This News Brief details the changes that conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have undergone in the past year. Thanks so muchto STAND’s wonderful Education Team for bringing us Weekly News Briefs this year! Don’t forget to check back on the STAND blog this summer and follow AllAfrica, Al Jazeera,Think Africa Press, Pambazuka, and Congo Siasa for breaking news and analysis on our conflict zones and more.
Sudan and South Sudan
So far in 2013, violence in Darfur escalated as the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Darfur passed, new diplomatic gains were made between Sudan and South Sudan, and inter-ethnic conflict revealed a weak South Sudanese government in Juba.
Just last week, the leader of JEM-Sudan (formerly known as JEM-Bashar) was killed in a battle between Darfuri rebels and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). A JEM splinter group had recently signed a peace deal with Khartoum and integrated into the SAF. Violence in Darfur also took the form of SAF air raids, pro-government militia terrorism, inter-tribal conflict leading to massive displacement, as well as an increase in rebel attacks on the soldiers and bases of the SAF, moving as far east as Northern Kordofan as part of a “SRF” offensive. In addition, refugee and IDP camps continue to suffer from a lack of funding and resources, making the lives of those who live in them increasingly threatened. To address these issues, the “International Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Darfur” was held in Qatar in April, raising $3.6 billion. Unfortunately, the amount fell short of the $7 billion goal, although it was deemed enough for the most urgent projects. SAF air raids this year also targeted SPLM-N rebels in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, leading to significant counter offenses. As Chadian forces join the SAF and other pro-government militia in Sudan, and rebel forces of the SRF unite to topple the current regime, violence in Sudan will likely continue to expand in the near future.
Sudanese citizens are very discontented with the government for the poor economy and increasing violence with the rebels, causing many to emigrate. At the same time the Sudanese government has shown some small signs of improvement. President Omar Al-Bashir has recently announced that he will step down in 2015, and although his party voted this month to extend his term, this could signal a shift in Sudanese politics within the regime. Bashir also announced this year that he would release all political prisoners (so far 24 were released) in what appears to be an effort to appeal to the international community and the rebel forces.
Sudan-South Sudan relations have gotten better. Negotiations between the two governments have yielded agreements leading to a withdrawal of forces from the border and a resumption of the flow of oil. At the same time, meetings concerning the status of Abyei and other border regions have been unsuccessful. There has been a small amount of violence along the border including the recent death of a Ngok Dinka Abyei Chief.
Lastly, in South Sudan there was an outbreak of conflict over the past few months in the Jonglei and Lakes states. David Yau Yau and his rebel forces committed major violence especially in Pibor County, Jonglei. Many civilians remain displaced as Yau Yau’s forces recently announced that they laid seige of a town in the region. Many civilians in the state feel intimidated by the SPLA in addition to Yau Yau’s forces. This is largely due to the SPLA’s unsuccessful disarmament campaign, and the violence attributed to the campaign’s methods of seizures. The South Sudan government has shown its willingness to detain without arrest warrants, target journalists, and otherwise hurt its own people in an effort to maintain control. On a more positive note, one rebel group, the SSLM, surrendered to the SPLA last month, hopefully signaling the growth of a more unified South Sudanese citizenry in other regions of the young country. Furthermore, South Sudan made some major shifts in the government including the dismissal of dozens of former SPLA generals in an effort to make the government more efficient and civilian-led. Unfortunately, the national constitutional convention was delayed (now scheduled for June), and the national reconciliation conference has also encountered setbacks, such as the dismissal of the vice president Riek Machar as the head of the process.
It is also likely that the violence between the SPLA and the rebel forces in the country will continue to plague South Sudan for the near future, but with government revenues from oil and improving relations with Sudan along the border, it may soon be easier for the SPLA to bolster its efforts to maintain peace. We will soon discover whether the constitutional convention is an inclusive process, and much of South Sudan’s prospects for future success will hinge on the still fragile process of negotiations with Sudan concerning Abyei and the demilitarized border. A quick reversal of the gains made could immensely threaten the stability of both states.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
For the past few months, eastern DRC and the southern Katanga province have seen renewed violence. November saw the rise of the M23 rebel group in the east, with a takeover of Goma on November 20, and months of negotiations in Kampala, Uganda. Rwanda and Uganda have both been tied to the M23, but have denied all such charges. In March, the M23 split into two factions. Soon thereafter, former M23 president Jean-Marie Runiga, arrived in Rwanda with over 200 other Congolese refugees. A regional peace agreement was signed by Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, DRC, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia on February 24 that many hope will lay the groundwork for regional cooperation.
On March 18, wanted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda turned himself over to the US Embassy in Rwanda in order to be turned over to the International Criminal Court. Arrest warrants for Ntagandawere issued in 2006 and 2012 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and sexual slavery, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and pillaging during the Ituri conflict in northeastern Congo in 2002-2003.
On March 28, the UN authorized its first-ever offensive combat force in order to “neutralize and disarm” rebel and foreign armed forces in the DRC. The brigade will be led by a Tanzanian general and will consist of 3,069 troops from Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. Many have expressed skepticism that an additional force will be able to solve the underlying issues any better than previous forces. With such a small number of troops, it is unlikely that the intervention brigade will be able to confront the multiple armed groups that have formed in the DRC. In order for the brigade to be successful, argues Think Africa Press’ Christoph Vogel, it will need flexible rules of engagement, material assets and equipment, and political support at various levels. Many human rights leaders and activists have also expressed concern that the intervention brigade will only further escalate violence against women and girls in the region.
In Katanga province, various rebel groups (referred to as Mai-Mai) have been wreaking havoc, many of them fighting over mineral wealth and against the central government. In March, Lubumbashi, Katanga’s capital, was taken over by 440 Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga rebels with little resistance from state security forces. Katanga has historically been a site of resistance against the central government, and have been fighting for secession since the DRC became independent in 1960. Katanga is the DRC’s richest province, but receives little support from the central government.
As of this week, M23 attacks have continued. Attacks by the M23 and other rebel groups in eastern DRC and Katanga province are likely to continue unless the central government begins vital security sector reform measures, DDRRR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement) programs, and political reform. Rwandan troops allegedly continue to aid the M23 in eastern DRC, and are likely to continue, exacerbating the conflict. Keep watching for the UN intervention brigade, discussions of drone usage, and regional peace talks.