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Coups and Military Rule: A Normal Nigerian Anomaly?

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Written by Matteo Figus

18/02/2017 at 18:02

Buhari’s Nigeria vs Boko Haram: the Bloodshed Continue Amid World Powers Indifference

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While the world is outraged by the Paris attacks, no one seems to remember that the IS threat is wider than our TV broadcasters says and Nigeria is the best example.

Boko Haram pledged allegiance to IS in March 2015 and vowed to continue its terror campaign against the Nigerian government. The group is responsible for over 20,000 death since 2009 and many analysts consider it the bloodiest of all terrorist organisations currently in operation.

President Muhammadu Buhari, sworn in May 2015, pledged to defeat the terrorist group by the end of December, as well as fighting corruption and mismanagement that crippled the Nigerian economy.

Buhari was elected amid a historic vote, where for the first time an actual political transition from the majority party PDP to the opposition APC was completed, and was elected by huge popular demand, surrounded by huge expectations. Buhari is remembered as an ex-ruthless military that in 1983 took power, by overthrowing the corrupted civilian government of Shehu Shagari, and tried to clean the incompetence and corruption although with a poor human right records. Thus, many acknowledged that in those years, no one was untouchable and for the first time politicians and even members of the powerful military élite were under serious scrutiny. His return to power after 30 years, after being ousted by Babangida’s 1985 coup, arrived after a slanderous campaign from majority party PDP and after Buhari had lost every single presidential campaign since the return to democracy in 1999.

Buhari, supported by this aura of hard men who takes no nonsense, has been especially looked upon by Nigerians to solve Boko Haram insurgency once and for all. His party, and people, accused the ex-President Jonathan Goodluck and the PDP to underestimate Boko Haram fighters, to have reduced military capability and diverted funds destined to procure equipment through corruption and bribery.

However, the first six months of cabinet have not been easy for Buhari, since his arrival attacks continued with the last in Kano on 18 November, killing 12 people and wounding several others. In the last, of a series of bloody attacks, the authorities said that two female suicide bombers detonated their vests at a cell phone market. Witnesses and Red Cross officials said that the death toll could be higher than the authorities claim, although the number could not be independently confirmed. In another attack, at least 32 people were killed by a suicide bomber on a vegetable market in the north-eastern city of Yola days before. Still the bombings have continued in regular patterns since Buhari was sworn in, involving especially civilians targets such markets, schools, shops and even spilling to areas of Niger, Cameroon and a village in Chad, prompting officials to call a state of emergency there.

In a statement, following Kano attack, President Muhammadu Buhari called for Nigerians to stay vigilant, saying that even his recently intensified military operation against Boko Haram could not prevent every attack. “President Buhari reassures Nigerians that his administration is very much determined to wipe out Boko Haram in Nigeria and bring all perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humanity to justice,” the government release said.

Nevertheless, some are now starting to doubt about the real possibility of the government to fight back, although President Buhari has announced recent victories against Boko Haram, including seizing bomb materials, destroying territorial bases, training camps and winning battles in the North-East where Boko Haram wish to establish a new state. Security experts, regional authorities and Western military officials have nevertheless credited Buhari for showing greater strength than the predecessors in fighting back, in giving troops higher morale and proceeding to undermine Boko Haram control over the territory.

However, the fight is not only a military matter, and president Buhari after six months of careful negotiations has finally unveiled his 36-members cabinet, tasked to make his programme a reality. Those who criticise Buhari for this long time taken, should also take into account that choosing a cabinet in Nigeria is a complicated task made even more difficult by the heterogeneity of the country under an ethnic/religious point of view, as well as require wise and skilful political balancing. Buhari had to take into account the need for professional leaders but also to repay political allies and supporters, reshuffle the security apparatus and avoid undermining the already fragile capacity to fight. Then there is the need to carefully maintain an ethnic and religious balance, and to make sure each of the 36 states that compose the federation are represented.

“Impatience is not a virtue. Careful and deliberate decisions after consultations get far better results” said the president to his critics, who thought that the long delay in naming a new government was a sign to bad things to come. Thus, on Wednesday (the same day of the attacks), Buhari unveiled the 36 ministers at a ceremony in the capital Abuja. To maintain and deliver his pledge of cutting the costs and a huge but inefficient political machine, he said that not all the thirty-six will get their own ministries, and in fact, he eliminated eight departments, meaning that eight members of the cabinet are deputy ministers. The most notable of the exclusions was the petroleum ministry, where Buhari himself has taken charge of the ministry, which for years has been associated with gross mismanagement and corruption on a grand scale. Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, has been forced to import refined petroleum as a result of the failures of this ministry, while most part of the country suffers from chronic power shortages. However, it is the security situation that received utmost attention from Buhari.

He chose Dan Ali, a retired brigadier-general, as defence minister who shares with Buhari a total mistrust on the operate of the security forces under the previous government. Dan Ali earlier this year attacked Alex Badeh, the former army chief, by criticising his counter-terrorism measures and since then has been replaced, with the Nigerian army’s poor record against Boko Haram now recovering.

The other important appointment is Abdurrahman Dambazau as the new interior minister who is in charge of the police. As Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff between 2008 and 2010, he led a successful campaign against Boko Haram. After his removal, seen by Buhari’s supporters as an example of the incompetence of PDP dealing with Boko Haram, the militants regrouped in 2011 and since then, thousands of people have been killed with the insurgency spreading to neighbouring countries.

