Tag Archives: Bashir

What’s Going on in Chad?

20 Aug
Rond point de l'Armée in N'Djamena, Chad. By Ismouz.

Rond point de l’Armée in N’Djamena, Chad. By Ismouz.

Chad’s been in the news recently primarily because of Boko Haram and the subsequent ban on the Islamic face veil. In June and July, several attacks in N’Djamena and on Lake Chad islands killed around 55 people. Despite N’Djamena’s physical proximity to Boko Haram areas in Nigeria and Cameroon, these were the first major attacks in Chad by Boko Haram following Chad’s entry into the international coalition fighting the group. These attacks have happened against a political backdrop of extreme poverty, government repression, and a history of armed conflict. Among the many problems that Chad currently faces, probably none of them alone are existential threats to Deby’s regime or the harbinger of impending mass violence, but Chad faces a uniquely toxic cocktail of political, economic, and social problems.

Social Fragmentation

Chad is 45% Christian, but since independence, Christians have been largely shut out of political power. It’s not that they’re second-class citizens, as most people besides a small elite have been shut out of political power, but even Christian elites have few political prospects.

There is also discord within the Muslim community. Historically, Chadian Islam has been dominated by Sufi sects, but recently there’s been an increase in more conservative forms of Sunni Islam, partially due to increased funding from the Gulf. The government, and its allied religious leaders, has cracked down on these forms of Islam, claiming they promote violence and are anathema to Chadian tradition (some of these religious leaders are using Boko Haram attacks to settle scores with rival Salafists, who in Chad have almost always advocated peace). While Chadian imams have traditionally preached against violence, there is a danger “moderate” Muslim authorities could become complicit in a large-scale government crackdown. Additionally, these imams might come to be seen as government puppets, lose credibility, and thereby create a power vacuum that could be filled by more radical individuals.

There is a major gap, both in terms of wealth and government attention, between rural and urban areas, leading to significant discontent and frequent clashes between farmers and pastoralists. The Toubou in Chad’s far north are particularly neglected, but they are generally disorganized and it seems unlikely they’d launch a large-scale rebellion (however some analysts worry that after the defeat of jihadist forces in northern Mali, they’ll link up with the Toubou) due to a lack of capacity and the strength of Chad’s armed forces. In these areas, traditional authorities have generally kept the peace, but when they have been weakened, either by the government or other external factors, violence and crime have generally increased.

Civil society only became a force in Chad after the ascension of Idriss Deby to power in 1990. However, it’s never become a major player for a few reasons. The government associates it with the opposition and Christians, so any activity is generally seen as a direct challenge by the government, and sometimes even a Trojan Horse by Christians to gain political power. There are few forums for political activity not organized by international NGO’s. Independent media does exist, but it only reaches a small number of people, whereas government-controlled media has a mass audience. Print media is dominated by Southern Chadians, further earning the ire of the government.

International Relations

Recently, after many years of essentially being an international pariah (partially because of his close links with Gaddafi, who was also in the process of being rehabilitated at the end of his rule), Chad has reinvented itself as a key counterterrorism partner for Western countries. This shift in policy began in 2008-2009. In the last three years, Chadian troops have served in Mali (under AFISMA), CAR, and Nigeria. In Mali, Chadian forces distinguished themselves in desert warfare, and lost around 30 soldiers. Following these losses and what Deby felt was insufficient support (diplomatic and material) from the international community, Deby chose to withdraw Chad’s forces in Mali. Chad’s intervention in CAR, however, was a disaster. Chad was accused of backing Seleka, then pulled back support from Bozize late on, and Chadian troops massacred Central African civilians. However, Chad has redeemed itself in Nigeria. It has successfully cleared large areas of Boko Haram, and has been recognized as the most effective fighting force in the conflict.

The US and France are Chad’s major allies when it comes to counterterrorism. Chad is a member of the US’ Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership and the US has been slowly expanding its presence in Chad. The US already runs many air operations in Central Africa out of N’Djamena (like assisting in the search for the Chibok girls), but is quietly moving toward establishing a more permanent base. Though Chad had previously been cited for using child soldiers (in 2010, 2011, and 2013), it controversially received a waiver in 2013 and since hasn’t appeared on the State Department’s list of countries using child soldiers. The US has trained Chadian soldiers and intermittently donates equipment to the armed forces. France bases its 3,000-strong regional counterterrorism force in N’Djamena, with 1,200 soldiers permanently stationed in Chad. France has two bases in the country. Though France has previously come to Deby’s rescue, Hollande is trying to move away from propping up strongmen and toward fighting terrorism, securing borders, and supporting small teams that can prevent hostage-taking or free hostages.

