Eastern Africa: A Regional Stake in Counter-Insurgency

Somalia will continue to dominate the 2012 agenda for East African states as the humanitarian impact of famine and ongoing fighting pulls in regional and international actors. Now embroiled in military operations, Kenya also faces a big year for domestic politics. Other regional dynamics are tying together Uganda and South Sudan, and Kenya and Eritrea, who are all facing political challenges.

By Anna Rader for RUSI.org

2012 is a big year for East Africa and the Horn. Recovering from the regional humanitarian crisis requires long-term livelihoods and infrastructure assistance as well as short-term provision for the return and reintegration of over a million internally displaced people (IDPs) and a large refugee population clustered along the borders. Underwriting this is the pressing need to secure southern Somalia where humanitarian need is most acute. Regional actors are becoming more integrated stakeholders in Somalia's future. The AMISOM and Linda Nchi operations will be severely tested by Al-Shabaab's resistance; Kenyan and Ethiopian military planners need to develop an exit strategy that will deter retaliation. Like Somalia, East African countries are also facing demands for political reform. Uganda has taken on the lion's share of regional military responsibility, but its government is not immune to popular pressure: protest against high inflation and living costs will continue in 2012 as Ugandans show their disaffection with Museveni's rule. Kenya meanwhile will need to contend with the political fallout of the ICC indictments: of particular concern in this election year. Meanwhile, South Sudan and Sudan's diplomatic ties are threatened by ongoing tensions over oil transit fees - a spat that goes to the heart of relations between the new two neighbours.

Recovering from Famine in the Horn

The Horn of Africa had an uncompromising 2011. The failure of the seasonal rains over the last two years, together with the inflation of food staple prices, led to crop failure and livestock denudation across Somalia and into Kenya and Ethiopia. Somalia was the hardest hit by the drought, which escalated into famine in five of its southern regions. After an international humanitarian campaign, the immediate food insecurity crisis has been alleviated but widespread displacement and malnutrition will be significant 2012 challenges, together with rocketing food prices and the spread of communicable disease. Of pressing concern is the impact of the Kenyan incursion of late 2011 that has affected the return and resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), and also created new displacement as Somalis escape the fighting. In September, the UN admitted that it could not access the epicentre of the famine because of military operations and Shabaab's ban on the leading humanitarian NGOs. Reports that erratic rains and violence in South Sudan may push 2.7 million people into starvation in 2012 mean that the regional humanitarian crisis is far from over.Aid workers are trying to keep the crisis on the international agenda, arguing that the famine is not yet over.

Somalia's Political Transition

The Djibouti Process that established the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was the fifteenth effort at national reconciliation, and has gone further than any other attempt to bring a form of governance to south-central Somalia. But consumed by the fight against Al-Shabaab and weakened by political immaturity and infighting, the TFG squandered its four-year term. Only with the extension of its mandate has the Somali government been given a fighting chance to achieve essential political milestones - including presidential and parliamentary elections and a new constitution - before the expiry of the transitional period in August 2012.[1]

Key questions include the shape of the federal arrangement - Kenya and Ethiopia have different pet proposals - and how existing local and regional administrations will be incorporated: difficult considerations that will require enormous political will and the ability to woo political allies which will likely be translated into positions in government. This is likely to cause frictions, particularly between the TFG in Mogadishu, and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaca and groups in Beledweyne and Galguduud who see themselves as holding the frontline against Shabaab. The international community - including relatively new players in Somalia, China and Turkey - will be integral to efforts to secure a credible political settlement that can match the military strategy, and also help to create the political conditions needed to squeeze the north's piracy networks.

AMISOM: A New Chapter in Peacekeeping?

2012 began with a concerted push against Al-Shabaab's stronghold in southern Somalia with Kenyan, Ethiopian and Somali forces attacking key towns. In those early weeks at least, Mogadishu appeared to be unified under a government for the first time since state collapse in 1991. The campaign has logistical and financial support from international sources, and the kinetic push has been backed up a US drone campaign. Kenya is now seeking to incorporate its troops into the African Union peacekeeping mission, the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM),, which itself looks like it will be expanded both in size and mandate in 2012 to a standard 20,000 troops. There is a renewed sense of AMISOM being an African solution to an African problem, with Djibouti, Sierra Leone and Guinea all promising troops: a vital boost for the African Union after the ignominious overturn of former chairman and long-time advocate, Muammar Gaddafi.