Nevertheless, the best example on the determination of President Buhari to fight insurgency and corruption was given this week when he accused the previous administration’s national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki of embezzling public money destined for the army. Even before the election, Buhari vowed to investigate corruption in the previous government, in which Mr Dasuki served. Dasuki is accused of pocketing more than $2 billion that had been allocated for four fighter jets, twelve helicopters and ammunitions to fight Boko Haram, allegations that Dasuki has denied.

Soldiers have long complained that despite the military’s huge budget, they were ill-equipped to fight and Dasuki, who was already under house arrest, has been indicated by Buhari as the main culprit. He was under house arrest as part of an ongoing trial for allegedly possessing illegal firearms, and although the court for that trial allowed him to travel to the UK for treatment for suspected prostate cancer, the government has now refused to let him leave the country.

For many Nigerians this is the strength of Buhari in tackling issues without any concerns, but it will be enough? Soldiers have reported they are better equipped since President Buhari came into office, but the previous president’s supporters say this is because those weapons were ordered while Jonathan Goodluck was in power. Same apply for the recent military successes, for which ex government officials claim Buhari is just benefiting on the effects of legislations passed by the previous president. Nevertheless, for many Nigerians the debacle of the Chibok girls kidnapped and never found was more than enough to show the complete inefficiency and incompetence of the security forces, as well as the incredible loss of international credibility.

The bigger problem for Nigeria, and Buhari, is that Boko Haram cannot only be considered an internal insurgency but has a wider implication on the West African security system. In this will be decisive to bring into a full understanding the regional and world powers that currently have severely underestimated Boko Haram capability in attacking Nigeria’s institutions. Action across the borders to Chad and Cameroon show how the group has grown from just internal actions until 2009 to a more capable military machine able to seize territory and attack on a wider front on several countries.

Western powers have seriously not taken into account Boko Haram successes in destabilising Nigeria that, if not supported, can have serious repercussion on all other weaker governments of the area. A collapse of West Africa security defences, taking into account that Nigeria has always been considered paramount as a stabilisation force, could seriously affect the wider struggle against IS. Turmoil in Libya and the presence of various non-identified groups whose allegiance is not always clear pose a great threat to states economically fragile, and struggling to control their own porous borders.

While Muhammadu Buhari is trying to rebuild Nigerian capability in fighting Boko Haram, one of the weapons he needs to rely on is international recognition as a partner in a struggle against a common menace. Unfortunately, the distortion caused by our euro centrism and hypocrisy of the events on the ground are distracting us from taking notice of the bloodbath happening in Africa that soon or later will have an effect also in our own countries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Matteo Figus

19/11/2015 at 21:21

Buhari’s Legacy: The difficult task of bringing a nation together

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Muhammadu Buhari has been sworn as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 29 May 2015, after the historic victory over the People’s Democratic Party of rival and ex President Jonathan Goodluck._83263524_buhari3

The victory of Muhammadu Buhari has been hailed as a major turning point in Nigerian and African politics. For the first time Nigeria assisted to a democratic transition of power from the ruling party to the opposition candidate in an election praised for its order and clearness of results.

Buhari won at the head of the opposition coalition All Progressives Congress, an alliance of four opposition parties: the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance. Buhari obtained 53.96%, over 2.5  million votes separated him from Jonathan Goodluck and obtaining a landslide victory in the majority of states, except for the south, southeast and Niger Delta. The gap of votes was so wide that PDP and President Goodluck had to admit defeat, and even taking into account eventual irregularities, these could not have changed that outcome.

Nevertheless, Buhari is not new to Nigerian politics having first of all been one of the military rulers during the country’s long history of coups and juntas. He was Head of State between 1983 and 1985 and then candidate for four times against PDP leaders Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Goodluck since return to democracy in 1999._82047164_nigeria_election_results_declared_624

Nigerians became aware of Muhammadu Buhari on 31 December 1983, when the then Major General overthrew the elected government of Shehu Shagari, in power since 1979, in a bloodless military coup. The military seized power once again, primarily because there was virtually no confidence in the civilian regime. Indeed, conditions had deteriorated so much in the Second Republic that when the coup came, it was widely acclaimed. Buhari had been director of supply and services in the early 1970s, military governor of Northeast State at the time it was divided into three states, and Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Mines (1976-78) during the height of the oil boom. At the time of the coup, he was commander of the Third Armored Division in Jos. The regime of Buhari became soon famous for its bold actions: for the first time a military in power shows a clear hostile face towards the civil society and fundamental rights, and for many he put the seed of authoritarianism that will flourish further in the next juntas of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha.

Buhari tried to restore public accountability and to re-establish a dynamic economy without altering the basic power structure of the country, but it was in politics that his action was ruthless. All political parties were banned and dissolved, the bank accounts were blocked temporarily to permit judicial enquiries on corruption. The main point of his policy was the war against corruption, with the hunt for those responsible, even abroad and culminated with the famous Dikko affair (an attempt to kidnap in UK, with the help of Israeli Mossad agent, an ex Shagari’s minister to face justice in Nigeria for corruption). In April 1984 were established special tribunals to find those responsible and be put under arrest and the ones that escaped abroad. No one was immune: a certain number of governors were arrested for corruption, important political figures of the previous government, included Shagari, were arrested while the Parliament and the Constitution were suspended. The government announced that there was no plan for a democratic transition and outlawed any political debate on the future of the federation. Constraints were placed on various groups and associations.