Chad’s relationship with Sudan is also crucially important. Chad and Sudan were de facto enemies, and supported rebels (the JEM and various Chadian rebellions, respectively). In 2006 and 2008, rebellions sponsored by Sudan almost overthrew Deby (requiring French support in 2008). However, in 2010, the two governments came to an agreement, and ceased supporting cross-border rebel groups. The alliance was solidified by the marriage of Deby to the daughter of Musa Hilal, a key player in the Sudanese government in Darfur (who has since defected from the NCP, so that’s a relationship to watch). Without Sudanese support, it’s highly unlikely an insurgency would have the capacity to seriously challenge Deby, and since 2010, there’s been no renewed insurgencies or problems with Sudan.

Chad has also had a somewhat ambiguous relationship with Nigeria recently. While Buhari has cautiously welcomed Chadian help in fighting Boko Haram, he has been careful not to give them too much credit or leeway. Both countries have reported there is little to no coordination between their forces in the fight against Boko Haram.

Government Structure

Since independence, governance in Chad has been kleptocratic and reserved for a small elite. Deby’s regime is also quite repressive. Opposition MP’s only have a few seats in parliament and the judiciary is loyal to Deby. Opposition politicians and government critics are routinely arrested. A democratic opposition does not really exist; opposition leaders may make perfunctory statements about democracy, but they would likely implement a similar system of governance, only they’d be the beneficiaries..

To prevent alternate power bases from developing, Deby frequently reshuffles his cabinet and military leadership. The Deby regime is heavily dependent on Deby’s Bila-Bideyet clan, which is a sub-group of the larger Zaghawa, who have filled many key positions in the security forces and government. Furthermore, some of his family members hold top positions. Beyond ethnic ties, the government is heavily reliant on patronage to buy fealty.

That patronage is largely funded through oil revenues, which only began flowing in the early 2000’s. Oil has had a major effect on the Chadian political scene. It has allowed Chad to dramatically strengthen its military, which prior to 2008 was poorly equipped and trained. The strength of the army has allowed Deby to disregard calls for reform, repress domestic opposition, and gain international prestige (and more money) through its participation in international counterterrorism efforts. A big reason all of this was possible was the stronger position in which Deby found himself. He faced serious armed challenges in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, but since then, excluding a 2013 coup attempt that may have been invented by the regime, the government has appeared much more in control.

Oil revenues have been used for development, but these projects have mostly happened in urban areas to the benefit of the elite. The lack of benefits provided by oil revenues to the urban poor, rural populations, and oil-producing region has prompted protests, but these have been repressed. However, the number and intensity of protests may increase in the run-up to the April 2016 presidential election if no tangible economic benefits are provided to most of the population.

Recent Boko Haram Attacks and Government Response

Four suicide attacks in June and July in N’Djamena killed about 55 people. The perpetrators were widely suspected to be Boko Haram after the group threatened Chad in its released videos. In response, the Chadian government launched airstrikes against Boko Haram targets in Nigeria, attacked Boko Haram militants on Lake Chad islands, banned the full face veil (the niqab/burqa because one of the bombers was wearing the garment), and arrested suspected Boko Haram members (and unidentified “foreigners”). Religious leaders publicly supported the decision, but they probably didn’t have much of a choice. In the short-term it’s unlikely this leads for widespread support for Boko Haram, but Chad does risk alienating more conservative Muslims with its heavy-handed and probably ineffective tactics. Additionally, it’s unclear to what degree the regime will use the Boko Haram threat to crackdown on non-jihadist opponents.

Key Things to Watch

  • Inter-Zaghawa tensions: Probably the biggest threat to the Deby regime is a coup by Zaghawa allies, and any public break between Zaghawa elites and Deby could be a sign of an impending coup. Many Zaghawa are unhappy with Deby for his abandonment of the JEM in Sudan, who were mostly Zaghawa. Additionally, many elites, including some in his own family, seek to improve their position, and it’s unclear if patronage will mollify them. While Chad’s newly-strong army means an insurgency is unlikely to topple the government, a coup could happen either with the collusion of the armed forces or be timed to take place while they’re largely deployed in northern Nigeria. The last coup took place just before troops were about to come home from Mali. A coup probably wouldn’t descend into mass violence, but given the number of well-armed troops and foreign interests at stake, it’s possible.
  • Protests: Protests haven’t lead to major unrest under Deby’s rule, but it’s conceivable. Trade unions have organized medium-sized demonstrations in the past, and recently, partially because of Boko Haram, the prices of basic goods have spiked. This has caused smaller, more sporadic protests, but they could become larger as the election approaches. If protests do break out, it’s worth identifying the leaders and how the government responds.
  • Relationship with Sudan breaks down: There haven’t been any outward signs of the deterioration of the Sudanese-Chadian détente, but such a deterioration would have negative consequences on both sides of the border. It’s likely Sudan would sponsor another insurgency, but given the Sudanese regime’s relative weakness and the ease with which Chad put down the 2009 attempt, it might be a flash in the pan. However, there are still 350,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad, and they would likely be in the middle of any conflict. Any accusations of support for proxy groups could be a sign the alliance is collapsing.
  • Boko Haram: At the moment, Boko Haram poses only a sporadic threat in Chad. However, if the group were able to launch more regular attacks and/or control territory due to popular support or unforeseen government weakness, the Deby regime would likely respond with massive violence, and that is something to watch for. At the moment, however, the government’s own repressive actions present a similar degree of danger as Boko Haram.
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I’m Not That Great a Forecaster: Looking back on my past predictions and learning how to improve

