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Africa, Amanda Dory, the US will not rule out providing aerial cover — read airstrikes — of advancing West African troops. “We definitely don’t know how that would work out.”

The UN, however, has a reasonably good idea of how an ill-thought military intervention of few thousand soldiers, with American (and likely French) air cover in an area the size of Texas would “work out”. A UN report, quoted in the BBC last Friday, suggests that “some 400,000 more people could be made homeless in Mali if West African armies try to oust Islamists from their northern stronghold.”

This additional number will join an already swelling number of refugees, displaced by fighting in the north, a military coup in the south and a burgeoning famine everywhere. Earlier, another UN report upgraded Mali’s urgent need for aid to $370 million (Dh1.36 billion), which is 72 per cent more than the amount sought by the UN in 2012. An all-out war is likely to require a much greater need for assistance, although the amount remains negligible if compared to the prospected cost of war.

The current crisis in Mali is the recent manifestation of a recurring episode of terrible suffering and constant struggles. Turmoil defined Mali for many years, even after the country achieved a level of political stability in 1992. At the time, it was believed that Mali was fast becoming a model for democracy, at least in the West Africa region. A few years later, thousands of refugees from the ever-neglected and under-represented Tawareqs began returning to their towns and villages mostly in the vast desert region in northern Mali. That return was ushered in by a peace agreement signed between Tawareqs and the central government. Little on the ground has changed. Various bands of Islamic groups, some homegrown, others fleeing fighting in neighbouring countries, especially Algeria, found haven in Mali’s north and west.

While France attempted to keep Mali in its sphere of influence, the US was also taking interest in Mali’s crucial position in the Sahel region and the prospects created by the ungovernability of the northern regions. Of course, the all-inclusive definition of Al Qaida served as the ever-convenient ruse to justify American involvement. Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was used by Washington to rationalise the establishment of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). It was set up in 2008 to manage US military interests in the whole continent with the exception of Egypt. The US State Department claimed that AFRICOM “will play a supportive role as Africans build democratic institutions and establish good governance across the continent.”

AFRICOM has provided assistance to the central government, although Mali’s south is not exactly an oasis of stability or democracy. The most dominant faction in the Malian army is led by US-trained Army Captain Amadou Sanogo, who, on March 22, led a coup against President Amadou Toumani Toure. Sanogo’s reasoning — blaming Toure for failing to stamp out growing militant influence in the north — sounded more like a pretence than a genuine attempt at recovering the disintegrating country. Sanogo’s coup came shortly before elections, scheduled for last April. While the African Union (AU) reacted assertively to the coup by suspending Mali’s membership, western powers remained indecisive.

The conflict in the north is in a constant influx. Alliances change, thus the nature of the conflict is in constant alteration. However, instability in northern Mali is not new. Large consignments of weapons, made available during Nato’s war in Libya early last year, made their way to various rebel and militant groups throughout the region. The Tawareqs had received support from the ousted Libyan government and were dispersed during and following the war. Many of them returned to Mali, battle-hardened and emboldened by the advanced weapons.

Fighting in the north began in stages, most notably in January 2012. Sanogo’s coup created the needed political vacuum for Tawareqs’ National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to declare independence in the north mere two weeks later. The declaration was the result of quick military victories by MNLA and its militant allies, which led to the capture of Gao and other major towns. These successive developments further reassured Islamic and other militant groups to seize cities across the country and hold them hostage to their ideologies and other agendas. Ansar Al Din, for example, had reportedly worked jointly with the MNLA, but declared a war “against independence” and “for Islam” in June as soon as it secured its control over Timbuktu. Al Tawhid Wa Al Jihad, along with AQIM made their moves. The allies soon became bitter enemies.

There is now semi-consensus on the need for military intervention in Mali, although some differences persist over the nature and scope of that intervention. Sanogo himself seems to have lost interest in seeing other West African powers jockeying for influence in Bamako, which will threaten his thus far unchallenged rule. Moreover, it is unclear how affective military force can be, as the territorial fragmentation, many militant groupings and political discord throughout the country are almost impossible to navigate.

The stability of West Africa is surely at stake. The chances of a political solution are all but completely dissipated. The growing chaos will likely benefit interventionist states — France and the US in particular. A long-drawn new “war on terror” will justify further intervention in West Africa and more meddling in the affairs of the region. The region will benefit from US-French handouts in the short run, but will suffer the consequences of the chaos that is likely to ensue once the war starts and unlikely to end anytime soon.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).