As a further attempt to mobilize the country, Buhari launched a War Against Indiscipline in spring 1984. This national campaign, which lasted fifteen months, preached the work ethic, emphasized patriotism, decried corruption, promoted environmental sanitation, fight disloyalty to national symbols such as the flag and the anthem. He specified acceptable forms of public behavior, such a requirement to form lines at bus stops or civil servants who were late at work had to perform humiliating frog jumps.

In economy was decided to use oil to buy food, abandoning any industrial project and accepting the Structural Adjustment as the only remedy for rapid recovery and self-reliance. It was given priority to the repayment of the external debts, leading to drastic reduction on wages, budgets cuts for ministers and state administrations, privatisation for public companies, new incentives for multinationals. The regime attempted to crackdown on criticism with journalists harassed and many critics were arrested. The National Security Organisation (NSO) became the principal instrument of repression. Buhari introduced the some infamous decrees: the number four forbade any journalist from reporting information considered embarrassing to any government official whilst The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree Number Two gave the Chief of Staff at Supreme Headquarters the power to detain for up to six months without trial anyone considered a security risk. Special military tribunals increasingly replaced law courts and followed further restrictions: trade union ban, detention for trade union leaders, critics, students and journalists, any organisation or popular activities was harassed or repressed. Despite the increased efficiency with which Buhari and his associates tackled the national crisis, the regime’s inflexibility caused discontent, especially within the army apparatus and will materialise in a coup led by Major General Babangida and Brigadier Sani Abacha to oust Buhari and continuing the long history of military regimes until 1999.

Nevertheless, Buhari’s legacy of those years split Nigerians over the judgement of his figure: uncompromising, ruthless, incorruptible, disciplinarian, authoritarian, determined and a strong leader. Those who followed him as a politician appreciated his qualities above against the new corruptible system represented by the PDP. Those who dislike him accuse Buhari of poor human rights records, his questionable appetite for democracy, authoritarian tendencies and a divisive figure over ethnic and religious affairs. The election of 2015 proved stronger than all these objections.

If the above paradigm ensured PDP victories in series from 1999 to 2011, the tide started to change in the last presidency of Jonathan Goodluck. PDP was built as a formidable electoral machine, rich, powerful, backed by prominent businessmen and the always important lobby of retired generals who manipulated Nigeria’s politics in the past. PDP was so efficient and able to win easily every election that can be considered a sort of Nigerian version of the Mexican PRI, made to govern 70 years. But recent cases of corruption scandals, failing leadership after the stronger years of Olusegun Obasanjo, increasing security threats from Boko Haram and inability of the government to get hold of the interest of the federation, raised questions inside the PDP before the society. Obasanjo tearing apart his PDP card was more than a symbolic gesture, it was an actual end of a mighty machine, several governors changed attitude toward Buhari defecting and joining APC (those of Rivers, Adamawa, Kano, Jigawa and Kebbi), and the same Obasanjo said about Buhari “would not be a good economic manager but will be a strong, almost inflexible, and a courageous and firm leader”._82042630_82042629

Buhari in the past challenged lost election for frauds or recounts, but this time, when appeared that Buhari was actually on the verge of victory, the places changed. President Goodluck and PDP tried to stay in power launching a strong and powerful slander campaign against Buhari but at the same time this generated fears that an opposition victory would not be accepted by the ruling party, thus paving way for possible violence. Nevertheless, the Nigerian elections have been historical especially for overcoming these fears, the PDP party accepted defeat and President Goodluck acceptance was a duty from a Head of State to avoid disaster, or worst civil war, which gave huge credit to his figure. Nigeria showed great maturity and consolidation of its path to become a stronger and solid democracy.

However, is not all roses for Nigeria, as Buhari’s election also represents some limits of the current Nigerian political system where, for an example, an ex-military ruler is needed to change from the ruling PDP and open questions on the absence of new and younger political figures able to be identified as “national” by the population. Although Nigerians remember and are divided by the judgement over Buhari’s past, the overwhelming victory was a clear message for action, safeguard of the federation, end of the corruption cancer and especially to tackle Boko Haram in a more decisive manner than PDP has shown.

Nigerians cannot forget that, mainly in the past, several movements were often assisted or orchestrated by security forces to undermine civilian governments, able to create chaos but easy to bring back into order when needed. Boko Haram fell into this category at least until 2009 when a backlash from security forces lead to the murder of his leader Yusuf. Since then Boko Haram was lost of sight, let dangerously to reorganise underground and to become the movement that is today. Nigerians accused PDP and security forces of inertia and incapacity of dealing with the group, and the abduction of 200 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014 was an international humiliation that could not save President Goodluck and the ruling party from failure.

Whether Buhari will be able to achieve all this, it will be a matter of time, but at least one element is sure: the time of inaction is finished and, as per his tradition, Buhari will certainly act swiftly on the main Nigerian issues. The only problem will be to see whether Buhari will distance himself from the past and will use his quality of a strong leader/action man within the federal and democracy framework. The real danger for Nigeria could be Buhari exceeding his powers with consequences far more dangerous than 20 years ago. Nigerians know that and his enemies know even better.

 

 

Written by Matteo Figus

01/06/2015 at 20:03

Plots, party purges and political slander in Zanu-PF: what game is Mugabe playing?