2 Jan

In early January of 2013, I wrote two posts that outlined six conflicts to watch for civilian protection advocates in the coming year.  Without any concrete methodology, I picked out Sudan, Afghanistan, Mali, Kenya, Syria (specifically violence in a post-Assad Syria), and Central Asia.  Arguably, I was wrong in five of the six cases if the criteria is that the violence had to get significantly worse from 2012 to 2013 in the manner that I predicted  (it gets even worse when you think about all 2013 conflicts I omitted; Nigeria, Egypt, CAR, and Iraq all experienced episodes of mass killing that have intensified since 2012).  I’ll briefly outline how I did country by country, address what I did wrong, and because it’s that time of year again, propose predictions for 2014.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, feel free to skip to the bulleted predictions.

Sudan had a turbulent year, but it’s nothing really out of the ordinary for the troubled country.  #SudanRevolts returned in September and October and prompted a fairly superficial cabinet reshuffle, but not much else.  Violence continued to rage in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.  Although violence increased in Darfur and perhaps South Kordofan, it was not a radical departure for 2012.  In my last sentence of my Sudan section, I briefly mentioned South Sudan.  While the violence in Jonglei between the Lou Nuer and Murle ebbed slightly in 2013, any progress made in the country was obliterated by the crisis that began on December 15th and has enveloped the country.  It’s unclear how many people have died, but it probably constitutes a mass killing. Mali has certainly experienced some violence in 2013, but there is no way that it was worse than 2012.  The French-African intervention was fairly successful at expelling the jihadist-Tuareg alliance from Northern Mali.  Fairly successful elections went ahead and the leader of the initial coup, Amadou Haya Sanogo, has been arrested and will be put on trial.

Afghanistan is probably the only case I got right.  Civilian casualties increased in the first half (and possibly the second) of 2013, marking a reversal in 2012’s trend.  For every success there’s a failure, and Kenya is that failure.  The March elections went off smoothly, and so I was really wrong.  I was right to predict that 2013 would be worse than 2012 for Syrians, but it didn’t happen in the way I thought.  At the time, it seemed very likely Assad would fall, initiating a mass killing of Alawites in and around Latakia.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, massive violence continued against civilian populations throughout Syria mostly with the exception of Latakia.  Finally, like Kenya, I really got Central Asia wrong.  There was not significant violence in any Central Asian country (excluding Afghanistan) this calendar year.  Regime change could have potentially caused conflict, but those pesky autocratic regimes just won’t go away.

So how can I improve?  First, it would have helped if I had had a concrete measurement for what constituted conflict.  Second, it would have made sense to have had a constant metric for assessing why I thought conflict would occur in certain places.  Figuring out what my predicted conflict zones had in common and why they were different from other potential conflict zones would have improved my methodology, even if creating a model from a hunch isn’t the best social science (if someone wants to pay me to blog I promise my methodology will be more robust).  My analysis also would have improved if I had laid out specifically what changes I was looking for and how they fit into a larger historical narrative.  For example, while there was both a history of and a potential for political instability in Central Asia, my only data points were the 2005 massacre in Andijan, Uzbekistan and the 2010 violence in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

So moving into my predictions for 2014, rather than creating a complete methodology of my own, I’m going to borrow two of Jay Ulfelder’s crowd-sourced forecasting projects as points of reference.  The first is the Center for Genocide Prevention’s online opinion pool (password needed).  The opinion pool aggregates the opinions of currently fifty individuals interested in atrocity prevention to create averaged probabilities about the likelihood of a particular event.  The questions are generally phrased like this, “Before X date, will an episode of state-led mass killing occur in Y country.”  The second is a wiki survey also originating from the Center for Genocide Prevention.  The results demonstrate how much more likely any particular country is to experience an episode of state-led mass killing than other countries during 2014.

In order and with percentages, these are the countries that I think are most likely to experience a mass killing (defined as more than 1,000 civilian deaths) in 2014:

  • Syria (95%)
  • South Sudan (85%)
  • Iraq (85%)
  • CAR (75%)
  • Sudan (60%)
  • Afghanistan (50%)
  • North Korea (50%)
  • Mexico (35%)
  • Nigeria (30%)
  • Burma (20%)
  • DRC (20%)
  • Egypt (10%)
  • Mali (5%)
  • Venezuela (5%)

My predictions are largely based on the crowd-sourced forecasts from Jay’s two projects, aren’t identical.  I’ll explain why, country by country, below.