Uganda, already the largest troop provider, has promised to ratchet up its assistance, but this is dependent on other continental challenges closer to home, in particular in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. If these were to escalate, AMISOM would need to draw on broader sources of support, which may complicate the counter-insurgency since the initial planning for AMISOM explicitly rejected troops from neighbouring countries so as to minimise retaliation. Nevertheless, Kenya and Ethiopia are now involved, and the integrated military strategy could replicate Ethiopia's campaign of 2006 to drive out the Union of Islamic Courts. This time, there must be concrete political advances so as to minimise the space for Shabaab's return. Question marks remain over funding and timelines, as well as complex challenges like interoperability and command and control in the multinational mission, which will need to be quickly and comprehensively addressed. Nevertheless, success in Somalia - against the background of destabilisation in South Sudan and the DRC - is important: the time is right for a real solution that could have far-reaching effects for regional peace and security. 

Tackling Immunity and Impunity: Kenya's Elections

Kenya's incursion into Somalia was reportedly provoked by the territorial infractions of militias who abducted and killed a number of Europeans in autumn 2011, raising fears that Somalia's vivid insecurity in the southern border regions would spill over into Kenya's lucrative tourist areas. Sold as a quick intervention, Kenya now looks to be signed up for a longer-term military campaign; Wikileaks documents suggest that the operation has been planned for two years. Kenya's sensitivity to success in Somalia has been demonstrated by its pursuit of the Eritrea sanctions issue. Though the UN monitoring group has now amended its earlier findings that Eritrea supplied arms to Shabaab, Kenya is adamant that such shipments took place, which may reflect anxiety that Shabaab cannot be defeated by kinetic operations alone. 

The complex security picture has other implications, most importantly for the stability required for the 2012 Kenyan elections, which are a critical benchmark for Kenya's constitutional progress. Fears over the porous border, in terms of the illegal import of arms as well as the possible entry of Shabaab militants, add to the general level of anxiety in the country over a possible repeat of the 2007 violence. These elections will be the first under the new constitution, and so a vital test: they must be peaceful and credible. But logistical hurdles are already proving challenging. Scheduled for August, the government is hoping to postpone the vote to December to give more time for planning, but the delay has prompted questions over the government's capability to deliver. The ballooning of political parties - 300 contested the 2007 elections - has been curtailed by legislation, meaning that fewer parties (most likely to be coalitions) will be in the running. Nevertheless, there are seven different polls - for mayoral and gubernatorial posts, as well as parliament and the president - which poses an enormous challenge to public education efforts, as well as those to ensure sufficient checks and balances to prevent ballot-stuffing.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission reported in February 2011 that serious legacy issues from the 2007 post-election violence remain, including poverty and youth unemployment as well as the impunity of officials implicated in the North Rift violence. The filibustering of efforts to bring those responsible to trial in Kenya led to an ICC indictment. The Court has now begun proceedings against senior politicians and civil servants that are opening new wounds as details of the reprisal violence are revealed. Progress at the ICC also poses a difficult political decision on the part of Kenyan elites over whether to hand over those named by the prosecutor, including the son of Kenya's first president, Uhuru Kenyatta.[2] The ICC issue has also enflamed relations with Sudan: a diplomatic spat at the end of 2011 over Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir's proposed visit to Nairobi threatened to sever relations between the two countries when a court ruling ordered Bashir's arrest pursuant to the ICC indictment if he set foot in Kenya. Attempts to backtrack demonstrate the lack of consensus in Kenya on the ICC, a reflection of its own troubles. Intervening in Somalia, even if its troops now come under the African Union umbrella, has opened Kenya up to these regional tensions, and it will need the foreign policy to match.

Uganda: Protest in the Regional Powerhouse

Against the backdrop of violent and sustained protests, Uganda was at the forefront of predictions of a 'sub-Saharan Spring'[3] in 2011. Yoweri Museveni breezed back into power in the February elections, and volatile demonstrations swiftly followed - though ostensibly directed at rising commodity prices rather than Museveni's twenty-five years in power. The walk-to-work movement in April became about more than inflation when security services heavily cracked down on demonstrators; the protest rattled Museveni. Another focus was corruption: Uganda has a low ranking in transparency and corruption indexes, and with massive graduate unemployment and generally poor public services, Ugandans are fed up with the prevalence of graft throughout the political system. High-profile corruption cases have not been enough to counteract the impression caused by large spending on the military, such as its eight new air superiority fighter jets costing $740 million,[4] for which Museveni was strongly criticised. The government claims that these are to defend the area near the Congolese border where oil was discovered five years ago, and it is through oil production and maintaining Uganda's regional military strength that Museveni will seek to resist popular pressure.

The oil may prove to be a mixed blessing. Production, anticipated to start in 2011, has been stalled by serious allegations of bribery with investigations into senior officials including the prime minister and foreign minister. When the oil does start pumping, millions of dollars are likely to be lost to the culture of kickbacks, straining a political system that has already lost credibility in the eyes of Ugandans and which will be further tested by the maneuvering prompted by the question of succession.[5] In the meantime, the oil, estimated to be worth $2 billion a year, will buttress Museveni's regime, and will frame its security priorities in this year and those to come. In particular, this means securing the western border with Congo.