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The question of succession emerged following inevitable natural courses and political necessities of the ruling party. Mugabe is now 90 and is very unlikely that due to health problems will be able to maintain power at the next presidential elections in 2018. On the other, the possible scenario of a sudden incapacity of Mugabe to govern without a succession plan in place evoked the fear of a possible collapse of the regime.

Therefore, when Zanu-PF started the long debate exploring the options available, the battle for power was restricted to the representatives of the two dominant factions within party: Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa. The first is a popular figure who identifies as a moderate; the second is a hard-liner with powerful links to the military and security establishment.

Zimbabweans, and international analysts, were already debating on the two political figures when a sudden and dramatic change in Zanu-PF delicate balance came out in the open. The sacking of Mujuru and the rise of Mugabe’s wife within the party ranks have reset the political system and speculations are rising on the real significance of Mugabe’s strategy.

 

Grace Mugabe: Mujuru’s destroyer-Mnangagwa ally?

On 09th December 2014 President Mugabe officially sacked Zanu-PF Vice President Joice Mujuru after accusing her of corruption and plotting to kill him. He also dismissed seven government ministers in connection with the alleged plot including State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa (another long-time ally of Mugabe) and Energy Minister Dzikamai Mavhaire, who was seen as close to Mujuru.

Vice President Mujuru represented a wing of the party that is wary of the years of economic and political stagnation in the country and within the party. They favor a moderate approach with the opposition and have strong support among the unprivileged members of ZANU-PF. This bloc advocates an open-market and reviving relations with the international community, including Western powers. When in December 2013 Mujuru won the party’s provincial elections, she was tipped as one of the likely successors. The obstacles were identified in the unstable party allegiances, concerns over widespread corruption, and her heterogeneous front that lacked ideological cohesion as well as support in key state institutions such police, army and judiciary — the main foundations of Mugabe’s longstanding power. But even before that Mujuru has been destroyed by the rising to power of Mugabe’s wife, Grace.

Grace Mugabe, using the mighty power of state propaganda, conducted a campaign against her for months at public rallies, telling the vice-president to resign or apologise. She openly accused her opponent while state media made sensational claims of senior government officials going abroad scouting for a hit man to assassinate Mugabe. Mrs Mugabe in October openly refused to shake Mrs Mujuru’s hand at an official ceremony and at rallies openly said that the vice-president should be sacked from government because she was described as “corrupt, an extortionist, incompetent, a gossiper, a liar, ungrateful, power-hungry, daft, foolish, divisive and a disgrace”, accusing her of collaborating with opposition forces and neo-colonialists to undermine the country’s independence.

Mrs Mujuru tried to defend herself confirming her loyalty to Mugabe and describing the accusations as “repugnant” and “ridiculous”. She accused state media of publishing lies as part of a plot to destroy Zanu-PF. Her options are now limited: staying in the party will lead to an obscure, isolated and discredited figure but leaving could be far more dangerous especially if she joins the opposition. The intelligence services are known to keep files of “dirt” for use against those who defect.

Grace Mugabe, 49, once her husband’s secretary, is now a senior party figure, having been appointed leader of Women Zanu-PF and speculation is building that she may seek to succeed Mr Mugabe when he retires or dies. Grace Mugabe has grown into a powerful businesswoman and sees herself as a philanthropist, founding an orphanage on a farm just outside the capital, Harare, with the help of Chinese funding. She is described as tenacious and ambitious with her fans applauding her style and forthright nature, while her detractors have nicknamed her “Gucci Grace” and “DisGrace” because of her alleged appetite for extravagant shopping. Along with her husband, is subject to EU and US sanctions, including travel bans. She is usually modest and reserved in interviews but her recent political career also shown a sharp and direct approach to adversaries. She is very popular within Zanu-PF youth league mainly for her stand against corruption and charitable work but senior leaders see her approach as ruthless, a danger to party unity, politically naïve, materialistic and distant from her husband more ideological background. Her spectacular rise generated speculation of becoming a potential successor, an ambition she has not declined although indirectly supported the other candidate, Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, by spending generous words and describing him as “loyal and disciplined”.

Mnangagwa, a powerful, feared and questionable figure, presides over the so-called “hard-liners” or “old guard” that have played a strong and dominant role in Zimbabwe’s history. Mugabe’s long reign of power would not have been ensured without the support from this formidable repression apparatus that is seeking to maintain its privileges. Although Mnangagwa does not have support from the party’s base level, he has established strong ties with the intelligence and military. His role has grown along the years and strengthened by Mugabe’s strategy of putting the military and security sector in command. But can Grace comments be interpreted as a further acknowledgement of his chances to become Mugabe’s heir or are part of a wider plan?

 

What is Mugabe’s strategy?

Different theories have been put forward to explain Grace’s role and Mugabe’s actual goals. The first theory is that Mrs Mugabe has no chance of becoming president, and has been used by Mnangagwa’s faction to stop Joyce Mujuru group. The second theory is that President Mugabe is promoting his wife primarily in order to keep all the Zanu-PF factions under his control and a third that see Mrs Mugabe as a real presidential candidate due to her husband endorsement.

All theories have some truths but probably the most correct is that they are all part of Mugabe’s strategy, one of his famous tricks and political games. Mugabe does not trust anyone except himself and his actions in these months can find roots in the party’s orthodoxy and practices similar to those adopted in the Great Purge in USSR where fabrication of accusations, plots and purges helped destroying political opponents. But if Mugabe is not Stalin in proceeding further with the physical annihilation of the opponents, nevertheless he achieves the same results. Mujuru’s political views and openness towards dialogue with the opposition and international powers, has been seen as a major danger for the party élite and its privileges. Mujuru’s camp has been deemed as “expendable” to preserve power and Mugabe’s position which could have been under question in a more liberal regime. Mugabe at the same time cannot directly appease Mnangagwa as whilst he could ensure continuity of power and keep foreign powers and opposition parties at bay, on the other could become too strong and plunge Zimbabwe into a military dictatorship.