Obviously, the chances that a mass killing will happen in Syria are very, very high (the wiki survey is definitely wrong in placing Syria 6th).  However, the opinion pool’s average probability that there will be a mass killing of Alawite civilians in Latakia province stands at 43%.  I think this is too high, and the real probability stands nearer 15%.  For a mass killing of Alawites to happen, the Assad regime would have to collapse or severely weaken.  Demonstrated by my false prediction of his doom in early 2013, Assad has proven surprisingly durable.  Civil wars tend to last a long time, so especially with the increasing fragmentation of the opposition, it’s doubtful Assad will be defeated anytime soon.

South Sudan, Iraq, and CAR all have ongoing conflict that will almost certainly include a case of mass killing, committed either by government or rebel forces, in 2014.  Iraq and CAR definitely experienced a mass killing episode in 2013, and South Sudan probably did, but the concrete numbers to confirm it don’t exist.  I pegged the chances of a future mass killing as slightly lower in CAR only because of the combination of the peacekeeping force and the higher potential for resolution than in South Sudan.

Jay Ulfelder, in his review of mass killing in 2013, wrote of Sudan, “…where the uncertainty is not whether the regime is engaging in mass killing but in how many parts of the country at once and targeting how many different groups.”  He’s right, and unfortunately civilians in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile will likely continue to suffer in 2014.  In the opinion pool, a question asks the probability that Sudan will carry out a mass killing of anti-government activists will occur in 2015, and places the average at 31%.  I think this is far, far too high.  Despite significant anti-government protests, the body count has always remained low.  The Sudanese regime is intelligent in this respect, instead opting for mass arrests of protest leaders.  The scarcity of bloody street confrontations decreases the potential of igniting the paradox of repression.  It is also telling that the bloodiest anti-government protest this year happened in Nyala, South Darfur.  Khartoum is happy to take the fight to enemies in the periphery, but remains wary of the threat from the center.  If the government were to significantly weaken, there’s an increased chance it would unleash lethal violence against anti-government activists.  However, despite increasing organization from the political opposition and calls that the regime was about to fall, the NCP remains in power.

Afghanistan probably experienced a mass killing with the Tailban as the perpetrators in 2013, and there aren’t a lot of positive signs for the future.  In North Korea, it’s basically impossible to tell how many people are dying each year in giant concentration camps.  50% is simply a wild guess.

Drug violence in Mexico is out of control, but I’m hesitant to peg a high probability of a mass killing because it’s unclear what share of civilians vs. cartel members are killed in drug violence (in a tweet, Jay confirmed that cartel members count as combatants).  Bottom line: a lot of people will die in Mexico in 2014, but it may or may not constitute a mass killing.

Nigeria experienced a classic case of a counterinsurgent mass atrocity last year, and despite some international attention on the issue, there is still a decent chance it happens again.  Nigeria is 14th on the wiki survey for the chances of state-led killing (too low in my opinion) for 2014 but doesn’t appear as a question in the opinion pool.

Burma is a country that is very much in the news for people interested in atrocity prevention, but I’m more optimistic than other analysts about the prospects for 2014.  Burma’s counterinsurgencies against ethnic-minority armies are long-running, but have recently had quite low body counts.  I see no reason for that trend to stop.  The opinion pool predicts there is a 35% chance of a mass killing of Rohingya in 2014.  No single rioting incident has yet escalated to widespread killing (the Meiktila incident killed dozens, not hundreds).  Despite the massive persecution the Rohingya face, the levels of lethal violence have remained relatively low.  Without an obvious trigger, I think more slow-motion ethnic cleaning is far more likely than a full-blown mass killing in 2014.

DRC placed fourth in the wiki survey.  Perhaps this is a bit excessive, but not completely unwarranted.  The combination of a country in transition from autocracy to democracy, the prevalence of armed groups in the Kivus, and intrusive neighbors means the risk of a mass killing in the DRC remains relatively high.

Egypt also suffers from an unfortunate history.  Last year, the government undertook a mass killing in response to pro-Morsi demonstrations.  A similar scenario could repeat itself, violence in the Sinai could rapidly increase, or even less likely, a civil war that involves mass killing could erupt.  All of this is plausible, if not incredibly likely (Egypt is 15th in the wiki survey).

The situation is not absolutely analogous to the DRC’s, but Mali also suffers from a somewhat unstable post-major conflict environment.  The opinion pool average for a state-led mass killing rests at 13%.  I think this is too high (probably suffering from the bias that comes from forecasting rare events) because of the progress Mali has made since 2012, but not terribly so.  In the wiki survey, Mali is 3rd, which strikes me as overly pessimistic.

Finally, Venezuela is a bit of a stretch, but I decided to include it anyways.  Few atrocity prevention advocates are paying attention despite the high political instability and absolutist rhetoric coming out of the Maduro administration.  Though Venezuela appears 82nd on the wiki survey and isn’t in a region of the world that has been prone to mass killing recently, I think a political crisis resulting in a government mass killing is plausible if still very unlikely.