Nigeria: Insecurity affecting the economy – Abdulsalam Abubakar

Former Military Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar has again warned that the current insecurity in the country is affecting the economy of the nation especially in the northern part.

Abdulsalami Abubabakar who spoke in Minna Niger state on today after he and others were inaugurated as members of the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University Lapai Endowment Fund board of trustees by Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu said in the northern part of the country in particularly ‘there is no more night economy’.

The former Head of state said carnage and destruction of public property and loss of innocent lives were having a lot of negative effect on the national economy and therefore should be stopped.

‘People who have grievances against the government should come out to discuss the grievances and settle for peace’ he declared and told parents that they have a responsibility to check their children so that they do not fall into wrong groups.

Commenting on the assignment of the Fund, General Abdulsalami observed that there are nine projects yet to be completed in the University among them the Senate building, central water works, lecture theatres and lecture rooms as well as the Vice Chancellors lodge.

He asked the Niger state government to set the ball rolling by contributing to the fund and ensure regular funding of the institution.

The Former Head of state asked students of the university put at over 6000 ‘to be disciplined, and avoid anything that will tarnish the university image while also challenging the management of the institution not to ‘spare the rod in its dealing with the students because according to him ‘what we lack in this country is discipline’

General Abdulsalami Abubakar paid glowing tributes to the late Kaduna governor Patrick Yakowa who died in a helicopter crash last Saturday describing him as ‘my late friend’.

General Abdulsalami noted that Nigeria has lost a worthy citizen, and prayed his gentle soul to rest in peace’

Speaking in the same vein Niger state Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu related the relationship between late Patrick Yakowa and General Abdulsalami Abubakar to be very cordial as he sympathized with him. Daily Times

Kenya: After grenade attacks, nation wants Somali refugees in camps

Fredrick Nzwili | The Christian Science Monitor

After a spate of grenade attacks linked to Somali Islamist militants over the past 14 months, Kenya has ordered all refugees in its urban areas to move to established refugee camps, which the government says is necessary for security but international organizations argue could violate the refugees’ rights.

In a Dec. 13 measure seen as uniformly targeting Somali refugees, the government said it was ending urban stays for all refugees inside its border and the mandatory registration of any other refugee who enters the country henceforth. The Kenyan government advised the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other refugee organizations to cease, with immediate effect, the provision of services to all refugees in Kenyan cities and towns, and transfer them to Dadaab and Kakuma camps.

“We bring to an end of refugees living in urban areas. That will be followed by repatriation of the refugees back to Somalia,” Sora Katelo, the acting commissioner of refugee affairs in Kenya’s ministry of immigration, told a news conference on Thursday.

“Their legal documentation has ceased to function in urban areas. So if they continue staying in urban areas, they will be doing so illegally.”

700,000 refugees in Kenya

The Somali migrants are required to move to the town of Dadaab, which hosts the world’s largest refugee complex, near the Somali border. The expansive “city of tents” in northeastern Kenya is the home of over 500,000 people who fled war and hunger in their war-torn country.

The over-crowded Dadaab complex of three camps – Ifo, Dagahaley, and Hagadera – also lacks enough services, and experiences serious security issues itself. A string of attacks involving explosives and guns have also occurred there, with the latest taking place on Friday near a voter registration center inside the camp.

International organizations working with refugees have criticized Kenya’s decision as a contradiction to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The groups say they have been negotiating with the government since Friday, with UNHCR, the lead agency, saying it hoped the rights of the 700,000 refugees in Kenya, most of whom are from Somalia, will be protected.

Kenya’s refugee policy requires all people migrating into the country live in established camps, but thousands of Somali refugees have been living in the capital, Nairobi, and towns like Garissa in the northeast. The government is believed to have made special exceptions for some to leave the camps in order to attend schools, seek medical attention, or join family members already living in cities across Kenya.

Escalating attacks

Government officials say the measure is necessary in order to avoid future violence and attacks, which have recently been on the rise. Officials say they are convinced Somali militants, including some refugees, are involved in the smuggling of explosives and weapons that are being used to attack security officers, civilians, religious centers, and aid workers in Kenya.

“We hope to arrive at a position where the government[’s] concerns are addressed and the rights of the refuges are protected,” says Emmanuel Nyabera, the UNHCR-Kenya spokesperson.