Mugabe therefore resorted once gain to his preferred policy of divide et impera by taking control over the succession process and weakening the potential candidates. Grace served the purpose at the right time by attacking Mujuru without Mugabe’s direct involvement and propelling into politics a figure that can attract some sectors of the civil society. Her charitable work appeals to the same people from whom Mujuru found support and she is also unquestionable from hardliners due to her relationship with Mugabe. Recovering the grassroots within the party and isolating the Mujuru’s “deviationists” will strengthen the party élite and at the same time preserve Mugabe’s circle of power. But Mugabe’s tactic also weakens Mnangagwa’s old guard introducing a familiar figure legitimated by a powerful investiture that the hardliners cannot just ignore. The strategy is to keep the party under his feet, unbalanced and where factions are not able to prevail on the other without his consent. Mugabe is in a way building a safety net where a Zimbabwe under Grace Mugabe could be internationally acceptable rather than a Zimbabwe bordering military dictatorship, but at the same time by keeping the old guard in charge of security and stability. This can also open to a theory in which Mugabe uses both for the same purposes, by adopting a Korean model. Creating a “Zimbabwean Kim dynasty” he can ensure continuity of power and privileges for himself and his circle of power and on the other by protecting the military first policy can still count on Mnangagwa’s faction as the tutor of order.

Whether these theories are right or wrong would be only a matter of time to find out, but it is certain that this could be the last attempt of Mugabe to shape Zimbabwe’s future under his own desires and a mistake in his calculation can have disastrous effects for the entire country.

 

 

 

 

Written by Matteo Figus

04/01/2015 at 19:07

Zimbabwe: The Countdown for Mugabe’s Succession

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Written by Matteo Figus

09/03/2014 at 22:00

Posted in Africa, Analysis

Tagged with , , ,

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

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Today we are giving our last salute to Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential and inspiring figure in history. Mandela, symbol of the struggle for freedom, for peace and reconciliation, for equality and progress, has dedicated his entire life to these ideals paying a high price for being able to see the end of Apartheid. Independently on the views, political orientations or nationality no one can deny the impact that Mandela had in the 20th century and the first part of the 21st, leaving a legacy and a heavy inheritance which will not be easy to fulfill for all of us._71640387_020287142-1

Everything has been said and discussed on Mandela’s life, a man of different roles: an attorney, a revolutionary, a rebel, a military commander, a politician and ideologist, a prisoner, president and later retired but an active campaigner and guardian for his country. Mandela grew up in a continent enslaved by colonialism and then ravaged by civil wars, military coups and brutal regimes; above all the Apartheid regime of white South Africa was identified by Mandela not only as the reason to struggle for freedom to black South Africans, but he also identified a wider struggle for all Africans to achieve their complete independence.

For these ideals the ANC and many party leaders were imprisoned, tortured physically and psychologically, while people suffered an appalling brutality from which the world took some time to wake up. Sharpeville, Soweto and other tragedies and massacres cannot be forgotten and Mandela helped in making the struggle for freedom going global. During the crucial years, when Mandela was in prison, he never gave up his ideals and ultimate goal: end of Apartheid, complete freedom for its people and independence. Methods on how to achieve this alternated in his mind and strategy, from initial peaceful resistance to the acceptance of violence to liberate themselves, because Mandela was after all an able strategist and, as all the leaders of a national liberation movement, was immersed in a world that was divided along Cold War allegiances. If the apartheid regime was strong and brutal, in defiance of all condemnations, was not only for its internal strengths but also because the white South Africa was the ring of a strong chain in Austral Africa designed to counter attack the rising Marxist movements of liberation. South Africa was along with Ian Smith’s South Rhodesia and Mobutu’s Zaire a bastion against communism, a brutal alliance against all other movements such ANC, SWAPO, MNLA, FRELIMO, ZANU and ZAPU in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. During those years some countries, that today cry and hail Mandela as a national hero, were on the other side of the barricades.

Nevertheless, Mandela on its liberation day never showed any sign of revenge or desire to impose a black dictatorship, he made a gesture that 9 out of 10 men in his situation would have never done: forgiveness and reconciliation. Whether acceptable or not, like the controversial general amnesty by forgiving all crimes  on each side, Mandela on this showed his greatness not only under a humanitarian spirit but also, politically speaking, as a true leader; he understood that a civil war would have destroyed South Africa for ever, and examples in the continent are not uncommon, tribalism would have ravaged communities and foreign intervention would have replaced white power as the new master. Mandela’s choices have always been a sapient, pragmatic and strategic choice with an ultimate beneficiary: the people of South Africa as a whole. This is what his legacy leaves, a leader that like many others has pursued his goals and even taken unprecedented measures, but with the difference that he always had at the centre of his mind one goal: to give freedom and power to all people, regardless race, language or religion.