Correction: Jay Ulfelder wrote this in a comment, “One point of clarification about Syria and some of the other cases you discuss: in both the statistical modeling and the wiki survey, we’re looking at the risk that a *new episode* of mass killing will start, not the risk that the one(s) we’re seeing now will continue. So Syria could hypothetically get a very low predicted probability or rank if the models or crowd deemed it unlikely that the state would begin deliberately killing large numbers of civilians from a discrete group it isn’t already targeting now. Hence the question in the Syrian case about Alawites but not one about the groups the regime is killing in large numbers now.”  I didn’t realize that when I wrote the post.

Adding Nuance to the Peace vs. Justice Debate

29 Apr

The peace versus justice debate is unavoidable when it comes to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The conversation goes something like: Team Peace argues that the immediate cessation of violent conflict has to take precedence over everything else, while Team Justice argues that ending impunity for human rights violations is crucial for deterrence against human rights violations in the future.  While this summary totally simplifies a complicated and multipolar conversation, these two camps shape the basic nature of the debate.  Though both have solid points, a messy, subjective truth lies somewhere in the middle and the effects of justice are heavily dependent on the specific situation.

While the division between peace and justice is not rock-solid, there are indeed real problems with pursuing justice over peace (a theme I’ve written about before).  A perfect example is Sudan.  The ICC’s arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir increases his need to stay in a position of power (though he says he will step down in 2015 this is probably more of a result of internal NCP politics and he certainly has no intention of handing himself over to the ICC), and has decreased his ability to participate in negotiations.  This fact decreases the possible avenues of engagement for the international community (to varying degrees depending on the actor) to bargain with Bashir, ultimately hampering the opportunities for an international tempering influence, which his is especially unfortunate given Bashir’s current position of weakness.

Another example of unintended ICC consequences is in Kenya, where ICC-charged duo Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were essentially brought together as a political unit because of their respective warrants that date back to the election violence in 2007-2008.  Ruto and Kenyatta were able to use their confrontation with the ICC as a symbol of their resistance against foreign influence, consequently gaining them votes.  Their ticket eventually won the Kenyan elections (though there seems to also be evidence that the ICC helped convince Kenyatta and Ruto to call for calm before and after the election), and Kenyatta is now the second head of state to have been summoned by the ICC.  Unlike Bashir however, Kenyatta has cooperated with The Hague thus far.

So while there are real downsides to justice over peace, there are also plenty of benefits from a justice-centered approach.  As Erik Voeten points out in his Monkey Cage post, the ICC is very effective in deterring human rights abuses in countries where “mid-level” human rights abuses take place.  Also, the ICC is quite good at influencing mid-level individuals.  While Bashir, as Sudan’s leader, is out of the ICC’s reach, mid-level individuals in security forces and rebel groups worldwide are much more expendable, and they know that if a higher-up decides they’re a liability because of the atrocities they’ve committed, they’ll be on the next plane to The Hague.  The threat of ICC prosecution, for example, had a positive effect in Colombia, and the institution is quite effective at deterring torture.

Unfortunately though, the existence of the ICC does little to deter the most egregious human rights violations.  Individuals like Assad, Bashir, and Gaddafi have never been cowed by threats of eventual justice.  Keeping power outweighs any potential risks.  Conversely though, the existence of the ICC does not encourage human rights violations as James Fearson argued.  While it is supposed to, the ICC does not really close off all escape routes (they’ve never been in short supply anyway) for human rights violators, but these escape routes, in the end, have little effect on the level of human rights violations committed.  It is not as if Assad is being encouraged to kill as many people as possible before escaping to the ICC; leaders like Assad and Gaddafi never had any intention of pulling the escape cord when it looked like they have a credible chance of losing.  While the ICC can do little to prevent leaders bent on maintaining power through any means necessary from doing so, it can at least provide a just conclusion to some of these cases (Bosco Ntaganda is a good example), an outcome which shouldn’t be trivialized.

Justice and peace are not mutually exclusive phenomena, and while one can sometimes endanger the other, the specific context of each situation must always be taken into account before making a policy recommendation.  Ultimately, this is a debate that the ICC will have to enter to an increasing degree in coming years.  While it has made some progress, it must to do more to address the problems that come with an inflexible, justice-centered approach.  Luckily, it does have the tools to do that.  Article 53 of the Rome Statute, the founding document of the ICC, allows for the Chief Prosecutor to offer amnesty to a perpetrator in the interests of the victims.  This precedent should not be applied in every situation, but does potentially allow the ICC to take a more critical approach to its activities.  The ICC has certainly been a milestone achievement in the fight to end international impunity for large-scale human rights violations, but it is not without its problems.