The attacks – which have targeted churches, the police, public transportation, and most recently, a mosque – have escalated since October 2011 when Kenya sent its troops into Somalia. Soon after troops entered the war torn country to pursue Al-Shabab, the Islamist militants threatened retaliatory attacks on Kenyans.

Analysts say the attacks are reminiscent of those enacted by Nigerian Islamist militants, Boko Haram. According to Maalim Mohammed, Garissa county commissioner, Al-Shabaab has offered $8,000 rewards for the killing of any Kenyan security officer.

“The higher the rank, the higher the pay,” Mr. Mohammed told citizens gathered for Independence Day celebrations on Dec. 12 in Garissa.

‘Urge Kenya to reconsider’

In the latest attack, on Sunday, one person suffered injuries after a grenade was hurled from a speeding vehicle at a crowd outside Al-Hidaya Mosque in a Nairobi suburb.

This is the second time an attack has occurred near the mosque in Eastliegh, a suburb known as “LittleMogadishu” because of its large concentration of Somali refugees and Kenyans of the Somali tribe. An Anglican Church was attacked there in September, killing one child.

After a previous attack on the Al-Hidaya Mosque on Dec. 8, the police arrested nearly 600 Somali nationals who were in Nairobi without identification documents. These individuals were nearby when the attack took place and were deemed to be in the country illegally, thus they were treated as suspects in the attack, according to local police.

“It is not every Somali who is involved in the attacks. [The] majority are involved in genuine business, so we urge Kenya to reconsider [their policy] decision. Our children are also going to school here [in towns],” says Ahmed Abdi, a Somali refugee in Nairobi.

This policy comes on the heels of a previous request in September when President Mwai Kibaki appealed to the UN to relocate Somali refugees to areas liberated by African Union troops, providing humanitarian assistance to them while inside their home country of Somalia.

European Parliament Call Ethiopia to release journalist

Sixteen members of the European parliament have called on Ethiopia’s prime minster, Hailemariam Desalegn, to free the jailed journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega.

He was arrested in 2011 and sentenced in July this year to 18 years in prison under the country’s broad anti-terrorism proclamation. An appeal hearing is scheduled for tomorrow (19 December).

He had written online articles and also spoken publicly about the possibility of an Arab spring-like movement taking place in Ethiopia. After his trial, the government initiated proceedings to seize his assets, including the home where his wife and young son live.

The letter from the MEPs, who are drawn from across the political spectrum, begins by registering “our grave concern” at Nega’s detention.

It notes that the Ethiopian government has an obligation to uphold the right to free expression, and it tells the newly-elected prime minister that he has “the unique opportunity to lead Ethiopia forward on human rights and bring the country fully within the community of nations.”

It closes by urging Desalegn to take all measures within his power “to facilitate the immediate and unconditional release of Mr Nega.”

Among the signatories are three British MEPs – Charles Tannock, Conservative (London); Fiona Hall, Lib-Dem (north east England) and David Martin, Labour (Scotland).

Source: Freedom Now

South Africa: President Jacob Zuma retains leadership of ANC

South African President Jacob Zuma attends a joint media briefing at the end of the plenary session of the BRICS Summit in New Delhi March 29, 2012. The BRICS group of emerging market nations voiced concern about the slow pace of reforms within the IMF in a draft summit declaration that also called for a transparent process to select the next World Bank president.

South African President Jacob Zuma attends a joint media briefing at the end of the plenary session of the BRICS Summit in New Delhi March 29, 2012. The BRICS group of emerging market nations voiced concern about the slow pace of reforms within the IMF in a draft summit declaration that also called for a transparent process to select the next World Bank president.

South African President Jacob Zuma has been reelected as leader of ruling party, the African National Congress. This permits him to be the head of state of the country for a further seven years.

Businessman Cyril Ramaphosa has been chosen as his deputy.

Over 4000 ANC delegates packed a marquee in Bloemfontein and cheered when Zuma was confirmed as the head of the party. He comfortably saw a challenge by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Zuma came to power in 2009, during South Africa’s first recession in 18 years. His economic policies have been criticised and he has also been involved in personal scandals. However, his popularity has remained high.