Critics are not mistaken in highlighting some failings, after all Mandela was a man, but never in our history we have assisted to such dignity and power of  action, without arms, like in Mandela. He leaves today a South Africa that has to face many problems: poverty, crime, integration of communities, Aids, and will be now up to President Zuma and the leadership of ANC to follow up his steps. The absence of Mandela, a man of unity and great charisma, will be missed, as well as world leaders have lost a powerful voice and living reminder of their responsibilities and duties.

His legacy is that the struggle against poverty, abuse, oppression and freedom can be pursued by leaders if they have the honesty and integrity to pursue these ideals whatever the price with only one interests, the wellbeing of their people.

Written by Matteo Figus

10/12/2013 at 12:46

DR Congo: M23 Rebellion Ends and Its Consequences

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Rebels of the M23 group declared the end of insurgency in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo following government announcement of military victory. The M23 move generated a wave of hope for Congolese people and the international community that finally this troubled country could achieve peace at last. However, it also received cautious reception given especially past examples and the complexity of the issues that surround Congolese politics.DR Congo

M23 in a statement said that it was ceasing any military activity and pursuing its goals by political means, also urging the remaining fighters to disarm and demobilise. The move followed government offensive that since October was targeting the rebel bases. Although it may look like a purely military operation result, the end of hostilities was part of a more structured plan devised by the involved parties in months of negotiations. The latest agreement signed by African leaders in Pretoria invited the M23 rebels to make public their intentions to depose arms to allow the Congolese government to draft its peace plan for demobilisation and reintegration. Therefore this announcement shows that M23 rebels are complying with the summit resolution.

The summit nonetheless opened some questions on the real impact and role of other regional powers; while Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni was present at the summit, the absence of his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, was quite visible, although represented by his foreign minister. Rwanda has been accused openly by DRC and UN of supplying M23 with arms and money.

The Congolese army declared that many rebel forces have been disarmed, captured or surrendered, with some fleeing across the borders with Uganda and Rwanda. It also announced that those who will not disarm will be crushed by force. The military breakthrough started in October when the Congolese army stepped up its offensive against the rebels, with the support of tanks and helicopters from a UN intervention brigade. At least 800,000 people have fled their homes since the M23 took up arms in 2012 but several other armed groups still operate in the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo.

The defeat of M23 if on one side opens a new scenario, on the other it also leave to the government a difficult task in dealing with insurgencies. The government is aware that this victory will not solve all problems and that there is still possibility that those who escaped can resort to hit-and-run operations. The government nonetheless is making the most of its positive moment by threatening the other rebel groups, inviting them to surrender or to be suppressed by force. The main threat for Kinshasa is represented by the Rwandan Hutu Forces Démocratiques deLlibération du Rwanda (FDLR) militias which have been the real centre piece in this puzzle that is DRC conflict. Rwanda has always justified its intervention, or backing of armed rebels, because of the connivance or incapacity of the DRC government to destroy FDLR forces.DR Congo Militias

M23 origins and Rwanda’s links

The M23 has been the most active group since April 2012 and posed serious threats to DRC stability. Made up of ethnic Tutsi, like Rwanda’s leaders, has often been speculated that it was supported militarily and financially by Kigali’s government, although Rwanda rejected these claims. The origins can be traced from the action related to the forces of General Laurent Nkunda who, accusing the Congolese government of not doing enough to destroy FDLR Hutu militia, decided to challenge both openly, arriving to clash even against the UN forces. The Congolese government accused Rwanda of backing Gen. Nkunda, who arrived to threaten the capital of North Kivu, Goma, in 2009. Nevertheless, in the same year, a deal was reached by DRC and Rwanda to fight against FDLR and disarm the Tutsi rebels of general Nkunda; as part of the deal, Gen. Nkunda was taken out of the country and put under house arrest in Rwanda, where he remains.

However, it soon appeared clear that Congolese government troops, backed by thousands of UN peacekeepers, have failed to defeat the FDLR rebels. Reports of mass rapes, killings and other atrocities committed by rebels and government troops continued to alarm Rwanda. The deal between DR Congo and Rwanda inevitably collapsed, and a new group, the M23, largely made up of former Nkunda loyalists, started military operations in eastern DR Congo in 2012. The DR Congo government has repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing the M23. The group was initially said to have been led by Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda, but earlier this year, after heavy fighting broke out between rebel factions of the M23 he fled to the US embassy in Rwanda. The former Congolese army general then surrendered to the International Criminal Court to face trial in The Hague on war crimes charges. A UN panel investigating the conflict says M23 leaders “receive direct military orders” from Rwanda’s chief of defence staff, Gen Charles Kayonga, “who in turn acts on instructions from the minister of defence”, Gen James Kabarebe. It also says that Kigali has supplied the M23 with heavy weapons and recruitment, all allegations that President Paul Kagame has strongly denied.

Rwanda’s involvement in DRC conflict is not new and not even the only one as the history of this giant teach; however it is without doubt that its influence is the key to unlock the conflict and bring stability.

A History of Foreign Interference, Interventions and Plunder

DR Congo is the second biggest country in Africa for extension and extremely rich in natural resources: diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, zinc, it supplies coltan, which is used in mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, and cassiterite, used in food packaging. This double extraordinary dimension has been paradoxically the reason of its misfortune: vast resources attracted exploiters, unscrupulous companies, foreign powers, warlords and rebels; on the other the vast geographical dimension has incorporated a mosaic of ethnic groups that although had lived in the areas for centuries have been soon exploited for political means in proxy wars and ethnic clashes. On the centre of this puzzle sit the Congolese government that since independence has been characterised by widespread corruption, inability of managing the vast resources, to bring unity and to abandon its population.