Conflicts to Watch in 2013 (Part I)

1 Jan

The Council on Foreign Relations and Foreign Policy have both come out with lists of potential conflicts to watch in 2013.  Both provide good summaries of potential global hotspots, but instead of concentrating on potential geopolitical struggles, I’d like to take a brief look at the conflicts that will likely be important for civilian protection advocates.  While the conflicts in the DRC and Burma, for example, are always at the top of the civilian protection list, I’d like to focus on six conflicts that have the potential to 1) impact civilian populations and 2) take a very different form in 2013 than they did in 2012.  Here are the first three.

Sudan

The insurgencies in Blue Nile and South Kordofan are likely to continue, and the government’s heavy handed response is also likely to stay the same.  While these two issues are currently the country’s two biggest humanitarian crises, they might not even be the biggest problems in 2013.  Growing divisions within the NCP caused what appears to have been a coup attempt in November, and combined with the return of #SudanRevolts, Bashir now looks far weaker than he has in years. Jay Ulfelder’s 2013 coup forecasts puts the chances of another coup in Sudan at number two worldwide, an event which is likely to not only initiate major power struggles within the Khartoum elite, but also involve various factions fighting it out on the ground.  There is also a real danger of a low-intensity war between North and South Sudan along the border, as the North continues to bomb within Southern territory.  In South Sudan, cattle raids between the Dinka, Lou Nuer, and Murle tribes are accruing huge casualties, and there are no signs that the South Sudanese governments will seriously address this crisis.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been in the news for years as one of the most violent places in the world, but in 2013, it’s only going to get worse.  In short, U.S. policy in Afghanistan has been a total failure, and the Afghan government does not look ready to govern on its own once U.S./NATO forces begin their draw-down, and eventually leave in 2014.  Afghan security forces are ill-trained and unable to function independently, the government is impressively corrupt, the Taliban remains strong, and Pakistan continues to meddle.  All of these factors point to an uptick in violence in the coming year.  There are few positive signs for 2013.

Mali

Designating Mali as the new Afghanistan is simplistic, but like Afghanistan, Mali is a hot mess.  In March, junior officers angry at the government’s inability to properly supply soldiers fighting a Taureg rebellion in the north mutinied, and then, perhaps accidentally, seized the state.  A few weeks later, Tuareg rebels succeeded in pushing Malian forces at of northern Mali and declared the independence or a new state, Azawad.  Since then, there has been another coup against a prime minister who pulled too hard on the leash held by the original coup plotters.  Despite facades of democracy, the real power in Mali rests in Kati, an army town outside of Bamako.

In the north, things are even worse.  Following the defeat of the the Malian army, the situation in the north collapsed into yet another civil war, as the MNLA, a secular Tuareg group, battled Ansar Dine, an Islamist faction.  The Islamists eventually gained the upper hand.  The struggle for Azawad is a complex mix of ethnic and political affiliations, and this deadly, multifaceted conflict has had a disastrous affect on the civilian population.  The conflict has caused a full-fledged humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands becoming either refugees or internally displaced.  On December 20th, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to back the creation of the international force to retake northern Mali.  The plan, according to both Susan Rice (who called it “crap) and Daniel Drezner, has some problems, “…the Security Council has pledged to send peacekeepers on a timetable that makes academic publishing seem speedy, without any idea of how it will be funded, staffed, or operate with indigenous forces, married to vague calls for political action to lay the groundwork for said peacekeepers.”  With or without an intervention force, the lack of any real progress toward a political solution will mean a long, deadly year for northern Mali.

The Coup in Sudan: Some Theories

5 Dec

Though the entire incident is shrouded in confusion, it appears as there was attempted coup in Sudan on November 22nd.  Though the coup did not have any real impact on violence levels or the situation of Sudan’s civilians, the potential impact of regime change on  in these sectors is enormous, and therefore it is an important issue to keep tabs on for civilian protection advocates.  The details of the event are still mostly unclear, and so while it is impossible to establish a comprehensive summary, there are a few ideas that I would like to put forward.  Inevitably, with time, the events of November 21st and 22nd will become more clear.

One theory regarding the incident was that it was simply a government hoax aimed to repressing dissent, and there was never a real threat to Bashir’s regime.  This doesn’t make sense for a few reasons.  Firstly, those arrested come from within the NCP, despite attempts to obfuscate.  Khartoum has no reason to publicize splits within the NCP if it doesn’t have to.  Secondly, the messaging in the early hours following the coup was confused.  Numerous government officials made conflicting statements about who was involved, who was arrested, etc.  Presumably, an government sponsored hoax would have been preceded by inter-agency cooperation and planning, and this seems not to have happened.  While this fact seems to almost certainly point to a putsch attempt, it at least indicates the severe lack of institutional organization within the regime.