Abyei: Justice delayed but not denied by the African Union

By Luka Biong Deng

On 14th December in Addis Ababa, the African Union Peace and Security Council decided in its 349th Meeting to refer the endorsement of the AU Proposal on the final status of Abyei area to its meeting at the level of the Heads of State. The next meeting of the Council is scheduled to be held on the margins of the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of AU in January 2013. Besides referring the endorsement of Abyei Proposal, the Council reiterates its acceptance of 21st September AU Proposal on the final status of Abyei area. The Council considers the Proposal as fair, equitable and workable solution for the final status of Abyei as it takes into account the Agreements entered into by the Parties and the needs and interests of the Ngok Dinka and Arab nomads.

As the deadline given to the Parties to build consensus around the Proposal expired on 5th December, the Council was expected to endorse the Proposal and to forward it to the UN Security Council for endorsement and enforcement. In justifying its decision of referral of the Proposal, the Council recognizes that no engagement took place between the Parties over the Proposal. This reasoning was rather surprising as the South exerted considerable efforts to engage Khartoum as articulated by its Minister of Foreign Affairs in his address to the Council. Khartoum instead avoided engaging with Juba and used instead the six weeks to wage a diplomatic campaign to convince the members of the Council to give more time for its engagement with Juba and to resolve the issue within AU without resorting to the UN Security Council.

In his address to the Council, the Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs used rather shallow arguments about the legitimacy of the Council’s decisions in its 24th October Communiqué. In fact the Sudanese Minister echoed and without remorse their normal racist rhetoric towards Africans by almost stating that the members of the Council are not only wrong but they do not know what they are doing. Specially, the Sudanese Foreign Minister argued that the decisions of the Council on 24th October are inconsistent with the principles of dialogue and mediation.

As the Sudanese Minister was lecturing the members of the Council about their role, the Minister was instead exposing his level of ignorance. In fact the Abyei Proposal came through a long process of dialogue and mediation. This process of dialogue started with Abyei Protocol that was signed by the Parties and then the final and binding international arbitration agreed upon by the Parties defined clearly the area of the Ngok Dinka. Also the Parties agreed in the 20th June 2011 Agreement to consider the proposals from the AU Panel about the final status of Abyei. Equally, the Parties accepted the AU Roadmap and the UN Security Council Resolution 2046 that mandated the AU Panel to make final and binding proposals on any issue not agreed upon by the Parties.

Also, the Sudanese Foreign Minister advanced rather absurd and ridiculous legal argument to challenge the decisions of the Council in its 24th October Communiqué. In particular, the Sudanese Minister argued that these decisions taken by the Council in relation to Abyei and border areas are in direct contradiction with the principle of respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Despite my limited legal knowledge, the Government of Sudan has failed to understand these decisions by wrongly considering them as decisions dealing with the border disputes between the two countries.

The decisions of the Council concerning Abyei area are not at all about the border dispute as the issue of Abyei boundaries has been resolved by the final and binding international border arbitration. In fact the decisions of the Council over Abyei are about determining the final status of Abyei through a process agreed upon by the two countries. Also the decisions of the Council over the disputed and claimed border areas are not about imposing solutions but rather to suggest a process for resolving the border disputes. This process of resolving the disputed and claimed border areas is almost agreed upon by the two countries by resorting to the final and binding international border arbitration after getting non-binding opinion from the AU border experts.

It is indeed strange for the Sudanese Foreign Minister to lecture the members of the Council that they did not adhere to the principles of dialogue and mediation as well as not respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan. On the contrary Sudan did not respect the provisions of the African Union Constitutive Act by defying the decisions taken by the Council through a process agreed upon by the two countries. While members state of AU respected the decision of the AU not to cooperate with ICC in apprehending and arresting Sudanese President over crimes committed in Darfur, the Sudanese Foreign Ministers has unfoundedly challenged the decisions of the very African institution that protects his President.

The Government of Sudan, after extensive diplomatic campaign by visiting almost all members of the Council, came to the last meeting of the AU Council with the aim of achieving two objectives, namely: to obstruct the issue of Abyei and border not to be taken to the UN Security Council and to water down the Proposal of the AU Panel on the final status of Abyei by asking for unlimited time to engage with the South. Sudan has gone further by suggesting to the Council its readiness to accept the partitioning of Abyei area as one of the preferred options proposed by the AU Panel to the Parties in November 2010.

