This could cause serious problems for everybody in Sudan.
Judges at the International Criminal Court ordered the arrest on Wednesday of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity for a concerted government campaign against civilians in the Darfur region. They did not charge him with genocide, denying the request by the prosecutor.
Why is this bad?
Optimists claim Bashir could be internally weakened politically because of the indictment. Eventually, he will become too much of a load on a country already experiencing troubles because of the declining oil market.
On the other hand, given the incredible pile of corpses that constitute his record, Bashir could do a lot of things to vulnerable elements in Sudan (from what few aid workers remain to even going after the Southern Sudanese earlier than 2011) since he feels he has nothing to lose.
However, Bashir is not an all powerful dictator (nor is Mugabe, though some may blindly believe just removing him will fix many of Zimbabwe’s problems). There are competing elements in the Sudanese regime that have different visions of Sudan’s present and its future. The ICG observes that:
There are also internal NCP constraints. In addition to divisions on strategy, powerful figures within the NCP and in the top ranks of the Sudan Armed Forces have grown wealthy from economic investment in Sudan, and will be keen to ensure that such investment is not driven away by a violent over-reaction to the indictment.
Sudan’s international allies have a strong interest in the country’s stability, and they too must pressure the regime to react with restraint. In particular, China, with its very significant stake in the oil industry, Egypt with its interest in regional stability and access to the Nile waters, and Gulf states with big economic investments in the country should push Sudan not to lash out.
The Obama Administration should be considering what it can say and do with China and other partners to offer these elements within Sudan options besides staying the course with Bashir. The costs of diplomatic inaction could be considerably high if this indictment creates a maelstrom of violent consequences.
It should also strenuously oppose the efforts by apologists for Bashir and others like him in the African Union and Arab League who want the UN Security Council to suspend the indictment. A reversal of such magnifications would likely hobble the ICC for years to come, in an era where war criminal leaders will continue to hold sway over their victims and spread instability and disaster where ever they misrule.
When or if Bashir is sent to the ICC, few will mourn his fate. A tenuous precedent will have been created with promising and dangerous implications. Building on the promising element of those implications while girding for the dangerous aftershocks would be a wise policy choice.
The attitude of AFRICOM’s head, General William Ward, is emblematic of the problems with AFRICOM in general. “We go where we’re asked to go” is simply not an acceptable answer if you’re not going to go where you NEED to go. That’s a passive, wait and see, whatever goes attitude that screams “we have no idea what we are doing right now”, but we can talk for days about what we could maybe do later on.
There are plenty of places AFRICOM needs to go (and won’t always be asked by the sort of entities it deals with) but can’t because there is no political will and not enough significant resources to go forth.
AFRICOM does not yet offer real solutions to Africa’s problems (it lacks the political will, the resources and the kind of quality leadership at the helm in multiple places that would foster solutions being implemented, not just talked about for years at conferences and meetings months after it was announced). It does not yet offer a vision for Africa (it does not have one yet) that would actually appeal to Africans and meet American interests in a way prior methods of policy making did.
Now it has suffered its first serious failure (though arguably the miserable disaster in Somalia by CTF-HOA, AFRICOM’s predecessor, is the more recent one on the minds of Africans) with few hints of success in the recent past and none foreseeable in the near future. At a time when Zimbabwe likely teeters toward collapse, when Sudan gears itself for war in 2011 when the South votes as it is expected to for independence and when chaos remains the order of the day in the Congo region, AFRICOM offers nothing but cheap conference talk and pass the buck attitudes.
Either it changes quickly or it will likely be left behind. The choice needs to be taken out of its current leaders’ hands.
Last year, I asked what the point of AFRICOM was. I criticized what I viewed as its bungled unveiling, at a time when it had no set definition or vision. I wondered what its mission would be, and how it would go about doing it.
Matt Armstrong (“Mountainrunner”, who has been doing INCREDIBLE work on public diplomacy in Washington D.C. and elsewhere) responded to my post with a well-informed analysis of how AFRICOM’s marketing was going badly but the concept was still solid.
A year has passed, and AFRICOM has only continued to fail, not only in its marketing, but in its execution.
The first failure seemed to be that AFRICOM’s creators and leaders did not consciously realize in their decision-making that the US and its military reputation on the continent did not receive a fresh reset from AFRICOM’s creation.
In recent memory (skip if you already know this tragicomedy of errors by heart), the US is remembered for a bungled effort in Somalia (displaying an utter lack of comprehension of Somalia’s tribal societies or the role outside aid played in conflict incubation), a non-effort on Rwanda’s genocide (that included an often bitterly remembered US effort to prevent African attempts to stop the genocide), the feeding and sheltering of the architects of Rwanda’s genocide in the Congo, so-so efforts to respond to criminal-state conspiracies of epidemic proportions in Sierra Leone and Liberia, indifference to Africa’s largest and deadliest war ever in the Congo and assorted failed or middling schemes to stem terrorism in the Sahara. Just in the past three years, America has promised do something about the lethal instability in Dar Fur and done next to nothing, egged on and supported an epic failure of an intervention in Somalia by an Ethiopian country most recently famous for killing thousands of its own citizens and done little to halt Zimbabwe’s slide to utter ruin.
Get all that? That’s the reputation AFRICOM came to the forefront with, irregardless of what was done with AIDS, trade and development. Indeed, AFRICOM’s first job was to convince African elites that it meant business, and that it would erase what has been considered by Africans a decade or more of American incompetence and indifference. A lot of talk has gone on, and more failed advice and training dished out to friends in Nigeria and Ethiopia. A great number of photo op efforts and small-scale relationship building (especially on the maritime security side) have taken place, but these are not the kind of ops that will change perceptions of AFRICOM on even a medium scale, let alone the image/reputation makeover it needed from Day One because it allowed misconceptions about its mission to run legion.
Now, AFRICOM was directed by then-President Bush to respond to a Ugandan request for help to take down the infamous Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The American help consisted of:
They described a team of 17 advisers and analysts from the Pentagon’s new Africa Command working closely with Ugandan officers on the mission, providing satellite phones, intelligence and $1 million in fuel.
The onset of fog and what appears to be a mix of poor planning and execution left the LRA free to fight another day, though civilians who were left undefended/unaccounted for in villages around the operational area were made to pay the price. As many as 900 of these civilians are dead in what has to be considered a bitter failure for both Uganda and AFRICOM.
This is not what you would hear talking to AFRICOM though. Responses there appear to center around a mix of “Its not our fault” and “Its not our failure”. This is about as brain dead a response as you could possibly imagine.
Not only does it falsely piss on the Ugandans for botching the op entirely (not exactly a good way to maintain alliances with countries or gain the cooperation of others), it advances the narrative in Africa that America simply does not take these problems seriously. It erodes African confidence in AFRICOM’s competence and role as an honest partner.
The bottom line is that in a joint effort, when one of AFRICOM’s partners fails, AFRICOM fails. Without this attitude and approach to joint efforts, whether it be applied on the security side or the development side (whatever that will consist of), AFRICOM will fail miserably in the short and long term alike.
Irregardless of whether its AFRICOM’s fault or whether its a case of AFRICOM simply not being what Africans want, without a grand strategy or at least a compelling theme that guides AFRICOM from Day One (not Day 502) AFRICOM is doomed to failure as it joins the ranks of other good ideas poorly executed.