While the coup has not led to overthrow of Bashir, it has significant analytical importance for examining the state of the Bashir regime.  Currently, Sudan is experiencing severe economic problems, which culminated in #SudanRevolts this summer.  Additionally, there are doubts about the health of Bashir, who is recovering from a throat operation.  Finally, the NCP is experiencing severe political divisions, with roughly the hard-line Islamists on one side and the reformers on the other.  These three factors, combined with the attempted coup, reveal the extreme vulnerability afflicting the current Sudanese regime.  Theda Skocpol, and other structuralists, has highlighted the importance of state collapse in precipitating revolutions.  Therefore, not only can regimes not fall without debilitating internal strife, but revolutionary movements can only exist if there are signs of state weakness.  If we accept this line of theory, we can expand her analytical framework to encompass coups, and conclude there could never have been an attempted coup without significant state weakness.  The regime is currently not fragile enough to crumble under its own weight, but it is weak enough to produce an attempted coup.

Despite obvious signs of state weakness, Bashir’s security forces responded promptly to the attempted putsch.  Though it seems clear the plotters were hard-liners from Al-Sae’ohoon, the government clumsily and belatedly tried to blame the opposition.  While the coup response was intended to strengthen and consolidate the regime, it seems to have only further isolated Bashir and his cronies.  One major question, however, is how active and deliberate was this coup?  Bashir clearly felt the need to crackdown, but was this because of an imminent coup or simply deep divisions within the NCP?  It is quite plausible that Salah Gosh was indeed organizing opposition within the NCP, but did not intend to overthrow the government.  Did Gosh really put everything on the line as the government has claimed, or was he merely working toward shifting the party’s policies in a more hard-line direction?  With the current information, it’s basically impossible to tell.

There, of course, is a long history of failed coups all around the world.  However, I think it is important, especially in the Sudanese context, to not merely dismiss the coup as a failure, but to place it within a broader context.  The current state weakness may indicate that this was a “dress rehearsal” coup.  What I mean here is that this coup was a first attempt to overthrow the government, which gives the opposition a reading on how the regime would respond to a later coup.  This can be interpreted in two ways.  Firstly, the opposition simply wanted to test out the strength of the regime, and therefore put a small group of individuals together to challenge the regime, with the knowledge that it would likely fail.  This model, however, seems overly conspiratorial.  Secondly, the weakness of the regime encouraged a small group of plotters to try to overthrow the government, but were unable to garner enough support due to others’ readings of state strength.  Opposing factions now know how the government will react to a coup, and may be able to create a larger, successful coup in the future.

“Dress rehearsal” coups have happened before.  Argentina in 1955 and Chile in 1973 both provide examples of an attempt by a portion of the armed forces to overthrow the government that failed.  In both cases, the armed forces united three months later and succeeded.  Could this happen in Sudan?  While the situation is not totally analogous, there are certainly similarities.  Like Argentina and Chile, Sudan is in a state of crisis and the public has a growing lack of trust in the government.  The initial attempt to seize the state seems to have been caused by the apparent fragility of the government, though it was too soon to actually gather support.  Ultimately, the failed coup attempt weakened the regime, and the armed forces saw that they would indeed be able to seize power.  In Sudan, we have a failed coup that included parts of the armed forces at a time of great state weakness, causing a backlash from the ruling faction.  In response to this coup, Bashir has seemingly isolated himself from both Islamists and the opposition by imprisoning the first and blaming the second.  A successful coup in the future certainly isn’t inevitable, but Bashir shouldn’t count himself lucky just yet.

* I am not a political scientist, therefore any comments or corrections on the theories presented in the last few paragraphs would be appreciated.

Dehumanization in Mass Atrocities: Perpetrators Aren’t the Only Guilty Ones

8 Nov

*This is the second post of a two part series in reaction to my participation in the Women and Genocide in the 21st Century Conference organized by the Darfur Women Action Group.  The first focused on realism in advocacy, and this will focus on the dehumanization of perpetrators of mass atrocities.

At multiple points during the conference, actress and activist Mario Bello spoke of her desire to “shoot” human rights violators (in this case, specifically Omar al-Bashir and rapists).  While her anger is understandable, dehumanizing the perpetrators of human rights violations and mass atrocities is both simplistic and counterproductive.  Child soldiers, for example, provide us with a complicated picture of perpetrators vs. victims, and therefore avoiding basic moral rationalizations leads to better analysis and advocacy.

The type of judgement passed by Maria Bello inherently divides those in conflict regions into two categories: the perpetrators and the victims.  In this conceptualization, the evil perpetrators become less worthy of human rights, while the victims are entirely innocent.  Reality is more complicated.  During the Rwandan genocide, moderate, vocal Hutus were the first to be killed by the radical Hutu forces.  For Hutus who did not wish to participate in the subsequent ethnically-driven massacres, there were no good options.  These complex realities problematize our conception of perpetrator vs. victim.  Where do we draw the line, and is there even a line?  If we accept that the line is not obvious, and we ourselves have not experienced such horrific situations, can we even judge where the line is?  These are questions we need to ask ourselves before deciding who deserves human rights and who doesn’t.