In fact Sudan has failed to achieve either of these objectives as the Council reiterates its acceptance of the AU Abyei Proposal that will be endorsed in the next meeting of the Council and to be forwarded to the UN Security Council for endorsement. Also the Council did not accept the request by Khartoum for an open period to engage with the South over the pending issues of Abyei and border. The Council has instead given additional period of six weeks for the two Presidents to engage in a summit over these pending issues. The only way Sudan can avoid these AU proposals on Abyei and border to reach the UN Security Council is to accept these proposals during the summit between President Salva and President Bashir before the next meeting of the Council.

The decision by the Council to refer the issue of Abyei and border to its Heads of State was rather shocking and incompressible in light of its clear decision on 24th October. After the Parties failed to reach consensus over the AU Abyei Proposal within six weeks and to agree on mechanism for resolving the border disputes within two weeks, the Council was expected in its last meeting to endorse these proposals by the AU Panel and to seek endorsement of the UN Security Council. This raises a lot of questions about the credibility and consistency of the AU institutions in providing coherent leadership for resolving African problems.

Despite the apparent delay of justice for the people of Abyei area as they attached so much hope to the last meeting of the Council to endorse the Abyei Proposal, the decisions of the Council in its last meeting are rather reassuring by reiterating its acceptance of Abyei Proposal. Also the decision of referring the issues of Abyei and border to the Heads of State of the Council has a lot of wisdom. The endorsement of these proposals by the Council at the level of Heads of State will carry a lot of political and diplomatic weight that is necessary to ensure unified position among the members of the UN Security Council in endorsing these proposals.

In fact the discussion in the last meeting of the Council was less about questioning its decisions taken on 24th October but more about whether to endorse the proposals on Abyei and border at the level of ambassadors or at the level of the Heads of State. The real challenge now for the South is to ensure that the next meeting of the Council at the level of Heads of State to endorse the proposals on Abyei and border. This will require a high level diplomatic campaign at the level of the leadership of the South to engage all Heads of State of all members of the Council.

In order to make the diplomatic campaign of the South more effective and successful, President Salva may need to continue engaging President Bashir through a summit either in Juba or in a third country such as Ethiopia. In fact President Salva is on a higher moral ground not only to convince African leaders to endorse the AU Proposals on Abyei and border but he is the only African Leader who can engage President Bashir to accept these proposals without proceeding to the UN Security Council. Although the decisions of the Council in its last meeting have delayed justice for the people of Abyei, I am confident that the diplomatic efforts by President Salva with President Bashir and Heads of State of the Council will restore justice and hope for the people of Abyei.

Luka Biong Deng is a senior member of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Co-Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. He can be contacted at lukabiong@kushworld.org. This article was published first by the New Nation Newspaper – New York, US

Africa – China’s Export Route to the U.S.?

The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act intends to support African exports to US markets. It is helping savvy Chinese companies too. US-Africa trade received a boost with the signing of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) back in May 2000, which enabled African countries to export over 4,000 products, including apparel, quota-free and duty-free to the US.

Geared to support the integration of African countries into global markets, AGOA has enjoyed broad cross-party support in a usually fraught US legislature – especially on issues of foreign trade – and has been renewed several times. Helping Africa, it seems, is something everyone can agree on.

But they might, unwittingly, have been helping China too. Research by Lorenzo Rotunno and colleagues at the Centre for the Study of African Economies, Oxford University, suggests that savvy Chinese companies have set up shop in Africa as a route to get their products into the US with all the AGOA benefits.

The entrepreneurs’ logic is impeccable. Not only could an Africa platform get them duty free access to US markets, they could also avoid heavy quotas on China’s exports to the US, imposed through previous protectionist measures by the rich world, such as the Multi-Fiber Agreement.

Because AGOA did not contain ‘rules of origin’ provisions, the door is wide open for such creative thinking. “Restrictive quotas on Chinese apparel exports in the US and preferential treatment for African exports resulted in quota-hopping transhipment from China to the US via AGOA countries” the researchers say.

Chinese and Taiwanese producers are now said to comprise the bulk of a textile “diaspora” in Lesotho, Madagascar and Kenya. In one Kenyan processing zone, 80% of the 34 garment plants had Asian owners. While some outfits doubtless have in-country assembly – and therefore generate jobs and incomes for Africans – a number are little more than transporting docks for foreign-sourced, fully assembled goods ready to go to their final destination, tax free.

Chinese entrepreneurs made no bones about it. In one survey, they gave ‘taking advantage of international trade agreements’ in their top five list of motives for investing and operating in Africa.