Africa struggles to contain conflicts

By SHABTAI GOLD AND ESZTER FARKAS | Deutsche Presse-Agentur/MCT | Published: December 29, 2012

An ethnic Tuareg uprising in Mali that prompted a coup and opened a door to an Islamist insurgency took centre stage in Africa in 2012, as did renewed bloodshed in Congo less than a decade after it was the scene of one of the deadliest wars.

Across the continent in 2012, conflicts over land, resources, religion and power were reignited, began brewing, or ended in fragile peace.

Mali's president was ousted in a military coup in March amid public discontent over his handling of the Tuareg rebellion. Less than a month later the Tuareg declared the north an independent state. But Islamist militants violently usurped control in key cities and imposed sharia.

Fighting on three fronts sparked an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people and international concern. The United Nations has authorized an African-led intervention force to help Bamako win back the north.

In eastern Congo, fighting between a new rebel group and the Congolese army prompted the flight of hundreds of thousands of people since April.

In November, the March 23 Movement (M23) briefly held the city of Goma and its airport. The two sides, at the behest of leaders of the Great Lakes region, have agreed to peace talks.

The M23 is made up mostly of ethnic Tutsi army deserters with ties to neighbouring Rwanda. The conflict is seen as a lingering spillover of the 1994 genocide in which ethnic Hutus targeted Tutsis.

The UN has called on Rwanda and Uganda not to support the M23 and to respect the arms embargo. It urged the Tutsi-led government in Kigali to use its influence over the rebels to secure peace. The two countries have denied involvement.

The spillover of the Rwanda genocide into the mineral-rich but politically unstable Central African nation fuelled Africa's deadliest war, with an estimated 5 million lives lost. Hostilities have flared up again since the signing of a peace accord in 2003.

The African Union is discussing a plan to send a new international peacekeeping force to the volatile region, while Congo's neighbours are concerned that the conflict would seep across borders.

The UN's 20,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Congo has come under fire for failing to prevent rebel atrocities. Some analysts have criticized the African Union and plans to send African peacekeepers to Congo and Mali.

"Regional actors can at times be part of the problem. (In) the case of the Congo ... you have countries in the region that are extremely embedded in the conflict,” said Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

The intervention force for Mali is expected to be comprised of around 3,300 soldiers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

"Any sort of military intervention will make the situation infinitely worse, absolutely no question about that,” said Jeremy Keenan, a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

"ECOWAS troops are absolutely useless. Therefore, if ECOWAS troops are going to be used, it will take at least a year to train them properly, who's going to train them and pay for it?"

In the context of Mali, Keenan said he did not think that the AU was qualified to take the lead.

"I don't think that they (the AU) actually understand the issues very well, and I don't think that advocating a military intervention is a solution and also, I will be surprised if it actually happens."

Somalia, once written off as a failed state, made significant gains against Islamist insurgents with links to al-Qaeda with the help of troops from the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) deployed to the East African state in 2007.

In September, months after the capital Mogadishu and much of the south was declared "liberated", Somali lawmakers chose a new president to head the first fully-functioning government in decades.

AMISOM has been dismissed in some quarters as a "timid success" and Hengari warned against adopting a cookie-cutter approach in imposing a similar force elsewhere in Africa.

"Before thinking about replication of AMISOM, there is an obvious need to review the AU peacekeeping model. African armies are poorly trained and poorly equipped and they bring these failings in continental processes,” Hengari told dpa.

Mali stands out as one of a few African states where military intervention is considered but one of many that are faced with Islamist militancy. Even the relatively stable Kenya has seen reprisal attacks for its role in helping Somalia to bring down al-Shabaab.

In Nigeria some 200 people were killed in a string of bombings carried out by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria where the group is seeking a sharia state.

Sudan and South Sudan came close to war over oil transport fees and borders in April. The UN ordered and end to fighting and withdrawal of troops from the Abyei border region. The Sudans are yet to implement the peace deal brokered by the AU in September.

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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