In the early 20th Century, Congo was conquered by Belgian forces with King Leopold ruling the country as it was personal property. One of the most brutal and retrograde colonialism took form until a struggle for independence eventually achieved its goal in 1960. Patrice Lumumba was appointed prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu president. However, the peace was short lived as Lumumba, accused to be a communist and to steer the country towards socialism, was dismissed by president Kasavubu, while sections of the army mutinied and Moise Tshombe declared the independence of the mining rich Katanga region. Belgian troops were sent in to protect Belgian citizens and mining interests while UN Security Council, although voting to send in troops to help establish order was unable to act as troops were not allowed to intervene in internal affairs. Following the arrest and the murder of Lumumba in 1961, reportedly with US and Belgian complicity, UN troops finally intervened to disarm Katangese soldiers. Only in 1963 Tshombe agrees to end Katanga’s secession and in 1964 President Kasavubu appointed Tshombe prime minister as part of a reconciliation plan.Patrice Lumumba

The re-achieved unity in reality did not comfort external powers, still worried of a weak country that could easily become a fertile terrain for Soviet backed operation or Marxist guerrilla fighters, as demonstrated by Che Guevara’s attempt in 1965. In this optic Mobutu’s rise to power corresponded to the logic of the Cold War to appease a brutal and questionable ruler, but effective in being a bastion against communism. Joseph Mobutu seized power in 1965, crushing internal rebellions, unifying the nation and renaming the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko, Katanga became Shaba and the river Congo became the River Zaire. Mobutu’s Zaire was, along with the white minority rule states of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, a stronghold in counterattacking the Marxist liberation movements of MPLA in Angola, FRELIMO in Mozambique, ANC in South Africa and SWAPO in Namibia, while supporting the rivals UNITA and RENAMO, as well as obtaining US and Chinese support in anti-Soviet stance.  Mobutu unchallenged power started to crumble in front of the crescent economic problems, but especially after 1990 due to the changed international scenario following the end of the Cold War. In 1993 rival pro and anti-Mobutu governments were created, but it will be 1994 the crucial year for the modern history of Congo-Zaire.Mobutu

After Rwanda’s genocidal Hutu regime was overthrown, more than two million Hutus are thought to have fled into DR Congo fearing reprisals against them by the new Tutsi-dominated government. Among them were many responsible for the genocide. They quickly allied themselves with Mobutu’s government and began to attack DR Congo’s population of ethnic Tutsis. Rwanda’s Tutsi government started to back rival militias, fighting both the Hutu militias and pro Mobutu Congolese government troops. In May 1997 Tutsi and other anti-Mobutu rebels, aided principally by Rwanda, captured the capital, Kinshasa, and Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo with Laurent-Desire Kabila installed as president. But Kabila failed to expel the Hutu militia, as Rwanda was hoping, and Kigali organised a punitive measure to oust the president.

In August 1998 rebels, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, rose up against Kabila and advanced on Kinshasa after capturing much of east DR Congo. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola sent troops to repel them and assist Kabila. The war, that will last five years, has been named the First World African War. During the five years’ war, President Kabila is assassinated by a bodyguard in January 2001, and succeeded by his son Joseph. The UN Security Council authorised a 5,500 strong UN force to monitor a ceasefire signed in 1999 in Lusaka, but fighting continued between rebels, once former allies, Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) supported by Uganda and Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) backed by Rwanda, between rebels and government forces, and between Rwandan and Ugandan forces. Only in 2003 the war ended when the last Ugandan troops left DRC. The peace deal signed in South Africa between the Kinshasa government and main rebel groups gave to their commanders and opposition members portfolios in an interim government.Laurent Kabila

After the war, DRC struggled to find peace, threatened by continuous military rebellions and rebels attacks. In 2004 and 2011 reported coups failed in Kinshasa, while in the east fighting between the Congolese army and renegade soldiers from a former pro-Rwanda rebel group started evolving in the birth of the M23 rebellion.

The DRC Puzzle: Internal Deficiencies and External Influences

Congolese army victory can find explanations on both military and political basis. The army after the embarrassing Goma’s defeat by M23 rebels, was reorganised by Kabila in an attempt to bring discipline and organisation to a fighting force that has always been identified with poor training, corruption and disorganisation. The army has often been accused of atrocities not less serious than the ones committed by rebel groups, undermined by mutinies and rebellions based on ethnic lines or money allegiances. Kabila’s efforts seems to have brought some fruits as no abuses have been reported in the recent campaign and valuable, if not decisive, was the support from the UN forces. However, now that victory has been achieved over the M23 rebels, the question mark is whether DRC will be able to crush the other groups that still operate in eastern Congo. The government lacks founds, equipment and resources to ensure a bright future without selling out its rich materials to the next “friend”. The UN assistance shows that the Congolese army desperately needs support from a well-trained force, and that its presence represents also the best control over abuses committed by Congolese soldiers. Kabila will need to ensure therefore that the army not only will be equipped but also disciplined to avoid that human rights abuses can offer any further reason for external interventions. Beside the purely military operations, Kabila will need to strengthen his political weight and strategy; in the past we assisted to rebellions being crushed and followed by general amnesties that lead to rebel commanders reorganising their armies or planning coup d’états. Kabila will need to balance government’s response as to ensure that rebels should be protected when they had disarmed, but those guilty of serious crimes should not be given an amnesty. In this optic it is crucial the cooperation of the Congolese government with the International Criminal Court as a mean of legitimization and justice towards the victims of warlords.Joseph Kabila