Dehumanizing perpetrators of mass atrocities also blunts policy options.  Lumping Bashir into the category of those that deserve to be shot presents an artificial moral barrier for advocates.  This barrier makes post-conflict scenarios that include perpetrators seem morally reprehensible, despite evidence that engaging with perpetrators is a productive approach.  Bashir, of course, is likely essential to potential change within Sudan, and dehumanizing him to the point where we cannot seek to engage with him productively is not a particularly good strategy.

Finally, we must remember that advocates’ approach to a particular conflict will influence future approaches for combating mass atrocities.  Categorizing and dehumanizing perpetrators sets a dangerous precedent for ignoring the ethical complexities of widespread violence against civilians.  In the play A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have a telling interaction:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Essentializing perpetrators and victims into a duality and dehumanizing the former is a slippery slop for human rights activists.  This approach lends itself to an eventual loss of moral authority for well-meaning advocates, and hampers their ability to successfully respond to current and future conflicts.  Dehumanization is an extraordinarily powerful and dangerous concept, and not taking care to avoid it is immensely harmful to effective advocacy.

‘Til the Revolution Comes

5 Nov

*This is the first post of a two part series in reaction to my participation in the Women and Genocide in the 21st Century Conference organized by the Darfur Women Action Group.  This one will focus on realism in advocacy, and the second will focus on the dehumanization of perpetrators of mass atrocities.

The conference last weekend was full of many insightful perspectives and personal stories, but there was one assertion, repeated a few times, that really irked me.  The charge was that Omar al-Bashir is the root of all the problems in Sudan, and that until he is removed by the international community, Sudan will not improve.  During these moments, my mind wandered back to my dad telling me as sixteen-year-old about the dangers of manichean theories, or as he called them, “‘Til the revolution comes” arguments.  These lines of thoughts are not productive, as they downplay the agency of everyone involved and glaze over existing political scenarios.

Firstly, this  approach is simply not realistic.  The ICC has no mechanism to forcibly arrest Bashir, and rather relies on the cooperation of signatories to provide enforcement.  Even if countries refuse to arrest Bashir, the ICC indictment puts long-term pressure on Bashir, limiting his ability to interact diplomatically and decreasing his legitimacy.  The ICC is one way to bring about Bashir’s removal, or at least his restraint, but it is not the only way.   Placing all of our eggs in the ICC basket makes us forget all of the other policy and advocacy options that are available to us.

If the only way for Sudan to improve is for the ICC to apprehend and try Bashir, then us Sudan activists should probably stop reading the Sudan Tribune, forget where Abyei is, and play more golf.  This attitude gives advocates almost nothing to do.  We can ask Kenya and Egypt to take a tougher stance on Bashir all we want, but our chances of success are about as good as Obama claiming an endorsement from the NRA.  The belief that Sudan cannot improve with Bashir in power uses moralizing rhetoric to cover-up political realities.  Omar al-Bashir, is, without of doubt, one of the worst heads of state of the 21st Century (he might even be up there with legends), but he is also beholden to outside interests and powers.  Bashir needs certain things, like a steady supply of arms, cash, and oil.  In order to maintain access to these necessities, he has to be willing to negotiate.  He’s also clearly pretty good at it: it’s not easy to stay in power for twenty-three years.  Therefore, it is possible to use leverage against Bashir to improve conditions in Sudan.  Also, improvement in Sudan does not necessarily have to go through Bashir.  The government of Sudan, while repressive, is not all-powerful, and has a limited capacity to snuff out positive change (also, it as violence against civilians is always in the interests of Bashir).  Sudan can improve, even with Bashir at the helm, and advocates shouldn’t turn to fatalist language to rally support for the cause.

Relying on the international community to bring Bashir to justice implicitly overlooks the ability of Sudanese to make organic political change.  This summer, Sudan was rocked by #SudanRevolts, Bashir is running out of money, and his governing coalition is starting to fall apart.  Movements like Girifna have organized activists and put real pressure on the NCP.  In this scenario, the main actors are the Sudanese, and relying on the ICC as an agent of change is disrespectful to the many dedicated activists risking their lives to topple Bashir’s administration.  The international community can certainly hasten Bashir’s downfall through sanctions and diplomatic pressure, but ultimately it is up to the Sudanese to make political change.  Enforced political change from the outside won’t last, and so Sudan advocates must cease relying on the ICC as an all-powerful, semi-magical tool to bring about regime change.

I’m betting that Bashir will have lost power by the time I graduate from college.  This won’t happen because the ICC finally figures out an ingenious way to arrest him, but because the internal dynamics of Sudan’s politics and economics force him out.  Therefore, Sudan advocates need to plan for the day after Bashir leaves, but also remember that there is a lot of work to be done in the interim.