Uganda's 2012 focus is particularly on preventing a resurgence of Joseph Kuny's Lord's Resistance Army, a project to which the US and the EU have both offered financial support, including the setting up of a new base for the co-ordination of operations and the deployment of a small detachment of US Special Forces. Uganda is also concerned to prevent South Sudan's implosion, particularly as the proposed pipeline to Mombasa, Kenya has potential for exporting South Sudan's enormous oil reserves. Both countries need refineries and transit systems, a project which could tie Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan together, creating a provocative alliance. This year, however, Uganda's priority will be on beginning production and balancing its military commitments in Somalia with others required in its regional hegemon role; yet it also needs to have an eye on the future, ensuring that the proper environmental and financial regulation are in place to translate the oil into economic prosperity.[6]

Sudan and South Sudan: Conflict in the World's Newest Nation

In July 2011, South Sudan gained independence; within months, optimism turned to unease as the scale of the challenges ahead became apparent. In addition to crucial state-building and other capacity-strengthening priorities, the new government had to fend off opposition from rebel leader George Athor who took up arms following defeat in the gubernatorial elections of April 2010. Hundreds died in clashes with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) before Athor was killed in December 2011; his militia is now expected to disperse, but the site of the main contestation - Jonglei state - is still a hotbed of conflict. The UN has redeployed peacekeepers there to ameliorate tensions between the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes; 6,000 of the latter's 'White Army' warriors reportedly attacked the town of Pibor in January, indicating the scale of the conflict which has escalated from the cattle-raiding that characterised the years of civil war and which still causes tribal disputes. Other factions and militias with grievances about being left out of the political equation - specifically access to the spoils of oil revenue - or complaints about corruption, unemployment and inflation have also emerged.[7] This ongoing internal dissent and conflict will eat up political energy and bloat military spending in 2012 when the focus should be on urgently needed development. Some analysts fear that South Sudan is not far off losing momentum and sliding towards state failure; 2012 is the year that regional and international support - in particular, from the EU, US and China who have leverage with both Juba and Khartoum - is critical.

Relations between the two Sudans are also fraught. Juba continues to accuse Khartoum of fomenting and supplying proxy militias along the border regions; Khartoum meanwhile claims that JEM fighters from Darfur are being sheltered in the South. Fighting is also ongoing in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile state where Sudanese air strikes have killed civilians, and the humanitarian crisis is marked by large-scale displacement and alarming reports of ethnic cleansing. The deterioration of relations has been further exacerbated by the failure to reach agreement over the contested area of Abyei and by Khartoum's heavy-handed approach towards the thorny issue of oil transit (which must go through Sudan for export).

In Sudan, long-time president Omar Al-Bashir has appeared to reach out to opposition parties in an effort to protect his rule against popular pressure in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The penalties for those who do not join the government are high: the leader of the Darfurian rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Khalil Ibrahim was killed by an air strike in December, decapitating the militant group which has long refused to negotiate with Khartoum. The effect on the Darfur insurgency is unclear, but the marketing of the strike as a political breakthrough in Khartoum suggests that Bashir is not ready to adopt a more conciliatory stance. He has shown himself adept at playing off political interests, and whilst Sudan is still able to extract concessions or dominate relations, Bashir is unlikely to see a challenge to his power this year. Nevertheless, Khartoum will need to step up to defuse the oil row upon which good relations with Juba rest: it has a short(ish) window before South Sudan is able to build domestic refinery capacity or export the oil through Uganda, and will need to use 2012 to build a workable arrangement that is not undercut by proxy violence on the ground in order to ensure its economic future, including the much longed-for lifting of US sanctions.

The views expressed here are the authors own and do not necessarily represent those of RUSI


[1] See Anna Rader, 'Somalia's 2012 Agenda', RUSI.org, 3 January 2012 for more details. http://www.rusi.org/analysis/commentary/ref:C4F043841CA21F/

[2] 'Uhuru looks back in anger', Africa Confidential (Vol. 52, No. 20, 7 October 2011), p. 9.

[3] Oliver August, 'A sub-Saharan spring?', Economist, 17 November 2011. http://www.economist.com/node/21537028

[4] Milton Olupot, 'Fighter Jets to Protect Oil - Government', New Vision, 9 April 2011. http://allafrica.com/stories/201104110308.html 

[5] 'Uganda's Oil Could Be Gift That Becomes a Curse', New York Times, 25 November 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/26/world/africa/uganda-welcomes-oil-but-fears-graft-it-attracts.html

[6] 'Rocky start for Uganda's oil sector', IRIN, 14 October 2011. http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportId=93966

[7] Elizabeth Tesfaye Haile, 'South Sudan's Post-Independence Challenges: Greed or Grievance?', Peace and Conflict Monitor, 4 January 2012. http://www.monitor.upeace.org/innerpg.cfm?id_article=855




Anna Rader

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