The UN forces shared with the Congolese government the shame of leaving Goma without defences, powerless in assisting crimes and violations not only by M23, but with a long history of overlooks in the years of instability of DRC. The UN peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo since 1999, at the time of the First World African War, and it is one of the biggest peacekeeping operations in the world, with almost 20,000 personnel on the ground. Its mandate is to protect civilians, help with the reconstruction of the country, assist the democratic process in organising elections and has launched military operations against various rebel groups. Nevertheless, UN has been accused of inability in containing the violence and protect civilians from human rights abuses. In 2009 a report by UN-commissioned experts acknowledge these accusations, with rebels continuing to kill and plunder natural resources with impunity, supported by criminal organisations in Africa, Western Europe and North America. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the UN of becoming complicit in atrocities against civilians citing the example of August 2010, when the UN force was accused of not doing enough to stop the rape of more than 150 women and children within miles of their base near Luvungi. To reflect a change on its status, the UN force changed its name from the UN Organisation Mission in DR Congo, known as MONUC, to the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission, MONUSCO. This led the UN forces to back actively the Congolese army with tanks and helicopters in attacking rebel bases as well as increasing operations of surveillance. It is expected that the UN mission will soon have drones that will offer better insight into rebel movements and arms supplies.

Along military and logistic advantages, the Congolese government knows that its rich resources make DRC the centre of appetites from different countries, African and non. Rwanda and Uganda have been identified as the two major players in this saga. UN investigators and Congolese officials have accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the M23 and other rebel groups. Both governments deny the allegations. Both countries have helped the rebellion that ultimately led to Mobutu’s regime collapse, but soon after, although for different reasons, they turned against Kinshasa.

Uganda has been often accused of supporting rebels to achieve resources and control east Congo, sometimes taking as justification actions to chase Lord’s Resistance Army rebels seeking refuge across the border with DRC. Uganda for example was the last country to leave DRC following the peace plan after the five years war in 2003; nevertheless the mood seems to have changed in recent years following Kampala’s offer in hosting talks between Kinshasa and the M23 as well as joint military operations to destroy LRA rebel bases in Congo.

But if Uganda seems to be a problem on a way to solution, it is the small Rwandan Tutsi government that rise concerns, being the most powerful and directly interested in DRC dynamics. Like Uganda, Rwanda has supported the overthrow of Mobutu, mostly for chasing the remnants of Hutu militias responsible for genocide. Kigali strategy was to install a friendly government in Kinshasa to block and wipe out the Hutu army known as FDLR. Since the war in 1998, this has been the main reason advocated by Rwanda for any direct military intervention or indirect backing of Tutsi rebellions in DRC to undermine and pressure Kinshasa government for a more effective stance against Hutu rebels. The M23, for example, has been widely speculated to be financed and armed by Rwanda and, although Kigali denies, UN, DRC and International Criminal Court acknowledge this involvement. But a question arises, why then M23 have been defeated in such short time if they enjoyed this support? Having considered the military operations led by DRC and UN, it is without doubt that Kigali stepped down its supports to the group. On one side this has always been part of Rwanda’s strategy: alternating strong pressure on DRC and offer assistance to ease rebellions. Often this overture has played a twofold strategy: a propaganda measure to distance Kigali’s government from the international outcry for supporting barbarous warlords and also to blackmail Kinshasa in acting more decisively against FDLR. Taking into account the above, still there is another reason that led to Rwanda’s change towards M23 rebels: US role. In the past US military gave greater support to Paul Kagame regime, especially when Kabila during the war in 1998-2003 called in troops from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, all countries that had no friendly relations with Washington during their independence struggle and clashed against white minority rule governments. However, in recent years the US have changed policy: they are seeking to cultivate relations with Angola; Zimbabwe seems to have been abandoned from their agenda, as Mugabe is more interested in staying attached to his power rather than pursue military adventures; international pressure versus Tutsi militias made difficult to justify Rwanda backing now that collusion and support have been uncovered. The US has since withdrawn that military support, accusing Kigali of backing the M23 rebels, believed to use child soldiers and being responsible for atrocities.

Ultimately it is clear that if Kabila and DR Congo wish to bring to an end this long history of blood, the moment could not have been more favourable. Nevertheless, the Congolese government will need to act decisively in sorting its armed forces to transform them in a loyal and reliable force. The task is not easy for a country destroyed by years of conflicts, and in a continent where it is not unusual to see armies defecting or rebelling. DRC share the common malaise of governments being “hostages” of their own armies, and similarity can be seen with another giant, Nigeria. Both countries have an ethnic and religious diversity that often has been source of conflict and clashes manipulated by politicians or military sectors. However, Nigeria has a strong military apparatus that maintained a sort of unity along the years, preferring to occupy the political scene by coups and accusing politicians to be destroyer of the harmony and peaceful coexistence between tribes. DR Congo instead appears on the other side of the spectrum, with on one hand an army incapable of loyalty and constantly split by the whims of unsatisfied commanders and on the other with a central government powerless in controlling the territory. Kinshasa will need in addition to sort the other rebel groups, starting from the FDLR, as the only way to pacify the country, and eliminate any interference from Rwanda and other neighbouring countries. It is this double dimension, government-military relation and internal security that could unlock the situation; however, until now it has been like the dog who bites its tail.

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